10 Little Indians

"Ten Little Indians"
Nursery rhyme

Ten Little Indians is an American children's counting out rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 12976. The term "Indians" in this sense is referring to American Indians.

In 1868, songwriter Septimus Winner adapted it as a song, then called "Ten Little Injuns", for a minstrel show.


Cover of Negrastrákarnir, an Icelandic version of the song published in 1922

The modern lyrics for the children's rhyme are:

One little, two little, three little Indians
Four little, five little, six little Indians
Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians
Ten little Indian boys.

Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians
Seven little, six little, five little Indians
Four little, three little, two little Indians
One little Indian boy.[1]

\relative c' { \key c \major \time 4/4 
c4 c8 c8 c4 c8 c8 | e4 g8 g8 e8 d8 c4 | d4 d8 d8 d4 d8 d8 | b4 d8 d8 b8 a8 g4 | c8 c8 c8 c8 c4 c8 c8 | e4 g8 g8 e8 d8 c4  | g'4 f8 f8 e8 e8 d4 c2|
\addlyrics {
One lit -- tle, two lit -- le, three lit -- tle In -- di -- ans
Four lit -- tle, five lit -- le, six lit -- tle In -- di -- ans,
Se -- ven lit -- tle, eight lit -- le, nine lit -- tle In -- di -- ans,
Ten lit -- tle In -- di -- an boys }

Minstrel song[]

Songwriter Septimus Winner created an elaborated version of the children's song, called "Ten Little Injuns", in 1868 for a minstrel show.

Ten little Indians standin' in a line,
One toddled home and then there were nine;

Nine little Indians swingin' on a gate,
One tumbled off and then there were eight.

Eight little Indians gayest under heav'n.
One went to sleep and then there were seven;

Seven little Indians cuttin' up their tricks,
One broke his neck and then there were six.

Six little Indians all alive,
One kicked the bucket and then there were five;

Five little Indians on a cellar door,
One tumbled in and then there were four.

Four little Indians up on a spree,
One got fuddled and then there were three;

Three little Indians out on a canoe,
One tumbled overboard and then there were two

Two little Indians foolin' with a gun,
One shot t'other and then there was one;

One little Indian livin' all alone,
He got married and then there were none.[1]

Derivative songs and books[]

Book cover by Frank Green, 1869

It is generally thought that this song was adapted, possibly by Frank J. Green in 1869, as "Ten Little Niggers", though it is possible that the influence was the other way around, with "Ten Little Niggers" being a close reflection of the text that became "Ten Little Indians". Either way, "Ten Little Niggers" became a standard of the blackface minstrel shows.[2] It was sung by Christy's Minstrels and became widely known in Europe, where it was used by Agatha Christie in her novel of the same name, about ten killings on a remote island. The novel was later retitled And Then There Were None (1939), and remains one of her most famous works. The Spanish, French, German and Russian titles of Christie's novel today are still "Diez negritos", "Dix Petits Nègres", "Zehn Kleine Negerlein" and «Десять негритят», respectively.[3]

Variants of this song have been published widely as children's books; what the variants have in common is 'that they are about dark-skinned boys who are always children, never learning from experience'.[4] For example, it had been published in the Netherlands by 1913; in Denmark by 1922 (in Börnenes billedbog); in Iceland in 1922 (as Negrastrákarnir); and in Finland in the 1940s (in Kotoa ja kaukaa: valikoima runosatuja lapsille and Hupaisa laskukirja).[5] The Bengali poem Haradhon er Dosti Chhele (Haradhon's Ten Sons) is also inspired by Ten Little Indians.

Criticism of racist language[]

Because of the use of the racist words, modern versions for children often use "soldier boys" or "teddy bears" as the objects of the rhyme.[6] The unaltered republication of the 1922 Icelandic version in 2007 of Ten Little Negroes by the Icelandic publisher Skrudda caused considerable debate in Iceland, with a strong division between people who saw the book as racist and people who saw it as "a part of funny and silly stories created in the past".[7] In Kristín Loftsdóttir's assessment of the debate,

Some of the discussions focusing on the republishing of the Ten Little Negroes can be seen as colonial nostalgia in the sense that they bring images of more "simple" times when such images were not objected to. As such, these public discourses seek to separate Icelandic identity from past issues of racism and prejudice. Contextualising the publication of the nursery rhyme in 1922 within European and North American contexts shows, however, that the book fitted very well with European discourses of race, and the images show similarity to caricatures of black people in the United States.[8]

The republishing of the book in Iceland triggered a number of parodies or rewritings: and Tíu litlír kenjakrakkar ("Ten little prankster-children") by Sigrún Eldjárn and Þórarinn Eldjárn; 10 litlir sveitastrákar ("Ten little country-boys") by Katrín J. Óskarsdóttir and Guðrún Jónína Magnúsdóttir; and Tíu litlir bankastrákar ("Ten little banker-boys") by Óttar M. Njorðfjörð.[9]

1945 version[]

The following version of the song was included in the first film version of And Then There Were None (1945), which largely took Green's lyrics and replaced the already sensitive word "nigger" with "Indian" (in some versions "soldiers"):

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one of them and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got all frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.[10]

Popular culture references[]

The Ten Little Indians are guests of Old King Cole in the 1933 Disney cartoon of the same name. They perform a catchy dance which inspires the other nursery rhyme characters to join in.

In the 1933 Sherlock Holmes film A Study in Scarlet, successive lines of the poem (which replaces "Indians" with "black boys") are found left by the murderer with each new murder victim.

The rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson includes a much darker song called "Ten Little Indians" that is modeled after this nursery rhyme.

In the Looney Tunes cartoon Scalp Trouble, a soldier shoots over the wall at the enemy, keeping score to the tune of the nursery rhyme. At the end of the scene, a brave pops up and says, "Ten little Indian boys" before hitting the soldier on the head with a Tomahawk.

The opening sequence of Blackstone on APTN features a version of the song.

The novel by Agatha Christie And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little Niggers. The revised title comes from the last line of the derivative minstrel song.

Bill Haley & His Comets did a version in 1954.[11]

"Ten Little Indians" is a 1962 single by the Beach Boys, also present on their début album Surfin' Safari.

In England's Mickey Mouse Annual No. 6, the song was adapted into the comic "10 Little Mickey Kids". It depicted ten little mouse babies who meet unfortunate ends until there are only two left, who then attempt and fail suicide.[12]

The opening song on Harry Nilsson's album Pandemonium Shadow Show is an adaptation of "Ten Little Indians", though this version is about the Ten Commandments.

One of German punk band Die Toten Hosen's greatest hits is an adaptation called "Zehn kleine Jägermeister" ("Ten Little Master Hunters"), which is included on their 1996 album Opium fürs Volk. The music video features ten deer (part of the logo of the Jägermeister alcohol beverage) being killed or waylaid in a variety of ways while human characters consume copious quantities of alcohol.

The television series The Walking Dead focuses on the arrival of Tyreese, Sasha, and three other survivors (one being injured) at the prison, and one part of the scene showing Sasha describing the outside world as "Ten Little Indians".

In the musical version of Spring Awakening, the character Moritz sings a song called “And Then There Were None”, foreshadowing his later suicide.


See also[]


  1. ^ a b I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 333–4.
  2. ^ P. V. Bohlman and O. Holzapfel, The folk songs of Ashkenaz (A-R Editions, 2001), p. 34; Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, ed by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 192—93).
  3. ^ A. Light, Forever England: femininity, literature, and conservatism between the wars (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 243.
  4. ^ Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, ed by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (p. 193).
  5. ^ Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, ed by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 193, 196).
  6. ^ R. Riley, P. McAllister, J. Symonsm B. Cassiday., The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie (Continuum, 2001), pp. 144–45.
  7. ^ Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. "Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century". In Iceland and Images of the North, ed by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 198—200, quoting p. 199).
  8. ^ Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, ed by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (p. 200).
  9. ^ Sigrún Eldjárn and Þórarinn Eldjárn, Tíu litlir kenjakrakkar (Reykjavík: Mál og menning, 2007); Katrín J. Óskarsdóttir and Guðrún Jónína Magnúsdóttir, 10 litlir sveitastrákar ([Hella]: Vildarkjör, [2007]); Óttar M. Norðfjörð, Tíu litlir bankastrákar ([Reykjavík]: Sögur, 2008).
  10. ^ A. Christie, Ten Little Indians (New York: Pocket Books, 1964).
  11. ^ https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/the-history-of-ten-little-indians-q1WdVbswNEu5Hat3KCQoAA/
  12. ^ Anderson, Drew, "6 Insane Disney Comics You Won't Believe Are Real: The Mickey Mouse Death 'n' Dismemberment Special", cracked.com, February 02, 2013.

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