The original Cotton Eyed Joe, the character this song was about, was probably someone suffering from the ocular infection trachoma. It became a dance routine (among both blacks and whites) shortly after the American Civil War, which fuels another explanation for that cotton eye: take a "cotton to" (or liking to) another fellows' gal. John Dykes learned it from a fiddler from Arizona (Kenner C. Kartchmer) who picked it up in Mississippi at the end of the 19th century from a man named Youngblood.
Mountain Ramblers [idem]
Bookmiller Shannon [Alan Lomax recording]
Nina Simone [her arrangement was followed by Rufus Wainwright in '23]
Terry Callier [released in '68]
Rednex [n°1 UK, NL & B]
Irene Moors & De Smurfen [as De Cowboy Van Smurfenland]
Rufus Wainwright [with Chaka Khan]
Melody relates with Irish tune The Mountain Top and with Scottish song General Burgoyne's March (circa 1777), sang by the British army in the American colony. Alabama fiddler George Cole sang it as Cotton Eyed Joe since 1900. Published in 1925 in Dorothy Scarborough's songbook On The Trail Of Negro Folk Songs.