Who wrote “Footprints in the Sand”?

You know that “Footprints in the Sand” inspirational tidbit, about walking with the Lord, seeing only one set of footprints, and getting the revelation that “I carried you”? Of course you do. It’s everywhere, on posters, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and quoted in countless sermons. Now three people are suing each other, claiming to be the author, with rights to the gazillions of dollars worth of merchandising the little story can earn. For the rather sad but also rather humorous account of this dispute and these claims, see Search to Divine Authorship Leads ‘Footprints’ to Court.

Here is my analysis: One of the litigators claim that his mother wrote it decades ago. He found a manuscript in her handwriting that dates from long ago. But the key bit of information is the scholar who traced the story to a sermon preached in the 1880′s. I doubt that even that was original. Sermons promulgate more urban legends, unattributed quotations, and oral traditions than any other art form. I suspect the mother heard the story somewhere, maybe from her preacher, and wrote it down.

Trying to copyright that story after the fact and after its wide publication is surely futile, and no court should allow it. It’s like trying to copyright jokes, sermon illustrations, and internet forwards. If you write something, copyright it BEFORE sending it out on the internet; otherwise, consider it a gift to humanity.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I’d read Margaret Fishback Powers’ book some time back, and had assumed her authorship was settled. But when I think back on the story, I don’t think she has documentation either. What a mess. You’re right; it’s like trying to organize dandelion fluff.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I’d read Margaret Fishback Powers’ book some time back, and had assumed her authorship was settled. But when I think back on the story, I don’t think she has documentation either. What a mess. You’re right; it’s like trying to organize dandelion fluff.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Followed by a plagiarism lawsuit over Footprints in the Snow…
    Of course, the authorship of Footprints in the Water is settled. A work as yet not duplicated; only denied.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Followed by a plagiarism lawsuit over Footprints in the Snow…
    Of course, the authorship of Footprints in the Water is settled. A work as yet not duplicated; only denied.

  • Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I’ve always preferred this one:

    One night I had a wondrous dream,
    One set of footprints there was seen,
    The footprints of my precious Lord,
    But mine were not along the shore.

    But then some strange prints appeared,
    And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
    Those prints are large and round and neat,
    “But Lord, they are too big for feet.”

    “My child,” He said in somber tones,
    “For miles I carried you along.
    I challenged you to walk in faith,
    But you refused and made me wait.”

    “You disobeyed, you would not grow,
    The walk of faith, you would not know,
    So I got tired, I got fed up,
    And there I dropped you on your butt.”

    “Because in life, there comes a time,
    When one must fight, and one must climb,
    When one must rise and take a stand,
    Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

    — author unknown

  • Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I’ve always preferred this one:

    One night I had a wondrous dream,
    One set of footprints there was seen,
    The footprints of my precious Lord,
    But mine were not along the shore.

    But then some strange prints appeared,
    And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
    Those prints are large and round and neat,
    “But Lord, they are too big for feet.”

    “My child,” He said in somber tones,
    “For miles I carried you along.
    I challenged you to walk in faith,
    But you refused and made me wait.”

    “You disobeyed, you would not grow,
    The walk of faith, you would not know,
    So I got tired, I got fed up,
    And there I dropped you on your butt.”

    “Because in life, there comes a time,
    When one must fight, and one must climb,
    When one must rise and take a stand,
    Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

    — author unknown

  • Bob Myers

    Thanks Rev. McCain! May I copy it? I promise I won’t try to copyright it but forever attribute it to “author unknown! :)

  • Bob Myers

    Thanks Rev. McCain! May I copy it? I promise I won’t try to copyright it but forever attribute it to “author unknown! :)

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Just what I like to hear, Rev. McCain: all law and no gospel. :-)
    (Being as how the law is always for The Other Guy.)

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Just what I like to hear, Rev. McCain: all law and no gospel. :-)
    (Being as how the law is always for The Other Guy.)

  • Pingback: A lawsuit over “Footprints in the Sand!” « Strengthened by Grace

  • Pingback: A lawsuit over “Footprints in the Sand!” « Strengthened by Grace

  • jim claybourn

    I thought God wrote it (in between writing all those emails that he wants me to keep forwarding).

  • jim claybourn

    I thought God wrote it (in between writing all those emails that he wants me to keep forwarding).

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    I may have found an earlier source of the “Footprints” poem than any listed in the law suit. I like doing google book searches just for fun. It’s amazing how much is getting digitized. Anyway, I found the poem in what google books lists as a 1919 issue of “The Train Dispatcher”.

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    I may have found an earlier source of the “Footprints” poem than any listed in the law suit. I like doing google book searches just for fun. It’s amazing how much is getting digitized. Anyway, I found the poem in what google books lists as a 1919 issue of “The Train Dispatcher”.

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Ignore that. I think that issue of “The Train Dispatcher” is incorrectly cataloged as a 1919 issue. I believe it is later than that.

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Ignore that. I think that issue of “The Train Dispatcher” is incorrectly cataloged as a 1919 issue. I believe it is later than that.

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Ha! It’s a 1981 issue. How’s the saying go? . . . “Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”

  • http://www.lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/ Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Ha! It’s a 1981 issue. How’s the saying go? . . . “Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X