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 round, 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. 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. The novel was later retitled And Then There Were None (1939), and remains one of her most famous works, about ten killings on a remote island.
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'. For example, it had been published in Holland 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). The Bengali poem Haradhon er Dosti Chhele (Haradhon's Ten Sons) is also inspired from Ten Little Indians.
Because this song, and even the original term Indians, have become politically sensitive, modern versions for children often use "soldier boys" or "teddy bears" as the objects of the rhyme. The unaltered republication of the 1922 Icelandic version in 2007 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'. 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.
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.
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.
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
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.
The rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson includes a much darker song called "Ten Little Indians" that is modeled after this nursery rhyme.
The opening sequence of Blackstone on APTN features a version of the song.
The novel by Agatha Christie And Then There Were None is titled after the last line of the derivative minstrel song. Its original title was Ten Little Niggers. The present title is the title under which it was published in America, changed for reasons of cultural sensitivity.
In England's Mickey Mouse Annual No. 6, the song was adapted into the comic "10 Little Mickey Kids", which is considered to possibly be the most violent Disney Comic ever. It depicted 10 little mouse babies who meet an unfortunate end until there are only two left.
^ abI. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 333-4.
^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, edited by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 192--93).
^A. Light, Forever England: femininity, literature, and conservatism between the wars (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 243.
^Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, edited by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (p. 193).
^Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, edited by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 193, 196).
^R. Riley, P. McAllister, J. Symonsm B. Cassiday., The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie (Continuum, 2001), pp. 144-45.
^Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, edited by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (pp. 198--200, quoting p. 199).
^Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2011. ‘Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th Century’, in Iceland and Images of the North, edited by S.R. Ísleifsson. Québec: Prologue Inc, 187–204 (p. 200).
^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, ); Óttar M. Norðfjörð, Tíu litlir bankastrákar ([Reykjavík]: Sögur, 2008).
^A. Christie, Ten Little Indians (New York: Pocket Books, 1964).