Hang Down Your Head and Cry / Tom Dooley

Tom Dula
Tom Dula | Source

Strange Bed Fellows

I had been trying to figure out the ballad of Tom Dooley (Tom Dula) and found a book by John Foster West who is a distant cousin of the girl killed in the Tom Dooley mystery, Laura Foster.

She was said by many to be very beautiful. Tom was dark and handsome with curly hair. This took place in 1866 so that is pretty distant but having been gathering information from all sources with the stories beyond numerous and different, proposes many hypothesis.

Months, years and people, all vary from tale to tale. There is argument even about Tom Dula’s (his real name) age even by this author (West) and it shows different dates on the boy’s more than one tombstone and I would figure his mother would have the age set right, surely. She had three sons and they all fought in the Civil War and Tom from the 42nd regiment was the only one to come home alive. I believe there was one sister.

Laura Foster, Tom's girlfriend had a married cousin, Ann Melton, that Tom has been messing with since he was about fifteen. It was said to have been told by Ann’s mother that the hanky panky took place in the house Ann lived in with her husband while he slept. This author says there was reported to have been three beds in one room and Ann's husband did not sleep with her. He was an older farmer and probably for financial reason she married him but marriage didn't stop Ann.

Strange though it is told Tom went there and got in the bed with Ann's husband and then he would get in Ann's bed. Maybe even the husband knew what was going on but why would Tom ever get in his bed? Why did he not sleep in the third bed. It is one crazy story I can tell you that much.

I think Tom felt something special for Ann and it suggests she is around his age but I have a feeling she was older and showed him the sexual ropes pretty young and although he had many women and the whole lot of then had venereal diseases, I think Ann was his all the time lover. (Perhaps like Prince Charles's Camilla? Makes as much sense.)

Muddy Yadkin River. I have never seen this river anything but muddy but it is somehow always beautiful.
Muddy Yadkin River. I have never seen this river anything but muddy but it is somehow always beautiful.

A Stranger Gets Tom Hung

Having never done research on folklore before myself I am sure this is the first time this distant cousin, author, has either and this was fifty plus years ago with all he had until this time was stories handed down through the family. Now he has records he is pouring over and stories from a dozen or more ways. He is trying to find what would be most believable with facts.

I must say that although this was not the only book this man wrote I cannot brag too much on his gift of suspicion as I would my own. Maybe he was just too much of a trusting man and although he took everyone’s tale into account there was more than once I had to wonder why he didn’t wonder why.

There was a sheriff Jim Grayson and surely that was on record somewhere and that could be believed but there was a Yankee some said was a teacher that had fallen hard for Laura, yet she rejected him. Some said his name was Bob Cummings yet in other tales he is Jim Grayson and according to this author there were no schools in this area before the Civil War or for many years afterward. So why would someone say he was a teacher, he questions? Because there were no schools does not mean that a Yankee come south could not be a teacher? This man though without argument, whatever his name, has caused the suspicion, capture and killing of Tom Dula, that much is agreed upon.

They would not have suspected or went after Tom I believe if not for this man, a stranger really, and someone in the story says that is indeed true. He nailed Tom as the murderer leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind. It was even said he found the grave, among many other tales but it was said 75 men went searching once Laura came up missing. Why was he never suspected?

Wooded grave

Source

Eloping or Shotgun Wedding?

A key to the investigation.

Laura was pregnant (also with the disease Tom has brought her it is said) and she had packed up her clothes and took her daddy's horse to go meet Tom to elope and she comes up missing.

At least two men ran away besides Tom and a third or fourth one was mentioned but one had an alibi and nothing is said of the others. Tom was working in another place, is that hiding? Maybe he doesn’t want to be around this town anymore and others ran too. Why? She was gone many weeks before she was found and it was said at a gathering Ann and a cousin Pauline got into an argument and Pauline (who they sometimes called Perline apparently) threatened to tell what she knew on Ann and with one thing leading to another it is found out that Pauline has gone with Ann and waited while Ann went further to visit Laura’s grave. Ann has told her that Tom killed and buried her. Laura was buried folded up with her head between her knees in a very short small grave. Sounds more like the work of a woman, no? Why was she checking the grave? Probably she could not be running around with a shovel so is she adding whatever to keep the barely buried body covered? Laura was stabbed in the left breast in one account, she was stabbed many times in another.

When Tom Was Hung

Asked if he had any last words to say, Tom held his right hand and replied, "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? Do you see it tremble? Do you see it shake? I never hurt a hair on the girl's head".

The trap door was dropped.

Only heaven knows now.
Only heaven knows now. | Source

Where this took place

A markerNorth State Street Yadkinville NC -
North State Street, Yadkinville, NC 27055, USA
[get directions]

My real thoughts on it is since we are told Laura is eloping with Tom; is to question why he chose this time to murder her, they are sneaking off and she has a wad of clothing and her father’s horse. Ann goes wild and maybe she enlists the help of this Yankee that Laura rejected to waylay Laura and one or the other or both kill her but the Yankee wants Tom to pay so even if he wouldn’t kill Laura he may help cover and make all look like Tom’s doing.

These people as a whole just do not sound like Sunday go to meeting people, you know? Since Ann has been Tom’s lover since he was a child, she could probably persuade him to cover for her, protect her from death. I think he would do that and I think if he killed Laura he would have said so. He said he did not and I believe him.

Tom wanted to make sure Ann was not accused but he denied killing Laura. He was hung at Statesville, North Carolina at the gallows taking over ten minutes dying since his neck did not break. Ann died about ten years later from complications of her disease.

Tom Dooley; the first song I ever picked out on a guitar so many years ago and I never once considered Tom’s story. It was only words to me and a song you learned to play picking the guitar. Who didn’t play Tom Dooley? I probably thought more of it as a nursery rhyme. It didn’t matter he was bound to die, it wasn’t real. How could it be real? That never entered my mind.

It was said by two people that on the way to the gallows Tom told the Sheriff he had such a nice clean rope, he ort to have washed his neck. It is also claimed Tom wrote his own ballad. This is one story with too many unanswered questions we will never know the answers to and it won’t matter in the hereafter. What’s done is done.

I believe this was in the general area that the Boone's lived about a century or more before. Do all their ghosts remain there? Does Tom still haunt those grounds on the Yadkin River which so many claim to have such beauty but what I have seen of it ever is so thick and sickening looking with red mud clay…or is it the look of blood… of a murder never truly solved?

Jackie Lynnley on HubPages

Sources

The Ballad of Tom Dula by John Foster West

Tom Dooley

Video By The Kingston Trio

More by this Author


Comments 43 comments

irenemaria profile image

irenemaria 5 years ago from Sweden

I liked to read the story. This is the first song I could play on guitar! Good memories of a good tune.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Wow Jackie! Thought I knew some on this story but you have really done your homework well and written an excellent article here. Your thoughts are very intriguing. I live fairly close to all the areas you write about here. The Yadkin River area- watch out for the Copperhead SNAKES- has definitely got some high strangeness going on. Once saw a Wolf type apparition at Boone's Cave State Park. They say the jail in Wilkesboro where Tom was held is haunted too. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, thanks. Voted up n interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you irenmarie, I do think so many did start out playing this tune and I bet you never really gave the song thought either, did you? Thanks so much for reading.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

It was an interesting story Alaster and I cannot even remember why I had the notion to find out about it, but being interested in NC myself I imagine I will do many more on thing in NC because if God's willing and the Creek don't rise I am doing animal and a family story very close to this region. Thanks for your visit as always.


amillar profile image

amillar 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

Nice one Jackie. I must have sung that song hundreds of times, never knowing the true story - until now.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you amillar. Oh it was not an easy book to follow I can tell you and I think everyone was in everyones bed, sort of a shocker for the nice south back that far and the author didn't explain things anyone would have questions to. Ann did not sleep with her husband but her bed and another besides her husbands was in the same room, so why did Tom get in her husbands bed? To make him think he was not sleeping with Ann? Why not just get in the 3rd empty bed?


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Hey Jackie there were some rascals back in those days just like now. Someone told of their ancestor from Tom's era that was visiting three different women in Wilkes county on rotation and got em all in a family way..:D


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Wow I believe it, and they were all cousins I think, I kind of hated making the rest of us here look like incestors, I mean ancestors, lol.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

I remember this song from my childhood as my dad was a huge fan of the Kingston Trio. I loved their songs too.

Your article is fascinating. Thanks for the good read. :-)


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you James and as always I am honored when you enjoy any of my writings.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 5 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hi Dear Jackie,I LOVED THIS HUB. From the lay-out to the extemely-talent you show in your writing style, I loved it. I am new to Hubs and I wish I had half the talent that you have. Keep up the great work.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Well such a good surprise of praise I am sure I don't half deserve; but thank you. I like to go for something different when I can and I am loving finding out all these things myself!


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

I have that ballad on a CD. Didn't know it had a real story behind it. Voted up!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thanks, I didn't either until I came across the story in the library. I love the non-fiction section. Always learn something new. Thanks so much for the vote!


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 5 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Great hub, I used to love singing that hub too. Although it may have had something to do with the fact that I had a crush on a guy called Tom. eh..


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Yeah, Eileen, I was kinda that way over Billy Boy and the boy I liked wasn't even named Billy, lol. Thanks for reading and glad you liked it.


Poetic Fool 4 years ago

Very interesting, Jackie! I was like you and had no idea the song had some kind of true events behind it. It sure does make you think. I would guess it was fun poking into the story to find the historical basis. Most likely frustrating too without many, if any, official records and so much of it being based on rumor and innuendo. Still, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thanks so much Poetic Fool for reading, it was a very confusing research to be sure but I always felt he paid another mans sentence, and such a shame. I still wonder about him sleeping with the husband when there was a third bed there, lol.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

Jackie, this is really great and the amount of time and research you put into this is obvious. Well done! In His Love, Faith Reaper


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Faith Reaper, you are so appreciated reading my hubs and commenting. So glad you like them, that means a lot as you know by now I am sure. Bless you!


Hubert Williams 4 years ago

It was among my first songs to play on the guitar, also. The first being "The Red River Valley" Voted up and interesting. Thank you.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you Hubert, I am sure I never got as good as "The Red River Valley".


old albion profile image

old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi Jackie. What a tremendous hub! I know a little from the old song by the Kingston Trio, but you have told us so much more by your in depth research. Thank you.

Graham.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you, old albion, I too was amazed at this find. Still a bit of a mystery.


Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

I only knew about the song that an elementary teacher played for us students on a phonograph. I never thought of Tom Dooley as a real person.

Thanks for sharing.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

ou are welcome Levertis, I was pleased to find out what I did about Tom. Poor boy.


stars439 profile image

stars439 4 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Remembering the many songs, and lessons with Tom Dooley in them. It is in so many lesson books. GBY Dear Heart.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank stars and God bless yours.


John MacNab profile image

John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

Very interesting, Jackie. Thank you for this Hub.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you John, haven't been here in awhile!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

.....one of the most awesome hub stories ever Jackie of poetic justice -

always loved the song - now I know the 'true' story behind it - you are an intrepid investigative journalist of the highest order!

sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 7:28am and wonderful research here.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Epi - Thank you so much. Glad you liked this and brought it to my attention, I need to find a new of of interest. They are always fun.


Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 2 years ago from USA

When I asked my Mom as a kid who the song Tom Dooley was about, she told me he was a missionary to Africa. I never listened that well to the song and that is what I always believed. This was interesting to find out who he really was. Some of the stuff my Mom told me!!!!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

That is funny Barbara; but maybe someone told her that and she believed it; you never know! Interesting thought though; lol. Thanks for reading!


bensen32 profile image

bensen32 2 years ago from Round Lake Park

Cant say I ever heard a story about the name but I remember hearing the name before. Thanks for the information and now I've learned something new today.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South Author

Thank you bensen; glad you stopped by to read!


cleaner3 2 years ago

awesome write Jackie


Jackie 2 years ago

Thank you Michael!


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 17 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

I never really knew where the story came from, so it was interesting to read. Tom got around it seems, but I do not get the part about the old man in bed. Could of been ahead of his time. Great hub and you write so beautiful.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 17 months ago from The Beautiful South Author

Well thank you ladyguitarpicker; that bit of a compliment is all I have had in awhile and certainly appreciated!

Yes, the husband in bed is sure a puzzler to me too!


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 8 months ago

An interesting article about the song's back story. Would there have been a trial transcript? What about newspaper accounts?


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 7 months ago from The Beautiful South Author

I found some things like that or they were covered in one of the books but anything written seemed to be so ignorantly written, it is just really crazy Robert.

Poor Tom, I do have a feeling he was innocent but all the attention must have thrilled him....


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 7 months ago

Theresa, this is so very interesting, I heard this song from when I was a child, but I did not pick it on my guitar, there were other songs I much preferred.

I did hear the legend of Tom Dula/Dooley, and his last words were outing all the dirty little secrets of those who accused him of killing the woman he intended to marry. To bad DNA testing did not exist at that time.

Blessings and hugs my dear friend.

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