Tom Dula

I met her on the mountain
There I took her life

Met her on the mountain

Stabbed her with my knife

~from the Traditional folk song "Tom Dooley"

From the Halloween Vault - My buddy Ajax made a list of the Top Ten Vampires, Ghosts and Zombies. Some pretty good lists.


[from 2004, this Halloween story was never very popular. But I liked it, and that's good enough for me. Based on the famous song, which is itself based on real life events. Events I was able to (after much hard work) track down. Maybe that's why I like it so much; feeling like I earned it. Take a listen to that song if you get the chance, you'll be shocked how violent it is for a folk song, and what's worse: your parents love that song! I hope you enjoy. -H]


You might be aware (and if you’re not, you should be) of the Legend of Tom Dooley. The tale is based on real events, and made famous in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s by a movie and a folk song.

Tom Dula (pronounced Doo-lee) was a Confederate soldier in North Carolina after the war. He was also a bit of a rogue (or what we’d today call a “player”), romancing 3 women at the same time (that we know of): a Laura Foster, her sister, Pauline Foster, and Ann Melton (who was both married and a cousin to the Fosters).

The story goes that one morning in 1866 Tom woke Laura Foster and told her to pack her things, for he wanted to marry her that night. This is the same night she “disappeared,” and Dula soon hightailed it to Tennessee. A lengthy search turned up Laura’s body, and a Sheriff Grayson tracked down Dula in Tennessee and brought him back to North Carolina, where Tom was tried, hanged, and buried.

The case generated quite a bit of attention, and stories and songs were told and sung about the affair. In 1930 a fiddler named G.B. Grayson—a relative of the sheriff—recorded a version that was later used by the Kingston Trio, setting of the Folk Music Wave and introducing a whole new generation to Tom “Dooley.”

Through diligent research I came up with some alternate theories as to what actually happened between Tom Dula and Laura Foster, including one small scrap of a story that survived—in all places—in a West Virginia church basement. I present that to you now.

The day stood wet and miserable, already dark though not three hours after the noon meal. Ann Melton stood in the kitchen, kneading dough for the evening meal. The back door opened at the same time as a flash of lightning, sending Ann’s heart into her throat. It was Ann’s cousin Pauline, a spitting image of her sister.

“I’ve just come from the Sheriff’s office,” Pauline said. “Mr. Grayson is determined to hang him at dawn, no matter if this beastly weather continues.”

Pauline took off her wet cloak and hung it by the stove. She adjusted her clothes and turned back to Ann. “You have never seen such hatred as Sheriff Grayson has for Tom. I think the sheriff had liked to kill Tom right now with his bare hands if he could.”

Ann got up to put a kettle over the fire. “You know better than anyone that Herbert Grayson was in love with Laura,” she said. “He probably still is in love with her, dead as she is.”

Pauline nodded, and sat down to dress two chickens to help with the work. “The sooner it’s over, the better. I guess I just can’t help but feel sad.”

“We agreed!” Ann exclaimed. Seeing the pained expression on her cousin’s face she softened her tone. “It’s for the best, Pauline, really.”

Ann stirred the kettle, and then went on: “Did you get to talk to him?”

“I did. I told the Deputy Hicks I wanted so talk to the man who killed my Laura; God rest her soul. Mr. Hicks offered to hold Tom down and let me beat on him some, but I told him I just wanted to say my piece and go.”

The kettle began to steam over the stove. Ann got a towel and removed it, pouring two cups of tea. She brought the cups back over to the table, setting one down by Pauline and taking a sip out of the other.

“What was Tom like? I have to admit I have wished to see him one final time as well, but as only a cousin to Laura—and a married woman—I dared not risk it. Old Lady Peabody already had suspicions.”

“Tom looked terrible bad,” Pauline mused. “Sheriff Grayson may not hang him until tomorrow, but it looks like he’s been pounding Tom every day since they got back from Tennessee.”

Ann tsk’d. “What about the other thing?” she asked Pauline.

Pauline grimaced a little. “I sincerely don’t think Tom will say anything. When I went in he shrunk back in his cell. Tom had the most awful look on his face. I think he was afraid of me!”

Ann smiled at that thought, and shivered at another. “You were awful fearsome with that knife. I watched one of our hands, Jeff, butcher a bull the other day, and he wasn’t half as quick or tidy as you.”

Pauline blushed. “I got good with that knife skinning rabbits as a child. And it’s like my mamma always taught us girls, ‘When something unpleasant has to be done, it’s best to get on with it.’ Besides, I didn’t see you hesitating over making Tom dig the hole.”

“Well, my mamma always said ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk’—so to speak. I had to chivy Tom into action, though. I think he was in such a shock he’d have stayed rooted to that spot ‘til he fell over.”

Pauline laughed aloud. “Tom—like all men—needs to learn not to be so free with his affections. Like my mamma always told us girls, ‘Hell have no fury…’”

“Too true, too true,” Anne laughed. “Help me get this bread in the oven, will you?”

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