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The True Story of Tom Dooley 

(Reprint from News: July 8, 2001)

July 8, 2001

 

Interestingly enough, the place where I was camping in North Carolina was only a short ways from the site that inspired a famous folk song.  Shortly after the Civil War, a man named Tom Dula (pronounced "Dooley") lived in nearby Wilkes County, North Carolina.  Dula, a Confederate war veteran, had lively relationships with several local ladies, including a young woman named Laura Foster.  Though the details are hazy, Dula apparently spun a lot of romantic webs because he also had a relationship at the same time with a married woman named Ann Melton and with yet another Foster woman named Pauline.

 

Here's the Kingston Trio singing Tom Dooley.

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One morning in 1866, Dula wakened Laura Foster and told her to pack her things because he wanted to marry her later that day -- an approach to romance that probably wouldn't get a big "thumbs-up" from Oprah.  Anyway, Laura disappeared soon afterwards and Tom Dula fled to Tennessee. 

 

After a prolonged search, Laura's murdered body was found and Dula was tracked down in Tennessee by Sheriff Grayson.  Dula was brought back to North Carolina, where he was tried for murder and was found guilty.  He was hanged in Statesville, North Carolina, and was buried in Wilkes County, as was Laura.  

 

The story soon hit the newspapers, some as far away as New York City, and eventually a song was written about the whole affair.  In 1930, a fiddler named G.B. Grayson, a relative of Sheriff Grayson, recorded a version of the song which, in 1958, was sung and popularized by the Kingston Trio.  Their song set off an explosion of folk music that swept across the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and it's always been one of my favorites.  Today, you can even visit Tom's grave in Wilkes County -- if you're into that sort of thing.

 

       

Above left:  The Cheoah River in North Carolina. 

Above center:  Here's something that I'd never seen before: steam rising from a lake during a hot afternoon.  Now THIS is humidity!  

Above right:  Instead of B&B, it's D&D (dinner and downloading photos) while camping at Fontana Lake, North Carolina.  Yep, it's brats again -- good thing I'm not in a rut!  

 

 

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