Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy you¹re bound to die
I met her on the mountain
There I took her life
Met her on the mountain
Stabbed her with my knifeChorus
This time tomorrow, reckon where I¹ll be
If it hadn’t been for Grayson
I'd been in TennesseeChorus
This time tomorrow
Reckon where I¹ll be
Down in some lonesome valley
Hanging from a white oak treeChorus
What "Tom Dooley" did cannot be minimized.
Only "Heartbreak Hotel" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" can legitimately claim
to have a greater impact on the direction of American Popular Music since
World War II. Just about every person who ever made a living with an acoustic
guitar owes a debt to the Kingston Trio's recording of "Tom Dooley."
The Statesville, North Carolina American of May 1868, carried the following
Thomas C. Dula suffered the extreme penalty of the law by hanging, near
this place, at 17 minutes past 2 o'clock p.m., on May first, having been a
second time convicted of the murder of Laura Foster of Wilkes County, more
than a year ago. Under the gallows he made a long address to several thousand
persons who were present to witness his execution, and avowed his preparations
to appear in another world. On the night previous to the execution, he made
confession of his guilt, which we copy from his own hand.
'I declare that I am the only person that had a hand in the murder of Laura
Foster, April 30, 1868.'
Most of the folks who saw Tom Dula stretched must have doubted the truth
of both his speech and his confession. The whole community felt sure that
Tom was protecting 'the other woman in the case' Ann Melton, and that she
had a hand in the stabbing. The superstitious believed that Tom and Laura
were already singing in Hell, and that Ann Melton's name was an item in
the Devil's black account book. Their story, bloody enough to inspire a
Scots border balladist, is still told around firesides in the North Carolina
Dula, like many another wild young American of the time, enjoyed the Civil
War and was sorry when it ended. Back home in Wilkes County, he acquired
the reputation of a desperado, and cut a wide swathe among the ladies of
the hills across the Yadkin, which a Herald Tribune reporter described as
a territory in which "free-lovism prevails, and it is a wise child that knows
his own father". He courted Laura Foster, blue-eyed, beautiful and 'wild
as a buck', but his fancy soon fixed upon Ann Melton, whom one old-timer
recalled as "the purtiest woman I ever looked in the face of". This new affair,
however, was soon blighted when Dula realized when he realized that he had
caught a disease from Laura Foster. He swore that he would "put her through"
for this misfortune, and apparently, he and Ann then conspired to murder
One Thursday night, Ann Melton and Tom Dula dug a grave on a lonely hillside.
Next day, Tom lured Laura away from her father's house with a promise to
marry her. They rode together to the vicinity of the grave, where ann was
hiding in the bushes with a knife in her hand. Tom took a drink, then wiped
his mouth with his bandana and, tenderly offering to wipe Laura's mouth with
the same handkerchief, stuffed it down her throat. Ann darted out of the
bushes and stabbed Laura in the stomach. When the two had made sure that
their victim was dead, they buried her in a shallow grave on a mountainside
and returned to their homes.
Even then their conduct excited suspicion, and, when Laura's body was discovered
six weeks later, both were arrested. Dula's trial dragged on for nearly
two years but, for reasons he kept to himself, he always denied that Ann
Melton had anything to do with the crime. Even in the ballad, which he composed
during his last days in jail, he did not mention her name. So it was that,
when she finally came to the trial, she got off with a short sentence. As
one old-timer remarked, "She'd-a been hung, but her neck was just too pretty
to stretch hemp. She was guilty, I knowed it. Everybody knowed it, and Tom
Dula could-a proved it, but he loved her, I rekon. Anyhow he shore died for
her. But, ef they'd been ary women on the jury, she'd-a got first degree.
The men couldn't look at that woman and keep their heads."
The women had their revenge when Ann Melton died. They told how the devil
carried her off, while black cats ran squaling up the walls of her room,
and the smell of frying meat filled the air. The story and the ballad still
make folk shiver in the Carolina mountains -- "Lawsee, we talked about it
so much, seems as though I may dream that murder tonight. I'm nearly scait!"