This is the story of a young confederate soldier, Tom Dooley, who returned to his home in Happy Valley on the Yadkin River in Wilkes County, North Carolina after the Civil War. Tom survived many battles but his claim to fame was his love of music. While in the army camp, it was Tom who would be found sitting around singing songs and picking his banjo.
war, Tom, a happy-go-lucky young man, was very popular with the young
ladies. Two of these young ladies were Laura Foster and her cousin
Ann Foster. The girls were noted for their popularity and were well sought
after by the local swains. They turned a lot of heads. Both girls
became infatuated with Tom Dooley. He managed his time to be with
both. By the time the war was over, Ann's infatuation had come to an end
and she married James Milton. On Tom Dooley's return Laura thought, with
Ann married she would have a clear field with Tom. But Ann's love for Tom
quickly returned when she saw the dashing young soldier and would have none of
cousin Laura getting ahead of her. She thought with Larua out of the way
she and Tom would get back together and she would marry him. Laura had many
suitors. Among them was a school teacher, Bob Grayson who was "smitten"
with her and wanted her for his wife.
Tom made arrangements with Laura to run away and get married. In the night she took what clothes she could carry on horseback and left home for her rendezvous with Tom.
She disappeared. Laura was eighteen at the time. Her family searched for her, but to no avail. As time went on, the people suspected she had run away with Tom Dooley. More search parties were formed and about three weeks after Laura disappeared, her horse returned, gaunt and with a broken halter. The searchers found where the horse had been tied to a tree. The soil was disturbed with horse tracks. After more search, some people thought Laura's body had been disposed of in the Yadkin River.
Some time later, Ann got into an argument with her sister, Perline Foster. Ann was deeply critical of her sister. Perline warned Ann that she better be careful or she would tell what she knew about Laura. Ann answered that Perline was just as guilty as she was. The authorities became suspicious of the two girls and began to question them. Perline became scared and broke down. She said Tom Dooley had killed Laura, that Ann took her to the site of the grave. Perline directed the search party to the place of burial. The search party spread out over the entire area. James Melton, James Isbell, David Horton and Bob Grayson were in the search party. James Isbell's horse shied from an area with loose dirt. The crowd started digging and found the body of Laura Foster. Her legs had been broken and what appeared to be a stab wound was found in her breast. Also found was the small bag of Laura's clothing. There was no doubt, it was Laura.
Laura's body was taken to the nearest town, funeral arrangements were made and she was buried on a high hill known ever since as "Laura Foster Hill".
The investigation began. One of the men, Bob Grayson, said he had found a handkerchief in the grave that belonged to Ann Melton. The authorities compiled information that led them to arrest Ann Melton and Tom Dooley, which finally resulted in the hanging of Tom Dooley. Several members of the search party fled the country. Anyone who was ever associated with Laura, was under suspicion. Not to be denied, Bob Grayson continued the search for the murderer of Laura, the girl he had hopes of marrying.
Then weeks after Laura's body had been found, a bunch of riders rode into town. Grayson was in the lead. Next came Tom Dooley with his hands shackled behind his back. Next was Jack Keaton with his hands tied. Following with guns at the ready were Ben Ferguson and Jack Adkins.
A crowd had gathered. Grayson told them that Tom Dooley had murdered Laura and Keaton and Ann Foster had helped him. That he had faked extradition papers and arrested them illegally. Tom Dooley, nonchalant as ever, asked that he be un-shackled and proceeded to play a little tune on his banjo. The two prisoners were taken to Wilksboro and incarcerated by A. T. Ferguson. Jack Keaton furnished a plausible alibi and was later released. Ann Foster was quickly arrested. She and Tom were bound over for trial.
The local attorney, named Vance, agreed to defend Tom. Vance was able to negotiate a change of venue because the local people were up in arms against Tom. The trial began in Statesville, a distance of about thirty miles from Wilksboro with Judge Ralph Burton presiding. Evidence was produced that Tom Dooley and Ann Foster were having an affair. Feelings was running high even in Statesville. Then a witness, Betsy Scott was brought into court by Bob Grayson. She swore that she had talked to Laura Foster the day before she disappeared and Laura told her she was going to meet Tom Dooley. Try as he may, Vance could not get her to change her testimony. From the very beginning Tom insisted that he was not guilty, but he would say nothing against or about his relationship with others. The attorney tried in every way possible to draw him out, but Tom remained mute throughout the trial.
It was on the first day of May, 1866, that Tom Dooley rode through the streets of Statesville in a wagon. He sat on the top of his coffin on that bright and shiny day with his banjo on his knee, joking with the throng of people walking along. He picked his favorite ballad on the old banjo, laughing as the wagon neared the gallows. When the rope was placed around his neck, he joked with Sheriff W. E. Watson, "I would have washed my neck if I had known you were using such a nice clean new rope". Asked in seriousness 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.
Tom was buried in a cemetery in Happy Valley by the side of the old North Wilkesboro Road near Elksville, North Carolina. Near where Big Elkin Creek meets the Yadkin River a few miles northeast of Roaring River where the Parks brothers, John and Thomas settled.
Vance also defended Ann Melton. She was finally found not guilty, but the stigma followed her every where she went. She seemed not to care and continued to flirt and exploit others. Until the final requiem a few years later when she was killed by a wagon overturning. Some people believed she was a witch or the devil lived within her.
Many, many stories have been written and published about the legend of Tom Dooley. Poems have been written. Songs, plays and ballads have been written. Some of which are still popular to this day. Folklore at it's best, but a tragedy to the people of "Happy Valley" on the Yadkin.
Throughout history, there have been many songs written about the Eternal Triangle. This next one tells the story of Mr. Grayson, a beautiful woman, and a condemned man named Tom Dooley. When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley will die.
IRATE QULIN MAN KILLS NEIGHBOR AND ATTEMPTS TO SLAY 2 OTHERS