Tom Dooley Oral Histories

The Tom Dooley Files by author Charlotte Corbin Barnes separates the myths from the facts.

-Excerpts of interviews from The Tom Dooley Files-


ThomsaThomas W. Ferguson – 1988 interview for The Tom Dooley Files

“My father, Lindsay C. Ferguson didn’t know the whole truth of the (Tom Dooley) story.  He heard it from other people.  But, he was living at the same time and his brother was the deputy sheriff and guarded Tom while he was in jail.  You get the truth by going to the community and talking to the people to which it was handed down. There aren’t many who are living anymore who know about it.”

“We shall not make a blameless hero out of Tom, for like all humanity he had his weaknesses and failures.  He was from no renegade family.  His ancestry was from among the first settlers of the Yadkin Valley.”

“Nobody living then or now knew the true secret of the whole thing, but my father knew about as much as anybody.  He told the story just about as I have written it.  I can only tell you what he really believed…that Tom was not guilty.”


Lawrence Winkler – 1988 interview for The Tom Dooley Files

“Laurel and Tom got to going together after he came back from the army so Ann couldn’t or she didn’t like that.  And, that was after she was already married.”

“When they got ready to hang him, the chaplain said, ‘Tom, do you have anything to say?’  ‘Yes, I have.  I didn’t harm a hair on Laurel’s head, but I deserve death.’  That meant that he didn’t kill her but helped plan to get her off.  That’s what everybody thinks around here.  Tom got Laurel off from home and Ann killed her.”

OscarOscar Stradley – 1992 interview for The Tom Dooley Files

“With Grandmother telling me the story again before she died, I often wondered, whether or not this ‘other woman’ was involved.  And, you begin to see a little aspect about Dula, the man, here…his not fighting death.  Men, even those, as John Foster West calls them, ‘the low life’s of that area,’ still had a certain amount of southern chivalry.  Whether this Ann Melton was involved or not, Dula would not have implicated her himself.”

“Much of North Carolina’s history is written around ballads, folk tales, and things that happened.  The way to record them is to put them down in these old folk songs.  Every musician, and I guess, mountain musicians in particular, are natural musicians. You don’t teach ‘em how to play a banjo and you don’t teach a fiddler. You might teach violin, but you don’t teach a fiddler to fiddle.  So each mountain musician would put his own words and tune to the song, you know.  And the one that my granddad sang was nothing like that popular thing that came out in the 1950s!”

“Whether grandmother’s father had any contact with Dula or Ann Melton other than just that one day in May when he drove his wagon from the jail to the hanging, I don’t know.  But, my grandmother did not believe that Tom was guilty by himself or even guilty at all.”



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