People nationwide have been fascinated and intrigued with the Tom Dooley story for over a century. The murder of
Laura Foster in the Elkville community, now known as Ferguson, in North Carolina was one of the nation’s first
highly publicized crimes of passion. Tom (Dula) “Dooley” hanged for the crime but many questions were left unanswered.
- Over 200 pieces of testimony were recorded in the two years that Tom was on trial. Most of the testimony is conflicting and everyone was convinced that their side of
the story was the right one.
- Governor Zebulon B. Vance came to Wilkes County to defend this Confederate war hero. A reporter from the New York Herald did the rest. His articles gripped the
nation and left them wanting more.
- Governor Vance lost the case and Tom was hanged in Statesville, NC in May of 1868. His last words were “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I never harmed a hair
on Laura Foster’s head”.
- The Kingston Trio catapulted Tom Dooley to fame again in the 1960’s with the song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”. Visitors still travel from far and wide to visit
the graves and tour the countryside where the story took place.
Tom Dula’s gravestone is on private property on the Tom Dula road in Ferguson, NC. Unfortunately, visitors have chipped away the marker for souvenirs and the access road
has been closed.In Elkville, (now Ferguson) descendants still have different opinions on what really happened. Wilkes Playmakers held a
story-telling session at the Whippoorwhil Academy in Ferguson while the script was being developed. Karen Wheeling-Reynolds,
an Elkville native and author of the play, used these different opinions and stories to develop her intriguing script for the
“This script is a mixture of fact and folklore”, said Ms. Wheeling. “These stories have been handed down from generation
to generation. I’m proud to be a part of their preservation”. She should be. Calvin and Martha Cowles, the store keeper
and his wife in the script, are her great- great- great grandparents.
Anne Melton was Tom’s childhood sweetheart. Many in the community believe that she killed Laura Foster and
persuaded Tom to help her bury the body. Anne was said to be a beauty, with coal black hair and milk white skin. She married James Melton while Tom was away at war.
When Tom returned, he took up with Laura Foster. Citizens of Elkville are divided on this next issue. Some say he loved Laura. Some say he used Laura to get back at
Anne. Whatever the case, Tom was known for being a ladies man. He was handsome and charming. Most folks will tell you that he was a good fiddle player too...always
laughing and playing at local get-togethers.
Perline Foster, Anne’s cousin from Watauga County, was brought in to work for Anne after she married the wealthy James Melton. Perline was rumored to also be in love
with Tom and may have played a part in the crime. Her testimony in the trial was instrumental in sending Tom to the gallows. Many believe that her testimony was false and
that she acted out of jealousy and hatred towards Anne and rejection from Tom.
Tom is buried on a small hill out on the Tom Dooley road in Ferguson. Laura’s grave is in Caldwell County in a beautiful pasture at the bottom of German Hill. Anne rests out
on Gladys Fork road between Ferguson and Darby not far from where the murder took place. Their graves, like their past lives, form a lover’s triangle.
“Tom Dooley; A Wilkes County Legend” fills in many of the gaps for serious Tom Dooley fans.