WILKES PLAYMAKERS, INC.
Present

This is the dramatization of the well-known 1868 Wilkes County love triangle that resulted in the murder of Laura Foster and the subsequent hanging of Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley). Folklore and legend feel that he confessed to the murder to protect his true love, Anne Melton. Local musicians will sing and play acoustical instruments and Appalachian square dancing will be featured. Director - Karen Wheeling-Reynolds

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 play.

“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.



Wilkes Playmakers Inc. is proud to be a part of Wilkes County Theatre and North Carolina Community Theatre.

Wilkes Playmakers has been a part of Wilkes County Theatre and North Carolina Community Theatre since 1990. The organization is committed to expanding both the availability of and interest in the arts and drama in the Wilkes region of Northwestern North Carolina. The Wilkes Playmakers home is Benton Hall, which is the old North Wilkesboro elementary school located at 300 D Street, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.