Anne Foster Melton: Tom Dula's One True Love


                                 Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Hang down your head and cry

                                  Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Poor boy you're bound to die.

How many times have you heard that song? Sung over and over. Just about the time it's ready to die out along comes a fresh face to add new life. But, I get ahead of myself, here. Let me introduce myself. My name is Anne Foster Melton. And I was Tom Dula's one true love. Some people believe that Tommy kilt Laurie Foster and that’s why he was hanged. But Tommy didn’t kill Laurie. He never kilt nobody.  And I knowed that for a fact.

You see, we grew up together on Wilkes Mountain in North Carolina. Tom was tall and handsome - chestnut brown hair that curled at the nape of his neck and blue eyes the color of the midnight sky. People just naturally thought we were made for each other. You see, I was a looker myself back then...prettiest girl in Wilkes County. I was a few years older than Tom so I helped him learn to read and cipher. He never was one for writin' though. When Tom got old enough we were goin' to get married.

Then that war broke out and Tom's two older brothers enlisted in the Confederate Army right off. Now, Tommy was only sixteen but he went and signed up for the Rebel Cause. Nobody guessed he was underage. I said to Tommy, “Tommy, you’re no killer. Why you signin’ up?”

And he says, “Why Annie, I don’ need to kill nobody. You see, they know I’m  musically inclined, so I’m gonna be the drummer that leads our men into battle. Don’t you worry none about me. Why I’ll be home in no time.” Back then, why we thought our boys'd whoop those Yankees and be home in a coupla weeks. But, the war went on and on. Weeks, months, years passed and nary a word from my Tommy. Well, I told you he didn't like to write.

I wanted to wait for Tommy, but my mama kept nagging me to marry Mr. James Melton  “James Melton,” I cried, “James Melton is an old man – 35 years old!” But, he had a home and property...a respectable farmer.

"He's not a no-count n’er- do-well like that Tom Dula!" mama said. "Mark my words. Your good looks ain't gonna last forever. Better pick whilst the pickin's good!"  So, I settled and married that man...but I never loved him.

Then we got word that the Dula boys were killed in the Battle of Petersburg. I thought my heart was gonna break into a million pieces. Just as I started to put those pieces back together, here comes Tommy marchin' home - a war hero! I ran up to him and put my arms around him. I said, “Tommy, my Tommy, we thought you was kilt.”

“Oh. Annie, my brothers did die but because I was beaten the drum for the 42nd Regiment during the war, they didn’t shoot me, they put in prison.” See, I told you he wasn’t into killin’. Tom saw much death, especially at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. But now he was home.

I was expectin' we'd take up right where we left off. After all, my "marriage" was just a convenience. James and I slept in separate beds for heaven's sake. But Tommy came home a changed man with an eye for other women. Even heard that he was sweet on one in particular and they were plannin’ on  running off together. At first I couldn't believe it. Then, I saw it for myself.

I'd heard that Tom was playin' his fiddle and banjo at barn dances. Now, you and I know that if'in there ever was two instruments of the was the fiddle and banjo! Well, I went to one them barn dances. I saw Tommy up front burnin' that fiddle. I swear you could see flames comin' out of those strings. And the women - all swooning and moonin' over Tommy. It made me so mad. Then, I saw there was one young woman in particular that Tommy kept eye'n. Why, it was my own cousin Laurie Foster. She was a cute little thing...she came by her beauty naturally, but heavens, she was only 16 years old. I saw the two of them makin' eyes at each other. And  knew, oh, I knew what was goin' on.

I told you Tom was a changed man and war does change a man, but this was more. This was somethin' else. I started thinkin' about it - Tom comes home a war hero, all the lady-folk are fawin' over him, and he's playin' devil music. There was only one explanation...Tom was in league with the devil! He wanted fame and he made a pact with Satan!

I didn't know what to do. Rumors started flyin' that Laurie and Tommy were gonna run off and get married. I had to do somethin'. So, I figured what was good for the gander, was good for the goose. So, midnight by the dark of the moon, I went up to Devil's Point to make my own pact with the Big Boy. I said, "You want my soul? You can have it! Just make Tommy profess his undying love for me...his one true love!" A cold wind whipped up outa nowhere, and a voice whispered in my ear and told me what I had to do.  

I came down off that mountain and my head was clear. I knew for certain what I had to do next. I had to go and talk some sense into that cousin of mine. So I went to see Laurie.

She was busy packin' some bags when I got there. "Where you headin' off to?" I asked (like I didn't know).

She looked at me with those big blue eyes of hers and simpered. "Why, haven't you heard? Tom Dula and I are runnin' off tonight to get married."

I held my temper...even smiled. "Is that right? Well, I don't think that's such a great idea."

"Didn't think you would. But, Tommy loves me now, and so what you think doesn't matter."

"Laurie, I always liked you. So, I'm gonna tell you somethin' about Tommy that may be hard to hear. You see, when Tom was up North, he came back a changed man. I'm sure you noticed it. And it wasn't just because of the war neither. He is in league with the devil."

And do you know what that little wench did? She laughed. She laughed and she said, "Oh Annie, poor washed up Annie. Spent her youth married to that old prune, James you makin' up lies so you can have your cake and eat it too. But, too bad cause Tommy loves me! And once we're married, he won't have nothin' to do with a dried up old biddy, like you!"

Now, I lost my temper. Tears burned my eyes, when I saw a butcher knife just layin' on the block. And I remembered that voice and what it told me I had to do. I don't even remember pickin' it up. The next thing I knew Laurie had stopped laughin' and was lying on the floor covered with blood, her blue eyes staring up at me…but not seein’ nothin’. I dropped the knife, when I heard someone at the door. It was Tom! He came right over and took me in his arms. He said, "It's going to be alright Annie. I'll take care of everything. Don't you worry. You're my one true love. Always was and always will be."

After that, we had to get rid of Laurie's body, So, while I rolled Laurie’s body onto a rug. Tommy went and got a wagon and a shovel. We dug a grave well off the main road. We figured nobody'd ever find it. But rumors started flyin' and people began sayin' that Tommy was involved. They knew they were supposed to get married that night, so it was given that he had killed her. The sheriff just wouldn’t let it be – askin’ all the neighbors if they’d een anything that night. So Tommy ran off to Tennessee until things cooled down. Finally, an old farmer said, “You  know, Sheriff, I do remember somethin’. Didn’t make nothin’ of it at the time. But, one night, my dogs started to bark. I looked out my window and say a tall man, maybe that Tom Dula fella, come into my barn and took my wagon and a shovel. I followed him til I saw him and some woman put something into the wagon. They travelled down the road a piece and stopped. I decided to get back home, cause I’s figured it weren’t none of my business. Next mornin’ my wagon and shovel was back where I left it. I thought maybe I dreamt the whole thing up.” Well, the sheriff had the farmer show them where that wagon stopped and he got some men with some blood hounds and they found Laurie's body. Then that sheriff formed a posse and brought Tommy back to stand trial for the murder of Laurie Foster.

Tom and I were both put in prison and eventually they did find Tom guilty.

                                            I met her on the mountain. There I took her life
                                            Met her on the mountain...Stabbed her with my knife

He wouldn't tell them the truth about what happened. Said that I was NOT involved! He loved me! So, I was set free.

But, Tom? He was hanged in Statesville, North Carolina on May 1, 1868. Over 3000 people came to see the spectacle. I wasn't there, cause I was still in jail awaiting trial, but I heard from others that his sister, Eliza, was there with a wagon and a cedar box to catch Tom after they cut him down. Now, I wasn't there like I told you, but I heard tell from several who were there that they saw Tom sittin' on top of that coffin playing his fiddle and singin' that song. That song that had a life of its own making Tom Dula a legend. Not only in his own time but for eternity! It wasn't fame that Tom bargained was infamy!

                                    Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Hang down your head and cry

                                         You kilt Laurie Foster, Poor boy you're bound to die.

  But that song's got it all wrong. It wasn't Tom Dula, it was me. They should be singin' about me! I kilt Laurie Foster! Me! Annie Foster Melton…Tom Dula’s One True Love!

*Hear Taleypo tell her latest story at Maple Woods College in KC on You-Tube: