Recent writings about the case

When I completed this article, it had gotten so long, that I decided that to make it more readable, I would have to break it down to smaller portions, of which this is the first. As they are all in the End of Story part, I have simply decided to name them End of Story II a, End of Story II b and so on. So I will start out with a story, that is not so recent after all.

Another third hand report

The account in question was told in 1969 to John Foster West in connection with his research for his first book on the Tom Dooley subject, "The Ballad of Tom Dooley." The story was told by the then 81-year-old Wade Gilbert, who was the grandson of Louisa Gilbert, James Meltons second wife. Therefore you should think that he had first hand information, but as you will see that he hadn't. His story was as much based on rumors and storys from the neighborhood as anybody else's.

Gilbert was the son of Ellen Gilbert, Louisa Gilbert's daughter out of wedlock from before she married James Melton. Ellen was born in 1862 and was therefore four years old when the events in question took place. As Ellen was only four at the time her knowledge can't possibly be first hand. She must have picked stuff up as she grew up, perhaps from her mother or stepfather, but even that is not very likely though and even if she did get some information from her mother, that would already be third hand information as Louisa Gilbert was not involved in the case at all. Also Ellen lived from her birth in 1862 to at least sometime after 1880 with her mother's uncle, Rufus D. Hall (second cousin to Tom Dooley and also related to Laura Foster by marriage). In 1900 Wade was living with his mother, Ellen, with a Mary Hall, who must have been related to his grandmother's uncle. Mary was seven years younger than Rufus D., so she might have been a younger sister. FamilySearch claims that Wade was the son of Mary, but in that case it would be strange to name him Gilbert, not Hall, so this must be due to a misreading of the orginal census records. In the original Mary Hall is mentioned as "Head of Household". She has a tenant, Ellen Gilbert, and then comes Wade, recorded as "son" followed by another tenant. This must mean that Wade is the son of Ellen, as children of the "head of household" usually always precede any tenants or lodgers. FamilySearch by the way called the second tenant, who was a male, "Lillian," but when I look at the records I'm pretty sure that it actually says "William", which would also fit better for a man. Evidence suggests that Ellen Gilbert and Wade never lived with Ellen's mother and stepfather, neither before or after the wedding, perhaps because the Melton home  was so small that to accommodate both the children he already had and the ones he would have with Louisa, that there was no room for Ellen. As far as I can see, Ellen never lived together with her mother at any time after Louisa's marriage. Of course Ellen would have visited her mother, but it's not likely that Louisa or James was the source of Wade Gilberts story, excelpt maybe for the family parts.

Anyway, back to what Wade Gilbert actually told John Foster West. The above account is just to show that this was definately not firsthand knowledge on Gilbert's part.

According to Wade Gilbert, Laura was pregnant and Tom had promised to marry her. (Have we heard that before?) On the way to Bates Place Laura did not meet Betsy Foster, but an old freed slave called Aunt Appline, and it was her she told where she was going. At Bates Place Ann Melton and Pauline Foster (who were sisters in this story) held Laura firmly while Tom stabbed her with the knife. Wade Gilbert even knows that the three of them wrapped the corpse in a sheet which they then tied to a pole and in this manner carried the body down the hill from Bates Place to the grave. Here they broke Laura's legs so she could fit into in the grave. According to Gilbert Wilson Fosters horse did not return until several days later when Wilson found it grazing in a meadow. Gilbert also knew the story about Tom telling Rufus Hall of his intentions to kill the one who had infected him, but Gilbert does not mention what he was infected with.

Gilbert also has a story about Pauline Foster's otherwise unknown mother, racing Wilson Foster to Wilkesboro to offer her daughter as a key witness in the case, a role Wilson apparently also would have liked, although it is hard to understand what he could have known to qualify him as a key witness. Wade Gilbert told that Tom was captured in Tennessee, so that part is correct and also that "Grayson" helped capture him.

At the end of the interview Gilbert throws in some juicy rumors. Lotty Foster often got so drunk, that she couldn't stand. Ann Melton slept with anyone who came by, some times with haulers who camped in the neighborhood. She had sex with such men in exchange for tobacco and clothing etc.. She locked her children in her cabin and left them alone all night, while she was entertaining men elsewhere. This suggests that James Melton was not home during the Civil War, as was the case, so Gilbert got that part right.

Gilbert knows that Ann had two daughters, and he knows their names, but he doesn't know when they were born. He don't know that the youngest, Ida, wasn't born until 1871, several years after Tom's execution. But, he can tell that she moved to Caldwell County, and he does not know what happened to her later. (Fortunately I do, see the article Family Ties.) Jane stayed in Wilkes*, where she married and had nine children. He concludes by saying that after Ann's death Melton married his grandmother, and that James was a good man.

* Actually she and her husband moved to Watauga County for some years and most of their children were born here, but they later returned to Wiles and stayed there for the rest of their lives, which may be what Gilbert remebered.

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