Newspaper articles, etc..

There have been written many newspaper articles about the Dooley case from 1866 and until today. In 2001 The Wilkes Playmakers for the first time perfomed the play "Tom Dooley - A Wilkes County Legend" by Karen Wheeling Reynold, and they have repeated the performance every summer since then and is doing so again in 2012. The play is based on Reynolds own research bundled with elements of folklore.

Especially in 2001 and 2002 the play resulted in a number of articles in the internet newspaper "The Record of Wilkes Online". Some was about the play while others was about the case.  Many of the articles in the newspaper actually quotes Reynolds, but also brings information from other sources, including interviews with descendants of some of those involved, or someone who has known someone who has known the people involved :-)! Not all the information is reliable but of course some is, and I got some new information from reading the articles even if some of the information is clearly  wrong. I will not go through all the articles but comment on a few of them, that I find especially interesting. They can all be found on The Record of the Wilkes Online archive pages.

The first article was published on May 31st 2001. The article mainly was about the play, how Reynolds grew up in nowadays Ferguson and lived withy the case throughout her childhood. Reynolds is a descendant from Calvin and Martha Cowles, who at one time owned and operated the ergeneral store in Elkville. It also tells how Reynolds has researched the case, but it doesn't tell much about the actual case itself. New information though is that according to the article, Laura should have told several people that she and Tom would run away together. This information is not mentioned in official sources from the time, not even in the trial records. Unfortunately, the article also mentions that the grave was discovered by Col. James Horton, but as this is clearly not correct, you probably have to take the other information with a grain of salt.

The next article appeared on June 7th. It repeats much of what was mentioned in the first, but adds that Laura was three months pregnant. This is not confirmed by documents from the trial or in newspaper articles from the period, but has become part of folklore anyway. According to this article Tom Dooley stopped visiting Laura, when he resumed his relationship with Ann, but in reality it is most likely that he resumed his relationship with Ann, as soon as he returned from the war and that the relationship with Laura started after at a later time. The article also mentions that Wilson Foster did not start looking for Laura on Friday night when she and the horse did not return, but this is not correct according to his own and Pauline Foster's testimonies. According to these he started the search in the morning, as soon as he discovered that the horse was gone. Also the story about Laura's broken leg is mentioned, and both this and the following articles appears to be based more on the oral tradition rather than on documented facts.

On June 13th we are told that Ann did not love her husband and this may very well be true, at least she didn't treat him very nice. Also the article repeated the claim that Ann had married James Melton, while Tom was away at war. And this is definately incorrect as marrage records shows, that were married in June 1859. Both Tom and James volunteered in the war. James had signed up already in 1861, and he and Ann were married in june 1859. The article also mentions that several witnesses had noticed that Ann's dress was muddy on the Friday morning of Lauras disappearance, but the only thing that was mentioned during trial was, that it had been wet at the bottom and only by two witnesses. This article also has the interesting detail that Ann and Pauline exchanged recriminations after the body was found, and that when this came to the attention of the authorities, they were both arrested. Unfortunately the only confirmed quarrel of that kind took place, however, some time before the body was found, and after the discovery Ann and Pauline were not at large simultaneously.

The article the following week is mostly about Pauline, but adds nothing new. On the July 4th the headline contains the striking postulate "Ann Melton killed her". The article is a summary of an interview with the 83-year-old Edith Laws. She tells that in the 1940s she was a neighbor of James Pinkney Scott, son of Celia and James Scott. He had told her then that as a 12-year-old boy, he had witnessed the quarrel between Ann and Pauline in his mother's house. According to the interview not only Tom, but also Ann and Pauline met Laura in the morning at Bates Place.  Ann had killed Laura urged on by Pauline. The interview also covers other details, but none that aren't already known from elsewhere. Except perhaps that some of the inhabitants of the area believed that Ann was a witch! This story apparently is only one person away from an eyewitness, so you should think it would be true. It is probably not the case, however. Laws tells us, that Scott had told her, that he was 12 years old when the events took place, but that is not correct. All censuses and his own death certificate agrees on him being born in 1862, and thus only 3 or 4, when Laura disappeared. It is not very likely that he had memories of the details of the quarrel, but more likely that he unconsiously had mixed stories, he had heard latert to create his "memoirs". Or maybe he just wanted to make himself interesting to Laws, by making himself part of the case. At least his story doesn't match the one his mother told in her testimony, and she told it only months after it had happened.

The next article about the case, appears in the paper on July 18th. This article dealt first and foremost with Tom's last hours. It was most likely based for most parts on the article in the New York Herald from may 2nd 1868, which I have mentioned several times. It also mentions the drinking party in which Lotty Foster, her daughter, Ann and Tom Dooley participated according to trial records, on th night between Thursday and Friday, but the party is moved indoors and Jack Keaton is added as a participant, even if he was never mentioned in the trial records. This rest of the articles from this year, deals with the play and with controversies between Reynolds and the cast on one hand, and John Foster West on the other, but no more about the case until next season.

Once again the first articles in 2002 are mostly about the play, but the article from June 26th 2002 brought an interview with 81-year-old Amelia Shepherd, who lived in Ferguson. She was the granddaughter of Mary Jane Ballou Witherspoon, who according to Mrs. Shepherd's testimony, was one of the last who saw Laura Foster alive. Mary Jane was the sister of Theodocia Witherspoon, who gave testimony during the hearing, but did not testify herself. According to Mrs. Shepherd the two sisters had been working outside their home when Laura rode by Friday morning. This seems very likely. People rised early and typically began work before breakfast, and the Witherspoon-home was next to the road that Laura followed. Mary Jane (just Jane in the census from 1860)  was probably born in 1849 and thus was 17 when Laura disappeared. Her sister Theodocia was born in 1851 and was 15 years old. One may wonder why it was Theodocia, who became a witness if both were present, but Mary Jane may have left the area in 1868, when the trial took place. The two were daughters of William P. Witherspoon, who was a relatively wealthy farmer with real estate to a value of $ 650, which perhaps was not very much when you consider that it was the fertile soil of the valley, but add to that a personal property for over $ 13,000, and it would make him one of the wealthiest men in the valley. Aside from the story about Mary Jane and Theodocia noticing Laura in the morning, the interview contains nothing new. Mrs. Shepherd also tells the story of Laura being pregnant, and according to her, exactly the pregnancy was the reason that Ann had become jealous and wanted to get rid of Laura, and Mrs. Shepherd also mentions the story of the black cats and sizzling meat at Anns deathbed. Mrs. Shepherd had heard  the last part of the story from her mother in law, who had heard it from her aunt. Where the aunt had heard her version is not mentioned.

The same issue of the newspaper brought an article about the Cowles family, Calvin and Martha who owned and operated the general store Elkville. Also, this article is based on the interview with Amelia Shepherd, who besides being the granddaughter of Mary Jane Witherspoon, also was the granddaughter of Calvin Cowles and his first wife, Martha. (The marriage records call her Temperance M. and the marriage took place in september 1844). Mrs. Shepherd tells that the couple were the focal point of much of what happened in Elkville in the 1860s and repeats that it was James Horton, one of the store's customers who owned the horse that snorted and thereby found the corpse. It was not though, it was David Horton who was on horseback and his son in law, James Isbell, who found the body, and James Horton was not present at the occasion. According to "Historical Sketches of Wilkes County, NC" by John Crouch, published in 1902, the Cowles' actually did not live in Elkville in the 1860s. According to this source, Calvin Cowles opened his shop in Elkville in 1846, but the couple moved to Wilkesboro in 1858. The store might still very well have been known as Cowles' Store in the 1860s, even if the ownership had changed - or maybe Cowles still owned it, but had a "manager" to run it. Apparently Cowles never returned to live in Elkville after the civil war. In 1868 he ran for Congress, where he was beaten by Nathaniel Boyden, who had been the prosecutor's assistant during the trial of Tom Dooley, so maybe it's not entirely unlikely that Cowles helped to persuade Zebulon Vance to become Toms defender which Reynolds claims in her novel, as Boyden was politically opposed to both Cowles and Vance. The article tells that the family came from Connecticut, which is of course possible, but according to both the census records and the above mentioned source, Calvin Cowles was born in 1821 in Surry County in North Carolina, Wilkes County's neighbor to the northeast. Also according to the census records Cowles lived in Wilkesboro in 1860. His wife. Martha died on April 3rd 1866, almost two months before the murder, and she cannot have been involved in the case at all. In 1868 Cowles married a second time to Ida Holden, daughter of William Holden, who had replaced Vance as governor from May to December 1865 and who was reelected to the post in July 1868.

On July 10th the next article mentioning the case app
eared. This article tells that the autopsy after the discovery of the corpse revealed that Laura had been stabbed in the chest and that she was several months pregnant. No official records mention Laura's prenancy though. The article surprises with the following piece of information: "Dooley was a prime suspect and was quickly arrested. Anne was also jailed, along with her housemaid, Pauline “Perline” Foster. Pauline was later released after she agreed to testify against Dooley and Anne". This is most surprising because Tom was arrested nearly two months before the body was found, not after. Pauline was arrested because of what she said to Ben Ferguson and Jack Adkins, and she was released when she had to show where Laura was buried, and only Ann was arrested after the discovery of the body. The official papers says nothing about an autopsy, atr least not in the mordern sense of the word. According to the records Dr. Carter examined the body on site, after which it was taken to Elkville where he may have given it a further examination and from there back to German's Hill, where Laura was buried. This article also mentions correspondence between the judges in the two cases, but says nothing about what the correspondence was about, and does not documents such a correspondence.

The following years brought new articles, but these was all about the show and added nothing new about the case.

Generally the articles appear to be a mixture of facts and folklore. This is also underlined by the article f
rom June 27th 2001, which states: "We had story telling sessions where we asked people in Ferguson (where the murder occurred) if they thought he (Dula) was guilty. Everyone said they did not.” There has thus been meetings, where people have been able to tell their stories, and Reynolds had a previously said that to her it was important that these stories were not lost, in which I fully agree, but thgey do not necesarily tell the truth, only what the storyteller think is the truth. Besides the interviews, the articles got most of their information from Reynolds, and is apparently based on legends rather than facts for most parts. Otherwise, there was no reason to write "truths" that are so easy to disprove, like that Ann married James Melton while Tom was away in the war, the body was found by James Horton, and so forth.

The two interviews also contain more fiction than fact, as I have already shown. Either Laws or her source, James P. Scott, remembered wrong about the latter's age and thus the possibility that he could actually remember things from the time of Laura's disappearance. Shepherd's opinion that her grandmother and her sister had seen Laura in the morning, sounds quite plausible, but from there it goes downhill with the plausibility. All in all, it is a collection of interesting articles, but in my opinion not particularly based on facts.

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