Tom Dula and the Valley
The legend begins with a story told, and sung, throughout the mountains since the day in 1868 when a Civil War soldier named Tom Dula, or Dooley, was hanged for the murder of his girlfriend, Laura Foster. Handy with the ladies as well as the fiddle, legend has it that Tom met Laura on the mountainside with the promise of marriage. Instead someone stabbed her with a knife and buried her in a shallow grave. Tom left Happy Valley for Tennessee, where he was captured and returned by James Grayson. Tom was held in Old Wilkes Jail in Wilkesboro, and was tried, found guilty, and hung from a white oak tree in Statesville.
Some believe the murder grew out of a lover's triangle that included Ann Melton, who was Laura's first cousin, and that Melton might have taken part in the killing. But wherever the truth lies, the events of that day immediately captured the imagination of storytellers and songwriters, and the trial received national publicity.
The murder of Laura Foster and the hanging of Tom Dula may have remained a footnote in Happy Valley's history had it not inspired the creation of a song. "The Ballad of Tom Dula," has an unknown author and was sung in western North Carolina for decades after the events. In 1938, a Watagua County musician, Frank Proffitt, recorded the ballad and his version was later published in a songbook. The Kingston Trio adapted Profitt's version and recorded the piece in 1958. The song—and the legend—became an enormous hit not only in America but also around the world.