Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE
PART TWO: The second surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation)
MARCH 10th, 1859: From “… the right side of the Richmond & Danville Railroad” – This letter from Jesse Holmes, the fictional Fool Killer to Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, Editor of the Milton Chronicle, was, like the others, written by Evans himself as dark-humored political and social commentary.
The Fool Killer began this letter by stating he was abandoning his murderous campaign to help the citizens of Leasburg, NC in their Quixotic battle with the Postmaster General in Washington, DC. The people of Leasburg objected to the mail delivery schedule established by the Postmaster General. January of 1859 was when the relevant postal route contracts were awarded.
(My fellow geeks for 19th Century American history will recall that these routes – sometimes referred to as Star Routes because they were indicated by three stars on the route indexes – were often at the center of bidding scandals.)
The fictional Jesse Holmes stated he had decided to let the people of Leasburg fight their own postal battles. That was because the only way he could have rendered a decisive blow on their behalf would be to visit Washington, DC, and he feared having his own morals corrupted if he set foot in the District. (Hey, tell it to Billy Jack, Jesse!)
The Fool Killer instead decided to head to Raleigh, NC to force the adjournment of the notoriously corrupt Democrat-dominated legislature (The Fool Killer, like Editor Charles Evans, belonged to the dying Whig Party). Enroute he was distracted, as so often happens in the Fool Killer Letters.
In this case the distraction came in the form of “a venerable and mighty clever man” who asked Holmes to find out who had stolen his prize turkey. Armed as always with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel the Fool Killer began his investigation.
Presently he came across a parade of the Don Quixote Invincibles, a sort of southern, Raleigh-centered version of Mummers. The Invincibles would march in colorful, anachronistic costumes on special occasions.
Jesse spotted a DQI member wearing a colorful costume made of freshly-plucked turkey feathers and knew he had found his man. The Fool Killer struck down the turkey thief and was then attacked by the dead man’s fellow DQI marchers. Holmes wielded his weapon to deadly effect as usual, fighting off all of them (“Tarheel Fu” I guess). When a marcher costumed as a Chinaman was smacked down dead the other DQI’ers finally gave up their attack and fled the scene.
The Fool Killer then resumed his journey toward the state house to fulfill his plan to confront the crooked politicians of the General Assembly.
Once again Holmes was distracted, this time by another man seeking the aid of the infamous vigilante, a sleazy southern beau. This slick talker praised the Fool Killer’s sources of information and wanted to know the true financial state of the elderly aunt of a young woman he was wooing.
If the old gal was as rich as some rumors held then the slicker planned to marry the niece and inherit the money when the aunt died off. If not, he would move along to his next likely target. Jesse roughed up the designing beau, ascertained that he did not love the niece and was purely after money, then killed him.
At last arriving in downtown Raleigh, the Fool Killer decided to gather some intelligence by visiting the offices of the North Carolina Standard, the Democrat newspaper (just as Charles Evans’ Milton Chronicle was a Whig newspaper).
The Standard‘s editor, one William Woods Holden, was terrified to see the Fool Killer and fled. That flight was motivated by Holden’s fear that the homicidal crusader had come to punish him for the journalistic felony of blatantly using the Standard‘s printing equipment to produce a Party document for the Democrats.
NOTE: Though the news outlets of the time period were more open and honest than today’s about their bias in favor of a particular political party, apparently it would have been going too far – or at least be bad form – for a newspaper to outrightly print Party circulars in their own offices. On February 23rd, 1859 the Standard had run a piece “clarifying” the matter by saying that they had – as a business transaction – accepted payment from a wealthy Democrat to print the Party circular but that the man had distributed the document himself afterward.
At any rate, Charles Evans was obviously skeptical about the explanation offered by the Standard. The Fool Killer intimidated Holden’s Printer’s Devil (assistant) into chasing after his boss and bringing him back for questioning.
Jesse Holmes told the still-trembling Holden that he was there because of the sitting legislature, since he still considered it hopelessly corrupt. Knowing that Holden was tight with the Democrat leadership despite his public claims of “business transactions” he pumped the newspaper man for information on the crooked politicans.
NOTE: Just as the Fool Killer Letters themselves always put me in mind of the way many real-life serial killers have corresponded with news outlets this tableau of Jesse using threats of force to squeeze information out of Holden puts me in mind of countless crime stories – real and fictional – in which cops lean on squirrely informants.
Back to the narrative, Holden agreed to sing like a canary but begged the Fool Killer not to let any Democrats know he had informed on their shady activities. Holmes refused, mocking the newsman that he thought he (Holden) “was opposed to keeping things dark.” (“Journalistic” hypocrisy never changes, apparently, no matter what the time period.)
Anyway, so that there would be no doubt about where the Fool Killer had gotten his information, the club-wielding vigilante dragged the frightened Standard editor along with him to the State Senate building. Once inside, Jesse approached one of the few Whig Senators left – Colonel John W Cunningham from Person, NC.
Cunningham cut a deal with the Fool Killer: to preserve a little dignity for the Senate, if Holmes would give him 24 hours before using violence, he would talk his fellow Senators into adjourning the session voluntarily before any more corrupt bills could be passed. The Fool Killer agreed and moved on to the lower house.
Once there Jesse approached another lingering Whig, John Kerr, who asked for no delay but immediately convinced his Democrat colleagues that it would be safer for everyone concerned to adjourn before the Fool Killer took further action.
His objective in Raleigh accomplished, Holmes’ letter went on to say that he had ridden the cow-catcher of a north-bound train of the Gaston & Raleigh Railroad. At Vernon Hill, VA the Fool Killer struck down a wheel-wright dabbling in ballooning.
The fool had ineptly caused a fire to start burning his lighter than air craft which was made of paper. As in the previous letter, the Fool Killer not only preyed upon an errant balloonist but on the whole “gullible” crowd assembled to watch his flight.
Now moving southward, at Riceville, VA Jesse knocked off a presumably scheming man who wanted the widow he was courting to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. By now on board the Richmond and Danville Railroad, from which this letter had been written, you’ll recall, the Fool Killer met a lovely young lady who wanted him to look into the affairs of the man she wanted to marry.
That young man was a Station Agent for the Railroad and, for once, after investigating, our roaming vigilante pronounced someone undeserving of death and encouraged the belle to go through with her marriage plans.
He closed this letter with a note of annoyance over the way a few of the people asking for his aid in these tales set him after lesser or undeserving targets. He expressly warned people seeking the Fool Killer’s help to be absolutely certain of their cause or he just might prey on them instead of the people they complained to him about. +++
FOR PART THREE CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE THE NEXT LETTER SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT JOE MAGARAC, THE STEEL MILL VERSION OF JOHN HENRY AND PAUL BUNYAN, CLICK HERE
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