Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE
PART TEN: MELUNGEON VARIATIONS
In the previous installment I wrapped up my review of the various surviving Fool Killer Letters recounting the folk figure’s homicidal adventures in North Carolina, Virginia (including what is now West Virginia) and Kentucky.
Those tales presented the Milton Chronicle‘s Fool Killer from the late 1840s or early 1850s on through the late 1870s or possibly as late as 1880. That figure slew fools with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel and his set of Bowie knives, each blade inscribed with the words “Fool Killer.”
The very first Fool Killer Letter by Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ fictional Jesse Holmes has not survived, so if Evans made reference to being inspired by any older Fool Killer traditions we have no way of knowing it.
If he had, one possible source would be the Fool Killer figure from Melungeon folklore in East Tennessee and other Appalachian areas. Or, since we have no way of checking exact dates, Evans’ darkly satirical tales may have influenced the existing Melungeon lore since Melungeons at the time were scattered from Tennessee to North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.
If you’re not familiar with the Melungeon people their origin is shrouded in centuries of folklore. Since I’m covering Fool Killer legends specifically here, I will simplify Melungeon origin tales for the sake of brevity.
The Melungeon origin traditions relevant to Fool Killer lore: a) Pre-Columbian Portuguese sailors became shipwrecked here in the New World and intermarried with Native Americans of the area to produce the Melungeons … b) Ancient Phoenicians arrived in the New World while sailing in search of new lands to colonize, so Melungeons are descendants of those Phoenicians … and c) Satan (“Old Horny” as he’s called in Melungeon folk tales) bred with Native American women to produce the Melungeons. (Only NON-Melungeons told this tale.)
FOOL KILLER VARIATION ONE: I’ll begin with the Melungeon Fool Killer tradition which states that the Devil/ Old Horny coupled with already existing Melungeon women who happened to be witches OR who were victims of his forced affections. One of those women gave birth to his son.
That son was precocious, abnormally strong and grew to manhood within just a few years. He grew resentful of his absent father because of how frightened of him his mother always was. When he was full-grown the son sought out his father’s blacksmith shop deep in the eldritch forests of the Tennessee mountains.
The figure did not tell Old Horny that he was his son, but simply placed an order with the infernal blacksmith for a long iron staff. NOTE: So here is the Melungeon origin of the club/ walking stick/ cudgel that the Fool Killer carries with him in many of his incarnations.
The young man had promised to pay the Devil with a large sum of the gold that folklore always claimed Melungeons had secreted away. Instead, when Old Horny had turned over the completed iron staff for our Fool Killer to inspect, the half-breed son announced his identity and savagely beat the Devil with the iron staff, causing him to abandon his blacksmith shop and slink back to Hell.
(In some versions the son first tests the strength of the iron staff by using it to knock down a few thick trees near his father’s blacksmith shop with just one blow needed for each tree.)
NOTE: This tale is very similar to the old Portuguese legend about their hero called Longstaff, except Longstaff’s blacksmith father was simply evil and wasn’t a Devil from Hell. Also, you may recall that one origin myth for the Melungeons claimed they were descended from shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. In addition, the Melungeons were often referred to as “the Hill Portughee.”
At any rate, this Fool Killer originally preyed upon non-Melungeons “foolish” enough to try prospecting for “the Melungeons’ hidden gold” in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. This variation comes from an oral tradition that supposedly dates back to the 1830s at least, but as with all oral traditions that claimed date is impossible to verify.
Gold WAS discovered in Tennessee in the early 1830s but that doesn’t prove a thing regarding the establishment of legends about a Fool Killer safeguarding Melungeon gold from gold-crazy “fools.”
Next time I’ll follow Melungeon Fool Killer legends up through the point where the figure begins using firearms in addition to his other weapons.
FOR PART ELEVEN CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE MORE FOOL KILLER LORE 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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