Tag Archives: folklore


Kid Russell

Self-portrait by Kid Russell

With the Frontierado Holiday coming up in just over a month and a half, Balladeer’s Blog decided to whet readers’ appetites with this look at a gritty cable western series based on the real-life gunslinger turned artist Kid Russell (Charles Marion Russell).

As always, Frontierado is about the myth of the American West, not the grinding reality. This ties it in with Balladeer’s Blog’s examinations of myth and folklore and the ways in which the human tendency toward embellishment crafts everything from religious lore to heroic legends.

Even in the 1800s the exploits of real-life gunslingers were being exaggerated in Dime Novels or overblown newspaper accounts to the degree that the surviving tales of Western figures often bear little resemblance to their actual lives. Television added another layer of distortion as the need for weekly stories saw Western shows presenting the likes of Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson and many others in adventures that dropped all pretense of being based on anything “real.”

Even a figure like Annie Oakley, who actually saw no action against outlaws, was depicted fighting crime out west in a weekly series. In that same spirit here’s my presentation of how the framework of fictional adventures can be used to familiarize modern audiences with occasional facts about the adventurers themselves.

William Smith good Kid RussellKID RUSSELL (Cable Series) – “Before he made the art, he LIVED it!” would be the kind of eye-rolling advertising tagline that one could picture being used for a show like this. I’m not implying any disrespect to Kid Russell or his artistic legacy. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are familiar with my regard for the man. (FOR MY LOOK AT THE KID RUSSELL LEGEND CLICK HERE )

I can’t help but speculate that the Kid’s fondness for “windies” would make him smile at the kind of concentrated embellishment I’m about to bring to his real-life adventures. Russell’s famously coy line about how he “… never said how law-abiding I was or wasn’t” made many of the wildest legends about the man seem like there might be more than a kernel or two of truth to them.     Continue reading


Filed under Fantastic Movie Reviews, FRONTIERADO


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer garbPART TWENTY: I need to interrupt my look at the 1910-1917 and 1919-1929 Fool Killer items for this time around. In a surprising development Balladeer’s Blog was contacted by THE actual Fool Killer. Using Jimmy Neutron-level science I determined that this correspondent was indeed the actual supernatural figure who had been at large in America since the 1830s.

After some introductory email exchanges the Fool Killer confirmed for me that Jesse Holmes was not his real name but he often used it as his alias going back to Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ original publication of The Fool Killer Letters from roughly 1850 to around 1880.

The roaming vigilante stated that since there was absolutely nothing that I or any other mortals could do to stop him from slaying whenever and wherever he pleased he was happy to answer assorted questions for me. He did so in the following email:

Fool Killer condensedEddie, or Mr Wozniak or Balladeer or however you prefer to be addressed, I noticed from your queries that you have that modern-day obsession with wanting definitive answers. I’m not able to provide them regarding my exact nature nor would I if I WAS able.

Your tracing of my origins to the Tennessee Hills of the 1830s was part of the reason I contacted you. I figured your perseverance and your perceptive comments about the Hill Portughee or Melungeons importing tales of Longstaff from Portugal showed you deserved to be my new correspondent. You’re no Charles Evans or James L Pearson but I’ve been a mighty long time without a confidant so you’ll do.

My birth around 1830 was roughly as recounted in Mountain Legends. I can correct the record on one particular item, though. My Daddy, whatever he really was, was not the Devil. Not even I could have overcome Satan himself like I did and driven him from the Tennessee Hills. He may have been “A” devil or demon or maybe something from another world. Maybe he was just a relic from Earth’s distant past or some unknown thing that walked up from the very bottom of the ocean.

Whatever he was he wasn’t human, that’s for certain, but he sure had a taste for the ladies of the mountains. Whenever any of the Hill Portughee or folks like them needed some of my Daddy’s otherworldly metalworking or medicinal cures or any other products of his arcane arts and sciences the men and the uncomely women always had better come across with some Melungeon gold to pay for it. Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History, opinion


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer picPART EIGHTEEN: In this issue the Fool Killer stated his mission in his newest incarnation (Or “regeneration” we could say with tongue in cheek.) was “the general overturning of all established institutions of every kind.” … “The Hour of Doom has struck for many of this old world’s pet institutions.” Quite a long way from his 1830s mission of driving the Devil out of the Tennessee Hills and killing fools who tried stealing the “hidden” gold of the Melungeons!

A look at the “fools” targeted by the Fool Killer in the September, 1919 issue of James Larkin Pearson’s publication The Fool-Killer

*** Astronomers claiming that an alignment of planets on December 17th, 1919 would cause a solar explosion visible from Earth, resulting in catastrophic storms and a devastating winter here. A nice touch of cultural kitsch is the way that, with the proposed League of Nations a topic of interest, the astronomers were calling the alignment “The League of Planets.” 

*** Democrat President Woodrow Wilson and his operatives who had tried to keep the Bullitt Report out of the public record. This situation came to light when William C Bullitt, Jr was testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his mission to the Soviet Union in February and March of 1919. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge allowed Bullitt to enter his suppressed report into the Senate record.

           Pearson’s Fool Killer obviously shared his creator’s suspicion that the Wilson Administration wanted Bullitt’s findings suppressed because those findings put Lenin and the Bolshevik Government in Moscow in a better light than Wilson wanted. Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer 1910-1929PART SIXTEEN: James Larkin Pearson, poet and newspaper man, carried on the Fool Killer tradition from 1910 to 1917, then again from 1919 to 1929. Pearson’s fellow North Carolinian Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans had written the Fool Killer Letters of the 19th Century so it’s appropriate that another Tar Heel continue the lore for so many years of the 20th Century.

James Larkin PearsonIn August of 1917 Pearson’s nationwide publication called The Fool-Killer changed its title and format because of America’s entry into World War One four months earlier. That change from the hard-hitting satire of Fool Killing was made to show solidarity while the war raged.

In August of 1919 Pearson changed the name back to The Fool-Killer and resumed the hard-hitting political satire. For us fans of Fool Killer lore we can put tongue in cheek and assume that the figure had gone into hibernation for a few years, like he had during the Civil War.   Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Melungeon Fool KillerPART TWELVE 

These final Melungeon variations for now came midway between the original Melungeon Fool Killer legends and the WPA’s 1940 recording of the Shep Goins version in which the real Fool Killer never even puts in an appearance.

East Tennessee MountainsNow we’re in the 1880s and 1890s. The Fool Killer lore of the Melungeon people was absorbing traces of Mormon influence from the wider culture. The Melungeons were NOT Mormons but their Fool Killer tales took on pseudo-religious elements from Mormon lore, like the notion that the Melungeons may be even older than the previously held legends about pre-Columbian Portuguese explorers or ancient Phoenicians.

These versions incorporate a belief that the Melungeons were really a lost Biblical race whose ancestors came to the New World thousands of years earlier. The Fool Killer’s main weapons in these tales are guns and no longer his club/ walking stick/ cudgel and set of Bowie Knives.      Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer on cowcatcherPART NINE: This installment draws to a close the opening era of Fool Killer lore but we have much, much more to go after this. (At left is the figure riding a train’s cowcatcher like he often did to get around.)

This part exhausts the era of the Fool Killer Letters, seven of which survived from the Milton Chronicle newspaper, with a fragment of an 8th being quoted in the Southern Literary Messenger, and now we have this ninth (imitation) Fool Killer Letter from the Oxford Torch-Light.

Torch-Light Editor A.W. Davis is the assumed author of this letter which seems to have been written as an homage to Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ original Fool Killer Letters. The letter is much shorter than the usual correspondence from the fictional Jesse Holmes, as the Fool Killer claimed was his real name.  Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History


Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer picPART EIGHT: The previous installment dealt with the last surviving Fool Killer Letter by Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, Editor of the Milton Chronicle. That letter was from February of 1879.

This time I’ll go back to look at another Civil War-era reference to the Fool Killer Letters, to an excerpt from an 8th Letter which has not survived and to a publication running their own list of figures they’d like to see the Fool Killer slay.  

Southern Literary MessengerIn 1862 the Southern Literary Messenger quoted from a Milton Chronicle Fool Killer Letter, but without an exact date and without the whole context it’s not sufficient to count it as an 8th surviving letter.

Before I get into the details of Jesse Holmes’ (The Fool Killer’s) murderous activities in this account I will briefly explain that this Southern Literary Messenger article seems to be the source of confusion regarding whether the Fool Killer began his famous Civil War hibernation period in 1861 or 1862.   Continue reading


Filed under Mythology, Neglected History