Tag Archives: Fool Killer

FOOL KILLER: PART TEN – MELUNGEON VARIATIONS

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 condensedPART 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.

East Tennessee MountainsIf 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. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART NINE – THE OXFORD TORCH-LIGHT LETTER (1878)

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

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FOOL KILLER: PART EIGHT – THE SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER

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

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FOOL KILLER: PART SEVEN – FEBRUARY 13th, 1879

Fool Killer RedBalladeer’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 SEVEN: The seventh surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation.)

February 13th of 1879 was the publication date but January 30th was the date of the letter itself. For the location the Fool Killer simply wrote “Mountain Cave” as in his secret cavern lair which was never glimpsed by human eyes.

Many of Jesse Holmes’ activities that he recounts to Editor Charles Evans (the real author of the letters) in this missive happened around Christmas 1878 through New Year’s. That being the case A Very Fool Killer Christmas might be a good title. 

Between Woodsdale and Clarksville the roaming murderer came across a weeping young man driving a wagon full of chickens. It turned out that the figure was crying because he took his girlfriend to a Yuletide party and agreed to let an old bachelor walk her home. The old bachelor convinced her to marry him and they immediately went to a magistrate’s house and were wed.

The Fool Killer administered a non-fatal beating to the young man for his foolishness in letting the bachelor walk his girl home AND for wasting time crying over such an inconstant belle when there were plenty more fish in the sea.

Skull walking stick 3Holmes then set out to snuff the devious old bachelor and also came across another young man who had been played false by the same woman who victimized the wagon driver. This suitor had swum the Hyco River in North Carolina, risking pneumonia at that time of year, just to see the girl. The Fool Killer advised him about the belle’s true nature and gave him a token swat for being suckered in by that designing woman and risking his life for her.

His recent late January antics dispensed with, Jesse moved on to recap his murderous activities from shortly before Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. The Fool Killer saved a pious and religious man named Charles Butts from three not-right men pushing a kind of Millerite end of the world belief enroute to a Christmas Party.

Fool Killer garbThe trio tried to persuade Butts into joining them in a suicide pact to show their faith before the imminent end. When Charles refused, the three drunken apocalypticists grew hostile and implied they might take him with them against his will. The Fool Killer intervened with his club/ walking stick/cudgel and his set of Bowie knives and slew the three loons.  

Next our homicidal vigilante set out to deliver punishment and recover the stolen coffin and cadaver of the wealthy Alexander Turney Stewart. Alexander had died in 1876 but in 1878 grave-robbers made off with his casket and corpse from St Mark’s. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART SIX – SEPTEMBER 11th, 1877

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 riverboat gambler lookPART SIX: The sixth surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation.)

September 11th was the publication date but the “letter” was dated August, 1877. Location: “Sitting on somebody’s gate post, I don’t know where.”

This Fool Killer Letter, one of the precious few to have survived, surfaced in 1975 and had originally been syndicated in 1877 in the Oxford, NC publication called The Torchlight. Previously Balladeer’s Blog covered how the darkly satirical adventures of Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans’ fictional Fool Killer were syndicated not just in Evans’ Milton Chronicle but in other newspapers throughout North Carolina and Virginia at least.

For the first time in the surviving letters the homicidal vigilante has no idea what location he’s writing from in his “correspondence” with Editor Charles Evans. Jesse Holmes (as the wandering murderer claimed to be his real name) was uncharacteristically downbeat in the opening lines. He confessed to being close to despair and contemplated returning to his hidden cave to hibernate again for several years, like he had from roughly 1861/2 to 1870.

Skull walking stick 4The Fool Killer complained that for every fool he slew with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel or his set of Bowie knives (each blade inscribed with the words “Fool Killer”) three more fools sprang up to take their place. He said that fools were as plentiful as grains of sand on the beach.

Jesse especially reviled the idiots who thought themselves intellectually superior to the rest of the citizenry and the deceitful, hypocritical and villainous malefactors who abused their positions as politicians, clergy and teachers. The timelessness of the Fool Killer Letters always makes me wonder why they are so neglected. 

Fool Killer riverboat torsoHolmes’ body count in this letter started off with assorted nouveau riche snobs of the Gilded Age, whom he condemned as would-be aristocrats. The Fool Killer struck down these formerly poor people who became wealthy and then put on airs, snubbing friends and relations who were not as well off and forbidding their daughters to even be seen dancing with “mechanics” (the term used in the actual 1877 letter).  

Our “hero” disparaged the beaver-fur top hats worn by at least one of his nouveau riche victims. Hey, “Fur Kills” even in 1877 I guess!

Moving on to Jesse’s other killings confessed to in this letter: Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART FIVE – FEBRUARY 16th, 1876

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 HorsleyPART FIVE: The fifth surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation.)

February 16th, 1876 – From “Pace’s Rock, NC”

The Fool Killer began this letter to Milton Chronicle Editor Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans by saying he had been hibernating in his hidden cave again and had just woken up and emerged in December of 1875. The references made by Jesse Holmes (the name the Fool Killer claimed was his real identity even though the letters were written by Charles Evans himself) confuse the previous timeline.

Either Evans was doing what fiction writers now call ret-conning (imposing retroactive changes to continuity, if you’re new to the term) or he may have just felt “who cares” if the Fool Killer was contradicting previous letters. Evans may have reasonably felt nobody would ever bother paying such strict attention to fictional letters from a nonexistent vigilante.

Skull walking stickThis letter has Jesse Holmes claim he is waking up from a nap begun AFTER the Civil War ended. Previous letters had the Fool Killer begin his hibernation in 1861 or 1862, motivated by disgust at the fools who brought on the Civil War. Under that initial timeline Holmes emerged from his hibernation around 1870, dressed in up to date men’s fashion, to resume his killing spree by preying on Ku Klux Klansmen and northern Carpetbaggers alike. 

(A May, 1870 letter – the fourth Fool Killer Letter, previously reviewed – has the homicidal vigilante striking at a nominating convention during the imposition of martial law in Alamance County over excessive Klan violence. )

So did Jesse Holmes begin a second period of hibernation after his anti-Klan and anti-Carpetbagger activities in 1870? His reference to returning to his hidden cave AFTER the Civil War is vague. It doesn’t have to mean 1865 (during which period he was supposedly in his 1861/2-1870 sleep already).

Fool Killer Horsley 2We’ll probably never know and may be giving it more thought than Charles Evans himself did. So, on to the murders that the Fool Killer confesses to in this letter.

Holmes stated he emerged from his cave on December 22nd, 1875, and, in disgust at all the foolishness he sensed running rampant in the nation, smote the ground with his club. In fact he struck the ground SO hard with his primary fool-killing weapon – his skull-topped walking stick – that it was recorded in newspapers of the time as an earthquake. (This is a joking reference to a real-life earthquake of that date which was felt as far north as Baltimore, MD and as far south as Greensboro, NC.)

Deciding to get busy, the Fool Killer set forth with his club/ walking stick/ cudgel and his set of Bowie knives to seek fresh victims. As usual a murder of crows followed in his wake to feast upon the ample corpses Jesse left behind him in his travels. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART FOUR – MAY 29th, 1870

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

Fool Killer illustrationPART FOUR: The fourth surviving Fool Killer Letter. (See Part One for an explanation.)

This letter is the first surviving letter after the fictional Fool Killer had emerged from his self-imposed hibernation in a cave since 1861, driven there by his disgust at the fools who had brought on the Civil War. Jesse Holmes (the name the Fool Killer claimed was his real identity) had emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon and was dressed in up to date men’s fashions. Wielding his usual club/walking stick/ cudgel and the set of Bowie knives that he adopted shortly before hibernating, the Fool Killer resumed his deadly attacks on corrupt politicians and societal nuisances.

These letters were really written as dark-humored commentary by Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, Editor of the Milton Chronicle newspaper.

May 29th, 1870 – From “Hillsboro Township, NC.” –

Fool Killer garbThis Fool Killer Letter saw its first revived publication in November of 1978, making it the last of the surviving letters to come to light but the fourth chronologically. 

The homicidal vigilante turned his attention to the corrupt Democrat political practices in Reconstruction-Era North Carolina. As always the Fool Killer preyed upon the favorite targets of the Milton Chronicle and its courageous Editor Charles Evans – the Ku Klux Klan AND the northern Carpetbaggers.

It’s very easy for us Independent voters of today to relate to the position taken by Evans and his fictional Fool Killer. We often feel caught between two irrational and destructive breeds of fanatics just as Evans and “Jesse Holmes” were caught between the Democrats of the Ku Klux Klan and the Republicans running the Carpetbagger forces.    Continue reading

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