Tag Archives: Myths and Folktales

FOOL KILLER: PART TWENTY – A NEW FOOL KILLER LETTER

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

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FOOL KILLER: PART NINETEEN – OCTOBER OF 1919

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 NINETEEN: James Larkin Pearson, creator of this new Fool Killer, featured a complaint that I can relate to, since I go through the same thing here at Balladeer’s Blog – “Democrats write and ask me to lambaste the Republicans and Republicans write and suggest that I cuss out the Democrats. All right, boys, I am going to comply with both requests, and then you will both be mad.” 

That also captures the position of Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans of the Milton Chronicle when he began the Fool Killer Letters around 1850. Evans and his Fool Killer (Jesse Holmes) were Whigs who bashed both the Democrats and the Republicans. After the Civil War, Evans and his Fool Killer bashed both the Democrats of the Ku Klux Klan and the Republican Carpetbaggers. 

Coincidentally, James L Pearson and his Fool Killer observed that (just like today) the upheavals wracking the world of 1919 were proceeding from the bottom UP, so the “Silk Hat Brigade” at the top of the power and money structure (think of today’s Corporate Globalists) were the people least capable of understanding the emerging changes.

The Fool Killer’s targets in this October, 1919 edition: 

*** Sleazy, money-hungry Preachers were taken to the woodshed yet again this time around. The Fool Killer loved preying on them because of their hypocrisy and corruption. And remember, this was long before Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry presented the definitive portrait of the type of Preachers bashed by Pearson. 

            The Fool Killer denied that it was just fear of him which was causing the shortage of young men willing to go into preaching, a shortage bemoaned by churches in 1919. The supernatural vigilante claimed it was also caused by talented men being driven away by the overall corruption in religion at the time.

Arthur Conan Doyle*** Equally sleazy, money-hungry “spiritualists” – nicknamed “Boogers” in the slang of the time. Arthur Conan Doyle was still alive in 1919 and, as usual, that otherwise rational man willingly served as a public cheerleader for those con artists who claimed to be able to contact one’s dead loved ones.

            The Fool Killer came down hard on them and denounced Doyle as a fool, but a fool who had the Atlantic Ocean keeping him safe from our vigilante’s wrath.

*** Politicians who made a big production out of helping royal and wealthy families in Europe but snubbed the poor and the working class from that continent.

*** The biased and unreliable Associated Press, which the Fool Killer always referred to as “the Ass-ociated Press.” (He should see how pathetic they’ve become TODAY!) Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART EIGHTEEN – SEPTEMBER OF 1919

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

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FOOL KILLER: PART FIFTEEN – O HENRY

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

Matthew as the Fool Killer would be perfectPART FIFTEEN: Last time around I examined Joel Chandler Harris’ 1902 story Flingin’ Jim And His Fool-Killer, set in Georgia in October of 1872, plus Ridgway Hill’s Facts For The Fool-Killer, set in and around Buffalo, NY in 1909.

Now we back up a year for the great O Henry’s story The Fool-Killer, published as part of The Voice of the City in 1908. In his younger years O Henry (William Sidney Porter) had personally known Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, the editor of the Milton Chronicle.

Evans was the man behind the earliest written examples of Fool Killer stories and published them as if they were letters from the “real” Fool Killer himself, who claimed Jesse Holmes was his actual name. O Henry started his short story The Fool-Killer by recapping the fame of the folk-figure, claiming he was known “from Roanoke to the Rio Grande.” 

In apparent deference to his old friend Charles Evans, Porter kept Jesse Holmes as the Fool Killer’s “real” name, but introduced some of his own innovations to Fool Killer lore.      Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART FOURTEEN – 1909

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 cop USEPART FOURTEEN: FACTS FOR THE FOOL-KILLER (1909) by Ridgway Hill.

This rendition of the Fool Killer (I prefer no hyphen) is virtually a reinvention. It not only revises his garb and approach to his mission but it marks the first time the figure is depicted in action outside of the South.

Before I address Facts For The Fool-Killer I want to clarify something. I know that the Joel Chandler Harris tale Flingin’ Jim and His Fool-Killer was published in 1902 as part of The Making of a Statesman and Other Stories. However, that story – set in 1872 Georgia – does not feature the folk figure called the Fool Killer. The title refers to a piece of old grapeshot that Flingin’ Jim throws at people to kill them.

The victims of that “Fool-Killer” are a) William Dukes, an evil former plantation owner spitefully keeping a pair of young lovers separated and b) An unnamed black man who was trying to criminally assault Ann Briscoe, the heroine of the story. William Dukes’ brother receives a non-fatal beating from a hickory walking stick.  

Cop tall helmetFacts For The Fool-Killer finds the fictional character operating from Buffalo, NY and vicinity. The Fool Killer now wears the blue uniform and tall helmet of a turn-of-the-century policeman and wields a police officer’s billy-club in lieu of his usual club/ walking stick/ cudgel. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART THIRTEEN – FABLES IN SLANG (1899)

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 THIRTEEN: FABLES IN SLANG (1899)

George Ade, who can be glibly described as a minor league Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce, was a newspaperman and humorist. All of his work is worth checking out, and I may very well do a series about his writing in the future, but for now I’m dealing only with his use of the Fool Killer in his 1899 work Fables in Slang.

Fables in the Vernacular would be a more accurate title, but that nit-pick aside, Ade’s collection of short fables were wryly humorous. They were written in a sort of “prose haiku” and anticipated Flash Fiction by nearly a century.

Fables in Slang“The written word equivalent of political cartoons” might be another way of describing the fables. In any event Ade did accompany the fables with assorted illustrations.

The Fable Of How The Fool Killer Backed Out Of A Contract is the Ade fable we’re concerned with in this blog post. This tale of the Fool Killer finds him in Alabama, thus adding another state to the territory covered in the travels of the homicidal vigilante. Previously I examined Fool Killer stories set in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia (back when it included what is now West Virginia).   Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER: PART TWELVE – FINAL 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

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

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