My informant for this folklore is my friend’s mother. She grew up in North Carolina and always heard the unfortunate story of Tom Dooley and she passed it down to us as we grew up. Tom Dooley grew up in the mountains of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Tom was in love with his girlfriend and found out that she was cheating on him. Tom devolved into a jealous rage and killed his girlfriend. Tom was eventually caught and they hung him for the murder he committed. Tom’s life was later described in the song, “Hang Your Head Tom Dooley.”
This piece of folklore doesn’t necessarily have to do with tradition, as it is not encouraged to kill someone in a jealous rage. However, as my informant relayed, the moral of this piece of folklore is important. It is told to children, generation after generation, so that they remember to not “lose their heads” like Tom Dooley. I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering why on earth my friend’s mother would remember, much less retell this tale. As I got older and recalled her telling us this tale, I remember that it served as a type of warning or a bit of advice to always remain calm and don’t overreact. This story had more of an impact because it occurred fairly close to where I grew up. The proximity of this tale had a lot to do with how often it was retold and how it is still passed down through generations. If Tom Dooley had lived somewhere far off, it probably wouldn’t have been as important to North Carolinians.