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"Fool-Killer"

by Thomas C. Parramore, 2006

Woodcut of Jesse Holmes, the Fool-Killer with his club. Image from the North Carolina Folklore Journal."Jesse Holmes, the Fool-Killer," was the name given by journalist Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans to a fictional character well known to Piedmont North Carolinians in the mid-nineteenth century. Evans, editor of the Milton Chronicle from 1841 to 1883, created the Fool-Killer as an expression of his own style of folksy humor and social views. A Whig early in his career, Evans shifted to the Democratic Party in the 1850s. But he remained a progressive in politics, a booster of rail and plank roads, agricultural fairs, steamboat lines, and other improvements. He opposed secession until the fact and then, like many other North Carolinians of his generation, became a stalwart advocate of the Confederacy.

The Fool-Killer appeared as the ostensible author of letters to the Chronicle discussing the rambles of Jesse Holmes in counties of the northern Piedmont and characters and situations he encountered along the way. Published about once a month, the columns were accompanied by a woodcut of a feisty little character in long-tailed coat and floppy hat carrying a club. The club was for the Fool-Killer's use in bashing various kinds of fools he came across in his journeys. These included overbearing parents, bullying slave patrollers, hard drinkers, faithless lovers, and a variety of others. Not infrequently, the state legislature and other institutions came in for a share of cudgeling. The flavor of a society in the process of moral decay informed the Fool-Killer's letters.

The Chronicle reached only a few hundred subscribers, but Fool-Killer columns were often reprinted in other newspapers and enjoyed a wide popularity. Their brand of humor was similar to that of Hamilton C. Jones's "Cousin Sally Dilliard" and Johnson Jones Hooper's "Simon Suggs." A quarter century after Evans's death, the Fool-Killer was resurrected in a story by William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) and in later fiction such as Helen Eustis's 1954 novel of the same title.

References:

Thomas C. Parramore, "Discovered: A Sixth Fool-Killer Letter," North Carolina Folklore Journal 23 (August 1975).

Durward T. Stokes, "Five Letters from Jesse Holmes, the Fool Killer, to the Editor of the Milton Chronicle," NCHR 50 (Summer 1963).

Additional Resources:

Leisy, Ernest E. "Jesse Holmes, the 'Fool-Killer'" Man, Bird and Beast. Texas Folklore Society. University of North Texas Press. 1930.

Hubbell, Jay Broadus. "Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans: Creator of Jesse Holmes the Fool-killer." South Atlantic Quarterly 36, no. 4. October 1937.

Patterson, Daniel Watkins, "A Letter from the Fool Killer," North Carolina Folklore 8. No. 2. December 1960. p.22-25.

Stokes, Durward T. "A Newly Discovered Letter from the Fool Killer" North Carolina Folklore Journal 17, Issue 1. May 1969. p 3-8.

Stokes, Durward T. "The Fool Killer Rides Again in the Seventh Letter Found." North Carolina Folklore Journal 26, no3, 1978. p. 171-172. Boone, N. C.

Bevington, Helen. "The Fool Killer." The Georgia Review 2. No. 1. Spring 1948. p. 91. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41397432  (accessed August 28, 2012).

Image Credit:

"Jessee Homes [sic], the Fool Killer," from Stokes, Durward T. "The Fool Killer Rides Again in the Seventh Letter Found." North Carolina Folklore Journal 26, no3, 1978. p. 171-172. Boone, N. C.

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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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