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Delia  

John Garst

woman whose murder is described in the ballad “Delia,” also known as “Delia('s) Gone” and “One More Rounder Gone,” was born Delia Green in Savannah, Georgia. Nothing is known about her early life except that in 1900 she lived with her mother at 113 Ann Street. Moses “Cooney” (or “Mose”) Houston (pronounced “HOUSE-tun”) was also born in 1886. In 1900 he lived with his mother at 123 Farm Street, five blocks west of Delia's home. Two blocks southeast of her home was 509 Harrison Street, where Delia worked for Emma West. These addresses are all in Yamacraw, a famed African American neighborhood in Savannah.

By Christmas Eve 1900 Cooney and Delia had been seeing each other for about four months. Around 7 p.m. Cooney went to the West house looking for Delia Emma s husband Willie sent Cooney out to get beer and whiskey and to pick up ...

Article

John Garst

an African American criminal whose fame lives in the ballad John Hardy, was hanged on the order of Judge T. L. Henritze in Welch, West Virginia, for the murder in January 1893 of Thomas Drews, also African American, at a camp of the Shawnee Coal Company near Eckman, McDowell County. He was convicted in Welch on 12 October 1893.

According to a 1925 statement by 67-year-old Lee Holley, a lifelong resident of Tazewell, Virginia, who claimed to have known Hardy well, he “was 27 or 8 when he was hung” (Chappell, 25). He may have been the John Hardy who was born in Virginia, was thirteen years old in 1880, and lived then in Glade Springs, Washington County, Virginia, with his parents, Miles and Malinda Hardy (U.S. Census, 1880 According to Holley he was one of a gang of gamblers about a half dozen ...

Article

James L. Penick

thief and folk hero, was the nickname of a man of such obscure origins that his real name is in question. Most writers have believed him to be Morris Slater, but a rival candidate for the honor is an equally obscure man named Bill McCoy. But in song and story, where he has long had a place, the question is of small interest and Railroad Bill is name enough. A ballad regaling his exploits began circulating among field hands, turpentine camp workers, prisoners, and other groups from the black underclass of the Deep South several years before it first found its way into print in 1911. A version of this blues ballad was first recorded in 1924 by Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, and Thomas A. Dorsey who sang blues under the name Railroad Bill The ballad got a second wind during the folk ...

Article

John Garst

was probably born Ella Cherwiss in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was an African American woman whose death in New Orleans at age twenty-eight is the subject of the ballad “Ella Speed” (also known as “Alice B.” and “Po' Li'l Ella”). With her husband Willie Speed, she had a son and possibly other children.

For several years before her death, Ella Speed was a prostitute. In the spring of 1894, while an “inmate” at “Miss Lou” Prout's sporting house at 40 South Basin Street, a luxurious parlor house built nearly thirty years earlier for the renowned madam Kate Townsend, Speed met Louis “Bull” Martin, an Italian American born in July 1866. A short, stocky bully and small-time thug, Martin lived with his parents and worked as a bartender at Trauth's Saloon near the Dryades Street market. In August 1894 he was arrested for beating up ...

Article

John K. Bollard and Cecil Brown

the archetypal “bad man” of song, toast, and legend, was born Lee Shelton somewhere in Texas. Shortly after Shelton murdered William “Billy” Lyons in 1895, blues songs began to appear recounting the event, giving rise to the figure of Stagolee. Little is known about Shelton's origins and childhood except the name of his father, Nat Shelton The date of his birth is known only from his prison death certificate The elegant style of his signature in his arrest records suggests that he had some schooling Although he became the mythical Stagolee a bad mother who shot somebody just to see him die Lee Shelton was of ordinary stature Prison records describe him as being five feet seven and one half inches tall His hair and eyes are described as black his complexion as mulatto Under the column marks and scars the authorities listed the following L eft eye ...