THE TOM DOOLEY FILES BOOK REVIEW by John O. Hawkins for The Lenoir News-Topic.
Charlotte Corbin Barnes did not realize in 1958 the role Tom Dooley would play in her life. As
an eleven-year-old child, she was confined to her bed for several months with an illness. To keep her
occupied someone brought a radio into her sick room, and that is when she first heard the Kingston Trio’s
recording of “The Ballad of Tom Dooley.” She was enthralled by the story. Assured by her mother that
Tom was a fictional character, and with the recovery of her health, she soon forgot the song. She married
Bill Barnes, lived in Michigan for a while, and had a daughter. Bill’s career as a television
producer/director brought them to the Charlotte area where they eventually started their own video
production company. A 1986 article in The Charlotte Observer that Edith Carter was planning a museum
of Tom Dooley memorabilia in the Ferguson community caught her eye, reminded her of what had once
been a passion, and started her on a journey that has ended with the publication of a 496-page book, “The
Tom Dooley Files: My Search for the Truth Behind the Legend.”
The couple started out to do a video production of the story, and for several years they worked
with that goal in mind. They taped interviews with many individuals who knew the story for possible
use. Many of these people who were taped in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s are no longer with us, but
their story lives on. When they decided a documentary was not the route they needed to take, Charlotte
transcribed the interviews, and they have found their place in her book. These interviews have added a
human element to the story, and she has been quick to point out that some of the stories are obviously oral
In addition to the multiple interviews, she has also included the official court records of the two
trials that Tom faced. She has quoted the transcripts liberally. She also has researched the people who
testified, and she has given as much information as she has about them. Many of them were related to the
main characters or to each other to show what a close-knit community Elkville was at the close of the
War Between the States.
She has also quoted others who have written about the story, i.e. Tom Ferguson, Nancy
Alexander, and John Foster West., among others. West is quoted as saying, “You are a good researcher!
I sure wish you’d been around to help me when I wrote the first book. We’d have made a great team.”
West is referring to his book, “The Ballad of Tom Dula.” He also did a revision entitled “Lift Up Your
Head, Tom Dooley.”
The final chapter of the book’s sixty-four chapters is a heart-warming tribute to Edith Ferguson
Carter, who single-handedly has kept the Tom Dooley legend alive. Edith passed away May 12, 2014.
Her legacy continues in the Whippoorwill Village in Ferguson.
Barnes’ book has more information about the Tom Dooley story between two covers than any
other publication to date. Any person who is serious about knowing all there is to know about the facts
should be able to find them in this volume. It is really a textbook study.
The book can be purchased by mail at Bill Barnes Video, 14238 Honeysuckle Ridge, Matthews,
NC 28105-6403. The cost including shipping is $46.
[John O. Hawkins is a native of Caldwell County with an interest in local history. He resides in Buffalo
Cove, and he has heard the Tom Dooley story his entire life.]