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Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)

DigiTrad:
LULA VIERS


In Mudcat MIDIs:
Lula Viers (from W.K. McNeil, Southern Folk Ballads)


Joe Offer 15 Sep 04 - 04:04 AM
karen k 15 Sep 04 - 06:51 AM
Mrrzy 15 Sep 04 - 11:30 AM
Joe Offer 17 Sep 04 - 02:45 AM
Joe Offer 17 Sep 04 - 03:06 AM
GUEST,Sharon Ray 16 Jun 05 - 02:15 PM
Rain Dog 17 Jun 05 - 08:13 AM
dick greenhaus 17 Jun 05 - 07:43 PM
GUEST 05 Nov 08 - 10:01 AM
Mrrzy 06 Nov 08 - 09:18 AM
GUEST 26 Feb 10 - 11:48 AM
RWilhelm 28 Feb 10 - 12:38 PM
GUEST,Richie 28 Feb 10 - 06:47 PM
Goose Gander 28 Feb 10 - 08:24 PM
Richie 01 Mar 10 - 09:39 AM
GUEST,Rick Underwood 05 Mar 11 - 12:15 PM
GUEST,Rick Richmond 14 Oct 11 - 04:37 PM
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Subject: Origins: Lula Viers
From: Joe Offer
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 04:04 AM

Here's another murder ballad that warrants study: Lula Viers (no tune). This version in the Digital Tradition is from Jean Thomas, Ballad-Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky (1939).

Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry:

Lula Viers [Laws F10]

DESCRIPTION: John Coyer weighs his fiancee Lula Viers down with metal and throws her into the river. The body is not discovered for several months. Coyer is arrested, but is handed over to the army before going on trial
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1939 (Thomas)
KEYWORDS: murder river
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
Oct 1917 - Murder of Lula Viers by John Coyer. Viers was pregnant by Coyer, and he apparently preferred murder to marriage
FOUND IN: US(Ap)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Laws F10, "Lula Viers" (sample text in NAB, pp. 62-64)
Thomas-Makin', pp. 144-146, "Lula Vires" (1 text)
McNeil-SFB2, pp. 79-81, "Lula Viers" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 203-204, "Lula Viers" (1 text)
DT 804, LULAVIER

Roud #1933
Notes: Laws was able to verify the basic facts of this ballad from the records of Floyd County, Kentucky (learning in the process that she was pregnant); see his notes in NAB, p. 65. - RBW
File: LF10

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions

The Ballad Index Copyright 2004 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


Click to play

(from McNeil)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: karen k
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 06:51 AM

Hi Joe,
Paul Clayton recorded Lula Viers in 1956.
Haven't heard it but I'd like to.

karen


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Mrrzy
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 11:30 AM

I have that Paul Clayton record, great murder ballads one and all. I'd love to hear about the story behind this song, anyone? Kentuckians?


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Subject: Lyr Add: LULA VIERS (Murder Ballad)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Sep 04 - 02:45 AM

I looked all over, and couldn't find a recording of "Lula Viers" available. I wish that Paul Clayton Bloody Ballads LP (Riverside) would be reissued. It's the only recording I could find listed.
Here is the version from Volume 2 of W.K. McNeil's Southern Folk Ballads, with tune.

Lula Viers

Come all you young people
From all over the world,
And listen to this story
About a little girl.

Her name was Luly Viers,
In Auxier she did dwell,
In the state of old Kentucky,
A place we all know well.

Lula was persuaded
To leave her own dear home,
And to board the morning train
With John Colliers to roam.

They went to Elkhorn City,
Not many miles away;
They remained there at a hotel
Until the close of day.

But when the darkness fell,
They walked out as the style;
It was in cold December,
The wind was blowing wild.

While standing by the river,
Cold waters running deep,
John, he said to Luly,
"In the bottom you must sleep."

"Oh, do you mean it Johnny,
It surely can not be,
How could you bear to murder
Poor helpless girl like me?"

She threw her arms around him,
Before him she did kneel,
And around her neck he tied
A piece of railroad steel.

He threw her in the river,
Great bubbles gathered around,
They burst upon the water
With a sad and mournful sound.

John hastened to the depot,
He boarded the train for home,
A-thinking that his crime
Would never on earth be known.

But Luly was soon missing,
No place could she be found;
But in the Ohio River
Her body at last was found.

They took her from the river,
They carried her up to town,
And the piece of steel around her neck
Weighed even sixty pounds.

They sent for a reporter,
His name was Orydent,
He printed it in the paper
And around the world it went.

It went to Luly's mother,
While sitting in her home;
She quickly left her chair
To reach the telephone.

She called to headquarters,
She said, "I'll come and see
Oh, if it is my darling
Oh, surely it must be."

And when she reached the place,
Described the clothes she wore;
And when she saw the corpse,
She fainted to the floor.

John Colliers he was arrested,
Confined in the county jail;
But perhaps the electric chair
Should bear him on to hell.

Collected 13 March 1974 from Norma Turner, Drift, Kentucky.

McNeil's Notes:
    This ballad deals with a crime that took place in October 1917. John Coyer, a native of Auxier, a little mining community on the Big River in Floyd County, Kentucky, courted Lula Viers shortly before joining the Army in World War I. When he returned on furlough he found out Lula was pregnant, a situation he evidently found undesirable. Somehow he persuaded the girl to take the local train to Elkhorn City, where he tied her up with a piece of steel and threw her weighted body in the Big Sandy River. Her body was not found until several months later, by which time it had washed a hundred miles downriver to a site near Ironton, Ohio. Coyer was caught and put in the Floyd County Jail. Before a trial occurred, Army authorities came and gained his release. Coyer went back into service and never came back to Floyd County. Thus, the hope expressed in the last line of the ballad never came to pass.

    This version of 'Lula Viers" was collected by William E. Lightfoot, March 13, 1974, from the singing of Norma Turner of Drift, Kentucky. Born in 1920, Mrs. Turner has always lived in Drift, which is located in Floyd County, the home county of Coyer and Viers. A folksinger with an extensive repertoire, Mrs. Turner learned many of her songs from her mother, including this version of 'Lula Viers." Her mother lived about four miles from Auxier and possibly knew both Coyer and Viers.

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: ADD Version: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Sep 04 - 03:06 AM

Well, there is at least one more recording that should be available as a Folkways Custom CD - by Bruce Buckley on Ohio Valley Ballads, Folkways FA2025 (apparently transcribed from the Folkways recording, and printed in Charles Darling's New American Songster

Lula Viers

Come all you young people and stand real close around,
I'll tell to you a story about a pretty young girl.
Her name was Lula Viers in Auxier she did dwell,
A town in old Kentucky, a place you all know well.

Come all you young people and stand real close around,
I'll tell to you a story how Lula Viers was drowned.
She loved a young John Colliers, engaged to be his wife;
He ruined her reputation, and stole away her life.

Lula was persuaded to leave her dear old home,
Bound the morning train with John Colliers for to roam.
They went to Elkhorn city just sixteen miles away
And stayed there at a hotel until the break of day.

When the night began to fall, they walked out for a stroll
'Twas in the month of December, the winds were blowing cold.
They stood down by the river, the waters running cold;
Johnny Colliers said to Lula, "In the bottom you must go."

"Oh, Johnny, you can't mean it, oh, surely it can't be;
How can you be the murderer of a helpless girl like me'
She kept humblin' and beggin', before him she did kneel
But around her neck he tied a piece of railroad steel.

He threw her in the river 'til the bubbles rose around;
With the bustle of the sunball and a sad and mournful sound,
John Colliers hurried to the depot, he bound the train for home;
He thinking that the murder would never, never be known.

Someone sent out a report, his name was Edwin Din;
They printed it in the papers and around the world it went.
They took her out of the river and carried her off to town,
With railroad steel around her neck that weighed about sixty pounds.

Oh, when the mother got the news she was sittin' in her home;
She quickly rose from her chair and ran to the telephone
Saying, "I will call headquarters, and then I'll go and see
If that can be my daughter, but surely it can't be."

When the mother got there, described the clothes she wore
When she saw the body she fainted to the floor.
John Colliers was arrested, condemned without a bail,
Probably the electric chair will force him off to Hades.


Looks like it would scan quite well to the tune of Texas Rangers.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST,Sharon Ray
Date: 16 Jun 05 - 02:15 PM

Lula was a cousin of mine. My grandfather remembered hearing about her death and at one time had a record with the song on it. He had a couple of pictures of her as a child. He and my grandmother sang me the opening lines of the song 20+ years ago. I have been digging around looking for information about the song and what really happened to Lula and John.

Over the years, some of my cousins and I have collected newspaper articles, court records and other types of records. From the records that we have found, the song barely touches the surface of what actually seems to have happened.

Only one of us has ever heard the song sung. If anyone knows how we can get a copy of any version of the song being performed, we would be really grateful. This has become something of a quest for myself, my cousins and a whole bunch of friends who have heard the story.

my email is sray1964@yahoo.com


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Rain Dog
Date: 17 Jun 05 - 08:13 AM

Have a look here. Might be what you are after


Lula


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Jun 05 - 07:43 PM

You can buy the Custom CD from Smithsonian Folkways for $20. Or from CAMSCO Music for $16.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Nov 08 - 10:01 AM

The true facts behind three of Kentucky's most obscure ballads can be found in Underwood, Arch & Gordon: The Crime Behind the Ballad, XXXI Legal Studies Forum 825 (2007); Underwood and Ray, The Sad, Sad Story of Lula Viers, XV Journal of Southern Legal History 259 (2007); and Underwood, Stella Kenny: A Little Problem In Evidence, XIV Journal of Southern Legal History 119 (2007).

Underwood


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Mrrzy
Date: 06 Nov 08 - 09:18 AM

And the true facts are?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Feb 10 - 11:48 AM

Sad Story. I wonder if she could have been a relative of mine.
My Grandmother on my dad's side was Elora Vires of Bearcreek,Ky
Born in 1909,she married my Grandfather, Alexander Macklin Chambers of Kentucky.   Another sad story, My GGGrandfather on my Mom's side,
committed Murder, Heziekiah Clem,was Hung for killing,I can't remember his name,but his cousin, Devil Jim Turner,was also there.
Heziekiah,was innocent of the muder,his brother or cousin did the
murder John Clem,I think was his name. They were from Harlan Co,Ky

Evelyn Morrison (Chambers)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: RWilhelm
Date: 28 Feb 10 - 12:38 PM

Here's a link to Paul Clayton's recording: Lula Viers

I meant to post thie Friday but we have been without power for three days.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 28 Feb 10 - 06:47 PM

Hi,

There's a different version and some info here Joe:

http://books.google.com/books?id=XqgnCRJcUicC&pg=PA195&lpg=PA195&dq=Lula+Viers&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm

Haven't had time to look at the details- I can look at it tomorrow. It would be a good song and possible painting since I've done two murder ballad paintings lately- right now I'm painting John Henry.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Goose Gander
Date: 28 Feb 10 - 08:24 PM

Source for Richie's link:

Richard M. Dorson. Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States (University of Chicago Press, 1972)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: Richie
Date: 01 Mar 10 - 09:39 AM

Here's the entry from "Native American Balladry"
by G.MALCOLM LAWS, JR.


"Pearl Bryan I" is a good example of the type of ballad for which it is relatively easy to establish a factual basis. Brewster's A version, for instance, gives both the location of the crime and the names of the principals, and describes in some detail the events which occurred both before and after the murder. Investigators have had little trouble in finding court records and newspaper accounts to verify the ballad story. Nothing shows more clearly the dependence of the typical ballad author upon facts than the success which students have had in working from the ballads themselves to a knowledge of the events which inspired them.

A case in point is offered by the ballad "Lula Viers", which Jean Thomas heard sung in Kentucky, in the presence of Lula's cousin. Mrs. Thomas's version follows :

Come all you good people
From all over the world;
And listen to a story
About a poor young girl.

Her names was Lula Vires,
In Auxier she did dwell;
A place in old Kentucky,
A town you all know well.

She loved young John [...]>
Was engaged to be his wife;
He ruined her reputation,
And later took her life.

They went to Elkhorn City,
Sixty miles away;
And put up at a hotel,
Until the dose of day.

And as dark did gather,
They went out for a stroll;
It was in bleak December,
The wind was blowing cold.

They went down to the river,
Cold water was running deep;
John then said to Lula,
"In the bottom you must sleep".

"Do you really mean it, John ?
It surely cannot be.
How could you stand to murder
A poor, helpless girl like me ?"

She threw her arms around him,
"Oh John, please spare my life!
1*11 go back to my mother,
If I cannot be your wife."

She threw her arms around him,
Before him she did kneel.
Around her waist he tied
A piece of railroad steel.

He threw her in the river,
The bubbles they c&d rise.
They burst upon the water,
What a sad and mournful sight.

He* hastened to the depot,
And boarded a train for home,
Thinking that his cnifel crime
Never would be known.

Poor Lula she was missing
Nowhere could she be found.
They searched the country over,
For many miles around.

John [ . . . ] joined the army,
Four months had come and past.
But in the Ohio River
The body was found at last.

They took her from the River,
And to the near-by town;
They could not recognize her,
They could not 'find her out.

They sent for a reporter,
His' name was Arodent.
He printed it in the paper
And around the world it went.

Her mother was seated in her home.
When she read the news.
She quicky left her chair,
To a neighbor told her views.

Saying, "I will send a message,
Or, I will go and see,
If it is my daughter, oh.
It surely cannot be."

She boarded a train for Ironton,
And arrived right at the place.
It was in a morgue there so drear,
She looked on her child's face.

She recognized the clothing,
The poor girl now still wore.
The mother looked upon the corpse.
Fell fainting to the floor.

John [ . . . ] was arrested,
And placed in Floyd County's jail;
But for that awful murder
No one could go his bail.

Soon an army officer came,
And took him off to France.
John . . ] never went to trial,
Nor sought to clear his name! 19

Footnote 19: Ballad Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky, pp. 144 146. Reprinted with the kind permission of Jean Thomas, "The Traipsin' Woman".


No one hearing or reading this unlyrical and pedestrian chronicle would suppose that the story was, fictional. From beginning to end it has every mark of the journalistic report in ballad form. Because its short traditional life has been confined to the region which produced it, the ballad shows no signs either of corruption or of compression. footnote 20

footnote 20: If this ballad survives in tradition, we might expect a gradual wearing away of the latter portion to produce a piece similar in form to "The Jealous Lover".

In order to verify my belief that the ballad was largely factual, I wrote to the clerk of the Floyd County Court in Prestonburg, Kentucky, and asked him for information about the murder. The clerk, Jarvis Allen, replied in part as follows in a letter dated July 26, 1948:

Lula Viers was killed by John [....] at Elkhorn City, Kentucky, approximately October 1917. She was thrown into Big Sandy River, near Elkhorn City, and was not found until from four to six months later at Hanging Rock, Ohio, near Ironton, Ohio.

At the time of her death she was unmarried but had a [child] whose father was supposed to have been John [...],[.,.] left the [child with a relative] at Auxier, Kentucky, and took Lula Viers to get married which was the last trace the family had of her until they found her body in the Ohio River. [ . . . ] was placed in the Floyd County jail but was later released to join the army. 21

The almost perfect correlation between Mr. Allen's illuminating state ments and those given in the ballad is too obvious to require much comment. The ballad maker's failure to mention Lula's child is in keeping with the conventions discussed early in Chapter III. Whether the accused murderer joined the army before or after he was imprisoned is a minor detail; the statement given in the ballad seems more reasonable.

From the foregoing report it can be seen that long after newspapers have yellowed and their contents have been forgotten, a ballad like "Lula Viers" preserves with remarkable accuracy the details of a shocking crime and keeps them fresh in the memory of the folk.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST,Rick Underwood
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 12:15 PM

I did an article on the ballad with input from Sharon Ray. You can find it in the Journal of Southern Legal History.

Prof. Underwood UK Law School.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Lula Viers (Murder Ballad)
From: GUEST,Rick Richmond
Date: 14 Oct 11 - 04:37 PM

Bruce Buckley sang this to the tune of "Home Sweet Home".


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