Poor Ellen Smith (2)
Come all kind people, my story to hear,
What happen'd to me in June of last year.
It's of poor Ellen Smith and how she was found,
A ball in her heart, lyin' cold on the ground.
It's true I'm in jail, a prisoner now,
But God is here with me and hears every vow.
Before Him I promise the truth to relate
And tell all I know of poor Ellen's sad fate.
The world of my story's no longer a part,
But knows I was Ellen's own lovin' sweetheart.
They knew my intention to make her my wife,
I loved her too dearly to take her sweet life.
I saw her on Monday, before that sad day
They found her poor body and took her away;
That she had been killed never entered my mind
Till a ball through her heart they happened to find.
Oh who was so cruel, so heartless, so base
As to murder poor Ellen in such a lonesome place?
I saw her that morning so still and so cold
And heerd the wild stories the witnesses told.
I choked back my tears, for the people all said
That Peter Degraph had shot Ellen Smith dead!
My love is in her grave with her hand on her breast
The bloodhound and sheriff won't give me no rest.
They got their Winchesters and hunted me down,
But I was away in ole Mount Airy town.
I stayed off a year and I prayed all the time
That the man might be found whut committed the crime.
So I could come back in my character safe (and my character
Ere the flowers had faded on poor Ellen's grave.
So I come back to Winston my trial to stand
To live or to die as the law might command.
Ellen sleeps calm in the lonely church yard
While I look trough the bars --- God knows it is hard!
I know they will hang me --- at least, if they can,
But I know I will die as an innocent man.
My soul will be free when I stand at the bar
Where God tries his cross, then, there, like a star,
That shines in the night, will an innocent shine
Oh, I do appeal to the Justice of Time!
From Ethel Park Richardson's book- American Mountain Songs.
Probably closer to the original than Hobart Smith/Molly O'Day
version: see also ELLNSMTH
"Peter Degraph really did shoot and kill Ellen Smith
(according to the verdict) near Mt. Airy, NC. He was executed for
the crime, and while he waited for them to take him to the chair
he called for a guitar, and this song was composed and sung by
him. So great was the feeling, for and against Degraph, that it
had to be declared a misdemeanour for the song to be sung in a
gathering of any size for the reason that it always fomented a
riot." (IBID) (also sic) RG