I loved Mississippi John Hurt’s Stack O’Lee Blues long before I knew it was based on a real murder.

Click here to listen to Mississippi John Hurt’s Stack O’Lee Blues!

Police officer, how can it be?
You can arrest everybody
But cruel Stack O’ Lee
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

Billy DeLyon told Stack O’ Lee
Please don’t take my life
I got two little babies and a darling loving wife
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

What I care
About your two little babies and your darling loving wife?
You done stole my Stetson hat, I’m bound to take your life
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

Boom boom boom boom went that .44
When I spied Billy DeLyon
He was lying down on the floor
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

Gentleman of the jury, what you think of that?
Stack O’ Lee killed Billy DeLyon
About a five-dollar Stetson hat
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

Standing on the gallows, his head way up high,
At twelve o’clock they killed him
They was all glad to see him die
That bad man, oh cruel Stack O’ Lee

Mississippi John Hurt
Mississippi John Hurt

The place was St. Louis, Missouri; the year, 1895. It was Christmas night and the air was frigid but it was warm inside the saloon where ‘Stack’ Lee Shelton was drinking with a friend.

Stack, whose nickname was derived from a riverboat with an unsavory reputation, was a flamboyant dresser and often seen in his white Stetson hat. When he was arrested the next day, Stack identified himself as a carriage driver, but that wasn’t true. He was actually a very successful pimp and a leader in the Democratic party.

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Meet Coleman “Cole” Blease, the mustachioed governor and later senator of the great state of South Carolina from 1910 – 1915.

As you will soon learn, Cole Blease had some major character flaws. However, nobody is all bad or all good, and it’s more charitable and interesting to consider him as a whole person. So, my goal is simply to present this man to you as he presented himself to the citizens of the day.

Gov. Cole Blease

When Governor Blease assumed office, South Carolina was in the throes of civil unrest. Many farmers were giving up the land and going to work in the mills, in quest of a living wage. Black and white, men and women, children and adults were thrown together for the first time – with the only commonality being an unfamiliar environment. The results were frequently chaotic and violent.

Cole Blease didn’t create the stormy environment in South Carolina, but he definitely contributed to it. For one thing, the governor worsened tensions between black and white workers with racist tirades. Black men, he told audiences, would gain the right to vote just as surely as poor white men would lose it.

No one asked the governor how he felt about women of any race getting the vote, but it’s probably safe to assume he was no suffrage advocate. He was violently opposed to women “doing society” instead of staying home with their families. He warned mill workers that the aim of women was to “give us their dresses for our pants.” (No word on how the governor figured out our secret plan.)

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