“Pearl Bryan (I)”


Pearl Bryan runs away to meet her lover Jackson, who, helped by Walling, takes her to Kentucky and decapitates her. Her body is discovered the next day. (The fate of the murderers may then be described)


Cox gives significant details about the history behind this song. Pearl Bryan was probably murdered on January 31, the day before the discovery of her body. Jackson and Walling were "young doctors" to whom Miss Bryan had appealed for medical help. Her body was recognized based on her feet (she is said to have been "web-footed"); her head was not recovered. A third man, surnamed Woods, was regarded as a possible co-conspirator, but not convicted.

To tell this song from the other Pearl Bryan ballads, consider this first stanza (from Leach):

Now, ladies, if you'll listen, a story I'll relate

What happened near Fort Thomas in the old Kentucky state.

'Twas late in January this awful deed was done

By Jackson and by Walling; how cold their blood did run! - RBW

Historical references

  • Feb 1, 1896 - Discovery of the headless body of Pearl Bryan, killed along with her unborn child by Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling, near Fort Thomas, Kentucky
  • Mar 20, 1897 - Execution of Jackson and Walling

Cross references

  • cf. "The Jealous Lover (I), The (Florella, Floella) (Pearl Bryan II) (Nell Cropsey II) [Laws F1A, B, C]" [Laws F1], particularly the "B" subgroup of Pearl Bryan ballads
  • cf. "Pearl Bryan III" [Laws F3]
  • cf. "Pearl Bryan IV"


  1. Laws F2, "Pearl Bryan I"
  2. Brewster 61, "Pearl Bryan" (3 texts plus an excerpt and mention of 3 more; 1 tune; the "A" and "B" texts and the "F" fragment and tune are this piece; the "C" text is Laws F1B)
  3. Leach, pp. 789-790, "Pearl Bryan" (1 text)
  4. Burt, p. 31, "(Pearl Bryan)" (1 short text)
  5. Friedman, p. 209, "Pearl Bryan" (1 text)
  6. Darling-NAS, pp. 199-200, "Pearl Bryan" (1 text plus a fragment)
  7. DT 751, PERLBRY1
  8. Roud #2212
  9. BI, LF02


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1935 (Brewster)
Keywords: elopement homicide
Found in: US(Ap,MW,SE)