Omie Wise

Omie Wise is the classic North Carolina murder ballad. Harry Smith gives a fine "condensation of lyrics" in Anthology of American Folk Music: "Greedy girl goes to Adams spring with liar; lives just long enough to regret it."

Actually this ballad is pretty new, a paltry two hundred years old, and refers to an event that is well documented even if the accounts differ. John Lewis of Randolph County North Carolina was accused of killing one Naomi Wise in 1808. He escaped from jail and was recaptured. Although fined for the jail break he was never convicted of doing in Naomi, the evidence being circumstantial at best. A more successful prosecution was carried out in story and song.

For more detailed background see "Poor 'Omie - The Murder of Naomi Wise" on the "Murder by Gaslight" web site.

Everyone who plays this kind of music has done Omie Wise from G.B. Grayson, Tom Ashley, Doc Boggs, The Coon Creek Girls and Aunt Molly Jackson to Peggy Seeger, Bob Dylan and Pentangle. So why not me too. My version takes bits from many sources but is particularly inspired by Peggy Seeger's performance on her "Heading for Home" album. I discovered this record when I was looking for all the words to Henry Lee. It is one of a set of three she did in 2003 with her sons and daughter. They holed up in a little cottage and produced these wonderful CDs where Peggy gets back to her folk roots. The other two are "Love Call Me Home" and "Bring me Home". These are absolute gems and take a special place on my shelf next to brother Mike's "True Vine."

My banjo is in the double-C tuning capoed to up to D. I tune the 6th guitar string down to D and the second and first down to A and D. It just seemed to work with the song.

The picture has nothing to do with the song. It comes from the wonderful collection of banjo pictures at the "Classic Banjo web site.


I'll sing you the story of little Omie Wise
How she was deluded by John Lewis's lies

Fool like, she met him at Adams' spring
He'd bring her some money and some other fine thing

No money, no money, to flatter the case
"We'll have to get married, so there'll be no disgrace"

"So hop up behind me and away we will ride
To that church in the valley where I’ll make my bride"

She got up behind him and away they did go
Til they come the river where deep water flows

"John Lewis, John Lewis, won’t you tell me your mind
Is your mind for to marry me or leave me behind?"

"Little Omie, Little Omie, I'll tell you my mind
My mind is to drown you here and leave you behind"

"Have pity on our baby and spare me my life
And I'll go away a-beggin' and I won't be your wife"

He hugged her and kissed her and turned her around
He throwed her in the deep water where he knowed she would drown

He jumped on his pony and away he did ride
The screams of little Omie went down in the tide

It was early next morning the rain was pouring down
They searched for little Omie but she could not be found

Two boys went a fishing on a fine summers day
They saw little Omie’s body go floating away

The people all came from the village and town
They came to that place where little Omie was found

They sent for John Lewis to come to that place
They set her up before him so he could see her face

They took him to the jail house and locked him inside
You know, that feller wouldn’t a been there if he had not killed his bride

He stayed in that prison ‘til he made his escape
He went and joined the army to hide from his fate.