Tragic family history

Young Freeda Bolt
Young Freeda Bolt

A tragic piece of family history surfaced following the screening of “Crooked,” the documentary about The Crooked Road and the history of old-time traditional music in our area.

Mac Traynham, a musician and instrument maker who is among those featured in the film, played an old song written by D.M. Shank as a hymn and recorded by the Carter Family and The Blue Ridge Ramblers.

Called “The Story of Freeda Bolt,” the song tells the sad story of an 18-year-old, love-struck, pregnant Floyd County woman who thought she would be eloping with her 20-year-old boyfriend but he killed her on December 12, 1929, and left her body near the top of Bent Mountain.  He tried to kill her and dumped her body but came back a day later and found her still alive, so he completed the murder.

Blue Ridge Institutes tells the story.

Freeda Bolt was my step-aunt, a sister to Truman Bolt Sr., my step-father.  My mother, Ethel McPeak Thompson, married him eight years after my father died in an industrial accident in Tampa, Florida, in 1949.

As a child, I knew the story of Freeda Bolt and the family anger at Buren Harman, the man who killed her.  I also knew it wasn’t something we discussed.  Her death brought calls that he be lynched.  A Roanoke County judge sent him to prison for life but the governor of Virginia pardoned him 18 years later and some expected one or more of the Bolt brothers might take him out if he ever showed up in the Floyd County again.

The story made national news and helped make the career of New York newspaperman Jim Bishop, who came to Floyd and covered the trial.  Bishop later became a columnist and wrote books about the deaths of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

I met with Bishop in 1977 and talked about the death of Freeda Bolt.  He said the story haunted him for years.

“In interviews, I discovered she was a bright attractive young woman who faced life with joy and hope for the future,” he said. “She had so much to live for.”

I talked about her death with my step-father shortly before he died.  We had never discussed it before and was it difficult for him.  He still felt a lot of sorrow and pain more than 50 years after her death.

Harman died in 1969 and is buried in Floyd County.

My step father died  in 1985.  His brothers and sisters are gone as well.  Most lived long and well:  Except for one — young Freeda Bolt.

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