Tony/Coonie shoots Delia (for breaking her promise to marry him). Delia's mother grieves. Coonie writes a letter from prison, where he has been sent for life, asking the governor for a pardon
In oral tradition this ballad has split into two texts which are so distinct that they can hardly be recognized as one. (Indeed, I wasn't sure until I came across an unusually full Bahaman version.)
"Delia's Gone," from the Bahamas, tells only the bare facts of Delia's murder, which is committed by Tony.
"Delia" ("Delia Holmes") provides a motive for the shooting (Delia Holmes had broken her promise to marry Coonie), and gives details about the murderer's conviction.
One theory has it that this story is based on a murder committed in Georgia around 1900.
If this is true, then Tony/Coonie is Moses Houston (variously called "Mose" and "Cooney/Coony" in the newspapers). His age is uncertain; he gave it as fourteen, and the papers estimated it at fourteen to sixteen.
Delia Green was fourteen year old who had been dating. He claimed there was a sexual relationship; she denied it. He killed her in 1900, at a rowdy party in which they argued, apparently over whether their relationship was sexual. He was tried in 1901. Found guilty (in a trial which, in retrospect, does not sound very fair), he was sentenced to prison but parolled in 1913; a later request to overturn his sentence does not seem to have been acted upon. (Information compiled by John Garst.)
Almost all that is known about this song is summarized by Chapman J. Milling in Volume 1, Number 4 of _Southern Folklore Quarterly_ (December 1937); Botkin excerpts several important paragraphs. - RBW