Caroline Tracy Dye, better known as “Aunt Caroline,” was a highly respected seer whose name was recognized in Arkansas and the Mid-South in the early years of the twentieth century. The fact that she was an uneducated African American made her popularity at the time all the more unusual.
She was born into slavery in Spartanburg, South Carolina, shortly after the death of her parents’ master, William Tracy. His widow, Nancy, later moved with her family and slaves to Arkansas, settling near present-day Rosie (Independence County). Caroline Tracy had an infant daughter, Hannah, before the death of Nancy Tracy in 1861. All of the slaves, including Caroline Tracy, were the property of the Tracy estate until they were freed after the Civil War.
Caroline Tracy became aware of her abilities as a seer while still a young child. She could reportedly see things outside her line of vision that others could not. Among several early examples is a story that, during the Civil War, she foretold a visit by a member of the Tracy family, someone thought dead in the early years of the war.
It was after Dye moved to Newport (Jackson County) that her reputation began to grow. She never claimed to be a fortune teller; that title was given to her by others. Historian John Quincy Wolf wrote that, in a 400-mile radius from Newport, “Aunt Caroline” was as well known as President Woodrow Wilson.
She enjoyed a large clientele from all over the Mid-South, with an especially strong following from Memphis, Tennessee. So many arrived in Newport from Memphis that one train was known locally as the “Caroline Dye Special.” Her clients were both black and white, and most showed their appreciation by paying her a few dollars for a reading, although payment was not required.
Dye reportedly only used a deck of cards to help her concentration and would not give readings about love or the outcome of World War I; she did, however, tell many people the location of strayed or stolen livestock, sometimes giving specific directions, and she helped people locate missing jewelry. She gave visions of the future for her clients and offered advice on missing persons. In one case, she was consulted about the guilt of a man arrested for assault near Austin (Lonoke County). She enjoyed confronting skeptics before they uttered a word and many times told them of situations about themselves that she could not have previously known. It was said that she even predicted Newport’s future great fire of 1926, which wiped out a large part of the town some eight years after her death.
Dye’s reputation lives on in songs, including two written by Memphis bluesman W. C. Handy. He said the gypsy mentioned in “St. Louis Blues” (1914) was Dye. In “Sundown Blues” (1923), he named the fortune teller as Aunt Caroline Dye of Newport, Arkansas. Through the years, the legend of Dye has been distorted and stretched, identifying her as a fortune teller, a “hoodoo” woman, or a “two-headed doctor” (or psychic).
For additional information:
“Caroline Dye Passes Away.” Newport Daily Independent, September 27, 1918, p. 2.
“Delegates Return to Seeress.” Newport Daily Independent, March 26, 1909, p. 1.
Koch, Stephen, and Max Brantley. "Aunt Caroline Dye: 'The Worst Woman in the World'?" Arkansas Times, June 30, 2005. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/aunt-caroline-dye/Content?oid=862312 (accessed September 4, 2018).
Morgan, James Logan. “She Put Newport on the Map: A Biography of Aunt Caroline Dye.” Stream of History 5 (January 1967): 17–18, 28–32.
Wolf, John Quincy. “Aunt Caroline Dye: The Gypsy in the ‘St. Louis Blues.’” Southern Folklore Quarterly 33 (December 1969): 339–346.