El Muerto: The Headless Horseman of Texas

headless horseman

Kathleen Rice Adams header

First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been terrifying children for almost 200 years. Though the tale of a hapless schoolmaster’s midnight gallop through the New York woods made the phrase “headless horseman” a household term in America, by the time Irving’s story appeared headless horsemen had been staples of European folklore for centuries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English legends all offered versions of the ghoulish phantoms, who usually were said to appear to proud, arrogant people as a warning.

headless horsemanTexas has its own gruesome headless horseman legend. Unlike Irving’s unforgettable spook, though, Texas’s headless horseman rode among the living once upon a time.

Some say he still does.

In the summer of 1850, a Mexican bandido by the name of Vidal made an egregious error: He and several compadres rustled a sizable herd of horses from several ranches south of San Antonio. One of the ranches belonged to Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence and a man not inclined to forgive his enemies. (Taylor later would be one of the participants in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a bloody, years-long running gun battle that resulted in four times as many deaths as the better-known fracas between the Hatfields and McCoys.)

Rustling cattle already had earned Vidal’s head a dead-or-alive bounty. Stealing a Texas Ranger’s horses was the proverbial last straw. Together with fellow Ranger William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and another local rancher, Taylor set out to put a stop to Vidal’s unbearable insolence.

The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas, 1865
Capt. Mayne Reid’s version of a Texas Legend, published in 1865, received a mention in Charles Dickens’s final novel, Our Mutual Friend.

As a group, the early Texas Rangers were hard men. Tasked with protecting an enormous patch of land rife with outlaws and Indians, the early Rangers were expert trackers, accomplished gunmen, and not opposed to meting out immediate — and often brutal — “frontier justice.” Vidal was about to discover that in a very personal way.

After tracking the bandidos to their camp, Taylor, Wallace, and the third man mounted a surprise attack while the outlaws were asleep. Killing the desperados was not enough for Taylor and Wallace, though. The entire Ranger force was fed up with the rash of rustling plaguing Texas at the time. Not even leaving bodies hanging from trees or hacking them to pieces and using the bits for predator bait had made a strong enough statement.

So, Wallace got creative. After beheading Vidal, he secured the corpse upright on the back of the wildest of the rustled horses, lashed the bandido’s hands to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, and tied the stirrups beneath the animal’s belly. Just to make sure anyone who saw the ghoulish specter got the message, he looped a rawhide thong through the head’s jaws and around Vidal’s sombrero, and slung the bloody bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Then Wallace and his friends sent the terrified mustang galloping off into the night.

William A.A. "Big Foot" Wallace, ca. 1872
Big Foot Wallace, ca. 1872

Not long thereafter, vaqueros began to report seeing a headless horseman rampaging through the scrub on a dark, wild horse. As sightings spread, some claimed flames shot from the animal’s nostrils and lightning bolts from its hooves. Bullets seemed to have no effect on the grisly marauder. They dubbed the apparition el Muerto — the dead man — and attributed all sorts of evil and misfortune to the mysterious rider.

Eventually, a posse of cowboys brought down the horse at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas. By then the dried-up body had been riddled with bullets and arrows, and the head had shriveled in the sun. The posse laid Vidal’s remains to rest in an unmarked grave on the La Trinidad Ranch. Only then did Wallace and Taylor take public credit for the deed. The episode contributed to Wallace’s reputation and had the intended effect on rustling.

Even the revelation of the truth behind the legend did not end el Muerto’s reign of terror. Until nearby Fort Inge was decommissioned in 1869, soldiers reported seeing a headless rider roaming the countryside around Uvalde, near Taylor’s ranch. Thirty years later, a rise in the ground 250 miles to the southeast, near San Patricio, Texas, was christened Headless Horseman Hill after a wagon train reported an encounter with el Muerto. A sighting occurred in 1917 outside San Diego, Texas, and another near Freer in 1969.

El Muerto reportedly still roams the mesquite-covered range in Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties — still fearsome, still headless, and still reminding those who see him that Texas Rangers didn’t come by their tough-hombre reputation by accident.

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Robbing Banks Stealing HeartsI haven’t written any tales about headless horsemen — yet — but ghosts play a significant role in one of my short novellas. Family Tradition is one of two stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts.

Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.

Family Tradition
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?

 

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Stone blinked at the apparitions. If not for Madame Minerva’s confirmation, he’d have sworn he was seeing things—and he hadn’t touched a drop of whiskey in weeks.

He eased backward a step.

So did she, sidling up next to him until her hipbone collided with his leg.

The two ghosts floated around the table, one on each side, and planted themselves close enough for Stone to poke a hand through either misty shape. Forcing a swallow down his throat, he squinted at the nearest. He’d been on the receiving end of that old man’s irritated glare far too often.

Heart racing fast enough to outrun a mule with a butt full of buckshot, Stone faded back another step.

The fake gypsy stayed with him, as though she were glued to his side.

The gauzy forms kept pace.

“Emile?” Madame Minerva’s voice squeaked like a schoolgirl’s.

Even on a ghost, disappointment was easy to spot. A pained frown gripped one apparition’s face. “I’m not part of the con any longer, Pansy. You can’t call me father just once?”

Stone ducked his head and tossed the woman a sidelong glance. “Pansy?”

“Said Tombstone,” she hissed.

The second ghost spoke up, his voice strangely hollow but recognizable. “Boy, you got nothin’ to say to your ol’ pop?”

“I uh… I…” Stone’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Thank God, Emile picked up the conversation. “I see my little girl is keeping the family tradition alive.”

“I am.” Pansy’s breathy whisper carried a hint of tears. “Oh, Emile, I wish you had stayed.”

“I’ve been here all along. You just haven’t looked for me before.” Emile’s specter extended a hand to cup his daughter’s cheek. Pansy leaned into the phantom caress.

Stone snatched her before she toppled over. Too late, he discovered she weighed little more than a ghost herself. His grab yanked her off her feet and slammed her into his chest.

He exercised quite a bit more care setting her back on the dirt floor.

 

 

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A Walk in the Country by Charlene Sands

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As I watched CMA’s Music Festival from the comfort of my own home the other evening, I was smiling and singing along with the artists as they sashayed across a stage that reached thousands in the audience and millions through their television screens.

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Jimmie Rodgers
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Hank Williams

Gosh, I love country music so much that it never occurred to me that there were so many different variations of what was once known as hillbilly music.   As I delved into country music’s bright history, I learned that this new form of music derived in the southern United States was brought forth in the 1920’s and originated in Atlanta, Georgia, not Nashville, Tennessee.  It has been argued that Atlanta be known for the birth of Country Music.  Country music was delivered by way of working class Americans bringing their own backgrounds and culture to the city by blending popular songs, Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes, blues, cowboy songs and traditional ballads.  And nearly a century later country music has climbed the ranks to become the most listened to rush hour music during the evening commute, coming a close second to the most listened to morning rush hour commute.

 

 

Some of the most renowned artists of the 1920’s were “Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1923 (Okey Records) and Samantha Bumgarner in 1924 (Columbia Records) and then in 1927 RCA Victor Records (remember them?) recorded the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. During the Great Depression radio sales were down, but country music became a very popular form of entertainment with “barn dance” shows that transmitted all over the South and from Chicago to California. In 1925 the Grand Ole Opry made its debut from Nashville and it continues on in glorious fashion today.Grand_Ole_Opry

The first commercial recordings of what was considered country music were “Arkansas Traveler” and “Turkey in the Straw” on June 30, 1922, for Victor Records and released in April 1923.  Columbia began issuing records with “hillbilly” music (series 15000D “Old Familiar Tunes”) as early as 1924.[8]

And later, the popularity of movie westerns only seemed to spur on (pardon the pun) the country music industry.   But like everything else in the world, country music evolved and branched off into different genres from bluegrass to gospel, from hillbilly to country boogie, from honkytonk to rockabilly and country rock.  In 1956 the number two, three and four songs on Billboard’s charts for that year were Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel“; Johnny Cash, “I Walk the Line“; and Carl Perkins, “Blue Suede Shoes“.[45]

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash

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Willie Nelson helped coin the genre “country outlaw” and megastars like Taylor Swift have delivered us “pop country.”  While Carrie Underwood (my favorite female vocalist) has been branded a “country rock” musician.   I might also mention icons such as Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell, who all made an indelible mark on country music.carrie-underwood

Do you remember Barbara Mandrell sayin’  “I was country when country wasn’t cool.”

So much music, so little time!

Do you like country music?  What type of country appeals to you most? And if you could meet one of the legends of country either living or dead, who would you choose?    Can you guess who I’d choose?  Play along for a chance to win a copy of one of my available backlist books of your choice! Winner chosen at random on Saturday so be sure to check back! 

 (PS, not Carrie, although I would love to meet her!)

Grand Ole Opry pic by Deirdre 11:55, 27 February 2007 (UTC) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Crop Circles, Aliens and The American Indian Myth

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Strange title, eh?  Or maybe not.  An entire series of my books, THE LOST CLAN, is based on a myth that is common throughout the American Indian myths — tribe to tribe.  The story of the Thunderer.

I will be giving away a mass market copy and an e-book copy of the book, SOARING EAGLE’S EMBRACE today to two lucky bloggers.  So do come on in an leave a comment.  All rules for give-aways here at Petticoats and Pistols appy — they are linked on the home page.  When you have a moment, give them a read.  Pretty easy.

Okay, back to myths.  There is another myth that caught my interest early on — and it is the one I thought I’d discuss with you today.  At the time I came upon this American Indian myth, I knew nothing about crop circles — had never heard of them — but this myth in the Americas brings these things so closely to mind.

The book, SOARING EAGLE’S EMBRACE, is based in no small degree upon this myth, and the book actually starts with the hero and heroine and the myth.  Interestingly, I found this myth not in just one tribe — but several — and the thing is, it was told almost (but not quite) identically.  The myth I’m about to tell you is from the Shawnee.stortell[1]

I believe that the name of the hero (it’s from a children’s book that I’m quoting) is Red Hawk, and the name of the book is RED HAWK AND THE SKY SISTERS by Gloria Dominic and Charles Reasoner.  Again, this legend is repeated in several different tribes — although the hero’s name is often different.

Red Hawk is a great hunter.  But he is puzzled because he sees the same pattern of a circle imprinted in the prairie grasses each time he goes to hunt.  It is a perfect circle — but there are no paths leading up to it — or going away from it.  There is evidence that something was there and made the circle — but how?  Red Hawk decides to spend the night, hiding himself from view.

51GoIbPuXOL._SL110_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-sm,TopRight,10,-13_OU01_[1]And so he does.  He discovers by hiding himself, that a basket gently falls to the earth and that there is singing from feminine voices.  As the basket comes to land softly on the earth, the sisters alight from the basket and dance around it in a circle.  Red Hawk watches this for many nights until one night he falls in love with one of the sisters — the youngest I believe.  And so, once again hiding himself, he waits until the sisters are about to get into the basket and go back into the sky — but suddenly he jumps out from his hiding place and captures the woman of his heart.

They marry and are happy, but she misses her home in the sky (she is a star).  They have a  child and she wishes to take the child and return to visit her home in the sky.  Our hero lets her go, but keeps the child with him, hoping that the child will be enough to cause her to return.  When she doesn’t return, our hero again captures her, and she falls in love with him all over and they live happily ever after.

th[1]I did find that the ending varies a bit from tribe to tribe, and I’m uncertain of how this book ends the story — I have this book, but of course, needing to find it for this post, the book eludes me.  : )

So what does this have to do with crop circles and aliens.  Well, I found it very interesting that crop circles seem similar and are also tied to aliens — here’s a link, if you’ve never heard of crop circles:  http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/cutting/cropcirc.htm

flower[1]Here is a picture of an actual crop circle — where the crops have been bent back without any footprints to or from the circle.   They are usually made at night — and made within one night.

Although attributed to more modern times, it’s interesting to me that our legend goes back centuries — to come to us today — to perhaps make the crop circle even more mysterious.

SoaringEaglesEmbrace72LGHope you’ve enjoyed the post today.  And I hope I’ve created some interest in the American Indian myth.

Here’s the link to buy SOARING EAGLE’S EMBRACE.

http://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/4345/soaring-eagles-embrace

And don’t forget, my newest release, BLACK EAGLE is on sale right now, also.  Here’s that link:  http://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5640/black-eagle

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