Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Kindly Phantom of Wilson Creek

As most of you know, I am a native Texan. To be more specific, I am from East Texas. The reason I make this distinction is due to the difference in terrain and geography from east to west.  The East is home to the Piney Woods and the legendary - and jungle-like - Big Thicket. Copious amounts of rain falls on this part of the state, birthing numerous rivers and countless creeks.  The dark woods and deep thickets offer cover and food for many animal species. This is also the region of the state from whence most of the sightings of large, hairy, ape-like creatures originate. The tale that follows concerns at least one such creature and is one I was not familiar with until recently. Some of the details reported will be familiar to followers and researchers of the sasquatch phenomenon; however, other accounts are unlike anything I have ever come across. Do the various stories over the years describe different beings/creatures or are all the accounts related? I suppose that is for you to decide, dear reader. Now, on with the story.


“It looked like a monster,” a 1934 article from the May 20th Sunday edition of the Beaumont Enterprise begins. “It’s (sic) body…seemed to be covered with long black hair. Some described the Thing as bearing every earmark of a great ape.” The creature in question was squatty and powerfully built. He (we make an assumption on gender here) wore no clothing and never uttered a word. More often than not, the phantom – as he came to be known – appeared to locals at the height of raging storms and/or when said folks were in some sort of trouble and in dire need of help.

This particular “haint” wandered the woods and along the banks of creeks in Tyler County, Texas in the 1840s and 1850s. While the settlers of this region had many encounters with the benevolent beast – for that is how he was thought of by the locals – it is the stories of brothers John and Robert Rotan which I will focus on here. The following tales were related to reporter Dean Tevis by Young John Rotan for the previously referenced 1934 article. The stories were told to him by both his uncle, Old John, and father, Robert Rotan.


 Old John left the community of Peach Tree one night to visit the nearby Burch settlement, which sat about a mile from the spot where the town of Chester exists today. The exact nature of the trip is not stated, but it was most likely a business trip (Old John dealt in cattle). Whether John Rotan closed his deal is not disclosed; what is known is that a terrible storm set in on the area as he was making his way home. The night was pitch black and rain was falling in buckets. Old John had to depend on the vision of his horse to keep to the trail, as he could see little to nothing in the deluge. It was not long before he rode up on a creek called Wilson Branch. The usually benign stream was running fast and deep due to the heavy rains. His horse – an unusually trustworthy animal, according to John – hesitated and balked at crossing the torrent. Old John tried everything to get his mount to proceed. He coaxed, prodded, and spurred the beast but to no avail. The horse would not budge. Suddenly, an event occurred that caused Old John to question whether it had really been the raging waters that his horse had shied away from. “Seemingly from the creek itself, then well out of its banks, grew an unnatural figure.” His horse reared in fright, pawing at the air in the direction of the advancing shadow, forcing John to hold on for dear life. “It wasn’t very tall,” he is quoted as saying. “But it was thick set, ape-like, and seemed hairy. It seemed to wear no clothes. In a way, you may have said it was rather shapeless.”


John was chilled to the bone by the sight of the apparition but made no move to retrieve the loaded pistols he carried in his saddlebags. Whether John froze in fear, or, as he later claimed, concluded that it would not have been to his advantage to fire a bullet into the Thing, can only be speculated upon now. What is known is that while Old John pondered on what action to take, the phantom walked up to a position even with his saddle horn. Miraculously, the frightened horse quieted and stood stock still as the creature reached out and touched the animal’s neck. Wide-eyed, Old John Rotan watched as “The wild figure put its hand on the horse for an instant, and then, without adoo (sic) took hold of the bridle” and began leading the steed down the slope and across the angry creek branch safely. “It was all over in a few seconds,” John said, “then the figure disappeared into the darkness it came from…”. Old John never saw the phantom again but often speculated on what his fate might have been had the creature never appeared. The tale of the kindly phantom of Wilson Creek might have faded into oblivion soon after, had not dozens of other settlers seen and had experiences with what most feel was the same being. One such notable account was given by Old John Rotan’s own brother, Robert.


Robert Rotan’s story took place in the springtime as he awaited the arrival of his first-born, a season that brings violent thunderstorms to much of the Lone Star State. As many can attest, babies care little for what atmospheric conditions are present at the time of their arrival on this mortal plane, nor do they seem concerned whether or not medical help is available. Such were the circumstances the night of little Sally Rotan’s birth.  Mother and father had hoped and prayed that the child’s arrival would come after the raging storm outside had broken, but it soon became obvious that would not be the case. Help was needed and it was needed fast. Robert saddled up and tore off through the storm towards the homestead of a local woman known to locals as “Grandma Pullen.” Ms. Pullen was often called upon by the residents of Tyler County to assist in the birthing process. Robert needed to fetch her fast, as his wife was in distress. The problem was that Ms. Pullen lived 8-10 miles away in an area that was in the thick woods and nearly impenetrable under the best of circumstances. Robert was attempting to find the Pullen cabin on a moonless and stormy night.

Situated between Robert Rotan’s home and that of Grandma Pullen was Caney Creek. According to theEnterprise article, “Caney is famed for its tangled wilderness. Its banks, and the country on both sides of them for a good distance, are thick in palmettos, tear blankets, and saw vines, bearing mean sharp briars which cling tenaciously to the clothing, and rip the hide of a horse sent through them. By daylight a horseman could ride round the worst of the patches which overgrew the narrow roadways, but at night he was almost helpless against them. It was often said that a man could hide all his life in this country and never be found…”. This is what Robert Rotan was up against as he fought the elements in an effort to locate the Pullen cabin.


Robert successfully, though painfully, negotiated the tear-blanket vines and made it to the bank of Caney Creek. Once there, he found the creek dangerously high and fast-moving, due to the raging storm. While searching for a safe spot to cross the creek, Robert and his mount became hopelessly lost. Being nighttime – a dark, stormy, and moonless night at that – there were no landmarks visible to guide him, and after riding in circles for what seemed like an eternity, Robert stopped his horse and hunkered down, hoping that the weather would soon break and he would be able to find his way out of the thicket. 


Exactly how long Robert and his horse had been motionless in the deep thicket is not known. All that is known is that Robert, after having been still for a while, saw a figure rise up mere yards in front of his mount, “seemingly from the ground.” The apparition did not hesitate, but stepped forward and took the reins of the horse and proceeded to lead him through the bottoms, across the creek, and up into the hills, where Robert was able to again locate the trail. Robert, who had had ample time to observe the creature, described a being “covered with black hair,” and having a “somewhat short, stubby body, and looked like…an ape.” The phantom said nothing, nor did it ever even look at Robert, and melted back into the gloom of the forest once its mission had been accomplished. 


Robert Rotan did make it to Grandma Pullen’s cabin that night and she was, indeed, able to help deliver baby Sally. Years later, Robert’s son, Young John, would say, “As you can believe, my father was desperate that night. Perhaps it was a dream he had. Perhaps it was something else. As far as I’m concerned, I’m of the opinion that what he saw was the same figure my Uncle John saw that night he crossed Wilson Branch.”


There are other stories from the Peach Tree Village area that are more typical (if that term can ever be used) descriptions of sasquatch encounters. Settlers during this same time period were hounded by a mischievous “pebble thrower.” One homestead in particular, dubbed the Hallmark Home, was the favorite target of the hurler and was showered with rocks, pebbles, gravel, and other forest debris on a regular basis for 75 years. Often, the pebble thrower was accompanied by what the pioneers called the “wild woman of Caney Creek.” The wild woman was never seen, but her “wild, untamed screams were heard in the tangled bottoms of the creek on many occasions over a period of half a century.” Were the pebble thrower, the wild woman of Caney Creek, and the kindly phantom of Wilson Creek all different entities, or was the same being responsible for all of the strange occurrences in Tyler County during the late 19th century? Young John Rotan, son of Robert and nephew of Old John, pondered the same question. “I often wonder if the kindly phantom was kin to the wild woman, if she was a ghost, too, and whether they both were related to the strange pebble thrower of the Hallmark House. Sometimes I think they’re different, and then sometimes I think, well, maybe they’re one and the same thing – just acting different at different times and for different purposes.”


I admit that the actions of the kindly phantom described in these old stories are unlike anything I have ever heard regarding sasquatch behavior. Whether the events took place exactly as described, I obviously cannot say. What I do know is that in a world where wood apes are often seen as creatures to fear and are subtly blamed for the disappearances of what seems like every missing hiker or hunter across the nation, it was nice to come across a story where the sasquatch-like figure was seen in a positive light and not feared by the locals (though the pioneers of Tyler County did fear the pebble thrower and wild woman of Caney Creek). 


I will wrap this post up with the words of Young John Rotan who said, “You know there are some things in this world, now as well as back there, that neither you nor I, or anyone else, can explain. And just because we can’t explain them, why, that’s no reason to say they didn’t happen. I don’t look at things like that, do you?”


Well, do you? 


P.S. – I would like to send a special “thank you” to Susan Shine Kilcrease and her crack research staff at the Ice House Museum in Silsbee, Texas for finding and forwarding the Beaumont Enterprise article sourced for this post. 



Tevis, Dean. “The Kindly Phantom of Wilson Creek.” Beaumont Enterprise, 25 May 1934, pp. 10–10. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Ghost Horse of the Llano Estacado

          There were no horses in North America until the Spanish began their conquest of the New World in the 1500s. While it is true that the progeny of escaped English, French, and Dutch settlers in the northeast ran wild in the eastern region of the continent for a time, the wild mustangs of the western half of the continent are the horses that continue to hold sway in the imagination of most people. These horses were the direct descendants of the Arab and Andalusian stock used by the conquistadores who plundered the Aztecs and searched for the seven golden cities of Cibola on the plains of middle America and across the deserts of the southwest. These horses were legendary for their fiery temperament and resistance to domestication. No other creature on the continent represented freedom the way the wild mustangs of the American southwest did. This is the story of one very special horse, even by wild mustang standards, that some say continues to run free to this very day.

            The great horse, white man and Indian agreed, was special. The stallion was given many names: the White Steed of the Prairies, the Pacing White Stallion, the Ghost Horse of the Plains, the White Shadow, the Winged Steed, and Wind Drinker. The horse was described as being of a white or pale cream in color with a snow-white mane and tail. Too, the mustang was much larger than the normal wild horse of the plains and his harem of mares was twice the size of a normal steed. The speed of the Ghost Horse was the stuff of legends. “He seemed to glide rather than work his legs,” one cowboy who attempted to lasso the steed once said. “He did not seem to be trying to get away, just leading us on.” The fame of this magnificent creature spread far and wide and sightings of this phantom of the prairie stretched from the Mexican desert in the south, to the Badlands of the Dakotas in the north, to the Brazos River bottoms in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. He was nowhere, yet everywhere, it seemed. 

            Ranchers across the west knew that the capture of the Wind Drinker would bring fame and fortune, thus a bounty for the capture of the stallion was offered. The potential windfall caught the eye of a breeder of race horses from Bonham, Texas in 1879. He organized a venture to track down and capture the Ghost Horse. The wranglers ranged far north into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) before finally catching sight of their quarry. The vaqueros laid all manner of traps and attempted to trick the great horse into being surrounded, but each time the stallion would bolt and “pace away like the wind.” The Indians, who had agreed to guide the rancher, abandoned the effort upon laying eyes on the great steed. They considered him a supernatural creature and the possessor of “unspeakable medicine.” From the description of one of the horsemen present on the expedition, the vaqueros did not feel altogether too differently. “When running at a distance he showed nothing but a fast-flying snow-white mane and tail that looked like wings skimming the ground…he was the most alert and the wildest as well as the fleetest animal in western America.”


            Likely, the most well-known tale of an attempted capture of the great White Horse of the Prairies was undertaken by a fiddle-playing character from the east named Kentuck prior to the Civil War. Kentuck, the story goes, took up with a gambler from Arkansas who went by the name of Jake. The two heard tale after tale about the Ghost Horse and, spurred on by the thought of the wealth they would most certainly attain if successful, decided to go after the legendary steed. The pair purchased pack mules, supplies enough to last half a year, and four New Mexican horses bred for speed and endurance and set off on their quest. The gambler, Jake, in particular seemed obsessed with the hunt. He said, “I don’t know exactly where to hunt, but we’ll ride on the prairies until we find the horse or until they are burned crisp by the fires of Judgement Day.”


            The colorful duo crisscrossed the Great Plains for weeks on end until they found themselves on the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, near the Canadian River in the panhandle of Texas. As weeks turned to months, Kentuck lost his enthusiasm for the effort and tried to talk Jake into calling the whole thing off. “Go back if you want,” Jake said. “Go and rot. I have sworn to get what I come to get.” Chastised, Kentuck went silent and stayed on. Eventually, the persistence of the pair would pay off and they would finally put eyes on the legendary Wind Drinker. Following a cold and wet day, the hunters were huddled in camp around a buffalo chip-fed fire. Jake was squatting and warming his hands and staring to the southwest when he saw movement. “Yonder,” he hissed to Kentuck and made for his staked pony. “I supposed it was Indians and grabbed my rifle,” Kentuck later said. “Then my eyes picked up the white horse. He stood there to the southwest, maybe a hundred yards off, head lifted, facing us, as motionless as a statue. In the white moonlight, his proportions were all that the tales had given him. He did not move until Jake moved toward him.”

            Spying his pursuers, the Ghost Horse fled to the east, against the moon. Jake later recounted, “He seemed to glide rather than work his legs, he went so smoothly. He did not seem to be trying to get away, only hold his distance. He moved like a white shadow, and the harder we rode, the more shadowy he looked.” After a bit, his horse tiring and an increasing sense of foreboding creeping into his soul, Kentuck called out to his partner, “Jake, I don’t like this. There’s no sense to it. I’m remembering things we’ve both heard. Let’s stop. We can’t no more catch up to him than with our own shadows.”

            Jake, completely obsessed and wearing the look of a madman yelled back, “I told you I’m going to follow till the Day of Judgement.”

            Kentuck chose to continue the pursuit and not leave his partner, though he did hang back a bit. “Riding on and on out there in the middle of nowhere, not even a coyote breaking the silence, it didn’t seem like this world,” he later said. It was about then that Kentuck spied a jagged blackness on the ground in front of them: a canyon. “It’ll soon be settled now,” he said to himself. “We’ll soon know whether the White Stallion can cross empty space like a ghost.” At the realization they were approaching a massive drop off, Kentuck pulled his mount to a stop. To his horror, his partner spurred his mount even harder in an effort to catch the Wind Drinker. Kentuck called out, “Jake, watch out for the canyon!” His warning, if Jake ever heard it at all, came too late and Kentuck watched the Arkansas gambler and his mount plunge over the side of Palo Duro Canyon.

            Kentuck cautiously approached the edge of the gorge and peered down into its dark maw. He could not see the bottom. Neither did he see the Ghost Horse. When questioned, Kentuck said he could not be sure if the White Pacer had gone over the edge or not. He had turned his attention to his friend and lost sight of the stallion. Shortly after dawn, Kentuck found a buffalo trail that led to the bottom of the canyon. There he found the remains of Jake and the horse he rode into oblivion, a full one hundred feet below the rim of the canyon. Kentuck buried his friend in a makeshift grave where, I suppose, he remains to this day. As for the Wind Drinker, Kentuck would never again lay eyes upon him.

            Campers and hikers at Palo Duro Canyon have reported the sound of thundering hoofbeats in the night. Too, tales of a phantom white mustang running the plains and along the rim of the Canyon are still shared from time to time. In a few cases, witnesses have spied a ghostly cowboy riding hell-bent for leather after the great stallion and into the Texas night, doomed, it seems, to pursue the uncatchable until “Judgement Day.”

            The wild mustang remains a symbol of the old west. The idea that these horses represent freedom and liberty endures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, there are more than 82,000 horse and burros on federal rangelands stretching across ten states today. Whether the White Pacer runs with them, I cannot say. Regardless, the legend of the Wind Drinker remains. 


I hope it will always be so.



Dobie, J. F. (1995). I'll tell you A tale: An anthology. University of Texas Press. 

Vasilogambros, M. (2022, July 20). Westerners struggle to manage booming wild horse populations. The Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Last Grizzly

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is North America’s most feared predator. While their fearsome reputation is somewhat overblown, few would argue just how intimidating these brown bears can be. Reaching weights of up to 800 lbs., able to run 35 mph in short bursts, and sporting some of the most terrifying claws in the animal kingdom, grizzlies are animals to be respected and left alone.


Grizzlies once roamed throughout the entire western United States and points south. These bears were able to thrive in different climates and geographies and ranged from the Great Plains, to the heavily forested mountains of the Rockies, and to the arid desert lands of the American Southwest and Mexico. But did they ever make Texas their home?

It is well-established that the smaller black bear (Ursus americanus) resides in Texas. These bruins are plentiful in the Big Bend country of west Texas and are beginning to return to the heavily wooded eastern portion of the Lone Star State; an area from whence they were hunted to the point of extirpation in the early 1900s. Despite having been absent from the region for decades, black bear lore remains strong there. Old timers still recount the story of a two-year-old child that disappeared into the Big Thicket of southeast Texas. The child was missing for weeks until she was found alive and well, but in the company of a jealous she-bear. The story goes that once the child was rescued, the sow bear tracked her down and showed up at the residence of the child’s family on the edge of the forest. The bear tried to break into the home – presumably to retrieve her “cub” – and had to be killed by the little girl’s father. Another story, often related by the great bear hunter, Ben Lilly, was the tale of a male bruin that was shot and wounded by a farmer. The bear survived and harbored such hate for the farmer that he tormented him for years afterward. The vengeful bear is said to have killed the farmer’s calves and colts and destroyed his crops. There are many more fantastic tales about black bear encounters in the Lone Star State, but are there any about grizzlies? Sadly, no.


Well, that isn’t completely true. There is one.


In his book, Bear Stories, Joe M. Evans tells the tale of the only grizzly bear ever officially documented in the Davis Mountains of west Texas. In fact, it is the only grizzly known to have ever been killed anywhere in the Lone Star State. There had been rumors that the great bears existed in limited numbers in the Davis Mountains years before, but by the 1890s – when the tale Evans tells took place - the suspected sub-species of grizzly that had been tentatively labeled texensis seemed to be completely absent from the region. As it turned out, at least one individual remained.


In those days, Evans and his friends – avid bear hunters all - held an annual bruin hunt in the Davis Mountains. “We took our families,” Evans wrote. “Those were happy days.” It was on November 2, 1890 when the hunters discovered the carcass of a partially eaten cow in a gulch near the head of Limpia Creek in Jeff Davis County. Near the carcass, the hunters discovered a bed of pine straw ten feet long. Next to the nest, a bear track. A BIG bear track. The print was thirteen inches long and right at six inches wide. The group quickly realized this was no black bear. In fact, it seemed the bruin was one of exceptional size and strength…even for a grizzly.


The giant bear had dragged the cow for one hundred yards down the side of a mountain. “In doing so," former Texas Ranger A. J. Sowell said, “The grizzly hung her around a small tree, but…continued to pull until he broke the tree down and then went on with his load, breaking the horns off the cow when they would hang on rocks.” The thought of an animal strong enough to accomplish such a feat gave more than just the hunters pause. Of the thirty-five bear dogs present, only four had the sand to take up the trail of the big grizzly. The dogs followed the great bear’s scent for five miles before they finally cornered him in a stand of pines.

The first two hunters to arrive on the scene were John Means and C. O. Finley. The pair opened up on the enormous bear with all they had. Each man pumped five rifle slugs into the grizzly, which they estimated weighed at least one thousand pounds. The roars of the enraged, and now dying, grizzly echoed through the canyon, reaching the ears of the rest of the hunting party still a mile away. The massive grizzly did manage to take a small measure of revenge before expiring, killing one of the prized bear dogs with a single swipe of one of its huge, clawed paws. “He literally, broke the dog to pieces,” Evans wrote.


The hunters had the bear’s hide – which took four men to load onto a packhorse -  tanned and mounted. Even after the head and legs were removed from the hide, it remained large enough to cover a double bed. The skull of the great bear was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where in 1918 a scientist assigned sub-species status to the bruin. An effort was made by Evans and his congressman to have the skull returned on loan to Texas in 1935. Evans wanted to display the skull as part of the Texas Centennial celebration. The Smithsonian officials declined the request. They felt the specimen was too rare to be displayed outside of the Washington D.C. museum.

Today, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department confirms that black bears have rebounded quite nicely in the Big Bend area since the peak of the bear hunting days of the late 1800s and early 1900s; however, no one has seen a grizzly there – or anywhere else in Texas – since Victorian times. Hopes that a grizzly had returned to the region were raised when unusually large bear tracks were found in the Guadalupe Mountains in 1931; however, no one ever saw the bruin responsible.


When reading of the demise of the only grizzly known to have ever stalked Texas soil, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Joe Evans did not seem to feel the same way. He wrote in his book, “The killing of this grizzly was the climax of all our hunting experiences in the Davis Mountains.” No doubt, this quote will rub many the wrong way today, but try not to be too hard on Joe Davis and his hunting friends. It was a very different time.


Reports of the “ghost grizzlies” of the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado filter in on a semi-regular basis. I have even heard of a grizzly sighting in the Santa Fe National Forest of northern New Mexico within the last few years. If valid, that means one of these great bruins was alive and well only 360 miles, or so, from El Paso. Still, I don’t hold out much hope that the grizzly will ever return to Texas. As big as the Lone Star State is, I am just not sure there remains room for the grizzly bear.


What a shame.




“Grizzly Bear.” Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, inc. Accessed October 8, 2022. 

“Grizzly Bear.” National Wildlife Federation. Accessed October 8, 2022. 

Abernethy, Francis Edward, ed. Tales from the Big Thicket. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1966. 

Cox, Mike. Big Bend Tales. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011. 

Dubois, Scott. “Davis Mountains ‘Silvertip’ Grizzly Bear – 1899.” Wild Texas History, May 10, 2020. 

Burnham, Josh, and Nick Mott. “Timeline: A History of Grizzly Bear Recovery in the Lower 48 States.” Montana Public Radio. MTPR, November 2, 2021. 

“Ursus Horriaeus Texensis-Texas Grizzly Bear+Bell,Finley,Hulling,Means,Merriman.” eCrater. Accessed October 8, 2022.




Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Lobo Girl of the Devil's River

Even a man who is pure of heart

And says his prayers by night,

May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms 

And the Autumn moon is bright.


The werewolf legend is likely as old as mankind itself. Tales of shape-shifting shamans, skinwalkers, and unfortunate souls who were either cursed or survived an attack by one of these beasts (only to become a monster themselves) appear in nearly every culture to have ever existed on this planet. I am sure that those versed in the science of psychology could share many theories on why this may be so. I, however, tend to believe that there is something more to such stories. Something significant – and very real to those who experienced it – must have taken place at some point; otherwise, the lore of the werewolf would not have survived for these many generations.


What sort of event could lead to the belief that a human being could be transformed into a wolf when the moon is full? Perhaps the legend has its roots in the tales of feral children found in the forests and jungles of the world long after they were presumed dead. Some of these stories are purely fictional, of course. The wolf-suckled twins Romulus and Remus who, according to legend, founded Rome, are one such example. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which details the rescue of the “man cub” Mowgli by a she-wolf who nursed him and raised him as her own, is another. These tales are all well and good, but is there any proof that such a thing has ever really happened? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Throughout history, the discovery of feral children has been extremely rare, but it has happened. The previously mentioned Mowgli was inspired by the strange tale of Dina Sanichar who was raised by wolves in India’s Uttar Pradesh jungle. Found by hunters in a wolf’s den in 1867, Sanichar (named by missionaries who later took him in) walked on all fours, would only accept raw meat as food, gnawed on bones to sharpen his teeth, and could not communicate verbally other than producing decidedly wolf-like grunts, barks, and howls. Eventually, Sanichar did learn to walk upright and dress himself; however, he never did learn language and died at the age of 35. Another real-life example of this phenomenon is “Peter the Wild Boy” who was discovered in the forests of Germany in 1725. Believed to have been abandoned by his parents, the boy was estimated to be 11 years old when found. He was unable to speak and loathed wearing clothes. Within a year of his rescue, Peter was shipped off to London where he became the “human pet” of King George I. The wild boy bounded about the King’s court on all fours, which the courtiers of Kensington Palace initially found quite entertaining. It was widely believed that the boy had been raised by wolves or bears due to his behavior. Eventually, the King tired of Peter and shipped him off to a farm in Herfordshire where he was forced to wear a collar that read: “Peter the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr. Fenn at Berhamsted shall be paid for their trouble.” Peter died in 1785 and was buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s at Northchurch. There are numerous other examples of feral children that were suspected to have been raised by animals that could be cited here, but I trust the point has been made. What many do not realize is that this very scenario may have once played out in the deserts of west Texas.

A nearly forgotten historical fact is that a group of English people once established a small settlement called Delores on the banks of the Devil’s River (part of the Rio Grande drainage basin) in southwest Texas. The community was short-lived as most of the settlers were killed by Comanches. One white couple (who had a rather colorful history of their own), who lived on the extreme edges of the settlement, survived and carried on. One day in 1835, the settler husband frantically rode up to a homestead owned by Mexican goat ranchers and asked for help as his wife was having a baby and was in great distress. According to legend, a storm was brewing and the Mexican couple wanted to wait it out before mounting up and going to the aid of the mother to be. The settler insisted they leave immediately as his wife’s need was great. The Mexican couple relented and they started toward the settler’s home on the Devil’s River. The party had hardly started out when the settler was struck by lightning and killed. This event gave the rancheros pause and they decided to wait until morning to make the trek. While understandable, the decision of the Mexican couple proved disastrous for the female settler. Her lifeless body was found beneath an open brush arbor the next morning. There were clear signs the woman had died during childbirth, yet no child could be found. The couple hastily searched for the infant but found only lobo tracks in the vicinity. The couple assumed that wolves had come upon the scene and devoured the infant. Why the lobos had left the body of the mother unmolested was puzzling to the pair, but they proceeded with burying the unfortunate woman and then made their way home.


Ten years later, in 1845, a boy living at San Felipe Springs (now called Del Rio) reported that he had witnessed a pack of wolves attacking a herd of goats. With them, he claimed, was a long-haired creature that resembled a naked girl. The boy was chastised greatly, but the story – as good tales are apt to do – spread throughout the region. Roughly a year later, a Mexican woman at San Felipe declared she had watched two big lobos and a naked girl ravenously devouring a freshly killed goat. The woman claimed to have gotten very close to this odd trio before they took notice of her and bolted. The naked girl, at first, ran on all fours but eventually rose up and ran on two feet. The woman reported she was positive as to what she had seen and that the child was definitely keeping company with the two wolves.


Again, the story spread like wildfire, but this time the memory of the unfortunate settler woman who had died during childbirth, but whose baby was never found, was recalled. Could the feral “lobo girl” be the missing child, now 10 years old? Other stories related by local Native Americans – previously dismissed as superstitious drivel by the Anglo settlers - were also recalled. The Indians had claimed more than once to have located barefoot human tracks and handprints on the sandy areas along the river. The human spoor was always found among wolf tracks. Could it be? Was such a thing even possible? It was decided by the settlers that they had to find the wolf or lobo girl and rescue her. The posse managed to pick up the wolf pack’s trail quickly and cornered the girl in a small canyon. With the feral girl was a big lobo that fled when the child wedged herself into a crevice in the canyon wall. The girl at first cowered in fear before her tormentors, but then her countenance grew fierce. She spat, hissed, and growled at the men as they approached and bit and clawed them once they took a hold of her. Once captured, the girl began to produce a “pitiful, frightful, unearthly sound…resembling both the scream of a woman and the howl of a lobo, but being neither.” Distracted by these terrifying sounds, the vaqueros nearly failed to spy a huge he-wolf, likely the pack alpha, creeping up on the group. Fortunately for the posse, one man turned in time to see the wolf as it was preparing to spring and shot it dead with his pistol. At this, the lobo girl fainted.

The men bound the girl securely and stepped back to examine her more closely. According to the men, she was “excessively hairy, but breasts of beautiful curvature and other features showed that she was a normally formed human female. Her hands and arms were muscled in an extraordinary manner but were not ill proportioned.” The party rode to the nearest ranch where the girl was untied and placed in an isolated room for the night. The men attempted to communicate with her, offered her food, coverings for her body, and water but she reacted only with distrust and fear. The terrified girl backed herself into the farthest corner of the room where she cowered pitifully. The men decided, for the time being at least, to leave the poor creature alone. The door was closed and locked and the men nailed a thick board across the room’s only window. Things remained quiet…until darkness fell.


Once the sun set, the wolf girl began to emit screaming howls that were terrible to hear. Soon, her cries were answered by the long deep howls of wolves in the distance. The men’s eyes widened and fear began to creep into their souls as the cries of the lobos – seemingly approaching the ranch house from all sides - grew louder and more menacing. It wasn’t long before they were all howling in unison, “a bass-throated chorus of ferocity” the likes of which the rough and tumble vaqueros had never before heard. To the men, it seemed all of the lobos of the western world were gathering outside of the house. These rancheros, all of whom had lived their entire lives in the region, had never heard anything like it, “either from such a number of wolves now assembling or in the sullen, doom-like quality of the long, deep howling.” Back and forth the calls went. One of the men later recalled, “They (the wolves) would go silent as if waiting from some answer, and the wild girl in the dark room there would answer back with her unearthly, howling scream, a voice neither of woman nor of beast.”


After a while, exactly how long no one could say for sure, the pack made for the corrals and pens, attacking goats, cows, and horses. The screams of the livestock broke the spell the terrified men were under and they sprang into action in an effort to save the animals. Ordinarily, the rancheros did not fear wolves; however, on this night, the men stayed tightly packed together as they sought to run the predators off by shooting and shouting into the darkness. Eventually, the wolves retreated. When the men returned to the ranch house, they discovered that someone, or something, had managed to wrench the plank nailed across the window of the room where the lobo girl had been incarcerated loose. She was gone, presumably reunited with her pack. Not a single howl was heard for the rest of the night and, somewhat curiously, wolf sightings in the general area became exceptionally rare over the following years.


Six years would pass before the wolf girl was seen one final time. The year was 1852; gold had been discovered in California and travel westward had greatly increased necessitating the need for a wagon trail or road that was better watered than the Chihuahua Trail currently used by travelers heading to and/or through El Paso. A group of scouts seeking such a route came upon the lobo girl at a spot on the Rio Grande where it takes a sharp bend far above the mouth of the Devil’s River. At close range, the men caught sight of the hair-covered, naked young woman (some versions of the tale say she was holding or nursing two young wolf pups). Once she caught sight of the men, she sprang away in a flash, “dashing into the breaks at a rate no horse could follow.” The slack-jawed men sat stunned upon their mounts, knowing they had just glimpsed none other than the lobo girl of the Devil’s River.


As far as I can tell, the lobo girl was never seen again…at least not by white or Mexican settlers who would have left some record of the account. It is rumored that some of the handful of Apaches left in the region caught sight of her from time to time, but it cannot be confirmed. As years passed, the memory of the lobo girl faded. What happened to her will likely never be known. Some would later claim the entire story had been fabricated as it was simply not possible; however, the vaquerosrancheros, and scouts who did see her never recanted their stories and stuck to their guns until the day they died.

Texas does have werewolf legends of the more classic shapeshifting type: The Beast of Bear Creek, The Converse Werewolf, and the Cajun Rougarou all come to mind. To me, however, the tale of the lobo girl of the Devil’s River may be the strangest and most unsettling of them all. If scenarios where feral children raised by animals in other parts of the world have proven to be true, why could it not also have happened in the arid deserts and scrubland of frontier west Texas? Was she a true werewolf? No. To the rancheros that encountered the lobo girl and her fiercely protective pack, however, it mattered little. She was wolf enough to them.


West Texas remains sparsely populated to this very day. It is a wild and lonesome country where nature still reigns supreme. It is a region where all manner of strange goings on continue to be reported; a place where it is easier to believe in such things as the lobo girl of the Devil’s River than it might be in other locales. Should you ever find yourself there, alone on the night of a full moon, you might still hear the howl of a wayward wolf or coyote and recall the legend of the lobo girl. On such a night, even though you do not believe in such things, another stanza of the famous werewolf poem might come to mind:


To hear her cry in the dead of night

And strain to see the terrible sight,

Is to know the meaning of dreadful fright.


Sleep well.




Dobie, J. F., & Boatright, M. C. (1966). Straight Texas. Southern Methodist University Press.

Sawyer, B. J. (2017, November 22). The Devils River is an Off-Grid Paradise for Adventurers. Wide Open Country. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from 

Lee, A. (2021, August 12). Dina Sanichar – a wild Indian feral child who was raised by wolves. Mysteriesrunsolved. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from 

Lane, M. (2011, August 8). Who was peter the wild boy? BBC News. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from 

Zimmerman, J. (2014, March 24). Wolf Boys and girls. Jean Zimmerman. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from 




Monday, July 11, 2022

The Headless Horseman of the Nueces

 Human kind has always been a superstitious lot. Tales of ghosts, monsters, witches, and other “haints” are universal and cross all cultural divides and borders. Especially terrifying are tales where the alleged spectre in question met his/her end in the most gruesome of ways: decapitation. Tales of ghosts cursed to search for their missing heads on this earthly plane abound. One such example of this particular mythos is the tale behind the ghost lights of Bragg Road in East Texas. Some who believe in such things claim the lights are tied to a long dead conductor or railway worker who slipped under the train that used to run along the road and lost his head beneath the wheels of a tanker car or caboose.  While all such stories are frightening, the terror seems to ratchet up a notch when the headless spirit is astride an equally ghostly horse. Images of Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane fleeing for his life from the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow are those most commonly dredged up from the minds of most when the topic is broached. But it is all in good fun, such things are just campfire stories meant to thrill and delight the younger members of families. Headless riders are not real.


Except when they are.


In the mid 1800s, not long after the Mexican-American War wrapped up, settlers around the Nueces River in South Texas began to report sightings of a headless horseman roaming the countryside. Witnesses claimed the rider, dubbed "El Muerto," carried his head (still wearing a sombrero) tied to the horn of his saddle. About his shoulders, the rider wore a brush-torn serape over a buckskin jacket. The legs of the apparition were covered by rawhide leggings of the kind worn by Mexican vaqueros. The horseman was always seen astride a black mustang stallion so wild it seemed to have erupted onto the Texas plains straight from the mouth of hell. The rider was seen both day and night and there seemed to be no pattern to when and where he might appear next. The only constant was that he always rode alone and brought a paralyzing terror to any unlucky enough to lay eyes upon him. The Indians of the region, who rarely agreed with the Anglo settlers on much of anything, concurred that the rider was real and endeavored to keep their distance from him. Tribes on the hunt for bison or wild horses would range hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid entering the territory of the headless spirit.

Mayne Reid, stationed at Fort Inge on the Leona River, wrote, “No one denied that that thing had been seen. The only question was how to account for a spectacle so peculiar as to give the lie to all known laws of creation.” Reid went on to list the many theories that had sprung up in an effort to explain the rider. An Indian dodge, a lay figure, a normal rider disguised with his head beneath a serape that shrouded his shoulders, and the possibility that the headless horseman was none other than Lucifer himself were the most common explanations bandied about by settlers and soldiers in the region. One theory not expounded upon by Reid was that the rider was the patron, or ghostly guard, of the lost mine of the long-abandoned Candelaria Mission on the Nueces River. The debate raged on but the mystery as to the rider’s identity remained.


Finally, a group of settlers – tired of being afraid – managed to ambush the headless horseman at a watering hole near the present day town of Alice. The rider seemed impervious to their firearms. One man in the posse said, “Our bullets passed through him as easily as through a paper target.” A change in tactics was in order and the settlers shifted their fire from the seemingly invulnerable rider to the black mustang. The horse, it seemed, did not share the rider’s ability to weather gunfire and was felled quickly. Upon inspection, the settlers found a desiccated human carcass – one riddled by bullet holes and arrows – lashed to the back of the mustang. The mystery was solved but it birthed another question: who was the headless rider?


It was learned some time later exactly how the headless horseman of the Nueces had come to be. The answer came from none other than legendary Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace himself. Years before, during the Texas Revolution, Texian militias laid siege to the city of San Antonio. On the night of December 4, 1835, a Mexican lieutenant named Vidal deserted, joined the Texians, and provided them with valuable intelligence that helped lead to the surrender of the city by General Cos (the Mexican military would later return and avenge their humiliation at the Battle of the Alamo). After the Texians won their independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, Vidal took to stealing horses in order to make a living. He proved quite adept at this endeavor and became the head of several rings of horse thieves operating in South Texas. The Texians were slow to suspect Vidal – despite mounting evidence – due to his reputation as a Texas patriot. Vidal was able to further deflect suspicion by deftly planting evidence that suggested the Comanches – who often raided settlements and homesteads for horses – were the true culprits.


Despite his best efforts, a couple of ranchers named Flores and Taylor began to suspect Vidal of the thievery and struck out to follow the trail of the rustlers. While camping on the Frio River, Flores and Taylor met up with Bigfoot Wallace – not one to tolerate a horse thief – who decided to join the hunt. As they drew nearer to the stolen herd, the hunters came across cattle that had been shot with arrows. “Vidal’s trick to make greenhorns smell Indians,” Taylor wrote. The three men did not fall for the ruse and pressed on, finally catching up to Vidal and his men near the Leona, only twelve miles from Fort Inge. To make a long story a bit shorter, the three men sneaked into the rustler’s camp and made short work of Vidal and his men that very night.

The next morning, Wallace – always a bit on the eccentric side – made a faithful decision. He chose a black mustang stallion from the recovered caballada, one that had been herd-broken but never saddled. Wallace roped the stallion, saddled him, and – after decapitating Vidal – lashed the horse thief’s body securely to the mustang. Wallace then laced Vidal’s head, sombrero and all, to the horn of the saddle. The three men then stepped back to admire their work. Before them, the lifeless and headless body of the king of South Texas horse thieves sat bolt upright on the back of a stallion so wild that Satan himself could not ride him. Bigfoot Wallace would declare years later that he had seen many pitching horses, but had never witnessed any other animal act like that black stallion with the dead horse thief on his back. After the mustang had pitched, bucked, snorted, squealed, pawed the air, and reared up and fallen over backwards, it seemed to accept its fate and fled into the Texas wilderness away from its tormentors and into legend.


It is often said that even the hardest to believe legends contain within them a grain of truth. Such is the case with the tale of the Headless Horseman of the Nueces. The witnesses were telling the truth; the rider was real. Perhaps it is a lesson we should recall when confronted with something that seems unbelievable today. Maybe we should pause before dismissing the outrageous claims of a witness who insists they saw a black panther, a wood ape, or some other creature that is not supposed to exist. Maybe we can treat those witnesses with respect and dignity and help them get to the bottom of what they saw.


Well, it’s just a thought.





Dobie, J. F. (Ed.). (1995). I'll Tell You a Tale - An Anthology. University of Texas Press. 


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Historical Jaguar Sightings in Texas

My wife’s birthday was this week. She did not want a traditional gift; instead, she wanted to start redecorating our home (I blame Chip and Joanna of Fixer Upper and Ben and Erin of Hometown for infecting her with this renovation fever). I realized that this was going to cost me a lot more than a pair of earrings and an Olive Garden dinner but I love my wife and, begrudgingly, had to admit that a bit of “modernizing” was probably in order. The work started today with the arrival of a crew who were charged with painting the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, and living room. I, of course, said that there was no need to hire painters as I could do the work myself. My lovely wife replied, “Honey, I don’t want you to spend your summer off working on the house. Why don’t you go get some writing done at the library?” Translated, this means, “I don’t want this job to cost twice as much as it should have after you mess it up and we have to hire these guys anyway. Now, make yourself scarce.”


Though deeply wounded (not really, but still…), I was glad to have blundered into a free afternoon and did, indeed, make my way to the Townsend Memorial Library on the campus of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. While not a large library, Townsend does have a robust folklore section and I am nowhere close to having gone through it all. As I sat down with a copy of From Hell to Breakfast, a collection of old Texas tales published in 1944, I came across a chapter titled “Panther Yarns.” Intrigued, I dug in and started reading. For the most part, I did not come across anything I was not already familiar with in regard to historical Texas panther sightings. I did some pretty exhaustive digging into this topic while researching my book Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of North America several years ago. Still, I read on hoping to come across something new. Luck was with me as I came across two accounts with which I was not familiar. While not true black panther accounts, the two news articles do document the killing of two very large spotted cats that I suspect were jaguars (one of the suspects in the black panther mystery since they carry the genetics for melanism). 

The first tale comes from an 1854 newspaper account detailing an encounter with a “Mexican Lion,” one of the terms Texans in the 1800s used to describe jaguars (“Mexican Tiger” or “Mexican Tigre” were also used periodically). Following is an excerpt from the article:

MEXICAN LION - We wish to inform you of a varmint of awful size, that was taken in camps, or killed, as I should say, at the above named place (Hays County), on the night of the 15th. It came down in the settlements of Blackwell’s Valley, and surprised the natives by taking a two-year-old hog out of the pen, (fat at that) and carrying it off. Its pursuers were Mrs. Stockman, Mrs. Thomas, and Miss Winters, who, with the aid of some dogs, caused it to take a tree; after which Mrs. Stockman procured a gun, and made an attempt to shoot it. When in the act of firing, the Mexican Lion -  for this is the name of the animal – made a spring at her; she dropped the gun without firing, just in time to save herself from his claws…Mr. J.H. Blackwell, with his dogs, came to their aid, and made it take a tree again. When just in the act of shooting, it made a second attempt to spring on its assailants, but Mr. B., more fortunate than Mrs. S., fired and brought the monster to the ground, dead. It measured nine feet in length, three and a half in height, and weighed 220 pounds. Its claws were two inches in length, and its teeth about the same. The skin, claws, and teeth of the animal can at any time be seen at my residence, on the Blanco, fifteen miles above San Marcos.

                                                                                                G.W. Blackwell


The second article comes from a story printed in the Telegraph and Texas Register on December 31, 1840. The article describes a “leopard.” I strongly suspect what was seen was actually a jaguar. Following is an excerpt from this article:


Texian Leopard - We were shown a few days since the skin of a leopard which was killed near Bexar (San Antonio), some weeks since. The animal to which the skin belonged must have been about ten feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, and his body of proportional dimensions. The skin is beautifully variegated with black spots, upon a yellowish brown and white ground; and so closely resembles the skin of an African Leopard, that it would be difficult to distinguish it, if found among several skins of that animal. Many persons in the United States have doubted that statements made by travelers that the leopard exists in Texas; but if they could visit Bexar and its vicinity, their skepticism would soon vanish. It is said that great numbers of those Leopards are found in the vicinity of the Nueces and the Rio Grande…

I think it is safe to assume that the “Mexican Lion” in the first account and the “Texian Leopard” described in the second article were almost certainly jaguars. Though the sizes described seem unusually large – mainly in length – every other characteristic mentioned fits the jaguar perfectly (I think the unusual lengths mentioned could be due to the skins of the animals having been measured and not the actual animal). These accounts solidify what we already knew: jaguars were once native to Texas and more numerous in the southern reaches of the state (or in the case of the second account discussed above, the Republic). 

I have long felt that jaguars were the number one suspect in the Lone Star State’s black panther mystery. Jaguars fit the size profile most often reported (6+ feet in length nose to tail, 100-150 lbs, etc.), are native to the region, and also can be black (melanistic). The two articles provide more evidence – anecdotal though it may be – that early Texas settlers and residents in the 1800s were encountering jaguars. If so, it is possible a remnant population, one in which melanism has taken hold, lives here still and is responsible for at least some of the black panther sightings that Texans continue to report to this very day.


Now, back home I go. If I beat my wife back to the house, I might add my own little touch to the redecorating. Maybe a nice jaguar mural on one wall would look good…



Boatright, M. C., & Day, D. (1944). From hell to breakfast. Texas Folk-Lore Society. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Book Announcement

It has been too long since I posted here on the blog; however, I am happy to say that I have not been idle during my time away. For the last year, or so, I have been trying to finish up my latest book project. It has pretty well eaten up all of my “free” time but I am happy to say that the book is now complete and mere days away from being available to the public.


Valley of the Apes: The Search for Sasquatch in Area X chronicles my time in the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, the evolution of the group from its old TBRC days, the difficulties inherent to hunting the most elusive animal on the North American continent, and the amazing events/encounters experienced by NAWAC members in the eerily named Area X and other locations over the last decade.


I truly enjoyed reliving the many incredible events documented in the book – many of which I had not thought about in years - and hope that, even in a small way, my efforts help in legitimizing the efforts to document this most amazing creature. Perhaps a primatologist, wild life biologist, or famous naturalist – should any deem the book worthy of reading – will see similarities between the wood ape behaviors documented and the behaviors of the known great apes. If so, maybe it will give them pause and cause them to consider the possibility that the existence of the sasquatch is not so outlandish after all. If my efforts help remove even a small part of the stigma associated with seriously researching this topic, then I will consider the book a success.


A guy can hope, right?

*Check here on the blog, the Texas Cryptid Hunter Facebook and Twitter pages, and my personal author's page ( for updates on when Valley of the Apes: The Search for Sasquatch in Area X is available for purchase.