Friday, June 9, 2023

The Phantom Bull of the Huana

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about looking into mysteries of the natural world is how difficult and rare it is to come to a satisfactory explanation for unusual phenomena. Is the Sasquatch real? Do black panthers roam the bottomlands of the American South? A true resolution to these mysteries, and many others, sometimes seems tantalizingly close but remains elusive and just out of reach. Every now and then, however, the truth behind a legend, myth, supernatural or cryptozoological mystery does present itself. This is the story of one of those times.

Deep in East Texas, not too far from the small town of Center, a small, unassuming stream runs through Shelby County. Huana creek, or the Huana, as the Native Americans once called it, trickles through a part of Texas rich in traditions of ghosts, phantoms, panthers, wildmen, and other spectral creatures. Due to the unusual sounds, screams, and unearthly noises that often emanated from the area, many early settlers in the region felt the shallow valley of the Huana was haunted and not a place to venture alone. The most feared of these apparitions held the communities of MacCauley and Beck and the Bush settlement in the grip of fear for a five-year period during the early 1880s. The creature of which I speak always traveled a worn trail that ran from an area referred to as the “Sand Hills” south of Huana Creek to the communities previously mentioned to the north and west before bending back to the south and petering out where it began. It was said that on dark nights, when the moon was absent or but a sliver, a large creature walked the loop that was dubbed the Huana Trail. It announced its presence with a series of four loud screams. These screams - there were always four - were repeated every one-quarter to one-half mile as the beast, whatever it was, traveled the trail. On these nights, the Huana belonged to it and it alone.


The monster was heard by many but never seen. This was likely due to the fact that it only seemed to travel the trail on the darkest of nights, making visibility difficult. Too, these conditions made for a dearth of people willing to venture out for a trek on these evenings, making potential witnesses scarce. That changed one night around 1883 or 1884. It seems on the night in question two settlers were visiting a friend in one of the communities near the Huana. Suddenly, the screams of the monster rattled the surrounding forest. The pair hopped on their horses and made for the trail with haste, determined to spy the maker of the terrifying screams. Taking a position on the trail, the men heard the creature scream out again – a sound they later described as being similar to that of a bull bellowing – followed by an odd, rhythmic clicking and thumping as the feet of the beast pounded the sandy trail.


Finally, the pair caught sight of the apparition. They described two white objects, spreading across the trail at almost head height. Too, they spied two or three other white objects near the ground. Nothing else was seen, and after reconsidering the wisdom of their plan, the two men spurred their frightened mounts in the opposite direction and back to town.


Another report, eerily similar in detail, came out of the bottoms not too much later. Two young men who were camping in the woods near the Huana Trail after hunting the area during the day, heard the terrible bellowing scream previously described by so many. As the beast passed along the trail near the spot where the young men were hidden, they heard the distinct clicking and thumping noises previously described by the two cowboys. The animal was close – they could tell by the sounds – and yet they saw only two ghostly white objects floating at head height and several smaller glowing objects at ground level. After the apparition had passed, the two boys beat a hasty retreat.


Similar run-ins with the mystery creature continued for years afterward. Details were always the same: bellowing screams (always in fours), glowing objects stretching across the trail at a height of five-and-a-half to six feet, and smaller ghostly objects flitting about close to the ground. Several times riders met the beast on the trail and their horses, without exception, turned tail and fled despite the protestations and best efforts of the horsemen. Despite the fear the monster generated, it never pursued anyone fleeing from it or even left the sandy loam of the Huana Trail. This led to speculation by the locals that, whatever it was, it was cursed to walk that trail for eternity. Even though the beast had never hurt anyone, business meetings that would require attendees to travel the Huana were always scheduled on nights when the moon was near or totally full in an effort to avoid encounters with this seemingly cursed phantom.


Eventually, locals began to focus on tracks left by the creature. By all accounts, they appeared to be the tracks of a huge bull. The footprints revealed splayed hooves (the two parts of the bull’s hooves spread apart when the animal placed its weight on the foot). The telltale “clicking” that was always heard when the mystery bovine walked by was now thought to be the sound of the two parts of the hoof coming back together when the bull lifted its foot off the ground. This explained part of the mystery, but many questions remained. Why was the bull never seen? Why did he travel only on the darkest nights? Why did he never venture off the Huana Trail? Why did he walk this circuitous route at all?


Finally, a group of locals decided they wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all. They set out to try to find the Phantom Bull during daylight hours in the Sand Hills. Once there, signs of grazing were found in several locations after the men left the trail. Noting this was the first time there had been any reason to believe the great beast had ever strayed from the trail, the search party pressed on. Here, the forest was different; it was made up almost entirely of ancient pines with little to no underbrush and long sight lines. Could that have something to do with the beast’s willingness to leave the trail here in the Sand Hills? Soon, searchers came upon what was described as a “beautiful grassy depression in the virgin forest.” In the middle of this serene scene was a huge bull. The men described the bull as follows:


“He was a shining black and his tail was longer than most native bulls…The brush (the end of the tail) was large and snow white. The hooves were long, and like that of polished ivory.


“The magnificent horns swept outward on either side of the bull’s head, then turned to the front and curved upward about six inches. They had a spread of eight feet and their size was uniformly the same from the head of the bull to the point where they turned to the front.


“The horns were like polished pearl and glittered in the sunlight, with an opalescent reflection toward their tips. They were slim, graceful, and like no other horns ever seen on bulls in this region. They were definitely those of a true Texas Longhorn.”

The once mighty, but now clearly aged bull trembled with fear but had not the strength to stand. The men rigged up a hoist, put a harness around the animal, and lifted him to a standing position in the hopes he would graze a bit. The men decided to retreat and return the next morning. Any hopes that the bull might recover from whatever ailed it were dashed when the locals returned. The body of the bull was still suspended, but the animal’s head was lowered to the point that the tips of the horns nearly touched the ground. The beast’s tail moved not at the will of its owner but at the whims of the east Texas breeze. The Phantom Bull of the Huana was dead.


Once the sheer size of the bull and the width of its horns were witnessed, it was easy to see why the great beast never left the trail and ventured into the dense woods of the Huana Valley. The spread would have allowed the bull to travel only on a wide trail or open woods. Too, after spying the slick black coat of the longhorn, it was clear to see why he traveled only on the darkest of nights. On these nights, only the soft glow of his white hooves and/or horns could be seen; otherwise, the huge creature was all but invisible.


The bellowing screams of the Phantom Bull that once inspired so much fear were now interpreted in a different way. In hindsight, it seemed that these had been the calls of a lonely animal crying out in the hopes of finding others of its kind. Sadly, there were no other longhorn cattle in the timbered region of Texas at this time, so the cries of the solitary bull went unanswered.


Where the longhorn bull came from remains a mystery to this day. He bore no earmarks or brands, and no one stepped forward after his death claiming ownership. Wherever he came from, and whether he was truly lonely or reveled in his solitude, are secrets which were carried away on the East Texas breeze upon his death. 


I have no way of knowing, but I like to think that when the mighty Phantom Bull of the Huana lowered his head for the last time in that Sand Hill glade, he finally found his herd and with them the peace that comes from being with family. If so, his nights of walking a singular, dark path are over, and he is alone no more. 




Combs, J. F. (1965). Chapter III - The Phantom Bull of the Human. In Legends of the Pineys (pp. 37–44). essay, Naylor Co. 




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