A Texas Ghost Story
After getting the lay of the land, so to speak, frontier man Bigfoot Wallace moved from Austin to San Antonio, which was considered the extreme edge of the frontier, to sign up as a Texas Ranger under Jack Hayes. In them days, Texas was as wild as the west could get. There was danger from the south from the Mexicans, danger to the wet and north from the wild frontier filled with Indians and desperados, and to the east the settlements still had problems with the Cherokee Nation. General Sam Houston himself had appointed young Captain Hays, a hero from the battle of Plum Creek, to raise a company of Rangers to defend San Antonio. Hayes had high standards for his men. They were the best fighters in the west, and they had to be, considerin’ the fact that they were often outnumbered fifty to one. A man had to have courage, good character, good riding and shooting skills and a horse worth a hundred dollars to be considered for the job. Captain Hayes knew all about Bigfoot Wallace and signed him on the spot.
So armed with Colt pistol and a Bowie knife, Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace once more took on the Wild West, and quickly made his mark on Texas folklore. In them days, the Rangers tended to handle stock theft at the end of the rope, so to speak, stringing up the bandits, forcing a confession out of them, and then leaving the bodies swaying in the wind to deter other outlaws. Only it didn’t work, and the bandits kept right on stealing, sometimes passing right under the bodies of their fellow outlaws to do it.
Now Bigfoot’s fellow Ranger, Creed Taylor, had a big spread lay west of San Antonio, in the cedar hills clear on the edge of Comanche territory, and he was constantly losing stock to bandits and Indian raids. The last straw came for Taylor the day famous Mexican raider and cattle thief Vidal and his gang rounded up a bunch of horses from his ranch and took them south toward Mexico. Most of the Rangers were heading north to pursue some Comanche’s out on a raid, but Taylor and a friend went immediately in pursuit of the thief, and when they bumped into Wallace just below Uvalde, he joined them.
Bigfoot was always ready to hunt horse thieves and desperados, especially those of Mexican descent, never forgetting what happened to his brother at Goliad. Bigfoot decided it was time to put an end to Vidal’s gang once and for all. He would track the wiry Mexican bandit to earth. The three men located the camp where the horse thief and his gang lay sleeping, and snuck in from downwind, so as not to alert the horses. Vidal was wanted dead or alive, so all the thieves were shot and killed in the gunfight that followed.
That was when Wallace got an idea. Obviously, hanging horse thieves hadn’t gotten the message across to the outlaws raiding the ranches of the good folk of Texas. Perhaps a more drastic example of frontier justice would do the trick. Severing Vidal’s head from his body, Bigfoot and his fellow Ranger tied the body to the saddle of the wildest mustang in the stolen herd and secured the severed head to the saddle horn so that it would bounce and flop around with every step taken by the mustang. Then Wallace gave a shout and sent the horse running away with its headless, dead rider, hoping the gruesome sight would deter future cattle thieves.
What he managed to do was frighten everyone in South Texas. Folks would be peacefully walking down the road of an evening when a terrible headless rider would gallop pass on a midnight black stallion with serape blowing in the wind and severed head bounding on the saddle horn beneath its sombrero. Nothing could deter the terrible specter – not bullets, not arrows, not spears. It was years before a posse of cowboys finally grew brave enough to bushwhack the horse and release the withered corpse from its back.
But on moonless nights, the ghost of El Muerto continues to ride across South Texas to this day with his long black serape blowing in the wind and his severed head bumping on the saddle beside him.
You can read more Texas folklore and ghost stories in Spooky Texas by S.E. Schlosser.