October is slowly coming to a close, and Halloween is almost here. Since I’ve been doing my Halloween Blogging Blitz, I’ve reflected a great deal on scary stories. Why do we tell them? Why do we listen to them?
I hope that, if you’ve been following any of my posts, that you’ve learned that so many horror films and books are art. And as art, they help us reflect upon reality: our prejudices, our fears, our secret desires. The right ghost story has much to teach us.
I figured this was as good a time as any to revisit the ghost stories of my native Texas. A born and raised Texan, I’m proud of my state but I acknowledge it’s faaaar from perfect. With a state as big and dynamic as Texas, there’s a lot of history to sort through. A lot of that history is pretty dark, while other parts embody the curious Texas frontier humor I love so much.
Maybe you too are a Texan and would like to explore our shared history. Or maybe you’re not from ’round these parts and just exploring a bit. That’s ok. I don’t mind. Whatever your reasons, please enjoy these here Texas ghost stories.
“If a bright orange light the size of a basketball passes by your car as you are driving down Highway 35, don’t stop unless you have some hooch in the trunk. It’s just old Brit Bailey, the elder statesman of Texas ghosts, wandering around looking for a drink.
Bailey was buried on the coastal prairie between Angleton and West Columbia in 1833. As he had requested, he was interred standing up and facing west with his gun over his shoulder and his powder horn by his side.
Old-timers say Bailey’s spirit is on the prowl because the one burial request denied him was a jug of whiskey to take to the Promised Land. Supposedly, he appears every seven years on a cold, drizzly autumn night, but Angleton ghostologist Catherine Foster thinks Bailey has been “real thirsty” recently, because sightings have been more frequent. Progress exacts a heavy toll, even from senior citizen spooks: right in the middle of Bailey’s Prairie, the ghost’s favorite haunt, there now sits a subdivision.”
Devil with Chicken’s Feet
“Stay away from Latin nightclubs in South Texas on Halloween unless you want to meet the Devil. The same fellow who gave us Hell, torment, and Tabasco sauce loves conjunto music and likes to make the scene at dances where beautiful señoritas are plentiful. San Antonio’s El Camaroncito and the Rockin’ M near Lockhart are two places he has recently visited. Dressed as a dashing vaquero, he finds the young woman who is playing hardest to get, then steals her heart away on the dance floor to the beat of a polka. It is Love Story revisited—until the chosen lady notices that her talented partner has chicken’s feet, a typical sign of the Devil. The poor señorita emits a few screams of “¡Sus pies! ¡Sus pies!” before she faints. But it is too late. Once revealed, the Devil disappears into the men’s room, leaving behind a cloud of smoke, the smell of sulfur, and some great dance steps.”
The Lady of White Rock Lake
“When cruising around Dallas’ White Rock Lake, avoid picking up a damp female hitchhiker in elegant evening dress. She could be the Lady of the Lake, futilely trying to go home again. This mysterious, well-to-do woman perished in a nighttime boating accident on the lake some forty years ago, but she never got the hint she was dead. Whenever the moon is full and Halloween is near, she reemerges from the cattails on the lake’s western shore near Lawther Drive, her once fashionable Neiman-Marcus evening gown soaking wet. She flags down an unsuspecting motorist, climbs into the back of his car, and asks to be taken to an address on Gaston Avenue. By the time the car reaches the destination, however, all that remains of the Lady of the Lake is a puddle of water on the back seat.”
The Marfa Lights
“The Marfa lights are often visible on clear nights between Marfa and Paisano Pass in northeastern Presidio County as one faces the Chinati Mountains. At times they appear colored as they twinkle in the distance. They move about, split apart, melt together, disappear, and reappear.
Presidio County residents have watched the lights for over a hundred years. The first historical record of them recalls that in 1883 a young cowhand, Robert Reed Ellison, saw a flickering light while he was driving cattle through Paisano Pass and wondered if it was the campfire of Apache Indians. He was told by other settlers that they often saw the lights, but when they investigated they found no ashes or other evidence of a campsite. Joe and Sally Humphreys, also early settlers, reported their first sighting of the lights in 1885. Cowboys herding cattle on the prairies noticed the lights and in the summer of 1919 rode over the mountains looking for the source, but found nothing. World War I observers feared that the lights were intended to guide an invasion. During World War II pilots training at the nearby Midland Army Air Field outside Marfa looked for the source of the elusive lights from the air, again with no success.
But never fear—those who have viewed the lights over a long period personify them and insist that they are not only harmless but friendly.”
The Driskill Hotel
“Considered one of the most haunted venues in the city, the Driskill Hotel was built in 1885 by Col. Jesse Lincoln Driskill, who is said to ‘roam the hotel,’ lighting cigars and turning on lights in guest rooms. His presence can be felt by way of cigar smoke and his ever-watchful portrait at the top of the staircase in the lobby. That staircase is also where a little girl named Samantha has been seen playing with a ball. According to Austin Ghost Tours, she was the daughter of a senator and died falling down the stairs. There’s another young lady who has left many a hotel guest frightened. On the fifth floor of the hotel, a portrait of a little girl holding flowers and a letter adorns a hallway. In her book True Haunted Tales of the Driskill Hotel, Monica L. Ballard writes, ‘People often report that the little girl’s eyes follow them as they pass, and they get a sensation of dizziness when they stare at the painting.’ Staff members have found the light near the painting to turn on and off on its own, while the hotel room door next to it has acted tricky, as if someone won’t let them in the room. Then there is the infamous ‘suicide bride.’ As the legend goes, in 1991 a young woman from Houston had her wedding called off by the groom. She fled for Austin with his credit cards and went on a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees. Back in her hotel room bathroom, she shot herself in the stomach. ‘Tara’ has been seen loitering in the hallways of the fourth floor ever since.“
The Devil’s Backbone Near Wimberley
“One of the most scenic drives in Texas is a five-mile stretch along Ranch Road 32 between Wimberley and Blanco. Known as the Devil’s Backbone, the narrow ridge has an elevation of 1,225 feet and offers an unparalleled view of miles of rolling ranchland. In fact, the Comanche and Kiowa used the spot to monitor settlers who were moving into their territory. The Indians’ ghosts are said to still roam the area, with hikers and hunters frequently reporting an unseen presence following them. Bert M. Wall, who has lived on the Devil’s Backbone for nearly 35 years, had heard stories about a wolf spirit that would possess people, but he didn’t believe them until his son went exploring with friends nearly twenty years ago. That’s when one of the boys, John Villarreal, saw a vision of a wolf that caused him to slip into a trance. ‘He was totally out of it, ranting in a language that sounded like a mix of Spanish and Apache,’ says Wall, who suspects that the Indians were seeking vengeance for having been forced off their land. He’s also seen a Spanish monk on his porch and mysterious lights when he’s been out working cattle. ‘I’m convinced that old cowboys are checking up on us to see if we’re doing things right.’”
The Ghost of El Paso High School
There was a young cheerleader at El Paso High who was dating a very handsome, popular guy on the football team. The night before Prom, he dumped her. Upset, confused, and angry, legend says the girl slit her wrists in an “act of desperation.” Then she threw herself off the balcony and fell to her death.
Ever since, students have claimed to have witnessed the ghost of a young woman standing on the balcony, waving. Other people claim they have seen her ghost leap from the balcony and disappear before hitting the ground. There have been reports of disembodied sobbing in the hallway, while other people have seen the ghostly form of a young woman weeping in the same hallway.
The Goat Man of Lake Worth
“November 15th 1967: police discover an abandoned car beside Old Alton Bridge, five miles south of Denton, Texas. A rash of mysterious disappearances are becoming alarmingly routine on a chilling stretch of road that is known by locals as ‘the Goatman’s bridge.’
Constructed in 1884, the bridge connected Lewisville to Alton. The turn of the century brought a black goat farmer and his family to a residence just North of the bridge, and a few short years later, Oscar Washburn was known as a dependable, honest businessman. North Texans endearingly began to call him the Goat man. But the success of a black man was still unwelcome, and Klansmen in the local government turned to violence after he displayed a sign on Alton Bridge: “this way to the Goatman’s”
One night in August 1938, with their headlights off, Klansmen crossed the bridge, dragged the Goatman from his family, and lynched him over the side. Peering over into the water, his murderers saw a rope, but not his body. In a panic, the Klansman returned to the Washburn residence, and killed his family in cold blood.
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Since the disappearance of the Goat man there have been many strange sightings on and near Old Alton Bridge. Some say his spirit still haunts these woods. Locals tell the story and follow it with a warning: those who cross the bridge with no headlights will be met on the other side by the Goatman.
After numerous abandoned automobiles and missing persons, a new bridge was constructed directly downstream. But Old Alton Bridge, the Goatman’s Bridge, remains still open to foot traffic. It is under surveillance by the Paranormal Investigators of North Texas and the Denton County Paranormal Investigators.
Oscar Washburn was never seen again and has been presumed dead since his attempted murder.
Others report seeing a ghostly man herding goats over the bridge, while others say they have seen an apparition staring at them, holding a goat head under each arm. Stranger stories even include people having seen a creature that resembles a half-goat, half-man.
More tales of strange noises have also been described including the sounds of horses’ hoof beats on the bridge, splashing in the creek below, maniacal laughter, and inhuman like growling coming from the surrounding woods.
Visitors sometimes tell of seeing mysterious lights in the area, of car doors locking and unlocking of their own accord, a numerous vehicle breakdowns while near the old viaduct.
According to legend, if you visit on Halloween and honk your car horn twice, visitors can see Goatman’s glowing eyes.”
The Haunted Tracks
[I grew up in San Antonio – Represent! – and this story has always scared the crap out of me.]
“Just south of San Antonio, Texas, is the site of Texas’ most famous ghost story. Not far from the San Juan Mission is an intersection of the roadway that is crossed by railroad tracks. Whether this is an urban legend or truly a ghostly tale has long been forgotten in history. Reportedly, this is the site of a fatal accident in which a train collided with a school bus full of children in the 1930s or 1940s.
According to the legend, it was a rainy Texas morning as the train moved swiftly down the tracks when the engineer spied a school bus stalled along his path. Frantically pulling his break and tugging on the train whistle, the hulking engine quickly advanced toward the school bus, unable to stop in time. Ten children reportedly lost their lives that day and continue to haunt the area, protecting others from a similar fate.
As the story goes, if you park your car directly over the tracks and shift into neutral, the ghosts of the children will push it uphill, out of the way of any oncoming train. And if you have the foresight to cover your bumper with baby powder or flour, you can reportedly see the children’s fingerprints upon your car.”
[I’ve even heard that if you wait on the tracks too long, your windshield will tremble and crack from the frustrated ghost children banging on it.]
The Ghost Bride of Hotel Galvez
“Every great hotel must have its ghost, and the Hotel Galvez has one who has been around at least a half century. According to Jan Johnson (a fifth-generation Galvestonian and the author of Walking Historic Galveston), the Galvez ghost could be a bride-to-be-named Audra. Legend has it that was about twenty-five years old and stayed in Room 501. Then tragedy befell her.
In the mid-1950s, Audra was engaged to a mariner who sailed in and out of the Port of Galveston. Whenever his ship was due in port, she would leave Room 501, take an elevator to the eighth floor, and climb the narrow ladder that opened into one of four metal-ribbed hexagonal turrets that sit at each corner of the main red-tiled roof. Sheltered from the weather, she would wait inside the turret and watch through an opening for her lover’s ship.
Then there was a mighty storm and for days no word of his ship. Finally, Audra heard that the ship had gone down and that all hands were lost. She refused to abandon hope, however, and continued to climb to the roof each day, praying for some sign. But no ship was every sighted. In despair, according to legend, she hanged herself in the west turret.
But that was only half of tragedy. A few days after her death, her mariner appeared to the hotel, very much alive and looking forward to a marriage that was never to be.”
The Killing Fields
“The “killing fields,” [is] a lonely, spooky patch of land: In the stillness of the day you can hear the yips of small wild animals and the distant rumble of traffic along Interstate 45 about a mile away. Many people who live in the surrounding towns and bedroom communities won’t come near the place. Since 1984, the remains of four young women have been found here—each one nude, on her back, under a tree, with her arms folded. Because they were placed within a thousand feet of each other, a private investigator who has studied the scene many times thinks the killer created a “walking path” for himself to “visually inspect his trophies one by one.” Indeed, many police detectives and FBI agents are convinced that this is the personal graveyard of a vicious serial killer.
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And they think they know his identity: Robert Abel. In the sixties Abel was one of NASA’s great young engineers, part of the team that was instrumental in designing the rocket that would put the Apollo astronauts into Earth’s orbit. “If we had any hope of getting man to the moon, we had to get the maximum Saturn payload into orbit,” says Robert Gottlieb, a veteran aerospace engineer who now works at Boeing. “And Robert Abel was part of the little band of very bright men who figured out how do it.” Today, however, a police detective suggests in a sworn affidavit that Abel is a “serial sexual offender” who displays the kind of rage and violent behavior that’s often seen in serial killers. He is the prime suspect in the murders of the four women found in the oil field, which is next to property he owns, and his name quickly surfaces whenever a teenager or a young woman disappears or is found dead in the area…
Yet there are problems with the allegations against Abel: Not a shred of physical evidence has ever been found linking him to the four women found dumped in the oil field, no evidence has been uncovered by any police department that can connect him to the murders they have been investigating, and no witness can place him with any of the teenagers or women before they were found dead. What’s more, he has never been arrested for any crime, nor is there any known record of a criminal complaint filed against him. “My life has been destroyed, my reputation ruined,” Abel told me when I first met him earlier this year. “I didn’t kill any of those girls. I wouldn’t know how to kill.”
Is it possible that Robert Abel is a cold, calculating murderer, one who is consumed by a twisted need to prey on young women but also patient enough to wait years between attacks—and smart enough to leave almost no clues behind? Or is he a victim of overzealous police work and outright hysteria?”
[My favorite! This legend isn’t unique to Texas and has spread across the whole southwest. In Texas, it is specifically linked to the Woman Hollering Creek legend. There are two versions of the stories, depending on what part of Texas you’re in.]
“Once there was a widow who wished to marry a rich nobleman. However, the nobleman did not want to raise another man’s children and he dismissed her. The widow was determined to have the nobleman for her own, so the widow drowned her children to be free of them. When she told the nobleman what she had done, he was horrified and would have nothing more to do with her. As she left him, the widow was overcome by the terrible crime she had committed and went to the river, looking for her children. But they were gone. She drowned herself and her spirit was condemned to wander the waterways, weeping and searching for her children until the end of time.”
“Once a poor man was married to a beautiful woman who lived in his village. The couple was very much in love, but the man insisted that they were too poor to have any children. When he found out his wife was pregnant, the man was very angry. He told the woman they could not keep the child. After the birth of his son, the man drowned the child in the river. His wife, too weak from giving birth to get up from the bed, pleaded in vain with her husband to spare the life of her child.
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Several more sons were born to the couple, and the poor man drowned every one. The day the poor man took his fifth child to the river, his wife followed even though she was still weak and bleeding from giving birth. When he threw the child in the river, the woman went in after her son, determined to save the boy even though she did not know how to swim. The woman and her baby were swept away by the current and they both drowned.
The very next night, the woman’s spirit returned to the river beside her home, wailing and searching for the sons she had lost. At first, the poor man was terrified by the spirit of his wife. He begged her to return to the spirit realm. But she did not hear him.
Night after night, the woman returned to the river, wailing and wringing her hands in her grief. The poor man became angry. But he could not stop the ghost of his wife from searching for her sons.
Finally, the sound of the wailing woman drove the man mad. He grabbed a knife and jumped into the river after the spirit to kill her. But the poor man did not know how to swim. The current swept him away and he drowned.
From that day to this, the spirit of La Llorona — the wailing woman — still haunts the waters and lakes, weeping and wailing and searching for her sons.”