Who doesn't love a good spooky story around the campfire? One thing is for sure, cowboys of the old west loved them, and may old west legends are still around today because of that. From strange creatures and Native American myths, to tales of dead women and children, some of the grisliest and most spine-chilling ghost stories come from the wild west. There are even times when people themselves became legends, and their ghosts give rise to new stories to thrill and chill people once evening begins to fall.
Certain old west figures seem specifically reluctant to fade away. From Jesse James to The Lost Dutchman, these legends may die but they're never forgotten. In the same way, terrifying old west ghosts meant to frighten children and cowboys alike refuse to die, living on to horrify us today and give us brand new, unexpected nightmares.
So, are you brave enough to learn a little history and maybe a new ghost story or two? Don't worry, no one will blame you if you want to hide under the covers.
"El Muerto" of South Texas
In the early 1800s, South Texas and Mexico weren't really sure about where the border should lie. It was either the Nueces River or the Rio Grande River, but because no agreement could be reached, the area in between became a no man's land. Local cattle rustlers took advantage of this. One specific outlaw named Vidal was particularly nasty, and the local rangers decided to make an example of him in the worst way imaginable.
When he was caught, they killed him, cut off his head, then lashed his body to a mustang in an upright position as if he was riding. Then they let the horse loose to wander, as a symbol of the form of justice that would befall any outlaw who dared step out of line. Quite similar to the legend of Sleepy Hollow or the Headless Horseman, many cowboys over the years have seen a headless bandit called "El Muerto" riding through the Rio Grande area, even into the 21st century.
Jesse James Still Haunts His Family Farm
Jesse Woodson James was an outlaw, train robber, bank robber, and gang leader between the 1860s and the 1880s, and he was finally killed on April 3, 1882 by Robert Ford. While rumors of his survival floated around, his ghost has purportedly been spotted around his family farm in Kearney, Missouri for over 100 years. Additionally, lights come on at random times, mysterious movements are caught on security cameras, and mysterious voices can be heard in rooms that are supposed to be empty. Legend has it that this is evidence of the ghostly gunslinger returned home, never to leave again.
The Cry of the Death Bird
The Native Americans of the old west often passed on several of their legends and beliefs to frontiersmen, and from that often spawned legends. One particularly ghostly tale has to do with a small bird, appropriately titled the Death Bird. Native Americans believed that before death, the bird would appear to either warn people and save their lives, or to tell them that it was too late and they might as well pick out a coffin.
In the late 1800s, cowboys began to see this ghostly spirit bird as well, sometimes signifying that someone nearby was dying and needed help or that the cowboy himself was on a final roundup. Even if you didn't see it, supposedly you could hear it's unearthly, piercing call.
The Ghost of Silver Heels
Not all ghosts are necessarily scary, and Silver Heels is a legend that's more sad than frightening. In 1861, there was a dance hall girl in Buckskin Joe mining camp who was nicknamed Silver Heels. The miners loved her, showered her with gifts, and she was considered beautiful by all. But as with most beautiful things, her joyful dancing was not to last.
One winter, small pox spread through the camp with force. Silver Heels stopped dancing and set to work helping the sick and tending to the dying. She even helped with burials. But after the worst of the sickness had passed, Silver Heels was nowhere to be found. Legend says that she at last fell sick with small pox, and her once beautiful face became scarred beyond recognition, so she hid from everyone until her death in shame. No one knows when she passed.
Some say that you can still see a ghostly veiled figure wandering the cemetery, putting flowers by gravestones. Even in death, Silver Heels still seeks to bring comfort to her miners.
Is Bigfoot Really a Spirit?
Nowadays we mostly think of Bigfoot as a big ape-like creature, part man and part beast. But many legends paint him more as a spirit warrior. In 1868, a group of travelers on a stage road were attacked by Cherokees. They reported that one was absurdly large and animal-like, and that they had killed him during the skirmish. The man's name was Big Foot, due to the fact that his feet were supposedly 18 inches long.
A Native American warrior by that name did exist according to some historians. Did he die in that battle after all, or did he escape to roam the trails? More often, stage drivers and natives said that his ghost haunts the trail, still a massive and ghostly warrior, covered in hair and brush. So by that logic, Bigfoot may well be an ancient Cherokee spirit rather than a missing link.
Beware the Tears of La Llorona
While this might be a Mexican tale in origin, its haunting and terrifying story spread throughout the old west. Depending on the story, Maria was either the wife of a wealthy husband who eventually began to neglect her, or a lady of the evening who loved to go out partying. Either way, she became angry and resentful to her two young sons, and flew into a fit of madness and rage. She took them to a river and drowned both of them. When she came to her senses, she realized the horrible thing she had done and tried to save them from their watery graves, but it was too late. She wailed in grief and ended her own life shortly after.
Legend has it that late at night, by rivers in the Southwest, you can sometimes hear the crying of a woman. "Where are my children? Give me my children!" Children are told not to go outside for fear they'll be taken away by her or drowned in the river like her sons.
The Hell Dogs of Eldorado Canyon
Back in mining days, prospectors often kept dogs for companionship, protection, and as an alarm system from potential thieves. These dogs were trained to be vicious, violent, and completely unstoppable should anyone cross their path. Some even turned on their owners. Because of this, most were shot or left to die rather than brought back to civilization.
If you venture to the mines near Eldorado Canyon, you had better be ready to run. There are reports of growling, snapping, strange canine shapes, and even attacks from unknown beasts. These ghostly demon dogs still guard the claims of the area, even after death.
Marshal White Continues to Keep the Peace
Marshal Fred White is a wild west legend. He was the first marshal of Tombstone, Arizona, a locale mostly known for gunslinging, crime, and intense violence during the mid to late 1800s. Any man willing to walk into that hornet's nest and try to bring order and law was either crazy or a genius, and Fred White was probably a bit of both.
For a time, he managed to calm down the violence and keep citizens a lot safer than they were before. Ironically, he didn't die in some explosive shootout like the famous Gunfight at O.K. Corral (which happened at Tombstone), but rather by an accidental gunshot wound to the groin.
While the area is supposedly haunted by numerous ghosts, one spirit still reigns supreme. Even in the afterlife, Fred White is still the ghostly law in Tombstone.