Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Texas Legend

"For he saw the riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry"*

One evening, in the autumn of 1889, an exhausted team of cowboys drove their weary herd toward some prime grazing atop a cuesta they had been to many times before.

But as the men surmounted the slope, they were crestfallen to find that a homestead had now been built upon it. It would take hours to reroute the herd. Worse still, a nasty thunderstorm was brewing. The wind picked up as a leaden sky roiled above and flashes of lighting erupted from angry rumbles of thunder.

The trail boss, Sawyer, angrily shouted, lashing at the cattle with his quirt driving them into a fearful stampede straight through the homestead, tearing their way through the home and anyone inside. If there were screams, they wouldn't be heard above the thunderous roar of hooves.

The raging storm continued to spur the spooked cattle onward in their stampede until they senselessly drove themselves off the sheer face of the escarpment on the other side.

As the storm settled, and dawn neared, Sawyer was able to see what his outburst had wrought: nearly a 1,000 steers and many of his own men and horses had been killed. He didn't care. He ordered his remaining men to herd the few hundred animals left onward.

Legend tells that Sawyer never found work as a trail boss again. After the tale of his maniacal stampede reached further and further afield, he found it increasingly impossible to hire new men. Despondent and destitute, he took to drinking, and eventually disappeared.

A year later, another trail boss and his team were grazing their heard atop the little mesa when suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the herd became spooked and stampeded straight off the cliff, taking several of the men with them.

Legend says this same scenario played out several more times with equally disastrous results.
Not surprisingly the place took on the name Stampede Mesa.

Cattle drives took to avoiding the area altogether. It's now considered one of the most haunted places in Texas--if you can find it.

It gets a bit tricky when you try to pin down the exact location of an event from almost 130 years ago.
Many believe Stampede Mesa comprises a part of what is now White River Lake, east of Lubbock, near the town of Crosbyton. This lake was formed when a tributary of the Brazos known as White River, which runs down from the Llano Estacado and forming Blanco Canyon along the way, was dammed in the 1960s to provide water for nearby settlements. The area is also known for the Battle of Blanco Canyon, a skirmish between Colonel Ronald S. Mackenzie and Quanah Parker on October 9, 1871.

The legend, though, is an enduring one--even if it's not immediately recognizable. It inspired a man named Stan Jones to pen the song *"Ghost Riders in the Sky" and set it to an interpretation of an Irish folk song. This song would be famously recorded by the likes of Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Spike Jones, Dick Dale, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. Jones' song also inspired The Doors' famous track "Riders on the Storm."

It is also believed to be the inspiration for the comic book character, Ghost Rider, which first showed up on in a western-themed horror comic by Magazine Enterprises before being taken over by Marvel Comics.