Ghost tale from the camp fire
October 31, 2011
In J. Frank Dobie’s “Coronado’s Children,” a tale from cow camp relates the story of a cowboy murdered along the Loma Escondida road. Carrying gold coins in his saddle bags to buy a herd of cattle, he rode out on his cream-colored dun stallion with the black stripe down his back – what the Mexicans called a bayo coyote.
After his second night out, he rose, saddled the lineback dun and went to receive the herd he was purchasing.
A couple hours later, the sheriff came along on his way to inspect the herd for stray brands. He found both the cowboy and his horse dead. The saddle bags were gone.
The sheriff gathered a posse, followed the tracks and caught up with the murderers late in the afternoon. Although both the murderers readily admitted to the killing the cowboy, nothing could persuade them to divulge where they had hidden the saddle bags full of gold coins. They were hung for their crime and with that, carried the secret to their graves.
Over the years, many tried unsuccessfully to find the hidden treasure. There was only a short stretch of road between where the murder took place and where the criminals were overtaken, but nothing was found.
Years later, another cowboy was sent from a cow camp to the headquarters of the ranch to fetch coffee. He left camp after dark and was trotting along the same road where the murder had happened, when up ahead he spotted two figures in the moonlight.
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Coming closer, the cowboy could see what he believed to be a man and a horse. The man mounted the horse and loped off. The curious cowboy set out to catch up, thinking it would be nice to have company on his night ride.
As he narrowed the distance between himself and the rider ahead, he could see that the horse was a lineback dun. He continued following the rider and the dun up a steep brush-covered hill.
At the top, the rider got a burst of speed and as he was passing by a dead mesquite tree, he totally disappeared. The cowboy thought the rider had simply slipped away into the brush in the dark of night. Without more thought, he continued his coffee-fetching errand.
He reached the ranch, twisted the coffee up in one end of a flour sack and began his return to cow camp. There at the same place as before, he again saw the rider on the dun horse.
Putting a spur to his side, he kicked his horse off into a high lope with every intention of catching up with the mysterious rider. However, he never could quite close the gap between them, even though the moonlight kept them silhouetted against the night.
Once again as before, the rider and bayo coyote stallion seemed to disappear into that same mesquite tree.
The cowboy dismounted, tied his horse and began to carefully explore the ground surrounding the tree. He could find no tracks.
Perplexed, he leaned on the trunk and felt a long, deep gash that appeared to be a very old axe mark. Stumbling over a large rock, he saw something gleaming on the ground. Striking a match to see in the dark, he picked up the $20 gold piece.
Familiar with the lost treasure story, he knew he’d likely found the spot where the fabled gold had been hidden. Turning over more rocks, he found the partially rotted saddle bags.
The cowboy returned to the cow camp, presented the coffee to the cocinero, all the while keeping the other end of his flour sack carefully closed.
Over the years, people would still come to hunt for the treasure, but now they hunted on the ranch belonging to the coffee-fetching cowboy. No one has ever again reported seeing the rider on the dun horse.
The tradition of campfire stories carries a tone of gospel truth to them and belief is fed more than it is refuted.