The ghost stallion
Ghost stories in October are like Christmas carols in December, rodeo cowboy tales in July and the ever popular fishing story any time of year. The good ones get repeated forever.
This story in its original telling appears in Frank Collinson’s “Life in the Saddle.” I have shared it before but it is worthy of a seasonal repeat.
It is a story that has been told around campfires for more than a century. It began about 1879 when some cowpunchers rode into the camp of a buffalo hunter known to be a spinner of tales.
That night around the campfire, the grizzled hunter pointed a roughened finger in the direction of a wagon load of buffalo hides he was taking to market. “I would gladly give every hide for the young white stallion I have seen running these plains,” he said. “I’ve been trying to catch him for two years without any luck. I first saw him when he was a yearling running with his mother.”
A year later, he had another failed to attempt to capture them and the stallion disappeared, “as if a mirage.” He never saw him again.
The cowboys were spellbound with the tale and knew they’d like nothing more than to hunt the white mirage. They traveled to Fort Sumner to meet with the Trujillo brothers, Pedro and Soledad. The brothers had seen the white stallion often. “He is too fast to catch; we have all tried and failed,” they said. “When we get close to him, he vanishes, so we have named him The Ghost.”
Agreeing to help hunt the “ghost” stallion, the brothers told the cowboys to meet them at Gato Montes Spring in the Blackwater Draw in March. “We’ll find him if he’s still alive.”
When the cowboys arrived, the brothers were waiting and had learned where the white stallion was watering with his band of heavy-bred mares. The next morning they saw the horses out ahead of them feeding on lush grass but the band quickly scattered as the men approached.
Pedro pursued them while Soledad marked the grazing spot with a long pole and red flag. In the distance, The Ghost dashed over the plains, his white mane and tail blowing in the breeze.
Pedro was away all day. He said he chased the horses 70 miles as they made a huge circle, eventually returning to their home range. The following day, one of the cowboys trailed them, returning late to say the band was now near Spring Lake.
The third day the cowboys, Trujillo brothers, two other vaqueros and a half-blood Apache with a reputation for his roping ability headed out. When they spotted the horses they struck a long lope and followed at a distance.
They ran by the old buffalo hunter’s camp near Running Water and headed north. By noon, they had reached Tule Draw, the south prong of the Red River, and turned west. Sometimes they’d slow to a trot, later returning to a lope or a run. The mares began to fall out as they grew tired, but The Ghost never weakened.
By sundown, all but 10 mares had dropped out, soon to be only three and then none. The Ghost was headed south to Yellow House Lake.
Yellow House Lake is a big alkali sink on the Llano Estacado. Its water, only a few inches deep and not fit for man or beast, covered a bottomless bog. A large animal could never conquer the horror that loomed below the deceivingly tranquil surface.
For four days, The Ghost had been leading the chase, but when he headed down the backbone of the ridge to the lake, cold chills ran up the spines of his pursuers. They turned back hoping the stallion would do the same.
In his intelligence, The Ghost preferred death to capture. The stallion knew as well as the men there was no way out of Yellow House Lake.
He was sky-lighted on the ridge top, his proud head held high. Poised, his beautiful body stood still for a fleeting moment before he took one mighty jump and landed fully 25 feet away in the alkali bog that would become his grave.
He floundered briefly as the quagmire sucked him under. The bitter water filled his nostrils and oozed into his mouth. Quickly a few bubbles were all that was left on the surface and The Ghost of Llano Estacado became a legend.
A tragic end to a magnificent noble spirit who surely runs free in another world. ❖
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