It seems that pretty much every area of the world has its own tales and legends of strange phenomena and hauntings. Everywhere one goes there is bound to be spooky yarns of specters, ghouls, and haunted, forbidden places, with some areas positively dripping with the supernatural. Out in the U.S. state of Texas there is one such place that has accrued quite the reputation as being a place that is both full of dark history and imbued with strange and sinister forces. Here are stories of a mysterious mesa said to drive livestock insane, a place haunted by the ghosts of the past and perhaps some sort of force from beyond our understanding.
Out in the vast state of Texas is an area in Crosby County, near where the eastern edge of the Panhandle hits the Red River, where there is a lake called Blanco Canyon Reservoir. Into this reservoir juts a small peninsula, a rocky, grassy plateau that was once called simply “The holding point on the North Blanco,” with the North Blanco being the old name for the White River. The area was a bit precarious due to its steep 200 foot drop-off into down a sheer cliff, but this was what made it a popular place for passing ranchers to hold herds while they rested, due to the fact that the cliffs served as a sort of natural fence, and there was ample grass and water at the top. A herd could just be plopped there for awhile without having to worry too much about it, with none of the animals willingly toppling over the precipice to their deaths.
This all worked out quite nicely for awhile, and trail bosses made this a frequent stop, but in the late 1800s there was a series of very bizarre events that would cast a sinister light on this place, and earn it the rather ominous nickname “Stampede Mesa.” It all allegedly started one day in the fall of 1889, when a cattle herd was brought here by some trail bosses, but they were disappointed to see that someone had built a brand new homestead right there upon the most prime grazing land. As they tried to figure out what to do and how to reroute the herd, an ominous storm began to rise up out of nowhere, with black clouds quickly rolling out over what had been a totally clear sky not long before, and the rumble of thunder becoming increasingly louder as flashes of lightning flickered across the darkening landscape.
The main trail boss, a man named Sawyer, decided that he did not feel much like taking the several hours it would have taken to regroup the herd and lead them around the mesa, not in the face of the brewing storm, so he got it into his head to just drive the cattle straight through the homestead. Aided by the booming claps of thunder and the lightning lashing across the sky, Sawyer fired his pistol into the air, waved a blanket, and made as much noise as he could in order to conjure up a stampede. This worked, and the over 1,000 steers in his care bolted in a mass of heaving panic straight through the homestead, crushing everything in its wake and leaving several innocent people dead.
The problem was, the cattle did not stop with the utter annihilation of the homestead, and indeed did not stop at all, racing right over the mesa to go careening off of the cliffs on the other side. When the dust cleared, the wake of destruction led to almost all of the steers lying dead and dashed upon the rocks below, as well as a few of Sawyer’s men, their horses taken over by the same senseless panic as the cattle. Undeterred, Sawyer ordered the few hundred remaining cattle to be rounded up and driven on to their destination, without so much as a proper burial for his ranch hands or innocent homestead occupants who had died in the chaos, simply leaving them there strewn about and smashed on the rocks to rot. Because of his reckless abandon and cold-heartedness it was said that Sawyer never got work as a trail boss ever again, and ended up vanishing without a trace.
The area became known as Stampede Mesa, and whether it was because of all of this darkness and death or not, the place became known for being intensely haunted. Indeed, the very following season another group of cattle-pokes were out on the mesa when for no reason at all their entire herd suddenly bolted in unison for the cliffs and went recklessly pouring right over to their deaths, along with several ranch hands. According to the tales this happened again and again, with sudden storms that sprang up out of nowhere often reported, and in some cases even the presence of spectral entities. One cowboy at the time named Lon Schuyler had an account that was shared on the site Texas Escapes, claiming that he had seen mysterious wraith-like beings described as “ghost cows” up on the mesa in 1902, after heading there despite all of the ghostly rumors already swirling at the time. He would say of the whole bizarre experience thus:
Spring of aught-two, it was. Me an’ a pal a mine, feller named George Ramp, I think that was his last name, we signed on for a Injun-beef drive goin’ plumb to Montana. Got up on the North Blanco, the boss says ‘We a-gonna hold on the point.’ Let me tell you, ’bout half the crew drew their time right then. Me an’ George, though, we was fulla piss an’ vinegar, an’ wasn’t no spook story gonna scare us. Them ol’ hands, they told us we was crazy if we stayed, but we done it anyway.
Me an’ George, we drew second watch-that’s from ’bout ten in the evenin’ to ’bout two in the mornin’. We decided we’d ride double circle-one of us goin’ round the herd one way, one goin’ the other, so we’d cross twice durin’ each round an’ if we seen anything peculiar we could warn each other. It was right on toward midnight, by the way the dipper was settin’. I was on the east side. That’s when them things started comin’ outa the brush. Looked like cows, but not like no cows I ever saw. They was plumb white-white as milk. They didn’t make no sound atall. An’ then didn’t look like they walked. They just sorta floated by.
Now, I was ridin’ a claybank gelding, one of the steadiest horses I ever had. Never knew that horse to shy at anything afore, but he sure didn’t want nothin’ to do with them things. Trouble was, we couldn’t get ‘way from ’em. They was everywhere. I hit at one with my hand an’ it just went in. Felt like hittin’ into cold smoke, ‘s what it felt like.
I hollered real loud ‘Look out, George, they gonna run!’ an’ sure ‘nough, they did. George, he was on the west side, an’ he taken his lariat an’ commenced to hittin’ the leaders on their noses, tryin’ to turn ’em. Don’t never let nobody tell you you can turn a herd by shootin’ in front of ’em. All that does is scare ’em worse an’ make ’em run faster.
Well, the fellers that wasn’t out there with me an’ George, all they had to do was pull their boots on an’ grab saddled horses. While we did lose ’bout two hunderd head we managed to turn ’em into a mill an’ keep the rest from goin’ over the side.That trailboss, he come up to me a-hollerin’. ‘Goddammit, Lon,’ he says, ‘it was your holler started that run! I oughta pull you off that horse an’ stomp your head in.’
Now, George, he wasn’t a cussin’ sorta feller. Oh, he’d say ‘Hell’ or ‘damn’ ever’ now an’ then, but he wasn’t a big cusser. He laid into that trailboss, an’ I swear he called him ever’thing but a white man. When he got through he told that feller ‘If Lon hadn’t hollered when he did, I’d be down there with them cows. We was up here, you wasn’t. That wasn’t no low-flyin’ nighthawk or a rabbit or a possum loose in the herd. We seen them things. They was ghosts-cow ghosts. An’ we’re a-drawin’ our time right now, ’cause neither one of us is damnfool ‘nough to keep workin’ for a damnfool like you. An’ we’re gonna tell ever’body we run into, all the way back to Lampasas County, just what kinda damnfool you are, holdin’ a herd on Stampede Mesa.’ We done it, too, an’ that feller never bossed another herd.
Other phenomena that were reported over the years at Stampede Mesa include apparitions of the ghosts of cowboys, sometimes atop glowing spectral mounts, ghostly horses wandering about, and the bizarre sight of ghostly stampedes flickering and playing out in the clouds above. There were also reports of the disembodied sounds of stampedes when nothing was there, shrieks and screams, and anomalous lights. The reputation of Stampede Mesa as being a haunted, accursed place grew to the point that cattle ranchers began to avoid the area altogether, and the herds that once wandered about this mesa dried up.
In later days many of these phenomena persist, and this has come to build a reputation as being one of the most haunted places in Texas. The tale has gone on to become the inspiration for the song Ghost Riders in the Sky, by Stan Jones, which has gone on to be recorded by the likes of Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Spike Jones, Dick Dale, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and others, and this would influence The Doors in their song Riders of the Storm. It is indeed the most oft-recorded western song of all time, and the story is also even supposedly the inspiration for the Marvel Comics character Ghost Rider.
There is every chance that this all was born of eerie legend, but the fact remains that even this day there are various paranormal phenomena reported from the area. Is this all due to some evil force inhabiting this mesa? Is it the ghosts of that fateful stampede instigated by the mad Sawyer over a century ago? Or is it just spooky myth that has grown to take on a life of its own? No matter what the answers may be, there are places in this world that draw to themselves such stories, and Stampede Mesa holds its place among them.