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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

A Very Personal Ghost

by C. F. Eckhardt
I’ve come to the conclusion, over the years, that when it comes to ghosts there are two sorts of people—those who realize ghosts exist and those who don’t want to realize it. One of the sure ways to become one of the first variety is to see a ghost. However, even if you see a ghost, you may not realize at once what you’ve seen. I know. It happened to me.

Spring, 1962. Dad and I were helping our neighbor work calves. He had a big place, about 2200 acres, and about 300 mother cows on it in the spring of ’62. That meant we had 318 calves, about 150 of them bull calves, to work. ‘Working calves’ meant branding, earmarking, vaccinating, and turning the bull calves into steers. It was an all-day job, starting barely at can-see and ending pretty much at can’t-see. There were stars out when I saddled my gelding to go over there—Dad took the pickup—and stars out when I swung into the saddle to head for home.

The family fed us—lunch at (or somewhere close to) noon, and supper when the work was done. Supper was a barbecue done by Steiner Bass, the premier barbecue man in Williamson County. Steiner believed—because of what his mother told him—that he was Sam Bass’s ‘woods colt.’ Steiner was in his early 70s in the early ‘60s and
Sam Bass died July 21, 1878, but if you told Steiner there was no way Sam Bass was his daddy, he’d never barbecue for you again. One thing about this barbecue—no alcohol. The family was staunchly Baptist. The strongest thing we had to drink was Coca-Cola.

It was about 10 PM when I finally got into the saddle to head home. The sky was clear, the moon was out, the stars were brilliant, and you could have read the big print in a newspaper by their combined light.

Dad went home by the road. I chose to go across country. There was a trail from the neighbor’s pens that led to the road into our place just about fifty yards from our front gate. It crossed a very old road that may have run from Oatmeal to Georgetown. It was laid out very early, possibly during the Republic, because it was marked with braided trees. That, at one time, was a very distinct way of marking a road or trail. You found three or more saplings growing very close together. You interwove the trunks, tying them in place until the trees started actually growing together, which could take a year. Then you untied the trunks and the trees stayed together in the woven pattern, making a clear marker that would not have occurred in nature.

We had a lot of predators in the area in ’62, so everybody went armed. I had a Colt New Service M1917 on my belt, loaded with what is called ‘.45 Auto Rim.’ The M1917 was chambered specifically for the same .45 ACP cartridge the GI automatic pistol used because it was, in WWI, an ILO (in lieu of) for the auto pistol. The auto pistol came into adoption in 1911. When the army was expanded from about 120,000 in 1911 to nearly half a million in 1917, there simply weren’t enough automatics to go around. Colt chambered its New Service revolver and S&W chambered its Hand Ejector model for the .45 ACP cartridge so the services would have enough pistols to arm the people who were entitled to carry pistols. Once the revolvers were released for civilian sale, ammo makers made a rimmed version of the .45 auto cartridge specifically for those two revolvers.

Now, my horse was not a nervous animal. He was very calm. I shot off him with everything from a .22 to a 12-gauge shotgun & he never shied at any of it. He could, however, follow a cow, sheep, or goat like he had a string in his teeth with the other end tied to the animal’s tail.

As we approached the old road the horse suddenly froze in his tracks. His ears began to twitch back and forth and I could feel him tremble slightly. “Aha,” thinks I, “we’ve got a critter here—a predator. That’s what’s got Rebel upset.” I hauled out the .45 and prepared to deal with the situation.

There was no critter. Like I said, the moon and stars were so bright you could read the big print in a newspaper by them. That means I wasn’t seeing flickering shadows. What I saw was no ‘shadow.’ It was a woman. She stood maybe five feet four or so, slim build, long, flowing, light-colored hair, wearing an ankle-length, neck-high, long-sleeved dress. It was dark and had some sort of figure in the cloth, but I couldn’t see what. I also couldn’t tell the color. You can’t tell colors by moonlight. Everything is black, white, or gray. The woman was carrying a wrapped bundle like you’d carry an infant. She simply walked across the trail in front of me, paying no attention to me at all, and walked into the brush on the other side of the trail. The whole episode lasted maybe ten seconds.

That’s when the horse lost it! I’m glad I had him tight-reined, because if he’d been able to get his head down he’d have unloaded me and headed for the barn at a dead run. As it was, he crow-hopped over about two acres before I could get him fully pulled in. His crow-hopping lost me my cob pipe, a pouch of tobacco, and about $3 in change from my shirt pockets. Thing was, he’d never bucked before in his life—not even when being saddle-broke. The horse trainer said “I never let him find out he could buck.”

I finally got him to stand still. I put the pistol back in the holster and strapped it down, then pulled my hat down firmly on my head. Then I eased up on the reins.

He was gone like he’d been shot from a gun! It was nearly a mile from where we had the encounter to our front gate and that horse covered it at a dead run. When we got to the gate he even acted like he wanted to jump it—while carrying forty pounds of stock saddle and about 150 pounds of cowboy. I got him pulled in, but he was so nervous I couldn’t lean out of the saddle to open the gate. I had to dismount and lead him through.

I led him the quarter mile or so from the gate to the corral, put him in the dry side so he couldn’t founder himself, unsaddled him, pulled off the bridle, and put about half a coffee-can full of grain in the trough for him. He approached the trough, looked in it, snorted—and, of course, the grain flew up when he snorted into it. That horse jumped backward halfway across the corral!

I was so mad I could have chewed horseshoes and spit bullets! That crazy woman, walking across that pasture at past 10 PM, had frightened my horse half to death. I was still grumbling about it when I got to the house.

Dad gave me a funny look. “Woman?” he said. “What’s a woman doin’ walkin’ in a pasture nine miles from the nearest town, near on two miles from the nearest house, at ten o’clock at night?” I had no answer, but I knew what I’d seen.

The next week Dad was in a feed store in
Georgetown—one where a lot of the old-timers hung out. He told about this ‘cock-and-bull’ tale his son came up with about seeing a woman in the pasture in the middle of the night. He got a reaction he didn’t expect—“So the boy’s seen her too, has he?”

In 1864 a Confederate deserter named Sawyer—the first name hasn’t come down in the tale—was holed up with his wife and baby in a cabin about a mile and a half west of where I had my experience. About a half mile to the east of there there’s a large live oak. It’s called ‘Sawyer oak.’ It seems the Confederate authorities caught up with Sawyer at his cabin. They gave him a drumhead court martial and sentenced him to hang. He was hanged from what was, in 1962, still called Sawyer oak. His wife brought the baby to the site of the hanging so he could kiss it—and her—goodbye, but she got there too late. Apparently she was still trying to make it in the spring of 1864.
© C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
>
October 26, 2009 column

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