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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Disappearing Cows

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
During the day, when the sun burned mercilessly on the Zapata County brush country, even the land itself seemed somnolent. Certainly all creatures, man and animal, clung to whatever shade they could find and kept their movements at a minimum.- But at night, especially when the moon bathed the landscape in a light far cooler than day, the energy level rose. Not only did the animals move, many believed that unrested souls flitted about. Strange things were said to happen.

On one particular ranch, people said cows sometimes disappeared as if sucked into the baked earth.

One day while all the vaqueros were about their work, Dona Felipita told her 12-year-old niece about the vanishing cows. Such a thing could be a sign of buried treasure, she added.

Their chores done for the day, the woman and girl walked near an old corral. The young one pointed to cattle tracks in the dirt. The hoof prints led into the enclosure, but there they ended.

Felipita knew the corral had not been used in years. Yet a cow had clearly walked into the corral, but to have left the enclosure, it must have had wings.

The ranch woman's wonderment turned to want. Surely the vanishing cow meant buried treasure at that spot.

Felipita left her niece at the corral, soon returning with two shovels.

"We must dig for the gold," she pronounced, and sank the blade of the tool into the sandy ground. Aunt and niece dug for hours, finding nothing but more dirt.

But Felipita worked on with the conviction of a woman who knew she had been given a sign. Long ago, knowing that the mesquite corral would endure for decades, someone must have buried gold or silver or both inside the enclosure.

The niece, wiser than her years would indicate, did not doubt they had received a message with the disappearance of the cow. But whether it came from a divine source or represented the witchery of an evil spirit remained to be seen.

Climbing out of the hole, the girl pleaded with her aunt to stop her frenzied digging. Surely no one would have buried gold any deeper than they had already dug. They were on a fool's errand, lured by a dark force.

"Tia," the perceptive girl cried, "I'm scared. Let us go back to the casa."

Her heart pounding in greedy anticipation, Felipita ignored her worried niece. Having dug a hole deeper than she was tall, the sturdy ranch woman kept at it with her shovel.

Suddenly the rusty blade clanged against something hard.

"Here's the treasure," Felipita said excitedly, looking down on a large, shiny rock. "This could very well be my happiness."

No sooner had she said this than the excavation collapsed, burying the woman alive.

Desperately clawing the earth with her hands, the niece soon realized she could not extract her aunt from the ground by herself. Running from the corral, the young girl raced to the ranch house, mounted a horse, and rode as fast as he could to find the men.

By the time the vaqueros got Felipita out of the ground, she had long since suffocated.

"After that," an earlier teller of the tale concluded, "no one else wanted to know more about that mysterious place. Nobody will ever know if there is a treasure hidden [there.]"

But generations of South Texas children who grew up hearing some version of this folktale did come to understand the danger of blind greed.
Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
August 24, 2006 column
 
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This page last modified: August 24, 2006