Volume VI, No. 4, Summer 1979
OZARK GHOST STORIES
Edited by Melinda Stewart
GHOST RIDER AND OTHER TALES
by Lillian Humphreys
"To believe or not to believe," seems to be the question when it comes to ghost stories. Many of the early settlers in the Ozarks firmly believed in ghosts. This is not surprising as so many of them, or at least their ancestors came from England, Ireland and Germany where there are old castles and large homes that are reportedly haunted to this day.
The stories I am relating are stories that have been told to me, so please don't look to see if I have my fingers crossed. However, I will also relate some incidents that have happened in our own family that we have found no explanation for.
When I was a child it was always an exciting time to me when Aunt Sally came for a visit. Aunt Sally was a tiny little old lady, about five feet and one inch tall; and even though she was getting old, she had very little silver among her glossy brown hair, which she wore in a tight little bun on top of her head. Aunt Sally wasn't really my aunt, but true to hillbilly tradition she was. I didn't know that she was no relation until I was almost grown. Aunt Sally was just my mother's sister's husband's stepmother, but we loved her and welcomed her on her periodic visits.
When Aunt Sally came, mother had trouble getting me to do my chores or anything else that would keep me from being near Aunt Sally, for she could tell the most wonderful stories, and each and every one of them had happened to her.
Aunt Sally's parents came to Missouri from Tennessee when she was a child, and they built their log cabin near Pease's Mill on Parks Creek. When she would tell about panthers following her of evenings when she would have to bring in the cows, or about meeting up with wolves, or about killing rattlesnakes, my scalp would tingle and I would get goose pimples. But the best time of all was after supper when we would all be together in the living room and Aunt Sally would light her little clay pipe, lean back in a low rocker and tell us ghost stories. She believed in "haints" as much as she believed in God. She had seen them and heard them. I would sit near her, but as she would tell about her experiences with ghosts, I would gradually get nearer my mother, and while I would not have missed a word for anything, I would really get scared. When I was finally sent to bed, I would pull all the covers over my head, and every little noise I would hear was to me one of Aunt Sally's haints.
As the sun sank down behind the tall pine tree near the spring at the foot of the hill, John King sat on the steps of his new log cabin with Jane, his young wife, by his side. As he talked, he put an arm around Jane and drew her closer to him. John was still amazed at his good luck at having won pretty little Jane for his wife for Jane was so tiny and pretty she had all the young men in love with her. For what is more appealing than a tiny little girl about five feet tall with merry blue eyes and curly brown hair? What Jane lacked in size, she made up in courage.
Every so often Jane would raise her head from her husband's shoulder and glance lovingly and proudly at the interior of her new home. Jane was very much ' in love with her big blond husband and so proud of the home that he had so carefully and painstakingly built for her. Not many girls had a new house to move into, especially one that was so well furnished. By looking over her shoulder she could see the bright rag rugs on the floor that she had helped her mother to weave, then in one corner stood the four poster bed with its gay Rose of Sharon quilt spread over the plump feather bed, which was just as smooth as her grandmother had taught her to make it, and then in another corner stood the new wood range. The joy of possessing such a stove was almost too much for Jane, for her own John had gone to the end of the Frisco Railway at Rolla with the freight wagons to pick it up. He hauled it the seventy-eight tiresome miles home over almost impassable roads fording rivers and climbing hills.
Mentally Jane was hugging herself and dreamily listening, but not actually hearing the words John was speaking until the words "our pine" brought her erect and listening, for had they not chosen just this spot on the side of the hill to build their home? The ground sloped gently down to the spring that came bubbling out from the mouth of a cave in the face of a cliff of rocks where grew the huge pine tree.
John was saying, "Our pine tree sheltered Jerry Stricker's bushwhackers headquarters during the war, Jane. I don't want to frighten you, but Lem Jones, our neighbor, tells me this spring is hainted. Lem says that while Jerry Stricker's bushwhackers were camped there, one evening about sundown a young man dressed all in black, with a large black hat, came riding madly into camp on a white horse. Thinking this to be part of his own company of soldiers that he knew to be in that part of the country, he asked for the officer in command and was taken immediately to Jerry Stricker. He began telling his story of escape from a Rebel prison camp and how there was a small group of Rebels trying to ride him down before he realized to whom he was speaking.
"When he recognized Jerry Stricker, he let his words trail off, and a look of alarm crossed his face, for Jerry Stricker was even more dangerous than the Rebels, and being camped here meant he was preparing another raid. Jerry always raided where he knew there were no men at home nor soldiers near to keep him from looting the homes, driving off all livestock and raping any good looking girl he could find.
"The bushwhackers grabbed their guns and waited tensely when they heard the horses of the Rebel soldiers coming, but not knowing the trail to the spring, the soldiers galloped on the ridge road, unaware of the men in the valley screened from their view by a few trees and the growing twilight.
"The young man began backing up, still staring at Jerry and wondering just where he meant to strike next, as turning quickly he started for his horse. At a sharp command from Jerry, the young man was seized by both arms. Jerry stricker yelled for one of his men to get a rope and make a noose. There, just as the sun sank down behind the hill, the young man was hanged from the big pine tree.
"Lem says that many evenings just as the sun sinks behind that pine you can hear a horse come galloping wildly down the trail and then you can see a white horse with a rider dressed all in black, wearing a black hat, dash up to the tree, lift one foot over as if to dismount and then vanish."
Jane was now sitting up very straight, gazing intently into the twilight at the big pine, then she said, "Oh, pooh, who's afraid of an old ghost anyway?" Jumping lightly to her feet, she reached for John's hand, saying, "Come on, let's eat supper, if I haven't let the cornbread burn to a crisp while you were trying to frighten me of my own big pine tree."
John and Jane never saw the rider, although secretly each was a little disappointed that he never appeared, but they formed the habit of sitting on the door step and watching the sun as it would dip behind the pine. Surely God loved the Ozarks very much, for every evening He painted the evening sky such glowing colors as they sat and watched. Even though they didn't see him, the ghost rider made a very good story to tell to their visitors.
In the early fall Mary Ann, Jane's younger sister came for a short visit, and again John related the story of the ghost rider.
One evening John was later than usual coming in from the field, so Jane said, "Mary Ann, honey, would you mind watching the supper that I have cooking? Since it's getting so late, I am going for the cows so John won't have to go after he brings his team in." She started to the pasture singing happily as she crossed the yard and tomboyishly climbed the rail fence, taking a short cut across the garden.
Mary Ann felt very important at having an opportunity to use Jane's stove, for it was much more fun than cooking over the open fire in a fireplace like most everyone had to do. She looked at each part of the supper, even daringly opening the oven door and peeping at the cornbread. As the supper was doing nicely, Mary Ann took her book and an apple and sat down on the step to read.
When the light began to fade, Mary Ann leaned back watching the sunset sky and dreaming of a charming young man that would someday make her his bride and how they, too, would build a home just like Jane's. She was suddenly alert, for she heard a horse coming down the trail by the spring. Eagerly Mary Ann sat up peering into the shadows on the hillside, for company was always welcome in the sparsely settled community around Pease's Mill. Then into view came a white horse galloping wildly down the trail with a young man dressed all in black leaning over the horse's neck, urging him on to still greater speed. When the rider had almost reached the pine tree, Mary Ann remembered the story of the ghost rider. Giving a piercing scream, she fled into the house, bolted the doors and windows and rushed for the bed to hide .....
Jane started the cows for home and drove them over close to the field where John was unhitching his team, and hand in hand they started home, talking loving nonsense as all newly married couples will. When they came in sight of the cabin, Jane noticed the door was closed. "I wonder why Mary Ann closed the door. Surely she isn't afraid, for I have never seen her afraid of anything."
John said, "Oh forget it, there is nothing to bother her."
Then turning a bend in the path, Jane saw that the other door was closed too, and looking more closely she saw that the windows were closed. With a gasp of apprehension, Jane started running toward the cabin saying, "Hurry John, I just know something awful has happened for Mary Ann to close both doors and the windows." John, too, felt a little alarmed and dashed on ahead of Jane.
Reaching the front door, he called, "Mary Ann!" He received no answer, so he reached for the door latch, but the door did not give and knowing that the heavy bar was in place he ran to the back door, and it too was barred. Going back to the front door he found Jane knocking on the door saying, "Mary Ann, Mary Ann, honey, it is me, Jane, let me in!" No one answered. "John do something quickly, for I know something dreadful has happened to her."
Looking around, John saw a crooked pole he had tossed aside when he had been cutting poles to stick Jane's bean vines. Grasping this, he smashed in the glass of the window that he and Jane were so proud of, and by reaching in with the pole he could just reach the end of the heavy bar. The pole kept slipping off the end of the bar, but finally he got it hooked just right and managed to lift the bar out of the slot.
John and Jane rushed in expecting they knew not what, but there was no one in the almost dark cabin. Again and again they called. Then Jane noticed the bed was messed up, and hearing a small strangled sob, she ran over to the bed and gave a hard jerk on the feather bed, dragging it off on to the floor. There, between the feather bed and the straw tick lay an almost smothered Mary Ann. As they leaned anxiously near her, she finally recovered enough to gasp, "Oh, oh, the ghost rider!"
My favorite story was an incident that happened to Aunt Sally after she was married and had a home of her own. One day one of her neighbors invited her over to pick some greens from her garden, so two or three days later when Aunt Sally went over to the neighbor's home, no one was there. All the windows were down and both doors locked. But being friends as well as neighbors, Aunt Sally felt free to help herself to some greens. While she was in the garden, she heard a baby crying in the house. It kept crying for a while. Then she heard some one stomp their feet heavily on the floor and then all was very still. Thinking perhaps the family had come in the front way while she was in the garden Aunt Sally went back to the house, but the doors were still locked! She then went around the house and looked in at all the windows, but not a person was there.
Several years later when the old log cabin was torn down the bones of a baby were found under the floor and it was supposed that this baby had been murdered there some years before causing the house to be "hainted."
There was a log cabin not too far from Aunt Sally's neighborhood that had a blood stain on the floor. Several years before, a man had come home and found a neighbor man kissing his wife, so he shot him. The bare floor could be scrubbed with water and lye soap and the stain would disappear. But as soon as the boards were dry again, the stain would reappear.
Then one place where Aunt Sally lived, every night after they were all in bed and everything quiet, there would be a noise like someone had dropped a large rock into the center of the floor. It would start rolling and keep rolling until it rolled under the bed, but when they would get a light and look, there would be nothing there.
Now for just a few personal incidents which happened in our family that we have never been able to explain. In January, 1923, the Oscar Humphrey family moved from their farm near Orla to the farm on South 5 just across from the present Floyd Jones Airport. The original house which sat on the hill just across from the beacon light was a two room log house with two rooms upstairs. This was known as the old Jack Burns place and was supposed to be haunted.
Harold tells that many times the bed in the northwest bedroom would be in one corner of the room, and later they would find it in a different corner. At times when someone was sleeping in it, the bed would shake so hard that the person would almost fall out of the bed.
After Harold and I were married, we were visiting there during harvest time. One afternoon after lunch and dishes were done, I went upstairs to the north room to rest. As I went up I got a magazine off the shelf in the stairway where the older magazines and books were kept. I was reading when I heard someone come up the steps. When he almost reached the top he stopped. I knew it was Harold and expected a magazine to come flying in through the door at me because he liked to tease. After a while I decided if he didn't throw one before I could get to the door, I would throw mine down on him. I tiptoed over and looked down, but there was no one there. I knew he couldn't have gone back down because of the way the steps creaked when stepped on. I went downstairs but there was no one in the house. Harold and his mother had gone over in the field where the men were working.
There was the ghost that was seen at certain times near Morgan. It was supposedly an old doctor that had formerly lived near there. At times a white horse pulling a buggy could be seen crossing the field just a little south of the old school building, almost parallel with the present road. It would travel along slowly for about a quarter of a mile and then just vanish.
A few years later, when our oldest daughter was just a few months old, we were there for the weekend. We were sleeping in the north room again. There was no electricity nor a bathroom in the house. I was afraid to get up and go outside in the night, so I took a chamber upstairs as we went to bed. In the night some noise woke me. It was someone urinating in the chamber. Since it was too dark to see, I thought it was Harold, so I said, "The baby needs changing. Please get me a diaper while you're up." Just then Harold turned over and I found that he was still in bed. I got quiet because I thought perhaps it was Harold's kid brother who was sleeping in the south bedroom. Then I heard him start snoring and knew it wasn't him. I grabbed Harold and told him to light a match. Just as he struck the match the other noise stopped. His folks were both still asleep downstairs. Who ever heard of a ghost urinating in a pot?
I wonder if most ghosts are not like the one my father saw one night. He had been out some place and was coming home late. The stars were out, but no moon. Up ahead he saw something large and white rise up high and then drop back down. Dad's horse saw it too because he turned his ears in that direction and slowed down to a walk. Dad really hated to go on, for he knew he'd have to pass by whatever it was on the narrow lane, but this was the only way home. As he got closer, and closer, it looked really huge. Just as the horse got even with it, it made a loud noise. The horse jumped and Dad said he almost took off flying himself. Then he realized it was just a large gander. He got off to see about it and found it had its foot caught in a wire. The other end of the wire was caught on the fence so that the gander could only jump up about a foot into the air. This he was doing, trying to get loose, and as he would jump he would raise his wings as high as he could get them. After Dad found out what it was, he said it didn't look half as large.
I'VE SEEN IT, TOO AND OTHER TALES
by Francis Meeth
Once Uncle Billy and Aunt Sarah were coming from the mill at Bennett Spring and saw a ghost. Later they told Mom and Dad what they saw.
The way I understand it, it was a dim moonlit night. The folks were on the way home and they met what looked like a person coming down the road with something like a coat or a dress on. They said the horse that was on the left hand side would weave over to the right to let this man come down the dirt road. They said it went so close it looked like its clothes would hang on the edge of the buggy or the wheel as it went by. It got over a little from it. Of course, both of them seen it, but neither said anything. They both kept their mouths closed.
It went on a little ways until it went off the road and piled into a rail fence. From what they could see it looked like a heap lying there. They never said nothing to one another. They just went home. Uncle Joe took care of the team and Aunt Sarah went into the house. When he'd put up the team Sarah said to him, "Did you see anything down there on the road towards Brice?"
He said, "Yeah, yeah!"
She said, "Well, what did you see, sir?"
"Well, it looked like a human coming down the road, dressed in white. The horse on your side pulled towards me, and it looked to me like it rubbed the horse. Why didn't you say something?"
She said, "Well, did you see it?" "Yes, I saw it, but I was afraid to say anything to you. I was afraid I'd scare you."
This went on and on. Somewheres off in that country back there Ernie Goss was at a dance and somebody up and told what they'd seen. They'd seen about the same thing Uncle Joe and Aunt Sarah had seen, and they told about it at this dance. Ernie's friend up and said, "Ghost stories, ghost stories! You're a bunch of liars."
Ernie had seen it too, but he had kept his mouth shut. He had been through there horseback and seen it. Now he said, "wait a minute! Don't call him a damn liar. If you're going to call him a damn liar, call me one, too! I've seen it, too right there at the same place."
So what is it? What was it? Nobody knows. They do know that there was colored people lived there once, and the woman went to the spring to get some water. When she came back, the house was burned and her two kids burned up.
There was a deserted house on a piece of land a friend of mine owned. One night as I passed it on the way to his house, the horses stopped and turned to look at the house and listen to a noise. I heard it, too. It sounded like pigs in a house. So I continued on my way to my friend's house and asked him, "You got pigs in that old deserted house?"
He said, "No," then abruptly changed his answer to "Yes."
I stayed to have supper with him and later he came to me and said, "I told you lie awhile ago. I don't have any pigs in that house."
I knew that I had heard something, for the horses had even turned around. "Well what did I hear then?"
He said, "A long time ago a doctor used to live in that house and it's told he gave illegal abortions. Then he'd feed the babies to the hogs. Ever since then when we go by the house we can hear those hogs." The house has since been torn down.
Since my father's been dead, if I'd go to make a trade for a car or a horse or a truck, I had better
wait three days before I trade for it. For the simple reason if within three nights after I start to
make this deal, if I don't see Dad in my sleep, then it's all right to make the trade. It won't do me
no trouble. It'll do me good. But if I see him, I'll have an argument with him in my sleep. I see him
just as plain as when he was alive. So I better let that deal alone, for if I trade, I'll pay for it
someway. Now I don't know whether you'd call that ghost or what you'd call it, but nevertheless,
I don't like to jaunt too far before I know what's behind me. During those three nights I like to
have to get my warning in, and if I get my warning, you couldn't sell it to me or trade it to me, no
way under the sun, 'cause it won't never do me no good.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.