Haunted Tombstone

Hey, Readers. It’s time for another legend. It’s been a few weeks since I posted about a haunting, so I thought this would be a good time.

Tombstone, Arizona is a historic town founded in 1879 by prospector Ed Schieffelin. Known for its silver mines, it became one of the last boomtowns on the American frontier. It grew from a population of one hundred to around 14,000 in less than seven years. Today, a little over 1,300 reside there.

I visited there in 2006 while on a business trip to Tucson. My coworker and I took an early flight so we’d have time to see this legendary town. If you ask a resident what Tombstone first became famous for, they would say the silver. However, I doubt many would even know the town’s name if not for the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral involving the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday against Cowboy members Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton.

Tombstone was known for its lawlessness, or blatant disregard for the law, which resulted in the deaths of several people. As you might imagine, there are said to be lots of ghosts that still reside there, some even walk the streets.

On October 28, 1888, Curly Bill Brocius, a leader of the Cowboy faction gunned down Marshall Fred White. He died two days later, and his spirit is said to haunt the street near the shooting site.

Some have claimed to have seen another apparition, dressed in a long black frock coat on several occasions crossing the street. This occurrence is near the place where Virgil Earp was ambushed and shot in the arm. Earp lived but was crippled for life. Some believe it is his spirit that haunts the place. Interestingly, the ghost never makes it across the street.

As you might guess, the O.K. Corral itself is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Cowboys who died there. Several witnesses claim to see fading apparitions dressed in cowboy attire, often with guns drawn. Others say they feel cold spots in various places.

The graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury in Boot Hill Cemetery. The sign to the right states they were murdered on the streets of Tombstone.

Visitors to Boot Hill Cemetery report seeing strange lights and hearing unidentifiable noises in the old graveyard. Some say Billy Clanton walks from his grave back toward Tombstone. A number of people say spirits appear in photographs.

My coworker and I visited Boot Hill but didn’t witness any strange sights or sounds. However, another coworker went there with a group of friends. One of them took a photo of her standing near a grave marker. To Tami’s left was a dark image of what looked like a cowboy. This was in broad daylight. She showed me the photo, and I easily saw the apparition.

These are only a few of the reported sightings in Tombstone. But a town with its history is sure to have some hauntings.

The Haunted Landers Theater

Hey, Readers. We’ve had a few weeks of mysteries, so I couldn’t let a month go by without posting at least one legend. This week, we’ll travel to the Show Me State of Missouri.

The Landers Theater is a four-story brick and terra cotta building in Springfield, Missouri. It was built in 1909 and has been in use since then. It once hosted such notable artists such as Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, and Lon Chaney. It later became a motion picture house and was one of the first to acquire talking films. The Landers has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977 and underwent renovations to restore it to its 1900s elegance in 1980.

Rob Kinney, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But it’s reported the theater also has another type of history. It seems it’s the home of several restless spirits. On December 17, 1920, a major fire took the life of a janitor. It’s said that actors on stage can see the janitor’s ghost sitting in the balcony seats watching them as they rehearse.

Another story claims someone accidentally dropped a baby from the balcony. Actors often say the baby repeats its fall over and over. Others say they often hear a baby crying followed by comforting words from its mother.

There is another apparition that peers down from a fourth-story window at passersby on the street. This spirit is tall with long blonde hair and wears Elizabethan clothing. She’s never seen inside, but it’s also reported the spirit of a six-foot-tall man can be seen throughout the theater.

Many guests feel they are being followed, followed by a tap on the shoulder. When they turn around, there’s no one there. Other occurrences include unplugged spotlights that turn on and off of their own accord and other apparitions glimpsed throughout the building.

Is it any wonder The Landers Theater may be one of the most haunted places in Springfield?

The Dark Watchers

Welcome to the last Legends and Lore post of 2022. This story comes from California.

The Golden State has its own share of legends and folklore. Today’s post is about one that dates back over three hundred years.

The Dark Watchers, also known as Los Vigilantes Oscuros, is a group of entities seen by travelers in the region of the Santa Lucia Mountains. According to legend, these apparitions watch travelers from the horizon.

They’re most often seen around twilight or dawn and are said to be motionless. They are tall, giant-like dark silhouettes often wearing dark capes and hats. No one has ever seen a watcher up close and when people approach them, they disappear.

Most say the watchers are peaceful, but one account warns people it’s best to turn away if you see one. According to the folklore those who dared to approach them vanished into oblivion.

The legend is often attributed to the Chumash people who inhabited the area around what is now San Luis Obispo. However, nothing related to the legend seems to exist in their mythology. The early Spanish settlers were said to have seen the dark watchers and gave them the name, Los Vigilantes Oscuros (literally, the dark watchers).

Author John Steinbeck mentions the watchers in his 1938 collection of short stories.

“Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.”

John Steinbeck in The Long Valley.

Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, reported having seen the watchers. He later collaborated with artist Benjamin Brode on a book titled In Search of the Dark Watchers. The book talks about the history and legend. The two men interviewed locals who claimed to have seen them.

Poet Robinson Jeffers also referenced the watchers in his 1937 collection Such Counsels You Gave Me & Other Poems. Jeffers described the Dark Watchers as “forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human.” He went on to say, “They come from the ridges to watch” and are known to emerge from “the quiet twilight” before they “melted into the shadows.

A Broken Spectre. Creative Commons photo by Brocken Inaglory, via Wikimedia Commons

Psychologists often attribute these sightings to illusions or hallucinations. Another theory is these watchers are actually an optical illusion known as a Broken Spectre. This phenomenon occurs on misty mountainsides, on cloud banks, or viewed from airplanes. The figure’s head is often surrounded by halo-like rings of colored light. It appears opposite the sun’s direction when water droplets in the clouds refract sunlight.

Scientific explanation or legend, the mystery of the Dark Watchers is an interesting tale of California folklore.

The Boggy Creek Monster

I don’t often write about cryptids, but this month’s Legends and Lore is a tale from Miller County, Arkansas. This is the same area where a series of unsolved murders occurred in the 1940s. If you haven’t read my post about the Texarkana Phantom Killer, you can click this link.

Fouke, Arkansas is a tiny town of around 860 people located in the Texarkana metropolitan area. The Native American Caddo Tribe inhabited the area long before the European colonization of North America. Fouke was founded in 1890 by a Seventh-Day Baptist minister and his followers. The town got its name from James H. Fouke, an entrepreneur, lumberman, and railroad executive who helped the settlers establish their colony.

Creative Commons photo by Billy Hathorn (assumed based on copyright claims), via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 1970s, Fouke received nationwide attention due to several sightings and claims of a bigfoot-like creature. Reports described it as a large bipedal creature, around 7 feet tall, weighing 250-300 pounds, covered in long, dark hair, and having bright red eyes the size of a silver dollar. Witnesses also described a terrible odor—something like a cross between a skunk and a wet dog.

As with the case with many such tales, the creature “grew,” eventually becoming ten feet tall with a weight of 800 pounds.

The first sighting occurred on May 2, 1971, when the monster attacked the home of Bobby and Elizabeth Ford. According to Elizabeth, the creature reached through a screen window as she was sleeping. Her husband and brother chased the creature away, firing several shots at it, but no blood was found. There were three-toed footprints near the house as well as scratch marks and damage to a window.

The next sighting occurred on May 23 when three people reported seeing an ape-like creature crossing U. S. Highway 71. Over the next few months, more sightings occurred by local residents and tourists. A set of footprints were taken from a soybean field, but game wardens were unable to confirm their authenticity.

Interest increased, and a Little Rock radio station offered a $1,090.00 bounty on the creature. A strange amount, for sure. Attempts to track the monster using dogs were unsuccessful as they were unable to follow the scent.

After hunters became interested, the county sheriff was forced to put a temporary “no guns” policy in place for public safety reasons. Three people were fined for filing a “fraudulent monster report.”

Public interest began to wane until the 1972 docudrama horror film The Legend of Boggy Creek was released. It played in theaters around the country and became the eleventh highest-grossing film of that year.

Interest waned again by 1974 only to resurface when two brothers reported seeing tracks near Russellville, Arkansas. Since then there have been sporadic sightings in the state through the 1990s. One witness claimed to have seen the creature jump from a bridge in 1991.

Archeologist Frank Schambach determined there was a “99 percent chance the footprints were a hoax.” Schambach noted primates, including hominids, have five toes. Other anomalies included there was no history of primate activity in the area ruling out the possibility of the monster being a descendant of some indigenous species. The creature was also nocturnal whereas primates are diurnal.

Some Fouke public officials, including the mayor and former sheriff Leslie Greer, believed the tracks to be man-made. H. L. Phillips, a chief deputy at the time who took many phone calls related to the sightings said, “I don’t believe in it. But I’d say you don’t argue with people who say they’ve seen it. Many were respectable and responsible folks.”

What do you think? Hoax, vivid imaginations, real, or legend? Please share in the comments.

I will be taking a break for the rest of this week due to the Thanksgiving Holiday. For those in the United States, I wish you a happy one. I’ll be back next week.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine

For this month’s Legend and Lore post, we’ll travel to the southwestern state of Arizona in an area known as the Superstition Mountains.

Since early times the Superstition Mountains, located east of Phoenix near Apache Junction, have been the source of legends and mystery. Their very name was inspired by Pima Indian legends. The area contains ancient cliff dwellings and caves—many of them still show signs of former habitation.

Superstition Mountains (Public Domain)

Some believe these early dwellers were Salado or Hohokam Indians who populated the area several centuries ago. Later, the Pima and Apache tribes occupied the region. It’s the Apache that’s more closely associated with the Superstitions because they had a stronghold there in the 1800s.

During the 1840s a family named Peralta of northern Mexico supposedly discovered and developed rich gold mines in the mountains. In 1848, the family made one last expedition to carry gold back to Mexico.

According to legend, Apaches ambushed the family, killing all but one or two who escaped into Mexico. The area is now known as the Massacre Grounds.

A number of people were said to have known the mine’s location. Many maps surfaced, only to be misplaced or lost if interested parties pressed for facts. Men who claimed to have found the mine were unable to return to it or disaster occurred before they could file a claim. These stories added to the lore.

The term Lost Dutchman’s Mine came about in the 1870s. A German immigrant named Jacob Waltz found the mine with assistance from a Peralta descendant. Dutchman was a common name for Germans, with Dutch being the English equivalent to Deutsch.

Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked the mine and allegedly hid caches of gold in the mountains. Most believe the gold is near Weaver’s Needle, a well-known landmark. Weiser was killed by Apaches, although some say Waltz killed his partner.

Weavers Needle in the Superstition Mountains. Creative Commons photo by Chris C. Jones via Wikimedia commons

His health failing, Waltz moved to Phoenix in the 1860s. Before he died in 1991, he told a neighbor, Julia Thomas, about the mine’s location. But Thomas or other seekers have never been able to locate the mine.

In the summer of 1931, an amateur explorer and treasure hunter named Adolph Ruth disappeared while searching for the mine. In December of that year, his skull containing two bullet holes was discovered. A month later, searchers found human remains three-quarters of a mile away. Scavengers had scattered the remains, but many of Ruth’s personal effects, including a pistol with no missing bullets, his checkbook, and his wallet were located.

Inside the checkbook was Ruth’s handwritten note claiming he had found the mind. He ended the note with the words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici.” (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

The story made national news and generated new interest in searching for the gold. Since Ruth’s death, many have died in their quest.

  • J. A. “Tex” Bradford began searching in 1933. By October of that year, he had been missing nine months.
  • Writer Barry Storm, using the pen name John Griffith Climenson, published a book about the mine in 1945. In it, he claimed to have narrowly escaped death at the hands of a mysterious sniper. Strom speculated the unknown sniper could have been responsible for Ruth’s murder.
  • Retired photographer James A. Cravey was reported missing on July 3, 1947. He had chartered a helicopter on June 19 to drop him off in the Superstition Mountains so he could search for the mine.
  • Denver resident Jesse Capen went missing in November or December 2009 in the Tonto National Forest. Searchers found his abandoned car and campsite. Capen was known to have been obsessed with finding the mine. His remains were found in a crevice by a local search and rescue team in November 2012.
  • On July 11, 2010, Utah hikers Curtis Merworth, Adrian Charles, and Malcolm Meeks went missing while searching for the mine. Their remains were discovered in January 2011. It was believed they perished due to the summer heat.

After the disappearance of Capen, the term “The Dutchman’s Curse” was used in an episode of the program, Disappeared.

Is a curse behind the deaths of these explorers, or in most cases did they succumb to the harsh elements? Does the mine exist? Whatever your beliefs, these legends will live long in the chronicles of Arizona history.