Friday, July 29, 2016

The Haunted Crypt

Barbados is an island located on the easternmost edge of the West Indies and the site of what some claim to be one of the greatest mysteries of the nineteenth century.

The Chase Crypt
In 1808 the wealthy Chase family acquired a crypt in which to inter their dead relatives. Already eighty years old, the vault was built semi-underground and hewn out of the compacted coral that makes up much of the island’s foundations. Despite its age, the crypt had only housed a single occupant; Thomasina Goddard.
The head of the Chase family, Colonel Thomas Chase, decided not to disturb Goddard and she was not moved to another vault. She was soon saved from her lonely rest when the young Mary-Anne Maria Chase joined her in the vault in a lead-lined coffin. Several more members of the Chase family, including 2 babies and a grandmother known for her saintly conduct during life, were laid to rest in the vault over the next several years. Four years almost to the day after Mary-Anne's funeral, the vault was re-opened to allow her sister Dorcas' entry. The unfortunate Chase family suffered another death when Thomas himself passed away barely a month after Dorcas.
It was upon this reopening of the vault that the legend began. It was found that Dorcas' coffin had moved from its original position so that it now rested against the far wall "standing on end, with its head downward." Blaming vandals or thieves, the funeral party replaced the coffin and six strong men slid the heavy marble slab back over the entrance and left.
From then on, every time the vault was opened to allow the submission of another of the Chase's relatives the vault's contents would be in disarray, all except the two baby's coffins and the grandmother's. This included Thomas Chase's heavy casket which, according to records, took eight men to lift. Four times over the following years the marble slab was muscled aside and the sun's light would illuminate the coffins in morbid disarray.

Finally, the strange activities attracted attention from the island's officials and inhabitants who attended the next Chase internment in great numbers. The governor’s wife was present and writes: "In my husband's presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid; no crack was even apparent. The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible, and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone. The displaced coffins were rearranged in proper order, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited, and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was covered with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was maneuvered into its closed position and, with the utmost care, the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it. When the masons had completed their task, the Governor made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal and many of those attending added various private marks in the wet mortar.”

Eight months later, rather than waiting for the next Chase to die, the vault was ordered to be opened once again. The Governor and a party of men assembled at the crypt. The cemented seals were found to be intact and no evidence of tampering could be found until, upon reopening the crypt, once again except for the two baby's and grandmother's coffins, the contents were discovered to be in disarray. Some of the heavy coffins were upended and on top of others. Mary-Anna’s had come to rest against the left wall; a small chunk had been chipped off a corner from the violence of its journey. One coffin was found resting on the 4th step, its head pointing upwards toward the crypt's opening. The lid of another coffin had been partially forced open and from that opening projected the shriveled right arm of the corpse it contained. The arm was pointing toward the ceiling of the crypt. Several of the men recognized the coffin as one holding a member of the family who had committed suicide. The floor's sandy coating was undisturbed and no sign of flooding or earthquake was apparent.

Nathan Lucas, another eyewitness, described the event: "...I examined the walls, the arch, and every part of the Vault, and found every part old and similar; and a mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer, and all was solid. I confess myself at a loss to account for the movements of these leaden coffins. Thieves certainly had no hand in it and as for any practical wit or hoax, too many were requisite to be trusted with the secret for it to remain unknown; and as for natives having anything to do with it, their superstitious fear of the dead and everything belonging to them precludes any idea of the kind. All I know is that it happened and that I was an eye-witness of the fact."

After this incident church officials decided to move the bodies to other burial sites in the Christ Church Parish cemetery and the Chase vault was left empty. It was once again sealed with the marble slab which was cemented closed. Visitors to the cemetery sometimes report strange sounds which seem to come from the Chase crypt, comparing it to someone moaning or crying, but church officials say it's nothing more than the wind. The crypt has never been opened again and still stands vacant beside the little church in Oistins on the island’s southern coast.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Indian Sentinel

As the sun was setting one fine autumn day, a young boy was watching a motionless figure standing on top of the hill at the edge of Tehuacana, Texas. For over a half-hour the boy had been watching that figure staring westward, never moving, still as a statue.

The young boy was John Boyd, son of the founder of the village. The figure he was watching was obviously an Indian as John could see the feathered headdress on his head, but this was 1858 and the Indians had been driven from the area some years ago. He finally decided to climb the small hill to get closer. What danger was one lone Indian when it appeared he didn't have a horse and there were settlers with guns nearby should John call out to them?

Making his voice friendly, young John called out to him, but the Indian didn't move. It was as if he didn't hear him so John walked closer. He was close enough now to see the fine buckskins he wore, the craftsmanship of the stitches and the colorful beads which adorned the shirt. He had fine, long black hair which was braided and a beautiful leather belt with strips of rawhide that moved with the wind. John looked carefully, but he could see no weapon.  "Are you hungry? We can spare some food."

Ever so slowly, the Indian's head turned, as though it took an intense labor of will. The eyes, as dark as a black pit fixed on the boy. No expression crossed the face, only the awareness of another's presence. Jon felt paralyzed, totally incapable of running away from those eyes staring unblinking at him. It was then he noticed a strange glow about the figure, as though the fading sunlight radiated not around him, but through him! Suddenly, John felt very cold and an inner voice said to run, run very fast!

Before he could move though, the Indian was gone. John carefully looked, but there was nothing around him. The figure had vanished into the air.

John Boyd would not be the last to see the hilltop Indian sentinel, the last chief of the Tawakoni tribe, a man who had died in a massacre thirty years earlier. For years afterward, at daybreak and sunset, the chief would appear and stand motionless atop the little hill overlooking the land that had once been home. Whether he was awaiting the return of his people, his son at their head, or he was standing guard in penance has never been determined.

The Tawakoni were allies of the Tejas who lived to the east. They were an industrious and friendly people who protected their lands, and thus the land of the Tejas, from the war-like and more savage plains warriors who roamed the west. The Cherokee were being driven from their own lands by the white man by the 1820's and they needed the game and watering holes of the Tawakoni. The Cherokee came in force, but the Tawakoni fought them to a standstill in a battle where Waco now stands. The enemy invaders retreated and left them in peace...for a while. Thinking they had driven them away, the Tawakoni relaxed and braves posted as guards were not as vigilant. The Cherokee snuck back and in a devastating attack, virtually annihilated all of them. They burned to the ground the bee-hive-shaped dwellings and erased any signs the Tawakoni ever lived there. Only a handful escaped, mostly women and small children, as Tawakoni braves and their chief sacrificed their lives giving the survivors time to grab the chief's son and flee into the brush.

The last stand of the Tawakoni was not recorded in white man's books and may have gone completely unknown except for an Indian scout who worked for General Earl Van Dorn, a grand-nephew of Andrew Jackson. Known only as Tawakoni Jim, he told the troopers his childhood memory of his father's death on that flaming hilltop. As soldiers were transferred to other units, the story was passed around the evening fires from one army camp to another. As stories do, this one made it back to the Tehuacana settlers who were finally sure of what they saw - a father waiting for his son's return.

In the late 1900's, archaeologist found proof of the story. Near Barry Springs on Tehuacana's eastern side, they located the old village. They traced the sunken floors and the central fire basins. They found the lodgepole marks for oval dwellings. They gathered artifacts clearly identified as Tawakoni. Most telling, they found proof of a village which had been razed by fire. Tawakoni Jim's story was true.

Shortly before Jim passed away at the age of 90 in the early 1900's, his minister was able to trace his lineage and authenticate that he was indeed the chieftain-to-be, escaped from his dying village. The return of Jim's people was a lost dream.

When I heard this story, of course I had to drive there and check it out for myself. There's not much to the community of Tehuacana now, a lot of abandoned buildings and broken dreams. When asked, most of the older people I found to talk to just smiled and said they had never heard of the story. One old gentleman dressed in a farmer's dirty overalls and beat-up straw hat looked at me sideways for several seconds, spit some chewing tobacco juice on the ground and said he didn't have time for such nonsense as he turned and walked away.

I found another old man with a deeply-lined, weather-beaten face and snow-white hair sitting on a bench in front of a small store. I sat for a little while, drinking a coke I bought inside. When I asked him if he knew of the story, he admitted he did. He said he was born and raised around Tehuacana and had heard the story from his grandfather. He told me the old Indian still makes an appearance every now and then, always at sunrise or dusk. He claimed to have seen him himself. He said he thinks he is standing guard, doing penance for allowing his people to become lax, to be caught unprepared to defend themselves. But then again, he thinks it's just as likely he's still waiting for his son to return, a father's vigil. "That's just my figuring though cause nobody knows for sure," he said. "You can't read the mind of a ghost." And then he gave me directions to the hill.

It was getting dark as I followed the old man's directions. It's a pleasant place with a few hackberry tree's around a little park at the top, cleared of vegetation, overlooking a vast open countryside. I waited there, alone, hoping to see an old Indian chief appear out of thin air. It didn't happen. Perhaps all these years later he has given up returning. There's no one left to listen to his warning of what happens to a people when they let down their guard. I drove away wondering about things that can't be explained.

At the bottom of the hill, I looked in my rearview mirror. I'm sure what I saw at the very top of the hill was just a tree. Strange, I hadn't noticed it while I was there.