Monday, May 8, 2017

Devil Horse Hoof Prints

The story of the Devil Horse Hoof Prints in Bath, North Carolina is much more than just a ghost story or tale of a haunted place. This is a warning about the evils of betting on the Sabbath, drinking to much and disrespecting your wife. Don't believe in ghosts, you say? This tale comes with proof.

Jesse Elliot was a free-spirited, hard living, hard drinking, profane man who loved to race horses. He was also an obnoxious drunk who, being a large man, was intimidating as well. It was known far and wide that he was willing to take on any challenger at any time and any place as he was positive he owned the fastest horse in the county. 

On a quiet Sunday morning in the early fall of 1813, a black-clad rider no one had ever seen rode up on a coal black stallion and challenged Jesse to a race that day. He confidently bet $100 that his horse would beat Jess's. Accepting the bet and agreeing to meet at the local racetrack in one hour, Jesse left to get his horse.

When Jess arrived home, his wife warned him of betting on the Sabbath, but rather than ignore her, he gave her a hard slap across the face and began preparing his horse. Before riding away, he downed two shots of whiskey. As he rode off to the race, he cursed his wife who then yelled at him "Jesse Elliot, I hope you go to Hell this very day!"

Jesse arrived at the track where a few of his obnoxious friends and the dark stranger was waiting. The man was calm, perhaps a little too calm for someone who was about to lose a large amount of money. Jesse was bothered by the man's demeanor, but he shook it off as the two riders agreed on the terms of the race.

The race began with a pistol shot and both riders shot out from the starting line. Jesse soon took the lead as the stranger began falling behind. With his self-confidence brimming, he uttered his last words. "Take me in a winner or take me to Hell". At that moment, as he went around a curve in the track, His horse twisted his head, reared up and dug it's hooves into the ground. The violent move sent Jesse flying from the saddle head first into a pine tree, instantly killing him. The mysterious dark rider rode past the dead man and disappeared over a rise with Jesse's horse following. No trace of them was ever seen again.

Some folks say it was the Devil who was atop the other horse and Jesse Elliott went to hell at that very moment, taken there by the stranger on the black stallion. For almost a year, hair from Jesse's head remained buried in the tree. Within a few days, the tree turned brown and decayed on the side where Jesse's head had hit. The hoof prints the horse left in the loamy soil are still visible over 200 years later. 

News of the incident spread and the local citizens took it as a warning from on high. Sabbath-breaking in the region diminished significantly. The preacher in the little country church declared the hoof prints were left by "a man on his way to hell." 

There are certain qualities to the depressions which have baffled experts and mystified people for generations. The holes are  not sheltered, but they remain free of grass, leaves, pine needles, or debris of any kind. If they are filled with dirt or anything else they are soon found to be empty. 

For many years, an old decayed stump of what was once a large pine tree was visible near the depressions, the rotting remains of the tree which took Jesse Elliott's life.

Historical photo from 1950's
In the 1950's, a newsreel crew came to investigate and get pictures of the strange indention's in the ground. Old-timers in the area told them that chickens would eat corn from all around the holes, but they would not touch kernels that were actually in the depressions. Curious, the crew filmed an experiment with a flock of chickens and corn. The result was as the locals stated. The birds ate all the corn from around the holes, but even after the surrounding ground had been picked clean, the kernels within the indention's were ignored. 

One of the reports the crew heard was from a 93-year-old man who had lived in the area his whole life. He told them about how he and his brothers would fill the pits with different items on their way to school, only to always find them empty on their way home. The crew decided to construct another experiment. They collected dirt, leaves, and small stones and proceeded to fill the depressions. They then laid multiple strings of black thread over the mounds. They watched and filmed for a few hours, but when nothing had happened and the late night hour made filming impractical, they retired for the night. A few hours later at daybreak, they returned to find the holes were clean of all the debris, yet the nets of string lay undisturbed. 

 Is there some strange natural explanation for the so-called hoof prints to remain visible for so many years? Why do they remain empty? Why do animals not eat food laying in them? 

Perhaps there is no natural explanation because the story handed down from generation to generation is true - the marks actually were left by a horse whose rider was on his way straight to hell.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Unsettled Souls of Fort Smith Cemetery

The Fort Smith National Cemetery in Sebastian County, Arkansas played an important role in the western expansion of the United States. By the early 1800’s, white settlers were moving into the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1805. As the settlers moved onto land inhabited by the Indians, tensions naturally began to rise. The U.S. Army began building military posts to protect the settlers. Fort Smith was the first and most western of these forts. As a wild and lawless town grew around the fort, it became the last “civilized” place for outlaws, bandits, and renegades to acquire supplies before entering Indian Territory.
In 1823, out of the 200 troops stationed there, 51 died and the first official cemetery was created and dedicated on the site just outside the stockade where there had already been 3 burials. In 1824, Fort Gibson was constructed and Fort Smith was closed. Between 1824 and 1838, when the army returned to re-open Fort Smith, a number of men, most of whom died due to the lawlessness of the town, were haphazardly buried there. The army rehabilitated the cemetery and began overseeing internments.
When the Civil War began, Confederate forces took over the fort. When the Union forces re-captured it in late 1863, over 475 Rebel soldiers, most of them men who had fallen in battle, had been buried in the expanded cemetery.
The war ended in 1865 and by 1867, the bodies of so many fallen Confederate soldiers had been removed from hasty graves dug on battlefields and reburied in the Fort Smith cemetery that it was increased in size to over 5 acres. It was officially made a National Cemetery in late 1867 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
Over the years, the cemetery has been expanded to cover over 33 acres and include almost 14,000 burials. Probably the most famous person buried here is Isaac Parker, the “Hanging Judge.” During his 21 years in Fort Smith, he sentenced 160 men and women to die with a noose around their necks. 79 of those 160 actually met their fate on the gallows.
During the 1860’s, as the bodies of more and more soldiers who had suffered horrible deaths during battles were being dug up from their resting places and reburied in the cemetery, stories began circulating of strange sounds emanating from the grave yard at night; cries of anguish, sometimes a painful scream, and a persistent rumor of hearing what sounded like a young man crying out for his momma. Sometimes strange, bobbing lights would appear, float around the headstones and then vanish. Soldiers who were assigned night duty of standing guard at the cemetery’s gate refused to do it alone and would not enter the grounds.
By the early 1900’s, it seems things in the cemetery began to settle down. Although still spooky after dark, stories of the unexplained sounds and lights virtually ceased. In the late 1990’s however, for some unknown reason, it seems the forever occupants of the Fort Smith cemetery became uneasy. Once again, strange lights began to be seen floating around in the dark. Cemetery caretakers began reporting tools left amongst the graves overnight would be moved when they reported back to work the next morning. Sometimes the tools would simply be moved from one side of a grave marker to the other side of the same marker and other times a rake or shovel would be moved several graves away from where it had been left.
In 1998, on a cold December night, one of the groundskeepers had been performing maintenance work around Isaac Parker’s grave. He had left a spade and clippers next to the grave when he had been called away to help on another task. It was dark when he returned alone to retrieve his tools and put them away in a shed. After gathering up the tools, he turned away heading toward the shed when he heard something behind him. Thinking it was just a leaf being blown along the grass, he didn’t think anything of it. A few steps later though, he realized the noise had not gone away; in fact, it seemed now like it was the footsteps of someone following him. He pulled a flashlight from his tool belt and turned it on as he quickly turned around. Illuminated by the flashlight stood an old man with white hair and a white beard, wearing an old-fashioned black suit. The man was just standing there looking at him. The groundskeeper asked him what he wanted and the man began moving his lips as if he was talking, but there was no sound. It was then the groundskeeper realized that in the beam of his flashlight, he could see right through the man to the headstones directly behind him! Dropping the flashlight and the tools he had retrieved, the groundskeeper ran directly to his car without looking back and sped home.
Having worked and been in the Fort Smith Museum and having seen the pictures of Isaac Parker numerous times, the groundskeeper had no doubt the eerie apparition had been the Hanging Judge himself. The story goes that when the groundskeeper came in the next day, his salt-and-pepper colored hair had turned completely white. He told his supervisor of his encounter and then, with trembling hands, gave him his letter of resignation and walked out.