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.

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