A couple traveling by covered wagon on a dark night meet up with a magnificent gray stallion and his headless rider. Read on to discover the motivation behind the creation and re-telling of such horrific tales. I guarantee that you'll be surprised.
When reading this legend for the first time, I was reminded of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow", by Washington Irving (text of book at: ftp://sailor.gutenberg.org/pub/gutenberg/etext92/sleep10.txt) ...Ichabod Crane galloping along on his old steed Gunpowder, when along comes "a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame ...Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that [the horseman] was headless."
Legends of "Night Riders" and "Night Doctors" were often told by Southerners as far back as the early 1800's. The purpose of these tales was to intimidate their black slaves by encouraging fear of ghosts and supernatural beings. According to Jan Harold Brunvand, "A study by Gladys-Marie Fry based on ex-slave narratives and oral history interviews reveals how actual mounted white patrols and units of the Klu Klux Klan served to lend credence among blacks to the rumors spread by whites about ghostly spirits and human body-snatchers who would capture the slaves if they ventured forth after dark. Thus a cycle of created legends was used for social control and racial suppression."
Ok...now the story:
It is 1917, a couple is traveling by covered wagon to the little Texas town of San Diego to visit an elderly relative. Dusk is upon them, so they begin looking for a place to set up camp for the night. Far off in the distance, they spot the flickering light of a campfire. The man turns to his wife and says, "It might be good to camp near some other folks." So he points his wagon toward the distant light.
As they approach the campfire, the light appears to get dimmer and dimmer. By the time they arrive, the fire is nothing more than a few glowing embers. Whoever was there, was now gone, but the campsite is ideal. The couple decides to stay at their present location, just beside a tall oak tree next to the gently sloped banks of a lagoon.
By moonlight, the man starts to gather some wood for a fire. Just as the fire begins to blaze high in the cool night air, a large gray stallion appears, running as fast as the wind. On the horse's back is a man, a headless man shouting "It is mine. It is all mine."
As quickly as they appeared, the pair disappear off across the lagoon. The flames of the campfire go out, so in total darkness the couple quickly gathers their belongings. Before leaving, the man tears some rags into strips and places them along the branches of the oak tree to mark the spot where this horrifying event had occurred.
The following day, the couple arrives in San Diego. They relate their tale of horror to their uncle, who tells the following story to the weary couple:
"I have heard many rumors about 'Dead Man's Lagoon', but never really believed them until now. It seems that some number of years ago, four cattlemen who owned some large ranches in the area, got together to see who had the best horse. No man would be out-done by the other, so they ended up betting the farm, literally. Their homes, land, livestock, everything, was resting on the outcome of this race."
"One man, named Dickinson, had a large, gray stallion named Hercules. The race was no contest for this man and his horse, and Dickinson let them know it. After finishing the race far ahead of the other three men, Dickinson began to gloat about his victory. The other three men were humiliated, angry and were not about to give up everything they had to someone as smug as Dickinson. Later that night, they murdered Dickinson with a machete and removed his head as a souvenir. Ever since that night, people claim to have seen old Hercules and his headless master running the race over and over again."
After completing his story, the uncle is very anxious to see where this whole event transpired. The couple grudgingly packs up a few supplies and takes their uncle back to the campsite along the lagoon. They eventually find the old oak tree along the bank of the lagoon, but no torn rags are to be found. There is no sign of a campfire ever having been there. There are no wagon tracks, no hoof prints, nothing. The only thing that remains of the previous night, is the couple's memory of the racing gray stallion and it's headless rider.