The Headless Horseman Rides

From 1850 to 1855, people reported encountering a headless rider, a mysterious mounted ghostly specter which brought fear to the plains of west Texas. During those five years, hundreds of people claimed to have seen the spirit rider roaming the lonely ranges riding a huge black mustang stallion as wild as anything that ever raced over the prairie. Clad in rawhide leggings and a buckskin jacket, the figure seemed to appear out of nowhere. Sometimes he would appear in the bright sunshine of the day tearing across prickly pear flats, but usually it happened in the dark of night. Always alone and sometimes accompanied by lightning and wind, it struck terror into even the bravest gunfighter. Neither horse nor rider ever seemed to tire and it was noted the rider sat rigid as if he were made of wood and never bent or turned in the saddle

Men who saw him claimed there was only a gaping hole atop his shoulders where his neck and head should have been. Some said he carried his head under a Mexican sombrero tied to the horn of his saddle. The creature he rode was shunned by other wild horses. Sometimes he could be found by the stampede of mustangs running away from his presence. He seemed possessed by the very devil himself and at the sight of humans, would tear away at a speed even the fleetest of the cowboy's horses could not match. 

Most of the Indians in the area, being superstitious, tried to keep well clear of him. They saw him many times and would always give him a wide berth, often trekking miles out of their way to avoid his presence. The Mexican vaqueros and sheep herders were just as scared of the apparition as the Indians, making the sign of the cross and hurrying away at the sight of him. The cowboys weren't as superstitious, but they kept their distance as well, especially if they were alone. There were times however, being emboldened by numbers and bravado and distance, that men would take shots at the horseman. They declared they were positive they hit him, but their bullets seemed to pass through him like paper. A few brave soldiers in the area also insisted their shots were true, but the rider never even flinched when their bullets hit him. They declared him to be Lucifer himself or at the very least, a demon summoned from hell.

Eventually, a group of ranchers perhaps a little braver than others, decided to track down and capture this headless horseman and put an end to the mystery once and for all. They tried tracking him for several days, but could not get close enough. They finally decided to go to the Nueces River at a spot where he had been reported to water. The next morning, their wait was rewarded as the big black horse and its rider cautiously made their way to the water's edge. When the horse lowered his head to drink, the men arose from their hiding places and began shooting. When the dust and smoke had cleared, the horse and rider lay dead. The men were stunned as they fully expected their bullets to have no affect. 

Upon inspection, the men found the horse appeared to be not a ghost, but nothing more than a fine, large specimen of a mustang.  Upon his back they found not the devil, but an old, dried up carcass of a Mexican, perforated by hundreds of bullets and even several arrows. The body had been tied to the horse and saddle so tightly that the rope had to be cut to unfasten it. Tied securely to the horn of the saddle was a skull with a frayed sombrero bound around it. 

The mystery, however, was only half solved. How had this Mexican vaquero's body come to be tied to a mustang and his head lashed to the saddle? The answer came several years later with a story told by Bigfoot Wallace, the famous Texas Ranger, Indian fighter, and veteran of many battles in the Mexican war and war for Texas Independence.

Bigfoot Wallace - 1872
Shortly before the battle of San Jacinto gave Texas its freedom, a Mexican deserter named Vidal came to the Texan's camp bringing information about the strength of the Mexican army. Bigfoot Wallace and another man destined to later be a Texas Ranger, Creed Taylor, took note of him and declared they didn't trust him. After the war, Vidal turned to horse stealing. At that time, horse stealing was a hanging offense just as bad as taking the life of another person. In time, he became the leader of a band of thieves operating in both Texas and Mexico. 

In early summer of 1850, Vidal and three of his men stole a large number of horses and headed to Mexico. Their timing was good as a large Comanche raid had just been carried out in the area and most of the men were away from home trailing the Indian raiders. Unfortunately for Vidal, some of the stolen horses belonged to Creed Taylor and even more unfortunately, Creed Taylor had not gone off after the Indians. Creed was a Texan among Texans and with a fighting background just as impressive as his friend Bigfoot's, was not someone you should steal horses from. With a nearby Mexican rancher named Flores who had also lost horses and happened to be home, Creed set off tracking the thieves.

Creed Taylor in later life
Before long, the trackers became convinced it was Vidal they were after. When they came across several cows with arrows sticking out of them, they knew for sure as Vidal had become notorious for doing this to trick greenhorns into thinking it was Indians they were after. Creed knew no Indian would kill a cow and leave behind the meat and their arrows. When the trail got to the Frio River, the pair ran into Bigfoot. After hearing the story, Bigfoot readily joined them as he was always "ready to whup somebody who needs whuppin'." 

Two days later near dusk, the Texans sighted campfire smoke and the stolen horses. They left their horses staked and stealthily crawled up to get a better look. Evidently the thieves believed they were out of danger as they had a big fire going and only 1 man was on watch. A plan was made and after it was dark and 2 of the thieves were asleep, Bigfoot and Creed crawled up close to the camp being careful to keep downwind of the herd so the horses wouldn't be spooked and raise the alarm. Flores waited a sufficient enough time for the 2 men to get into position and then, with his rifle, shot the man guarding the camp. As soon as the shot rang out, the 2 thieves asleep rose up drawing their guns, but Bigfoot and Creed had their own six-shooters ready and put both thieves back to sleep forever. 

At daylight, the bodies were inspected and sure enough, Bigfoot and Creed recognized one of them as Vidal. Bigfoot, always a bit eccentric, suggested what he thought was a good joke and a way to maybe scare other horse thieves in the region. In the herd happened to be a big black wild stallion. While Creed roped the horse, put a bandanna blindfold over its eyes and saddled it, Bigfoot made use of his Bowie knife and cut off Vidal's head. With chin-strap and leather thongs, he firmly attached the bandit's sombrero to it and then with more leather straps, laced the sombreroed head to the horn of the saddle. He then dressed Vidal's headless body in full regalia complete with leggings, spurs, serape and with great care, attached it in the saddle. A strong tree limb was tied under his clothes to keep him upright. The feet were tied in the stirrups and the stirrups were then double-fastened to each other under the horse's belly. 

During all this, that big black stallion was snorting and trembling something fierce as nothing scares a mustang more than foreign blood and there was plenty of that all around and on him. When everything was finished, the blindfold was removed from the horse and without bridle or halter, he was set free. Bigfoot declared that over the years he had seen thousands of wild, bucking horses, but he had never seen one act like that big stallion with a dead Mexican on his back. After the poor creature had pitched and bucked in every direction, snorted, squealed, pawed the air, reared up and fallen over backwards, rolled and then stood quivering and sweating, the awful thing was still on his back. For five minutes then he stood there with his legs spread out, sides heaving, nostrils snorting and his eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. Then he let out a squeal like none any of the 3 men watching had ever heard from a horse before and took off running like the wind across the prairie.

Bigfoot, Creed, and Flores took the herd back to San Antonio, gave back to the owners the horses that could be identified and split the remaining mustangs among themselves. All three agreed they should lay low and not speak a word of what they had done for a while. And thus the legend of the Headless Horseman was born.

Bigfoot Wallace died in 1899
and is buried in the
Texas State Cemetery
Creed Taylor died the day after Christmas,
1906 and is buried in the Noxville cemetery
near Junction, Texas

Miracle In The Jungle

This is the true story of a 17 year old girl who not only survived a 2 mile fall from a plane without a parachute, but then trekked alone, barefoot, with no survival equipment, clothed only in a mini-dress, for 10 days through the deadly Peruvian rain-forest.

Juliane Koepcke at her high
school graduation
On Christmas Eve, 1971, just a few hours after attending her high school graduation, 17 year old Juliane Koepcke and her mother, Maria, got on a flight from Lima, Peru to Pucallpa. The two were traveling to join Juliane’s father, Hans-Wilhelm, a famous German zoologist who was working at a remote research station in the rain-forest.

30 minutes into the flight, the plane entered very thick, black clouds. "The clouds became darker and darker and the flight became more turbulent. Then we were in the midst of pitch-black clouds and a proper storm with thunder and lightning,” said Koepcke. “It was pitch-black all around us and there was constant lightning. Then I saw a glistening light on the right wing. The motor was hit by lightning.“

Planes get struck by lightning all the time with no real problems, but this time there was a big problem.  Directly after the wing was struck, the aircraft was ripped apart because the Electra aircraft they were on had very rigid wings and wasn't built for flying in heavy turbulence. The struck wing fell off and the plane was then simply ripped apart in mid-air.

The last words Koepcke ever heard from her mother was when the lightning struck the wing, she shouted, “it’s all over! We're done for!” Still strapped to her seat, Juliane Koepcke was thrown from the aircraft and fell approximately 2 miles into the dense, green Peruvian rain-forest.
"I heard the incredibly loud motor and people screaming and then the plane fell extremely steeply. And then it was calm—incredibly calm compared with the noise before that. I could only hear the wind in my ears. I was still attached to my seat. My mother and the man sitting by the aisle had both been propelled out of their seats. I was free-falling, that’s what I registered for sure. I was in a tailspin. I saw the forest beneath me—like ‘green cauliflower, like broccoli,’ is how I described it later on. Then I lost consciousness and regained it only way later, the next day."
Koepcke became the sole survivor of Lansa flight 508, all 91 other passengers and crew died. It isn't known what exact factors played into Juliane’s surviving the fall. Some speculated her fall was slowed by the row of seats she was strapped to rotating like a helicopter, and then in what can only be called a miracle, helped cushion her landing thanks to striking the dense forest perfectly horizontal with seat bottoms hitting first.

For the next 19 hours, Juliane lapsed in and out of consciousness. She awoke when it began to rain and managed to unstrap herself from her seat and crawl under it for shelter.  Finally, about 9:00am, she became lucid and in somewhat of a daze, took stock of her situation. She was lying on the ground, dressed in only a sleeveless mini-dress and was missing one of her sandals and glasses. While she didn't realize all her injuries at the time, she had survived the fall with a broken collar bone; a torn ACL; one of her eyes swollen shut; the capillaries in her eyes had popped (due to rapid decompression from the plane); a strained vertebrae in her neck; a partially fractured shin; and several deep cuts on her arms and legs.

It took her half the day just to be able to stand without getting too dizzy, but eventually she managed it and set out to find her mother, searching for a full day before giving up. During her search for her mother she found a bag of hard candy, which came to be her only food during her 10-day journey. She also stumbled across a small stream. Her father had once given her the very good advice that if she were ever lost in the rain-forest and came across a stream or river, she should follow it downstream because people tend to live on or near water, following a river long enough, should get you to civilization eventually.

So what did this barely-clothed, severely injured teenage girl do next? With her small bag of candy in one hand and her one remaining shoe in the other, she set out to find her way out of an almost impenetrable jungle and back to civilization.  

She knew from experience that snakes particularly liked to lay camouflaged under dry leaves, so when she wasn't walking in the water, she used her shoe, thrown before her, to test the ground for snakes (she couldn't see very well due to missing her glasses). Luckily, she never encountered any, that she saw at least, and she walked as much as possible in the stream as it was an easier way to go, rather than through the dense foliage. Within a day, the stream emptied into a small river and she began following this waterway. The going was a little bit easier, but she had to constantly keep a sharp eye out for crocodiles, water snakes, and other deadly aquatic wildlife.

Within 2 days, she started hearing King vultures around her, the sound of which she recognized from living at her parent’s research station a year and a half before, only about 30 miles from where the plane crashed. Because King vultures usually only land when there is carrion around, she figured there must be dead bodies from the plane crash that they were feeding on. She didn't see any bodies during the first 3 days, but on the fourth, she finally spotted some; three other passengers still strapped to their seats and rammed several feet deep, headfirst into the ground.

"I couldn't really see that much, only people's feet pointing up. I poked their feet with a stick. I couldn't touch the dead bodies. I couldn't smell anything and they hadn't been eaten yet or started to decay. I mean, sure, decay must have started, but I couldn't notice it. I could tell it was a woman because she had polished toenails and the others must have been two men, judging by their pants and shoes. I moved on after a while, but in the first moment I found them, it was like I was paralyzed."

During her trek, her wounds became infected and a large cut on her right arm was infested with maggots. This is something she’d seen happen to her dog before, with near disastrous results for the dog. Try as she might, though, she couldn't manage to get the maggots out as they were too deep in the wound. “I had this ring that was open on one side that you could squeeze together, and I tried with that. It didn't work because the hole was so deep. So I tried with a stick, but that didn't work either.”

On the tenth day she came across a boat. She was somewhat delirious by that time and thought it was a mirage until she finally came up to it and touched it. Next to the boat was a path, which she crawled up. At the end of the path was a small hut that was used by lumbermen. Empty at the time, she found an outboard motor and some diesel fuel in a barrel. She used a tube to suck out some of the fuel from the barrel and poured that on her maggot infested wound, something her father had done to her dog, though with kerosene. Although extremely painful, this worked and the maggots, after initially trying to burrow deeper into her arm, eventually came to the surface and she was able pick them out.

 She then tried to sleep in the hut, but with her wounds, found the ground to be too hard, so she went back down to the river side and spent the night laying in the sand. The next day she woke up and, hearing frogs all around her, tried to catch some to eat. Luckily for her she was unable to as they were poisonous dart frogs. At this point, she was debating whether to take the boat or not, something she didn't want to do as it was stealing, but ultimately decided to spend another night at the hut and leave in the boat the next day.

She ended up not having to do this because she soon heard voices, “like hearing angels’ voices”. Three men came out of the forest and spotted her. At first they thought she was a “Yemanj√°”, a type of blond, pale skinned water spirit. ”When they saw me, they were pretty freaked out.” However, she explained what had happened and how she got there and they had heard of the plane crash so they accepted her tale. They then fed her and cared for her wounds as best they could and took her downstream on a seven hour boat ride to a lumber station.

Once there, a local pilot knew of some missionaries nearby running a hospital in Pucuallpa. The pilot took her on a 15 minute flight to the hospital and the day after her rescue, she was reunited with her father. She then helped the search parties locate the crash site. On January 12th, they finally discovered her mother’s body. Like Juliane, her mother had apparently survived the fall. However, her injuries prevented her from moving and she ended up dying several terrible days later.

Juliane returned to the still debris littered crash site 40 years later.
Today, Juliane is alive and well, happily married with a family and has a PhD in Zoology. She is a librarian at the Bacarian State Zoological Collection in Munich and is living proof that miracles still happen.

Odd Coincidence - Cannibalism on The High Seas

In 1838, the famous horror writer, Egdar Allan Poe, wrote his only novel, 'The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym'. It was about four survivors of the shipwreck of the whaler Grampus who were in an open life boat for many days before they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker. Almost 50 years later, in 1884, the yawl, Mignonette, foundered with only four survivors, who were in an open boat for many days. Eventually, the three senior members of the crew killed and ate the 17-year old cabin boy. 24 days after killing and beginning to eat the boy, the 3 survivors were rescued by the sailing barque Montezuma, a ship named after the Aztec king noted for cannibalism. The name of the cabin boy they killed and ate? Richard Parker. 

Richard Parker
Richard Parker's grave