Spooky Alton Bridge

The one-lane, wooden-floored "Old Alton Bridge," as it is known, was constructed in 1884 to connect the Texas towns of Lewisville and Alton in Denton County. It well served the communities and surrounding farms until it was replaced by a new bridge in 2002. My family and I lived just a few miles from the old bridge and before it was replaced, often drove over the creaking, rather scary structure to visit friends on the other side of the creek. Although the bridge shaved three miles off the closest alternate route from our friend's house to ours, I rarely drove over it after dark.

For several miles the little 2-lane black-top road on either side of the bridge goes through an isolated area with no houses and no street lights to break up the dark. Large trees grow in thick profusion on both sides of the roadway. Very pretty in the daytime, very spooky in the dark. The bridge itself takes courage to drive an auto across. The bed is made of wooden boards laid crosswise and you have to carefully steer your car to keep your tires on the thick lengthwise boards. While you cross, the bridge creaks and pops, the boards moan and you see water rushing by in the creek below through spaces in broken slats. It's impossible to not hold your breath and clench your hands on the steering wheel until you reach the far side. Unsettling in the daytime, positively unnerving in the dark.

The bridge the morning after my
spooky encounter.
One cold winter night, for some illogical reason, I dared to drive that spooky route. As if to prove to myself that I'm not afraid of the dark, I stopped my car on the road just before reaching the edge of the bridge. As usual, there were no other cars in sight and it was extremely dark as even the moonlight was blocked out by the overhanging trees. I turned off the headlights and rolled down the window, but even though my car was rather new and the engine was very quiet, its hum was all I could hear so I turned the key off. The silence in that blackness was total with none of the normal sounds you would expect to hear; no birds chirping, no dogs barking in the distance, no traffic noise on some distant road, no nothing. My senses told me something was not right.

Suddenly, there came a noise from the woods and it was very close! It sounded like some animal, maybe a coyote or a feral pig skulking through leaves. It was just a short sound and before I could react, all was quiet again. I looked as closely into the woods as I could, all my senses on high alert, but for a number of seconds there was still no sound. The seconds seemed to be minutes until with no warning, I heard a sound like a twig breaking under a footstep and then a rustling of leaves several times in procession. It sounded for all the world like somebody, a 2-legged somebody, was slowly walking through the leaves in that black jungle. I didn't wait to see if I could find out what it was. It took about 2 seconds for me to start the car, roll up the window, put it in Drive and get the heck on down the road!

I drove onto the bridge and didn't take my foot off the gas even where it is usually prudent to slow to a crawl to be sure your car is situated correctly on the boards for the drive across. Fortunately, I made it over safely, fearing at any moment that something, man or beast, would pop up in front of me at the end of the bridge. That was the last time I ever drove that route after dark. I decided to see what I could find about that bridge and the area around it. I figured it was just too spooky to not have some kind of history associated with it. I figured right.

In the early 1860's as the Civil War raged, a bunch of area cowboys took it upon themselves to punish a slave goat-herder named Jack Kendall for some offense which has been lost to history. They tied one end of a rope around his neck and the other end around a sturdy tree limb  of a large oak tree which was growing next to the creek right where the Alton Bridge would later be built. They drug him to the top of the creek bank and threw him out toward the water. It was a long fall and the rope used was thinner than it should have been so when poor Jack Kendall hit the end of the rope, his head was severed and his body dropped into the creek. Stories of a headless apparition wandering up and down the creek, apparently in search of his missing head, have been told for over 150 years now.

 The story which has taken hold and gained the most notoriety though is of Oscar Washburn, an African-American man who gained a reputation in the 1930's as an honest, dependable business man who raised and sold goats and goat products. He and his wife and children lived in a small cabin in the woods a short distance from the Alton bridge. He was popular with many of the locals for the quality of the goat meat, milk, cheese and hides he sold at a very reasonable price. To help the unfamiliar easily find him, he hung a big sign on the end of the bridge which read, "This way to the Goatman." Unfortunately, this popularity came to the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan who didn't take kindly to a black man taking away business from other local goat raisers.

The exact spot where Oscar Washburn was
hung over the side of the bridge.
One dark night in 1938, with their car's headlights off, the Klansmen drove across the bridge to the Goatman's little cabin and dragged him away from his wailing wife and crying children. They took him back to the middle of the bridge to a noose they had prepared ahead of time and after roughly slipping it over his head, flung the pleading Goatman over. Much to their surprise, they heard a watery splash below the bridge and when they looked over the side, they were shocked to see an empty noose and no sign of their victim.

 The Night Riders split up and quickly ran to both ends of the bridge where they scrambled down the embankments to the water's edge. After frantically searching for half an hour with no sign of their intended prey, they returned to the Washburn residence. After a quick search proved he was not there, the men barricaded the front door and with mother and children huddled together inside, the cabin was set on fire. They hoped the screams of his family would bring the Goatman into the open where they intended to capture him, securely tie him up and throw him alive onto the raging inferno, but their plan didn't work. The screams of the innocent mother and children were silenced as the burning walls crumbled.

Oscar Washburn was never seen again. Some believe that just like poor Jack Kendall, the Goatman's head popped off that night when he was hung and his body was washed away by the quickly flowing waters after it dropped through the noose. Others believe he survived the botched hanging and ran far away from the area, leaving behind his poor family to suffer a horrible death. To this day, what is certain though are the eerie and strange happenings on and around the Alton bridge.

Many say the unforgiving spirit of the Goatman still haunts these woods. Locals warn to not cross the bridge with headlights turned off for if you do, you will surely be met on the other side by none other than the vengeful Goatman himself. There are persistent reports of a ghostly apparition herding a bunch of almost transparent goats being seen in the dark on the road leading from the bridge. The apparition and goats disappear as quickly as they appear. Others have seen a pair of unholy red, glowing eyes staring at them from the tree's or have glimpsed the fleeting image of a large goat-headed-man-beast in the shadows of the forest which is usually accompanied by the revolting smell of rotten flesh. Often there are tales of unexplained noises such as hoof beats of goats running across the bridge, loud splashing in the waters below the bridge or a low non-human growl coming from the trees near the bridge.

There has been a rash of documented cases by the police where people have vanished with no trace around this seemingly cursed bridge. In the 1950's, a local high school boy and his girlfriend were reported missing when they failed to return from a Friday night date. The boy's car was found the next morning parked in the woods beside the bridge with both front doors open. They have still never been found and the case is a total mystery. On November 15, 1967, a Ford Mustang was found by police parked at the end of the bridge. They eventually found out who owned the car, but the person has never been found.

In 2002, a new road and bridge was built to replace the old one. The original Alton bridge is still there, but since then, the odd happenings and reports of strange apparitions and unexplained phenomena seem to have decreased some. Daring teenagers like to hang out there at night in groups, spray-painting graffiti and trying to scare each other. But even the most daring teenagers do not go there at night alone.

 I don't know what I heard the night I stopped on that dark, lonely road. I didn't stick around trying to find out. One thing I do know for sure though, it wasn't just my imagination...something was out there.