I’ve run across some cool headless horsemen legends I wanna tell you about. Yeah, get Icabod Crane out of your heads, these aren’t works of fiction, these legends are a big part of haunted history in the areas where they originate. Let’s start out in south Texas, shall we?
So, the legend of El Muerto has been around for a very long time, the mid 1800’s to be exact. Back in the day there was a little strip of land between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers that was known as no man’s land. The area was well known to be a haven for horse thieves and cattle rustlers, and back then, these crimes were worse than murder. Things had gotten so bad in this area that the Texas Rangers basically deputized posses and sent them out to handle business, but it wasn’t going so well for them.
One of the worse bandits to encounter in no man’s land was a man named Vidal. By 1850, this dude had a high price on his head and was wanted dead or alive. And on the flip side, two of the worst rangers for bandits to encounter in this area were Taylor Creed and William “Big Foot” Wallace. Now, these two in particular had spent a lot of time running these criminals out of the area and they’d resorted to some pretty brutal tactics because shooting and hanging them from trees just hadn’t seemed to get the point across.
Well it just so happened that while both of these guys were out of town defending a white settlement against Comanche attacks. Vidal and his hoodlums decide to steal Creed’s livestock. When Creed gets home and finds several of his prized mustangs gone, the shit hits the fan. He and Wallace join up with a neighboring rancher by the name of Flores and they track down Vidal and his associates shortly thereafter.
So they wait outside of Vidal’s camp and once they’re certain that everyone was asleep, they sneak in and kill every last one of them. Knowing that this wasn’t going to make the statement that they wanted to make, Big Foot cuts off Vidal’s head then fastens his headless body to a saddle that he strapped to a wild mustang. Then he ties Vidal’s hat to his head and fastens it to the saddle as well before sending the mustang to roam the country side as a warning.
It didn’t take long before stories began circulating about a headless horseman seen riding around no man’s land. The apparition scared the Hell out of Cowboys and Indians alike and soon Vidal’s mutilated body was full of bullet holes and arrows. People stated calling this headless horseman El Muerto. As time went by a legend grew that people must avoid this strange apparition because when it was seen, some evil misfortune would befall them.
In the end, a group of ranchers caught up with this poor burdened horse near Alice, Texas. They buried Vidal’s body in an unmarked grave near the tiny community of Ben Bolt. As soon as his body was laid to rest, soldiers at Fort Inge began to see the apparition of a headless rider. Travelers and ranchers in No Man’s Land also reported seeing this strange sight.
One written account was recorded in 1917. It mentions that a couple traveling to San Diego, Texas made camp for the night near a stream. As they sat at their fire, they saw a large grey stallion speed by with a headless man atop it. They stated they heard him shouting, “It is mine. It is mine.” Yet other witnesses saw a similar sight in 1969 outside the town of Freer, Texas. Even today, people still claim to see El Muerto galloping through the mesquite in the bush country on moonlit nights.
Well Old El Muerto isn’t the only headless horseman out there today, there’s a legend in southern Illinois about a man named Joel Lakely. This story came to life back before the 1830’s around what is known today as Lakely’s Creek. The creek, in fact, was named after Lakely. So, Joel built his home near a shallow spot in the creek where it was easy for folks to cross over. He was a sociable kind of guy and enjoyed meeting riders as they passed by his home.
Well, old Joel was murdered by his son in law one day, no one knows why. His headless body was found propped up against a tree and beside him was the very axe that he had used to cut down trees when building his home. His body and head were buried there next to his new house. It wasn’t long before folks that crossed the stream there began witnessing some very strange things. There were reports being made that people would hear heavy horse hooves behind them as they went to cross the creek but when they turned to see who followed them there was no evidence of another rider or horse.
Other witnesses experienced something more terrifying. They too had heard the horse hooves but when they turned around to see who was behind them, they saw a large black horse with a headless rider. Witnesses stated this horrible apparition would chase them–at least until they reached the creek.
All these accounts mention that this headless rider was always seen downstream from from where the witnesses were, which is the same side of the creek near the forest area where Lakey was murdered. This rider and his horse would not follow them across the creek but instead would turn back and go downstream.
Sightings of this headless horseman have endured for over 200 years. This apparition is still seen today. The old ford along Lakey’s Creek has been abandoned for years and there’s a modern bridge that crosses the creek today. It is on this bridge where travelers report seeing Lakely, the headless horseman.
What about one more headless horseman, you know it’s more fun when there’s three right! I know where your mind went! Anyway, in Irish legends the horseman is known as a Dullahan, who’s agenda is a little different than the first two. The Dullahan is basically a reaper, he comes around to grab the souls of those that are dying. His description is basically the same, big guy, no head. He is said to ride around on a massive black horse that either also has no head or if he does, he’s got clipped ears and glowing red eyes. The Dullahan, I have to say, is a bit more intimidating than El Muerto and Joel Lakely, that’s for sure. He uses a human spine as a whip and if you were to lock eyes with him, he’s gonna snatch your eyes out! because he can. Now this dudes head isn’t missing, he usually carries it around with him, he holds it up to see with, and he can see for miles and miles, even in pitch dark he can look right inside the house of the dying even if it’s somewhere across the countryside from where he stands. Sometimes he’s known to set his head back on his shoulders but more than often, he’s in the habit of throwing it at folks.
Now sometimes the Dullahan would arrive in style, sitting on top of what is known as the death coach. In his hands are the reins which are attached to 6 black horses that draw the carriage so fast that bushes and trees sometimes catch fire in their wake. And there was no hiding from him once the wheels on the carriage began to turn as the Dullahan could not return empty handed. To see or hear him coming was a sure sign that you or someone in your household was fixing to bite it. Nothing could deter the Dullahan, even locks on gates or doors suddenly spring open in his presence. The legend goes further to say that if you hear him coming and you open your door and he wasn’t there for you, you would be covered in buckets of blood or even worse be rendered blind in his presence, the only hope you would have, would be to expose him to solid gold. For some reason he doesn’t like it, and gold will send him barrelling back to the depths from which he arose, at least temporarily.
So one quirky fact about this legendary headless horseman, why is he headless? Well because ancient Celts believed that the soul resided in your head. That’s why when the warriors encountered a worthy opponent they were sure to take his head. They further believed that if they were to attach the head to a pole outside of their home, that it would begin to shriek if the enemy was approaching.
Oh and there’s this tale, he’s not a horseman but he’s got a little issue with his head! So William Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633-1645. During this time religion was in turmoil and Laud had made some serious enemies. He once had 3 prominent Puritan’s ears and then branded their SL on their cheeks which stood for Seditious Libeller. That means that they organized against whatever was socially acceptable in some way.
Eventually, his enemies gained enough political power to have him arrested and beheaded for subverting Protestantism and alienating the King from his subjects.
Before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud was the Chancellor of Oxford University. His gruesome end has become associated with a haunting at the library of St. John’s College in Oxford. At night, it is said, a ghostly figure can be seen walking the building, carrying a candle in his hand as he kicks his own severed head along the floor.
And here’s one more quick tale for you, This one is about the ghost of a drummer boy. Rumor has it that a mysterious drumming noise can be heard in the walls of Edinburgh Castle. The source of this lonely sound is said to be a phantom drummer boy. According to the story, the boy is seen whenever the castle is under threat, first appearing in 1650 when Oliver Cromwell launched an attack. When he appears, the ghostly drummer boy lacks a head.
Ghostly drummer boys are a recurring motif in legends around the world—for example, one such spirit is said to have been haunting Shiloh in America since the days of the Civil War. However, the headless nature of the ghost of Edinburgh Castle marks him out as a unique case, Bet he got caught putting that little head somewhere it didn’t belong!
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