A Texas Apparition – January 1892
January 24, 1892
A Texas Apparition
Richmond, Texas — The entire city is agog over an apparition which is said to visit Main Street every night about 12 o’clock, which takes the form of a large old-fashioned wagon of the sort known as an emigrant’s or prairie schooner, and is drawn by two oxen. The phantom is a commonplace spectacle enough and would attract but little notice was it not for the hour of its visit and the extraordinary phenomena attending its appearance. About two weeks ago the people residing on Main Street were awakened at the hour mentioned by the creaking of the wagon as it went along but thought nothing of the occurrence until the thing was repeated the next night and the night after when their curiosity concerning its errand began to be aroused.
Several prominent citizens waited on the fourth night and when the wagon approached hailed the driver, who could be somewhat indistinctly seen sitting rather back in the vehicle. No response was give to their hail which was repeated several times. The men ran forward and attempted to lay hold of the oxen’s heads when to their utter amazement nothing was to be found on the spot where the moment before a huge team was seen. It was gone as completely as a shadow before the sun but twenty or thirty feet further on the way was presently seen the wagon and oxen jolting on as composedly as ever.
Dumb struck at the occurrence, the men resolved to thoroughly investigate the matter before speaking of the puzzling thing they had just witnessed as they feared the story would meet with only incredulity and ridicule. They ran after the wagon but failed to overtake it before it was swallowed up in the night and were unable to find it again. The next night all were at their posts a full hour before the apparition made its appearance and the watchers of the night before, joined by others whose slumbers had also been disturbed by its passage, waited, guns and revolvers in hand, for the coming of the mysterious vehicle. It was seen coming promptly at the usual hour, appearing all at once just beyond the first house on the street, and moving along at a leisurely pace. The oxen appeared to be weary and dispirited, and every now and then the sound of a whip snapped in the air but no other sign of life could be heard or seen about the wagon itself. A dark figure sat on the seat, which was pushed back under the canvas, but whether the driver was a man or woman could not be decided. Several of the keenest-sighted declared it to be a man with his hat drawn far over his face while many others were quite as positive that the figure was that of a woman wearing a dark sunbonnet.
But whatever the sex of the driver, the shadowy figure paid not the slightest attention to the crowd collected and standing on both sides of the street. The oxen plodded on without sign that they heard the shouts and did not pause even for a moment. Twenty men sprang into the street as the wagon neared, twenty pairs of hands were put out to grasp its sides, the harness of the team, the team itself, but only empty air did they grasp. There was not even a trace of the phantom to be seen at that spot though it could be distinctly perceived disappearing in the distance. In the meantime, that portion of the crowd that had remained on the sidewalk continued to call out to those who had essayed to stop the wagon and seeing the mysterious vehicle as plainly as ever, could not but wonder at the discomfiture displayed by the others.
These spectator declare that the wagon moved placidly through the midst of the eager hands that grasped at it and to them no reason was visible why they could not have stayed it.
Excitement now became almost uncontrollable and it was impossible to keep the matter quiet so that on the following night the street was lined from end to end with a crowd determined to solve the mystery or know the reason why. Each man carried a weapon and across the street was stretched ropes and a roll of barbed wire attached to stout posts. Punctual to its tacit engagement the strange team made its appearance and as the night was brilliantly lighted by the full moon, the white canvas with the dark body below was more clearly outlined than ever. As it approached them Officers Gray and Connelly stepped out into the street directly in front of the oxen and called upon the phantom driver to halt. The next moment the men were seen to stagger back and stretch their length upon the ground while the wagon seemed to pass directly over their bodies. So sure was the crowd that this had happened that a volley of shots from half a hundred guns was poured into the vehicle. But without even a momentary check the team pursued its way through ropes and wire as if they had been but shadows of the things they were. The crowd ran after the wagon until it disappeared close to the river as mysteriously as it had come.
In the meanwhile, the officers had been taken up unconscious but unhurt in any way. it was hours before they could be restored to their senses. Both were genuinely frightened out of their wits.
Mr. Gray says: “Those that like may continue to investigate that wagon, or ghost of one, and what it carries but they may count me out. I am not afraid of anything I can hold on to and I’ll admit I’m a very poor hand at tackling the unreal. No, I won’t describe what I saw for I can’t and I don’t want my mind to dwell on it but I’ll tell you how I felt, and that was as if I’d stumbled on an iceberg in the dark. The air about that ghost’s team was colder than any ice I ever saw.”
Connelly confirms this statement about the inexpressible chill that came sweeping from the apparition. He says that as he fell back overpowered by it, he caught a glimpse of a number of dead faces in the wagon and the driver is a skeleton with burning eyes.
The ropes and wire fencing which had so little effect on the passage of the phantom were found to be unbroken and in their original position. Nonplused now and thoroughly alarmed, the citizens resolved to watch whence the apparition came and stations some twenty men the following night just beyond the spot near where the team had been first observed on each occasion but failure again resulted. The strictest watch was kept for the coming of the phantom but though all could swear it had not passed them, it was presently seen traveling slowly down the street just beyond their post. Where the wagon goes is likewise a mystery as yet unsolved. It simply disappears before the eyes of the watchers as if it had never been. The excitement produced grows hourly for the majority of the people, even the educated, intelligent class, is very nearly convinced that the occurrence can have but one origin and that a supernatural one, though what the object or meaning of the apparition all are equally at a loss to conjecture.
A portion of the populace spends the night and greater part of the day in carrying on religious services, weeping and shouting for mercy and likening the place to Sodom and Gomorrah. They are completely demoralized and cannot be induced to go to work.
There are a few skeptical spirits in the community who persist in expressing their belief that the people are being very cleverly hoaxed by someone, who by means of refraction and ingeniously disposed mirrors causes the reflection of such a team to pass down the street every night. In proof of this, they point out the fact that the phantom is not visible under the electric light that has been placed on the street, though on the other side of it the apparition is distinctly seen. But the theory is too far fetched to gain credence with the masses who are beginning to feel rather proud of the sensation created by it which brings in hosts of visitors from all over the country to see the thing for themselves. Richmond is one of the oldest towns in the State and was connected with many of the thrilling events of early Texas history.
Colonel Dan Thurber, one of the first settlers in the county, speaking of the mysterious travelers, says that in 1847 a similar excitement prevailed over a phantom wagon that traversed the village for seven days and heralded an outbreak of yellow fever that nearly depopulated the county. He says that at that time it was believed that the wagon carried a family of pioneers that had been taken with the fever while coming from Louisiana and smitten and dying had passed through the village but were not allowed to stop even to bury their dead of procure medicine for the sick. The oxen came back in a couple of weeks still hauling their load but the wagon was filled only with dead and decaying bodies.
As to the truth of this dreadful story Colonel Thurber could not be positive but knows that at the time that such was spoken of. Other old settlers admit that they have heard this story of the ghost wagon and one or two even remember having seen it in 1847. They are confident that the appearance presages evil to the community. It is now nearly a week since the phantom began its slow journeying and according to tradition has but one more trip to make.