Specters and spirits swirl through the lore of Central Texas

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(KWTX) Waco, like all communities, has a list of places said to be haunted and a handful of ghost stories.

Specters and spirits roam Central Texas not only on Halloween, but also all year round and at least one haunting tale has its roots in fact. (File)

And at least one of them has its roots in fact.

The Legend of Lindsey Hollow Road is the story of the vigilante lynching of two brothers, known cattle thieves, who were said to have stolen a horse.

"From what I've heard that is an actual true story," said Stephen O'Beirne, of Waco.

Waco historian the late Roger Conger, in his book "Legends of McLennan County," wrote "Legends of the McLennan County area have developed from some fact combined with much vivid fiction."

And while many local legends mirror those from other places, "there are a few stories that are truly indigenous to this area."

There's no specific date attached to the crime or the deaths of the brothers, other than some time in the 1870s or 1880s, but legend says a group of men set out to track the thieves down and soon found them along a dirt road that's now Lindsey Hollow Road.

"After a particularly severe season of horse stealing and cattle rustling, the men of the Bosqueville Community made up a party and set upon the trail of some suspected thieves.

"Two brothers by the name of Lindsey were soon discovered driving stolen cattle into a safe hiding place.

"The pursuing party headed them off and in the ensuing scrimmage one of the brothers was killed and the other was captured," Conger wrote.

As the story goes, many in the band of men wanted to kill the other bandit, "but reason prevailed, and the group started toward Waco and the jail.

"Just as the party entered a hollow, one man slipped behind the rest and shot Lindsey in the back of the head."

The first brother was buried where he fell, but the second was left lying dead on the road.

A few days later one of the men from Bosqueville returned to the place where the second man died, dragged him out of the roadway and buried him in a shallow grave, according to Conger.

Years later travelers and folks who lived in the area began to report strange sightings of ghostly cowboys, threatening them as they traveled the road, sometimes hanging from the branches of an oak tree.

"It is said that the spirit of Lindsey, unable to rest in the narrow grave, wanders restlessly up and down the hollow which, today, bears the name Lindsey Hollow," Conger wrote.

Intensive study of Waco-area newspapers from that time reveals that horse thieves in Waco, and throughout McLennan County were routinely encountered by lawmen, land and livestock owners, and vigilantes and many times the encounters ended violently.

From the Waco Daily Examiner, Tuesday, February 29, 1876: "STOLEN. One bay horse 9 years old, about 14-1/2 hands high, paces when traveling; small black spot under the right hip bone: JSJ branded as in margin.

"Stolen on the night of July 19. Any person finding or hearing of said horse will please address R. L. McElvck"

The Waco Daily Examiner, Friday, March 10, 1876: "HORSE STOLEN, About the middle of November last a horse was stolen from me—a deep bay, fifteen hands high, five years old, branded x K on the back of the figure 6, on the thigh. Any information In-regard to him will be amply rewarded. T. G. COKER"

From The Day (Waco, Texas), Thursday, November 24, 1887: "A bay horse above medium size, with saddle and bridle on. Disappeared this morning from the alley south of the Cohen building on Fifth Street. Anyone returning the same will be fairly compensated. Apply to Day office."

Another edition of the Waco Daily News, Nov. 25, 1885 reported masked vigilantes boarding the Missouri, Kansas and Texas train at Hillsboro, their faces covered with masks, then riding the train through Waco to Lorena, apparently guarding a strong box they'd brought aboard.

And this one from the Waco Daily News, Monday, November 25, 1889: "Mr. Wille Sills was awakened last Friday morning at about 2 o'clock by the barking of his dog accompanied by suspicious noise about his stable and made a rush for the lot.

"Upon arriving there he discovered that his horse was very much frightened but seeing nothing he concluded to return to the house for his lantern and some more clothes.

"He made the trip as quick as possible, but when he got back to the stable his horse was gone."

The legend may have factual roots

Waco was a wild place back then, so there is a reasonable probability that the legend's origin lies in an actual event.

Lindsey Hollow Road, which runs just west of Cameron Park between Herring Avenue on the south and Baker Lane on the north, today is prime old Waco real estate and many of the houses that face it were built by prominent early community leaders.

It's a beautiful area of the city, bordering Cameron Park, but drive that tree-shrouded roadway at night, especially near the "Witching Hour" and it is, in the purest definition, spooky.

That part of town was great fodder for Bradley Turner, assistant professor at McLennan Community College, as he gathered research for his book "Cotton Bales, Goatmen & Witches: Legends from the Heart of Texas."

"Where it gets kind of crazy, people who drive along or walk along Lindsey Hollow see their bodies hanging from the tree," Turner said.

"When it comes to folklore, a lot of people obsess or try to find out if this stuff is true or not," said Turner, and folklore is something that changes over time as stories are told and re-told.

Turner says the true meaning, "the purpose of the story isn't necessarily that it happened. The purpose of the story might be entertainment, might be moral, etcetera."

Lover's Leap and witches in Cameron Park

Take the Legend of Lover's Leap, probably the best known and most often repeated local story.

The legend maintains Wah-Wah-Tee, the daughter of the Chief of the Huecos, fell in love with an Apache brave just as the approaching band of Apaches was threatening an attack on the Huecos.

"Wah-Wah-Tee, she goes to meet her lover, but a member of her tribe followed her," Conger wrote, he saw the meeting and reported it to the maiden's father.

"Her father and her brothers go to kill the Apache, but before they could the Apache and Wah-Wah-Tee embrace and jump off the cliff to their deaths," Conger wrote.

The legend says when the moon and river is full, the figures of the two can be seen on the cliff.

"There's Lovers' Leaps all over — everywhere," Turner said. "It's always the same legend. Anywhere from Jamaica, North Carolina; it doesn't matter."

Another local favorite is the witches in Cameron Park, at least a portion if which likely is based in fact.

"The Cameron Park Witch was actually a Victorian nanny to the Cameron children," Turner said.

The Cameron family owned the land where the park is set aside long before the park was dedicated and during that time vagrants would camp out on the property.

"When the Cameron children would play in the forest, the nanny would go along with them, and if they encountered a vagrant trespassing, the nanny would chase the intruders off of the land," Turner says.

She would use a switch to shoo intruders away.

"Legend is, she was probably called the witch while she was still living," Turner said.

The legend says after the nanny fell ill and died, "the bums and the vagrants, in particular, would still see her ghost walking through the park chasing after them," Turner said.

"She'd fetch a switch. In some cases, she would look frantic like she lost the children, and she would attack the person thinking they had kidnapped them.

"In the winter, she would be carrying a lantern, crying out for them, and whenever she came across you, she would beat you with a switch or knock you senseless," Turner says the legend recalls.

"There is no actual house," O'Beirne said. "You'll see these walls, and you walk around. You'll see these areas that actually still have crumbling walls in places."

On his first trip there, he and his friends encountered something unusual around the witching hour.

"We went there about 2:30 a.m. We were just running around the trails, just kind of looking around," he said. "It was a pretty still night, and suddenly, the wind picked up out of nowhere. It started blowing hard, and someone asked what time it was. I flipped open my phone, and it was 3 a.m. exactly."

He and his friends quickly left the area.

"We didn't see any witches — nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "It is just kind of a spooky place," O'Beirne said.

For those who enjoy goblins and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, other stories to check out include sidebars to the Cameron Park witch legend, one that details how other scary women haunt spaces and frighten children, and the one that haunts Jacob's ladder.

Other haunts in other places

Then there's the Armstrong Browning Library on the Baylor Campus where namesake Elizabeth Barrett Browning's ghost is said to walk at night, carrying a candle and wearing a white gown or has been spied looking out an upstairs window.

Just west, near Woodway, the legends include witchcraft and peeping Toms.

Folks have seen figures and heard screams, and a ghostly man is said to roam in the deep woods.

Up the road in Hillsboro the 1895 Tarlton House, a popular bed-and-breakfast, is said to be occupied by the spirit of the builder, Mr. Tarlton, who hanged himself on the mansion's third floor after his second wife died and now wanders the hallways and staircases where visitors have heard his footsteps and felt cool gusts of wind on their faces.

In Gatesville, the Coryell County Courthouse is said to be haunted by a male spirit known as 'Elroy' who causes cold breezes to blow and furniture moves around by itself.

An oil painting of the courthouse by local artist in the 1990s includes a shadowy figure peering out a second-floor window over Main Street.

In Belton, the Wedemeyer Academy, formerly a boy's school during the 1800's, is haunted by a number of spirits, including former students and the apparition of a former owner.

Visitors report hearing footsteps on the stairs, and a strange voice inside.

Also, in Belton the old county jail, built in the 1850s, is home to the spirit of a former inmate who has been seen glaring out an upstairs window onto the street.

And in nearby Killeen, at Hastings Books and the adjacent Randall's Food Store employees reported encountering a ghostly presence who has been known to knock merchandise off racks or set up pyramids of canned food in the aisles during the night.

The Maxdale Cemetery and Bridge, just southeast of Killeen, is haunted by a ghost with a limp whom many believe is the spirit of a former cemetery caretaker.

A nearby old iron bridge is said to be haunted as well, and, as the story goes, if a driver were to stop on the bridge, turn off their headlights, count to 10, then turn the headlights back on, a man hanging from a noose will appear.

It is believed that he hanged himself after failing to save the life of his girlfriend, who drowned under the bridge.

In Corsicana the Emhouse Schoolhouse, abandoned since the late 1950s allegedly is routinely the site of paranormal activity that still is being reported inside the abandoned building.

Visitors report having seen a flying apparition on the upper level of the building, and spectral lights have been observed on the upper and lower levels.