BOO – Even the wild west had ghosts and goblins!

Dia de los Muertos!

Happy Halloween for you Gringos!

Storytelling and lore were important pastimes for folks before books could be widespread and literacy was common. While it’s unclear whether Halloween as we know it was observed in 1887, it was celebrated.  Dia de Los Muertos was originally a Mexican holiday celebrated in the summer that was spent visiting relatives’ graves and tombs, removing debris from them, and remembering the person that died.  That transitioned to November first and second and people bringing food and drink to the cemeteries. Partly through this celebration, the Mexican people didn’t look at death as scary, but instead, something to smile about.

It seems the Halloween similar to the one we observe was brought to the United States with the Irish famine immigration serge in the 1840s. My inclusion of the holiday with scary stories might be a bit of a stretch, although Zio would have likely seen the Irish version as a youngster in New York City until he was about nineteen. That combined with his love of acting makes my ghouls and goblins chapter entirely within the realm of an event made for the Fountains’ storytelling hearth.

Here’s a couple of teasers from the stories told at the Fountain’s hearth that night and another that Jesus and Tommy experience first hand.

“There once was a beautiful woman and her wealthy husband, who were among the first settlers in our area. At first, the husband was a loving mate, and soon they had a son, and then another and another. When her husband needed to hunt or journey for provisions, he left her alone with the boys for only a few days, at most.

“As time passed and the boys grew, her husband became distant and only paid attention to their sons. He made excuses to travel afar without saying where he was going. The woman could feel their marriage slipping away.”

The audience shook their heads, some sighed and even some ‘tsks’ were heard.

“She tried everything to regain his affections, and for a while, it seemed she might. Then, one day he left again and was away for some time during which she discovered she was once more with child. When he returned home, she hid her truth from him with loose clothing, but he noticed the change and accused her of becoming fat and lazy, and he banished her from their bed.”

“There once was a beautiful woman and her wealthy husband, who were among the first settlers in our area. At first, the husband was a loving mate, and soon they had a son, and then another and another. When her husband needed to hunt or journey for provisions, he left her alone with the boys for only a few days, at most.

“As time passed and the boys grew, her husband became distant and only paid attention to their sons. He made excuses to travel afar without saying where he was going. The woman could feel their marriage slipping away.”

The audience shook their heads, some sighed and even some ‘tsks’ were heard.

“She tried everything to regain his affections, and for a while, it seemed she might. Then, one day he left again and was away for some time during which she discovered she was once more with child. When he returned home, she hid her truth from him with loose clothing, but he noticed the change and accused her of becoming fat and lazy, and he banished her from their bed.”

“There once was a beautiful woman and her wealthy husband, who were among the first settlers in our area. At first, the husband was a loving mate, and soon they had a son, and then another and another. When her husband needed to hunt or journey for provisions, he left her alone with the boys for only a few days, at most.

“As time passed and the boys grew, her husband became distant and only paid attention to their sons. He made excuses to travel afar without saying where he was going. The woman could feel their marriage slipping away.”

The audience shook their heads, some sighed and even some ‘tsks’ were heard.

“She tried everything to regain his affections, and for a while, it seemed she might. Then, one day he left again and was away for some time during which she discovered she was once more with child. When he returned home, she hid her truth from him with loose clothing, but he noticed the change and accused her of becoming fat and lazy, and he banished her from their bed.”

Another story told that night was a surprise by a person you might not have expected it from. Where as the other tales are stories that have truly been told, this one is fictional … or is it.

“The trip over the ridge and down the gulch to the spot Papa liked, always went well enough, but I regularly had this eerie feeling that we were descending into depths of hell. The trip in was of course always made in full daylight, but often as not we began packing up after the western ridge cast its murky shadow over the gulch in the evening. That’s when the strange noises started. They were guttural, I guess you would say, with screeches and squawks. I would see strange figures jumping from one tree to another as I have read monkeys will do, but they were only visible briefly and when they reached the next tree they disappeared.”

The audience mumbled. 

“Papa would tell me that owls and grackles were fighting. The owl to bring on the night and the grackle to extend the day and the figures I saw were my imagination — most likely the result of my reading. His explanation sounded reasonable, but sometimes, while Papa loaded his pans or other equipment, he wouldn’t hear what I heard. The noises during those times sounded like words. That was when I wanted to stop going to White Oaks Gulch. For a time, Papa went alone, but the noises must have followed him home because one hot August night, my bedroom window was open and I heard ‘ooohawww — youtookmagol — eeeeeeeyoweeee over and over. At first, I covered my head, but the noises grew louder and I gathered enough courage to go to my window to see. Before I reached the window, in unison, the creatures repeated, ‘ommmaaaaa — wantitback — waaaayeaow.”

Whispers spread through the room.

“There, in the cottonwood tree across the yard in front of our house were at least a dozen eyes glowing with the reflection of the moon. At first, I thought the bodies became visible because they shifted slightly or the moonlight would change, but soon I realized that their visibility was something they controlled. It seemed they changed colors and a strange brightening of their — dare I call it skin — made them more and less visible.

“They were squat, with round bellies and thin as a broom-handle arms and legs with elongated toes and fingers. Their bright large oval eyes never blinked and their hairy ears were long and pointy. The sheer horror of their general appearance kept my attention until a fluorescent purple forked tongue emerged to snap up an unaware insect or lizard, revealing fang-like teeth.”

The audience murmured something.

The last story wasn’t told at the Fountains’ hearth. The lore about the naming of Las Cruces is varied and substantial. However, one story, which I’ve always thought matches up to the three crosses sculpture on the old Las Cruces Country Club property, tells of the first settlers being wiped out by raiding Apaches.

Jesus, Tommy, and their friends venture out after several hearth stories to see an impromptu cemetery on a hill that Tommy heard an old man talking about. I think the following tidbit and its full story in “The San Augustin” fits well with the stories I’ve read about what might have happened there hundreds of years ago and why we have the name Las Cruces – “The Crosses”.

There were many deteriorated cholla stems and other desert woody vegetation. A few were still attached in a cross-like fashion, but most lay loose. Rock cairns were scattered around, some still piled neatly as though somebody had kept them, while time or someone had knocked others over. The moon disappeared behind a dense cloud, and that’s when I heard something … or was it only the susurration of dried leaves. The moon reemerged as I looked toward the small thicket of desert willow we passed through on our way up the slope. The moon went behind a cloud again, and I thought I caught a pale object flash through the willows at a distance of about one hundred feet. I looked at Tommy, expecting to see him grin sheepishly, but he showed no signs of a practical joke. Again, the moon disappeared, and I noted footsteps coming toward us in the dried tinder… kasprit…kasprit.. kasprit and then more rapidly… kasprit. kasprit. kasprit! For an instant, I glimpsed a white-bearded, nearly transparent man carrying a scythe. Before I could point or say anything, the moon was bright again, and the image disappeared.

Suddenly I realized we had all inched backward and stood in the middle of the impromptu cemetery with our backs to each other. Someone had a death grip on my forearm. I looked over, and it was Jacky. One of the younger boys broke and ran down the hillside on a beeline through desert brambles with barely a yelp.

I looked up to see a large clear patch of sky and said, “These ghosts — or whatever they are — seem to only like full darkness.” I pointed to the sky and said, “We’re going to have full moonlight for a time now.” Everyone looked to the sky as they turned to the middle, creating a little huddle. “If we are planning to leave, I suggest we go now. If not, we need some kind of plan.”

Sorry about leaving you all in the lurch with these excerpts, but hey that’s why they call ’em teasers, I guess. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed them and are motivated to get “The San Augustin – The Two Valleys Saga: Book Two”

Mary

 

 

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