El Muerto: The Texas Headless Horseman

The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the topic.

Welcome to Freaky Friday and our last October paranormal post.  It’s high time we talk about some kind of boogey man.  Plenty of boogey men can be found in Texas lore.  One of the most interesting is El Muerto…the Texas Headless Horseman.

The Texas Hill Country turns white and rocky as it runs into South Texas Brush Country. That close to the Mexican border, the landscape looks like a spaghetti western.  According to legend, El Muerto has wandered this area since the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Imagine driving back to your hotel after dark.  You’re tired after a long day of seeing what this mysterious stretch of Texas has to offer.  Movement along the roadside catches your eye.

The familiar gait of a horse comes into focus.  Its rider is a dim smudge in the dark night.  A gust of wind sweeps the clouds off the moon, and the horseman twists in the saddle to watch you pass.  He has no head.  A sombrero dangles from his saddle.  Stuffed in the sombrero is a decapitated head.

Your stomach plummets. You punch the gas.  A few miles down the road, you convince yourself you are just tired.  You won’t stray so far from your hotel again at night.

The story of El Muerto begins with Creed Taylor.  Taylor was present at several key battles in the Texas Revolution.  He fought Indians as a Texas Ranger.  He fought as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.

In spite of his wild adventures, Creed Taylor lived into his 80s.  He recounted his experiences to John Warren Hunter, a Texas historian and newspaper man.  The following is one of the stories Creed Taylor told Mr. Hunter.

During the Seige of Bexar in December 1835, Creed and the other Texians were hiding in a house outside San Antonio.  Bate Berry–who was known for scalping Mexican soldiers–captured a deserter and brought him back to the house.  This deserter, a Lieutenant Vuvais, exchanged information about the Mexican Army for his life.

Creed Taylor photo courtesy of The Texian Legacy

Creed encountered Vuvais again in 1848.  Vuvais, who was calling himself Vidal, had become a horse thief.  He and his cohorts were making life miserable for the Texas Rangers.

Two of Creed’s fellow Texas Rangers, William “Bigfoot” Wallace and John McPeters, tracked the Vuvais/Vidal gang to an area near present day Uvalde, close to the Nueces River.  The Rangers killed the horse thieves and decided to create a warning out of Vuvais/Vidal’s remains.

William “Bigfoot” Wallace

Bigfoot Wallace and John McPeters decapitated Vuavis/Vidal and tied his body on the back of a wild stallion.  They shoved his head into his sombrero and used the strap to secure it.  They attached the sombrero–and head–to the pommel of the saddle and turned the horse loose.

This grisly warning to horse thieves wandered the Texas countryside for an unknown period of time.  Those who encountered it filled it with bullets and arrows.  The story goes that the wild stallion was eventually caught near Alice, Texas.  Its headless rider was cut off its back and buried in an unmarked grave.

People didn’t quit seeing El Muerto, though.  The South Texas Brush Country belonged to El Muerto.  The phantom rider was credited with  all sorts of evil deeds and bad luck.  He instilled terror in the hearts of those who feared they might meet him on a dark, lonely night.

Sightings of El Muerto continued through the latter 1800s, especially near Fort Inge–near present day Uvalde.  In 1917, a couple claimed they saw El Muerto near San Diego, Texas.  He rode past their camp shouting, “It is all mine.”  In 1969, a posse on a man-hunt reported seeing El Muerto near Freer, Texas.  People as far away as El Paso, New Mexico, and even Mexico still report seeing El Muerto endlessly riding on horseback.

If you find yourself driving down a lonesome highway after dark and you see a figure riding on horseback, don’t look too closely.  Just step on the gas and keep on driving.  Otherewise, you might see something you’ll wish you could forget.  You might see El Muerto, the Texas Headless Horseman.

Sources:

The Handbook of Texas Online

Legends of America “El Muerto – The Headless Horseman” by Kathy Weiser

The Dallas Morning News, June 22, 2003, “He Lost his Head; We Got a Tale” by Kent Biffle

Both Sides of the Border: A Scattering of Texas Folklore, “The Evolution of a Legend: or It may not be true, but it makes a good story” by Lou Ann Herda

Weird Texas, “El Muerto – The Headless Rider”

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