On the Platte River between Torrington and Alcova, Wyoming, a legend persists that a “Ship of Death” continues to sail upon the sometimes dangerous waters. The phantom ship is said to rise out of a strange mist that quickly becomes a massive rolling ball of fog. As the ship grows closer, witnesses report that its sails and masts are covered with frost. Upon its deck stands the crew, also covered with frost, and huddled around a corpse lying on a canvas sheet. The legend continues that the ship always foreshadows the death of someone who will die on the day that it is spotted. As the crew steps back, the identity of the corpse is revealed as a person known by the witness.
The first alleged sighting was made in 1862 by a trapper named Leon Weber. When the crew stepped back, the corpse revealed the body of Weber’s fiancé who died later on that same day. Another sighting of the phantom ship was made by cattleman, Gene Wilson in 1887 when he saw the body of his wife laid out on the canvas. In 1903, another tale describes that when Victor Heibe was chopping down a tree on his riverfront property, he spied the ship. Laid out on the deck was the body of a close friend.
Every case was reported in the late fall, and in all cases, the person seen upon the deck of the phantom ship died on the very same day.
One of the sightings allegedly occurred six miles southeast of the town of Guernsey, Wyoming. Another sighting was said to have occurred at Bessemer Bend on the Platte River.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated October 2019.