"Hell, with the fires out," is what the Bad Lands of
have been called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is
an ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into
forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canons
wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but bleak,
savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills,
rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and
wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization.
It may have been the white victim of a red man's jealousy that haunts the
region of the butte called "Watch Dog," or it may have been an Indian
woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose
cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a
bear or panther.
moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and unearthly, and the
noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the ghost is seen
on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing, her arms
tossing in strange gestures.
If war parties,
cowboys, hunters, any who for good or ill are going through this
country, pass the haunted butte at night, the rocks are lighted with
phosphor flashes and the banshee sweeps upon them. As if wishing to
speak, or as if waiting a question that it has occurred to none to
ask, she stands beside them in an attitude of appeal, but if asked
what she wants she flings her arms aloft and with a shriek that echoes
through the blasted gulches for a mile she disappears and an instant
later is seen wringing her hands on her hill-top. Cattle will not
graze near the haunted butte and the
cowboys keep aloof from it, for the word has never been spoken
that will solve the mystery of the region or quiet the unhappy
The creature has a companion, sometimes,
in an unfleshed skeleton that trudges about the ash and clay and
haunts the camps in a search for music. If he hears it he will sit
outside the door and nod in time to it, while a violin left within his
reach is eagerly seized and will be played on through half the night.
The music is wondrous: now as soft as the stir of wind in the sage,
anon as harsh as the cry of a wolf or startling as the stir of a
rattler. As the east begins to brighten the music grows fainter, and
when it is fairly light it has ceased altogether. But he who listens
to it must on no account follow the player if the skeleton moves away,
for not only will it lead him into rocky pitfalls, whence escape is
hopeless, but when there the music will intoxicate, madden, and will
finally charm his soul from his body.
Compiled and edited by
of America, updated June, 2016.