Even though it’s not Halloween yet, I came across this legend and found it too fascinating to pass up posting about it now. The most captivating thing about this legend is that it is absolutely true. Yep, all true.
First of all the words, El Muerto, mean “The Dead One.” Well, that’s hair raising enough, but wait until you hear how El Muerto came about. It seems Texas had its own version of The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, the famous legendary story by Washington Irving. And the Texas legend begins in reality. Get ready because here comes a most grisly tale of Texas justice.
Texas was a pretty wild and lawless place in the 1800’s with countless numbers of thieves and murderers running around playing havoc with the peaceful and law-abiding folk. Needless to say the lawmen had grown tired of this lawless bunch of outlaws behaving in such a way. The Texas Rangers burst on to the scene with a commitment to help the settlers fend off the Indian raids, lawless characters from south of the Rio Grande, and the countless other criminals who harassed and endangered the settlers.
In those days the Rio Grande River had been the declared border between the United States and Mexico, but the Mexican government claimed the border to be the Nueces River, so this land between those two rivers became a sort of “No Man’s Land” in which outlaws felt free to do what they pleased. Of course, we all know it would take a war between Mexico and the United States in 1846 to make the Rio Grande the official border. It would take another thirty years for the Texas Rangers to clean up the riff-raff in this former “No Man’s Land.”
Apparently these miscreants didn’t hear the warning bell that the Texas Rangers were patrolling the area and meant business because they believed they could continue their lawless behavior without consequence. Well, we all know you do not mess with the Texas Rangers. Texas Rangers were expert gunmen who roamed the area living out of their saddles doling out brutal justice.
Two of these Rangers were Creed Taylor and William Alexander Anderson “Big Foot” Wallace. “Big Foot” Wallace, by the way, was a folk hero in his own right. With Creed’s blessing, “Big Foot” inadvertently created the legendary El Muerto.
A man known as Vidal was about his lawless business of rustling cattle in 1850 down in South Texas. He had a “dead or alive” price on his head. A Comanche raid pulled the Rangers to the north to fight the Indians which left the settlements to the south temporarily unprotected. Vidal and three of his men took advantage of this temporary loss of protection and gathered up a hefty number of horses along the San Antonio River as they headed toward Mexico.
Apparently Vidal did not realize that among his stolen herd were several prized mustangs belonging to Texas Rangers Creed Taylor, Big Foot Wallace, and a rancher named Flores. Flores, Creed and Wallace didn’t have too difficult a time tracking down Vidal and his three men. What happened next is the stuff of legends.
"Big Foot" Wallace, Texas Ranger
The Rangers found the outlaws asleep in their camp. The thieves were killed including Vidal. But it wasn’t enough to just dole out justice by killing the outlaws. No sir, a warning for outlaws needed to go out and Vidal happened to be the perfect outlaw to use as an example. Big Foot Wallace lopped off Vidal’s head and sat the headless outlaw on a Mustang. He lashed Vidal to the horse to maintain a position sitting up as if riding the horse and lashed his head to the saddle in front of him. He then sent the Mustang out to wander freely with the grisly corpse on its back.
It was reported the following day by some cowboys that a gray horse bearing a headless rider rode through their camp with the headless rider shouting, “It’s mine. It’s all mine!” The sightings of the headless horseman grew in number. Cowboys and Indians were so terrified by the sight of the rider, they shot the corpse full of bullets and arrows. Years later, the Mustang was found and relieved if it gruesome rider who was finally buried, and then the horse was set free.
But even after the corpse of Vidal had been buried, reports were made of the headless horseman. A sighting of the corpse was reported near Freer, Texas in 1969. The legend lives on even today with sightings of a headless rider galloping through the mesquite on clear, moonlit nights in South Texas.
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: