Elizabeth Ayers and I have traded days for October and she will post on the 26th.
With Halloween decorations everywhere and the haunting time drawing near, today I'm sharing a tale of a genuine ghost in Erath County, Texas. Yes, I said genuine—as in real, authentic, actual. Read on if you dare …
There are several versions of the story of Jennifer Papworth, her husband Charlie, their son Temple, and their infant daughter. Although some accounts differ, the ending is the same: Jennifer’s ghost still haunts the area around McDow’s Hole on Green Creek. In most sightings, she carries the body of her infant daughter. I’ve compiled most accounts of how her plight began.
Charlie and Jennifer and their son came to Texas from either Georgia or Alabama to escape an outbreak of malaria in the 1850s. They built a cabin on the banks of Green Creek near a scenic deep part of the creek called McDow’s Hole. Charlie was the nephew of his neighbor, Jim McDow, Sr.
This was near the town of Harper's Mill, which later became Alexander but which has mostly disappeared (40 residents in 2000). At that time, Erath County was the frontier and home to many who flaunted the law. Charlie and Jennifer apparently had no trouble when they arrived. Charlie worked hard and, according to Jim McDow Jr., the family was successful.
|Now Erath County is picturesque and home|
to Texas A&M University at Stephenville
Charlie eventually learned that his parents had died and he had inherited their furniture. He had it shipped by train to Texarkana but that was as far as the rail lines ran at that time. Leaving Jennifer, their son Temple, and their infant daughter at the cabin, Charlie left for Texarkana to collect his inheritance.
Jennifer and the children were supposed to spend nights at the home of their neighbors, the Jim McDow family, and return to the cabin and her chores only for the days. When she didn’t return one evening, the McDows feared for her and the children but thought she might have gone to the home of the Beige Keith family, other neighbors.
The next day the McDows and Keiths went to the Papworth cabin and found the cabin interior disturbed and blood, but no Jennifer or the baby. As they deliberated, Temple crawled out from under the bed. He was so traumatized he couldn’t form sentences to tell what had happened.
W. P. Brownlow led the claim that the attack was renegade Comanche. Soon, the recovered Temple told his father that story wasn’t true. He said the men were white and spoke English.
In fact, there was a group of local thugs who dressed as Indians to rob homesteads and rustle cattle. Because of Brownlow's insistence and the fact that his quirt had been found near the cabin, Brownlow was suspected. He explained the lost quirt by saying he had been by the cabin the day before the attack and stopped to ask if Jenny had seen his stray cattle. Although he was still under suspicion, no actual proof could be obtained.
As new people moved into the area, Brownlow began a campaign accusing Charlie of horse thievery. Soon there were enough new residents who didn’t know Charlie and believed Brownlow. One night in 1857, a group of hooded “vigilantes” went house to house pulling men to receive “justice”. Charlie and five other men were targeted and hanged one by one from a pecan tree on the banks of McDow’s Hole. Charlie was hanged last, near daybreak.
|Pecan tree, Texas state tree|
The leader suggested eliminating Temple, but the other vigilantes weren’t willing to kill a child. The pecan tree was Temple Papworth’s favorite climbing tree. He cut the rope and freed his father in time to save him. Charlie tried to help the other five victims, but they were dead.
At least two of the other victims were innocent men. Charlie had recognized Brownlow’s voice as the leader of the hooded men. Fearing for their lives, Charlie and Temple Papworth borrowed a horse from Beige Keith and left for Oklahoma Territory. They never returned.
That’s when sightings began of Jennifer carrying her baby.
Over the years, many people have witnessed Jennifer walking in the area. She has been seen standing on the railroad tracks where the train passes through her. Beige Keith and his son saw her when they spent three nights in the Papworth cabin. People stayed in the cabin on a dare, but most left during the night. One was found dead with the door barred, apparently literally scared to death.
Dieletta Hickey recounted stories of her family members seeing Jenny and her baby countless times. When appearing to them, Jenny appeared a live woman carrying an infant, but would disappear. Once Dieletta asked her mother why she never admitted to seeing Jenny. Mrs. Hickey replied that if she did, someone would tell her there was no such thing as a ghost. If that happened, it would be the same as calling Mrs. Hickey a liar but how could she prove otherwise? She said she knew exactly what she’d seen over the years, but the information was best kept within the family.
One satisfying (to me) sighting was when W. P. Brownlow was on his deathbed. Fearing reprisal from Charlie, Brownlow had moved to Hamilton, Texas. He had two men sitting with him on death watch.
He screamed, “That woman, that woman! Keep her away from me!”
The men saw Jenny’s ghost standing at the foot of the bed.
Then, Brownlow confessed to killing Jenny and her baby and throwing the bodies down a deep well and covering them with rocks. He said he believed Jenny had heard him making plans with two rustlers. To keep her quiet, he murdered her and her baby.
Although Jenny Papworth's story started over 160 years ago, people still see Jenny and her baby. Sometimes she hovers over McDow's Hole as if walking on water. Other times, she walks among the trees of that lovely setting near Highway 6 and Farm to Market 914. The property is now marked with a “No Trespassing” sign.
Beware: Jenny doesn’t observe such signs!
What about you? Have you ever seen a ghost?
TALES OF BAD MEN, BAD WOMEN, AND BAD PLACES, C. F. Eckhardt, Texas Tech University Press, 1999.
Caroline Clemmons is the Amazon bestselling and award winning author of numerous western romances.
Her latest release is MISTLETOE MISTAKE, a Christmas story. Originally this story was included in the anthology Wild Western Women…Mistletoe, Montana.
Shannon Callahan worked hard to become a physician. In New York, she meets resistance to a woman doctor and feels she is treated as no more than a midwife. When the opportunity arises for her to go to Montana and be the only doctor in the town of Mistletoe, she grabs the chance.
Riley McCallister is sheriff of Mistletoe, Montana. When he learns the new doctor is a woman, he is shocked and vows never to let her treat him—no matter how beautiful she is. Slowly, Shannon’s skill wins his respect—and more. Shannon’s expertise and dedication during a measles epidemic convinces the town she is a good doctor—but does their acceptance come too late?
Find Caroline's complete list of books at her Amazon Author Page. Join her mailing list to receive a free copy of HAPPY IS THE HEART.