It wasn't like Lucy Springer didn't know the risks of inviting Hooter to be part of a panel sharing Texas legends with the community. She'd been a classmate years ago; both victim and conspirator in a number of near-legendary pranks. But this seemed so harmless: share a favorite Lone Star legend with whoever wanted to show up at the old Grange Hall east of town, as entertainment for a fall festival/Halloween meal and fundraiser.
Hooter outdid himself.
He shared the legend of the South Texas headless horseman—El Muerto. In fact, this legend was based on pure reality, according to various histories. It was back in the 1850's when a no-man's land still existed between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River further to the North. The U.S. said the former was the border between it and Mexico; Mexico said it was the Nueces. In between the geographic chaos rustlers and bandits tried to prevail against a paltry number of Texas Rangers. Among these Rangers were Creed Taylor and “Big Foot” Wallace. As the legend goes, a rustler unwittingly stole some of Taylor's horses. Not only did Taylor and his pal, Wallace, track the rustler down, Taylor went one better than merely hanging the rustler for his transgression. He cut off his head, lashed him to his saddle in such a way that the body remained upright, then tethered the recently deceased's sombrero to a rope tied around the shoulders and set the pony loose to serve as a grisly billboard of what awaited other bandits.
Unsurprisingly, the legend of the headless horseman was born. “Even today, people tell of seeing him out there,” concluded Hooter with an earnest and satisfied flourish.
Perhaps unsurprising also is that fact that Hooter saw a unique opportunity to hammer home the point of his story. He and Charlie used the catch pens north of the Grange, so their horses knew the country well. Figure, if you were one of Hooter McCormick's mounts, you'd have to possess a laid back attitude akin to comatose. Anyway, the cousins tied some headless scarecrows to a few of their mounts that were mingling about the grange as the festival participants disbursed.
Two women fainted; three kids began to cry hysterically, one man ran for the gun in his pickup. Delmar Jacobs sat down and proclaimed, “Let's have a drink.”
Lucy Springer went to hunting Hooter, who was watching the show from atop the Grange, unable to breathe, he was laughing so hard.
History and Whatnot
“Lord, Lucy, if they turned that pasty-faced tonight, think what it would have been in November,” said Hooter.
Too used to Hooter logic, which pin-balled from one direction to the next, Lucy simply said, “Explain.”
“Well, you ask folks when the spookiest time of year is, and most will talk about October, because of Halloween, not realizing Halloween as we know it is a fairly recent invention in this country. It wasn't until the 1930's most folks knew what trick-or-treating was,” explained Hooter. “No sir, November has got October beat hands-down for scaring the bejeebers out of you.”
Thinking of Thanksgiving, the aroma of family meals making sturdy tables wobble, the promise of Christmas just around the corner, even Lucy was having a hard time seeing where Hooter might be coming from. “Go on.”
“Think of it,” continued Hooter, “Notwithstanding a jillion turkeys before and hence that are less than thrilled with the month, all that stuff about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims showing up that time of year. That's how this country got its first Yankees. Ask the Indians how tickled they are about that.”
“Yes, but…” tried Lucy.
“Speaking of which, it was in November that General George Armstrong Custer killed Chief Black Kettle. Speaking of which, it was November back in 1950 that two idiots tried to assassinate President Truman. It was in November 13 years later that another idiot succeeded in assassinating John K. Kennedy.”
“Still…” tried Lucy again.
“Then there was the stock market crash of 1929,” said Hooter. “It was actually at the end of October, but close enough for November to claim it; that's when it started sinking in what had really just happened; kind of like the crash this year.”
Lucy took a seat on the side of the building, realizing from experience that Hooter was just tuning up.
“The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?” said Hooter. “That happened in November. Sherman's march to the sea, his pillaging, his destruction that cast the divide that still exists today, that started in November. In November of 1887 is when the South's own Doc Holliday died. In November of 1912 is when the original XIT Ranch sold its last head of cattle. You might recall that the XIT was one of the largest ranches in the world, about 3 million acres and 165,000 head of cattle. Of course, it wasn't like it was built on cattle; it was Chicago capitalists that put it together.”
“Yeah, but…” tried Lucy again.
“And who can forget November in 1923,” said Hooter. “That's when Adolph Hitler launched his failed Beer Hall Putsch, which led to his incarceration, which gave him time to write Mien Kampf, which set the stage for the largest act of genocide in modern history. It was 16 years later that the same mad man survived an assassination attempt, which would have prevented a whole lot of that.”
The people in the Grange parking lot, any of them still left, were still scrambling. Lucy had surrendered.
“Finally,” concluded Hooter, “November is Election Day—now if that isn't spooky, I don't know what is.”