True West Texas ghost story of a strange Mexican woman haunting the Green River Bridge. Think we’ll take the long way next time. Written by Bob Hopkins
The day was warm for October, but he loved the fall regardless. The crisp, cool mornings and warm afternoons were a respite from the relentless summer heat of north central Texas.
The year was 1948 and four cattlemen were on their way back home to Chico, just north of Bridgeport. They had been out to west Texas to purchase cattle. The weather being dry and the land parched as drought had claimed it earlier that year, recalled G.E. Francis, age 92 when he shared this ghostly tale in 2002. A strange account indeed, but one that certainly gains the respect of the reader once the details of the day are told.
“We’d been on the road for hours, stuffed into Buford’s brown 1939 Buick. There was no air-conditioning in cars back then and the trip had been a long one.” The car rattled along the old Green Elm road through, what was known in those days as “the bottoms”, a stretch of dirt highway that ran between Wizard Wells, now a ghost town, and Chico. The old road is now mostly covered by water, encompassed by the far north end of Lake Bridgeport, located on the Jack-Wise County lines south of Texas FM 1810.
“We had to stop for a nature break. We were close to home, but when you got to go, you got to go! We decided to go ahead and pull over when Buford simply came to a complete stop right on the bridge. You could do that in those days as you may not see another car for a half hour or so.” This particular bridge spanned the west fork of the Trinity River and was constructed with an iron frame support beams and wooden slats for car tires.
The four companions were relieved to get a break from the cramped car as the sun was just about to set in the western sky. As they finished their business they stood on the bridge taking in the scenery and making small talk as the blue sky above faded into orange and yellow hues upon the vast Texas horizon. The bridge was called “Green Elm Cemetery Bridge,” because of its proximity to an old cemetery located about 500 yards south of its location and just beyond a bend in the river.
One can only imagine the serine beauty of the area and the solitude of the fall evening. But soon, the still of that beautiful evening was shattered when suddenly, without warning, a blood-curdling scream vibrated across the silence amongst the men with a wailing that chilled their very souls. The feminine cry was so ear-piercing and so startling that they found themselves dumbfounded of its origin. All four were perplexed about what it was or where it was coming from. Once able to gather their senses they realized the cry was coming from up river, about 100 feet or so.
“We saw this thing,” said Francis. “It floated in the air about eighteen to twenty feet above the river and it was moving, rapidly toward the bridge, and us! The thing appeared as if it were floating and thrashing about in unseen waters. I was scared half to death. Actually, I was terrified to the point that I couldn’t move or even think to move. Either could anyone else. We just stood there in complete confusion and horror bewildered by the reality of what we were witnessing. Not one of us had any idea what it was or its purpose.
As it got closer, I began to realize that it appeared to be a woman, a Mexican woman wearing a white dress or gown of some kind, screaming and moaning as if she were in a state of turmoil floating along in mid-air. Then I realized she was in great distress as if she were drowning while being carried away by the unseen flood waters.
I was so scared, we all were, not knowing if to run, hide or just get back in the car. She floated right toward the bridge. She was wiggling, screaming and thrashing about as if she were trying to save herself. She came right over the bridge just barely clearing the top of the frame then rapidly on south into the bend of the river where, like a misty vapor, she simply faded into thin air. Her screams went silent as her form vanished, just like that. We all stood stunned not knowing what to say to each other. We all had blank looks about us, horrified and confused. Then we each quickly got into the car and left that place, each man searching his own belief’s in total shock, wonder and terror, still confused of what to make of the ghostly encounter.”
The four couldn’t get away from the bridge quick enough to find any emotional comfort as they realized that any rationale had, at the moment, been dismissed. As the Buick hugged the road in the escape each began to calm and collect themselves but were all of great confusion about the entire event. Obviously shaken by the incident the four in discussion decided they would not tell a soul of the eerie encounter as not to be the bunt of any joke or to be accused of taking to strong drink. They simply didn’t think anyone would believe them and wondered from time to time, if they believed it themselves.
But, as human nature would have it, secrets are known to be shared and within a couple of years, tales of the encounter with the ghost at Green Elm Bridge began to surface. Teenagers looking for a thrill as well as the curious began to partake in adventures out to the bridge for the chance of a like encounter. By the 1950’s folks from Jacksboro, Chico and Bridgeport frequently visited the bridge in hopes of seeing the specter and some did see it, or at least hear it, according to Francis who claimed that the ghost was the real deal. “I remember every terrifying minute of that day. A fella don’t forget things like that, you know! It stays with you.”
“Back in 92’, reported Francis, “two oilfield workers got quite a scare down at the compressor station near the bridge. They went to leave when their truck wouldn’t start. While working on the truck, at just about sundown, they too heard that horrifying scream coming from the river. I’m not sure if they actually saw her because it scared them so bad they didn’t want to talk much about it. They high-tailed it on out of there by foot, mostly in a run when they came upon my son’s place not far from the bridge. One of them fella’s quit his job that very day saying he was never going back down to the river where that ghost was. He was really scared from whatever he saw or heard.”
Not much is known about the old Green Elm Cemetery (also known as the Verner Cemetery) or those who make it their final resting place. It is located just south of the bridge where the road turns into more of a trail which dead ends into the cemetery. The earliest grave there dates to 1870 and the last entered in 1909. The cemetery, located amongst a thicket of post oak and mesquite trees is occasionally mowed but well hidden from view. According to Jack County records, fifty five or so graves have been entered there with twenty to thirty, sadly, unmarked.
The life and times of settlers to that area would have been difficult at best. Most people who ventured west were in search of hope and opportunity. Many Mexicans and whites alike dotted the landscape in crude makeshift huts or dugouts until better living accommodations could be obtained. Harshness, disease, rattlesnakes and scorpions would have been an everyday occurrence for these folks. Droughts and floods were a constant expectancy in the land and many undocumented calamities and tragedies were a common thread for many poor Texas pioneers.
By the 1970’s, all the hype had run its course and most locals forgot about the spook at the bridge but as far as G.E. Francis and three fellow ranchers were concerned, the phantom of Green Elm Bridge was very real. But, what could it be? Why was it there? What is its purpose? Has it been seen since? Most of these questions we’ll never know. Perhaps it is the echo of a tragic event of long ago or something more sinister. Like most ghostly encounters, it was very real to those most unfortunate to have experienced it and as much a mystery to those who did not. Many will simply choose not to believe the story but some will, especially those who claim it to be true through their own encounter.
Green Elm/Verner Cemetery is located about five miles down an isolated dirt road located along the Jack and Wise County lines. The old skeletal remains of the bridge still remain though the slatted boards were burned away in a fire many years ago. The area is densely covered with tress and scrub brush and is as lonely as the soul that haunts it.
If you ever feel brave enough to venture down the old dirt road at sundown be aware of the cries of the coyotes or mountain lions that roam the river banks and know that any scream you hear at that bridge may be your own.
Photos provided by Bob Hopkins.