Spooky Texas legend of the McDow Hole, where ghost sightings of pioneer woman Jenny Papworth and her baby have long been reported. Written by Bob Hopkins.

I first heard the legendary tale of the Ghost of the McDow Hole in the fifteenth year of my youth. It was near Halloween in October 1975 when a friend related the tale of the ghost that haunts a creek bed in rural Erath County and naturally I believed every word of it in the twilight of an evening spent with friends telling ghost stories. I would again hear the tale over the years while living in North Central Texas. It wasn’t until my chance encounter of meeting an author of the legend in 2002 that my curiosity began to peak and like any good investigator I felt it my duty to dig deeper into the hundred year old tale of pioneer folklore to see how much of the story was true and how much was fabricated. I would discover many similarities in fact and fiction that I believed would leave any reader with the same curiosity that I felt as it related to the described events which make up the unique and unsettling story of a supposed lonely spirit that has made it her business to scare grown men half to death and continue to search for justice in a land haunted with violent but actual events.

In the early 1850’s a company of Texas militia were trailing a band of raiding Comanche near a creek bed in an area that would later become part of Erath County. The riders saw a column of black smoke within a half mile of their location. Quick to investigate they arrived to find a small wood and sod cabin in flames. Nearby was the body of a young woman, a young man and a boy. All three had been killed and scalped. The body of an infant was found not far away. The unit, of which, a young Wesley Hickey was a member, buried the four tortured bodies near a live spring that fed into the nearby creek and marked the graves with large non-inscribed stones. The pioneer family was unknown and records of the event were not kept but were passed down to Hickey’s family members. Ironically, fifty or so years later, Wesley Hickey’s son, Joe Hickey, would purchase the very site in 1909, regardless of his father’s warnings to stay far away from the spot known as the McDow Hole.

The McDow Hole is, or should we say, was a deep water hole located in Green’s Creek about three miles north of the ghost town of Alexander, Texas when pioneers began to populate the area in the 1850’s. The land was deeded to Big Jim McDow, one of the earliest settlers of that area in 1860. In those days water sources were crucial to pioneer families. The water hole was a spring fed portion of Green’s Creek that had a natural bedrock bottom which kept the water from drying up during long dry spells. Since the hole of water was located on land owned by McDow, it quickly gained the name of McDow Hole and was an important source of water for people and livestock for many years. Over the course of several years the McDow became a hot spot of activity and many unfortunate deaths.

In 1909, a young Joe Hickey lost his wife to sickness. Joe and his two children, Euna, age eight, and Author, age six, where so overcome with grief and loneliness that they left their lonely place south of Stephenville and purchased a 104 acre farm about a mile south along Green’s Creek from Ruby Long in Dublin, Texas. Their new farm was just up the hill from the McDow Hole which had already gained notoriety as a place of sadness and horror and well reputed by local pioneers to be haunted.

When Joe Hickey purchased the farm there were two houses already there, each about one hundred yards from the creek. Joe and his children moved into the larger home as the other was occupied by tenant farmers, Norton and Pearl Sewell, who were busy with the cotton harvest. One of the homes had belonged to Bill Keith, a pioneer who moved into the area about the same time as the McDow’s. Keith left the home and moved away after coming face to face with the ghost that haunted the watering hole.

By 1920 the remains of the home belonging to the family slain by Indians was partly still visible and now part of the Hickey’s cow pen, with a long rock walled shed, which stood where the first house had been built back in the 1850’s. The rock base of a door step, flush with the ground was in the cow pen gateway as a reminder that others had come before them. Upon moving into the house Joe was asked by the Sewell’s if he was aware that the place was haunted. Joe told them he’d heard the rumors but didn’t put much stock into such notions. Joe asked them if they’d seen the ghost as Norton laughed and said they’d not seen it but knew of several reputable people who had as far back as the 1870’s.

Pearl told them the ghost is a woman who appears or disappears at will down at the deep part of the creek. Sometimes she walks on top of the water crying for her baby. Joe didn’t know what to think. He had a cousin who claimed he’d seen the ghost a few years back walking on the water and wouldn’t go near the creek again.

In September 1911, Joe married a girl named Bessie and life was again worth living. In 1916, Bessie gave birth to their second daughter Dieletta who would recount her childhood memories of growing up on Green’s Creek and the family’s encounters with the legendary ghost of the McDow Hole. In 1996, at the age of 80, she published a book about her wonderful memories entitled” Hickey Pioneers”. The book is not a ghost story, rather a family biography but several descriptive chapters of the family’s experiences with the ghost of the McDow Hole lend more credible evidence that something from beyond the veil may have been haunting the land that her family loved and the hollow of Green’s Creek.

One afternoon in 1921 when Dieletta was very young her mother was sitting on the front porch. She saw a woman coming down the road approaching their home. She called to Dieletta’s older sister, Jewel, to drag another chair out to the porch – company was coming. By the time Jewel and Dieletta got the chair out on the porch no one was there. Her mother looked up the road in wonder and said she’d seen a woman coming down the road toward the house. When she reached the yard gate, she disappeared. She thought at first that it was their neighbor, Myrtle Jordan coming to visit. She was graceful and slender wearing a long skirt.

Her mother was obviously left confounded as to how anyone could just vanish in front of her eyes. The event left the entire family in an uneasy and anxious state but the strange event would only be the first of several encounters of the ghost for the Hickeys. Dieletta recalled that her father, Joe Hickey, came from the barn a few moments later and sat down in the chair Jewel had fetched. He asked his wife if she believed it to really be a disembodied spirit of which she replied with a rapid, “No.”

She said, “The Scriptures teach that the soul goes back to the Lord, and the body returns to dust. Why would the spirit of any departed person want to traipse around here? Does she come into being only for our benefit, wishing us to see her? Would she be out there, aimlessly walking about, even if we were not here?”

Joe said, “That is the reason she is a mystery. We don’t know what she is, where she came from, or where she goes. I do believe that she wants to be seen. I haven’t mentioned it, because I feared that it might bother you, but I saw the ghost one day. Everyone else calls her a ghost so I might as well too. One day when I was plowing in the big bottom, a woman came walking along the fence, going toward the creek. I was riding on the cultivator. When I got up close, she disappeared, just as if someone had extinguished a flame. I have only seen her that one time.”

Haunted McDow Hole, Greens Creek, Erath County Texas
McDow Hole as seen today, Erath County, Texas. Photo by Bob Hopkins.

“You are right,” said her mother. “Whatever it is, the thing is harmless. She does want to be seen, however, I believe. The Brakeman on the Stephenville/Alexander train told me that she will appear in front of the train, on the railroad track, up so close that he can’t help but hit where she was standing. He cannot stop in time. Then when he gets the trained stopped, to go back and see if he hit someone, there is nothing there. I think that she enjoys playing pranks on people. That happened where the tracks go near the creek about half a mile away. Let her have her fun. I stay too busy for games, with all the work we have to do.”

The strange and perplexing incidents continued to take place on the Hickey farm. One day Dieletta and her older sister Jewel went to the spring near the creek for some cold drinking water. Some distance behind her sister, on the way back, Dieletta was carrying two small pails of water. Suddenly Jewel dropped both buckets of water from her hands. She began to run, looking down, and behind at her feet occasionally as she ran in a panic while screaming all the way to the house.

As Dieletta rushed to the house Jewel was crying uncontrollably as her mother cradled her in an attempt to calm her. Jewel explained between sobs that a dog was chasing her. Dieletta explained that she was right behind her and didn’t see a dog. Jewel said that she didn’t see it either, but could clearly hear it. She said it was growling and snapping at her legs. She could hear it snarl and gnash its teeth together. It was panting, loudly, like it had been running. She kept walking faster and it kept striking its teeth together, right at her heels. She dropped the water pails and ran.

The dog sounds, Dieletta reported, were never heard by any of their family after that day. But the haunting of the water hole and strange events on the farm continued. So why would a family stay on a place that was haunted? Dieletta may give that answer in describing her mother.

She said her mother, Bessie, was not easily excited. She always took everything at its face value. If a thing happened it happened. Working constantly, she cooked, cleaned, cared for her family and did outside work on the farm, as well. She also spent much of her time helping others. She was friendly, but reserved and dignified. One time, Dieletta asked her mother why she wouldn’t mention seeing the ghost to friends and neighbors.

Her mother said, “There are some things better left untold. People only believe that which can be explained. I can’t explain something that I can’t touch or show, like a woman who disappears. If I told that I saw a ghost, someone would invariably say there is no such thing as a ghost. That would be the same as telling me that I lied. You know that I do not speak falsehoods. They would either think that I made it up or imagined it. The good Lord knows I never sat there and imagined a thing that fanciful, when there are so many real things to occupy my mind, like cooking, getting the dishes washed, the butter churned, the coffee ground, and a dozen other chores finished in time to get some sleep before time to get up and do it all over the next day.”

Many folks came to the creek for various reasons. They came to hunt, to fish, to picnic, and others came to listen for the ghost, many in fact. One afternoon about 1922, a buggy carrying two strange men pulled up and stopped in front of the Hickey home. The two men got out and introduced themselves to her father Joe, who’d met them at the front door. They asked permission to camp on the creek because they wanted to do some fishing near the old McDow Hole. Joe told them about a good campsite. They said they hoped to catch some fish to cook for supper. Making their stop brief, they were soon on their way down to the creek.

The following morning, Dieletta and Jewel went down to the creek for fresh water when they noticed that the men had set up camp near the path that led to the spring. Their horse was tied to a tree. The men had not built a fire, although there were some sticks of wood piled near a clearing not far from the buggy. After the girls filled their water pails they returned to the house. They told their father that they had happened upon the camp and there was no evidence that the men had spent the night there. Joe immediately went to check it out for himself and water the horse. The girls tagged right behind him.

Joe led the thirsty horse to water a short distance down the creek from the spring. He and the girls saw where the men had been fishing. It was evident that they had left in a hurry as two cane poles were floating in the water and near a stringer of fish. Joe noted that the fish had probably been there since the day before. He told the girls he couldn’t imagine where the two men went but it was evident that they had most likely left shortly after they had arrived the night before. The girls took the fishing poles back to the buggy. Joe took the horse to the barn and fed him some grain then turned him out in the grass lot to graze. Shortly after, the family heard a car coming from the direction of Alexander. The driver was Lois Cannon, a good neighbor whose residence was across the creek and approximately two miles beyond. The two missing fishermen were with him.

Lois was laughing when he came to the door and Joe asked the three men into the house where Bessie poured coffee for them all. Lois told Joe that the two men had deserted their camp last evening after seeing the ghost. Both men then chimed in excitedly to confirm their claim. One of them named Pete, explained that the fish had just started biting good when this woman came walking down the creek, right up on top of the water.

His friend, known as “Shorty,” confirmed Pete’s claim and said that was the last of their fishing. The two reported that they had crossed the creek and were fishing from the other side when they saw it. They said they were too terrified to come back across the creek to the horse and buggy so they took off in the other direction. Both men were covered in scratches on their arms and faces from running through briars and thick undergrowth along their exit. Their clothing was torn and spotted with blood.

The men ran through the fields and woods until they saw the lighted windows of a house which turned out to be Mr. Cannon’s. The two stayed the night at the Cannon’s until Lois could return them to the Hickey’s for their horse and buggy. Shorty asked the group, which now included the whole Hickey family, if anyone had ever seen a woman walking on top of the water, just as smoothly as if she was walking on the floor. Joe said he hadn’t but was aware of some others that had. Pete said he wouldn’t go back there at night for a million dollars. Lois headed back home and Joe fetched the men’s horse and helped them with their buggy. The Hickey family saw the incident more humorous than frightening and that was the last time anyone ever saw Pete and Shorty anywhere near the McDow.

One evening, many months later, Joe had a very strange thing happen. While going to the kitchen for a drink of water in the dark of night, he was kissed on the cheek by some uncanny creature. He found it totally unexplainable. He reached out to grasp the unseen person of whom he thought was playing some kind of joke on him, but no one was there. With kerosene lamp in hand he searched the house but found no one. Dieletta remembered her father as a person of seriousness and gravity, certainly not the kind of man who would go about telling folks of such a nonsensical experience of being kissed on the cheek by some supernatural being. Joe knew he’d felt the lips and heard the smack but other than that there was no one there. Joe and Bessie were much too busy to theorize about explanations of such phenomena as a ghost. All they knew concerning the ethereal creature was that it was something beyond the natural course of nature.

One day Joe called the family together to say, “We all know by now that there is something here beyond our understanding. Your Mother saw the woman who disappeared in front of the house. I saw the woman vanish from sight one day while I was plowing. Jewel was chased by an invisible dog, which she could hear, but not see. Shorty and Pete saw the woman walking on top of the water, as others have also seen her. What I’m trying to get at is how do you children feel about the ghost? If you are afraid, we’ll sell out and leave. You may see it yourself. Whatever the thing is, we know it will not hurt anyone. It can cause a person to hurt himself, however. The fear alone can make you feel uncomfortable or even be harmful to you. Fear can have a bad effect on a person, who gives into it.”

The girls told Joe the only thing that really frightened them was the thought of leaving Green’s Creek. They had their favorite places to swim, the place with the rock bottom.

Bessie said, “We do realize there is something here beyond the ordinary. You may never see it. I hope you won’t. However, if you should see the woman who disappears, or if you have an experience similar to that of your father’s last night, we don’t want you to be frightened out of your wits and take off running like Pete and Shorty did. We will even move away if you feel afraid of the spook, or whatever it is.”

The family voted unanimously. Green’s Creek was their home and no ghost was going to run them off. The Hickeys stayed.

In October 1933, Dieletta Hickey married Mr. C.E. Watson, the son of Mr. and Mrs. James and Louella Watson from Leon County, Texas. The newlyweds had only been married for a few days when they spent the night with her parents back on the farm. Dieletta had been asleep for a short while when she was awaken by her new husband calling her mother in the middle of the night.

In the darkness of night C.E. called out to Bess as to what she was doing primping in the dark. Bess answered from the other bedroom. The two bedrooms were side-by-side with no hall between them. Dieletta’s mother came through the door wearing a robe over her gown with a kerosene lamp in her hand. C.E. explained that he had just seen a woman standing in the moonlight, in front of the dresser, doing something to her hair and thought it was Bess. When he called her the figure disappeared. He reported that the moonlight was bright that night and it was almost as light as day in front of that window. He said the woman was facing the dresser, doing something to her hair.

Dieletta had been born in the house and lived there until she’d gotten married. The ghost, or whatever the apparition was, had never shown itself to her so she couldn’t take it seriously. Dieletta wondered why a ghost would kiss her father on the Cheek. She then decided to try to go back to sleep as her mother and C.E. continued talking.

Bess asked C.E. if he’d heard of the McDow Hole ghost. He told her yes, while he was staying with his sister and her husband, Viola and Bunt Westmoreland. He said he saw a woman who disappeared. They lived on the Maloney place, near the branch that runs into Green’s Creek. He was walking home from Alexander one evening when he got to where the road crosses the branch; he met a woman dressed in white. Even her shoes and hose were snow white. She came walking through the deep mud, in that branch, and her shoes remained as white as ever. He said he’d come face-to-face with her. She disappeared just like this woman did in front of the mirror and that’s when he took off running. He didn’t stop until he reached home and got into bed.

The next morning he told Bunt what he had seen. His brother-in-law told him not to tell Viola because she would be afraid, and would want to move. Bunt admitted that he had seen the woman before. Bunt said the woman had come up to the cow pen, several times, where he was milking. He said she would sit on a stump for a few seconds, as if she was watching him, and then disappear.

Bess reported that house where they lived is not far from the railroad tracks where the men on the train use to see the ghost. She would pop up on tracks in front of the train, they said. They would not have time to stop the train, because she would be right in front of them by the time they saw her. When that would happen, the engineer always stopped to see if he had run over anyone. There was never anyone there.

Dieletta and C.E. moved to Dublin not too long after the event and once again, the family simply tried to put the ghostly night aside and get on with life. About four years passed and C.E. had enough of farming. The age of small dry-land farms was almost a thing of the past. They were being consolidated into ranches or dairies. Single row cultivation pulled by horses or mules were being replaced by tractors. A few years back there had been no need for insecticides, but then came the boll weevil which attacked area crops and had become more destructive each year. The entire American South had become devastated by a bug. It had become necessary to poison cotton fields and C.E. decided to work for wages from then on, which gave them more time to visit Dieletta’s parents back on Green’s Creek.

While on a visit to the farm one Sunday evening in the late summer of 1937, the four adults were sitting on the front porch, talking. Dieletta and C.E.’s daughter, Patricia had gone to bed in the guest room. Dieletta’s father, Joe, was not well as his health was declining. The family had been trying to get him to go see a doctor but Joe Hickey was not the kind of man to seek medical attention. Dieletta went into the house to check on the child and returned to the porch and as she was settling into her chair, a woman came into view over the crest of the hill in front of the house. Outlined in the sky by the setting sun’s afterglow, she was stepping lightly, as if half-floating and half-walking, along the road leading to the house. Her long, full skirt stood out below her small waist as if she were wearing crinolines.

Dieletta knew that the woman she was seeing was not an earthly being, but a supernatural figure, beyond the natural or ordinary course of nature. She could now imagine how she was able to walk upon the water. She was gliding lightly over the surface of the ground as if her feet were not touching the earth. At first, she didn’t mention seeing the woman. Having heard skeptics say that if one person mentioned seeing a ghost, that others present would imagine they had seen it too.

C.E. was the first to speak up and tell the others that the ghost was approaching the house as the others quietly confirmed hoping the specter would finally come close enough to show her face. The wraithlike creature advanced slowly, walking straight toward the house. Within a few yards of the house she stopped and turned, cutting across the corner of the lawn and to the road that leads to the creek.

“I want a good luck at that woman!” said Bess as she got up and left her chair at a brisk stride. She followed the creature as C.E. got up and went with her. The apparition was walking very slowly with her back to Bess and C.E. From the porch, Joe and Dieletta watched the three of them. When they almost caught up with the mystery woman, she vanished quickly. Bess and C.E. stopped too and glanced at each other in an awestruck and frustrated manner. They disappointedly returned to the porch and sat back down.

The group sat in silent excitement and wonder pondering the ethereal event when Bess supposed that they had just experienced a sacred occasion. As the others became puzzled by her remark she explained.

“I mean no one but God can make a woman appear and disappear. That which we just witnessed is a manifestation of His power. Because He has given me the optical capacity to see something that few people are permitted to see, I can still feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It tells me that God has sent an angel to visit us.”

“Maybe so,” said her father. “The angel of the Lord did appear to help people all through the Bible. There is no place in the scriptures where it says they will not continue to do so.”

The Hickey’s were, like most rural folks of their day, devout Christians who studied Biblical scripture thoroughly and could come to some general meaning that perhaps the ghost was actually an angel of God. Such meaning helped them cope with the mystery over the years.

That was the last time the family would see the woman on their farm but not the last time they would experience strange happenings nor understand the cruelty that evil people could hand out to folks like the Hickeys. The day after the Hickey’s ghostly event, Joe Hickey finally saw a physician who prescribed him medicine that proved useless and his condition worsened. He was hospitalized in Glen Rose for two weeks as a doctor informed him that little could be done for his ailment. Joe asked to go home and the doctor agreed. Dieletta, C.E. and their daughter Patricia stayed with Joe and Bess throughout the rest of Joe’s illness, occupying Dieletta’s old bedroom. The first night Joe returned home, the family placed him in his bed and attempted to make him as comfortable as possible. Joe rested well that first evening until the strange tapping began. The noise commenced in his bedroom wall and sounded as if someone were lightly tapping it with a hammer. The strange tapping continued intermittently throughout the night. No one in the house was able to sleep sending a haunting feeling throughout the home. Further investigation did not yield any source of the noise.

Dieletta gave him his medication so he could get some sleep. The noise faded away shortly after dawn. The knocking continued in Joe’s room, keeping him awake at night. Dieletta and C.E. moved Joe into her room and moved into his much to Joe’s disapproval as he believed they would be kept awake as well.

As the family retired for the night, C.E. and Dieletta waited for the knocking to begin at the persistent time it always had, but soon, C.E. was sound asleep. Dieletta had to get up in the middle of the night to give Joe his medication when she noticed the knocking had ceased. Morning came and still, no knocking. The strange tapping was never heard again. Joe Hickey died six weeks later on October 31, 1937. He was buried at Bowman Ridge Cemetery, just up the road from the family farm.

By all accounts, Joe Hickey was a man of good nature and reputation. He raised his children with the fear of God and a decent understanding of the Christian scriptures. He and Bess didn’t have a lot but they did have love for their children and family was the center-point of their existence on the farm. Hard work and dedication was expected of all. But even with such goodness, something wicked befell the family. A stranger determined to cause consternation and worry plagued the family for several years.

About a year after Dieletta and C.E. had married they moved to a farm that C.E. and his father had rented just west of Dublin. One afternoon Dieletta’s 13 year-old brother Nez came for a visit. He had walked four miles. Nez told them that the smoke house on the farm burned two nights prior. Dieletta was shocked knowing that her mother and father were so cognizant of fire and took every precaution around any open flames. Nez told her it was arson. He said his mother saw the man but he was wearing a mask. The man meant to do them harm. He said the man had entered the home and was seen in Joe and Bess’s room with a club in his hand. Bess woke up and reached for the gun as the intruder ran, but soon after, the smoke house was on fire.

In the fall of 1935 the arsonist struck again. This time he had burned the barn and the wagon filled with cottonseed that Joe was going to take to town to have ground for feed. The wagon wasn’t in the barn, it was well away from it but the arsonist had poured kerosene on it and set it on fire. There was nothing left standing except the house and the two long rock walls where the sheds had been.

In October, 1938, C.E. and Dieletta were living in Comanche, Texas. They had made a trip into town one evening to find her mother Bess waiting on them. A friend had brought her to Comanche from Dublin. She told them the arsonist had struck again, this time burning the house and all its contents. She and Jewel, Dieletta’s sister, and her three children had been there alone. They had barely escaped with their lives having been awakened by the sound of the roaring flames and choking black smoke in the middle of the night.

Bess sold some cattle which gave her the ability to buy some furniture and rent a small house in Dublin. No one ever knew why anyone would target the Hickeys with such cruel intentions. In late 1938, she sold the lower part of the farm to some family friends from Stephenville. Bess Hickey died on January 8, 1940. She was laid to rest in Bowman Ridge Cemetery near Joe.

In 1976, well into their fifties, Dieletta, C.E., and her brother Nez made one last visit to their old place near the McDow. There was nothing standing where the house and out-buildings once stood. Even the rock walls which once held the sheds in place where gone. The old live oaks where the house had once stood now wavered in the breeze to the lonely sound of a whip-o-will. They went to the creek in a nostalgic manner. The springs that had supplied them with years of fresh drinking water had long dried up and there was no sign that they had ever existed. The water in the creek was green with algae as it stood still and silent.

After a while they walked back up the hill to the old home place. There was a log lying on the ground where the old house had been. As it was growing dark, the three sat down on the log. C.E. sat between Dieletta and Nez as they talked of days gone by, grieved by the passing of time and change of seasons with a longing for those who had departed. Suddenly, a bright light sprang up from the ground in the place where Dieletta’s bedroom once stood, the room in which they had moved Joe into when he died. The light, about five feet high and twice as wide glowed against the black of night. Irregular tongues of radiance shot forth, illuminating the area where the house once stood. Then, it went away, like someone flipped a switch. It was gone and darkness once again filled the evening. Soon after, the three loaded up and departed the old farm for the last time, bewildered at the strange light and the perplexed memories of the ghostly woman who haunted their lives for so many years.

But the Hickey’s were only one family of literally hundreds of people who had reported the ghost of McDow’s Hole. The reported hauntings of Green’s Creek go back as far as the 1870’s.

The original story of the our ghost was first documented on paper by a local Erath County nurseryman named Joe E. Fitzgerald who was born in 1876 near the haunted hollow called McDow Hole. Mr. Fitzgerald established his business in Stephenville in 1900. He took a great interest in politics and once ran for Congress. He wrote numerous newspaper articles including the now infamous McDow Hole ghost. Joe was a great story teller and a man fond of his beloved Erath County and the colorful characters, both good and bad, that laid its foundation. In the early 20th century, he gathered and wrote of the memoirs of his experience and those of local pioneers. He passed his stories on to his daughter, Stephenville educator and author, Mary Joe Clendenin who published many tales of the ghost of Jenny Papworth, one specifically entitled,” The Ghost of the McDow Hole, based on stories told by Joe Fitzgerald”. Professor Clendenin (1924-2012) was Professor Emeritus at Lubbock Christian University.

She said, “I had always heard stories of the McDow ghost hole. Whether or not they are true is not for me to say. As kids we spent several nights, or parts of nights inviting the ghost to make an appearance. And several times we left the place in a great hurry, from our own tales and night sounds. To my father, however this ghost was very real.”

Joe Fitzgerald did believe the ghost to be true so much so that he made a public claim in an interview with Courtney Tidwell, an agent with the Soil Conservation Service based out of Amarillo in 1934. Mr. Tidwell gave the interview to the Associated Press where it was picked up by many papers during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Since then the story has been told and retold in magazines, books and newspapers all over the country. It was Joe’s youthful experiences that solidified his belief in the ghost of the McDow Hole and that belief obviously stayed with him throughout his life.

Joe Fitzgerald, by all accounts, was a reputable man by those who knew him and not known for fabricated tales. His boyhood experience with the un-natural near the McDow left him with a wonder of the origins of something that mankind has no answer for. His only outlet, like so many was to document its uncanny manifestations and speak of the haunting as much as possible with no attempt to conclude that he imagined any of it. His original tale has unfortunately been lost to time but later in life he did relate several stories in newspaper interviews. The following article was found in the Nolan County News, June 17, 1934 and documents Joe’s belief in the ghost.

The unknown author reported “This story was told several years ago by J.E. Fitzgerald, a citizen of Erath County and well-known as a nurseryman all over the south. It is one of the best ghost stories I ever heard and I believe readers will agree with me.”

Joe reported, “When I was a barefoot boy, as almost all boys were at the time, we would gather around the candle light with its shade and listen to father and mother tell about the ghost of the McDow. Some such nights the cows would come home late, and in the cow pen my mother would tell us about the ghost of McDow. We would get closer and closer together and on the way to the house, we would expect the ghost to jump out of the fence corners.

The ghost of the McDow is a true story. In the years gone by there was something supernatural about this famous hole of water. It was something that made you feel creepy. Sixty-five (circa 1870) years ago Green’s Creek was one of the prettiest streams in the world. As you approached the creek, there was oak timber and then a glade and down near the creek grew some of the most magnificent pecan trees on earth. Then you left the oaks and looked along the creek, you could see a picture that no words can describe and no painter can depict. And the McDow Hole itself, it was fed by springs and in the dense shade made the water nice and cool. I imagine the ghost, when it comes back at this time, if it does, is sorely disappointed with its old haunts, for it finds now only a muddy branch. The work of man has ruined the whole scene.

About 70 years ago a woman and baby were killed on the bank of the McDow. It was claimed that they were killed by Indians though there is nothing about it in any history and really, she was killed by a white man. Just a few years ago this white man died. On his death-bed he described the killing of the woman – in fact, he confessed to two of his attendants.”

Joe spoke to one of those attendants and he was sure the white man killed the woman instead of Indians, as accursed. According to Fitzgerald, the woman was buried on the banks of the McDow, but about 1905 her bones were moved to Alexander.

Another newspaper article ran on September 9, 1942 in the Paris News, the article was entitled “The Ghost of Erath County,” The article quotes Fitzgerald reporting, “About 60 years ago Erath County, as well as other counties, was infested with cattle thieves. At that time there was a different kind of sedative used on law-breakers to what they use now. It was called “ropium,”and when a man was lulled with ropium, he seldom woke up. One morning when the sun rose there were five limp forms dangling from a big pecan tree that grew on the bank of the McDow. And there were two other ropes dangling but without anyone on either.

Seven cattle thieves had been hanged on one pecan limb, but the weight of seven was too much and bent the limb down so one could get his feet on the ground. No use to call names, the man who got his feet on the ground cut the rope from his neck and cut his neighbor down. He said his neighbor was a fool for dying as he had a good pulse when he was cut down. The man who cut himself down went to the field where a man who afterward became prominent in politics and banking in Erath County was plowing as a boy. This gentleman told me that the man’s neck was swollen as big as his head, and our young boy lost no time getting away from him. He had seen a ghost that could walk and talk. Anyway, the man went to Oklahoma and still lives near Duncan.

And then came the real ghost, or was it several ghosts? Bill Keith, who was an old pioneer, built a small cabin on the creek to be near living water. But he did not stay long. One night he knocked on the door of a neighbor’s house nearly a mile away after seeing that ghost woman. Then he moved on to Live Oak about three miles away from the McDow. He preferred to drive his cows that distance and haul water that far to get away from the haint.

A man by the name of Hammonds moved into Keith’s cabin. In less than a week’s time he was found partly sitting up in his bed stone dead. What had killed him, the ghost? Or was it natural causes? We all thought it was the ghost and it would have been difficult indeed to make such men as H.B. Keyser and W. B. Kittrell believe it was anything else than terror that killed Hammonds.

R.T. Long was one time Sheriff in Erath County. He owned a farm near the McDow. He said he had heard and seen the thing, whatever it was. He argued for some time though that it was a panther; then he thought some kind of hog until he saw it with his own eyes while gathering his cows late one evening. He said that there was no one on earth that could describe the feeling that came over a man when he was near the McDow after sundown. You were scared whether you saw anything or not.

One day a man by the name of Deem Kalb was driving his cows to the water hole. A man by the name of Bobbitt lived on the old Long place west of Green’s Creek. Mr.Kalb heard screams in the direction of the Bobbitt home. He thought the Indians were murdering Bobbitt and all his family, but when he got to the Bobbitt home they were all safe and sound but badly scared for they had also heard the screams. No one could explain this, but Bobbitt soon moved away. When the Cotton Belt Rail Road was first built one Engineer actually quit because he thought several times he had run his train over a woman and had actually stopped the train to hunt for the supposed woman there. It was my privilege to see the ghost of the McDow or some unexplained object on two occasions. A man by the name of Miller had rented a place near the McDow. It must have been about 10 O’clock broad open daylight when we stopped at the end of the rows to let our horses rest. We looked toward the woods and saw a woman coming. Miller said, “Who on earth can that be?” No one lived that way for several miles.

The woman walked across a corn patch then down into a cotton patch. Then she suddenly disappeared. But the peculiar part of it was the ground was soft and a real woman could not have walked along there without leaving tracks. Neither of us was very superstitious and had believed the McDow ghost was imagination until that day. That is something I have never been able to explain.

Mr. Miller and I decided to go to Green’s Creek fishing one night. We were having extra good luck and had fished until after mid-night. We were just talking about going when we used up the bait we had on the hooks, for we had enough big perch for two or three meals. And then something happened. The moon was almost behind the big pecan trees. All at once it seemed a big bug dropped in the water. It buzzed around a minute and then began to grow. And then a cloud began to form, something like a puff of smoke. I saw the form of a woman emerge from the smoke. Miller ran against me and I awoke to the fact that I was more than a mile from the McDow and still at a full trot. We had left our fish. Kind reader, you may say this was all imagination, I feel it was not. Some of those people who lived back then were just as devoid of fear as anyone today.

Had you ever thought it seems that in some way Erath County has possessed a jinx? There have been many peculiar happenings near Stephenville and Dublin. The murder of the woman and baby was one. Then we had the startling Snow Case and another peculiar case south of town. Even in Stephenville many years ago I heard screams and the memory will go to my grave with me. A woman and her baby was killed at the old McDow Hole, there have been several murders along Green’s Creek. At least one of them was never solved and never will be. Anyhow, I have often wished that that old pecan tree on the banks of the McDow could tell its history.”

As reported by Fitzgerald, sometime in the 1880’s, one time Erath County Sheriff, R.T. Long claimed he’d first encountered the ghost woman late one evening when he went to feed his hogs. He’d found that the hogs had gotten out of their pin and naturally ended up down at the watering hole. So, he went to fetch them. He claimed he’d never been afraid of any tales of the haunting woman and didn’t give them much respect but also didn’t see any particular need to hang around her stomping grounds any more than necessary.

Cowboy mural in Hico, Texas, Erath County, near Mcdow Hole Bridge
Cowboy mural in Hico, Texas, Erath County, near McDow Hole Bridge,

It was just near sundown when he trotted off to the creek after those hogs, just when the shadows get real long. He strolled along with some hesitation as he was about a hundred yards from the creek when he saw a woman walk up from the banks into the pasture holding a baby in her arms. The woman was as visible as it had been his wife walking, she walked just as natural, he said. She had her head ducked looking at the baby. She had a shawl over her head which was also wrapped around the child. He said he stopped and watched her and spoke before she got too close because he didn’t want to frighten her. That’s when she simply disappeared into thin air. Just like that, she just faded away. He was perplexed and uneasy, rounding up the hogs with most haste while he kept a keen eye out for the wraith. But, thankfully, she didn’t return that day.

He then reported that the very next time he went toward the creek, the same thing happened again, scaring him half to death. He claimed from that day on, he just avoided going to the creek no matter the need. In the following spring, he and his wife needed some farm help and decided to hire a young man named Jake.

Long tried to tell young Jake about the ghost and advised him to avoid crossing at the McDow whenever possible, but Jake just laughed and said there was no such things as ghosts. That was before fate stepped into Jake’s young life and convinced him otherwise. According to Long, Jake was quite the lady’s man and it didn’t matter which lady. He’d gone to a dance near Dublin and was returning late. Suddenly, Long and his wife Ruth heard a horse galloping up to the house in a full run when suddenly Jake came through the door. The boy was as white as a sheet. They just helped him to bed and spoke no more about it that night.

The following morning Jake was up and all talk. He claimed that while returning home last evening he was crossing the creek at the McDow when a woman came off the opposite bank in the moonlight, just floating in mid-air and stepped upon the rear of his horse, right behind his saddle. Then she seemed to go up in the air a few feet and land again on the horse’s hips. Jake said he wasn’t scared at first, terrified was a better description. He reached for his gun and fired, but when she came again and in the same undisturbed manner, he just couldn’t stand it no more and spurred the beast to a full trot, never looking back. He never crossed Green’s Creek at the McDow after that and was a sure believer in ghosts from that day on.

It was in the year of 1902, that a young farmer by the name of Will Petty and his wife, like everyone else in the area, had to haul water from the McDow because of drought. The Petty’s would come down to the McDow with three barrels in their wagon. It would take a whole team of horses to pull the wagon out of the creek. It was late evening just before the sun went down that Will and his wife went down to get their load. Will was standing with one foot on the hub of the wheel dipping up the water while Mrs. Petty poured it into the barrel.

They’d just got the first barrel full and were starting on the second when Mrs. Petty glanced up at the bank she was facing. There she saw the woman with the baby in her arms. She just stopped and stared with a cold look as Will attempted to hand her the bucket. He then looked up to see what was causing such a horrified look on her face. That’s when he saw the thing. The ghost simply stepped off the bank into thin air slowly coming down on the water and started moving toward them. The Petty’s didn’t stay to welcome her. They never did know how they got out of there so fast but they never returned to the McDow for water.

Over the years the ghost continued to mystify the people in the area and many came to the McDow to get a glimpse. Some of the stories have been told and retold, many embellished and many faded into folklore. Mary Jo Clendenin found an old newspaper clipping from a paper dated 1920, though there was no name or heading on it she did clarify that it was in a classified ads section and read:

“A few weeks ago there appeared a letter in a paper published in Erath County, a statement that the McDow Ghost was dead. That I would never walk the earth again. False, every word of it. The man who wrote that wants me to be dead. It makes him think too much of the old days. There is also a woman in the town of Stephenville who could tell some wonderful things about me and do you know that a few years ago a man died in the county, a man who I have haunted for many years. And when he was on his death-bed, I stood over him, to remind him of the awful past.

When my husband and I built our little cabin on the banks of Green’s Creek we were very happy, but one evening when my husband was away, the Indians came and killed me. At least they were dressed like Indians but they were not. They were white men dressed up like Indians. I have haunted these men these many years. And on his death-bed the man I have mentioned told two men that I constantly appeared to him. That he knew I had come after him for the last time. One of these men still lives in Erath County, another near Paint Rock.

When the supposed Indians had murdered me they did not know what to do with my baby and cruel demons that they were, they threw it far out into the water, and its voice has cried from that dark hole all these years. Yes, I am the ghost of the McDow and there are people still living that know I am real and why I exist.”


It was never known who actually wrote the statement or why. The tales of the ghost are far too many to relate in this writing. But it is apparent that the ghost was still very active within the 20th Century and opened a whole new chapter on the haunting as documented by Mary Jo Clendenin. It was her book, “The Ghost of Jenny,” which tells the story of Jenny Papworth, a pioneer woman whose husband had to leave the farm for a period of time and while he was gone Jenny and her infant child were murdered by a suspected cattle rustler. Soon after, her ghost began to reappear along the banks of the McDow as well as throughout the surrounding area. She is witnessed by various farmers, including Bill Keith and the Hickey family.

The story by Clendenin is fascinating and uses many details from her father’s accounts. It was also documented in 1971 by Jean Arden Schuetz in her book “People-Events & Erath County” and in Frontier Times Magazine in September 1971, however the names of the main characters, Charlie and Jenny Papworth, are not historically located in records of Erath County, but the Keith’s, McDow’s, and several others are. It is not known if Clendenin romanticized or embellished her father’s stories or used pseudonyms to protect the reputations of local folks who were still alive and may not have desired their names be attached to strange tales.

According to Schuetz, the Papworth’s arrived on Green’s Creek on May 15, 1860. Charlie Papworth was a nephew of Jim McDow. Charlie and Jenny Papworth, along with their infant son, Temple, purchased the land at the McDow from a squatter. Clendenin then tells the story that Jenny gave birth to a girl about four years later. Charlie Papworth’s parents both died in 1865 and willed him their belongings which were shipped to Texas but the nearest railroad was in Texarkana where Charlie would have to travel by wagon which took him several weeks. Upon his return he found that his wife Jenny and the baby had disappeared but his son was safe with the Keith family. Jenny Papworth and the baby were never seen again. His son Temple was found by the Keith’s hiding under a bed. He was never able to give an account of what happened to his mother and infant sister but did say that the man who entered the home was white and spoke English.

A man named W. P. Brownlow, though the name was suspected to be a ruse, was quick to blame the Comanche for the disappearance but no trail of Comanche could be found by a search party. Soon, a neighboring farmer told Charlie that he had seen Brownlow talking to Jenny near the creek on the evening she disappeared. Charlie began to suspect Brownlow who in fear devised a plan to paint Charlie as a horse and cattle thief and one morning, just at the break of dawn several hooded riders arrived at the Papworth place where they took Charlie, along with six other men who were rounded up near Proctor, Texas and hung them from a tree on the bank of the creek. Charlie was the last to be hung and the weight of the other men enabled him to touch the ground with his feet. His son was able to cut his father loose with a knife. Charlie recognized Brownlow and some of the other vigilantes and knew if he stayed he was going to have to kill them or they would kill him. Later that morning, Charlie walked to a neighbor’s home with a swollen neck and purchased a horse. He and his son left for the Oklahoma territory and never returned to Erath County.

Brownlow moved to Cranfill’s Gap and died in 1885. While he lay dying he reported to have been haunted by the ghost of Jenny Papworth and confessed to strangling her and the baby after she had witnessed him meeting with known cattle thieves near the McDow. He reported that he threw the bodies down a shallow seep hole near the creek and covered it with rocks and dirt so the bodies would never be found. Then he conveniently blamed the Comanche for her disappearance as to keep anyone from looking for her on the property.

The Papworth cabin set empty for a few years but Bill Keith would use it in the hot summers as a respite while his cows grazed and watered at the McDow. One August evening he and his thirteen year old son decided to stay for a few days at the cabin. The first night in the cabin both were awakened by someone touching them on their foreheads. At the same time Keith reported that there was a strange chill in the cabin and scratching sounds coming from the door. The third night in the cabin he was once again awakened by the strange scratching at the door. When he opened the door to investigate he saw Jenny Papworth standing there holding her infant daughter before disappearing. He and his son were terrified so much that they barred the door and exited the cabin through a very small rear window. As they ran from the place they heard a woman screaming. The Keith’s moved away from the area shortly thereafter. Soon others began to witness the ghost of a woman at the McDow and the haunting would last for over a century. Regardless, whether the Papworth family existed or not, one thing remains the same…someone or something haunts the McDow Hole on Green’s Creek.

Long-time Erath County resident Wes Miller of Morgan Mill reportedly swam and worked the land around the McDow Hole since 1927 according to Abilene newspaperman Brian Bethel in a 1996 article in the Abilene Reporter-News. “Often Miller’s mules would become skittish around the old watering hole as he felt a presence around him.” One time he and some young companions came to swim when a preternatural chill seemed to fill the air. He and several of his companions built a fire, but it scattered and went out as if from a great down-draft of ice-cold air.

“I heard the story from my granddad,” said Miller, “Who told me about it in the 1920’s. He said, These events that happened in the 1880’s are true, both recorded in folklore and verified through people I knew that had known those directly involved. They’re a part of history.” On the subject of ghosts, he said he felt more-or-less accepted by whatever presence he felt at the McDow, although he admits he wouldn’t stay there at night.”

Many believe it a reasonable idea that something haunts the old McDow Hole on Green’s Creek in Erath County, but what about more recent accounts. Is the ghost still active? In 1998 Clendenin reported on her website “ A Word Edgewise,” that she received a call from a man in 1996 who reported that he and a lady friend decided to investigate the haunt of the ghost on a bright moon-lit night at about 1:30 in the morning. As the two arrived at the bridge near the McDow the woman was too frightened to get out of the vehicle so the man decided to walk down the creek alone to see what he could see. The woman grew braver and stepped from the vehicle as both witnessed the figure of a woman materialize from a vapor-like column. Though her facial features were not visible, there was no mistake of the woman when she showed them her baby. The terrified couple didn’t wait around to see what came next as they quickly fled the area.

In 1970, an article in the Empire-Tribune, reported about a group of girls who got a completely different scare. It was Halloween night of that year when Jo Stem and a couple of friends took their daughters with friends to the McDow for fun. The teens were transported to the hollow in the back of a pickup as they told ghost stories and retold the Papworth tale. They parked the truck and hiked into the creek bed wrapped in winter gear as it was reported to have been one of the coldest Halloween nights in many years.

As the group was walking along the banks Jo and her friend saw what appeared to be a grown man with a sheet over his body with nothing but two eye holes cut in the fabric walking eerily along a fence line not far from them. Thinking it to be her husband she was not alarmed. When the group got ready to leave they approached their truck to see the strange figure walking away from the vehicle. Once they got to the truck they found all the pillows the girls sat on in the truck bed to be cut to pieces. Later when they got home Jo found that it was not her husband dressed as the ghost. The strange person was never identified and the event was considered another hostile happening along the banks of the McDow.

An unnamed businessman in Dallas related that he had come face-to-face with the ghost of the McDow Hole in the winter of 1980 and the experience changed him forever. At the time he lived in Irving but was visiting a friend who lived in Stephenville for the weekend. On Saturday night he and his friend were accompanied by a third friend who told him that they were going to go see a ghost. He smiled and agreed as it sounded like a splendid adventure because he didn’t really expect to see a ghost but rather some kind of teenage prank that boys are known and expected to play on one another.

The three boys jumped into a beat-up 65’ Chevy pickup and travelled to the outskirts of town then onto an old dirt road that seemed to go on forever through acres of three foot tall sticks coming up out of the ground on both sides of the road. Then it was explained to him that they were sapling Pecan trees as they were on the property of Wolfe Nurseries. After a couple of miles the boys made a right turn at a huge withered Oak and drove a bit further to where the road went downhill into a grove of trees. At this point they parked the pickup on a one lane bridge that spanned a creek bed with a larger body of water just to the north of the bridge. The scene was illuminated by a full moon, a great backdrop for one of his buddies to unfold their scheme to scare him.

After a few minutes of intense anticipation, nothing happened. He asked what it was all about and his friend said they were there to see the ghost of McDow Hole. The others explained the old ghost story about the woman searching for her baby and pretty much scares the living daylight out of people. He reported that he was quite impressed with the story and told them that it sounded like a bit of folklore and the story combined with the setting was doing a good job of giving him the creeps. He did believe that legends, stories and folklore are good for a scare but real paranormal happenings were not possible.

The three boys sat in truck facing the dry creek bed for about an hour and a half discussing different aspects of the tale and the region. After a while they started getting very cold and cramped; all three being pretty tall and one a bit on the hefty side. He told the other two he was tired and ready to go. At this point he was more convinced than ever that they had brought him to the McDow as a joke but couldn’t understand why no one had surprised them yet.

It was then that one of the other boys pointed and said “Look!” He was in the driver’s seat and pointing toward the creek bed next to a dark depression. He reported that he had done some pretty hair-raising things in life; canoeing in flood-swollen rivers, rescued capsized boaters in strong currents, nearly fell to his death while rock climbing but to this very day, he had never had an adrenaline rush like the one he had at that moment. Though he had 20/20 vision and had been sitting there for a couple of hours in the moonlight where his eyes had become accustomed to the light level he still strained his eyes, trying to refocus, because his mind simply could not register what he was actually seeing which was apparently the ghost of a woman.

In describing the ghostly figure he said that she drifted in and out of focus or clarity. It seemed that she was young in appearance, wearing a long pleated skirt or dress with long sleeves. She had long, wispy hair and not really an unpleasant expression on her face, which was plain, but somewhat pretty. He explained that she had an “earthy” look. The woman appeared white and translucent, almost smoky or cloudy and then would slowly become less “see-through,” and her features would sharpen, much like bringing a camera into focus on a subject.

There was a large rock in the creek bed, a short distance from the hole, and she would be sitting on it for a short time, then completely disappear, then the next moment, she would “sharpen” and be standing a short distance away in front of the water hole. It seemed that she was looking in their direction the entire time, but he wasn’t sure if she was actually looking at them or whether she had knowledge of their presence. The boys were entirely shocked, much like a deer caught in the headlights. Over the years he has attempted to decipher the whirlwind of emotions that ran through his head in a short amount of time that night years ago. Amazement, terror, joy, remorse and anticipation as he sat there stunned for less than a minute or more.

He finally pried his eyes away from the specter and shifted his gaze a few degrees to his friend who looked at him as well. He could tell by his look of astonishment that he was having the same thoughts as they stared at each other dumbfounded. He turned to look at his other friend who had an entirely different expression – astonished, but combined with a huge grin…much like a child’s look on Christmas morning upon viewing Santa’s visit.

The boy with the smile said, “Just wait until she starts walking down the creek screaming!” in a very excited tone. The other two boys thought immediately against waiting for anything and decided to leave but it was then that the real terror set in. They had been parked with the radio on for better part of two hours; the battery barely had enough power to crank the motor. As the motor slowly churned he looked at the specter again, which had not moved or changed its demeanor. Thankfully the motor roared to life and the terror eased and the three were on their way. He took one last look as they drove away and saw her simply standing in the same place.

As the boys headed back to Stephenville they didn’t discuss it much though his heart raced with fear and anxiety the likes he’d never known. The next morning at the breakfast table his friend’s mother asked what they did the night before and they told her they had gone to McDow Hole to see the ghost. She smiled and didn’t look horribly surprised, which he found quite peculiar as she had seen it before too. He moved on in life and lost touch with his friends but has never really come to any understanding of what he saw that night in 1980 which left him in awe and wonder of things in life which forever stay a mystery. He never went back to Stephenville again.

In 1996, another young man related a similar story. He said he and a few friends were out looking for thrills on a boring Saturday night when they decided on a visit to the McDow. He said only two of the members in the car saw the woman form from a glowing mist before they sped off in a cloud from sheer terror and psychologically transformed. He said her glow didn’t seem to reflect off of any of the surroundings but the trees did block her light. As he was watching in a stupor the girl in the front seat saw the specter and began to scream once she too began to realize what she was witnessing. The driver, who did not see the figure didn’t need to be convinced as the screams of his friends was proof enough to leave. The woman passenger, like so many witnesses before her, couldn’t catch her breath momentarily and finally composed herself enough to say, “It was her! I saw her! It was her! She began to cry as fear overwhelmed her.

Since the group was only there for a few seconds only two of them saw the ghost but since the man didn’t want to be ridiculed he said nothing. However, he said that what he’d seen was vivid. He has never since nor before witnessed a ghost and never wants to again. In 2003 a young man from Dublin reported that he had been to the McDow many times as a teenager and never witnessed anything. It wasn’t until one night at the age of twenty- three that he and three others went to the McDow when they too witnessed the same ethereal figure of the woman who approached them. The man said it changed his view of spiritual matters forever and he would never go near the McDow again. The event for him was truly terrifying and any thoughts of joking about the ghost were long dismissed.

Summer days along the McDow looked like a world away one hundred years ago as farmers cultivated cotton and corn and the land was alive with wildlife and dreams of those who lived long before us. Today the area appears much different with modern homes and dairy farms and the deep waters of the creek have long filled with sediment. But as summers have turned to autumn and those faded into winters, years turned into decades and that a century past has yielded no answers for generations of long ago who shared the creek with something they could not explain.

So does the ghost of the McDow Hole still linger among the banks of Green’s Creek in Erath County? Almost 140 years have passed since the first sighting of the ghost. Most legends or stories of haunts tend to fade away after a short period of time but in the case of the McDow Hole, such isn’t the case. It has been reported that the human mind can easily misinterpret what it sees. This happens when our eyes fix on something while our mind searches memory banks to recall information of things we already know or have observed. In the fleeting seconds of observation the mind can easily discern input to identify what it is we are looking at but sometimes our eyes can register purposed information instead of factual leaving one confused or misinterpreting what he is observing or expecting to observe. And such a hypothesis may explain some ghost sightings however, with over one hundred years of people seeing virtually the same phenomena in the same place one can only believe that perhaps there really is some validity to the ghost of the McDow Hole in Erath County.

And perhaps on a cold winters night as the waxing moon lowers and the naked limbs clatter in a north wind she lingers in her world. A world far removed from those she knew and loved. As a great chasm separates us from the world of the dead we are left with only wonder of her purpose and her life perhaps as a lonely spirit chained to her own anxiety and revenge. So, she waits, for what we will never know but if you happen upon her one moonlit night be cognizant of her struggle for a time and a people that linger forever in her heart.



Watson, D. (1996), “Hickey Pioneers – A Partial History of Captain Wesley Hickey Family,” Chicago, Ill., Adams Press

Clendenin, M. (1992), “The Ghost of McDow Hole; Ghost Stories Told by Joe Fitzgerald”, New York, New York. Adams Publishing

N.A., “Men of Unquestionable Truthfulness Believe They Had Seen Something,” Nolan County News, 17 June 1934.

N.A., “The Ghost of Erath County”, Paris News, 9 September 1942

Clendenin, M.J., (1992), “The Ghost of Jenny”, Lubbock, TX; Cotton Publishing.

Schuetz, J. A., (1971), “People – Events & Erath County – Papworth Haunted McDow Water Hole & Hanging Tree,” (First Revised Edition), Published by Ennis Favors.

Brian Bethel, “Legendary Ghost Still Lingers in Stephenville,” Abilene Reporter News; 1996.

Clendenin, M. (September 2000), “Old Ghosts Never Die; They’ve Been There and Done That,” (retrieved October 11, 2001; http.//our-town.com/editorials/Edge-Clendenin/edgeghost.htm.

Erin Cooper, “Murder Still Lingers,” The Empire Tribune; 28 October 1971.

Frontier Times Magazine, “Haunted Waterhole, September 1973 Issue.

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  1. Billie Rachell Ortiz

    I’ve heard her just recently. November 8th or 10th of 2021. I got a few pictures before the odd account occurred. It scared me so bad I got out of there but see I used to live up the road right off of hwy 6. My sister was recording me and you can tell that I was extremely scared and was very alarmed and baffled and extremely sadden by the fact that she does still linger in another world apart from ours. I do not understand it but I will definitely never forget it. I can tell you this she wants to acknowledged. I however was to scared. All I could do was run to my car. I looked at 3 things after I heard her. My car door to open and my sister to tell one time only that it was time to go and check this out…. The ground. My immediate reaction out of fear was to look down and run to my car. Afterwards I went through the pictures. She is in them. She is totally still there. I don’t think it’s fair to leave her out there. I cried my eyes out. I uttered the same words others had. I heard her. I can’t believe it. She is still out there. Breath taking and extremely sad. She did not deserve what happened to her.

  2. Tracy Brannan

    My sister and I decided in 2007 that we would go in search of this ghost. It took a couple of trips from where we lived in Fort Worth to actually find the right maps and land lines as the roads are dirt and the creek actually crosses two roads. We took several photos in the daytime and upon getting these developed were able to make out the figure of a woman and a chilld at her knees standing behind a fallen tree across the creek bed. As we know cameras can play tricks so I handed the photo to my niece next to me who knew nothing about our adventure or the ghost. I said tell me what you see in this photo and she said “it looks like a woman and small child behind that fallen tree.” Immediately, my sis and I got the chills from head to toe as we met each others eyes across the room. She is real! We have the pics!