History Nebraska Blog

A Haunted Cowboy

Unidentified cowboy (RG2608.PH003300) (above)

Source: 3 Hemingford Herald 4/24/1896

The Old West has its share of ghostly lore, no matter what section of the country you study, and Nebraska is no exception. By 1896 most of the territorial fighting had calmed down in Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. The open prairies were used for grazing by large cattle ranches. This required the cows to be tended. So was introduced that colorful icon of the 19th century, the cowboy.

A story comes out of the Hemingford area back in 1896 involving a cowboy named Joe Healy, who had been hired by the Carlisle Cattle Company in Wyoming to help drive cattle and horse herds. On one particular evening he had been transferring horses from a ranch on the Sweetwater to another place many miles from the origin. His drive brought him across the border, where he passed the herd near some of the famous landmarks of Western Nebraska.

Guide Rock, Nebraska (RG3289.PH000019) (at right).

As night settled, Healy stopped the herd to rest. Before things could get settled, the herd became excited and prepared to stampede. The experienced cowboy spotted the object whipping up intensity amongst the horses. The figure of a man, pure white in color and somewhat iridescent, floated across the trail ahead of them. Through his fear, Healy described the figure as “clearly defined,” but he was unable to describe what the apparition was wearing.

Hemingford, Nebraska (RG3152.PH000002-000001)  (above).

After the shock of the moment had passed, Joe Healy moved the horses into a corral a mile’s distance from the border. Once they were secured, he headed back to the location of the apparition. Returning to the general spot he had been earlier, Joe found the animated object he called a “goblin damned” still visible, leaping about like a firefly. He quickly concocted a plan. From his horse, he would charge at the object. Using his herding skills to force the ghost into a solid backing, Joe then planned on lassoing the ghost with his rope.

Nebraska cowboy Charley Meeks (RG2608.PH002177) (at left).

Despite exhausting his horse and emptying his six shooter into the ghost, Joe Healy was unsuccessful in his attempt to capture or injure the specter. Since that time others had reported seeing similar figures.

-Dale Bacon Assistant Curator

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