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    Texas Ghosts

    THE GHOST ON HIGHWAY 281
    Lackey's Ghost

    by C. F. Eckhardt

    I owe this story to my long-time companion in mischief though not crime, John L. Tolleson of San Antonio. Like me, John is a collector of tales, but unfortunately he seldom writes them. It seems he had The Wicked Witch of the West for a high-school English teacher, and she told him he would never be able to write.

    According to John, this happened in the early 1960s, when the family was living on a ranch near the community of Sisterdale. He was enrolled at the University of Texas, as was I at the time, though we didn't meet until many years later.

    It was a Friday night, and John had a hot date in Sisterdale for Saturday, so he wasn't letting any grass grow under the wheels of his car. He blew through Blanco headed for Johnson City like the Devil was chasing him. The date happened to be October 31, but that wasn't registering on John. What was registering on him was the fact that it was nearing midnight and he wanted to get home and get some sleep.

    Between Blanco and Johnson City there are some conical hills. The largest of these is called, predictably, Sugarloaf. They once had another name. Bernardo de Miranda y Flores, Teniente-general in the Mexican army (Teniente is the operative title here-Lieutenant. The 'general' merely implies that he had authority anywhere in the province of Tejas, rather than being restricted to a single area) mentions them in what is known as 'The Miranda Report,' the first known expedition searching for a silver mine in the granite hills. In 1756-and apparently for some time before that-they were known as 'Los Pilones (Sugarloafs) de Seguin.'

    As John approached the hills he noticed, standing on the west side of the road, an apparent hitchhiker. The milk of human kindness not having been curdled by time and experience, John slowed, preparing to stop and pick the unfortunate fellow up. He noticed that the man was an Anglo, that he was unkempt in appearance, and he was wearing a light-blue shirt and tan or light brown trousers. As he approached more closely, he noticed a large stain on the side of the man's shirt and an apparent cut on his neck. "This guy's hurt," he said to himself, and was all the more determined to give the poor fellow a ride-until he noticed something else. In his right hand the man had a knife with a blade about a foot long.

    That did it! John put his foot in the carburetor and left the would-be hitchhiker in a cloud of asphalt and burning rubber. He got home, but didn't mention the knife-wielding hitchhiker to his parents.

    About a year and a half later John was in the old Jailhouse Barber Shop in Blanco, and he mentioned seeing the guy with the knife alongside 281. "Oh," somebody said, "you saw Lackey's ghost." Thereby, as the old saying goes, hangs a tale.

    Nobody's quite sure when it happened, and those who were there when it happened didn't talk about it much. A man from Johnson City, whose name might have been Lackey or Lakey, and whose first name has been lost, took a large knife and started carving up his relatives. Apparently he carved up several of them before he was caught. He was captured and taken to the then County Seat, Blanco, where he was put in the jail.

    Lackey may not have been fond of his relatives, but apparently some folks in Johnson City were. They got tired of waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. One night something on the order of a dozen or so of them, equipped with a wagon, masks for their faces, and a large supply of cartridge-loading ordnance, visited the county jail. They invited the jailer to give them the keys to Lackey's cell. The jailer, with a pistol barrel in each ear and another up his nose, while a fourth touched the nape of his neck, graciously complied. They took Lackey out, bound him hand and foot, and put him in the bed of the wagon. Then they left Blanco, going north.

    So the story goes, at a point about halfway between Blanco and Johnson City on the wagon road that wound through the hills about 200 yards west of present US 281, the deed was done. They stood Lackey up on the tailgate of the wagon, put the noose around his neck, and asked him if he had any last words. Apparently, what he said was something on the order of "If you'll turn me loose and give me a knife, I'll go back to Johnson City and finish what I started, and after that I don't care what you do to me."

    That was enough. They drove the wagon out from under Lackey.

    There are a couple of problems with impromptu hangings. Usually the guest of honor at the necktie party isn't dropped far enough to break his neck, so he strangles to death-usually flopping around on the end of the rope quite a bit before he does. Then again, a real hangman's rope is at least 1" in diameter, sometimes 1 ". Big ropes like that may strangle a hanged man if his neck's not broken by the drop, but that's all they do. Unfortunately, Lackey wasn't hanged with a big rope, he was hanged with a lariat. Lariats are seldom bigger than " in diameter.

    As Lackey flopped and struggled at the end of the rope, the rope cut into his neck and he bled-a lot-onto his shirt. That's the condition he was found in, the next morning when the sheriff came to the jail, got the jailer out of the cell Lackey had occupied-to keep him from spoiling the party-and followed the trail left by the wagon. The body was cut down but apparently none of Lackey's relatives were anxious to claim it, so it was buried in a pauper's grave somewhere in Blanco. These days, nobody seems to know where.

    As it turned out, John wasn't the only person who'd seen Lackey trying to hitch a ride north toward Johnson City. A lot of people were aware of him. Truckers don't like to drive that stretch on fall nights.

    Now, it is admitted that 'Lackeys' ghost' is a well-known story in Blanco, and that-from time to time-certain students at Blanco High have dressed in light-blue shirts and tan to light brown pants, poured ketchup on their shirts, and stood alongside 281 near Sugarloaf, holding a knife. However, all of Lackey's appearances can't be laid to high-school pranks, because he's turned up on the highway when Blanco High had a football game out of town, with most of the town's highschoolers either playing on the team, acting as managers for the team, marching with the band, or rooting for the team in the stands.

    C. F. Eckhardt
    "Charley Eckhardt's Texas" >
    June 28, 2006 column
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