Hill is not what it used to be, but maybe it never was.
Wind and rain and the ravages of time have shrunk Haunted Hill by
20 feet or more since the first settlers moved here and saw it,
in the words of folklorist D.B. Smith "standing out in bold relief,
being black, often covered with fog while the other nearby hills
show up green."
Joyce Woods Cox, a local historian based in Moody, was told when
she was a child that at night you could hear the rattling of chains.
"They told us it was a volcano, and it might erupt at any minute,"
she said. "We were scared of it and fascinated by it at the same
While time and the methodology of science have diminished the hill
in both fact and fancy, mystery and legend will always thrive here,
science or no science. Something about the place kickstarts the
Hill rises about three miles east of Moody, overlooking the lush
and rolling Stampede Valley near a point where McLennan,
Coryell and Bell
counties meet. It's as barren as a moonscape; nothing has ever grown
"You get an occasional mesquite tree that will pop up out of a cow
patty, but that's about it," says Matt Hargrove, whose family owns
the land that includes Haunted Hill.
In lieu of vegetation, the slopes of Haunted Hill are thick with
sparkling silent crystals, or isinglass as it is commonly called.
Frank Simmons, who died in 1966 at the age of 85, wrote in 1934
about seeing the hill when he was a boy. "On bright sunny days those
crystals would sparkle and gleam in the sunlight, like some great
monarch's diadem until they could be seen for miles," he wrote.
"On gloomy dark nights, strange dim lights are said to have appeared
Simmons also related how the hill was drilled for oil in 1901. The
drillers hit artesian water at about 1,100 feet and gave up.
The Indians who lived in Stampede Valley for centuries before European
settlement had their own mythology. They told of how a loud explosion
many years ago preceded an eruption of fire from the top of the
hill, and how mud and water rolled down its slopes, and many people
died in the fire and ashes. The Indians were scared witless of Haunted
an investigation of the hill by Baylor University geologist O.T.
Hayward in the late 1960s put a scientific face on many of the myths
and legends, generations of people in the valley have grown up with
stories about the hill.
Dietra Hargrove said her four-year old grandson, Drew, and some
of his friends spent a night at Haunted Hill recently. Anyone who
stayed there the entire night was promised their picture would appear
in the Moody Courier newspaper.
"One of the little boys decided it wasn't worth it," Mrs. Hargrove
said. "He decided he'd rather spend the night here in the house."
In a letter to Jim Bowmer of Temple,
Hayward described how an abundance of pyrite, when exposed to air,
weathers to an iron rust and produces sulfuric acid. The red-colored
rocks so plentiful on the hill are cakes of iron rust limonite,
which the Indians used for paint.
Despite the presence of clinker ash, which is commonly associated
with volcanoes, Hayward found no evidence of volcanic activity.
The ash found on Haunted Hill, he said, was probably coal clinkers
created when the hill was drilled for oil in 1901.
we blame science for running roughshod over our favorite legends,
it should be noted that science has uncovered as many stories as
it has disproven.
In 1937, Baylor archaeologists uncovered an ancient Indian camp
buried for generations under three feet of black prairie soil. Not
far from the site was a mesquite tree riddled with bullet holes.
An outlaw was hung there, yet another story goes, and his body riddled
with bullet holes. But it was a long time ago and no one is sure.
Maybe someone took target practice on the tree, or a deranged individual
thought it was a deer.
That happened when the land was owned by the Alexander family, who
owned the land for several generations beginning in 1871 when Civil
War veteran John Newton Alexander settled his family there.
Like the Indians, Mr. Alexander was a firm believer in the spirits
on Haunted Hill. He once said, "I don't know anybody else that saw
any haints (spirits) up there, but me and my sister were always
seeing them, and it wasn't make believe either."
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
October 5, 2006 column