Special to The Progress
Editors note: J. Michael Sullivan is a senior at Orange Grove High School and the son of Mary Margaret Campbell. He wrote this article for the Texas Folklore Society meeting last Spring. Only a small portion is featured here. However, the full article will be posted on our website: www.mysoutex.com.
Last year as I walked into my Spanish class, I noticed pictures of big creepy looking houses, pictures that weren’t usually in that classroom. As my attention was drawn toward one particular picture, I realized I had been there many times. I told my teacher, “Mrs. Cornejo, umm I have my family reunions at this house.” She told me that that house was “Crazy Rachel’s” house and that she would be sharing that story among other South Texas ghost stories and legends. I’m here today to tell you that there are many ghost stories and legends of San Patricio and no two of them are ever the same.
The ghost story that seems to be the most famous among residents of the area is the one Mrs. Cornejo told us in class that day about “Crazy Rachel.” The legend says that if you go to the Dougherty house at night, you will see a woman sitting in an upstairs bedroom window rocking in a rocking chair or wandering around outside. The Rachel referred to as “Crazy Rachel” is Rachel Timon. The folk stories confuse her with Rachel Dougherty, my grandfather’s grandmother, my great-great-grandmother. Rachel Sullivan Dougherty and her husband Robert Dougherty built the house in the 1870’s as a home for their family and a boarding school for boys, known as St. Paul’s Academy. The family lived downstairs; the school was upstairs. The house sits on the shore of Round Lake, a lake of unknown origin just outside of the town of San Patricio.
According to my mother, Rachel Timon was a great niece to Rachel Sullivan Dougherty and did not live in the Dougherty house until after all of the original Doughertys had moved away or died. She lived in the house supposedly as caretaker, but my mother doesn’t think Rachel Timon could be considered an actual caretaker. The family needed someone to live in the house, and Rachel needed a place to live. Although Rachel Timon wasn’t actually crazy, she was an eccentric person and a recluse (Campbell, MM). So, it’s really not unthinkable that such stories of her could have started and grown, as they certainly have.
Now there have been other spiritual sightings at the house, but the “Crazy Rachel” stories are what have made the Dougherty house so popular among the youth of Orange Grove and surrounding communities. One night on the bus coming home from a baseball game, some of my friends were talking about wanting to go out to the cemetery in San Pat on Friday the 13th. In fact, tiny San Patricio has two cemeteries for kids to go to: the old cemetery on the hill and the newer cemetery behind the church. From visiting the two cemeteries, especially the old one on the hill, I can see why some people might think that it is haunted. All the old headstones and the leafless trees give the cemetery an eerie look. While on the bus, someone asked me if I knew how to get to Crazy Rachel’s, and I told them that I have my family reunions at that house and that she is my kin folk. They were surprised and asked, “Are you serious?”
I firmly answered, “Yes I am!”
I know from hearing other stories around school that often kids go sneaking out there to see if they can catch a glimpse of Rachel or go out to the old San Pat cemetery to spot a ghost. In fact, a friend of mine went out to the Dougherty house one night and said he saw Rachel, but before he could try to get a closer look, the caretaker at the time came outside and started yelling and throwing rocks and waving a baseball bat, so he says he “booked it out of there” and actually has a scar from his palm running up to his forearm from when he jumped the barbed wire fence. When my older cousin Alainya was in school, kids were going out to the Dougherty house and the old cemetery. The first time my mother talked to Alainya of the house, before we started having family reunions, Alainya exclaimed, “Really? Crazy Rachel’s house is our family home? Cool!” Up until that time, all she knew about the house was that it was supposed to be haunted with crazy ghosts all about (Campbell, MM).
In fact, I have witnessed spirits at this house. Once when I was about ten years old, I was wandering around the house when I came across where there used to be a big brick BBQ pit on the shore by the lake but now is just bricks piled on top of one another. As I rounded the corner of the house, I started to hear voices and sounds of laughter. When I peered around the house toward where the voices were coming from, I saw a group of people having a BBQ on a brand new brick pit. I saw a few men standing around the pit, children running and playing, and the women and young girls coming from in the house. It was all very clear, like it was actually happening. For a moment, it was as though I were in the 1940’s. The pit is still there; it just is not as elaborate as it used to be. The piles of bricks that had fallen out of formation have since been hauled off to make the house more presentable to visitors, and personally, I think the ghosts wanted their house to look better, so they forced the caretaker to take care of the eye sore. The house is much less creepy now than it used to be; now it is painted, and pieces of the house aren’t falling off anymore.
There is a legend reporting sightings of a Green Lady in the Round Lake area. In fact, one recent story is when some men were working cattle in San Patricio and were to stay the night in the Dougherty house. Everyone was fine and comfortable, when all of the sudden from a bedroom fireplace, out walked “some green lady” as told by Richard Beall. He said, “so I ran outside and spent the rest of the night in my truck” (Campbell, C.). Another sighting of the green lady occurred from the porch of the McGloin house. The story goes that Mary Ann McGloin looked out over Round Lake and saw a “fairy-like lady dressed in green skimming so smoothly along that she might have been on solid ground” (Hebert 382). When she told her husband Pat about the lady in green, he told her that his uncle Empresario James McGloin had once told Pat that when he lived in Ireland, a “lass” was in love with him and “once was dressed in green.” On the day he left her, she told him “that when she died she would haunt [him], and it would be on a lake and she’d be wearing her green dress and bonnet” (383-84).
There are many other ghost stories and legends of Old San Pat and the Coastal Bend still told in the area and considered legends of Old San Patricio. “Fort Lipantitlan was a Mexican army fort established in 1825 near San Patricio on the site of a Lipan Apache Indian camping grounds and an old presidio, on the bank of the Nueces River.” There is a legend about this fort being haunted by “ghostly cries for mercy from a woman hidden in the mist wafting on the breeze” (Coleman 51). The legend says that a young bride named Katie caught her husband leaving the house of another woman, Millie. Then Katie went to her friend Aggie’s house and told her of what she had seen. Aggie told her to go back home and act like nothing had happened. Aggie got together with the other older women of the town, and they basically formed an angry old person mob. The mob broke down Millie’s door and dragged her outside and lynched her. The women left Millie hanging there until Katie’s husband found her the next morning, cut her down, and buried her; then, he left Katie and Fort Lipantitlan never to return. Millie’s cries are still heard throughout Fort Lipantitlan (Coleman 52-54).
One legend is said to have actually taken place in Corpus Christi, which is about twenty miles from San Patricio. While County Judge Walter Timon was sitting in front of his fire place, he looked up and saw the apparition of a man standing by the fireside. What made this figure so strange was that the circle of flames engulfed the entire apparition and disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared (Williams 104). Other people have also seen the man in the circle of flames, and to this day no one has been able to figure out who the man is or why he came in a circle of flames. But it also took place in San Patricio at the Bayou Ranch near Round Lake. Emelia Sullivan Timon saw the same apparition that the Judge did. “It is said that Mrs. Mary Dunn Magown saw the same ghost at the Bayou Ranch when she came once to stay with the Timon children when Emelia and Harry were away” (Hebert 389).
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Well, “there are those who live on the small ranches in the mesquite thickets around Alice and Ben Bolt, not far from San Patricio, who claim to have caught a glimpse of a headless rider, galloping through the moonlit night, and others who say they have seen him stopping at a willow-choked resaca to let his weary horse have a drink.’’ Unlike Irving’s headless horseman, “The Headless One of Texas, or El Muerto as he is called, has his head, neatly covered with a wide-brimmed sombrero, and attached to his saddle horn by a long strip of rawhide where it swings eerily back and forth to the rhythm of the horse’s moving feet” (Fowler 25).
The legend goes that he was a horse thief named Vidal, and when he was finally caught, he was beheaded and strapped to a saddle on top of a wild mustang with his head hanging on the long rope, and the horse ran off. Since the horse was wild, it would have nothing to do with humans, so it would stay to the brush, and only a lonely explorer would find the horse and El Muerto. Any time other riders would see him, they would shoot at him, and the best marksmen would swear that they killed him, but the headless one would ride off chest up. When the wild pony was finally captured, still strapped firmly on his back was the dried-up corpse of Vidal, now riddled by scores of bullet holes, testifying to the correctness of the many marksmen who swore they had not missed. The body was buried in an unmarked grave near Ben Bolt, and the poor horse set free at last. And it is said that El Muerto will not die (Fowler 26-27).
The Old San Patricio Court House is said to be haunted by the ghost of Josefa Chipita Rodriguez, which is without doubt the most famous ghost story and legend of Old San Pat. Chipita is the only woman legally hanged in Texas when she was accused of committing an axe murder. While the jury recommended mercy, the judge ordered her executed on November 13, 1863 (“Texas Hauntings”). On the day of her execution, my great-great-grandmother, Rachel Sullivan (before she was married), gave Chipita the dress that she wore when Chipita was executed. When Chipita’s coffin was being carried off in a wagon to an unmarked grave, I have been told that one of Rachel’s brothers sneaked off and followed the coffin. When he heard a “thump and a moan,” he ran off as fast as his legs would take him (Knight). Many people claim to have seen her ghost, a woman with a rope around her neck wandering the streets of San Patricio, inside the Old Court House, and along the river where she had lived.
Not all stories have to deal with spirits and ghosts; I have found legends of buried treasure, as well. One of my favorite buried treasure stories takes place in the San Patricio area. John Henrichson had bought and sold ranches from Nuecestown to Sandia, all the way up the Nueces River Valley (Crofford 42). He didn’t believe in banks, so he buried his riches on the ranches for his children. Henrichson buried the gold in iron pots, chests, and strong leather bags (51). While on his death bed, he called for his son George because, up to this point, no one knew where he had buried it. He tried to tell George, but all he could get out was “Under the posts…the posts…in the corral…the third…by…the gate” and those were his last words (49). So the problem was which corrals? Which ranch? Or more than one set of corrals? According to the legend the family never found the gold (52).
Another buried treasure story is called, ironically, “Another Buried Treasure Story” (Crofford 63). Back in the early 1800’s, people who were traveling were often forced to bury their gold because it was such a heavy load. One day, Mustang Grey, or Pat Quinn, and his partner stole a large amount of gold from some Mexican soldiers and buried it under a mesquite tree at the bank of the Nueces River at El Paso de Piedras, or Old Rock Crossing, at Fort Lipantitlan. Years later, the partner asked John Timon to go with him to find the gold. They could not find the treasure, but they found where others had searched for the buried treasure. The treasure in question may still be buried there, for the tree and gold may have been washed in to the Nueces River. Who knows? (64).
This account only scratches the surface of the countless number of ghost stories and legends in the San Patricio area.
Campbell, Cody. Personal interview. 17 Jan. 2010.
Campbell, Mary Margaret Dougherty. Personal interview. 17 Jan. 2010.
Coleman, Elaine. Texas Haunted Forts. Plano, TX: Republic of Texas. 2001.
Crofford, Lena H. Pioneers on the Nueces. San Antonio: Naylor, 1963.
Fowler, Zinita Parsons. Ghosts of Old Texas. Austin: Eakin, 1983.
Hebert, Rachel Bluntzer. The Forgotten Colony: San Patricio de Hibernia. Burnet, TX: Eakin, 1981.
Knight, Mary Elizabeth. Telephone interview. 29 Dec. 2009.
“Texas Hauntings.” San Antonio Paranormal Network. www.ghost411.com/texas_hauntings. 18 Jan. 2010.
Williams, Docia Schultz. Ghosts Along the Texas Coast. Plano, TX: Republic of Texas, 1995.