Stories of ghost and/or phantom hitchhikers are legion throughout Kentucky, and elsewhere. It may be surprising, but this phenomenon did not begin with the advent of the automobile, but in fact, were well known from times when horseback was the dominant form of transportation.
In most part, with these accounts, the hitcher is never seen, but heard and defiantly felt. Also surprisingly, there seems to be no “tragic” deaths or events, or indeed any deaths at all, associated with the affected area. Their cause a mystery, and as to what purpose their “hauntings” serve, a mystery as well.
In most cases, the presence of these additional travelers is known by little more than the sounds made with mounting and dismounting, and by the buckling-reaction of the horse with the sudden addition of unexpected weight.
However, these generalizes did not hold true one night for my uncle. His experience was something altogether different, and one he, nor anyone that heard his story would ever forget.
My uncle Virg was not a fearful man, that is what he may have feared no one could say, and only he knew. His fears, or the lack there of was not on his mind the night he fought for his life against an unseen and unheard “soldier” from another place and time.
The way was well known to him, and more importantly, it was very well-known to his horse. Many times his trusted mount had transverse the course, only vaguely lain out by his captain and master. On more than a few occasions, when uncle was overtaken with fatigue or by the “spirit” of the day, he was given free rein.
Tonight’s course passed between two mammoth boulders on either side of the trail, both with cracks, crevasses, and overhangs that had provided short-term shelter for travelers, and long-term lodging for the original inhabitants of the land. The cliff overhang, in one instance provided an idea attachment point for a hangman’s noose, during the time of the “Brother’s War”.
Though his name was lost to history, he was a soldier in blue, part of a detachment, allegedly carrying a payroll, all in gold. This prize proved too tempting to some local miscreants, and so an ambushed was laid. The unknown- soldier made a valiant attempt to get away, with at least a portion of the treasure, but was overtaken and unceremoniously hanged. The legend says he hid what treasure he carried on his temporarily evasion, and would not give up its location, even under the threat of imminent death.
The particulars of the events notwithstanding, what is certain, after he meet his fate at the end of a rope, his body was left for the ravages of nature. He was given a proper, albeit anonymous burial by my relatives that inhabited the area. Now as then, the cliffs on each side of the road was lined with, and mostly obscured by, mountain laurel; a better location for an ambush could hardly be desired.
There was no portents to herald the mortal-combat that was soon to ensue. The road was well known and well-traveled, Uncle’s horse was on course and time, the rhythmic thud of his hooves was hypnotic, interrupted occasionally by the clank of steel shoes on the errand stone.
Then it happened, the horse jolted from the weight and sudden impact of the attacker. Uncle was seized around the throats by an icy, vise-like grip. Out of instinct, uncle pulled the long-blade hunting knife from his hip and began slashing wildly behind his back; he cut only air. The horse, as startled as his rider, and loosed from all control, bolted down the path at a wild, breakneck speed. Uncle was on the verge of succumbing to the unprovoked attack by this unseen, unheard, and except for the iron-grip, unfelt combatant. Then, just as the horse breached a small stream that intersected the road, the assault abruptly ended. Uncle slowly recovered and continued on his way to his intended destination, which happened to be the home of my father, himself ten-year-old at the time.
When Uncle related his fantastic tale, as difficult as it may have been for some to believe, none present at the telling doubted his word. He, like most of his time, was a man of his word. His honest nature notwithstanding, his word did not have to stand on its on merits. Evidence of the attack could clearly be seen in the form of hand shaped bruising all around his neck. The force of the grip so powerful, ever finger could clearly be counted.
Although the place, even at the time of this occurrence, was known as the “Haint’d Cliff”, due to other unearthly events that had taken place there, to the best of my knowledge, no other person, were ever physically attacked there. What was the motivation for the attack? Did a vengeful “spectral-soldier” mistake him for one that had perpetrated a unlawful and dishonorable act so many years before? Was it an angry “spirit-warrior” of the First Nations, whom during their lives had more than a single event to warrant a longing for vengeance? I suppose, like so much about the paranormal, the answer may never be known.