Down on Conasauga Creek (if you don’t want to be taken for an outlander, you gonna pronounce that Conn-uh-SAW-gee), they still tell tales about Bud Preston, although that wasn’t his real name. There are still people around down there whose families suffered from his wicked ways who’ll fight you like a circle saw over him, so I changed it to protect the—ahem—semi-innocent.
Auntie has heard tales about Bud Preston all her life, although he died under mysterious circumstances way back in the 1880s. She says that he was so infamous a local character there was even a book written about him.
Now Bud was not your run of the mill hell-raisin’ bad boy—drinkin’, chasin’ women, leavin’ broken hearts and little young’uns that looked just like him in his wake. No sir. Bud was more of a violent type; he held up people on the road, robbed banks, traveled around a good deal to cover his tracks, and on Conasauga was responsible for a couple of killings that led to a feud—and most probably, to his own death.
After one shootout that left a couple of men dead and another two or three wounded, Bud vanished. Now most people figured he’d hightailed it out of there ahead of a sheriff’s posse, or maybe a mob on horseback led by Judge Lynch, who did get around some in these parts, and was hiding out, as was his wont, in the mountains in North Carolina or north Georgia—neither very far away, and in places all but inaccessible, as some of them remain to this day.
That was before somebody out huntin’, or maybe makin’ ‘shine on Starr’s Mountain, found a body in the woods. There was enough left to tell it was Bud Preston—and it looked an awful lot like he’d been shot in the back.
Over the objections of some who had lost family members in the feud Bud started, he was buried in Conasauga Cemetery. (This was originally a family cemetery, and he may have had connections to that family; later it was maintained by the nearby Baptist church.) His grave stood on top of a hill, with the woods at his back, and his family put up a right nice tombstone for him.
Somebody damaged his tombstone, and then stole it outright.
On the first anniversary of his burial (since nobody rightly knew when he’d died out in the woods), the men of a family who had lost several members in the feud rode out, dead on midnight, under a full moon, with shovels in their hands. They were dead set against Bud Preston resting in a cemetery where their relatives—some active participants in the feud, some innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire—also rested. They may have intended only to discard his remains in the woods; they may have intended to dismember what was left before tossing it like animal bones; they may have even intended to burn them somewhere.
Nobody knows, for sure, what they meant to do.
They had barely begun to dig when, from the woods behind Bud’s grave, there came a perfect fusillade of gunshots. They were loud, and a couple of the men swore and shouted in pain; they’d been hit as they dove out of the way.
And while the shooting was still going on, a light suddenly rose from the disturbed soil over Bud’s grave, and began bobbing and weaving around, like a lantern, perhaps, carried around by a man who hadn’t walked in awhile and was getting his legs back under him.
They didn’t wait to see anything else. They ran to their horses and took out at a gallop. The ones who had been hit by the shots from the woods found, when they got home and gasped out their story, that they bore no wounds, had shed no blood.
They never went back to try to desecrate Bud’s grave again. But he’s vigilant to this day. The patch of woods behind his grave is long gone, taken down when the graveyard expanded, years after his death. But oldtimers will tell you that, long about midnight every year, on the anniversary of Bud Preston’s burial, you’ll hear gunshots from what was, long ago, the woods, and then see the light rise from his now-unmarked grave. It wavers and wanders around the hilltop until, as first light begins to brighten the sky, it moves back to the grave and vanishes.