hear the wind blow
hang your head over
hear the wind blow. . .
It’s sunny this morning in Knobite Corner, but the wind blows bitterly cold from the east; it bites through my clothes when I open the door to let Blackadder in for breakfast. That fierce bitter cold wind reminds me of a story from North Carolina.
I first read the story of the ghost girl on the palomino horse in Nancy Roberts’ This Haunted Southland: Where Ghosts Still Roam (1970); Roberts’ account is based on a 1926 magazine article by Reverend Charles Stewart McClellan Jr.
They say she was a beautiful young girl, the daughter of a farming family named Jenkins, whose acreage lay somewhere in the area of Fletcher, North Carolina. She was just of marriageable age when the Civil War came, and in love.
Her family did not approve. They were staunch Unionists, and the young man she loved was a Confederate soldier, a dashing young man who rode a palomino stallion.
Her family forbade her to marry him. Still, the young lovers met in secret near the Calvary Episcopal church, as often as they could, until her Rebel, risen to the rank of lieutenant, was ordered away to join in the battles for the railheads around Chattanooga.
She prayed daily for his return. Sometimes, she would go to the churchyard, where hard by the graveyard there was a well that had become known as a “wishing well”, and drop in some small offering, and make a wish that her lover would come home safe and that her family’s hearts would soften, and she could be with her true love forever.
Word that her lover had been killed was slow in coming, but it came. With its coming, she lost all will to live, and by autumn she lay in her grave, in the churchyard where she and her lover used to meet.
The day after her funeral was a brilliant fall day. The trees wore their best colors: the dogwoods in particular showed to advantage, in their lovely bloody red. But it was not the dogwoods, nor the maples, none of the red trees that heralded the cold wind that suddenly roared out of nowhere; it was the pines, swaying and singing their eerie mournful song.
Farmer Jenkins was sitting on his front porch when the wind rose. He could hear, above the moans of the pine thicket, the sound of hoofbeats. His heart almost stopped when, up the road from the churchyard, there dashed up to the porch a palomino stallion, very like the one his daughter’s lover had ridden. On its back sat his newly-buried daughter. She wore the gossamer-thin white dress in which she had been buried, but over it was something she hadn’t worn to her grave: a heavy gray cavalry cape, such as a Confederate cavalry officer would have worn to keep off the cold.
Horse and rider stopped in front of him, and his daughter–his newly buried daughter–stared into his face, her eyes blazing with anger.
She spoke to him, and the first words out of her mouth were feel how cold the wind blows, Father? Colder for me than for you.
And then she laid a curse on him. In the spring to come, she said, the Union would be winning the war. And in the spring, she would come again to the old farm. She would be followed by Union troops, who would see her, in her Confederate gray, dash into his barn; taking him, by this evidence, for a Confederate sympathizer, they would burn the whole farm to the ground.
Come spring, General Stoneman’s troops came to Fletcher. They had no sooner arrived than twenty-three of them were led into a Confederate ambush while chasing after a girl on a palomino, her gray cavalry cape flying on an unseasonably cold wind. The twenty-three hapless troopers were killed, and Stoneman, in exasperation, gave an order to chase down the girl.
Those who followed her said she rode like the wind. They fired on her, but none of the bullets seemed to faze her in the least. It seemed, in the broad light of day, that the cape she wore was full of bullet holes, from shots fired before.
She rode into a barn on a fairly prosperous-looking farm. When they charged into the barn after her, she was nowhere to be seen, nor had she ridden through and vanished out the other end of the barn when they chased out that way. She was simply gone.
In frustration, the troopers burnt the farm to the ground. The Jenkinses were left homeless and destitute.
Stoneman’s troops moved on, and, in any case, the war was soon over.
But they say the girl on the palomino doesn’t seem to know that her curse on her father is long fulfilled and the war that killed her lover and led indirectly to her own death is over. She has been seen many times over the years since, riding alongside the road from Fletcher to Arden, North Carolina, always in a great rush of cold wind, no matter what the season. Sometimes she vanishes into the graveyard of the old Calvary Episcopal Church. Once she’s out of sight, the wind dies down to a desolate stillness.