. . .a date that will live in infamy.
Now, its name is as famous as any in American history: Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, home base for the US Pacific Fleet. It’s hard to believe that on December 7, 1941, the majority of Americans had never heard of it.
They would before the end of that day.
Pearl is, naturally, a haunted place: there are stories of a horribly burned sailor who walks the Arizona memorial above the resting place of the doomed battleship; of a mischievous airman who haunts nearby Hickam AFB, also a casualty of that early morning attack; of phantom screams and groans and explosions that the psychically sensitive hear to this day.
Less known, perhaps, are stories of premonitions of Pearl Harbor’s place in that day of infamy: of its name appearing, out of context and unheard of before to bewildered bystanders, etched in snow on a midwestern sidewalk or painted on a car door by an incorrigible youngster at a school.
Perhaps the oddest of all Pearl Harbor premonitions, though, came from thousands of miles away in the hill country of Texas, where a ghostly horseman, herald of four previous wars, made his last and most spectacular appearance on Sunday, December 7, 1941.
Natives of the Tonkawa tribe were the first to tell the early white settlers about a ghost who earned the name Devil Rider; a giant of a man on a giant black horse. He wore antique Spanish armor and carried antique Spanish weaponry. The Tonkawa said he and his horse would sometimes ride out of a little hollow that had no name. They avoided that hollow like plague.
Many of the early whites in the area were of Celtic descent, and Celts are notoriously fey. They too avoided the hollow until, one morning in 1846, a rancher named McConnell, tracking wolves that preyed on his livestock, followed their trail into the hollow and almost at once rode up on the Spanish rider and black horse, in their ancient armor and harness.
McConnell, knowing he was seeing something that shouldn’t have been there, hightailed it for home. Shortly after his sighting, word came that Zachary Taylor and American troops had crossed the Rio Grande: the outbreak of the Mexican War.
Some thought the rider a ghost; others called him Lucifer himself, and thus, a nameless and long-dead Spaniard acquired the nickname of Devil Rider, and his little hollow became known as Devil’s Hollow.
Horse and rider were not seen again until April of 1861, when a man called Emmett Ringstaff spotted him. Ringstaff noted that the warrior carried two brass horse pistols and his armor bore an insignia: a crown suspended over a crouching lion.
A few days later, word came that Confederate troops in Charleston, South Carolina, had fired on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. The Civil War had begun.
Devil’s Hollow, as it happened, lay along a spur of the famed Chisholm Trail, along which cattlemen drove their herds to markets in Kansas, and eventually was renamed Chisholm Hollow, but its ghostly occupant retained his nickname of Devil Rider. Its appropriateness was proven in 1898, when he appeared to three different men, on three separate occasions, shortly before the outbreak of the tomfoolery we call the Spanish-American War.
The rider had paid no attention whatever, in 1846 and 1861, to McConnell or Ringstaff. In 1898, all three of the men who witnessed his passing claimed to have felt he was staring at them, with fiery hate in his eyes.
As we know, most of the men who signed up to fight in the Spanish-American War died in camp of disease before they ever saw battle. In the Devil Rider’s domain, though, legend has it that the hillmen experienced inexplicable drought and crop failures and cattle and horse deaths from no known disease during that four-month period.
Afterward, the Devil Rider went unseen for so long that one intrepid rancher, thinking him gone to the afterlife, tried to homestead Chisholm Hollow, investing every penny of his savings, only to lose everything when his farmstead burnt to the ground. No cause for the fire was ever found, and no one tried to settle in the canyon again.
The Devil Rider was next seen in January of 1917, by six youngsters who bravely rode into his hollow hunting deer. They were jeering at the rider’s reputation as a prognosticator of war–there were rumblings that the US would soon be entering that first dreadful conflict to earn the name of World War–when the rider and his horse rode noisily past.
The US officially entered World War I in April 1917, two months after formally severing diplomatic relations with the German empire. Of the six young men who had seen the Devil Rider, five would die on battlefields in France and Belgium.
On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, a hill family was returning from a church service by a road that took them past Chisholm Hollow. The driver was forced to slam on the brakes when he heard sounds like a horse galloping through the woods at the head of the hollow, coming toward the road as if to cross it. As he and his family watched in amazement, a man in old, old armor, on a huge black horse, rode out of the hollow and simply stopped in the middle of the road–before vanishing without a trace.
It was the first–and only–time the Devil Rider of Chisholm Hollow was ever seen outside the hollow proper.
Shaken–they knew the legend of the Devil Rider’s appearance before the outbreak of war–the family went home and turned on the radio–
to hear news of the attack on Pearl Harbor–marking the United States’ entry into the most horrific war the world has ever witnessed.
The story of the Devil Rider of Chisholm Hollow was told by Harold Preece in Visions of Ghost Armies: From the Files of Fate Magazine (2003). Preece’s account dates, from internal evidence, to about the years 1951-1952.
From what little else I have been able to find about the Devil Rider, that eerie appearance on December 7, 1941 was his last. There are no records of reports–that I can find–of his appearance before Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, or Afghanistan.