Legend of Stampede Mesa

Stampede Mesa

Stampede Mesa is flat prairie land located eighteen miles southeast of Crosbyton in Blanco Canyon (some maps show White Canyon) located in Crosby County. The mesa is bounded by the White River and the McNeil Branch. The entire Stampede Mesa area is on a private ranch.

Crosby County, Texas The legend of the Stampede Mesa, originating in Crosby County, Texas, in 1889, has become well established in the state's history and folklore. A mesa (meaning "table" in Spanish) is a broad flat piece of land with a rocky slope that descends onto a surrounding plain or river.

As the legend goes, a group of cowboys, driving 1500 head of longhorn cattle from south Texas to Kansas, came upon a 200-acre plateau of coveted green grass, bordered by a cliff dropping over 100 feet into the White River below. For many years trail folks had used the mesa as a resting grounds heading north. On this particular run, the cowboys, approaching the much anticipated mesa found an old man with about 40 cattle of his own setting up camp for the night. Tired, trail weary, and wishing to avoid confrontation, they asked the old man if he was willing to cut out with his cattle in the morning. The old man, feeling imposed upon by this larger herd, (which was unlike the smaller ones, such as his, that dominated Texas before famine and recession swept across post Civil War America), took control of the situation.

While the cowboys slept, save for the watchguards, it is believed that the old man caused a stampede out of sheer resentment. The stampede was huge; only 300 cattle survived. Two of the cowboys were also washed over the cliff with the frantic herd.

When things settled down, the remaining cowboys were not sure what to make of the situation. One of the night watchmen claimed to have seen the old man screaming and waiving a blanket in an attempt to get the cattle going. The cowboys then went in search of the fleeing antagonist. He was captured shortly thereafter and brought back to the mesa and put on top of his horse, with his hands tied behind his back and a blindfold over his eyes. The old man wasthen pushed over the cliff, landing on top of the carnage that resulted from the stampede.

There was uneasiness around the mesa from that point forward. Cattle drivers and travelers alike were no longer so eager to spend the night on the plateau. This once desirable place for trail outfitters acquired a dark reputation and began being referred to as the "Stampede Mesa." The legend was born. Cowboys would tell of the sound of stampeding cattle, when nothing was there. They witnessed an apparition of a blindfolded man, astride a horse, running over the cliff.

Sightings on the mesa continue today. Campers feel the rumbling of the earth, and hear the sounds of crazed cattle coming from somewhere, yet there is nothing to be seen for miles except the beautiful Texas blue sky.

TANNER LAINE Avalanche-Journal (EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the July 1, 1963, edition of The Avalanche-Journal. It is part of a series of articles provided by the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech that looks at the legends and lore of the South Plains.)

CROSBYTON When the campfire has died to embers and the shades of a dark night have fastened down, here is one yarn capable of scaring the daylights out of the most hardy a campfire story of ''Stampede Mesa'':

Among cattle folks, stories of stampedes always have been popular. There is a certain mystery surrounding the stampeding of cattle. A herd on the drive ''spooked'' easily.

When they stampede, cattle run wildly in one direction. And it seems nothing will stop them. Sometimes they stampede without anyone having heard, seen or smelled a possible cause.

Here is the story of how a place called ''Stampede Mesa'' got its name. It has been told and retold many times by persons across the Plains and Panhandle of Texas.

''Stampede Mesa'' is in Crosby County, about 18 miles from Blanco Canyon. It is southeast of Crosbyton.

The word ''mesa'' is a Spanish word meaning a flat-topped hill with steeply sloping sides. ''Stampede Mesa'' appears to be wedged between forks of the Blanco (White) River. The main stream of the river flows by the foot of the mesa to the west. On the south side, the mesa drops almost straight down 100 feet or more into the McNeil branch of the river.

The top of the mesa is a flat area of almost 200 acres, where nearly always, grass is growing good.

The cowboys, driving herds up the trail in that vicinity, agreed that the top of the mesa was an excellent place to hold the herd for an overnight stop. A herd could be watered at the river late in the afternoon and then be driven up to the top of the mesa and bedded down for the night.

In the morning, it was an easy matter to drive the herd down the slope for water before the drive was resumed. The steep walls form a natural barrier so that the night guard could protect the herd, reduced in numbers to about half required on other terrain.

In spite of the advantages of ''Stampede Mesa,'' there were a few herd bosses of the west who dared use it AFTER a certain incident.

It was left alone to remain forever a monument to days that are gone. It is therefore, a bit of the old West to keep green the legend of ''Stampede Mesa.''

Up until 1889, the mesa was a favorite grazing ground for trail drivers. But in the fall of that year, an old cowman (for story purposes, we will call him Sawyer, although that was not his name) was driving a herd of 1,500 steers up the trail to Colorado. While he was driving across Dockum Flats one afternoon, some 6 or 7 miles east of the mesa about 40 or 50 head of cows became mixed with the big herd.

The cows belonged to a homesteader who had a little farm nearby.

When the nester saw what was happening and realized that he was losing cattle, he rode up to the trail boss and demanded that the cattle be cut out. Old Mr. Sawyer, who was ''hard as nails,'' had ridden far. His steers were thin, and he did not want them ''ginned'' about any more. He claimed he didn't have enough cowboys to help him cut out the nester's cows. He told the farmer to ''go away.''

The homesteader was mad. Seeing his stock driven off, he shouted at Sawyer that if his cows were not cut out of the herd before dark, he would stampede the whole ''business.''

Sawyer drew his six-shooter and told the nester to ''vamoose pronto.''

Shortly before dark, Sawyer watered his herd and drove them up the east slope to the top of the mesa. The herd settled down in peace.

But the peace didn't last. True to his threat, the farmer managed to ride up on top without being seen. Slipping through the night guard, the nester waved a blanket, fired his gun and started whooping and hollering. The cattle stampeded! The entire herd, with few exceptions, dashed forward over the cliff on the south side. Two of the night herders, caught in front of the frantic cattle, tried to circle the cows but were swept over the cliffs with them.

Sawyer, seeing his fortune in cattle disappear over the side of the mesa, was filled with rage. He gave orders to bring the nester to him, horse and all. At daybreak, the cowboys brought in the nester. They rode up on the mesa with ''the prisoner.'' Sawyer was waiting. He tied the nester on his own horse. The horse was blindfolded and driven off the cliff.

Now the old cowboys will tell you that if you happen to be near ''Stampede Mesa'' at night, you can hear the nester calling his cows. Some have seen his ''ghost'' sitting on a blindfolded horse, sweeping over the top of the mesa behind a stampeding herd of phantom steers.

Herd bosses were afraid of these phantom steers. Because it was said that every herd held on the mesa after that night stampeded. Nobody said why, but cattlemen never went there any more.

One of the old cowpunchers, Poncho Burall, tells the story of how Jeff Keister, who wasn't afraid of the ghosts at ''Stampede Mesa,'' in the fall of 1900 was driving a herd by there and held it up on top of the mesa for a night.

Poncho said he and another cowboy took the first guard. The herd settled. Poncho kept thinking of that awful night about 10 years before, and every time a cow moved, he (Poncho) shuddered.

The cattle were lying quietly. It got quieter and quieter. Poncho could hear the creak of his partner's saddle out there! The moon set. It got darker and darker. Something brushed by Poncho. Something that looked like a man on a horse, but the mount and rider seemed to float along. And horror of horrors, the horse was blindfolded! Then came a roar! The herd started running straight for the edge of the mesa cliff.

Poncho saw phantom steers flying through the air. They sailed right past him. He and his partner got the herd turned in time. But it took all hands to keep it milling.

There are some who do not believe the story of the phantom steers on top of the mesa and stampedes. They say these are tumbleweeds blown by the wind.

But whatever, no cowman in his right mind would bed down a herd up there, ever again.

Texas Escapes

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Legends of Texas, see page 13 (includes map).