The West was wild. The West was dangerous. But above all, the West was creepy! For this list, we’ll be ranking the most interesting, intriguing or otherwise creepy unsolved mysteries from the wild, wild West. Our countdown includes The Bodie Curse, Henry Plummer’s Gold, Butch Cassidy Makes It Out Alive, and more!
Top 10 Creepiest Mysteries About the Wild West
Welcome to ‘Cowboy Quotes’, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Creepiest Mysteries About the Wild West.
For this list, we’ll be ranking the most interesting, intriguing or otherwise creepy unsolved mysteries from the wild, wild West.
Did we leave any out? Be sure to let us know in the comments what mystery from the Wild West haunts you.
#10: The Bodie Curse
Today, Bodie is a historic California National Park, but it’s also a ghost town—a creepy relic from the bygone days of the Gold Rush. As such, it tends to be pretty tempting for those who want to take a piece of history with them for the road. To prevent vandalism, the staff who patrol and maintain the park invented the idea of a “curse” that would bring bad luck upon anyone who took items from Bodie. The only thing is…it worked. The parks and recreation staff receive apology letters almost daily from people convinced they are suffering various ailments after stealing slices of Bodie history. Is it true? Well, we’re not going to tempt fate and find out.
#9: Tom Horn & Willie Nickell
Death is always a tragedy, even in the Old West. But did Tom Horn really shoot fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell? Or did he take the fall for someone else? One thing’s for sure, Horn shot a LOT of people, and was hired to root out cattle rustlers by any means necessary. But while there were witnesses who swore that the unapologetically violent Horn couldn’t have committed the deed, the hired gunman ultimately hung for the crime regardless. Some historians claim that local citizens were tired of Horn hanging around and decided to frame him, while others believe that the gunslinger mistakenly thought Willie Nickell was actually his adult father, since Horn usually shot his victims from hundreds of yards out. We’ll probably never know the truth.
#8: Lost Ships of the Desert
There are a number of folk tales that describe mysterious vessels having run aground in strange places, such as the Colorado Desert. One of these involves a Spanish galleon that’s buried under what’s now known as the Salton Sea. There’s also a ship said to have belonged to the explorer Juan de Iturbe who, after becoming landlocked, escaped on foot and left a fortune in black pearls behind for future adventurers. There are even stories of a Viking longboat showing up in the Mexican badlands, although some historians chalk this one up to wild stories concocted by imaginative prospectors.
#7: Where Is Cochise?
Cochise was chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. An iconic leader in the Apache Wars, which took place roughly between 1849 and 1886, Cochise has many famous stories to his name. As to how his story ends however, there remains much mystery; no one knows the location of his grave. It is known that Cochise died of natural causes in 1874, and that he’s buried somewhere in Arizona’s Dragoon Mountains. His people knew the exact location, as did Cochise’s friend and peace-broker Tom Jeffords, but no one was telling at the time. Today, there’s no one alive that knows where Cochise lays in rest, it is an enduring mystery.
#6: Did Bill Longley Cheat Death?
There was more than one Wild Bill out there in the old west. Enter Wild Bill Longley, an infamous gunfighter who was tried and hung for the murder of his childhood friend Wilson Anderson. Or was he? Well, actually… he was, as DNA evidence obtained from an exhumation in 2000 by the Smithsonian proved. However, for years there were reports that it was actually a family relative of Bill’s that lay in that grave. So, is that DNA evidence of a body swap, or is the discovery of a Catholic medallion, reportedly worn by Longley on that fateful day, irrefutable proof that Wild Bill bit the bullet? The debate continues!
#5: Henry Plummer’s Gold
Henry Plummer was playing both sides and getting away with it. He was an elected sheriff for Bannack, Montana, while at the same time leading a group of outlaws, known as The Innocents, on raids, robberies and shootings. Time eventually caught up to Plummer and his cohorts, however, with many being tried and hanged for their crimes. Others were taken out by vigilante posses in the area, while Plummer himself was hanged on January 10th, 1864. He was said to have left behind a stash of gold to support his wife, but if she knew where it was, she wasn’t telling. Furthermore, Plummer was actually given a trial after his hanging. And that gold could still be out there…
#4: Jean Baptiste
There’s something truly reprehensible about robbing the dead. If Jean Baptiste held any qualms about it, he hid them pretty well. Baptiste was a gravedigger who moonlighted as a grave robber….that is, until he was caught. He was exiled to a small island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and left to rot. Three weeks later, officials came to check on him, but Baptiste was nowhere to be found. Parts of a small shack were torn down, presumably to build a makeshift raft, while a cow was also found skinned — again, presumably to make leather. Jean Baptiste was never found. Not even the skeletal remains found near the island could be linked to the criminal, because these remains had a ball and chain attached to the leg—and Baptiste did not.
#3: Butch Cassidy Makes It Out Alive
Movie fans remember the classic ending sequence to 1969’s “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid,” where the infamous outlaws go out in a hail of bullets against the Bolivian army. But, did Butch actually make it out alive? Many people were later quoted on their reported run-ins with Cassidy years after his reported death, with one report claiming that Butch had reconstructive surgery performed in Paris. Others say that Cassidy returned to see family in Utah, while others still counter this by saying no one ever saw him arrive back home. Even DNA evidence acquired from a reported burial site, under an area known as Tom’s Cabin, didn’t prove enough to confirm that it was indeed Butch Cassidy. And so the legend lives on!
#2: Bring Me the Head of Pancho Villa
You don’t have to know all that much about the Mexican Revolution or General Pancho Villa to be creeped out by our penultimate pick. That’s because…well, it deals with a missing head. Villa was brutally assassinated in 1923 and interred in a mausoleum, which was where he stayed until sometime in 1926. It was then that his skull was stolen from the tomb and lost to the sands of time. Some claim that the secret Yale society, Skull and Bones, have it locked up in their “tomb,” while older rumors have said that Villa’s head was taken by adventurer Emil Holmdahl and sold to a mysterious benefactor who, uh, collected famous heads. Now that’s a creepy mystery.
Before we name our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions
The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
Do You Dare Search for This Missing Gold?
The Lost Clement Mine
A Gold Mine Lost to Time?
Albert and Henry Fountain
An Unsolved Assassination of Father and Son
Is it Haunted by the Ghosts of Gunfights Past?
The Aurora Martian
Was There a UFO Crash in 1897?
#1: Billy the Kid Lives?
Did Sheriff Pat Garrett really kill Billy the Kid? Some say no, that Garrett actually helped The Kid — born Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney — to escape. This flies against the coroner’s jury reports that the body they examined was indeed McCarty, but hey, it sort of makes sense, what with Billy’s legend being what it was. Specifically, there was a man named Brushy Bill Roberts who came forward in 1948 seeking a pardon for Billy the Kid’s crimes. There was also the family of John Miller, who went so far as to have DNA examined, in an inconclusive attempt to link Miller to McCarty. If The Kid did make it out alive, he sure did a great job at keeping quiet.
By George Pacheco