The Headless Horseman (novel)

The Headless Horseman (novel)

"For other uses, see Headless Horseman (disambiguation)"infobox Book |
name = "The Headless Horseman or a Strange Tale of Texas"
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author = Mayne Reid
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media_type = Print ()
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isbn = 0548265313
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"The Headless Horseman" is a novel by Mayne Reid written in 1865 or 1866 and is based on the author's adventures in America. "The Headless Horseman or a Strange Tale of Texas" was set in Texas and based on a South Texas folk tale.

Reportedly, an Irish adventurer and hero in the War with Mexico, 1st Lt. Reid, writing as "Captain Reid," penned a series of pop novels and attributed his Headless Horseman idea to a South Texas folk tale."He lost head; we got a tale." Kent Biffle. The Dallas Morning News. TEXAS; Pg. 35A; TEXANA. June 22, 2003.] Vladimir Nabokov recalled "The Headless Horseman" as a favourite adventure novel of his childhood years - "which had given him a vision of the prairies and the great open spaces and the overarching sky." ["CLASSICS ON CASSETTE:'SPEAK, MEMORY'." John Espey. Los Angeles Times Book Review; Page 8; Book Review Desk. October 20, 1991.] At 11, Nabokov even translated "The Headless Horseman" into French alexandrines. ["Artist as Precocious Young Man." Rutherford A. Sunday Herald December 30, 1990.]

Plot Summary


Morris Jerald - horses catcher, who loved headless horseman's sister.

Luisa Poindexter - headless horseman's sister, who loved Morris Jerald.

Henry Poindexter - headless horseman, who was killed by Kass Kolhaun.

Kass Kolhaun - man, who killed and choped Henry Poindexter's head.

Zebb Stamp - hunter, who detected headless horseman's killer.

Fellim O'Neill - Morris Jerald servant.

Themes & Issues

Origins of the novel

The novel was reportedly inspired by Creed Taylor's (1820-1906) true story of El Muerto, the Headless Horseman. Taylor was a veteran of the Texas Revolution, the War with Mexico, the Civil War and Indian fights, who is best known as a player in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, the state's longest, deadliest feud.

Historian J. Warren Hunter, through his discussions with Taylor, learned a lot of Texas history firsthand at Taylor home in Kimble County. Among the many recollections Taylor conveyed to Hunter, one was a particularly outrageous in that implicated his cronies William Alexander Anderson "Bigfoot" Wallace and John McPeters.

Mr. Taylor claimed the event occurred in 1848. By then, Bigfoot Wallace (1817-1899), survivor of the doomed Mier Expedition, had become a famed Indian fighter. Although McPeters fought at San Jacinto, he is almost forgotten today. During the War with Mexico, both men were Texas Rangers commanded by the fierce Mabry "Mustang" Gray (1817-1848).

As Creed's story appears in Hunter's 1898 manuscript - The Life of Creed Taylor - Bigfoot and McPeters tracked and killed a number of Mexican horse thieves near the Nueces, south of present-day Uvalde. Wallace decided to use the ringleader's body as a warning to others.

Bigfoot decapitated the dead man, called Vuavis or Vidal and the two put his body on a wild stallion that the two had caught and tied between two trees. They thrust his head into his sombrero, secured by a strap and tied to the pommel of the saddle. Then the horse was let loose to roam the hilly countryside.

Creed didn't place himself into the story, but did know the horse thief who lost his head. One of Taylor's friends, Bate Berry (1813-1891), captured Lt. Vuavis during the Siege of Bexar in December 1835. Creed watched as Vuavis, who had deserted, willingly spilled all his Mexican military info to Berry, who had a reputation for scalping enemies. They finally released the shaken captive.

Years later, Vuavis, alias "Vidal," and his gang began terrorizing South Texas ranchers and stealing their cattle. Then Bigfoot and McPeters got on his trail, shortening his career. Travelers and soldiers at Fort Inge near Uvalde soon were reporting sightings of a wily headless rider.

Various Retellings

The original story spawned various retallings. After Mayne Reid, James T. DeShields (1861-1948) was the next interpreter. A dry-goods salesman, he wrote pieces for the Fort Worth Press based on material he bought from old Texans. He was known for a novel, Cynthia Ann Parker, but his articles were presented as factual.

In 1906, J. Warren Hunter (1846-1915) sold his Taylor manuscript to DeShields, who lightly rewrote parts and, 21 years after Hunter's death, published "Tall Men with Long Rifles", an account of Taylor's adventures in the Texas Revolution.

In 1924, J. Warren Hunter's son, J. Marvin Hunter (1880-1957), editor of Frontier Times, took his turn. He personalized crimes of Vidal's rustlers, who were now stealing horses from Creed Taylor. The younger Hunter vividly sketched events, while changing the time to 1850, the year of a sweeping Indian raid that drained frontier manpower, leaving few defenders against bandits. Oddly, John McPeters disappears like ice in a July julep. The younger Hunter declares that Capt. Reid's novel was based on fact.

Folklorist J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) next twisted the mustang tale in his 1928 "Tales of Old Time Texas", suggesting the headless rider was once a "ghostly guard of the mine of the long-abandoned Candelaria Mission on the Nueces to protect it from profane prospectors."

External links

* A brief bio of Reid []
* The Headless Horseman text [,M1]


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