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The Headless Horseman
The Headless Horseman is a mythical figure who has appeared in folklore around the world since the Middle Ages. The figure is traditionally depicted as a rider upon horseback who is missing his head.
Depending on the legend, the Horseman is either carrying his head, or is missing his head altogether, and is searching for it. Examples include the dullahan from Ireland, who is a demonic fairy usually depicted riding a horse and carrying his head under his arm; the titular knight from the English tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a short story written in 1820 by American Washington Irving, which has been adapted into several other works of literature and film including the 1949 Disney animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and the 1999 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow.
In Irish folklore
The dullahan or dulachán ("dark man") is a headless, demonic fairy, usually riding a horse and carrying his head under his arm. He wields a whip made from a human corpse's spine. When the dullahan stops riding, a death occurs. The Callahan calls out a name, at which point the named person immediately dies. In another version, he is the headless driver of a black carriage, the Cóiste Bodhar. A similar figure, the gan ceann ("without a head"), can be frightened away by wearing a gold object or putting one in his path.
In Scottish folklore
The most prominent Scots tale of the headless horseman concerns a man named Ewen decapitated in a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. The battle denied him any chance to be a chieftain, and both he and his horse are headless in accounts of his haunting of the area. Among the Highland Scottish diaspora in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, seeing the image or hearing the sound of a horse or headless rider is traditionally regarded as an omen of an imminent death within the family.
In German folklore
In Germany, headless-horseman stories come mostly from the Rhineland. Rather than using decapitation, the headless horsemen killed their victims simply by touching them. They were revenants who had to wander the earth until they had atoned for their sins, sometimes by doing a good deed for a stranger, but instead of showing their gratitude by shaking hands, the stranger and the horseman held a tree branch between them and the branch would wither and die rather than the stranger. Irving travelled in Germany in 1821 and had become familiar with Dutch and German folklore. In particular the last of the "Legenden von Rübezahl" ('Legends of Rübezahl') from Johann Karl August Musäus's literary retellings of German folktales (Volksmärchen der Deutschen, 1783) is said to have inspired The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Red Ghost of Arizona
The legend began in 1883 when two men left their ranch house near Eagle Creek to check on their cattle. While they were out, one of the ranchers' wives heard their dogs loudly barking, followed by a loud scream. She rushed to the window and saw what she described as a "huge, reddish colored beast" ridden by a "devilish-looking creature", and proceeded to lock her front door and wait for the men to come back. When the two men returned, they found the other wife had been trampled to death. The men followed the footprints left by the creature the next day and found red hair in a bush. A few days later a group of prospectors reported something tearing through their campground; red hair was later found at the site. The creature was again spotted just a few days later, this time being described as 30 feet tall, and knocking over two wagons, with red hair again being found. The legend would quickly spread with various tales being told; one described the creature killing and eating a grizzly bear, while another said it disappeared into thin air when chased, but all the tales agreed that the skeleton of a man was on its back. A cowboy tried to lasso the beast, but was knocked to the ground and nearly killed by it, not before seeing the figure on the back was a skeleton. A few months later a group of five men shot at the beast, missing the camel but shooting the head of the skeleton off, finding some hair and skin still attached to it.
The legend remained popular until 1893 when farmer Mizoo Hastings found the creature eating in his yard and proceeded to shoot it, killing it in a single shot. It was then discovered that the beast was a camel, with leather straps on the side stuck so tight that it was scarred. It remains unknown why a dead man was attached to the back, but various tales have appeared to explain it over the years, some saying it was a prospector dying of thirst who tied himself to the back hoping it would bring him to some water, while others say it was a soldier learning to ride a camel when it suddenly bolted off. The verifiability of some parts of the legend remains questionable, as some records are missing or have been lost over time.
During the Westward expansion of the United States, military forces were looking for ways to ease transportation in arid regions. Throughout the early 19th century various proposals were made for camels to be used as pack animals, with a proposal by then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis finally being approved in 1855 with a budget of $30,000 in an experiment that would later become known as the Camel Corps. The process of acquiring camels began around the Mediterranean and eventually, 70 were procured. The project was originally a success, but due to the American Civil War, it was largely abandoned, with many supporters like Jefferson Davis joining the Confederacy. The camels were sold off or abandoned, with some being seen for decades afterward.