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c. 1900, Emma Justine Farnswoth;  LC-USZC2-5950
Library of Congress

Below are some selected classic poems 
in the spirit . . .

Larry Chittenden
Old Fort Phantom Hill

Bruce Kiskaddon
Ghost Canyon Trail
The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar

S. Omar Barker
The White Mustang

Katherine Fall Pettey
Ladies of the Canyon

James Whitcomb Riley
Little Orphant Annie
When the Frost is on the Punkin


"Ghost Riders in the Sky"

Find video links below for Stan Jones' song performed by Burl Ives (the first, in 1949), Johnny Cash (with lyrics), Gene Autry (in film 1949 trailer), Marty Robbins, Sons of the Pioneers, Chris LeDoux, Bing Crosby, Riders in the Sky, Jimmie Rodgers, Lorne Greene, Elvis, The Blues Brothers, the Outlaws, Judy Collins, R. W. Hampton (audio)

Contemporary selections elsewhere at the BAR-D:

Rod Miller's Devil of Devil Creek

Jo Lynne Kirkwood's Halloween

Rod Nichols' The Thing Upon the Trail and Deep October

Al Mehl's
The Mav'rick

Slim McNaught's Memories in the Mist

Paul Kern's Evening Sets on the Yellowstone

Mike Puhallo's A Chilcotin  Halloween

Yvonne Hollenbeck's
Halloween Headlines

Hal Swift's The Ghost of Wilkerson Woods, The Cowpokes' Roll-Away Saloon, and Cabin on the Hill

Glen Enloe's Faces in the Fire

Linda Kirkpatrick's McLaurin Massacre

Gail T. Burton's The Headless Horseman

Elsewhere on the web:

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows
American Folklife Center

The Library of Congress American Memory Project


The History Channel

Classic and contemporary Halloween Poems
Poetry Foundation





Old Fort Phantom Hill
(An abandoned fort in Jones County, Texas. Supposed to be haunted.)

On the breezy Texas border, on the prairies far away,
Where the antelope is grazing and the Spanish ponies play;
Where the tawny cattle wander through the golden incensed hours,
And the sunlight woos a landscape clothed in royal robes of flowers;
Where the Elm and Clear Fork mingle, as they journey to the sea,
And the night-wind sobs sad stories o'er a wild and lonely lea;
Where of old the dusky savage and the shaggy bison trod,
And the reverent plains are sleeping 'midst drowsy dreams of God;
Where the twilight loves to linger, e'er night's sable robes are cast
'Round grim-ruined, spectral chimneys, telling stories of the past,
There upon an airy mesa, close beside a whispering rill
There to-day you'll find the ruins of the Old Fort Phantom Hill.

Years ago, so runs the legend, 'bout the year of Fifty-three,
This old fort was first established by the gallant soldier, Lee;
And to-day the restless spirits of his proud and martial band
Haunt those ghostly, gloomy chimneys in the Texas border land.
There once every year at midnight, when the chilling Northers roar,
And the storm-kind breathes its thunder from the heights of Labrador,
When the vaulted gloom re-echoes with the owlsó"whit-tu-whoo!"
And the stealthy cayote answers with his lonely, long "ki-oo!"
Then strange phantoms flit in silence through that weeping mesquite vale,
And the reveilles come sounding o'er the old McKenzie Trail,
Then the muffled drums beat muster and the bugles sadly trill,
And the vanished soldiers gather 'round the heights of Phantom Hill.

Then pale bivouac fires are lighted and those gloomy chimneys glow,
While the grizzled veterans muster from the taps of long ago,
Lee and Johnston and McKenzie, Grant and Jackson, Custer, too,
Gather there in peaceful silence waiting for their last review;
Blue and gray at length united on the high redoubts of fame,
Soldiers all in one grand army, that will answer in God's name.
Yes, they rest on heights of glory in that fair, celestial world,
"Where the war-drum throbs no longer, and the battle-flags are furled."
And to-day the birds are singing where was heard the cannons' roar,
For the gentle doves are nesting 'midst those ruins of the war.
Yes, the mocking-birds re-echo: "Peace on earth, to men good will,"
And the "swords are turned to ploughshares" in the land of Phantom Hill.

by William Lawrence Chittenden, from Ranch Verses, 1893

Find more about Fort Phantom at, at Legends of America, and in an entry in the Handbook of Texas Online.


Read more about "Larry" Chittenden and his poetry here.


Ghost Canyon Trail

There are strange things told of spirits bold,
And the trail to Sante Fe,
There is many a tale of the Chisholm trail,
And the trail to Laramie.
But this is the tale of an obscure trail
That few men travelled on;
Where a spirit was known to ride alone,
'Twixt the midnight hour and dawn.

It would wind and creep through canyons deep
And over the mesa wide.
The men who knew this trail were few,
Where the phantom used to ride.
At times was heard a careless word
Some drinking man let fall,
But 'twas held a joke by the rangeland folk,
That no one believed atall.

I learned the truth from a hard youth.
He was one of those reckless men
Who could ride in the lead of a night stampede,
Or the dust of the broncho pen.
On a winter night when the stars were bright
And the dying moon was low,
He was holding his course on a jaded horse
And the pace that he made was slow.

The cow horse flinched and cringed, till the cinch
Was almost against the ground.
His quivering ears showed deathly fear
And the cow boy looked around.
He felt the thrill of a clammy chill,
As it travelled along his spine,
For he saw at his side a phantom ride,
With never a word or sign.

He kept his place, for he set his pace
To the cow boy's jogging speed.
There came no sound on the frozen ground
From the tread of his phantom steed.
He showed a flash of a long moustache
And a tilted campaign hat.
There straight and strong with stirrups long
The phantom trooper sat.

They were all alone. And the pale moon shone
Through the ghost at the cow boy's side.
His courage fled as he rode with the dead
Alone on the mesa wide.
No sign of flight, no show of fight
The buckaroo displayed,
For slugs of lead won't hurt the dead,
Through the mist of a vapor shade.

With the mesa past they came at last
To a canyon wide and dark,
Where some stone huts stood in the cottonwoods
That had long been an old land mark.
Each ruined shack had a chimney black,
And a roofless crumbling wall.
A living spring was the only thing
That was useful to men atall.

The chilling breeze through the leafless trees,
Gave a dreary, dismal moan.
The trooper stayed in the ghastly shade
And cow boy rode alone.
Strange tales are head of what occurred
At that place in the years gone by,
Ere that restless soul of the night patrol
Rode under the starlit sky.

What the trooper knows, or where he goes,
Nobody has ever found.
But the tale is told of the lone patrol
By the older settlers 'round.
There's a cow boy trim with a face that's grim,
Will never forget that ride
On a winter night in the pale moon light,
By the phantom trooper's side.

by Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems, 1947



The Ghosts at the Diamond Bar

'Twas a winter night at the Diamond Bar,
The wind was blowin' cold.
The Dipper swung 'round the dim North Star
And the night was growin' old.
But I had some wood that was dry and good,
So I let the cold wind whine.
I was safe and snug with a gallon jug
Of Death Valley Slim's moonshine.

Across the stove from where I sat
Stood a figger straight and tall.
He had no coat, he had no hat,
He must have come through the wall.
He pointed away toward the rocky shelf
That was up on the side of a hill.
He was one of the bunch the Injuns skelped
When they raided the old ore mill.

I nodded and passed the gallon jug.
He needed a drink or two.
But he only shrugged and shook his head;
That was sumpthin' he could not do.
I set the jug down on the floor;
Then my eyes popped open wide.
There had been jest one; now a couple more
Was a standin' there by his side.

They would each one point with a ghostly hand
Where my old harmonica lay.
By signs they made me understand 
They wanted that I should play.
So I played 'em "The Grave on the Lone Prairie,"
And "The Dyin' Ranger," too.
And twenty odd ghosts surrounded me
Before I was halfway through.

I played 'em the old "Rye Whisky" tune
And they waltzed it 'round and 'round.
But I felt no weight on the floor of the room
And their feet made never a sound.
Then "Rosie O'Grady" and "Over the Waves,"
They waltzed with keen delight.
Them wandering spirits out of their graves
Was havin' a time that night.

They motioned that I should drink once more.
That was easy to understand.
With noiseless feet they stomped the floor
And patted their phantom hands.
When I seen 'em smile I changed my style.
I played old "Larry McGee."
They wanted something with a lilt and swing,
And they stepped it light and free.

But jest as the thing was goin' grand,
There was sumpthin' spoiled the show.
There wasn't a drop in the coal oil can
And the lamp was burnin' low.
I stopped and drunk me a hefty slug
And a thought came to my mind.
I filled the lamp from the moonshine jug
And she blazed like a neon sign.

There was battered hats on the buckaroos.
Old miners with unshaved jaws.
Three Wallapi bucks were in there too,
And a couple Mohave squaws.
The next was the old time "Chicken Reel,"
And you'd orta seen em go.
The would jig in the corners before they'd wheel
And give it the heel and toe.

I knew they wouldn't be there fer long.
It would soon be breakin' day.
And I wanted to sing 'em a good old song
Before they went on their way.
So I sung like I had never sung before,
Till the last of the crowd was gone.
And when I opened the ranch house door,
The day was beginning to dawn.

Yet the desert trails have their own weird tales
That few of us mortals know.
And I'll never forget the crowd I met
On that night so long ago.
Some time I will meet them again, maybe,
Though I don't know where they are.
But why did they come to visit me,
That night at the Diamond Bar?

by Bruce Kiskaddon, from Rhymes of the Ranges and Other Poems, 1947

This poem is cited by Charlene Schilling in our Favorite Western and Cowboy Poem project.


Read more about Bruce Kiskaddon and his poetry here.

The White Mustang
(The legend of a ghost horse of the plains was first written about by Washington Irving)

Wherever rhythmic hoofbeats drum,
As galloping riders go or come,
Wherever the saddle is still the throne,
And the dust of hoofs by wind is blown,
Wherever the horsemen young or old,
The Pacing Mustang's tale is told.

A hundred years on hill and plain,
With comet-tail and flying mane,
Milk-white, free, and high of head,
Over the range his trail has led.
Never a break in his pacing speed,
Never a trot nor a lope his need,
Since faraway days of the wagon train,
Men have followed his trail in vain.

A dozen horses spurred to the death,
Still he flees like a phantom's breath,
And from some hill at horizon's hem,
Snorts his challenge back at them.
A bullet drops him dead by day,
Yet white at night he speeds away.
Forever a thief of tamer steeds,
Stallion prince of the mustang breeds,
Coveted prize of the men who ride,
Never a rope has touched his hide.
Wherever the saddle is still a throne,
The Great White Mustang's tale is known.

O Phantom Ghost of heart's desire,
Lusty-limbed with soul of fire,
Milk-white Monarch, may you, free,
Race the stars eternally.

© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

from Rawhide Rhymes, 1968


S. Omar Barker notes that Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first to write about the "ghost horse of the plains." 

In 1832, Irving traveled to Eastern Oklahoma, and wrote about it in his 1835 book, A Tour of the Prairies. In Chapter 20, "The Camp of the Wild Horse," he writes:

...We had been disappointed this day in our hopes of meeting with buffalo, but the sight of the wild horse had been a great novelty, and gave a turn to the conversation of the camp for the evening. There were several anecdotes told of a famous gray horse, which has ranged the prairies of this neighborhood for six or seven years, setting at naught every attempt of the hunters to capture him. They say he can pace and rack (or amble) faster than the fleetest horses can run. Equally marvellous accounts were given of a black horse on the Brazos, who grazed the prairies on that river's banks in Texas. For years he outstripped all pursuit. His fame spread far and wide; offers were made for him to the amount of a thousand dollars; the boldest and most hard-riding hunters tried incessantly to make prize of him, but in vain. At length he fell a victim to his gallantry, being decoyed under a tree by a tame mare, and a noose dropped over his head by a boy perched among the branches...

Read the entire book here at the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. The Oklahoma Historical Society's Chronicles of Oklahoma tell more about Irving's travels.

Irving is well known for his own ghostly story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which was published in 1820. A bit of trivia: a 1922 silent movie version of the story, The Headless Horseman, starred Will Rogers.

Irving also has a connection with this image below. This nineteenth century engraving, "Lassoing Wild Horses," was made by by W. W. Rice from a painting by Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-1888). Darley illustrated many works by authors of the time and did the first illustrations for Irving's "Rip Van Winkle."

The image is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more about it here


Read more about S. Omar Barker and his poetry here.


The Ladies of the Canyon

In the evening, through the silence,
When the breezes soft, are still,
Then the Ladies of the Canyon
Come a-creeping up the hill.

And these Ladies of the Canyon,
In their garments pale, of gray,
Are as silent as the night clouds
That are closing out the day.

They come creeping, gray robes trailing,
Gray veils floating 'round their hair;
On they're stealing up the canyon,
Till they reach my house up there.

Then they circle 'round and rest them,
As their garments, gray, they spread
Over flowers and my roof tree,
And the chimney's gray old head.

And I know them for no spirits
Though they have a ghostly way,
For these Ladies of the Canyon
Are but mists from off the bay.

by Katherine Fall Pettey, from Songs From the Sage Brush, 1910


The poem was also published in 1909 in Sunset magazine, illustrated by Gordon Coutts 1868-1937). See two of his California paintings here and read more about him here


Read more about Katherine Fall Pettey and her poetry here.

A STARRY HALLOWEEN. design © 1913,  John Winsch


When the Frost is on the Punkin

      When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
      And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
      And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
      And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
      O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,         
      With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
      As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
      When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

      They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
      When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here--   
      Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
      And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
      But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
      Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
      Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock--   
      When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

      The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
      And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
      The stubble in the furries-kindo' lonesome-like, but still
      A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;  
      The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
      The hosses in theyr stalls below-the clover overhead!--
      O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
      When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

      Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps  
      Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
      And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
      With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
      I don't know how to tell it-but ef such a thing could be
      As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me--
      I'd want to 'commodate 'em-all the whole-indurin' flock-
      When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

      by James Whitcomb Riley (1853-1916)

Little Orphant Annie

      To all the little children: -- The happy ones; and sad ones;
      The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;
      The good ones -- Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

      Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
      An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
      An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
      An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
      An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
      We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
      A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
      An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
      Ef you

      Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
      An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
      His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
      An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
      An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
      An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
      But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
      An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
      Ef you

      An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
      An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
      An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
      She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
      An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
      They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
      An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
      An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
      Ef you

      An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
      An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
      An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
      An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
      You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
      An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
      An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
      Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
      Ef you

       by James Whitcomb Riley (1853-1916)

Read a Wikipedia article about James Whitcomb Riley.

Read much of his poetry at Project Gutenberg

Read Katherine Fall Pettey's poem to James Whitcomb Riley, 
"The Cowpunch and James Whitcomb Riley," here.

"Ghost Riders in the Sky"


An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw
A-plowin' through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

"Ghost Riders in the Sky" (known by various similar names) was written in 1948 by Stan Jones (1914-1963). The song, described at Wikipedia,  "...tells a folk tale of a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the spirits of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways, he will be doomed to join them, forever 'trying to catch the Devil's herd across these endless skies.' Jones said that he had been told the story when he was 12 years old by an old cowboy friend..."

IMDb tells, "Stan Jones wrote '(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,' a hit big enough that it crossed over from country-western charts to standard pop music. A chance meeting with Jones led Gene Autry to buy the rights to the song, and he gave Jones a part in the film. A nearly-complete Autry movie, 'Beyond the Purple Hills,' was quickly retooled to include the song. Jones himself appears as a cowboy riding herd with Autry in the opening and closing scenes, singing along with Gene's rendition of the spooky song..."

Gene Autry sing the song in the 1949 film, Riders in the Sky, and it's been recorded by a wide variety of singers. Following are links to some videos of the song:

Burl Ives in the first-ever recording of the song, 1949

Gene Autry in a 1949 film trailer

Johnny Cash (with lyrics)

Marty Robbins

Sons of the Pioneers

Chris LeDoux

Bing Crosby

Riders in the Sky

Jimmie Rogers

Lorne Greene


Blues Brothers


Judy Collins

R.W. Hampton (audio)

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