Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oooowwwwwwwww! - Goes the Lobos

There is just something plain eerie about country music (when it's done right).

Every time I spin 'Ramblin Man' by Hank Williams, or any cover of Leon Payne's 'Psycho' for that matter, I get the coyote shivers (the nervous disorder, not the canuk). Now, factor in some haunted 'hollars' and the spectre of poverties-past and those weepy lap-steel riffs can go from sad to foreboding in less time than it takes to brew up a slippery-elm tincture.

Of that strange breed of haunted hayseed, Red Sovine's 'Phantom 309' springs to mind, that and the enclosed offering by one Jimmy Kish of Nashville TN.

Kish, a self-professed entertainer, singer, song writer, square dance caller, and airplane pilot (since 1953), was a regionally famous band leader and disc jockey for WHK in Plainsville Ohio before hosting his own weekly T.V. show "Ten-O-Two Ranch" in the early 50's.

While national success eluded Kish, he released some eclectic country records up into the early 70's, including this strange little ballad concerning the well known South-Texas legend of the wolf-girl of Devil's River (Mwahahaha...oh, sorry).

In 1835, a group of American colonists, led by Dr. Charles Beale, were camped at Lake Espontosa, a renowned haunted location near what is now Carrizo Springs in southwest Texas. Half a mile away from the Beale group, John Dent and his pregnant wife Mollie Pertul Dent, both from Georgia, had built a brush cabin. Dent had come to trap beaver in the Devil's River area, north of the present day Del-Rio, but was also on the run from the law for the murder of a fellow trapper in Georgia. The Dents were to prove fortunate in their choice of a site distant from the lake. A band of Commanches raided the main Beale camp and massacred most of the inhabitants, afterwards throwing the bodies of the victims and their carts into the lake.

One night in May 1835, there was a severe thunderstorm and Mollie went into labor. She appeared to be having problems with the birth so Dent decided to ride westwards for help. He arrived at a Mexican goat ranch on the Pecos Canyon, and told them desperately about his wife's condition, begging for someone to ride back with him.
But as the Mexicans prepared their horses to leave there was a furious crash of thunder and a bolt of lightning struck Dent from his horse killing him instantly.

After a considerable delay the goat herders mounted up and followed Dent's directions. However, darkness fell before they had got over the divide to Devil's River, thus delaying the search. Finally, at sunrise the next morning they located the Dent's isolated cabin. But what they found outside the cabin, in an open brush arbor, was Mollie Dent lying dead, alone. She had apparently died in childbirth, but there was no trace of the baby anywhere. The child was never found, but fang marks on the woman's body and numerous wolf tracks over the area made the goat herders naturally assume that the infant had either been devoured or carried off by lobo wolves.

But this was just the beginning of the story. Ten years later, In 1845, a boy living at San Felipe Springs (Del-Rio) reportedly saw 'a creature, with long hair covering its features, that looked like a naked girl' attacking a herd of goats in the company of a pack of lobo wolves. The story was ridiculed by many, but still managed to spread back among the settlements. Around a year after this incident, a Mexican woman at San Felipe claimed she had seen two large wolves and an unclothed young girl devouring a freshly killed goat. She approached close to the group, she said, before they saw her and ran off.

The woman noticed that the girl ran initially on all-fours, but then rose up and ran on two feet, keeping close to the wolves. The woman was in no doubt about what she had seen, and the scattering of people in the Devil's River country began to keep a sharp watch for the girl. There were similar reports by others in the region during the following year and Apache stories told of a child's footprints, sometimes accompanied by hand prints, having been found among wolf tracks in sandy places along the river. A hunt was organised to capture the 'Lobo (or Wolf) Girl of Devil's River' as she had now become known, comprising mainly Mexican vaqueros. On the third day of the hunt the naked girl was sighted near Espantosa Lake running with a pack of wolves.

The cowboys managed to separate the girl from her wolf companions and cornered her in a canyon, where she fought like a wildcat clawing and biting frantically to keep her freedom. They finally managed to lasso her to keep her still, but while they were tying her up she began to make frightening, unearthly sounds somewhere between the scream of a woman and the howl of a wolf. As she howled, the monster he-wolf from whom she'd become separated appeared and rushed at her captors. Fortunately one of the cowboys reacted quickly and shot it dead with a pistol, at which the wolf girl fell into a faint. Securely bound, the men were now able to examine the girl and noted that despite a body covered in hair and her wild mannerisms, her appearance was human. Her hands and arms were well muscled but not out of proportion, and she lacked the ability to speak, only making deep growling noises. She moved smoothly on all fours, but was rather awkward when made to stand up straight.

The girl was put on a horse and taken to the nearest ranch, an isolated two-roomed shack amid the desert wilderness. She was put in one of the rooms and unbound, the cowboys offering her a covering for her body and food and water, but she refused, cowering in the darkest corner. They then left her alone for the night, locking the door and posting a guard outside. The only other opening in the room was a small boarded up window.

But as night fell the cowboys heard terrifying howls coming from the wolf girl's room. The strange cries carried through the still night air, unsettling her captors and soon finding answers from among the wolf pack in the wilderness beyond the shack. Soon there were long deep howls coming from all sides as the pack drew closer to the house, and occasionally strange howling screams from the girl answering them from inside her dark room. Suddenly the large pack of wolves charged into the corrals, attacking the goats, cows and horses and bringing the cowboys outside shooting and yelling to drive them away. In all the confusion the wolf girl managed to tear the planks from the window and escape into the night. The howls soon abated and the wolves crept back into the wilderness. The next day not a trace of the girl could be found.

So there you have it folks, the wolf-girl of Devil's River. Ya gotta love a good folk-tale, and this certainly is the season for spinnin' some awfully fanciful yarn. Some might call Jimmy Kish and his Slim-Whitman-esque howl "Old Hat", but at ten gallons, that's an awful lot of hat.


Wolf Girl of Devil's River - Jimmy Kish


The Hound said...

Did Leon Payne ever record Psycho? I know he wrote it,
but I have 45 versions by Jack Kittel and Eddie Noack but I've never heard Payne's version. Do you know the label?

The RedBoy said...

Ya know, I don't think Payne ever recorded it (at least I've never heard it). Near as I can figure, it was probably too topical a song for it's time (inspired by the 66' Chas Whitman shooting in Austin).

I love the Eddie Noack version . It just sounds so seedy - like it was recorded on a wire recorder in a grain silo.

"I was holdin' a wrench mama and my mind walked away." (!?!?)

The Hound said...

I believe it was the last song Payne wrote before offing himself.
the line about the wrench is my favorite too...

奇堡比 said...