Seen running rampant all over south Texas, El Muerto (meaning the dead man in Spanish) is the spirit of a horse thief named Vidal.
Texas in the mid-19th century was a very wild and untamed place. In an area bigger than New England, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio combined, it stands to reason that keeping law and order in every newly sprouted boomtown would not be an easy task. After gaining its independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas proclaimed the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries. However, this wasn't recognized by both parties. The Republic of Mexico still believed that their legal territory stretched all the way to the Rio Nueces, about 60 miles further north. The area in between the two rivers became known as a No Man's Land. It was chock full of Mexican banditos, Comanche raiders, and Anglo outlaws. Ranchers did what they could to combat the thievery and lawlessness plaguing the land, but nothing seemed to work. All of the scofflaws strung up across Texas didn't deter the ones still alive; it only seemed to provoke them.
In 1850, Creed Taylor had a number of his horses stolen from his ranch in Uvalde by a well-known Mexican bandito simply called Vidal. Vidal's operation of thievery encompassed both borders and stretched all the way into Mississippi. Taylor knew that a new brand of justice needed to by enforced, and Vidal was going to be his guinea pig. Along with pioneer Texas Ranger, mountain man, and Lone Star legend, William Bigfoot Wallace, and a Mexican rancher named Flores, who also had horses stolen, they headed out on Vidal's trail. Once the three men found Vidal and his camp they waited until nightfall to make their attack. In an effort to not to rouse the stolen horses they approached the banditos from downwind. This made the ensuing fight one sided and Vidal, along with his compadres, were killed. What happened next would go down in Texas lore and rank right up there along side the Battle of the Alamo. With the help of his friends, Wallace severed Vidal's head from his body. They then selected the wildest horse of the bunch, tied it between two trees, placed a saddle on its back, and strapped him on. His hands were tied to the saddle horn and legs to the stirrups. The torso was secured in such a fashion that it stood upright. They then knotted the stirrups together under the horse's belly so Vidal wouldn't fly up. The final act was when Wallace wrapped a rawhide thong through the jaws of Vidal's severed head and tightened it to the saddle horn with the bandito's sombrero still on his head. With a Texas sized yell, Wallace let the horse loose.
Not only did this gruesome act scare horse and cattle rustlers away from thievery but also it made Wallace and Vidal legends. No one knew what this was. Riding throughout Texas like a crazed beast, this black horse was shot at with guns and arrows alike, but was never brought down. To ensure its effectiveness, Taylor, Wallace, and Flores never divulged any information as to what this was. They did enjoy a quiet chuckle when stories were told about the wild horse carrying and decapitated man running rampant all over the plains. Some of these stories stated that the horse shot out flames from its nostrils and sent lightening bolts to the heavens with each stomp of its hooves. The horse and its rider were credited with all sorts of misfortune and curses.
Finally, at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas, a group of cowboys were able to bring the horse down. They were awestruck to discover the dozens of bullet holes and arrow wounds to bodies of the horse and the man, but were flabbergasted to see beneath the sombrero, the small dried-up skull, riddled from too many years in the hot Texas sun. Vidal was taken off the horse and laid to rest in La Trinidad's small ranch cemetery in Ben Bolt.
The spirit of Vidal and the wild mustang have never left the south Texas plains. Until it was abandoned in 1869, soldiers stationed at Fort Inge (present-day Uvalde) were terrified of the headless rider that roamed. Nearly 30 years later, a wagon passing through San Patricio, Texas claimed El Muerto rode straight through them. This spot is now called Headless Horsemen Hill and is nearly 250 miles southeast of Uvalde. Currently he is seen throughout Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties. Still moving at the same lighting speed as he did in 1850, El Muerto is a real life, true story of old west Texas justice and its best and most gruesome.