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Time to read
3 minutes

The Haunted Jail, a Cowboy Halloween Tale

  • Haunted Jail
    Haunted Jail

My nightmare started with a simple request. Daniel, the intrepid editor of the Bandera Bulletin, emailed me one morning asking for any Bandera ghost stories. I had always heard the old 1881 jail was haunted. I’ve been in the jail plenty of times during the day, showing tourists and local folks the old sheriff’s office, the cell block where inmates carved graffiti into the floor, and the repaired spot in the limestone wall where a determined inmate had once chiseled through the mortar to escape. Nothing extraordinary had ever happened during those tours, no clacking chains or mournful moans. But I figured, nighttime could be different. This may be my opportunity to finally put the rumors of a haunting to rest.

I walked down to the courthouse and stuck my head into Doyle’s office. Doyle kept the keys to the jail and would be my ticket into the decrepit old building. “Hey, Doyle, I’m thinking of spending the night at the old jail to find those pesky ghosts,” I said with bravado. He stared at me with a look of dread in his eyes and replied, “You know Judith Pannebaker tried staying the night at the jail when she worked for the Courier. I heard she ran out of the building in the middle of the night screaming. Her hair even turned white.” Well, I thought, I know Judith and she most likely left in the middle of the night because she was tired of sleeping on the concrete floor and wanted to go home to her warm bed. I assured Doyle that I was up for the challenge. He reached in his desk drawer and pulled out the key, “Well, it’s your funeral,” he said dryly. I tried to ignore the shiver that went up my spine as I took the keys.

The night I was to do my ghost hunting came a little too quickly. I gathered my sleeping bag and lantern and packed a small flask of brandy to keep any night chills away. I pulled up to the jail and stood for a moment admiring the façade. The jail was a reminder of Bandera’s boom time. The cattle trails that went through Bandera in the 1870s left the county flushed with cash. The county commissioners thought a proper jail was in order to replace the rustic one room jail that sat on Main Street. They hired the famed San Antonio architect, Alfred Giles, to design a jail that would reflect on the town’s good fortune. Like an aged doyenne, one could still the building’s beauty past the crumbling stone and overgrown weeds. I climbed the steps and opened the rickety wood doors. With forced determination, I went in and closed the doors behind me.The gloom of dusk gave very little light in the two front offices. I walked down the stone steps into the cell block and crossed over to turn on the lights. The modern day fluorescent overhead lights came on, bright and reassuring. How bad could this be, I thought, and set about admiring the handiwork of the incarcerated men who did their time there. Gone were the lattice bars that once partitioned off the individual cells. I heard they were given away when a newer jail had been built in the 1930s. Some were still even being used today as cattle guards. What was left were the etchings of horses, sentiments, and initials in the floor. An inmate, J.D., must have been a frequent visitor since his initials could be found in several locations. Night had fallen and I thought I would set up my camp in the entry hall. Cut into the wall was a window with bars which allowed deputies a view down into the cell block. I laid down and read a book by the light of my lantern until I felt my eyes become heavy and sleep overtook me. I have no recollection of how long I slept. I can only recall being awaken by the screams. A sound that tore through my being and caused me to jump up. I peered into the cell block and felt a wave of cold air rush past me. I felt the touch of fingers grabbing at my face through the bars of that open window.

I screamed myself and fell back onto the floor. Shaking with fear, I saw a limestone block had been removed and hands were reaching through it, desperate to flee the terror of the cell block. Without thinking, I grabbed at the hands to pull the poor soul out to safety. It was only then I understood the severity of my mistake. The hands were there not to escape but to add a new soul to spend time with for eternity. As I was being pulled down into the cell block, I realized that this time there would be no escape.