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Rufus Ward: The Ghosts of Black Creek



Rufus Ward



Next week two events, that appear at first glance to be unrelated, intersect. There is Halloween and the Columbus Decorative Arts and Preservation Forum, whose theme is Andrew Jackson's Military Road. While it may seem strange that these two events are intertwined, the answer is simple. The oldest recorded ghost story in the area is of the haunting of the Military Road (Highway 12) crossing of Black Creek four miles northeast of Columbus. 


In 1851 Joseph Cobb wrote a book titled "Mississippi Scenes" which contained the story "The Legend of Black Creek." It is the account of a traveler on the Military Road going from Simsville (Caledonia area) to Columbus and his frightening late night experience attempting to cross Black Creek. 


Andrew Jackson's Military Road from Nashville to New Orleans was surveyed in 1817 and construction began shortly thereafter. The road crossed the Tombigbee River at a site that would become Columbus. The first major creek crossed by the road north of the Tombigbee was described by Cobb in 1851 as; "a large, dark-looking stream, called, familiarly, Black Creek. It is a forbidding spot, shaded by huge willows and swamp-oaks, whose thick foliage imparts an aspect of gloom and terror sufficiently ominous to put a suspicious or superstitious soul on his guard, independent even of the ghostly associations connected with its history." 


Cobb described how; "Here, it was said, a young Choctaw Indian, the son of a powerful chief, had slain his brother in a fit of anger, and then thrown his body, tied to a large bundle of stones, in the deep gulf or basin formed by a sudden sink in the channel of the creek, just on the margin of the road." 


Then there was the story told by an old army veteran of how; "Old Hickory, having arrived on the banks during a tremendous freshet, and being impatient to get along, rashly ordered two young dragoons to try the depth of the ford, and how both of them were swept away by the swift current, and never seen more."  


Further accounts of persons drowning crossing the creek when flooded were told by Cobb as was the following tale of evil: "At this place, in the spring of 183-, was inhumanly and savagely murdered an old traveler, who was supposed to be on his way to Columbus for the purpose of buying and entering government lands. He was riding calmly along, some hour after night, not dreaming of any danger, but whistling to make up for thought, when a savage assassin flew on him from the adjoining thicket, and mercilessly shot him through the heart. The old gentleman fell heavily from his horse, and the murderer, wresting and seizing the bridle in an instant, possessed himself of the traveler's saddle-bags, and then galloped furiously off on his own horse, which had been tied on the brow of the hill." 


The traveler was buried there on the side of the Military Road but his story did not end there. "The traveler's grave does not confine him very closely, and he is still allowed to wander to the scene of his most flagitious crime...every anniversary of the event." It was told that on that anniversary anyone with the misfortune to be at Black Creek would first hear the sound of horses' hooves and a man whistling. That would be quickly followed by a gunshot with a pistol flash lighting the scene where a "rider dropped from his horse, a man rushed out and rifled him in a trice, and then, mounting a huge black horse, which stood a little way off, breathing fire and flames from his nostrils, both vanished in a whirlwind which happened to meet them just at the top of the hill." 


On other occasions travelers "beheld two men on horseback, with plumes in their caps, and great crooked swords dangling at their sides, rearing and plunging through the air about the height that the creek usually rises to in high flood, whilst a great white figure darted up suddenly, with a shriek, out of the dark pool, and then fell back heavily again, as if pulled down with a dead weight." 


So goes Joseph Cobb's 1851 ghost story of the "Legend of Black Creek." Is there a historical basis? Andrew Jackson ordered the construction of the Military Road but never traveled this segment himself. However, not far north of Black Creek on a hill overlooking Howard Creek is a ca.1818 grave of a U.S. soldier who died there during the construction of the Military Road. How he died is not recorded but might he have drowned crossing a flooded Black Creek with his fate surviving for the next 30 years as a ghost story? 


Walking recently along an old sunken road beside Black Creek with Scott Enlow and Carolyn Kaye, Scott recalled that in the early 1970s a mare and a colt owned by his father drowned attempting to swim the creek while it was flooded. That had occurred just about where the old Military Road ford had once crossed Black Creek. Though the creek now appears shallow and peaceful, when flooded it can become a raging torrent. 


Are there ghosts still haunting Black Creek? That depends on who you ask. 



Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]



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