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by Jo Lutz, Museum Staff
The strangest part was when her entire record collection warped, sitting right in the closet, as though from extreme heat. She would find out from the subsequent homeowner that a lock of Gary’s hair was stored in a jar...
...on the top shelf of that closet.
What made Alice Good Medicine sell the house was when a man’s shadow spied on her in the hot tub from the bedroom window. That was the last straw.
Alice and her husband Casey had only just bought the house. It is possible the price was so low because, as the seller said, he had cancer and needed to sell quickly to pay medical bills. It is also possible that he did not experience Gary’s presence as a haunting, being far more haunted by his absence.
Alice and Casey got to know the former owner as they sifted through his hastily left belongings. It seems he was a hairdresser, there were many boxes of dye and curlers, photos of women’s hairstyles. Alice kept a hairdryer and donated the rest to the Indian Employment Training Center on the neighboring reservation. The house was in Cloudcroft, NM but the property abutted the reservation of the Mescalero Apache, of whom Alice is one.
She learned of Gary when she moved the dryer to paint behind it. Here she found a folder full of love letters between the former owner and Gary, who was battling AIDS. They were touching. Gary was looking forward to visiting over Christmas.
It would seem that the Christmas visit lasted a lifetime and beyond. Alice and Casey would see Gary’s shadow, hear his voice, and find knives taken from the block on the counter and placed in the sink. Culminating in the warped records and the window-peeping.
Evidence that the ghost was indeed Gary was circumstantial until Alice returned to visit the new owners, whom she had told nothing. Talk quickly turned from garden pests to a more pernicious sort. The wife produced the lock of hair in the jar labeled “Gary,” followed by a bag of powder from a box in the basement crawlspace labeled “Cremains of Gary Bullock.”
Alice advised the owners to get rid of the hair and ashes and said she would return to visit, but she never went back.
And she never told this story again after relating it to Antonio R. Garcez in a church on the reservation, where she felt safe discussing the spiritual realm.
“Apaches don’t like to talk about these things…” she said.
This story is one of many collected in Garcez’ book, American Indian Ghost Stories of the West. These are not ancient legends passed down through generations, but accounts of real-life encounters by those who experienced them.
Though they are not lore or folktales of a culture, they are prefaced by short narratives about the tribal history of the storyteller. These stories of dispossession and resilience often read like ghost stories themselves. Not of people (though many died), but of a way of life. And of connection that transcends death.
They lived off the land, and cared for no possession except their land… A time of violence came to the Apaches in the last century. Before it ended, the Mescalero and other Apache bands had lost much of their Southwestern empire. The Mescalero were more fortunate than some other Native American groups… They could still live in sight of their sacred mountain, White Mountain, which was, and remains, the source of their wisdom.
In keeping with his focus on the present, Garcez describes modern American Indian life:
The tepee and the buckskin are gone from the reservation now, except for the four days over the Fourth of July holiday when the tribe observes the ancient ‘Coming of Age Ceremony’ for Mescalero maidens… the tribal members of today live in houses, shop for their food and other necessities in stores, drive there in automobiles...
Garcez dedicates the book to his Mescalero grandfather who sang and played Apache songs on his harmonica, and to his Otomi grandmother who told him, “Never forget that your umbilical cord is attached to this land, so you always will be.”
American Indian Ghost Stories of the West is one of several books available from the Silver City Museum Store about paranormal events and haunted places in our region.
You can tour the state with Haunted Hotels and Ghostly Getaways of New Mexico, featuring the Express St. James Hotel in Cimarron, where the ceiling in the bar has 22 bullet holes from some of the 27 men who died in gunfights there between 1872 and 1884. Room 18, “T.J.’s Room,” stays shut and padlocked.
Or visit the spirit of the beautiful Zella Mueller at the Crow’s Nest Bed and Breakfast in Las Vegas. Its original owner, Zella’s husband, was apparently so jealous of attention his wife might receive that he did not allow her outdoors. She could only pace the iron-crested widow’s walk on the roof. Which she still does.
Zella is a shy ghost, but her son, who died in the house at a young age, is very playful and loves other kids. Bring the family!
For a sampling from the entire western United States, there’s Haunted Old West. You can camp on the same site in Truckee, CA where the infamous Donner Party was marooned and turned to cannibalism. Don’t forget your picnic basket!
This book also includes the “Bloody” St. James of Cimarron, so that’s probably a top place to go. Or avoid, if you are easily spooked. Either by ghosts or by pandemic travel.
Like they say nowadays, “Stay home, save lives - while you still have them.”
But at least spend some of your dwindling mortal journey on vicarious thrills from a good book.
Browse these and other titles here at our online bookshop. Shipping or safe pick-up available.