The Writing Traveler: Where did the ghosts go?

Photograph of Shafter courtesy of Archives of the Big Bend, “Peter Koch Papers”, Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Sul Ross State University, Alpine Texas

Shafter was withering away around him.mOnce the land had been rich. Maybe it still was. Silver lay deep within a dry and barren soil.

HE HAS NO IDEA why anyone would live there.

But he calls it home.

And he can’t remember why he came or figure out why he doesn’t leave.

The old man sat on the front porch of an old wood-frame house that looked about as decrepit as he did.

The August sun was like a furnace blowing heat from hell against his face.

There was no shade in sight.

There were no trees.

And nobody was on the streets of Shafter.

“Too hot for them?” I asked.

“They can’t come out,” he said.

“Why not?”

“There ain’t nobody here.”

“Just you?”

“Just me.” He grinned. ”If you don’t count the dog.”

“Your dog?”

“I feed him. He claims me.”

“I guess he stays inside,” I said.

“He’s smarter than I am.”

The old man laughed the way old men do.

Caleb Pirtle

He sat in the shank of the evening, surrounded by the Chinati Mountains and not far from Cibola Creek. The land sprawling toward the distant foothills was harsh and inhospitable. If anything lived in the desert, it either had horns, thorns, or rattlers.

Once the land had been rich.

Maybe it still was.

Silver lay deep within a dry and barren soil.

Soldiers found it. The Presidio Mining Company dug it out of the dirt.

And miners packed their way into Shafter.

They were looking for jobs.

Most found their graves.

Hard work killed some of them.

A few died in the heat.

The rattlesnakes got their share.

Disappointment tracked down the rest.

Nobody ever came to stay for very long in Shafter, Texas.

From 1983 to 1940, however, the mines produced more than eighteen million dollars worth of silver.

“The town had a post office then,” the old man said.

It closed.

“The town had a general store. That’s where the miners bought their staples.”

It closed.

“The town had a doctor.”

He left.

“And the war took the miners away,” the old man said.

There was nobody left to dig.

The price of silver crumbled.

The mine locked its doors.

And the old man came long after almost everyone else had driven away.

The houses around him are old.

They are weathered.

Their roofs leak.

They are empty.

“Do you ever get lonesome?” I asked him.

“I got my dog,” he said.

“It’s not like living with people,” I said.

“If I liked living with people, I wouldn’t living here,” he said.

“It is forsaken,” I said.

“I prefer to think it’s forgotten.”

He was probably right.

“What’s the best thing about this part of Texas?” I asked.

“The highway,” he said.

“What’s so good about the highway?”

“It takes people out of town,” he said.

I nodded.

“And it don’t bring nobody back.”

“It brought me,” I said.

“You staying?”

“No.”

“Then you don’t count,” he said.

Shafter was withering away around him.

He didn’t care.

“So Shafter has become a ghost town,” I said.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

“Why not?”

“I know the ghosts,” he said.

He leaned back and closed his eyes.

The sun dropped behind the Chinati peaks.

Shade had found him at last.

“The ghosts couldn’t take it,” he said.

I waited.

“The ghosts have already left.”

My memoir The Man Who Talks to Strangers contains travel stories from my days as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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