Let's talk, he said in the dying light of the campfire. Let's talk about greed, envy, killings, the Wild West, and ghosts. Let's talk about the Steer Called Murder.
The date is January 28, 1890. We're standing on a range somewhere in the Big Bend region of Texas, near the town of Alpine. There's a roundup going on for some of the small ranchers in Brewster County. The roundup is to help them fill out their herds with any unbranded cattle they can find. And this one is a humdinger of a steer -- he's large, black as doom, absolutely magnificent, and completely brand-free. Any cowboy would be thrilled to have this animal on his ranch. The problem is that two men -- Henry Harrison Powe, a one-armed Confederate Army vet, and Fine Gilliant, of whom we know almost nothing -- want to claim him. They argue, the argument escalates, shots are fired, Powe is killed, and Gilliant is on the run.
At this point, after a friendly communal roundup has been marred by anger and murder, none of the other ranchers wants the steer anymore. Seeing it as the source of the trouble, they brand it -- on one side:
M U R D E R
And on the other side, the date: "Jan 28 90".
And they set it free.
Days later, when the Texas Rangers caught up to and killed Gilliant, the steer was seen watching the proceedings in the distance.
It's been seen since then. The doom-black steer, the huge brand red and oozing on its side, roams the American West. It always seems to show up where someone's going to get killed. It's not known if it appears as an omen of death, or if it's somehow compelling violence. It doesn't show up often. But it shows up.
The campfire's dyin' down. Best get some sleep.
Research from http://www.rootsweb.com/~txbcgs/p.html from an article in the Alpine Avalanche on December 16, 1993