Prinsloo’s Kloof can be found tucked away and hidden from view in the Gamtoos River Valley in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. This little kloof, lying in the darkest corner of the ravine, has long been whispered about as a place of evil, with many spirits that have never been laid to rest. Over 10km from the nearest road and reached only through a rough and dangerous mountain pass, there are not many visitors and the land has been left untouched since the days of the voortrekkers.
If someone were to stumble into the ravine nowadays, all they would find is the remains of a large farmhouse and stables. Despite the fact that the surrounding area is excellent farming land and should be highly prized, it has been left alone by everyone, given over to an area of nature reserve as no one wished to live on land with such an uneasy history.
When I was young, my father would often take us on camping trips to the Eastern Cape, as it is a beautiful and varied landscape with many places to explore on your own. On one of these trips, we decided to under take a 5 day hike through the Baviannskloof, which borders on the kloof of this particular tale. By the time the second night arrived we were deep into the valley and had set up camp under a towering cliff face. Despite the protests from our mother, my siblings and I were eager for a scary story. My father had spent much of his life travelling in Africa and knew many tall tales, as well as some amazing true stories.
So, in the most classic of poses, we all drew closer to the fire and making sure we all had a blanket to hide under and a comfortable seat, the story began….
The Gruesome Legend of Jan Prinsloo’s Kloof
In 1860, a young, newly-wed English settler by the name of Stephen Goodrick was searching the interior of South Africa for the perfect farm for him and his family. Leaving them behind in Cape Town, he had saddled up his horse and ridden off to seek the land he wished for. Along the way, he met a couple of farmers who told him of an affordable and fertile farm in the foothills of the Kouga Mountains that was up for grabs. Goodrick wasted no time in riding to the area to meet with the owner of the farm.
Arriving at the Gamtoos River Valley, Goodrick was amazed by the land on offer. It was a large area, well watered by the river and protected by the ravine, and best of all, selling for an incredible bargain. The farmer insisted that he needed to sell it quickly as he was buying a farm together with his brother, much further north in what was then the Transvaal. Goodrick arranged to buy the farm along with all the cattle; however none of the farm-hands wanted to stay. The only one willing to stay on and work for Goodrick was an old Hottentot who had been named Cupido by the farmer.
Sending for his family, Goodrick stayed on the farm and set about the task of finding new help. There were a few small villages in the area, whose men were always looking for local farm work. Since the Boers had arrived, they had taken much of what the local tribes had had, and as such they were usually very poor.
Goodrick did not imagine he would have any trouble finding the help he needed. Yet every village he entered contained no men who would come with him once he had said which farm it was that he had brought. When he tried to question them, all he got were what sounded like superstitious mumblings, probably originating from the tribes witch doctor. Frustrated by his lack of success, he arranged for Cupido to go and visit them the next day, in hopes that he would be better able to reason with their fears. At the end of the day, Cupido returned with just 3 men whom he had managed to somehow persuade.
A month went by, and the farm was beginning to come right, his family had arrived and Goodrick was feeling good about the farm. This feeling was not to last. One night, the whole family was awakened by the chilling sound of a mans scream coming from outside. Being the man of the house, Goodrick grabbed his gun and ran outside to see what was the cause of such a terrible cry. After searching the surrounding area, he had found nothing except the horses in a sweaty and trembling panic in their stables. No sign of Cupido could be found either, which made Goodrick angry, as he was in charge of looking after the farm at night.
The next morning, he found Cupido going about his normal duties but when questioned about the past night, Cupido claimed he had heard nothing and was asleep in his quarters. As nothing else transpired over the following days, Goodrick's fears were somewhat lulled. However, a night soon after raised them again when everyone once again awoke to the sound of the same scream, this time accompanied by the sound of stampeding hoofs and a murderous war cry. Dashing outside, Goodrick found the horses running around in a mad panic. He ran to Cupido's room and forced his way inside, finding the old Hottentot huddled in a corner. Again the farmer tried to get some answers from his servant. Cupido admitted to hearing the noises, and being very afraid, but he could give no explanation as to their source.
Over the next few months, many nights were shattered by the same screams and cries. And despite moving the horses to new stables or leaving them in the kraal, they would always be found with their eye’s rolling, covered in a panicked sweat. At his wits end, and finding no help from any of his servants, Goodrick secretly rode up the valley to visit one of the local sangomas in hope she would be able to help. When he told her the nature of his problem she nodded wisely and told him she knew the answer, but he would have to find it out for himself. She told him he would know the truth come January 15th, and that she would not expect to see him again once he knew.
Goodrick was anxious and scared about the rapidly approaching day when he would supposedly find the truth, and told no one the sangomas words. After a sleepless night, the day of the 15th finally dawned and Goodrick eagerly set about his chores, hoping to discover the secret. But by the time the evening came, he had seen or heard nothing and began to doubt the old woman’s advice. Thick ridges of thunderclouds were building up in the distance, and the rain and lightning of a tremendous storm could already be seen approaching the kloof. At about 8 o’clock, Goodrick was surprised to find Cupido knocking on the farmhouse door. He nervously asked his master if it would be okay to sleep in the kitchen, instead of in his own outside quarters. Eyeing the storm, and thinking of the sangomas words, Goodrick agreed.
It was about midnight when the storm finally began to calm, after raging for the past few hours. Restless and uneasy, Goodrick climbed out of bed and crept downstairs to see if the storm had done any damage outside. When he arrived in the kitchen, he found a lighted lamp, and Cupido watching the windows nervously. “What are you doing up?” Goodrick asked him in surprise. “I am afraid Baas. You should be too. If I were you I would bar the doors, and not even try and look outside for the next hour!” Cupido said the words with such conviction that Goodrick could not help feel a small tingling on the back of his neck. Just then the familiar scream sounded, louder than ever and followed by more sounds of yells and horses. “What is it? What is going to happen?” Goodrick demanded of his servant. Getting no answer, he loaded his gun and stepped defiantly outside, resolved to get to the bottom of the mystery. What he saw frightened him in a way he could never have thought.
Coming down the kloof were seven ghostly horses and riders chasing another pair at breakneck speed. The group was heading right for the farmhouse courtyard, and as they drew closer Goodrick could see the riders wielding their weapons and hear them letting out the murderous cries. One of them shot an arrow into the horse of the man they were chasing, and it fell down, tossing its rider to the floor. They were now all so close to Goodrick that he could fully witness the terrible sight. The frames of humans, now only spectral skeletons with tattered flesh and hollow eye sockets.
The seven warriors dismounted from their horses and set upon the fallen rider who let out the scream Goodrick had heard on so many nights before. The warriors hacked at the man with machetes and large knives. Stripping his clothes before cutting off each limb in turn, every slash elicited another scream and more barbaric cries of victory. With a last swipe, the man's head was cut off and held up high by the seven riders. Goodrick had stood frozen in shock, not understanding what he was seeing, and thinking there could be nothing more gruesome to happen to a man. It was then that the leader of the warriors took a large hunting knife and sliced the remains of the man open, pulling all the bloody remains out and giving some to each man but claiming the heart for himself. The warriors held up the bloody entrails and with gleeful cries covered themselves in the dripping blood.
Goodrick could take no more and fell to the floor in a dead faint. When he awoke he saw Cupido and his wife standing over him, the moon shining brightly and no trace of the horrors he had witnessed. Once safely inside, with dawn light creeping over the cliffs outside, Goodrick pleaded with Cupido to tell him what he knew. Knowing how much his master had witnessed, Cupido finally revealed the secret of the kloof.
“Many years ago, this farm was owned by a man named Jan Prinsloo. It was he who named the kloof after himself once he had built this house and tended the land. All talked of him as a bad man, with no family and only bandits for friends. When ever some terrible deed had been committed by him or his friends, they would escape the public eye by coming to this land. He had many local people working for him, but many were only doing so because he had threatened them if they would not. He was a cruel and hard person, and the stories about him could fill a book of their own.
What you laid eyes on this night was the death of Jan Prinsloo, and some say that even that was not a terrible enough end for such a man. Although everyone thought he would meet with an unhappy end, what eventually got him happened quite suddenly.
One day he returned to his farm and found that two of his women helpers had taken their children to visit a sick relative in a nearby village. That the woman had done so without his permission made him angry, as he liked to have complete control over those who worked for him. He rounded up the husbands of the two women and beat them with a sjambok until they could barely even stand. When their wives and children returned home he ordered that they be tied to the trees in the courtyard. With the husbands helpless behind him, he whipped the women unendingly, and when the children cried out for them, he shot them.
After hours of this cruelty, Prinsloo eventually retired to his friend the bottle and bed, leaving the children dead, and the husbands and wives beaten. As the night wore on, Prinsloo felt a dead calm sweeping over the farm, and going outside he found that all his servants had left, taking horses with them and leaving him totally alone. His feeling of unease began to grow, and he decided to make his escape before anything could happen. Taking the last horse from his stud, he began a mad gallop toward the open end of the ravine. But he was not even half way when he realized that he had left his escape too late, coming toward him down the kloof were seven of his servants, mounted on his stolen horses.
You were unlucky enough to witness what happened next. It was such a horror filled night that it has stained the land forever. Prinsloo often appears to the horses, as he was a great lover of them and every year, on this night, the ghosts of Prinsloo and his killers live out the act again and again. Making the tragedy live on for everyone who comes here.
I am sorry not to have told you earlier Baas, you have been good to me. But my last master made me swear not to tell you or he could never sell the farm. Many, many farmers have tried to live here since that time, but all have left quickly and I fear this place will never be free…”
Goodrick was shocked and dismayed by what he heard and decided right away that he would be among those who left in a hurry. Being an honest man, he told buyers about the history of the farm, and eventually had to sell it for so little it was almost given away. However the new owner became mysteriously ill before even reaching the farm, and died without ever seeing it. Since then no one has lived there, even the local people never went back to claim the land and it was left to fall into the ruinous state it is now in. And still, over 150 years later, it is said the ghosts act out their horrendous crimes over and over, the screams never dying out, the souls never resting.
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