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by Judd Burton

Merkel, Windmills, and Weregoats

 

 

            In the mesquite thicketed country of West Texas, seventeen miles west of Abilene, lies the hamlet of Merkel.  To residents, the town and its surrounding environs have a rich cultural importance.  It was founded in 1881 and carries the namesake of S. H. Merkel, an individual who came to the area in that year.[1]  Merkel earned the nickname “The Windmill Town,” because once the towering spires and their spinning wheels could be seen at every house in the area.[2] Thousands of motorists pass by the small agrarian town not realizing the events that comprise Merkel’s fascinating past, much less, the strange phenomena that constitute and entirely “other” history.  Within the confines of the town and the adjacent countryside resides a body of strange folktales and stories.

            There are, in fact, several curious elements of the local cultural history that merit the description “paranormal.”  Merkel is not exempt from its share of strange occurrences.  There have been (and indeed, are) instances of paranormal activity in the area that push the envelope of human understanding.  Whatever one may think about the paranormal, the subsequent examples of strange happenings and creatures cause one, at the very least, to consider the possibilities.  In addition to the rich cultural history Merkel is heir to, there are at least three types of paranormal phenomena that have occurred there in the past.  The activities fall under the rubric of three categories:  Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), ghosts, and cryptozoological entities.  UFOs have of course been sighted all over the globe, and there are at least two recorded instances of UFOs appearing in and near Merkel.  Ghosts, like UFOs, have been spotted everywhere since before recorded history.  They are a near perennial fixture in world mythology and folklore.  The story related here deals with a group of children, and may be a retelling of a similar story found in Texas towns.  Finally, the cryptozoological specimen that I shall examine is the famed Goatman of Merkel.  Goatman is a strange goat-like creature that cryptozoologists and paranormal researchers have sought for years in many locations across the country.  Merkel seems to be one of the many haunts for this creature, as sightings have been reported all over Texas.

 

UFOs and Other Aerial Oddities

            At the close of the nineteenth century, the founding fathers of Merkel were still in the process of developing the town.  Residents looked with hope to the burgeoning of the twentieth century and the marvels that it appeared to offer.  Naturally, persons living in the area would not be accustomed to seeing flying machines of any sort on a regular basis.  Perhaps that is why it is so puzzling that so many residents don’t recall (even from stories) the uncanny events that occurred in Merkel during the spring of 1897.

            Celebrated author and scholar Whitley Streiber recounts in his book Communion:  A True Story that a UFO of some sort visited Merkel in the late 1890s.  On the night of April 26, 1897 persons returning from evening church services noticed a peculiar machine in the sky.  They saw a heavy anchor-like object on the ground being pulled with a rope by a flying craft.  Consequently, the rope got caught on the railroad track and temporarily halted the craft’s movement.  The craft must have been at such an altitude that persons on the ground could not make out its structure, for the only discernable features were faint protrusions and light.  After ten minutes of observing the stilled craft and the huge object it had in tow, people gathered at the site saw a “man” dressed in a light blue uniform descend along the rope.  When he saw the people he cut the end free and went back toward the craft.  The UFO then maneuvered away, flying toward the northeast.[3]

            The UFO sighting in 1897 is certainly not the only sighting near Merkel.  In the early summer of 1973, archaeologist Jim Couzzourt was conducting an archaeological survey southwest of Merkel.  Between 2:00 and 3:00 PM, Couzzourt stopped to reorient himself on his survey and looked up.  He spotted a silver-gray, disk-shaped object overhead heading to the north.  The object had no projections, fins, or engines, portholes, windows, symbols, or decorative elements.  It also left no contrail and made no sound.  The craft was almost directly above him when he spotted it.  Eventually, it moved from this area above him to a point near the northern horizon in a matter of four or five seconds.  Couzzart, also a United States Air Force veteran, maintained that the craft must have been at an altitude of at least 35,000 feet.  He was accustomed to identifying and recognizing airplanes and contended that this particular UFO was not a conventional aircraft.[4]

 

Phantom Accident Victims

Another ethereal phenomenon graces the city limits of Merkel.  According to one story, the ghosts of local children haunt the railroad tracks.  The tale begins with a group of children who were killed in an accident on the railroad tracks.  The school bus that they were in stalled on the tracks and a train plowed through it, killing all on board.  Allegedly, the ghosts of the children haunt the location of the crossing, and if one pulls his car up to the tracks and shifts into neutral, the ghosts are reported to push it off.[5]

            The story about the tragic accident and the ghosts of the children is an urban legend that bears resemblance to a story from San Antonio.  The plot is almost identical to the Merkel legend.  Whether the story in Merkel is an isolated incident with coincidental similarity to the San Antonio one, or if the story migrated to Merkel from other areas, remains somewhat of a mystery.  Diffusion of the legend is certainly possible, and the retelling of similar stories with minute changes is a central characteristic of folklore.[6]  Despite the origin and the nature of the story, the occurrences appear to be genuine.

 

The Goatman Cometh

The beautiful expanse of the Merkel countryside serves as the backdrop for the final account of paranormal phenomena in the area.  South of town, where the houses are sparse and the population dispersed, there exists a creature (or creatures) of a bizarre nature.  Goatman is a creature whose appearance may be familiar to Greek mythology enthusiasts.  He is reported to vaguely resemble the Greek woodland deity Pan, having the horns and legs of a goat, and the torso of a man.  To add to the ferocity of his person, Goatman also allegedly has red eyes and a deep basso voice.  Typically, he lingers in the small arroyos and waterways south of town, most often, in an area around the road know locally as Devil’s Backbone.

Much to the chagrin of many people, Goatman tends to be both elusive and violent.  He is reputed to jump on automobiles and savagely beat on the roofs.  In some stories, he carries an axe or other bladed implement, to aid in taking the roofs off of cars.  Goatman seems to be most unpleasant in his presentation.  In other parts of the state and country, animal mutilations and even murders, have been linked to Goatman.

What on earth could have spawned such a ghastly creature?  One of the most prominent explanations in the country involves the work of a scientist.  The scientist in question conducted genetic research on goats for a federal agricultural research facility.  During the course of his research, his experiments went horribly awry.  The scientist then mutated into the form known as Goatman.[7]

People have spotted the Goatman all over the continental United States.  This fact lends credence to the possibility of several entities.  He has been spotted in Texas from San Antonio to North Texas.  How Goatman has managed to migrate to Merkel, and possibly multiply, remains a mystery.  However, if you’re driving south of town, it might be a good idea to be cautious.

 

Conclusions

 

       It may never be known with any degree of certainty whether these

 

occurrences and sightings are real.  However, the stories exist, and in the cases

 

of the UFOs, are documented by career scholars familiar with scientific

 

methodology.  These tales provoke the imagination at least, and perhaps even

 

the feelings of discovery.  One enigmatic piece of cultural history that remains

 

concerns the UFO account of 1897.  The object that the UFO drug across the

 

ground was cut loose and discarded by the “man” from the craft.  Drawing on

 

available information, the object was apparently left there.  Perhaps one day it

 

will resurface and add further validity to the story, but for now its history is

 

obscured. 

The story of the ghosts of the children may very well be based on a historical event.  Whether that happened in Merkel is indeterminate.  It does, however, offer an explanation for the events that occur at the railroad tracks.  It is possible that the story was imported and applied to the events, as circumstances at the railroad tracks offer congruence.

In the case of Goatman, a number of elements concerning his story immediately offer a few possibilities for explanation.  First of all, we live in an age when genetic engineering is a reality.  The first test tube baby was born in 1978, and it is also a proven fact that the Nazis, the Russians, and the Americans, have been developing the science of genetic engineering since the early twentieth century.  Therefore, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Goatman is the result of an experiment dealing with human and goat DNA.  On the other hand, it is also possible that Goatman is a supernatural manifestation.  Similar woodland figures can be found in world mythology.  Examples of such figures include Pan, of Greek mythology, and  Cernunnos, the antlered god of the Celts.[8]  So, Goatman is not wholly without a strictly supernatural precedent.

 

      It is interesting to note that these stories are perpetuated.  They engrain

 

themselves in the collective memory of Merkel.  They exist because they are

 

passed on from person to person, whether in the coffee shop over breakfast,

 

or during a high school lunch break.  Stories—legends—are human.  And, no

 

matter how incredible these tales appear on the surface, they, at the very least,

 

deserve sober consideration as possible phenomena.  For, as Fox Mulder

 

once said “when convention and science offer us no answers, might we not

 

finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?”

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Juanita Daniel Zachry, A History of Rural Taylor County  (Austin:  Eakin Press, 1980):  117.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Whitley Streiber, Communion:  A True Story (New York:  Avon, 1987):  242-43.

[4] UFO Sightings in New Mexico and the World,  http:://members.xoom.com/_XMCM/ ufosnmw/reports/sightings.html, 11/7/01

[5] Lone Star Spirit Investigations, www.lonestarspirits.org, 2

[6] Jan Harold Brunvand, The Study of American Folklore (New York:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1998):  12.

[7] John Lawson, The Goatman Legend of Prince George’s County, http://asaz.assortment.com, Page Wise, 2001.

[8] Arthur Cotterell and David Storm, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology:  The A-Z Guide to the Myths and Legends of the Ancient World  (New York:  Hermes House, 1999):  114.

copyright Burton Beyond, 2005-2017