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.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. 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.
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 and , 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.
Phantom Accident Victims
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.
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.Despite the origin and
the nature of the story, the occurrences appear to be genuine.
The Goatman Cometh
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.
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.
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.
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.
It may never be known with any degree of certainty whether these
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
of discovery.One enigmatic piece of cultural history that remains
UFO account of 1897.The object that the UFO drug across the
cut loose and discarded by the “man” from the craft.Drawing on
the object was apparently left there.Perhaps one day it
and add further validity to the story, but for now its history is
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.
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, andCernunnos, the antlered god of the Celts.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,
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
 Juanita Daniel Zachry, A History of Rural TaylorCounty(Austin:Eakin Press, 1980):117.