On the Devil’s Backbone, Ghosts Are a Constant Companion

Rancher Charlie Beatty, 57, on right, shares yarns of ghost horses with friend Bill Spears, 72, at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern. Photo by Jillian Bliss.

By Jillian Bliss
For Reporting Texas

Rancher Charlie Beatty first heard the ghost horses gallop across the Devil’s Backbone as he stood outside one night.

“The horses are a legend around here,” Beatty says. “That’s the only thing I think I can say, is, honestly, out of this world.”

Beatty, 57, says the sound unnerved him at the time, but he’s learned to live with it.

There are plenty of ghost stories along the Backbone, a limestone ridge that runs from Wimberley to Blanco through the Texas Hill Country, so many stories that the area is a regular stop for paranormal aficionados.

Local author Bert Wall, who sold Beatty the property next to Wall’s Chaparral Ranch in 1996, wrote eight books chronicling weird phenomena on the Backbone and was working on another before his death in 2010. These days locals gather at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, on Ranch Road 32 near the little town of Fischer, to share the latest batch of puzzling occurrences.

The old stone tavern is a classic, a 1930s honky-tonk with a jukebox where people share yarns over cigarettes and beers. It is also widely believed to be haunted.

“The TVs in the tavern will turn off and on and switch channels on their own sometimes,” says Melaine Walker, 47, a bartender at Devil’s Backbone Tavern who began visiting the honky-tonk as a child with her father. “I guess whoever is doing it just wants to watch TV or doesn’t like what we’re watching.”

There’s a sign on the tavern’s mantle that says, “Ghost Warning – If Doors and Windows Open And Close By Them Selfs, Just Ignore It. It’s Just Our Ghost Trying to Get Attention. He Thinks It’s Funny.”

A stone that’s part of the fireplace is shaped like the devil’s face. It gazes across the bar from just above the hearth and is said to eavesdrop on conversations.

“We get a lot of tourists that come in here because of Bert’s books and the articles and the media,” Walker says. “They’ll type in ‘haunted bars’ on the Internet and see us and come out. We get a lot of college kids who hear about it and are looking for something to do.”

Like listen to stories about Robert Kelly, whose picture hangs on the tavern wall next to pictures of other departed customers. Kelly was known to have attitudes and perhaps still does. Twice, the story goes, his picture fell and hit his former girlfriend in the head as she told unfavorable tales about him.

Walker says the whole Backbone is haunted. Her ex-husband once came back from hunt on a ranch along the Backbone and said he would never return. He had been frightened, he said, by the sound of at least 50 thundering hooves, and by the apparition of a Confederate cavalry troop that accompanied the sound.

Wall and Beatty used to meet at the tavern, and the ghost horses came up once.

“I got to thinking about a story Bert wrote about the wild horses,” Beatty says. “I told him what happened, and he told me that from over here to a campsite in Blanco they hear horses from time to time — about 50 horses. He said the only thing it could be is Confederate soldiers riding through.”

Jackie Milligan, co-founder of Texas Paranormal Events, an online community that promotes ghost investigations, has looked into strange incidents on ranches on the Backbone.

“One family called us because their youngest son was talking to someone,” Milligan says. “They thought it was cute and an imaginary friend until he told them she was a little girl with a hole in her head.”

Milligan and her investigators knew of a family killed by Comanches in the 1800s on a ranch on the Backbone. Milligan says it was common practice for families being raided to commit suicide–something she noted when she heard the little ghost girl had told the son that her father had put the hole in her head.

Milligan says her team captured EVPs–electronic voice phenomena–of a little girl’s voice giggling in the family’s house. The giggling grew when she asked about the family cat.

“It was funny because the cat would act like someone was playing with him when no one was,” she says. “I was asking questions about the cat, and one EVP had the little voice saying ‘yes’ when I asked if she liked playing with him.”

Milligan has not looked into the haunting of Devil’s Backbone Tavern, though Walker says several teams have come with ghost-tracking equipment. One group showed her and her sister how to rig a flashlight to power on when a ghost entered the room.

Walker says she has been truly scared just once.

“I was closing up all alone one night when it was raining,” she says. “I was the only one here, but when I went to go out the back door, I heard something. I looked and I saw two wet footprints, but there was no one else around.”

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cathy coleman

Great intro piece to what could be a fab series…

Knowing this is related to the halloween season, and the Wimberley hill country ghost stories abound (SO many so that some MUST be true), there must be endless other historical and lore-ical events to share with readers. Year round.

I am a new subscriber to your web report. Fun to hear of the history and treasures in this area.

Thanks Jillian!


I have surveyed land in the Backbone and though I did not see anything, I always felt someone or something was there watching me, I believe that there are ghost in the Backbone!

Jay Himelfarb

we are an up-and-coming paranormal investigation team. calling ourselves CLDPS.we are planning an investigation in the near future of the backbone. we would enjoy hearing from anyone willing to allow us to investigate any property in that area. we would also appreciate any pointers from those who have had experiences. please leave your email at the above address and sooner or later we will contact you. my name is Jay and we are the “Canyon Lake Dam Paranormal Society”

Jay Himelfarb

Our e mail is


Just wanted to say “Hi” to my old friend Charlie Beatty from Leon Springs Tx. Tammy’s son Matt was a friend to my son Corey. The Silver Fox just re-opened with new owners, come on down to the Fox and have a beer sometime ~!

Priscilla Wright

Where is the Devil’s Backbone located?

Judi B

I have heard some of the stories from this area when I lived closeby. I also had a friend in Dallas who had a house that came with it’s own live-in ghost. Supposedly a Confederate soldier who had been killed in a skirmish nearby. I later learned that much of that area had similar reports.
I enjoyed this article and look forward to reading more from this website.
Thank You!

Heather Chandler

Wow, sounds like an amazing place! I wouldn’t mind checking out Devil’s backbone, someday. :) I’ve always been interested in ghosts and the paranormal.

Patricia Gilbreath

Wow! I used to live in Wimberley at the end of Carney Lane on about 17 acres ranch. for about 5 years. We used to be able to hear the old pioneer town train whistle quite quite clearly thru the hills- we KNEW none of our neighbors had horses but my family would hear them! And yes, it sounded like a lot of them. I’m glad people have shared their experiences without fear of being ridiculed eyc. It’s true because we’ve heard them too!

gloria kelley

I lived in wimberly texas in 1996.and I work on canyon lake..I would have to drive the devils backbone every night to get home..and every time my radio and all electrical would go off…I had my car check out and all was fine….you tell me. How ….gloria

On the Devil’s Backbone, ghosts are a constant companion | San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

[...] writes for Reporting Texas, a UT School of Journalism program, where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between Reporting Texas and the San Marcos [...]

JoAnn Fox

I would love to visit Charlie Beatty ranch. I have always been in treed about ghost. I saw something about it on TV years ago. I hope I get to go out there before I get to old to walk.

Dee Weidner

Otto Fischer raised horses for the army in Fischer, Tx during the Civil War. He had a large herd. It makes sense, the railroad runs through San Marcos & they took horses, cattle & even had a turkey drive to San Marcos.

Gilbert T.

I lived near the Backbone for years and drove it regularly. I got several stories that spooked me and I never believed…until I drove the Backbone.

Donna Bevington

I’ve been very courious about all the crosses at the rest stop. Anyone know why they are so many of them and why they’re there??

casey roach

Would like information on weekend stays and hunting deer and dove for me and my wife anniversary is coming up might be a good get away thanks Casey Roach


Is it safe to camp around there


Hate to break it to y’all, but the sound of horses hooves are from the train. The track is about 10 miles away parallel with I-35. On a clear, quiet night, with thin air like in winter, the train noise can easily travel that distance.

As an example, I live in San Antonio and am about 6 miles from a train track. I occasionally hear the train whistle. I’m also 1/3 mile from an outdoor wildlife center, and am able to clearly hear those animals. I hear coyotes yipping from at least a mile away. I hear the high-school marching band practicing 1 mile away. And lastly, I hear repetitive gunfire from military training exercises that are 5 miles away.

Sound travels great distances. Given the right weather conditions, train noise will quite easily travel 10 miles.


PS: Also, the sound bounces off the surrounding hills carrying any noises further.

Still doubtful of my assertion? Next time you hear the galloping of horses hooves, note the time. Then find out the train schedule to compare times.

To Paul

Paul, I agree with your reasoning for the most part, except for one thing. Winter air ie cold air is thicker. We just learned that in our 3rd grade science class


Paul I agree but skeptic would say that also. Noise do travel but it only travels so far.


I want to get older and see Devils back bone ranch and bar


This is one place I would love to visit, I watch Unsolved Mysteries in 1998,and always wanted to go visit Bert Wells ranch,