A small party of gentlemen on the day before a crisp, cold Christmas, started from Gulfport in a large four-wheeled wagon for a thirty-mile drive into the wilderness of pine and a week’s sport after the deer. The tract of pine forest extended for miles with only a few habitations scattered through it. Red Creek drained this region into the Pascagoula River to the eastward. With the swamps of Pascagoula as a refuge, and the luxuriant and unfrequented banks of Red Creek to browse upon, there were few choicer spots for deer.
The guide was Jim Caruthers, a true woodsman, and the driver and general factotum, a jolly man named Jack Lyons. No one could make a better cake or cook a venison steak like Jack. His laugh could be heard a quarter of a mile, and his good nature was as expansive as the range of the laughter.
The usual experiences of a hunting camp were heartily enjoyed during the first days of this Christmas hunt; but its cream did not rise until about the fifth night, when Jack Lyons became loquacious after the day’s twenty or twenty-five-mile walk, and would spin yarns in front of the campfire, which brought forgetfulness of fatigue.
The night before New Year’s was intensely cold. The cold north wind of the afternoon had subsided at sunset, and only a gust now and again touched the musical leaves of the pines, making them vibrant with that mournful score of nature’s operas which even maestros have failed to catch.
In front of two new and white tents two sportsmen reclined at length within reach of the warmth of the fire, while opposite them rested at ease the guide and the worthy Jack Lyons.
Wearied with the day’s chase four stanch hounds—Ringwood, Rose, Jet and Boxer—were dreaming of future quarry.
The firelight brought out in bright relief the trunks of the tall pines like cathedral columns and sparkling through the leafy dome overhead the stars glistened with a diamond brightness. A silence rested about the borders of the creek below and gave more effect to the story of the veteran teamster than perhaps it otherwise would have had.
“If the run down the creek,” said old Jack, smacking his lips over a carefully prepared brewing punch, “we will have some fun tomorrow, for they will take us down by the old Gibbet’s place. In daylight there’s no place like it, but after nightfall, I wouldn’t set foot on that property.”
Old Jack was naturally asked why he didn’t care about visiting the Gibbet’s place at night. After filling his pipe, he piled more pine knots on the fire and commenced:
“You know, gentlemen, that when the gunboats were in the sound, we folks had to travel way back here out of the range of the big guns. I was engaged by Mr. Harrison in hauling salt from the factory at Mississippi City, on the beach over at Mobile, and I had been making a trip every week or so. The back country road was never thought of by the enemy, and we had good times along the way, no shells and no shooting.
“The night, gentlemen, I’m speaking of was a Friday, and some count that day as unlucky. I hitched up Betsie and Rose in the lead, and old Fox and Blossom at the pole, and I took the biggest load of salt that team ever carried. I crossed de Biloxi River just as the moon was going down. I sat in the seat whistling and thinking of Sarah Jamison, my bride-to-be, when I felt the front wheel sink into a muddy hole in the road right up to the hub. I did some cussing, and then went to the fence, about twenty yards off, and took out a rail to pry up the wheel. That is when I saw I was at Mister Gibbet’s place. I said to myself, I’ll go up to the house and get old Mr. Gibbet to give me a turn. I’d spoken with him just two weeks before on my last trip this way, and knew he’d be pleased to give me a helping hand.
“Now, gentlemen, you listen closely, for what I’m telling you is as sure as the angel Gabriel blowing his trumpet on the last day. I walked through the darkness to the house, and as I set foot into the yard, I saw a bright light burning inside the parlor. It shown through the windows, and I saw the shadows of Miss Gibbet and Mrs. Gibbet on the drawn window curtains. I thought that the family must have heard my wagon wheel break and gotten up to see what was wrong.
“The front door of the house was shut, so I stepped up on the porch and knocked with the end of my whip. I didn’t knock loud, but God bless us all, gentlemen, the parlor lights snapped out in an instant, and I heard something wicked laugh, ha-ha-ha-ha. The sound was so menacing it set my knees shaking, I won’t lie.
“When no one answered my knock, I opened the door, and there was no sign of anyone there. I struck a match and lit a stub of candle I had in my pocket. Then I walked hastily through the house, looking for Mr. Gibbet and his family. The house was empty. All the furniture was moved out, and the old red curtain in the parlor where glimpsed the shadows of the Gibbet wife and daughter was in rags.
“My body went cold at the sight of those ragged remains. If the whole family was gone, where had the bright light come from? And who did I hear laughing? I backed out of the empty house and hurried back toward the wagon through the dark yard. But my foot hit something hard and I almost dropped my stub of candle. I leaned over the bulky object and God bless my soul, there in the front yard were six newly-made graves!
Something was very wrong here, I knew. I hastened back to my wagon and built a fire so I had enough light to dig my wheel out of the mud. At sunrise, old Squire Pasture came along the road from Mobile. He helped me dig out my wagon and he told me the news. Old man Gibbet cut the throats of his wife and four children, and then shot himself out of jealous of his wife. They were all buried in the front yard and the house was cleared out and abandoned about ten days before.
“Gentlemen, when I hear that, my mules make the quickest time to Mobile you’ve ever seen. And you cannot tell me there’s no ghosts, because I’ve seen them. And that is why you will not catch me round the old Gibbet house after dark.”
And so saying, Jack looked suspiciously over his shoulder into the darkness and crawled into his blanket, muttering: “It still scares this old man to tell the story at night!”
Sleep soon fell upon the camp, but the impression of old Jack’s story survived the night, and the next day he still asserted its truth.
Copyrighted content: This is a retold folklore story by S.E. Schlosser, who owns the copyright. This version of the story may not be reproduced, reprinted or used in any other way without the permission of the author. Teachers may link to or photocopy this story as part of their classwork.