17 min read

Death at the Goatman's Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)

Death at the Goatman's Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)

Death at the Goatman’s Bridge: A look at one legend behind the Goatman’s Bridge, the period of history that inspired it, and a suspicious recent death at the bridge.

Highlights include:

• The Texas Troubles
• Attempts to bury history
• Mass hysteria and bloodthirsty vigilantes
• Some creepypasta-style urban legends

CONTENT NOTE: This episode contains discussions of racially motivated murders and white supremacist hate groups.

 

Episode Script for Death at the Goatman’s Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Intro for Death at the Goatman’s Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)

  • Content note for this episode: I will be talking about white supremacist violence, chattel slavery, and racism.
  • Last time, I talked about the possibly apocryphal story of the murder of Oscar Washburn, a Black man who was supposedly lynched by the Klan in the 1930s. 
    • I also talked about how the KKK were extremely active in Denton, to the point of doing public parades. They made a practice of kidnapping and murdering Black people with the tacit permission of law enforcement. Also, white supremacy led to the destruction of a Black community called Quakertown in Denton.
      • That’s helpful context to have in mind getting into today’s episode, where we will go back in history to the 1860s and look at a period of Texas history that I had never heard of called “the Texas Troubles,” which ties in directly to another legend about the haunting of the Old Alton Bridge.

The Texas Troubles and the Murder of Jack Kendall

  • Let’s get into the Texas Troubles and the murder of Jack Kendall. Remember that the Old Alton Bridge was built in the 1880s, so this story happens prior to the bridge’s construction.
    • So, despite being from Texas and having taken several years of Texas history in school, I have no memory of learning about the Texas Troubles. I had never heard of them before doing this research. Texas has been known to pretty heavily rewrite history textbooks, though, so that might be why this somehow escaped my notice. 
    • There’s a really great article in the Texas Observer (https://www.texasobserver.org/troubled-times/) from 2010 that I want to read a bit from. This is kind of a long passage, but I think it’s really important context for when you’re looking at the history of the area, and the article is really well written: 
      • “Texas would like to forget it was a slave-holding state. The nation saw that this spring as some members of the State Board of Education tried to erase the word slavery from several parts of the social-studies curriculum. According to the still-dominant narrative here, slavery was no big deal in Texas. As University of North Texas historian Randolph Campbell puts it, “Without slavery, Texas gets to be a Western state,” one that joined the Confederacy for reasons of principle only. History that contradicts this narrative is conveniently forgotten.
    • The article goes on to talk about how, according to the census, by 1860, almost 200,000 enslaved people lived in Texas, making up ⅓ of the population.
    • In 1860, there was a major drought and heat wave in a lot of the South, which didn’t help the uneasy political atmosphere at the time.
      • Wells were drying up and crops were dying.
      • To continue reading from the article:
        • “On July 8, most of Dallas’s 678 residents were sweating out their siestas indoors when a fire broke out at Wallace Peak’s drugstore downtown. The townspeople could do little but run outdoors as hot winds blew the flames from one dry wooden building to the next. By the time the fire burned out, half the town’s business district was destroyed.
        • “Similar fires happened at almost the same time in Denton and the hamlet of Pilot Point. The excitable editor of the (burned-down) Dallas Herald, Charles Pryor, sent letters to several newspapers about an alleged abolitionist plot afoot in Texas that aimed to burn the state down. 
        • “The response was swift and inflammatory. . . . 
        • “That was a call to form vigilance committees, secretive bodies usually elected by the men of a town or county to bypass normal jurisprudence. “We will hang every man who does not live above suspicion,” wrote “J.W.S.” of Fort Worth’s vigilance committee to the New York Day Book in August 1860. “It is better for us to hang ninety-nine innocent (suspicious) men than to let one guilty one pass, for the guilty one endangers the peace of society.
      • Night patrols formed, and the committees started deciding that some enslaved people seemed like suspects, as well as potential abolitionists. So in addition to Black enslaved people, white people from the North, foreigners, and Mexican Americans were targets.
      • From the article:
        • “One man in Marshall wrote his father: “Every man that travels this country is taken up and examined, and if he does not give a good account of himself, he is strung up to the nearest tree.”. . . 
      • In Dallas, on July 23, the vigilance committee met in the county courthouse. Some members wanted to hang all enslaved people in the entire county, but that idea was struck down because it would “entail a great loss of property.” So instead, they decided to target three enslaved Black men, Patrick Jennings, Sam Smith and “Old Cato.”
      • All three men were hanged the next day on the bank of the Trinity River. Because the river had been rerouted, the exact river bank doesn’t exist anymore, but apparently Dealey Plaza is the closest place. 
    • If that site sounds familiar, it’s because Dealey Plaza is where JFK was assassinated. 
    • So I read this article and was like, jeeze, how have I never heard about this? I did a very unscientific survey of a couple other folks I went to school with–one of whom is a history buff with a photographic memory–and confirmed that none of us remember learning about it, despite what was supposed to be a comprehensive education in Texas history.
    • There’s a lot more to the story of the Texas Troubles. For example, it sounds like the fires may have been caused by faulty matches that were stored in a way that caused them to catch fire on their own in the heat. It’s wild that an accident could have caused a panic that lead to the deaths of many innocent people. 
      • But if you want to know more about this, I just want to strongly encourage you to read the whole article. I’ll include a link in the shownotes, but if you want to just look it up, it has a simple URL: https://www.texasobserver.org/troubled-times/ 
    • I also read on the Texas State Historical Association (tshaonline.org) that at least 30 people died in the Texas Troubles, but that death count may have actually been closer to 100. Both Black and white people were killed. The impression I get is that white Texans assumed that enslaved people didn’t have the vision to do an insurrection, so they assumed that white abolitionists were the brains behind the imaginary insurrection.
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denton,_Texas 
  • The Texas Observer article addresses this lack of knowledge about the event, so I wanted to read a bit more:
    • “. . . If we’ve forgotten the Texas Troubles, we can first thank many of the participants themselves. One secessionist editor who published the “evidence” of the abolitionist plot later went on to write the first history of Dallas County. By then, in 1887, he could barely bring himself to mention the events of 1860. To write of that time, he said, “would be to open a question, the discussion of which should be left to a later day.”
    • “That day is still being put off. Randolph Campbell laughs at the thought of the state organizing any kind of public discussion or exhibition on the Texas Troubles 150 years later. “It would be murderously difficult,” he said.
    • “Campbell touches on the Troubles in his book An Empire for Slavery. The book also matter-of-factly describes how, at the time, it was nothing odd for a Texan to hold the title “Negro and Real Estate Broker,” and how the leased labor of slaves put young white heirs through college.”
  • Growing up in Texas, I really feel like Texas’ role in the Civil War was downplayed, at least in history class. 
  • So anyway, what does this have to do with the Old Alton Bridge?
    • Well, it’s tied in with an urban legend that’s similar to the Oscar Washburn story that I told last week, though this one is a bit more sensational.
    • The story goes that in 1860, during the panic surrounding the Texas Troubles, some cowboys from nearby Copper Canyon murdered an enslaved Creole goat-herder named Jack Kendall. They hanged him from a tall tree near the creek, right around where the bridge is now. But they were incompetent, unsurprisingly, and supposedly they accidentally decapated him in the process.
    • It has been said that Kendall’s headless body stood up and ripped off the head of a nearby goat to replace his own head, which was still in the noose. Since Kendall was Creole, the legend says that his body was reanimated via voodoo, a claim that sets off some racism alarm bells in my brain.
    • There’s also a version of the story that says that Kendall came back as a zombie and ate his family, which also sounds very made up.
    • I also found a pretty screwed up, really made up sounding version of the Jack Kendall story that I will share, but with the caveat that it seems even less reliable than your typical unreliable urban legend. I’m really only repeating it in the interest of fully exploring the rumors around the topic, but I don’t take this one seriously in the slightest.
      • On some not-very-reputable-seeming websites, there’s a story about a Jack “Goat Man” Kendall, who is not said to be Black in this version; his race isn’t specified, so it seems like the tellers are assuming that he was white. 
      • Anyway, Kendall was supposedly a goat herder who smelled like goats because he spent so much time around them, and because he wore a goatskin, and the people around the area didn’t like to be around him because of the smell. 
      • One version of the story said that his flock was made up of “large black orange red and green eyed goats.” 
      • One version said that the local townspeople avoided him, whereas another said that “Many of the merchants in Denton, Marshall, Henderson and as far as Galveston and also Shreveport, Louisiana thought this old man to be very strange and often he was the topic of conversation as far as New Orleans.”
      • One version said that that he was having sex with the goats, and the Goatman was the offspring of that.
      • Another version said he was murdered by the townspeople because he was having sex with the goats, and then came back and haunted them as the Goatman.
      • To be honest, this version sounds like complete BS, and like it’s probably a creepypasta (or a made up internet urban legend.) 
        • The grammar on the accounts that I found is horrendous and the way they’re written sounds totally scattershot and imprecise. 
        • Plus, to add to the air of sensationalism and unreliability, one of the websites that I found the story on has the very 2002 special effect of pixel art bugs crawling all over the screen, and then you have to hover your mouse over them to kill them so you can read the article, and then they lay on the bottom of the screen on their backs, with their legs twitching. I remember when that kind of thing was all over the internet, but it’s been a while, so while the website is an interesting time capsule, I don’t trust a word it says.
      • However, I did want to mention some of the more obviously fake legends about the bridge’s paranormal origin story, so there you go.

The Death of Lermont Stowers-Jones

  • I’m not going to get really in depth into this next story, because it’s a recent death, and it’s really, really awful. But there have been lots of claims of deaths at the Old Alton Bridge, but the only confirmed death I could find was the story of Lermont Stowers-Jones in 2018.
  • While this story isn’t connected to the tales of hauntings, and as I’ve mentioned in past episodes, it’s in terrible taste to try to insinuate hauntings into recent deaths, this story is tied to the bridge’s racist history, so I wanted to talk about it.
  • I guess I should give a caveat here that everything I’m about to say here is alleged.
  • This is a really awful story, and this death didn’t show up on a lot of the newspaper searches I did, I think because it was probably too recent. 
    • On November 20, 2018, a 17-year-old kid named Lermont Stowers-Jones, whose nickname was Mont, was found dead in Hickory Creek. 
      • Lermont Stowers-Jones’ family described him as compassionate and charismatic. He enjoyed playing the keyboard and often performed at the church where his family went, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.  He was on the A-B Honor Roll at Denton High School, and planned to go to college and go into criminal justice. 
      • I’m going to call Lermont Stowers-Jones Mont from here on out, since I’ll be talking about other people with the same last name.
      • On November 19, 2018, someone had called 911 and said that Mont jumped from the Old Alton Bridge into the creek and didn’t resurface. 
      • The initial impression was that this was maybe a tale of teenage hijinks gone wrong, but there’s a lot of strange, suspicious stuff about this story, and his family have told reporters that they believe his death was not an accident. 
      • Like for example, the Denton PD was never dispatched to the scene or involved in the investigation. 
        • That’s because technically the Old Alton Bridge is on county land. 
        • So instead, the Denton County Game Wardens conducted the investigation, which just seems bizarre to me. 
      • Even before digging into this story, just reading the basic stories in the Denton Record-Chronicle, I thought it was weird. We’re talking about the Old Alton Bridge, a place where tons of teenagers have partied in the past, but where, as far as I could find, only one teenager in recent history has died. It’s odd to me that it didn’t seem more notable, or even suspicious.
      • There’s an article on a website called livingbluetx.com which goes into a ton of detail about the story, so I’ll include a link to that in the shownotes. https://livingbluetx.com/2020/11/what-happened-to-lermont-stower-jones/?cn-reloaded=1
        • If what that article says is true, then it certainly sounds like he was murdered and that there was no investigation.
      • An article in The Dentonite fleshes out this story a bit more. The reporter interviewed Mont’s parents, Lermon Jones and Amy Stowers-Jones, in April 2019, about four or five months after his death. Both of them expressed distress with the story they were told, which was that he had died after jumping off of the bridge.
      • For example, Mont’s mother said: 
        • “Lermont wouldn’t have jumped off a bridge. He was scared of heights. He wouldn’t even ride the rides at Six Flags. . . . I know my son wouldn’t have jumped in muddy water because we go fishing a lot. . . . He wouldn’t even stick his feet in water just to go out there and get the hook a couple feet down.”
      • They also said they saw discrepancies with the accounts they heard from the police and the witnesses.
      • They weren’t the only ones with concerns. 
        • Lermont Stowers-Jones’ cousin, Angela James, who had been acting as spokesperson for the family, said that the time of the 911 call didn’t quite coincide with the timeline that the witnesses described.
      • Lermont Stowers-Jones’ father said that he heard someone use a racial slur in the background of the 911 call. 
        • He said: “I have heard that 911 call,” Jones said. “Get that [n-word] is what they said.”
      • It sounds like there had been a dispute between Mont and one of his classmates at Denton High School, which might have come into play here. 
      • Also, the family thought that the location of their son’s death was suspicious, since it’s famous for being the site of a lynching.
      • Mont’s father said: “I googled it and that’s when I found the history. It sounds a little too coincidental.”
      • The family also said that the police made some screwed up assumptions about Mont’s behavior. 
        • The cops initially said they suspected that he had been using heroin, but of course a toxicology report disproved that. 
        • Supposedly traces of weed were in his system, but the toxicology report labeled that as unverified.
      • Also, according to that Dallas Observer article, after his death, the sheriff’s department started parking their vehicles across the street from the family’s home, which they took as a threat. 
        • After that, the family had to move and install security systems and cameras because they were so afraid.
        • Now, maybe you’re wondering why a Black family might feel unsafe because the sheriff’s department has people hanging out around their house.
        • Last week, I went into a lot of detail about the historical connections between law enforcement and the KKK, and how they collaborated in murdering innocent Black people.
        • I want to return to one of the sources I used extensively last week, In The Tall Grass West Of Town: Racial Violence In Denton County During The Rise Of The Second Ku Klux Klan by Micah Carlson Crittenden. Per Crittenden’s paper: 
          • “October 17, 2006, the Counter Terrorism Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation released an unclassified Intelligence Assessment on the infiltration of local law enforcement by white supremacist groups. Therein they warn that work to counter white supremacy cannot reliably be conducted by local law enforcement because many police forces have been infiltrated by white supremacist groups and ideology. This highlights the importance of an open examination of racial violence, unencumbered by use of a rope. With a clearly established relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and the Denton County Sheriff’s Department in the 1920s, this work asks a question of our present: what has structurally changed in the oversight of law enforcement since 1920?”
          • https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1703339/m2/1/high_res_d/CRITTENDEN-THESIS-2020.pdf 
      • The Dentonite article closes with a quote from his mother: 
        • “I know for a fact my son was murdered. I feel like this city just completely failed us.”
      • According to the article, they planned to hire a lawyer once the cops filed a final report on the case, but as far as I could tell, I don’t think that much has happened on that front since his death.
      • This is a really awful case, and it seems suspicious as hell to me, and if you want to know more, read the Dallas Observer, Dentonite, and Living Blue Texas articles about his death, which I’ll include in the shownotes.
      • But at any rate, I think this really underscores the location’s ties to racism and anti-Black violence, both in the past, and to this day.
      • There are a couple websites (justiceformont.com and a gofundme page) that have donation links to try to raise money to help Mont’s family fight for justice for him, but it looks like they’re currently inactive; it’s not totally clear how you can support the family right now, but if I find out anything, I’ll update the shownotes at buriedsecretspodcast.com with that info.

 

 

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