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Blackjack Ketchum

Gilbert Hervatin, New York, USA
October 1998

When I was fourteen years old I was a boy scout and attended Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. It was two weeks of high wilderness backpacking through mountains, deserts and forests. Along the way, we came across various historic areas from the old west, i.e. an abandoned gold mine, deserted ghost town and an outlaw hideout. One of the famous outlaws that had his hide out on this 35,000 acre ranch was named Black Jack Ketchum. One of the highlights of the trip was locating Black Jack's mountain hide away, where he was eventually captured by federal marshals. When we arrived at the hide out, it was somewhat of a let down, more of a rock over hang with some initials carved on the stone face. But we felt that it would be fun to spend the night there. Unfortunately our adult leader told us that we had to camp at the nearby designated camp. Disappointed, several of us set up our tents several hundred feet away from the leader's tent, with the hope of stealing away later that night with our sleeping bags so as to actually sleep in Black Jack's hide out.

Around 11:00 pm, the rest of the camp was fast asleep so John, Mike, Marty, Andy and myself quietly stole into the night and on to Black Jack's place. We set up camp under the rock over hang and quickly built a fire. We talked about the trip so far, but soon fatigue set in as we had covered about 20 miles that day. The fire had burned down to bright red coals, enough to fill the rock over hang with the kind of light that you'd see from an exit sign in a movie theatre. Content, I drifted off thinking of Black Jack, when I heard something in the bushes... I looked up suddenly only to find myself paralyzed. It was as though something was holding me down. I tried to call out to Mike, Marty, John and Andy, but they were fast asleep and my throat was all knotted up. Then I saw a man in black, dressed like a cowboy come running out of the bushes toward the hide out. He wasn't like something you'd expect to see in a movie... He was filthy dirty, more of like what a homeless man looks like, only his clothes were definitely from the period of the late 1800's. He was all red in the face and I remember he had a black ratty cowboy hat, terrible yellow teeth, lots of facial hair glistening with sweat and he held a revolver. I definitely saw the gun. He seemed solid, but parts of him seemed translucent. I had to actually work to stay focused on him, like he was moving away from me and toward me at the same time. I still couldn't move, but it was obvious that he was not aware of me or my camp mates. I was frightened by the man, but I was more frightened of the paralysis and inability to speak. I then heard (accompanied by a strange fog that emanated from the tree line across a tiny stream) horses, men yelling unintelligently, and then muffled gun fire. The man in front of me, fired six times at the trees, ran back and stood right over me still unaware of my presence. He was wounded in the shoulder and discharged six shell casings from his revolver right on top of me! They all disappeared into nothingness as they fell onto my sleeping bag. After reloading, he fired a few more times and then suddenly saw me! That's when I became terrified. I felt as though my heart was in my throat. I tried to scream, but I couldn't breath. He looked confused and confounded because to him, I think I must have suddenly appeared before his eyes. That was the kind of expression he had on his face. Out of reflex, he aimed right at my head. That is when I really thought I was going to die. It was more than real. I had a surge of adrenaline and thought I was going to explode because of the combination of blood pounding in my body and paralysis holding it all back. Then all of a sudden, he uncocked his pistol, looked at me real close (I could smell his bad breath wreaking of tobacco) and he said, "You're not supposed to be here," and then he just disappeared, just like smoke into clean air. But the smoke didn't float away. It just faded into it self (hard to explain). By then, the sounds and mist had all disappeared completely. All of a sudden, I could move and jumped out of the sleeping bag completely covered in sweat. I looked around and even ran down to the stream where the man and sounds had come from. It took me about thirty seconds to regain my senses and began to feel my vocal cords loosening. I splashed some water from the stream on my face and tried to make sure that I was awake. I stuck my head under the water to calm down. I pulled my head out, and all was quiet. I couldn't even hear the crickets or night owls... That was strange. There were always noises at night there. Gradually the normal night sounds returned and after a few minutes, I caught my breath and my heart rate returned to almost normal... I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted to wake up my friends, but they were all asleep and I knew they would have killed me if I would have awakened them with my "story". After all, I couldn't really tell if it was a dream or real. I figured it had to be a nightmare right? After all, I'm a rational guy. It had to be. I took a big drink from the cold clean stream and made my way back to my bag and eventually shrugged it off to an over active imagination and the bad freeze dried trail meal we had earlier in the evening. After about an hour I fell into a deep sleep.

Very early the next morning, Andy and the others had to shake me repeatedly to wake me up. We had to clear camp quickly and make it back to our tents at the designated camp before our adult leader found out about our previous night's excursion... As we broke camp and put out the fire, I told my friends about my "dream". They thought it was amusing. Then as I rolled up my sleeping bag, I noticed a few shiny objects in the dirt. Looking through the dust under my bed from the night before, I found six shell casings! My friends thought I set it all up and brushed me off, but I kept the casings and checked with a friend's father who was a gun expert when I came back from the trip and the casings were dated from around 1878, but were in almost brand new condition. You could still smell gun powder in them. My friends father even told me that the gun powder mixture was one that was used in the last century, but not today. I kept those casings for years, but unfortunately after I moved from home my Mother threw them out along with some great valuable comic books and baseball cards.

Gilbert Hervatin, New York, USA
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