He come in like dat. A black man on a black mare, seventeen hands, with three white socks. No saddle, no blanket, no shoes, bald head, no hat. Dat mare dancing and turning, kicking up the dust in the bright sun light.
I saw dat. Dat is what I saw.
Shadrach A. Williams
Recorded March 3, 1868
A big, black nigger on an Indian painted pony. Nigger so tall and so long his toes drag in the dirt. A big red Stetson never seen one that color, never. He got a Sharps rifle, a side arm, and a Bowie knife. I place my name here to show my words are true.
Recorded March 3, 1868
I was there, sitting near the window in the Red Dog Tavern when he come in, come in, look all around. Look like he looking for someone. Standing tall, midnight black, shining, sweat rolling like a river, a double-bladed axe in his hand.
That axe blade catch the sun, flickers and, and he start twirling that axe over his head so fast that axe is whistling, like a knife in the ear. I dived out the window, hit the sidewalk and run like the devil was after me. Look [shows three-inch scar on right forearm] and [shows jagged scar on right shoulder]. That’s all I got to say. Don’t bother me no more about this.
Matthew (Matt) Bronowski
Recorded March 7, 1868
I worked in the Dog, the Red Dog Tavern. I was rolling a beer barrel through the back door when I heard this, this smashing sound like someone was smashing a melon with a boulder. I stopped in my tracks. I had the shakes and shivers and then the screaming started. I never moved any closer. I was too scared to move at all. Between the curtains, I caught a glimpse of a huge black hand holding a sledgehammer. I must have blacked out because I woke up a mile from the Dog. I had urinated on myself. I was still shaking. I never returned to Bidwell not even to get my few treasured possessions. How did you even find me?
Plebian O. Mars
Recorded May 4, 1868
It was not an ordinary fire. No, it was an extraordinary fire. It didn’t start slowly and build. It was an all-consuming all at once fire. Everything on fire at once instantly. The flames shot up ninety feet or more. I was in my store across the street, and I’m ashamed to say. I didn’t go out to help fight the fire. I went back into my storeroom and barricaded myself in and prayed. I have never prayed so hard before or since. I don’t mind if others read this. Those that were there will understand.
Elliot D. Larson
Recorded May 9, 1868
Well, I tell you this much that Red Dog fire put Bidwell out of business. Twelve months after that fire there was nothing there but rolling tumbleweeds and crumbling buildings.
I never saw the fire. I saw the smoke from our house five miles outside of town. My brother, Vernon, was in Bidwell when the fire started. I don’t know what to believe, but folks say he ran into the fire. Ran hell-bent into the flames. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Neman S. Brown
Recorded May 27, 1868
The above are excerpts from sworn statements taken within eighteen months of the events in Bidwell, New Mexico. There are other non-sworn statements collected during that time-frame that are of a similar contradictory nature including but not limited to: “He was an African, of African descent but red as the devil.” “Weren’t no man. No man at all. Coal, black on the front and bone white on the back.” “Came in on a white mule like Jesus. Dressed in white robes. Had long hair down to his tailbone.” “He cast a red shadow during the day and a white shadow at night.”
The records show that seventeen bodies were recovered from the site of the fire. There is no record of the state of the remains. The local paper reported all of the remains were buried in a mass grave dug eighteen feet deep on the site of the Red Dog Tavern. There was no grave marker of any kind.
Not only did Bidwell falter and wither away in the following twelve months but the stretch of road through Bidwell to Soda Springs was abandoned, and a new road was constructed a mile south of Bidwell.
The shadows are getting long as I drive my rented carriage to what remains of Bidwell. About a hundred yards from the ghost town my horse shies away, rears and twist in the harness. He refuses to advance. I tie him off to a shrub.
I cannot turn in a complete report without ever having seen the site of the fire. The moon is low on the horizon as I approach the bare ground where the heinous events occurred. One quick glimpse and I turn back to my restless pony. I’m only steps from the barren ground when a white shadow holding a sword falls across my path.
Banner photograph: By Irving Rusinow, Photographer (NARA record: 5307166) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons