by Joel Melton
What I have experienced, heard, and seen are real. All the participants exist, their names are not changed; possibly, they should be. This mysterious tale happened, is happening and continues as I type these words.
A small amount of back-story will set the stage for the events to come.
Located three miles from the geographic center of Texas is a bridge. Named after a small town back in yesteryear, it is called the Regency suspension bridge. It is the last wooden suspension bridge you can still drive across. Located a short distance just fourteen miles north-west of San Saba, Texas on FM 500 the passage stands as a silent gateway leading to magical ground.
There are other wooden suspension bridges in the state that are blocked off to traffic and you can meander over on foot, but only ONE that is a functioning usable conduit connecting two Texas counties.
Standing 100 feet over a lower branch of the Colorado, the wooden suspension overpass was constructed in 1939 after a smaller version was washed out in a flood in 1936. That version stood only twelve years after the original bridge collapsed into the drink killing the young man, Raymond Burns Jernigan in 1924 with his cattle and horses. The current edition now has remained for sixty-nine years.
I wandered out to the area and crossed over the bridge three years ago by a variety of circumstances too long to enumerate. Suffice to say, after my first visit I was hooked by the enchantment of the place.
Just across the bridge as you exit on the north end is an entrance to the “Swinging Bridge Campground.” The camp resides on seven acres of beautiful tree covered land that meanders down to the river. Five cabins are located across the area for persons to stay and enjoy the weighty silence of the surroundings. Connected to the campground are five more acres of equally palatial terrain. This property is owned by two persons who have become my very best friends, Alton and Sue Watson.
The Watson family welcomed me as if I were a long lost relative or forgotten friend. That is saying something; you see I am a transplanted Okie now living in Texas. I have just now accrued enough street credibility to move among the local natives without causing a feeding frenzy.
The above mentioned couple lives adjacent to the Regency suspension bridge. Alton is a songwriter, musician, movie actor, biker, country philosopher, and salt of the earth kind of person. Upon my first visit he gave me the entire tour of the bridge, his trading post, and the Comanche artifacts that are in abundance all over the area. I felt an incredible calm and peacefulness the entire three days of my first outing.
Alton said, “…Well this place is different. Artists and musicians have been coming out here since the early 1900s…they would come in covered wagons gather and sing and dance. The land draws creative people back…again and again. Of course before that for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, this was sacred Indian ground. Comanche’s lived here, fought here, and are buried right here. This place holds secrets, energy, and spirits.”
Little did I know just how truthful his words were and continue to prove to be.
It took many trips to Regency visiting with Alton and Sue, playing music and generally reveling until the wee hours before I began to hear stories…accounts of spirits that move freely around the land. Phantoms of long past times that visit the inhabitants on a regular basis.
Sue explained of a small Comanche child that frequently is waiting for her in their kitchen when she gets up in the morning. As she walks into the area the child turns and looks in her direction…then disappears.
Alton held me spellbound one evening as he recounted a tale of when his wife and he first moved into the hunting cabin he had inherited upon his father’s death. One of the first nights in their new home, they were awakened by a strange sight.
Appearing just outside their window was a family of individuals that included father, mother, and three children, dressed in late 1800s clothing. The ghostly adults were peering inside the bedroom glass and whispering to themselves as if sharing a secret about the corporeal couple.
Alarmed, Alton rose in bed and shouted, “…Get out of here!” The family disappeared in a shimmering mist.
The fascinating stories captured my imagination and wonder. I longed to experience something…anything similar to the tales I had heard.
Then after visiting the area for over two and one half years I became part of the legend as well.
Last May a large group of friends, fans, and music lovers gathered at Alton’s place and the adjoining campground celebrating the first annual “There’s Something in the Water” music festival. I helped in the production and implementation of the event and arrived a day before to assist with the many things that had to be done.
In times past, both Alton and Sue would notice a spike in unusual phenomenon when groups gathered to sing and generally ‘Yee Haw’ for one reason or another at their place. I had, until this particular weekend, noticed the fun freewheeling energy that abounded…but little else.
The music festival was held on Saturday, and prominent Austin songwriters were on the bill making for an enjoyable time for all involved. Most of the performers stayed the night in the campground, and many of the festival goers camped in primitive areas down by the river.
I, as always, stayed in cabin #4.
Sunday came, and most gathered up and headed home by noon. Every Sunday morning we have a habit of gathering under the awning of White Wolf Trading Post, Alton’s small store, reflecting on our hedonistic endeavors of the previous Friday and Saturday.
Sue went to gather greens from her garden for lunch while we began to play our guitars. Upon her return, she asked, “…who was yelling at me?” We ignored her question until she raised her voice in Alton’s direction, “Alton…was that you yelling at me while I was in the garden?” A quick reply came back to her, “No…Sue. None of us were yelling at you!”
The small woman, who is one fourth Cherokee, looked irritated at first then a smile crept across her face. “Oh…ok. It was just the ‘Bigger Wheel’ calling my name.”
I asked in a playful manner, “Who was calling you?”
The answer came suddenly, “You know…the ‘Bigger Wheel’. I was pulling greens and heard my name. I thought it was Alton…then I heard my name called again, and then once more. That’s why I came back and asked you guys…it sounded like it came from this direction. I know what it was now.”
With that she went to preparing lunch as if nothing had happened. I shook my head and smiled to myself because these types of instances were a regular occurrence on my many visits.
I knew exactly what she was referring to when using the catch all term, ‘Bigger Wheel.’
You see, Alton and Sue had become friends with Stephen Bruton in the year 2000. The songwriter, producer, and guitarist had been enlisted to be an actor and the music director of an independent movie that was filmed on their property and the surrounding area. They loved the song, “Giving It Up To The Bigger Wheel” that Stephen had put on a subsequent album. Over the next several months after the songs release, they had used the term, ‘Bigger Wheel,’ to describe the energy that permeates and moves on their land, the bridge, and the river.
I went back to my cabin for a new set of guitar strings approximately an hour or so later. Running in, I retrieved the package and started to walk back to the visiting area.
Suddenly I heard my name called. Looking around I thought it must be someone in the camping area…but no person was in my field of vision. I continued to walk…my name was called a second time. When I stopped and seriously looked for the cause of the query, the hair began to stand on the back of my neck. Not a soul was within the distance of the ‘voice.’ And my name was called a third time!
At this point I knew what was happening. I continued back to the awning area and recounted my tale. Both Alton and Sue smiled as if these events were common experiences. I suppose to them they were…no to me! I have never heard my name audibly called in the middle of the day when no one was around…ever!
I have had my mind play tricks on me. I have been inebriated many times. I have been up so many hours that you see shadows and movement in the corner of your eyes…This was none of those things. I was cognizant, sober, and sane.
My name was called three times… perceptibly.
After pausing for a moment upon the conclusion of my account, Alton mused, “Best hang on…when these things occur, usually something interesting happens the same night!”
We continued to visit, enjoying the afternoon and evening under the White Wolf Trading Post’s awning. Visitors came and went as they do most Sundays at Regency, and the remaining festival goers said their goodbyes and left. My girlfriend and I turned in with our three dogs around 12:30 or so. I was not concerned that I had heard my name earlier in the day and settled down in cabin #4 for a restful nights sleep.
As mentioned before I always stay in cabin #4. In times past when accompanied by my female companion and our dogs, the canines are quite comfortable sleeping on the extra single bed each cabin has in addition to the double bed.
This particular evening the dogs refused to settle down. They paced, they scratched as if covered with fleas, and they generally were restless. While in this state, they looked intently around the cabin as if privy to some unknown event. Their agitated behavior continued and after several minutes of this...I began to suspect what the disruption was.
Tiring of the incessant pacing, I relented and allowed all the animals in our bed. This seemed to calm them momentarily although they remained alert and watching, as far as I could see, nothing in the room.
I closed my eyes and began to doze, it was then I saw an event that gives me pause even as I am typing this story.
The door to our cabin, which was deadbolt locked from the inside, opened half-way and with one fluid movement then closed and latched as if someone or something had left the room!
My companion lurched up in bed and with a concerned tone asked, “What was that?”
She had seen it as well. I was glad I had not dreamed it.
Because it had happened so fast, I didn’t have time to become anxious or worried. I said, “You know what THAT was…we have been coming here long enough to know exactly what THAT was!”
Jumping out of bed, I noticed that my flip-flops that I had placed beside the bed had mysteriously moved to in front of the cabin door. I then opened our door to look out on the porch.
Just past the end of the porch, hovering over grass, was a cowboy gently dancing with a woman he cradled lovingly in his arms. For the moment I saw them, they looked as if they were in love, and as lovers do, focused intently on each other. He looked my direction, smiled, and as suddenly as the entire event happened…nothing…darkness.
The vision dissipated from eyesight.
I re-entered the cabin and my girlfriend asked, “What are you smiling about?”
After describing what I had seen in the grass, I lay back and stretched my arms above my head and mused, “How many people can say they have ever seen that? That was cool as hell!”
We both drifted off to sleep after laying awake for sometime trying to make sense of the events in our cabin.
The following morning I told Alton and Sue of our night’s adventures. With a twinkle in his eye my friend intoned, “Well it’s like fishing…you stay around here long enough something is bound to happen.”
Magical things DO happen at Regency. I now can tell my own stories and have become part of the legend of this mysterious place just fourteen miles from San Saba.