Shafter Lake: The Haunted Ghost Town in West Texas

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Shafter Lake: The Haunted Ghost Town in West Texas - Photo

Deep in the South Plains of Texas lies a tiny ghost town that sits on the banks of a saltwater lake. The town known as Shafter Lake has been abandoned for a little over 100 years, but the mystery of the town still pulls in curious visitors here and there. Shafter Lake was an attempt to capitalize on the Texas land boom of the early 20th century. Named after the Army officer who discovered the lake, the town reached a population of 500 at its height and had banks, churches, a post office, and even its own newspaper. Shafter Lake became a stopover for people heading out West and had established caravans to and from nearby cities like Lubbock and Midland. After 1910, the town began to decline after losing an election for a county seat and a devastating smallpox epidemic. The epidemic killed a large swath of the town and led to a horror story involving a witch doctor whose homeopathic “remedy” to the illness caused some townsfolk to hallucinate and gouge out their own eyes. By 1912 the town was all but abandoned. All that remains is a lonely dilapidated building and a small cemetery, where the smallpox victims are buried. The former boomtown is haunted by a few creepy characters. Children with no eyes, a lonely woman in a white dress, and a Confederate soldier roam around the lake, scaring visitors who dare to venture into Shafter Lake.

Boom & Bust

Shafter Lake was discovered by Confederate Army officer William R. Shafter while traveling through the area in 1875. Shafter used to patrol the area during and after the Civil War and often had scuffles with the local Native American tribes, mostly the Comanche. There was not much else notable about the region, except for the alkaline saltwater lake that came and went with the seasons. The Texas land boom came 30 years later, and entrepreneur J.F. Bustin convinced the firm Pierce & Powers to establish a town on the lake’s north end. Originally named Salt Lake, both the lake and the town were renamed after Shafter shortly after its establishment.

The town was founded in 1907, and Bustin promoted his new boomtown all over the Midwest and Great Plains, promising rich and fertile soils. The town was platted in August of 1907, and was already bustling by September, and had established freight and cargo routes to and from Lubbock and Midland, bringing in timber to build homes. The town became a stopover for those heading to the West of Mexico. By early 1908, over 50 homes were built, a city school was in the works, and newcomers were pouring in. Another few months saw a post office, community cemetery, and plans to build a railroad station. The city even established a newspaper, The Shafter Lake Herald, and editor James T. Cumley was the town’s biggest supporter. He sent copies of the Herald far and wide in an attempt to bring in more settlers.

The town reached its peak in 1910 when it had a population of 500. In just three years, Shafter Lake boasted a bank, three churches, two hotels, a school, a blacksmith, and a general store. A feud began to develop between Shafter Lake and the nearby town of Andrews, over which town would become the seat of Andrews County. Shafter Lake lost by a narrow margin, costing the small town its prestige and the promise of future employment.

As the fervor behind the election began to die down, smallpox broke out. A large swath of the population died, and the bodies were buried in a cemetery built for the town on the south side of the lake. Between the lost election and the epidemic, the Shafter Lake cleared out pretty quickly. By 1912 the entire town had moved to Andrews or Lubbock. The only remaining resident was Bert M. Irwin, the town’s first postmaster. He stayed behind and began ranching. His ranch is still operational, being run by his descendants.

Today, all that remains of Shafter Lake are the 12 grave cemetery and a nearby building. Andrews, the county seat, is still an easygoing town of 10,000 people.

The Hollow-Eyed Ghost Children of Shafter Lake

The smallpox epidemic of 1910-1911 devastated the town, killing a decent portion of the town’s residents. Shafter Lake was an isolated town, and proper medical care was few and far between. A local witch doctor made an herbal concoction, which she claimed would cure the illness. The townsfolk were desperate and were willing to try anything, so they accepted the witch doctor’s unusual medicine. It turns out that the herbal concoction was toxic and gave those who attempted it maddening and terrifying hallucinations. Those who fell ill went crazy, and some gouged out their eyes and the eyes of their children while poisoned by their delusions.

The spirits of the children who lost their eyes still roam around Shafter Lake. Visitors who venture to the lake at night just might encounter the so-called “Hollow-Eyed Children.” The children seem friendly at first, as they try to befriend you by playing innocent children’s games. It turns out that this is a ploy; the children want to inflict others with the same torture that was inflicted on them. Witnesses say that the children attempt to gouge out the eyes of their targets or boil them in their sockets, hoping to force their victim to join their sadistic troupe. It’s safe to say that one shouldn’t visit Shafter Lake at night.

William Shafter and his Troops

Shafter Lake was named after Confederate soldier William R. Shafter, who discovered the lake while traveling across the countryside. While Shafter never lived in the town, he definitely left his mark. William Shafter and his troops once patrolled the area around Shafter Lake on horseback, and they often had clashes with the Comanche tribe that called the area home. Sometimes they won, and sometimes they had to retreat. Given that Shafter spent so much time in the region, his spirit stuck around.

During the Autumn, on nights where the moon is full, witnesses have spotted Shafter and his troops riding their horses across the lake. The ghosts of Shafter and his men are still reliving the many battles they had with the Comanche tribe.

Shafter Lake Cemetery and the Lady in White

The Shafter Lake Cemetery was built on the south side of the lake, while the town sat on the north side. During the smallpox epidemic, families buried their loved ones in this same cemetery. But when the populace of Lake Shafter left town, they took their deceased loved ones with them. Most of the bodies at the Lake Shafter Cemetery were dug up and moved to other locations, mostly to nearby Andrews. After the town died out, about 12 gravestones remained.

Cemetery showing crosses marking the graves
The cemetery is where most of the ghosts in Shafter Lake seem to congregate.
Source: Wikimedia/Jim Evans

Locals say that a ghostly woman in white now haunts the Lake Shafter Cemetery. Those who witnessed the ghost say that she’s transparent and seems to glow. Her arms and legs seem to disappear into thin air. One man who has seen the spirit says that she seems worried. When the woman spotted him, she grew angry and yelled at the man to leave while pointing at the exit. The man didn’t argue with the ghost and promptly left. While nobody seems to know the woman’s connection to the graveyard or to Shafter Lake, it’s a good guess to say that one of her relatives may be buried there as she seems to keep the cemetery guard. She could be a victim, or relative of a victim, of the smallpox epidemic that ravaged the tiny town.

Learn more about the haunted history of Texas!

Everything’s bigger in Texas, even the ghosts! Watch out for La Chupacabra! The creature was seen in the San Antonio area during the mid-90s, costing ranchers quite a few cattle. The Skinwalkers are another monster native to Texas; they’re the result of a Native American witch doctor performing black magic. Keep an eye out for La Llorona if you’re walking near a river. She’s known to steal the souls of unsuspecting victims. You can read up on the top ten most haunted spots in San Antonio right here!

Main Image Source: Wikipedia