It was 1964 and my good friend, John L. Tolleson, now of San Antonio, was a freshman student at the University of Texas when it was the only University of Texas in the state. Home to John, was the family ranch in Kendall County, and he was headed home. He left Austin going south and west, weaving in and out through the maze of back roads that connected such places as Oak Hill, Camp Ben McCullock and Dripping Springs, intending to come out on US 281 at Blanco. Once in Blanco he turned north up 281 toward Johnson City, where he would turn west and be on the homestretch.
It was falllate fall, in fact.
To be specific, the date was October 31. Holloween night, sometime between 10 PM and midnight. John, however, didnt give Halloween a second thought, because what he was thinking about was the weekend and the date he had with his sweetheart. He got to Blanco, turned north, and lined out on the dark highway to Johnson City, on the final leg of the backstretch in the run for home.
North of Blanco 281 climbs into a low range of almost conical hills. The largest of those, today, is called Sugarloaf. Many years earlier they were called los Pilones de Seguin. Today, as you crest the hills, you encounter a huge Charles Restaurant, Johnson City billboard.
It was close to midnight and John wasnt letting any grass grow under the wheels of the 57 Chevy V-8. Then, about halfway up the climb to where the Charles Restaurant billboard stands, he caught something in the headlight on the west side of the road. He slowedit might be a deer, and as any experienced Hill Country driver knows, only God knows what a roadside deerll do next and even he isnt completely sure.
The figure resolved itself as he approached. It was a man, and he appeared to be signaling frantically for John to stop. Maybe theres been a accident, John thought as he tapped the Chevys brakes.
Getting closer, he could see that the man was shabbily dressed. He wore what John took to be khaki pants and a long sleeved blue chambray work shirta Washinton blue, they used to be called. There was a stain on the shirt on the right side, and as John got closer he could see the man had a cut on his neck and the stain was apparently blood. Whoever this was, hed been hurt bad and needed a doctorand then he saw something else. In his right hand, held by his side, the man had a butcher knife nearly two feet long.
Injured man or not, that was enough for John. Fred Tolleson didnt raise fools. John put his foot in the Chevys carburetor and left the would-be hitchhiker in a cloud of smoking rubber and asphalt.
It was nearly two years later before John heard the other end of the story. He heard it in the Jailhouse Barber Shop in Blanco, while waiting to get a haircut.
Sometime back around the turn of the present centurynobody remembers on which side of the centurys turn, and the courthouse war in Blanco County seems to have done away with the recorda man named Lackey, who lived in Johnson City, took a considerable dislike to a number of his relatives. Why he took this dislike to his kin seems to be lost in the mists of unrecorded history, but it was a thorough dislikeso thorough that he got himself a pig-sticker and commenced to carving up him family connections. How many of his various cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, in-laws, and/or parents he managed to whittle into bloody toothpicks before he was caught and arrested is arguable, but rumors circulate that it was someplace between six and nine.
He was captured, the carnage stopped, and he was transferred to the jail in Blanco when it was still the county seatthe very jail that housed the Jailhouse Barber Shop where John was sitting. There Lackey languished behind bars while Johnson City seethed.
Eventuallyand legend holds it was on HolloweenJohnson City decided, pretty much en masse, that Blanco wasnt going to do justice by Lackey and it was up to the good folks of Johnson City to see it done. A bunch of em got their horses and a wagon, strapped on their sixshooters, pulled their bandannas over their noses, and headed for Blanco.
It was good dark when they arrived, probably sometime around nine in the evening. They entered the jail suddenly and requested the jailer give up the keys. The request was emphasized by some unknown person sticking a .45 up the jailers nose while two more stuck equally large sixshooters in his ears. The sixshooters were cocked. The jailer gave up the keys.
The masked men removed Lackey, tied him hand and foot, and threw him into the bed of the wagon. Then they started north for Johnson City.
The old wagon road from Blanco to Johnson City parallels US 281 anywhere from 75 to 400 yards to the west of the present highway. It wound in and out of the hills rather than climbing them. Somewhere along the old wagon road, about even with where John saw the man with the knife, they decided to do what theyd come to do. They stood Lackey up on the tailboard of the wagon, put a lariat around his neck, tied it off to a limb, and asked him if he had any last words.
The exact phrasing of Lackeys final statement has been lost, but the sense of it was If you fellersll give me a knife an turn me loose Ill go back to Johnson City an finish off the rest of my worthless kin, an then you can hang me all you want to cause I wont care. Apparently that didnt set too well with Judge Lynch and the assembled court, because they drove the wagon out from under him and let him hang.
Lackey didnt die easy. He didnt drop far enough to break his neck. So he flopped and struggled at the end of the rope. The lariat was too think for a hang-ropemost hangmen used 1" or 1 ½" ropeand in his struggles Lackey ripped the skin on his throat open. He bled profusely, all down the right side of his shirt.
Finally lackey quit struggling and hung limply. The Johnson City justice committee, having accomplished its purpose, went home and dissolved itself. The next morning the sheriff found his jailer locked in Lackeys cell and lackey gone. He set out north along the road to Johnson City and found Lackeys body, still hanging from the tree. The body was cut down and brought back to Blanco, where it was buried on the county in an apparently unmarked grave. A coroners verdict of death at the hands of a person or persons unknown probably marked the end of any investigation.
There are those, though, who insist lackey doesnt rest easy in that unmarked grave. John hasnt been the only one to see a man in tan pants and a blue chambray shirt, blood down the right side of the shirt, a knife half-hidden in his right hand, trying to hitch a ride to Johnson City on a fall night. Truck drivers tend to avoid that stretch of 281 on fall nights between about 10 PM and 1 AM, but most of them dont like to say why. Some will say "football traffic". Once in a while one will admit having almost picked up a feller with blood on his shirt, carrying a big knife, on the side of a hill on the way to Johnson City. Has Lackey found the knife he wanted and, having found it, is he trying to get back to Johnson City to finish off the rest of his kin?
(A note: There is considerable evidence to indicate that at least some appearances of Lackeys ghost can be attributed to high school boys from Blanco, who are rumored to have impersonated the legendary specter from time to time. However, since the bloody-shirted figure has appeared on nights when Blanco High was playing out-of-town games at considerable distances, it seems apparent that not all Lackeys ghost appearances can be explained as high school pranks.)
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