Published first as “Apparition of Josiah Wilbarger” in The West.

This is a true story and “The Strange Case of Josiah Wilbarger,” a compelling essay by Robert E. Howard, was initially an untitled typescript. Its title was derived from the Kline inventory list and was not published until 1972 in The West. The editor of The West added two paragraphs before Howard’s final paragraph to provide historical context and additional intrigue to Wilbarger’s story.

The added paragraphs narrate the establishment of a marker by the State of Texas in 1936 at the site where Josiah Pugh Wilbarger, a member of Austin’s Colony, was attacked and scalped by Native Americans in 1833. Remarkably, Wilbarger survived the attack and passed away years later, on April 11, 1845. A fascinating aspect of Wilbarger’s ordeal was his vision during the attack, where he saw his sister Margaret urging him to hold on as help was coming. Intriguingly, it was later discovered that Margaret had passed away in Missouri around the same time Wilbarger experienced this vision, adding a mysterious dimension to his story of survival and resilience.

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Details from the essay

“The Strange Case of Josiah Wilbarger” is a harrowing account of survival and the supernatural on the American frontier. Written by Robert E. Howard, this essay tells the story of Josiah Wilbarger, who, in 1833, was scalped and left for dead by Native Americans but miraculously survived.

The story begins in autumn 1833, with Wilbarger and four companions – Christian, Maynie, Strother, and Standifer – near present-day Austin, Texas, when they are ambushed by Native American warriors. In the attack, three men, including Wilbarger, are presumed dead. Wilbarger, however, is only semi-conscious and endures the horror of being scalped before slipping into unconsciousness. Despite his grave injuries, he manages to crawl to a post oak tree, leaving a trail of blood.

In a twist of fate, Mrs. Hornsby, a neighbor, dreams thrice of Wilbarger, each time seeing him alive beneath an oak tree. Despite her husband’s initial skepticism, her persistence leads to the formation of a rescue party. Following the trail to the oak tree, they find Wilbarger alive, validating Mrs. Hornsby’s visionary dreams.

The essay takes an even more mystical turn with the revelation that Wilbarger, during his ordeal, had a vision of his sister, Margaret, urging him to hold on. In an uncanny coincidence, it is later discovered that Margaret passed away in Missouri around the same time as Wilbarger’s vision.

Wilbarger lived for another twelve years after the incident, though he never fully recovered from his injuries. His death, as Howard narrates, was as unusual as his survival – he died after hitting his head against a bedpost during a nightmare about his scalping.

When first published in 1972, the editor of The West added two paragraphs before Howard’s final paragraph, providing historical context and details about the marker placed by the State of Texas at the site of Wilbarger’s scalping.

Howard’s essay stands as a testament to the bizarre and unexplainable events of frontier life, weaving together the stark realities of the time with elements of the fantastic and supernatural.

People involved

  • Josiah Wilbarger: The main subject of the essay, a man who miraculously survives a brutal scalping.
  • Christian, Maynie, Strother, Standifer: Wilbarger’s companions during the land prospecting trip.
  • Mrs. Hornsby: A neighbor who experiences prophetic dreams about Wilbarger’s survival.
  • Margaret: Wilbarger’s sister, who appears to him in a vision at the time of her death in Missouri.

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