“The Ghost of Bald Rock Ranch” is a story featuring Steve Bender and Bill Smalley as they visit Steve’s Uncle Matt’s ranch in New Mexico to help him with mysterious troubles involving cattle rustlers, murders, and a ghostly apparition. Written by Howard when he attended Cross Plains High School. The date was December 13, 1921. 


Steve Bender and Bill Smalley are in El Paso when Steve receives a letter from his Uncle Matt, inviting them to visit his ranch in Red Dog, New Mexico, and help with some trouble. They take a train to Pelea, where they are met by Buck Denison, one of Uncle Matt’s cowpunchers. Buck hints at strange occurrences at the ranch but leaves the details for Uncle Matt to explain.

The ranch, known as Bald Rock Ranch due to a distinctive large rock near the house, is fortified like a small fort with thick walls and a conning tower. Uncle Matt, along with his niece Nita and her husband Will Larimie, greets them. Steve notices a worried look in their eyes and that Uncle Matt and Will are carrying guns, indicating serious trouble.

After supper, Uncle Matt recounts recent events: attempts by a neighbor named Whills to buy the ranch, the mysterious murder of a cowpuncher named Jim Hare, cattle thefts, and ambushes on his men. Additionally, there have been ghostly apparitions on Bald Rock and attacks on the house. These events have put everyone on edge.

That night, Steve takes a watch in the conning tower while Bill and Will guard Bald Rock. Steve falls asleep but wakes up to see a white shape moving around the rock. He shoots, hitting Bill’s hat and causing chaos as everyone on the ranch fires at perceived threats in the moonlight. The rest of the night passes without incident.

The following night, Steve is on watch again and hears something on the roof. Investigating, he is struck and falls from the roof, injuring himself. From the ground, he sees a large, dark shape above the house. Shots from the men on the ranch ignite a fire in the sky, revealing a falling dirigible balloon, which crashes and burns, trapping and killing some of the attackers.

The survivors, wounded and captured, confess that Whills orchestrated the attacks using a dirigible to terrorize the ranch and force Uncle Matt to sell. Whills and a Mexican bandit were responsible for the cattle thefts and murders. The “ghost” was a phosphorescent sheet hung from the balloon to create the apparition, and a weight was used to smash windows and attack people. Whills, not present during the final attack, escapes before the sheriff can apprehend him.


  • Steve Bender: The narrator and nephew of Uncle Matt, who visits the ranch with Bill Smalley to help with the mysterious troubles.
  • Bill Smalley: Steve’s partner, who joins him on the trip to the ranch and helps defend it against the mysterious attacks.
  • Uncle Matt (M.S. Bender): Steve’s uncle, a tough and seasoned rancher with a colorful past, facing serious trouble at his ranch.
  • Buck Denison: A cowpuncher working for Uncle Matt, who picks up Steve and Bill at the train station and hints at the trouble at the ranch.
  • Will Larimie: Uncle Matt’s niece’s husband, living at the ranch and helping defend it against the attacks.
  • Nita Larimie: Uncle Matt’s niece, living at the ranch with her husband Will.
  • Whills: The neighbor attempting to force Uncle Matt to sell his ranch by orchestrating terror attacks and cattle thefts.
  • Jim Hare: A cowpuncher working for Uncle Matt, found murdered with a bullet hole between his eyes.
  • Reddy McCoy: Another cowpuncher at the ranch who claims to have seen the ghostly apparition.
  • McCan: A cowpuncher who informs the group about Blake’s death.
  • Blake: The night horse wrangler found dead with his head bashed in by an unknown assailant.

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