Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Ghostly Frontiersman - Salem, Alabama

This story is based on an actual event that occurred in 1992. The story was published in 2010 in Haunted Auburn and Opelika.

Perhaps one of south Alabama’s greatest frontier stories is that of Eli Stroud. Eli Stroud was born in 1789 in Jackson County Georgia. He married Elizabeth Durbin at 17 and moved to Conecuh county Alabama with his new bride. Living among the Indians in that area was hard but the Stroud family did so cautiously. There was relative peace among the white settlers and the Creek tribes, until about 1813, when hostilities arose and an outbreak of destruction and murder took place. Eli was committed to order and when the state of Alabama called for volunteers to control the Indian outbreak, he was more than eager to oblige.

Mr. Stroud’s trusty side kick was a long barrel rifle. It had been in his family for more than seventy years. It’s rumored that this rifle brought down more than a thousand deer and that Mr. Stroud was an excellent marksman, killing as many as eleven turkeys in one shot. With his trusty rifle he was made Captain over a small division of volunteers, who he commanded through the Indian wars. His avid sense of adventure and background as a frontiersman made Eli the perfect individual to lead Alabama’s militia, but what Eli didn’t know is that his adventurous soul would soon be put to the ultimate test.

In 1818, in the midst of an Indian uprising, Mr. Stroud was called to duty alongside his volunteer unit to control the impending hostilities. The Indians had become angry with the white settlers over the distribution of silver for lands once owned by Creek Indians. Also, the abundance of “fire water” made and sold by settlers to Indians didn’t help already flaring tempers. The Indians knew that little, to no authority was available to protect the settlers, and with no regard for the “Pale Faces”, Indians began to raid small settlements and the settlers feared their unpredictability.

Eli was in route to his home after visiting family in Georgia on March 13, 1818 when he happened to meet his longtime friend Mr. William Ogle on a passing road. William offered his home to Eli and his family for the evening. Eli knew that the road home was dangerous and still more than 20 miles away, so he took William’s offer to stay. They spent the evening with their families in true pioneer fashion, gathered around the camp fire telling stories of the dangers of frontier life and the passing of friends and family who had lived the hard way as settlers in the South. Their trials and tribulations of living as settlers left them little hope of making a better life for both their families, but they were optimistic.

While Eli and William sat in conversation, their laughter caught the attention of a handful of disgruntle Indians. As the angry natives sat quietly, watching Eli and William from the surrounding forest, upon standing, Eli began to feel as if they were not alone. His change in attitude sparked a cautious stance from William as well. A moment of silence was violently interrupted when the Indians sprang out of the forest, screaming the blood curdling war cries, that Eli and William knew meant disaster. The Indians were armed with tomahawks and small caliber rifles. A sudden panic stricken chaos let out of the house as the women ran in to try and save the children. William grabbed his rifle and began to fire on the angry assailants but was shot down on his porch and killed almost instantly but one of the crazed natives.

Mrs. Ogle, Elizabeth, and Eli closed themselves inside the Ogle home and barricaded themselves inside with the children in the vain hope that they would survive this savage attack. Their attempt was short lived when the Indians made their way into the house just moments later. The raid lasted only seconds but in that time Elizabeth Stroud and her infant child were slain. Elizabeth scalped and left for dead alongside Mrs. Ogle and her 6 children, all murdered at the hands of blood thirsty Indians. Eli knew that in the chaos there was only seconds to spare his life and in doing so, he ran out the front door and into the woods.

Eli was distraught, mad with fear, blinded by pain and panic. He hid himself in a hollowed log for hours. Praying for the light of day and that god would spare his life, grief stricken at the loss of his wife and child. He lay in that log until he could no longer hear the screams of his murdered friends and family. When all the awful whoops and cries of Indians were gone, he crept from his hiding place, exhausted and terrified. His home was more than 20 miles away and traveling the road was dangerous especially on foot and in not more than his night clothes. Eli made his decision to stay on the road in the hopes that maybe someone would find him.

As he walked down the dusty road he heard the familiar sound of beating horse hooves. He made his way a bit further up the road and caught a glimpse of a wagon. He ran spirited in an effort to gain the attention of the people driving but he wasn’t met with the hospitality he had hoped for. His condition was not pleasant and the people on board the wagon drove him off like a mangy dog. He begged and pleaded with them for help and again they denied him, fearing he may be a mad man. Eli was once again alone as he watched the wagon disappear in a dusty cloud.

Eli was without even the most basic necessities. No food. No water. Not even a warm coat to keep the cool night air from chilling him. He made his way through the wilderness for 3 days before he finally arrived at his home. He was relieved and was taken in by his community and given a hero’s welcome. Eli’s warm homecoming was short. When the initial shock of survival in the wild for three days wore off, the grim reminder of his slain wife and child was left burned in his mind, their screams still echoed in his head, and Eli was never the same man he was before that awful night, living the next several years in solitude.

Several years later, Eli married Elizabeth East who blessed him with four children. They lived in Conecuh County, Alabama until Elizabeth died of illness in 1827. He married again in 1830 to Miss Eliza Perry and Eli brought his new wife and family to an area near present day Salem, Alabama. Mr. Stroud lived well into age and died at the age of 83 on February 21, 1871. He was buried in the family cemetery located on the corner of Stroud’s crossroads just outside the community of Smiths Station, Alabama.  A marker in the cemetery once marked his grave that read:

“This spot contains the ashes of the just,

Who sought no honors and betrayed no trust:

This truth he proved in all paths he trod,

An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”

Today the cemetery is not a spectacular site, but interesting to see. Large amounts of granite exist in the terrain naturally, making awkward formations. It leaves you to wonder how in the world they could bury anyone here. The hard, stony ground would make it difficult for even the best spade to penetrate the rock. A single Magnolia tree grows in the center of the cemetery,  among the graves. The ground stays covered in large leaves making it a haven for snakes, spiders, and all types of unusual life forms.

The Eli Stroud Cemetery located in Salem, Alabama.

Ole’ Eli has been dead for more than 140 years, many reports of ghostly sightings near the Stroud Family cemetery suggest that Mr. Stroud is not at rest. Several accounts from travelers and locals who live near the area have reported seeing a very tall, slender built man, roaming the cemetery with a spectral hound. While the ghost of Eli Stroud seems to be the resident spirit in the old cemetery, there are other reports of a ghostly child, dressed is 1800’s style clothing. She’s been seen dashing in front of passing cars near the cemetery at night. There are even eye witness accounts of the ghost girl stopping passing motorist and asking, “Were is Pa Pa? “

Many locals seem to think that Eli is still out hunting Indians or tracking wild game in the woods. It’s rumored that people who live closest to the cemetery don’t like to go outside at night for fear of being attacked by Eli’s spectral hound or perhaps shot at by the ghostly hunter. Animal bones are found regularly in the cemetery, folks say the bones are from the carcasses of the deer and hogs the Eli still hunts and that his hound drags them in the cemetery at night. Wild tales about the Eli Stroud Cemetery have been spun about this old place for years, but one story hasn’t been told yet, a story that has only every been shared between friends until now.

On a cool and calm night in November 1992, two friends were driving home from a high school football game in Smiths Station. It was a long way home and the friends decided to take the short cut threw Smiths to Salem by the old Stroud Family Cemetery. The music blared loudly as the girls drove down the dark and curving country road, laughing and joking. The two didn’t pay much attention to the open road ahead of them, and suddenly just inside the curve, a large deer jumped in front of the car and the driver slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting the animal.

The driver managed to stop the car just within inches of the deer. Scared and a little upset the two teenage girls took a sigh of relief and then agreed to step out of the car for a second just to make sure there was no damage. The driver exited the car first and the passenger followed. The girls walked around to the front of the car to survey the damage and were happy to see there was none. The passenger made the remark to the driver that she had heard that the road they were on was supposed to haunted by a man who used to be a great deer hunter. The driver responded by saying “Well he’s obviously not that great or he would have got that one.” The two girls snickered at the remark and got into the car to sort out there rattled nerves and proceed home. When the passenger started for the handle of the car door she noticed and icy chill, not typical of the cool November air in Alabama, which is typically a modest 50-60 degrees. She tried to shake off the chill but felt the air temperature around her changing dramatically. It had gotten so cold so fast her teeth began to chatter.

The driver looked up from her door and said, “Erica, are you ok?”  Erica responded, “Look, you can see my breath. Danielle! It’s so cold you can see it!”  Danielle replied, “It’s that ghost hunter! He’s coming to get you!” Erica smiled and snapped back, “Oh shut up and get in the car!” The two got back into the car and started to drive off when the car started to spit and sputter. “Are we out of gas?” Erica said “No, the gauge says its full.” said Danielle. The two girls managed to start the car and it chugged its way up the hill where it completely cut off once again. This time the girls had to get out and push the disabled vehicle up the rest of the hill onto a shoulder and off the road.

The two girls didn’t realize that they had pushed the car onto the shoulder just right outside the Eli Stroud cemetery. Confused and frustrated the two debated for the next several minutes on what to do. There was nobody they knew around the area for at least a few miles and neither of them would dare walk into the house of someone they didn’t know and ask for help. Cell phones were not an everyday item during this time either. So walking, as dangerous as it was on an open country road, seemed like the most logical action at the time.

The girls gathered their nerves and a few personal items from the car and started to walk off. They hadn’t gotten far when a man’s voice from behind them that said, “You gals need a little help?” Startled and scared, the pair turned to see a man standing inside the cemetery gate. He was tall with a small straw hat, wearing brown pants with suspenders over a dingy white shirt. He looked a bit out of sorts and neither of the girls wanted to acknowledge that he was even there. The girls stood in disbelief for a few seconds. Thinking to themselves: “Why in the world would some old guy be hanging out in that ragged cemetery this late at night? He has to be crazy!” Danielle responded to him and said, “No, we’re ok!”  Erica reluctantly whispered to Danielle, “There’s no one around here for miles. We could at least let him look at the car.” Danielle replied, “Are you crazy? He may be some kind of lunatic!”

In a panicked state the girls whispered back and forth on what to do when the man spoke again, this time he said, “Young lady, I will have you know that I am a highly decorated military man and upstanding citizen. You have no reason to be afraid of me!” The tone in his voice had changed. He seemed a bit upset by the girl’s inability to comply with his offer to help. Finally Erica convinced Danielle to at least acknowledge the man. Erica walked toward the fence just out of reach and said “Hi, I’m sorry we don’t mean to be rude, but we’re a little scared, see we almost hit a deer just a little while ago and now our car won’t start. Can you tell us where we might be able to find a telephone to call our parents?” The old man replied, “A telephone? No, I’m afraid I don’t have a telephone.” Erica then asked, “Do you by chance know anything about cars?” He responded, “No ma’am, I’m sorry. I don’t know anything about cars.”

Erica was a bit put off at this point since the old man had asked to help but didn’t seem to be much at all. Danielle shouted, “Come on Erica let’s just go!”  Erica looked back at her friend and then turned to the old man and said, “Well, thank you for stopping to help us.” He smiled politely and tipped his hat, then reached down and patted the dog at his side. Erica had not noticed the dog there until that point, which was odd because the animal was an enormous black hound. The old man said, “Your welcome ma’am.” Then Erica and Danielle proceeded to walk down the highway until finally, hours later, they reached Erica’s house. The girls explained to Erica’s parents what had happened to the car and about the old man in the cemetery. They phoned Danielle’s mom and she spent the night and agreed to go with Erica’s parents in the morning to recover the car.

The next morning, on the way to get Danielle’s car, Erica’s parents explained to them how dangerous it was to walk on the road at night. The girls expressed their concerns about the old man and the dog they had seen in the cemetery the night before. Erica’s father told them that there was an old ghost story about a man who was buried in the cemetery whose family was killed by Indians. He said that the man’s name was Eli Stroud and that he was a great hunter. Erica was familiar with the story, but at the time, didn’t think much of her father’s ghost stories, until she made a conscious effort to tie the previous night’s events into the legend. Danielle and Erica looked at each other with a sense of amazement, replaying the events from the night before in their heads and in conversation for the next 25 years.

To this day, neither Erica or Danielle have forgotten that chilly November night. This is the first document ever written about the occurrence. It leaves one to wonder if maybe old Eli reached out to help those girls because no one was there for him when he needed help. Or maybe he just enjoyed the conversation. His ghostly presence can still be felt and seen out at the old Stroud cemetery. So when passing through the Stroud Cross roads late at night, be sure to glance over at the old ragged cemetery with the looming Magnolia and iron gate, you just may see the little ghost girl, or perhaps the spectral hound, or maybe if you’re lucky, Old Eli himself.

(This is an excerpt taken from Haunted Auburn and Opelika and personal story based on an actual event. The historical resources for this story were based on, "The History of Opelika" by Francis Cherry)

The grave of Eli Stroud

No comments:

Post a Comment