By J. Chism
This story begins in the old town of Mannford Just after the turn of the century, I mean the time when the 1800’s were turning to the 1900’s. In 1905, horses were still in wide use. Horseback or train was the accepted mode of transportation. Roads weren’t improved much. Bridges were rare and only spanned those chasms or streams where the bridge was necessary.
Mannford was a cow town with a railroad siding and a holding lot. Many cattle drives had Mannford and it’s railhead as a destination.
One of the wranglers who lived in town was Rich Thornberry whom townsfolk thought to be tougher than a gourd. His crusty old face spoke without saying a word: “Don’t mess with Rich Thornberry”! His usual scowl portrayed him as one cantankerous individual as was his reputation in town! No-one could say anything good about him, except about his skill with cattle! With cattle and horses he would curse a blue streak.
It had been a rainy fall in 1905 and often the Cimarron River backed up into many of the streams along the banks of the river. It was one of these occasions that Rich Thornberry decided to ride his horse across the Rock Creek Canyon rail road trestle, just East of Old Mannford, rather than bushwhack the three miles around Rock Creek.
To make a long story shorter, Rich’s horse strolled into town, saddled and haltered without Rich Thornberry! The Sheriff knew something was wrong and set out on a search. The Sheriff theorized that maybe Rich Thornberry’s horse had bolted crossing the rail road trestle and Thornberry had been dumped into the flood waters of Rock Creek.
Nothing more was heard about Rich Thornberry until a month had passed and a Mrs. Sittle gave the Sheriff a rousing visit. She said that a cowpoke was walking toward town along the Keystone Road, he had a bad limp and torn pants and shirt.
He complained about his horse throwing him and running off and yes he was hurting from the fall! Mrs. Sittle said she offered him a ride to town on the back of her one horse hack. She also said he smelled of a campfire and cigarettes. She had talked and driven her hack and not looked back until she passed Rock Creek. When she looked around, the back of her hack was empty, with no sign of Rich Thornberry!
The following years, several Mannford residents saw and gave rides to Rich Thornberry, except he always disappeared when crossing Rock Creek.
In 1923 the highway thru Mannford was paved to Tulsa and points westward. A concrete road was now in place, just in time for the new 1923 Ford! Things changed! A few Mannford Residents still rode in horse drawn vehicles. Rich Thornberry could still be seen limping his way to town. Some unfamiliar folks would give him a ride and he would disappear at the Rock Creek crossing as usual! The sheriff and other townspeople theorized that Thornberry’s body was probably buried in the sands of Rock Creek and that his ghost would not travel over his own grave!
Whenever an auto would stop and offer Rich a ride, he would refuse, saying he wasn’t going to ride in one of those things!
Rich Thornberry continued to appear to the folks of Mannford until the town moved in 1960 and the old highway 51 closed. Night time fisherman and campers still say they hear a gruff man at night cursing his horse and driving cattle.
You can listen for Rich Thornberry by driving out on a quiet night to the end of old highway 51 and listen carefully. You might even give him a ride if you are in a wagon with a horse!
Any representation in this story to persons living or dead is purely co-incidental, especially the dead!