“A Goblin Story” by Theodore Roosevelt

An astonishingly creepy story by one of the most popular of U.S. Presidents.
Any contemporary listener has a ready name for the “goblin” of this story.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“A Goblin Story”

from The Wilderness Hunter

Theodore Roosevelt

Frontiersmen are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They lead lives too hard and practical, and have too little imagination in things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories while living on the frontier, and these few were of a perfectly commonplace and conventional type.

But I once listened to a goblin story which rather impressed me. It was told by a grisled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman, who was born and had passed all his life on the frontier. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore, so that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the spectres, and the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk; and it may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.

When the event occurred Bauman was still a young man, and was trapping
with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of the Salmon from
the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck, he and his partner
determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely pass through
which ran a small stream said to contain many beaver. The pass had
an evil reputation because the year before a solitary hunter who
had wandered into it was there slain, seemingly by a wild beast, the
half-eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining prospectors who
had passed his camp only the night before.

The memory of this event, however, weighed very lightly with the two
trappers, who were as adventurous and hardy as others of their kind.
They took their two lean mountain ponies to the foot of the pass, where
they left them in an open beaver meadow, the rocky timber-clad ground
being from thence onwards impracticable for horses. They then struck out
on foot through the vast, gloomy forest, and in about four hours reached
a little open glade where they concluded to camp, as signs of game were
plenty.

There was still an hour or two of daylight left, and after building a
brush lean-to and throwing down and opening their packs, they started up
stream. The country was very dense and hard to travel through, as there
was much down timber, although here and there the sombre woodland was
broken by small glades of mountain grass.

At dusk they again reached camp. The glade in which it was pitched was
not many yards wide, the tall, close-set pines and firs rising round
it like a wall. On one side was a little stream, beyond which rose the
steep mountain-slopes, covered with the unbroken growth of the evergreen
forest.

They were surprised to find that during their short absence something,
apparently a bear, had visited camp, and had rummaged about among their
things, scattering the contents of their packs, and in sheer wantonness
destroying their lean-to. The footprints of the beast were quite plain,
but at first they paid no particular heed to them, busying themselves
with rebuilding the lean-to, laying out their beds and stores, and
lighting the fire.

While Bauman was making ready supper, it being already dark, his
companion began to examine the tracks more closely, and soon took a
brand from the fire to follow them up, where the intruder had walked
along a game trail after leaving the camp. When the brand flickered out,
he returned and took another, repeating his inspection of the footprints
very closely. Coming back to the fire, he stood by it a minute or two,
peering out into the darkness, and suddenly remarked: “Bauman, that bear
has been walking on two legs.” Bauman laughed at this, but his partner
insisted that he was right, and upon again examining the tracks with
a torch, they certainly did seem to be made by but two paws, or feet.
However, it was too dark to make sure. After discussing whether the
footprints could possibly be those of a human being, and coming to
the conclusion that they could not be, the two men rolled up in their
blankets, and went to sleep under the lean-to.

At midnight Bauman was awakened by some noise, and sat up in his
blankets. As he did so his nostrils were struck by a strong, wild-beast
odor, and he caught the loom of a great body in the darkness at the
mouth of the lean-to. Grasping his rifle, he fired at the vague,
threatening shadow, but must have missed, for immediately afterwards
he heard the smashing of the underwood as the thing, whatever it was,
rushed off into the impenetrable blackness of the forest and the night.

After this the two men slept but little, sitting up by the rekindled
fire, but they heard nothing more. In the morning they started out to
look at the few traps they had set the previous evening and to put
out new ones. By an unspoken agreement they kept together all day, and
returned to camp towards evening.

On nearing it they saw, hardly to their astonishment, that the lean-to
had been again torn down. The visitor of the preceding day had returned,
and in wanton malice had tossed about their camp kit and bedding, and
destroyed the shanty. The ground was marked up by its tracks, and on
leaving the camp it had gone along the soft earth by the brook, where
the footprints were as plain as if on snow, and, after a careful
scrutiny of the trail, it certainly did seem as if, whatever the thing
was, it had walked off on but two legs.

The men, thoroughly uneasy, gathered a great heap of dead logs, and
kept up a roaring fire throughout the night, one or the other sitting on
guard most of the time. About midnight the thing came down through the
forest opposite, across the brook, and stayed there on the hill-side for
nearly an hour. They could hear the branches crackle as it moved about,
and several times it uttered a harsh, grating, long-drawn moan, a
peculiarly sinister sound. Yet it did not venture near the fire.

In the morning the two trappers, after discussing the strange events of
the last thirty-six hours, decided that they would shoulder their packs
and leave the valley that afternoon. They were the more ready to do this
because in spite of seeing a good deal of game sign they had caught
very little fur. However, it was necessary first to go along the line of
their traps and gather them, and this they started out to do.

All the morning they kept together, picking up trap after trap, each
one empty. On first leaving camp they had the disagreeable sensation of
being followed. In the dense spruce thickets they occasionally heard a
branch snap after they had passed; and now and then there were slight
rustling noises among the small pines to one side of them.

At noon they were back within a couple of miles of camp. In the
high, bright sunlight their fears seemed absurd to the two armed men,
accustomed as they were, through long years of lonely wandering in the
wilderness to face every kind of danger from man, brute, or element.
There were still three beaver traps to collect from a little pond in a
wide ravine near by. Bauman volunteered to gather these and bring them
in, while his companion went ahead to camp and make ready the packs.

On reaching the pond Bauman found three beaver in the traps, one of
which had been pulled loose and carried into a beaver house. He took
several hours in securing and preparing the beaver, and when he started
homewards he marked with some uneasiness how low the sun was getting.
As he hurried towards camp, under the tall trees, the silence and
desolation of the forest weighed on him. His feet made no sound on the
pine needles, and the slanting sun rays, striking through among the
straight trunks, made a gray twilight in which objects at a distance
glimmered indistinctly. There was nothing to break the ghostly stillness
which, when there is no breeze, always broods over these sombre primeval
forests.

At last he came to the edge of the little glade where the camp lay, and
shouted as he approached it, but got no answer. The camp fire had gone
out, though the thin blue smoke was still curling upwards. Near it lay
the packs, wrapped and arranged. At first Bauman could see nobody; nor
did he receive an answer to his call. Stepping forward he again shouted,
and as he did so his eye fell on the body of his friend, stretched
beside the trunk of a great fallen spruce. Rushing towards it the
horrified trapper found that the body was still warm, but that the neck
was broken, while there were four great fang marks in the throat.

The footprints of the unknown beast-creature, printed deep in the soft
soil, told the whole story.

The unfortunate man, having finished his packing, had sat down on the
spruce log with his face to the fire, and his back to the dense woods,
to wait for his companion. While thus waiting, his monstrous assailant,
which must have been lurking nearby in the woods, waiting for a chance
to catch one of the adventurers unprepared, came silently up from
behind, walking with long, noiseless steps, and seemingly still on two
legs. Evidently unheard, it reached the man, and broke his neck while
it buried its teeth in his throat. It had not eaten the body, but
apparently had romped and gambolled round it in uncouth, ferocious glee,
occasionally rolling over and over it; and had then fled back into the
soundless depths of the woods.

Bauman, utterly unnerved, and believing that the creature with which he
had to deal was something either half human or half devil, some great
goblin-beast, abandoned everything but his rifle and struck off at speed
down the pass, not halting until he reached the beaver meadows where the
hobbled ponies were still grazing. Mounting, he rode onwards through the
night, until far beyond the reach of pursuit.

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