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Part fact. Part fiction. You decide what is which.
About twenty minutes south of Dallas, in Ellis County is a ranch called the Shooting Star Ranch and Retreat. Situated on the banks of Bear Creek, the Shooting Star is home to all things nature—birds, native grasses, cats, sprawling trees, meandering streams, butterflies and…Shiloh.
Shiloh was a quarterhorse, one of the most prized quarterhorses in Texas racing history. Shiloh was so successful—logging win after win—as well as being so strong and beautiful, that breeders, fans and horse racing enthusiasts worldwide traveled to Ellis County to visit him.
Shiloh’s owner was a good family man named Jack Batchler. Batchler loved Shiloh, some said even more than he loved his wife and children. While the other stable hands fed, brushed and exercised the other horses that Batchler owned, only Batchler himself cared for Shiloh or only allowed others to tend to Shiloh under his expert and careful eye.
One particular summer, with horse racing season well underway, an overwhelming crowd filled the stands at a popular track to see Shiloh run. They knew of Shiloh’s impressive wins and couldn’t wait to see the beauty and majesty of his body in play. Impatiently, they sat through the preliminary races and finally the announcers called Shiloh’s race. The people surged to their feet. Their cheers could be heard for miles. Someone started a mantra, shouting, “Shi-loh, Shi-loh, Shi-loh,” which was quickly picked up throughout the stands.
On the track, Shiloh and the other horses lined up. The jockeys crouched over, whip in hand. Soon, the starting bell clanged. The gates swung open and Shiloh shot out. And stumbled. He limped. He hobbled about, wasting precious seconds as the other horses charged forward. The crowd fell still and silent. They could not believe their favorite horse was still at the starting gate. Just when the shock of this was wearing off, Shiloh stomped his hooves, then like a flash, took off. He ran hard and fast, as if the Devil chased him. Surprised by this quick, unexpected reversal, but extremely pleased, the crowd picked up their mantra, adding catcalls, clapping and whistles. Their cheering escalated, grew bolder, wilder when Shiloh caught up to several horses and passed them. When he passed more at the curves and the straightaways, the fans went nuts, throwing racing forms in the air, dancing on their feet, waving their favorite on. Some even took to racing themselves, running up and down the aisles. Soon, Shiloh entered the final stretch with only two horses ahead of him. He reached the flank of one and had almost matched him nose to nose when they crossed the finish line in second and third place.
Yes, Shiloh lost, and many were heartbroken by this outcome but none more than Batchler. He entered the stable after the race and faced the vet who’d just examined Shiloh. “Shiloh injured himself coming out of the gate. Even though he went on to race, that did more harm than good. Shiloh will never recover. He will never race again.” Batchler went to his horse, hugged the majestic creature and cried into his mane.
Some minutes later, feeling sadder than he’d ever felt in his life, Batchler loaded his beautiful horse on a transport and took him home. He spared no money employing the best doctors, trainers, groomers, and jockeys to work with Shiloh. It took some time but they returned Shiloh to racing form and Shiloh did race again. Oh how he raced! But he never won. Ever. Again.
In spite of this disheartening ending, Shiloh continued to attract breeders and enthusiasts. People traveled near and far to admire and revere the great horse. But Shiloh had no greater admirer than ole man Batchler. When he wasn’t traveling, Batchler visited the stables every day to spend time with his beloved horse.
One particular morning, Batchler entered the stables eagerly anticipating his time with Shiloh. He didn’t think it odd that Shiloh did not wait for him at the stall door. He simply unlatched the door and entered. Seeing that Shiloh was laying down, he knelt and started rubbing those glorious muscles. Usually at Batchler’s touch the horse would nod his head, snort, swish his tail or neigh. Shiloh did none of these. Frightened by that, Batchler leaned over his horse, studying the horse’s nose and chest. There was no breath, no movement. Shiloh was dead. Batchler collapsed upon his horse, crying and hugging the animal, wailing over his loss. Upon hearing the grief-heavy noises, employees and family came running but Batchler cursed them and forced them out. All day it was just the two of them: Shiloh with his magnificent form laid prostrate and Batchler crying over his beloved.
Night fell and Batchler had finally reached a point where he could say goodbye to his horse, his friend. He loaded Shiloh on a transport and grabbed a shovel on his way out of the stables. He took Shiloh far off, deep into the woods, close to Bear Creek. When he reached a particularly pretty spot, he began digging. He dug and dug and dug and when he’d dug deep enough, he lined the grave with Shiloh’s favorite blankets. He then lowered Shiloh into his grave. With a red sunrise haloing him from above, Batchler shoveled the last bit of dirt onto the grave. He tamped it down and scattered grass and twigs on top. As his final act, he planted wild, native flowers on and near the site. Tired, he trudged home, crying the whole way.
When he entered his house, looking dirty and spent, his wife knew what he’d done and even though she asked and later the children asked, Batchler never told anyone where he buried Shiloh. And even though people looked and searched, many, many times, no one ever found Shiloh’s burying place.
That was almost 200 years ago but to this day, if you are at the Shooting Star Ranch and Retreat and hike too close to Shiloh’s resting place, you will hear loud footsteps behind, in front of or beside you. When you look, you won’t see a person but you will know that the ghost of Jack Batchler is warning you away from Shiloh’s grave.
What do you think? Real or fake? Would you be willing to spend a night at the Shooting Star to verify?