"The Devil killed her, I tell you! It was the Devil, himself!" the hysterical woman shrieked.
The damsel in distress collapsed in her husband's arms, as the man gazed outside at the mangled, female body. The front yard was bleached with blood. Blood and a pureed hand, or maybe it was part of a face. From this distance, it was difficult to tell. Massive hoofprints ringed the area around the cadaver. Thick, red strands of hair littered the ground.
A second man, the slain woman's husband, rushed outside, collapsing to his knees and weeping over what was left of his dead spouse.
Inside the modest home, the rancher turned to his agonized wife. The woman gazed up, sensing her husband's skepticism. Her tear-stained face contorted. "I know you don't believe me, but the Devil was here! He visited our house, damnit!" The woman pointed to the crushed cadaver outside. "What else could have done that?!"
Miles away, 72 hours later, Lucifer made a second appearance, trampling the tent of two prospectors in the middle of the night. Escaping injury, the men scurried from their demolished shelter, as a monstrous beast galloped into the blackness. A search of the area turned up the same crimson fibers and enormous hoofprints left in the wake of the first encounter.
Both tales spread across 1883 southeast Arizona faster than syphilis in a Wild West whorehouse. Folks began whispering of Fantasma Colorado, a malevolent entity terrorizing the region.
From his perch on the ridge, Cyrus Hamblin could see the beast clearly. Word of the infamous Red Ghost had reached local newspapers. In these parts, Cyrus was one of the unlucky few able to read. Now, staring down at an angry camel, the man wondered if this animal was the cause of all the commotion. Had this been an ordinary dromedary, he felt certain those who experienced its wrath would recognize it for the beast of burden it was. Here in the afternoon Sun, though, the animal's fur gleaming red like rage, the camel appeared anything but prosaic.
Strapped to the brute's back was something bizarre. Something horrible. Squinting, Cyrus swore the object leashed atop the monster was a decomposing, human corpse.
Weeks later, the beast was spotted again. This time by prospectors anxious for target practice. Although not a single bullet found pay dirt, the deafening reports of revolvers had caused the camel to sprint for its life. In the frenzy, the head of the animal's disintegrating rider came loose, landing at the feet of the astonished men.
Deduction painted a portrait of a lost settler facing dehydration, strapping himself to the back of the camel, in hopes the beast would find water before it was too late. Having to carry a fetid carcass through blazing heat, the dromedary probably became enraged, and exacted revenge on anything human within its path.
Sightings of Fantasma Colorado abated until 1893, when one Mizoo Hastings gunned down a beast thought to be the nefarious Red Ghost. By this time, the monster had relieved itself of its pesky passenger, and was traveling sans skeleton. However, rawhide straps believed to have once secured the corpse to the camel, were still attached to the animal's back. Oddly enough, these leather bands were affixed in a way the passenger could have never fastened, himself.
Had the man atop the animal been alive when attached to the creature, sent off into the desert as capital punishment? Was it more likely somebody possessing a maniacal sense of humor, a cadaver and a camel simply slung the body onto the beast to get a laugh? Perhaps we'll never know.
One thing is certain. Reports of dromedary sightings in Greenlee County, Arizona, persist to the present day. Not indigenous to the region, these beasts were imported by the U.S. Army in the 1850s as a means of transportation. The program fell apart when the animals, although well suited for the terrain, began displaying their inherently irate nature.
Some claim the fabled Fantasma Colorado still gallops across the desert in the Grand Canyon State. Should you care to take a look for yourself, Greenlee County can be accessed via U.S. Route 70, U.S. Route 191, State Route 75 or State Route 78.
© 2011. Hugh Mungus
Treat, Wesley. (2007). Weird Arizona: Your Travel Guide to Arizona's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. pp 204-205. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 1402739389