Bailey’s Prairie, Texas
A young man, new to Brazoria County, on the road one night saw what he thought was a burglar’s flashlight in a grove of trees. He stopped his car and went to investigate the strange glowing orb, finding out too late that there was no flashlight, nor was there a body attached to it. As he approached, the bouncing ball of light stopped abruptly, then began to move toward him. The panic-stricken man spun on his heels and ran back to his car with the fiery light less than a breath away. He made it into his car, only to find that it would not start. The radio crackled sputtered, but he was unable to escape. To make matters worse, the ball of light began circling his car, pausing by his window as if it were watching him. After a few moments, the ball of light backed away, then shot straight up into the hanging willow branches and disappeared. No sooner had the apparition disappeared, his engine roared to life, and the terrified man sped away. When he arrived at his destination, shaken but otherwise unharmed, he phoned the police to tell him of the event. The voice on the other end of the line laughed heartily and congratulated him. He’d just met the ghost of Brit Bailey.
A man’s dying wish is not a thing to be taken lightly. In Texas, it’s gospel. To deny it is to call down the wrath of heaven itself, and doom the soul whose wish it was to walk the earth for eternity. It seems to be the case in Bailey’s Prairie.
James Britton “Brit” Bailey was one of the original settlers of Texas. He came from North Carolina in 1818, settling himself, his wife, and his six children near the banks of the Brazos River. He was one of Sam Houston’s “original 300,” the first to settle in Texas.
Brit was not well liked by any measure. Among the more polite phrases used to describe him were the words “stubborn,” “eccentric,” and “grumpy.” In truth, he was quite the argumentative fellow, whose favorite things in life included hunting and drinking, and getting into brawls while doing both. In fact, stories of his odd behavior are near legendary in south Texas.
On one occasion, a traveling preacher showed up on Brit’s property, looking for a place to stay for the night. Bailey, who feared no man, much less God, gave a dark smile while inviting the man in. He gave the man supper, lulling him into a false sense of security, then pulled his shotgun from beneath the table. It seemed the poor preacher needed to pay for his dinner, and Brit could think of no better payment than to humiliate and terrorize his guest. By the end of the evening, the preacher was naked, dancing on a table to the merry tune of one of Bailey’s slaves. It wasn’t wine or happiness that moved him to dance, but a few well-placed shots from Brit’s shotgun by his toes. The legend continues, however, that when Bailey tired of the sport, he allowed the preacher to get down. Bailey, drunk on whiskey at the time, found the tables turned on him when the preacher snatched his gun, and ordered a repeat performance. Without much choice in the matter, Bailey complied. Rather than get angry, the whole event struck him as funny, and Bailey and the preacher became good friends.
By far, the greatest example of his eccentricities was left in his will. Upon his death in 1832, he instructed his body to be interred with his rifle, his favorite pearl-handled pistols, his hunting knife, and his favorite dog. The last item to add to this list: his jug of whiskey. He was to be buried standing up, facing north, under a large pecan tree. His widow, Dorothy, saw to it that all his wishes were carried out, until one of his slaves attempted to place the jug of whiskey at his feet. Dorothy claimed that her husband had imbibed enough in life, and would not greet Saint Peter with whiskey on his breath. With that, she threw the jug out the window, and he was buried without it.
Some years after his death, the Bailey house was bought by John and Ann Thomas, and it was she who first reported seeing Bailey after his death.
Ann Thomas never liked the house her husband bought. She found it oppressive and downright creepy. One night in 1836, while her husband was away on a business trip, she awoke from a deep sleep, shaken and terrified. At the foot of her bed stood a dark shadow of a man. She screamed as the specter reached for her, and covered her eyes. When she felt nothing, she drew the blanket down to find the shadow at the door of her room. It began to cross the room toward her, soundlessly moving across the floor. She screamed again, at which point it disappeared and reformed next to the door again. The apparition continued throughout the night. The next morning, it was a slave of hers who told her who the shadowy man was. The slave also revealed that the room in which Ann slept used to belong to Bailey. She decided he could have it back, and refused to sleep in that room again. When her husband returned from the neighboring town, he was angry to find his wife moved out of the master bedroom. He told her it was foolishness, and he would spend the night in the room by himself, and if James Bailey did show up, he would gladly shake his hand. When a scream cut through the night air, it was clear that there would be no hand-shaking, as the terrified man sat in his bed quaking, repeating that he’d seen Bailey.
The spirit of Brit Bailey first appeared as a shadow of his former self, and while that still happens from time to time, the most common occurrence is the sighting of a large ball of white light that floats only within the boundaries of Bailey’s Prairie. Many have tried to follow it, but it eludes them by rapidly changing directions before soaring upward into the trees of the pecan grove.
The most entertaining, and frightening, reports of Bailey’s light are the ones in which the glowing orb has chased people. It has floated across the highway, causing several wrecks, and even chasing a police car to the county line.
The legend, and no one seems to want to refute it, is that Brit Bailey is still out on his lands looking for the jug of whiskey his wife threw out.
The town of Bailey’s Prairie, as of the year 2000 census report, has less than one thousand citizens. It is a quiet place, where the locals are quite familiar with their spectral celebrity. Most that live there have seen him, and some even look forward to his visits on rainy nights. An historical marker sits near his grave, to commemorate his life.
The ghost of Brit Bailey has appeared every seven years since the first recorded sighting in 1936. Though the prairie is quiet during the off-years, he is sighted quite often throughout the seventh. If he keeps to his schedule, the next year of sightings should be in the year 2006, and again in 2013.
See you in two weeks!