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Haunted Sacred Heart Mission

Author: Eric Neher
Category: Haunting | Interesting
Date Published: May 8, 2018

Sacred Heart: Kon­awa Okla­homa

ERIC NEHER

Eric lives in Blan­chard with his wife and son. He is a con­tribut­ing author to Ozark Farm and Neigh­bors as well has hav­ing sev­er­al flash fic­tion sto­ries pub­lished.

On the evening of Jan­u­ary 15th, 1901 a strange sight was wit­nessed by the peo­ple of Kon­awa Okla­homa. An eerie orange glow sud­den­ly appeared from the east; as if the sun had decid­ed to trick the world with an ear­ly rise. Forty miles away the truth of what they were see­ing was gain­ing in strength as the uncon­trol­lable flames jumped from struc­ture to struc­ture. The Sacred Heart Mis­sion was burn­ing, and no one could stop it.

 It is from here, just five miles out­side of the town of Kon­awa, that I now stand, gaz­ing at the crum­bled remains of an inte­grat­ed hope cut short. It is not often that I find myself sur­round­ed by the phys­i­cal rem­nants of a dream that has fall­en to ruin, and yet the two ceme­ter­ies that lay upon these grounds seem to cry out just that. One ceme­tery sits open with rows of cross­es lined and bent with age. Here lies the Priests, and it is here that you are free to walk amongst the cross­es as if you were step­ping back through time. The oth­er ceme­tery is much more of a curios­i­ty; small marker’s peek up from the jagged blades of grass, all of which face towards a large cru­ci­fix as Jesus gazes down. More inter­est­ing­ly is that this ceme­tery is fenced off.  How­ev­er, why? The rea­sons are open to spec­u­la­tion, but some say that the bod­ies of the chil­dren who died in the fire lay there. Anoth­er guess is that the Sis­ters who were sworn to chasti­ty can, even in death, still keep their dis­tance. Maybe that is why on warm nights a lone­some hood­ed fig­ure can be seen drift­ing from stone to stone as if to reas­sure them that they are not alone.

What a his­tor­i­cal jew­el, a true gam­ble of a harsh­er time when just trav­el­ing from point A to B gave one plen­ty of time to rethink their deci­sion. In 1879 Dom Isidore Robot, a French Bene­dic­tine Priest must have had more than ample time to do just that as he braved the harsh lands on horse­back and wag­on. An agree­ment had been made between he and the Potawato­mi tribe; a Catholic school would be built as long as the chil­dren of the tribe would be taught. With the help of the tribe the first monastery was erect­ed; a fif­teen by the fif­teen-foot log cab­in. How­ev­er, the excite­ment went way beyond the small wood­en walls, as the mot­to ‘Pray and Work’ became a con­ta­gious way of life amongst the monks and the Potawato­mi chil­dren. Their day often began at 4:00 am and last­ed until well beyond the west­ern sun­set. Soon the spir­it of this new endeav­or expand­ed beyond the seclud­ed region, as word was spread through­out the world even lead­ing to the arrival of the mis­sions first Bene­dic­tine Sis­ters in 1880, six women who had made the jour­ney to teach the schools first class of girls. By the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry the mis­sion, which had start­ed out as a small log cab­in, had grown into its own self-sus­tain­ing com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing a post office, news­pa­per and a bak­ery that was renowned for pro­duc­ing five hun­dred loaves of bread a day. The future looked bright as white chil­dren sat in the same class­rooms as their Native Amer­i­can friends. At least that was until 1901. 

The screams of ter­ror must have been drowned out by the flames as they danced from build­ing to build­ing, swal­low­ing with­in hours what had tak­en years to cre­ate. The ash­es lift­ed high by the gusts of an oncom­ing storm, its promis­ing rain too far away to care, as the sur­vivors watched help­less­ly. They claim that no lives were lost that night, but I won­der. Per­haps they all did walk away and per­haps not, but one thing is for sure; beyond the phys­i­cal tal­ly there was cer­tain death, and on that night hope was mas­sa­cred. Stand­ing here now, with the far­away mur­der of crows cry­ing out to each oth­er across the tree line, it is easy to see why Sacred Heart is list­ed as one of the most haunt­ed places in Okla­homa. Its leg­end lies deep in an oral pit of his­toric mis­ery. The bak­ery now stands as the only sur­viv­ing rel­ic, chipped and drowned as water from an unknown source fills its low­er cham­ber, like a motion­less cesspool that dares you to try. From some­where deep with­in the murky cham­ber a sin­gle drop can be heard, falling with a timed hes­i­ta­tion.

The grow­ing shad­ows from the late after­noon sun invite the imag­i­na­tion to take its turn as the snap­ping of a branch from deep with­in the woods catch­es my atten­tion. The trees know the truth. If they could only speak, what a tale they could tell. It is among them, it is said, that a pair of drift­ing blue orbs can be seen mov­ing between the branch­es, paus­ing for only a sec­ond, then mov­ing on, like the spec­tral eyes of a trib­al sen­tinel from long ago. I move cau­tious­ly clos­er to where the sound came from and stopped sud­den­ly at the worn down begin­nings of a path. The trail weaves its way on into the foliage, sticks lit­ter the nar­row walk­way along with the curled nee­dles from the scat­tered pines. Anoth­er call from some unseen bird cries out, send­ing a shud­der up my spine as I take my first step onto the path. At first, it seems as though I have walked into anoth­er world; a pre-Neolith­ic time before the saw and ax changed every­thing.

As I walk on, my roman­tic evening dream is brought abrupt­ly back to a less than desir­able real­i­ty, as the low, reflect­ed gleam of a crushed beer can appears before me. Out of respect, I bend down to pick it up when the mad­den­ing laugh of coy­otes sud­den­ly echo through­out the woods. A momen­tary jolt of fear rip­ples through my body as the image of ‘Mur­dered By Human Wolves’ flash­es like a neon warn­ing sign in my mind. These were the words that had been carved into the tomb­stone of an eigh­teen-year-old girl who died in fall 1917. It hap­pened one night after a fall­out with her father. She had stormed out into the open night alone. The fam­i­ly farm­house sat in a clear­ing that was sur­round­ed by the very same woods where I now stood. She knew that she should not ven­ture too far in, but she was angry, and at that moment she could care less. Fur­ther on she went until the lantern lit win­dows of her house dis­ap­peared like the clos­ing of tired eyes. The for­est floor shined with the sil­ver glow of a full autumn moon, as the new­ly fall­en leaves crunched beneath her steps. At some point, she had decid­ed to stop, but the sound of leaves being crushed did not. The girl knew that her life would soon be over as a howl ripped through the night, soon answered by anoth­er.

This is the leg­end, fueled by decades of rumor and fic­tion, and like so many oth­er sto­ries that thrill when the camp­fires blaze, there is a grain of truth. Per­haps a fall­out with her father real­ly did hap­pen after all, and maybe she did leave her home angry and alone. The sto­ry of Kather­ine Cross is more than just some sto­ry; it is a crim­i­nal case. In 1917 the thought of pre­mar­i­tal sex wasn’t too far away from the act of mur­der, and if a young woman hap­pened to find her­self preg­nant from such an event it was safe to assume that a life of shame was soon to fol­low, and not just for her, but the fam­i­ly as well. To be in that con­di­tion in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry must have been hor­rif­ic enough, and it wasn’t uncom­mon for cer­tain types of ille­gal pro­ce­dures to fol­low. More­over, for Kather­ine Cross, that deci­sion to ter­mi­nate the preg­nan­cy proved to be fatal.

 They say that on the nights when the full moon is free to shoot its sil­ver beams from a cloud­less sky, you can see her spir­it walk­ing blind­ly through the for­est, hunt­ing for the ‘Human Wolves’ that took her life. Tales of were­wolves and miss­ing chil­dren, ghost­ly pan­thers that pounce with shad­owy claws dead Fri­ars are car­ry­ing their dark flamed lanterns for the for­got­ten chil­dren of a dwin­dling clan to fol­low in silence. All of this seems to be a mere fairy­tale when you think of the true hor­rors that have hap­pened. The ter­ri­fy­ing notion that with­in a nine-month peri­od a per­son can go from inno­cence to leg­end through no fault of her own is some­thing that I find to be tru­ly hor­ri­fy­ing. The Sacred Heart Mis­sion is tru­ly one of the most inter­est­ing places that I have ever had the plea­sure to vis­it, and whether it is haunt­ed or not, I say who cares. Just to be stand­ing on those grounds, sur­round­ed by the ceme­ter­ies, the woods, and the ruined build­ings are enough.

Eric Neher lives in Blanchard Oklahoma with his wife Tammy (The Traveling Nurse) and son Garrett. His other two children, Wyatt and Kelsey, graduated from Newcastle High school and left the nest. He is a continuing contributor to Ozark Farm and Neighbors as well as having numerous short and flash fiction stories published. When not typing out the words Eric works in the construction field as a product consultant and installation specialist, traveling all over the great state of Oklahoma. A graduate of MNTC’s diverse and various creative writing programs he is constantly on the lookout for better ways to hone his craft.

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