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Dad's Ghost Stories, Part 2

Dad’s childhood family had a lot of traditions. Someone dressed as Santa Claus every year to surprise the children at Christmas. Winter break was spent at Donner Lake with the ski club. And, of course, every summer, Dad and his family went to camp near Quincy, California. Dad looked forward to it every year. Little did he know it would be the source of one of his ghost stories.

A young deer in the woods
deer in the woods

There were a lot of things to enjoy about camp, especially the large creek where campers fished and swam. The spot was near the railroad tracks and Dad used to listen to the freight trains going by in the middle of the night while he slept in his family’s cabin. Age-specific activities kept the kids busy and having fun for the whole week.

One place, however, did not have good memories. This was one creepy trail that stretched between a cluster of cabins and the activity lodge. Dad said the trail was always dark and eerie, though no one could say why. Except for the myriad of snakes that were always found in the area, animals avoided the trail for some reason.

When Dad was about eight years old, something strange happened along this trail. One morning, the kids were wandering along the pathway when they noticed a large doe looking at them through the trees. The deer didn’t move an inch when the children walked by, even when they were making noise. No one thought much of it at the time, as deer were frequently seen in the camp, even if it was odd to see one near this busy trail.

In the afternoon, however, things got a little stranger. When the kids walked by again, that same deer was still there and still staring out at the path. It didn’t move when the children approached, remaining stalk still as they ventured past.

Now the animal began to attract attention. Adults ventured over to the deer and waved their hands at it, but it didn’t move. They spoke to it but got no response. The doe remained frozen to the spot, its eyes open and locked on the trail. It didn’t take investigators long to realize that the deer was dead.

The camp’s children were not allowed near the animal after this. A ranger from the national forest came by to examine the animal, along with an officer from Fish and Wildlife. They eventually backed a truck up to the deer and loaded it into the bed, hauling it away to locations unknown. Dad said it was so stiff that when it was loaded into the truck, it remained stuck in the pose in which it was found and made for a difficult job for the wildlife officer.

No one knows how the deer died standing up, it’s head erect and its eyes open. Except for the fact that it was dead, the doe appeared to be both young and healthy. There were no visible injuries to explain it, either. It didn’t take campers long to start whispering about the cause of death and why it was so close to the creepy trail. Of course, many of the kids’ theories were of the supernatural variety.

A rumor spread of a Native American legend concerning the trail and a beautiful maiden who drowned in the nearby creek. According to some of the tall tales being passed around, the trail was an old native path that was cursed when white men took over the land. And there were many other stories that I’ve since forgotten. All involved ghosts, curses, witches, or something else frightening to a child.

Though the nature of the deer’s death is unusual, it likely has a perfectly logical cause. Whatever it was, however, it would’ve had to have been quick for the deer to be frozen the way it was. Perhaps it suffered a sudden stroke or heart attack while grazing in the woods. Though there were no visible injuries, it’s possible it had been shot or hit by a car.

One possibility that was discussed above others was rabies or tetanus. Rabies is a neurologic infection that can cause strange behavior, but it is not known to freeze animals in their tracks, nor is it a common disease among deer. Tetanus would be more of a possibility, as it is a bacteria whose toxins lead to muscle stiffness and lockjaw. But again, the deer appeared healthy and would’ve looked quite sick with a terminal case of rabies or tetanus.

Another possibility that Dad brought up when telling this story was a poison of some sort. There are certain poisons that lead to muscle stiffness and paralysis, some of which are present on the site of old mines. If the deer went grazing at one of the abandoned mine sites that dotted the area, it could’ve easily been exposed to a toxin that eventually led to its death. Some of them are slow-acting, allowing the deer to travel quite a distance before the effects took hold. If it traveled a good way from the site, it would explain why no other animals were found in this condition.

There’s always another idea, though. This whole thing could’ve been some sort of prank. The deer could have come from a taxidermist, planted along the creepy trail by some adult who was looking to scare the kids with the old rumors and legends. After all, the owner of the camp did know the forest ranger and the wildlife officer. He was also known for telling jokes and playing pranks.

Almost everyone who was involved with the incident is now dead, including Dad. Unfortunately, they have taken the answers to this mystery with them. Likely we will never know what really happened along the creepy trail that day. Was it an elaborate prank to freak the children out, or was there really a dead deer standing like a statue in the woods? I leave the answer to that question up to my readers.

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