The mystery of the Death Ship of Platte River, Wyoming6 min read
There is a legend, around the Platte River between Torrington and Alcova, Wyoming, that persists and tells the story of a “Ship of Death” continues to sail upon its sometimes dangerous waters.
In Wyoming the North Platte Rivers follows the route through many states and the river itself was once used as a guide for the Oregon trail in which the settlers way west into the country.
Here a phantom ship is said to rise out of a strange mist that quickly becomes a sort of massive rolling ball of fog.
As the ship grows closer, witnesses report that its sails and masts are covered with frost.
Upon its deck stands the crew, also covered with frost, huddled around a corpse lying on a canvas sheet and, as story goes, the ship always foreshadows the death of someone who will die on the day that it is spotted.
As the crew steps back, the identity of the corpse is revealed as a person known by the witness.
Well, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several men claimed to see the sailing ship appearing from the mist.
The ship, like the mist, came without warning but as each of the men approached the phantom ship with caution it was clear the crew themselves were ghostly figures damned to sail along the river.
Their only mission was to give those they appeared to a deadly warning of impending death and it was up to the men to reach their loved ones in time.
Never happened, apparently.
The first alleged sighting was made in 1862 by a fur trapper named Leon Weber.
On a clear September afternoon the man and his dog were several days into a month-long hunting trip.
Making their way through the brush near North Platte River, something emanating from it caught their eye: a thick mist that started rolling in, but it was a mist unlike any other Leon had seen.
It wasn’t long before a large sailing ship broke through, making its way directly toward him on the river banks.
Leon became overtaken by a sense of dread noticing the ship was grey and dilapidated, various parts of it covered in a thin layer of frost.
On the deck, a ghostly crew stared blankly at him as the ship inched closer with each passing second.
Unable to move Leon stood in fear as the crew parted ways revealing a coffin.
Its lid slid open allowing him to witness the body of a young woman lying motionless inside it.
As the man let out a pained scream, the ship and the mist vanished.
Of course Leon cut his trip short, rushing home to ensure his wife was safe but upon arriving several people in his small town had already gathered outside of his home, where his wife was found dead earlier that day.
Though Leon tried to tell the rest of his story and the ship that foretold his wife’s death, few believed him and it would be another 25 years before the death ship appeared again.
It was, in fact, 1887 when, near the city of Casper, cattleman Gene Wilson rode up to the river on his horse attempting to round up several of the beasts.
Like Leon years before, he caught a glimpse of a mist forming some distance from him on the river and, although he commanded his horse to bring him closer, the animal refused, snorting and attempting to turn away.
The mist parted, displaying a large sailing ship that later Gene would describe literally as a phantom ship.
Approaching it, he could see the layers of ice covering not just the ship but the nine ghostly men who stood motionless staring at him.
It was then he started to hear the heavy sounds of steps coming from the inside of the ship when a spectral captain appeared in front of the men.
His frosted eyes stared at Gene as he made a motion for his men to bring forth a large object covered in a canvas, and one drawing it back, revealing the lifeless body of a woman who had been badly burned.
Gene later wrote, “the face of a woman who seemed to be terribly burned. In spite of the frightfully scarred face, I recognized my wife. Overcome with terror, I screamed and covered my eyes. When I looked again, the ship had vanished.”
Terrified of what this meant, he ran back to his horse and sped back to his home. Above the hilltop, just beyond his home, he could see the black smoke rising and his heart sank: his home was in ashes, including his wife.
The last well-documented sighting of the ship of death occurred on November 20th, 1903, when a man named Victor Heibe was near his home at Bessemer Bend chopping wood by the riverbank.
A few months prior he had testified in favor of his lifelong friend Thomas Horn who had been accused of murder. Alhough Thomas was innocent of the crime, the Cheyenne crimin al court found him guilty sentencing him to death.
With no other choice, Thomas Horn and another escaped from jail disappearing into the woods and leaving behind everything and everyone he knew, including Victor.
But on this day, as Victor gathered the wood, without warning a thick fog materialized around him and the river. At first he was unable to see several steps ahead of him, but then the mist broke revealing the phantom ship in front of him.
Victor stood amazed watching as the ghost crew lined up on the deck staring blankly at him.
A canvas sheet dropped from behind the men revealing gallows and at the end of the cross-arm, a lifeless body swayed rocking back and forth along with the ship. As the body turned, Victor recounted that It was the face of his dearest friend, the man whom he had defended with his testimony in court at Cheyenne only a few months previously.
He shut his eyes at the sight of his dead friend but when he opened them, his friend, the ship, and the mist were all gone.
He gathered his items and rode into town desperate to find information on Thomas Horn and, to his dismay, he discovered his friend had in fact been hanged that very same day.
Over the next century, there have reportedly been a few more sightings of the ship, some have warned of incoming deaths while others claimed to have just seen a glimpse of a greyish ship with a ghostly crew disappearing into the mist.
But no other account has been as well documented as the first three presented here, all originally reported in various magazines and papers in the 1940s and 50s.
And supposedly there is a reason.
The accounts claim all the information was collected in the early 20th century by “The Cheyenne Bureau of Psychological Research” with signed witness statements by the men who saw the death ship.
But the problem is that “The Cheyenne Bureau of Psychological Research” never existed except in the retellings of these same accounts!
On top of this, the city of Cheyenne did not become a city until 1868 and the study of psychology didn’t come into prominence in the United States until the 1910’s making it difficult to believe there was already a “Bureau of Psychological Research” in Wyoming at the time of the first sighting, in 1862.
Either way every case was reported in the late fall, and in all cases, the person seen upon the deck of the phantom ship died on the very same day.
And it’s interesting still believe there may be a death ship roams the North Platte River warning passer-byers of impending death…right?
Images from web – Google Research