The Ghosts of Springer’s Point
© Philip Howard, 2003

With 42 acres of maritime forest, Springer’s Point remains one of the last undeveloped treasures in Ocracoke village.  Although that will likely change somewhat with the construction of homesites on two large lots in the southwest corner of this tract, and the potential development of eight additional acres on the edge of existing development, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has succeeded in purchasing the core 31 acres of this remarkable area.

(Click here to learn how you can make a donation to help preserve Springer’s Point.)

Springer’s Point

The preservation of a substantial portion of Springer’s Point highlights the natural and historic significance of this area of Ocracoke village.  For some years, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the island was used chiefly by mainland colonists for raising cattle, sheep, and other livestock. In addition, a navigable, deep water channel passes close to the southwest shoreline, near Springer’s Point.

It was in this area that some of the first permanent residents built modest homes.  As early as 1715 the colonial assembly recognized the need for establishing pilots on Ocracoke Island.  The pilots were to be responsible for seeing that vessels bound for the mainland were guided through the narrow channels between the numerous shoals.  The assembly therefore passed an act for “settling and maintaining Pilots at.….Ocacock Inlett.”  The settlement was dubbed “Pilot Town” but there is no evidence that pilots actually settled there until sometime in the 1730’s.

Although much of the low-lying shoreline has succumbed to significant erosion over the years, today Springer’s Point is thickly covered with ancient, gnarled live oak trees, English Ivy, and numerous other trees and plants indigenous to Ocracoke and the Outer Banks.  Standing underneath the canopy of branches and year-round foliage, especially at daybreak or dusk, leaves one with a sense of quiet awe and timeless wonder.

Live Oaks at Springer’s Point

Following one of the narrow paths through a tunnel of thick growth leads onto a narrow, sandy beach where gentle waves from Pamlico Sound lap against the seaweed-strewn shoreline.  The sky is bright here, as one looks out towards the distant horizon. Just under the breaking waves lie numerous pieces of broken shell.

Tunnel Through the Woods at Springer’s

Sometimes a stroller is rewarded by spying a piece of broken crockery, or other man-made artifact. I once retrieved a small, primitive clay pipe bowl from the water along Springer’s Point.  Others have reported finding arrowheads left behind by Ocracoke’s earliest adventurers.  No evidence exists to indicate that Native Americans ever established a permanent settlement on Ocracoke Island.  However, they must have frequented the island, especially the area around Springer’s Point, gathering clams, oysters, crabs and fish, all of which are abundant in the nearby waters

Old Stone Pipe Bowl

Just offshore, hardly more than a clamshell’s throw away, is “Teach’s Hole.”  This channel connects the Atlantic Ocean and Ocracoke Inlet with the deeper waters of Pamlico Sound.  Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate, frequented these waters during his brief career.  This was, in fact, Blackbeard’s favorite anchorage.  From one of the higher dunes, or from one of the trees on shore, it would have been possible to spy any ships approaching Ocracoke Inlet.

In October of 1718, in the vicinity of Springer’s Point, Captain Blackbeard hosted one of the largest gatherings of pirates ever to be held.  Teach, along with pirate captains Israel Hands, Charles Vane, Robert Deal, and John Rackham, partied for “some days,” along with their motley crews.  Rum flowed freely and hogs and cows were butchered and barbecued on the open beach.

It was also at Teach’s Hole channel, only one month later, on November 22, 1718, that Blackbeard met his fate in a fierce battle with Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy. The decks were running with blood and the air was thick with gunpowder smoke. Blackbeard, himself, was wounded twenty-five times.  Towards the end of the battle, Blackbeard nearly dispatched his adversary.  A mighty blow from Teach’s cutlass severed Maynard’s sword at the hilt.  As Maynard stepped back to regain some advantage, Blackbeard moved in for the kill.  At that fateful moment, one of Maynard’s sailors, a Scotsman, approached the villain from behind and, with a mighty slice of his sword, severed the buccaneer’s fearsome head from his powerful body.

Blackbeard’s disembodied head was tied to the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop.  The gruesome trophy was carried to Williamsburg, Virginia, where it was stuck on a pole at the entrance to the harbor, a grim warning to Teach’s “Brethren of the Coast.”  Before departing from Pamlico Sound, however, Maynard and his men tossed Blackbeard’s body over the side of his boat.  Legend has it that Teach swam around the vessel seven times as an eerie reminder that he was bigger than life itself.

Even today, the spirit of Edward Teach lives on in the consciousness of those brave enough to visit the area near his watery grave, especially after dark. It is not uncommon for visitors to Springer’s Point to report seeing unusual lights on the water, or among the trees and bushes nearby.  Rustling of the tree limbs and other odd movements and unidentified sounds often seem to emanate from within the otherwise protected confines of Springer’s Point.  More than one person has reported feeling the presence of the ghost of Blackbeard, searching in vain for his head.

View of Teach’s Hole

The existence of a graveyard at Springer’s Point only adds to the uneasiness people feel there.  Although this area was quite busy during the early history of Ocracoke Island, today it holds mainly memories.  Other graves are likely located in the area, but only one stone marker remains from the early period, that of Daniel Tolson who died in 1879.  Located on a narrow ridge, the gravesite is extremely difficult to find.  After trudging through wet, marshy lowland and then pushing through thorns, briars and thick underbrush one is finally rewarded with the sight of a single, prominent marble headstone on the edge of a small grassy clearing.

Grave Marker for Daniel Tolson (1816-1879)

William Howard, Sr. purchased Ocracoke on July 30, 1759.  He was the last person to own the entire island, and the first of the colonial owners to make his residence there.  Less than two months later, on September 26, 1759, William Howard sold one half of the island to his friend, John Williams.

John Williams’ portion of Ocracoke included what is now known as Springer’s Point.  In June of 1787 John Williams sold a sizeable section of his holdings, including Springer’s Point, to his son, William Williams.  William Williams (born 1745/50) died in testate in 1799.  At the time of his death he owned land extending from the mouth of Cockle Creek (now known as the “Ditch”), around the western edge of the Creek (now known as Silver Lake), and from there, south, all the way to the ocean and back around the Sound shore to the Ditch.

During the period of Ocracoke’s colonial history the north shore of Ocracoke Inlet was much closer to the area referred to as the First Grass.  It was only later, after William Williams purchased the land from his father, that the South Point built out in the vicinity of the present-day inlet.

In 1801 William Williams’ holdings were divided among his heirs by court-appointees.  Six plats were designated, one each going to the following:

  • Comfort Williams, daughter (and her husband, George Dixon from Portsmouth Island)
  • Elizabeth Williams, daughter
  • William Williams, son
  • Delancy Williams, minor daughter
  • Thomas Wahab, guardian to Delancy Williams (Thomas Wahab was William Williams’ first cousin, the son of Job Wahab and Jane Williams, William Williams’ sister.)
  • Six and one half acres of Comfort Williams’ portion was conveyed for the use of the public pilots.  This was set aside to compensate for the loss of other land due to erosion..

As mentioned, many of the earliest permanent settlements in Ocracoke Village were situated there, on the southwest side of Cockle Creek (Silver Lake).  According to a legal petition and map from 1835 only one public road had by then been laid out on Ocracoke Island. It began at the Sound (near Springer’s Point), went by the lighthouse (built in 1823), then continued past where the present-day Methodist church and school are situated.  From there it passed the original Methodist Church (which was established in 1828, and was located near the present day firehouse), all the way north to Hatteras Inlet. The petition averred that this one road, from its establishment until 1835, had “served the purpose of all the inhabitants” of the village of Ocracoke.

The map below shows the approximate location of Ocracoke’s first road (in red).  Springer’s Point is shown on the left.  (The two present-day churches and the US Coast Guard Station are indicated for reference.)  The blue line shows the new road that was laid out in 1835.  This eventually was called the Main Road and included present-day Howard Street and that portion of Highway 12 that runs past the Community Store to the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferry landing.

According to the tax lists from 1802, 1805, 1806, and 1814, we know that William Howard, grandson of William Howard, Sr., and son of George Howard, owned 28 acres, 78 acres, 103 acres, and 183 acres, respectively.

William and Agnes Howard

It was not until after 1814, however, that he acquired any land in the area now referred to as Springer’s Point. On May 25, 1820 William Howard purchased a house on Ocracoke, situated in a part of the village known then simply as the “Point.”  He purchased this two-story dwelling house, along with a storehouse, from a Mary Cabarrus who acquired the buildings from her uncle, Augustus Cabarrus, one of the early pilots. These individuals owned only the structures, not the land, as this six and one half acres was an expansion of Pilot Town and was set aside for public use.

The Old House with Tower

Another deed from July 23, 1820 indicates that William Howard purchased one half of an additional store house and lot adjoining the public lands.

By 1832 William Howard was ready to sell part of his real estate to his son-in-law, Elisha Chase.  According to a deed dated May 13, 1832, William Howard sold to Elisha one half of an additional piece of land which he had purchased from Comfort Dixon on January 15, 1831.  Although the description of this parcel of land is somewhat unclear, it  includes the area of large live oak trees commonly known today as Springer’s Point. William Howard mentions several buildings on his property (including “two old kitchens,” a “smokehouse,” a “new kitchen” an “old stone house,” a “wharf,” a “new wharehouse,” a “store,” two other “houses,” a “blacksmith shop,” and even a “windmill,” as well as his own home, which he describes as “two dwellings attached together” ).  All of these, he says, “are now, and have long been the property of the said William Howard.”  Most of these structures, however, were built on the six and one half acres of Pilot Town, which was not private property.

Outer Banks Windmill Similar to the One at Springer’s Point

William Howard’s dwelling place was the two-story house purchased from Mary Cabarrus in 1820.  This house, as previously mentioned, was actually two houses joined together.  Constructed sometime before 1800, part of it may actually have been built John Williams or his immediate heirs.  Legend suggests that this building may have originally belonged to Edward Teach himself, although this is highly unlikely. The pirate captain probably had nothing more than a temporary campsite on Ocracoke Island.

For many years this large tract of land was called Williams’ Point, and later, Howard’s Point.  At William Howard’s death on August 30, 1851, his son, William Hatton Howard, inherited a sizeable portion of the property, including the “Point.”  Fours year later, in 1855, he sold his inheritance to Daniel Tolson, and moved to Florida where he died after being thrown from a runaway horse. The Howard family had owned the Point for only twenty-four years (1831-1855).

Daniel Tolson made his home on the Point.  He was married twice, first to Cynthia Williams, Thomas Wahab’s granddaughter, then to Sidney Ross (widow of Abner Bennett Howard, Sr.).

A prominent feature of the house at the Point was a distinctive observation tower that rose above the tops of the trees.  This tower was a later addition, possibly built by Daniel Tolson, and from there the occupants of the house had a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound.  Any ships approaching Ocracoke Island would have been easily spotted by a lookout in this tower. If pirates had ever inhabited this dwelling their spirits would have welcomed the addition of the tower.

After Daniel Tolson’s death, Sidney Ross inherited the property and then married John Small McWilliams.  Before her death in 1883 from complications of childbirth, Sidney McWilliams sold her land and buildings to E. D. and Clara Springer, from South Creek, North Carolina. Although the Springers enjoyed spending time on Ocracoke they never made this their permanent home.
Old House with Tower

My father, Lawton Howard, was born in 1911.  As a young boy he remembers his parents taking him down to Springer’s Point to visit “old man Springer.”   In 1923 the elder Springers sold their property to their son, Wallace.  He was the last person to live in the house, but only for a short while longer.

Wallace, who never married, continued to stay on Ocracoke for some years.  Instead of remaining in the old house, he eventually moved in with Mr. Jamie Styron and other island friends. Wallace Springer died March 13, 1963.  My father left the island in 1927, but he remembers exploring the abandoned house with playmates, and hearing strange noises inside.

In 1941 Sam Jones purchased Springer’s Point.  By then little was left standing that was not badly in need of repair.  Ocracokers remember the dilapidated old house and a smaller structure (a smokehouse or jail) with barred windows, as well as a long-abandoned stable.

When I was a small boy, in the very early 1950’s, the house was nothing more than collapsed walls and piles of old lumber. Sam Jones contracted with Mr. Walter O’Neal to dismantle the old dwelling.  Mr. Walter used some of the lumber when building “Miss Dicey’s” house on Howard Street.  Other timbers were taken by Sam Jones for use as sills in “Berkley Castle” and a small house for Eleanor Gaskins. People familiar with the “Castle” claim that five ghosts — two women and three men — wander the halls and rooms there. Could they be the spirits of the Williamses, or the Howards, or the Tolsons, or even some of the pirate crews?

Sam Jones died September 27, 1977, and is buried at Springer’s Point, next to his favorite horse, Ikey D.

Sam Jones’ Grave

No remnant of any of the structures remains, with the exception of the base of an old brick cistern, now overgrown with ivy.  Few people visit this area of the village anymore.  Those who do often report strange phenomena there.

Old Cistern at Springer’s Point

Roy Parsons worked for Sam Jones for many years.  For a while after Sam’s death, Roy would visit his grave periodically to pay his respects.  Today, gesturing with his thumb and forefinger as if measuring a think stack of banknotes, he opines, “If someone offered me a pile of one hundred dollar bills this thick to go down there to Springer’s of an evening after dark, I’d tell him to keep his money.”

Roy remembers fishing from his skiff near Teach’s Hole one evening.  It was near sunset and the western sky was on fire.  “It was then that I noticed five men standing out in the water.  I wondered what they were up to.  They each had broom handles, buckets, and lanterns.  They seemed to be gigging for flounder, but they were acting mighty peculiar.  Then, without warning, they walked up onto the shore and headed straight through the woods towards the grave.  Í don’t know who they were, or what they were up to, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out,” Roy says.  “For all I know, they could have been ghosts!”

On another occasion Roy was visiting Sam’s grave just before daybreak.  He had run his skiff up onto the shore, and walked through the underbrush into the protective enclosure that is Springer’s Point. The sun was just beginning to lighten up the sky out on the water; under the canopy of trees Roy could barely see to find the path.  No sooner had his eyes adjusted when he noticed a figure standing near the grave site “He had on a white shirt,” Roy offers.  Then Roy runs his open palms along the sides of his head; his eyes open wide.  “His hair was all slicked back,” he adds.  “The oddest thing about him,” Roy continues, “is that there weren’t nothin’ to him below the waist!  I could see him fine from the waist up, but that was all.  I high-tailed it out of there, I did.”

Roy ran back to his skiff as fast as he could, tripping over roots and scraping his arms and legs against the thick undergrowth.  ”I jumped right into my skiff,” Roy explains.  “I never even tried to pull that string to start the motor.  There weren’t enough time.  I just pushed off with my oar.”  Once out into the safety of the channel Roy ventured a look back.  He was just in time to see the figure moving out onto the water.  “He just disappeared.  Went right on down like smoke,” Roy relates, obviously still spooked by his encounter.

Once more Roy ventured down to Springer’s.  This time it was dusk again.  He was approaching the abandoned cistern, not far from Sam Jones’ grave.  Like  before, Roy noticed another figure standing by the graveyard.  “It was a tall man,” Roy explains.  “He was wearing a black straw hat, a white shirt, a necktie, and sunglasses.  I turned around and started to walk back out.”  Roy felt a presence behind him, and he turned back to look.  The figure was walking toward him, not saying anything.  Roy turned around and began to walk faster.  The figure matched Roy’s pace.  “By that time I was running,” says Roy.  “But he was like a vapor.  I turned around again and he just faded out.  I never saw him again.”

Roy shakes his head from side to side, raises his eyebrows and looks me straight in the eye.  “I’m telling you,” he says, “there’s a difference between imagining something in your head and seeing it with your own eyes.  I saw these things I’m telling you about just as surely as I see you right now.”  Roy insists that he will never go back down to Springer’s Point again, especially after dark.  “And,” he continues, “you’d be wise to take my advice and stay away from there yourself.”

Ancient Live Oak at Springers

Special thanks to Ellen Marie Cloud; Earl O’Neal, Jr.; Mildred and John O’Neal; Roy Parsons; Ward Garrish; Blanche Howard Jolliff; Chester Lynn; and Julie Howard for sharing their research and recollections.


Donate Now to Help Preserve Springer’s Point!
As noted above, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust  is purchasing 31 acres of Springer’s Point.  The area most beloved by residents and visitors, including most of the ancient live oak trees, the old brick cistern, two small graveyards, and much of the shoreline will now be protected from development.

Additional funds are needed to help pay for the purchase, to fulfill a financial obligation to Hyde County, and to manage the site for future educational and environmental purposes.

For more information about their work, you can read the Coastal Land Trust’s Campaign to protect Springer’s Point.

On-line donations can be made through “Network for Good.” For more information visit the NC Coastal Lant Trust site at  http://www.coastallandtrust.org.

Once on their site click on the “Join Us” link and then the “Donate Now Through Network for Good” button.  You can designate your donation specifically for Springer’s Point.

Donations can also be mailed to  North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
3806-B Park Ave
Wilmington, NC
28403

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Greetings!

On Tuesday, September 10 tropical storm Gustav visited Ocracoke.  The winds were moderate (probably no gustier than 60 mph), but the trajectory of the system and the counterclockwise rotation of the winds pulled water from Pamlico Sound up into the harbor and into the small creeks in the village.  By late in the afternoon the water from Silver Lake was flowing over the road around the harbor and inundating surrounding properties.

Water covering Hwy 12 in the village:
TS Gustav

Silver Lake overflowing onto the road:
TS Gustav

Not long after that the creeks overflowed and salt water poured into yards, roadways and even into a few structures.  By 5:00 p.m. the Back Road was impassable.

The Back Road under water:
Gustav Back Road water
(Photo by David Tweedie)

Water stood thigh-deep in places and lumber, tubs, wooden-handled tools and other debris went floating past the houses.  Some automobiles nearly floated away as water rose up to the seats.  A few hearty kayakers braved the wind and rain, and ventured down the newly-formed waterways.

Front Yard Scene:
Gustav Kayaks
(Photo by David Tweedie)

The ocean breached the dunes on the north end of the island, and reports indicated breakers crashing onto Highway 12.  One driver attempted to cross in front of the surf and learned the folly of his decision only when a wave hit the car and rolled it over.  No one was seriously injured.

Luckily, the storm surge hit the island at low tide.  Had it been six hours earlier or later many houses and businesses would have had significant damage from rising water.  As it was, Ocracoke suffered relatively little damage from the storm.  Within a few hours much of the water had receded, leaving only wet and soggy yards, as well as branches and assorted debris to clear away.

Of course, we all hope this is the island’s last brush with tropical weather this season.  In case you were wondering, all is well on Ocracoke and we are looking forward to a beautiful and pleasant Fall.

Hoping all is well with you, too.

Philip and the gang at Village Craftsmen

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Spring greetings from Ocracoke Island!

As warmer weather approaches, we are beginning to see many familiar faces returning to the island for rest and rejuvenation.  Welcome back!

Many of you knew my father, Lawton Howard, a member of the early-morning coffee contingent on the Community Store porch, and a frequent, afternoon, behind-the-counter visitor at Village Craftsmen.  He died on March 23, at age 90, in his own home, next door to where he grew up, surrounded by family and friends.  Many people, both on-island and off-island, will miss him and his fabled good humor.

In past newsletters I have chronicled some of his history and amusing stories.  You can read these accounts by following the links below:

The Story of Lawton Howard

Amusing Stories About Lawton Howard

Lawton Howard:
Lawton Howard

After my father suffered a mild back injury several years ago he stopped driving.  My daughter, Amy, or I would take Dad for a daily ride.  Almost every day he wanted to go “down below” to the pony pen and watch the horses.  He was always interested in the health and well being of the herd.  He knew that one of the mares was pregnant and commented on this nearly every day.  On April 5, two weeks after my father died,  a new filly was born.

Ocracoke’s newest member of the pony herd:
Filly

Interest in the once-wild Banker Ponies is a long tradition in the Howard family.  My father often told me about the time in 1926 when he was 15 years old.  It was July and the annual Independence Day pony penning was in jeopardy of not happening because several of the young men were squabbling about something and no one was prepared to round up the horses.  My dad and his best friend, Ansley O’Neal, though still teenagers, decided that they were old enough to tackle this responsibility.  They mounted their ponies on July 3 and rode all the way to Hatteras Inlet (this was long before there were any paved roads on the island) where they camped out under the stars.  Early the next morning the two boys began chasing the first small herd southward, toward the village.  As they encountered each succeeding herd they forced them to join the others.  Occasionally some of the animals would swim out into Pamlico Sound and make the boys’ job much more difficult.  Finally, after a grueling day of hard riding in the blazing summertime sun Lawton and Ansley rode proudly into the village behind several hundred stampeding Outer Banks ponies.  It was a proud day for them both, and a fond memory for my father until the day he died.

After the National Park Service purchased the majority of Ocracoke Island in the 1950’s the herd was reduced to a more manageable size and eventually confined to a penned area in the middle of the island.  I remember helping my Uncle Marvin build the first pony pen in the late 1950’s.  Captain Marvin was a native O’cocker who spent many years away from home sailing throughout the world, and then retired in the early 1950’s back home to Ocracoke.  He is well known on the island as a champion of young people and scoutmaster of the renowned Mounted Boy Scout troop.  He wrote the following article, “Ocracoke Horsemen,”  which is reprinted from “The Story of Ocracoke Island.”

Captain Marvin Howard, c. 1960 astride his pony, “Lady:”
Marvin and Lady

“Ocracoke Horsemen,” by Captain Marvin Howard:

We hear a lot about the fishermen of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but few stories deal with the equestrians of the Outer Banks.  Surely some of them deserve to be proclaimed as among the world’s best for their daring feats on horse-penning occasions.  This is particularly true of the old days when as many as two-hundred ponies were penned on Ocracoke Island alone.

There have been wild horses roaming the Outer Banks since the landing of the Sir Walter Raleigh adventurers.  None of these wild horses were ever large except the Pea Island pony which came from the original quarter-bred horse.  (The quarter-bred horse, which has been developed as the finest cow-pony ever known, originally came from the Carolinas where they were bred for the quarter-mile race.)  However, the ponies of the Outer Banks did vary in weight from five hundred to eight hundred pounds.  They lived on the range the year round as wild as deer or wild horses can ever be.  For sustenance they had only the salt grass, the boughs of live oak and red cedar, and when the winters were severe, they dug in the sand hills with their hoofs to get the succulent roots of the sea oats.  These ponies no doubt had strains of Arab steed for in numbers of them there was untold beauty in color and build.  They were fleet of feet, hardy, well lined, and full of muscle.  They made fine saddle horses when properly trained.  In recent times, two Ocracoke horsemen stand out.  One was Homer Howard, the other was Monroe Bragg.

Homer Howard, (Lawton’s & Marvin’s father) c. 1942, aged 74:

Homer Howard

Homer Howard with his Coast Guard Horse, 1912
Homer Howard and Horse

There are many people on Ocracoke who can recall their daring feats.  People who have seen jockeys in America and England and have been to numerous horse-shows, carnivals, circuses, fat-stock shows, and rodeos in California, Texas and Mexico say that only on Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina does the catching of wild horses with bare hands take place.

Captain Jim Howard was keeper of Hatteras Inlet Life Saving Station for a good many years.

Captain James W. Howard, (Homer’s father) c. 1888, aged 49:
James Howard

He owned quite a few cattle and wild ponies on Ocracoke.  Jim bought a two-year old Arabian horse from somewhere on the mainland.  His son, Homer Howard, broke and trained this horse for running the wild cattle and penning the wild ponies.  His name was “White Dandy,” though he was mottled with gray.

James Howard astride his horse, White Dandy, c. 1888
James Howard and White Dandy

On “White Dandy” Homer on many occasions started at the north end of the island in the cool of the morning, driving the herd of wild ponies south. He rode merrily along across Tar-Hole Plains.  There he would come upon a second herd of ponies headed by “Old Wildy,” a long, rangy stallion.  This herd, too, he would start driving southward.  The third herd he encountered at Scraggly Cedars, then the Great Swash.  After passing Great Swash he came to Knoll Cedars where the sheep pen used to be, and from there on southward the driving got touchy and more strenuous for the herds from the north were reluctant to go farther south and would try to cut through the thickets or sand hills back northward.

There were about two-hundred wild ponies in those days. They had to be driven over sand hills, through bogs, across creeks, through marshes, and through woodland thickets of myrtle, cedar, oak and yaupon. At about ten o’clock in the morning of pony-penning day, the horses could be seen spread out on the plains around “First Hammock Hills,” just north of Ocracoke Village. Each little band was headed by a tough and stringy stallion. They ran hither and thither, their manes and tails flying, heads held high, ears pointed forward, and necks arched to meet a foe. And whenever the stallions met, they did battle-biting, kicking, pawing — until the rider closed in. Then, they veered off from each other, returning to their herds. It was no easy task to drive these wild ponies sixteen miles southward to the corral in Ocracoke Village.

Ocracoke boys perched in a big live oak tree with one limb at least thirty feet long to get the first view of the ponies as they were driven down the sandy road to Cockle Creek, the harbor. There were no docks in those days; the ponies were herded along the shore and in the shallow water to the corral by people on shore and in boats. After all the horses were penned and the bars closed, the people went home, ate dinner, and then returned for the branding and selling of the stock.

There were buyers from the mainland who wanted the ponies for saddle horses or for farm use.  As soon as people began to climb the corral fence, a general movement among the stallions started.  Hoofs began to fly, and teeth snap, with much squealing and snorting.  Then, suddenly someone on the fence would yell “Homer’s caught the motley roan over there.”

To catch a wild stallion with nothing but bare hands took wit, agility, strength and stamina. Homer Howard would walk quietly through the mares, slapping them on the rump, working his way between them slowly, gradually — getting closer and closer to a great stallion — crouching panther-like, ready, alert — and in a flash he was astride the stallion, holding its mane with his left hand, throwing his elbow over the horse’s withers, hooking his knee behind the elbow of the horse’s front leg, reaching out with his right hand to catch the horse’s lower face just above the nostrils, clamping down tight, and sticking there with the tenacity of a bulldog. The stallion would rear, pitch, squeal, snort, paw the air for thirty of forty minutes, but finally, out of wind, tired, and afraid, he stopped his violent struggling. Slowly the horseman eased his grip; immediately, the stallion lunged and reared. Only after several attempts did the horse admit his defeat. “Old Widdie”, “Guthrie Sam”, and “Rainbow” and others were truly great stallions and had the spunk and grit to put up terrible battles. Their tusks, or cutting teeth, were long from age and could be used to cut and slash, and their forefeet and rear hoofs held a wicked kick.

They used mostly McClellan saddles in those days, never western. Here again, Homer Howard was a master horseman, as he crawled astride and called for the blindfold to be snatched off.  Then with a mighty heave the wild horse began to buck or run or sun-fish — backing, twisting, turning, rearing — coming to a full stop with head down, stiffened legs or standing on his hind feet, groaning in every nerve, his body sweat-soaked from his efforts, nostrils extended, expanding and contracting like a bellows.  But finally he was out-mastered by the victorious horseman.


On your next stop to visit the Ocracoke pony pen try to imagine these stories of outstanding horsemanship, Fourth of July Pony Pennings, and the long history of the Outer Banks ponies.  And be sure to look for the new filly.

Until next time, our best to you all from

Philip and the entire staff at Village Craftsmen

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