Growing up in Denton we all heard the stories surrounding both the Goat Man at Old Alton Bridge and the Hog Man at the old iron bridge on Bonnie Brae. They were great fodder for bored teen-agers looking for something to do on a weekend night. As was the nature of urban legends the stories passed from one person to the other always beginning with “there once was a man”, “the legend is” or “I heard”. No specifics, only vague stories devoted to some pretty creepy areas on Hickory Creek that changed many times with the re-telling. At some point within our recent history the legend has been embellished giving the elusive Goat Man a name, Oscar Washburn.
The story, in short, is that an African-American man by the name of Oscar Washburn raised goats near the bridge. He prospered and was successful. Members of the KKK took affront so they kidnapped Washburn from his home and lynched him from the side of the Alton Bridge. When they looked over the side of the bridge Mr. Washburn’s body had disappeared. Searching the area, and not finding him, the Klan returned to Washburn’s home and murdered his family. The story even provides date of August 1938.
I have searched, local historians have searched, paranormal investigators, and even reporters have tried to verify the existence of Oscar Washburn. We have found that there was a man name Oscar Washburn who married in Denton County, but he was white and the family moved very quickly to Young County. Researchers have combed through the August 1938 issues of the Denton Record-Chronicle seeking any mention of the incident at the Alton Bridge to no avail. Granted news about African-American citizens was not often reported in the local papers but bad news or sensational items like this were more likely to make mention.
We all know the Internet has changed many facets of our lives; this is one example of its impact. It has changed the nature of our urban legends. What was once told in the oral tradition and accepted as “just a story” can now be morphed into fact once it is put into print. One can find the story of Mr. Washburn perpetuated in many places without the simple statement “Legend tells of a” preceding it. That statement, or one similar, maintains the tale as folklore, and not presented as historical fact.
If you would like to try and prove the story true, or that possibly an events similar to this did happen, I invite you to visit the Special Collections Department at the Emily Fowler Central Library to use our many resources available to search for the proof.
Emily Fowler Central Library