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Haunted Bridge, Living Mystery
Visitors to a bridge near Weatherford come to understand a century-old mystery.
By NATHAN GUNTER
Published November 23, 2011
It’s sunset on the 106th anniversary of the murder of Katie DeWitt James, and three teenagers in Weatherford Eagles T-shirts are wading in Big Deer Creek. They’re not looking for the ghost some say haunts these sandy banks—they’re skimming for minnows to take on a fishing trip.
After the teens drive away, the scene goes quiet, and a bright half-moon casts a pall over the shallow sliver of water winding through Custer County.
The area, known as Dead Woman’s Crossing, is creepy after dark. Cows in a nearby pasture rustle, and coyotes howl. Animals—mice, bullfrogs, stray cats—crash through the tall grass growing on the bank.
Cars approach and slow to a crawl. Some stop quietly on the bridge and wait—for what, it is impossible to tell. After a minute, they continue on.
It was near this same spot, in August 1905, that G.W. Cornell stepped out of his buggy and noticed a skull beside his foot. Nearby lay a skeleton—and a revolver.
Katie DeWitt James had been found, weeks after her father, Henry DeWitt, had put up a seventy-five-dollar reward for the recovery of her body.
On July 8, 1905, Katie and her infant daughter climbed into a buggy with a well-known prostitute named Fannie Norton. The women had met the day before on the train from Clinton, which Katie had boarded after filing for divorce from her husband.
The next morning, Katie and her daughter, Lulu Belle, accompanied Norton in her buggy; they said they were heading to Hydro but did not say why. Witnesses saw the buggy disappear into a field near Big Deer Creek.
Forty-five minutes later, Norton came galloping out of the field at full speed in the buggy, one wheel stained with blood. She pulled up to the house of a nearby farmer, called a boy to her, and handed him a baby wrapped in a bloody dress.
Then she vanished.
Tracked down in Shawnee, Norton denied killing Katie, but soon thereafter ingested poison and died. The murder was never solved. Katie’s husband gave an alibi and was dismissed as a suspect. He inherited his wife’s estate and disappeared with their daughter.
Today it is said that Katie stalks these banks, calling for her child. Legend has it that anyone standing under the bridge can hear wagon wheels rolling across.
Strange sounds abound at the crossing, for the briefest moment even something eerily reminiscent of wagon wheels.
At the stroke of midnight, a truck stops atop the bridge. The scene holds its breath. From within, there erupts a chorus of blood-curdling screams.
Then—raucous, hearty laughter. The truck sails away, and all is as it was—silent, eerie, and haunting, if not haunted.
Get There: Dead Woman’s Crossing is northeast of Weatherford at the intersection of Arapaho and Dead Women Roads. Read more about the case in Sue Woolf Brenner’s 1982 Chronicles of Oklahoma article, “Dead Woman’s Crossing: Legacy of a Territorial Murder.”