Country legend an odd but interesting stranger come to the Sandtown community.
| It was late in October of 1902 when a stranger appeared around Sandtown. In those days, people were widely separated from each other. When visitors came by, there was an opportunity to get the news. Callers were always welcome because of the stories they could tell around the dinner table. They were often rewarded with a good meal and a place to spend the night in return for some lively conversation.
Sandtown, located in the northwestern part of Independence County Arkansas, with its blacksmith shop, cotton gin, sawmill, and general store was a center of community activity during the early nineteen hundreds. Nevertheless, it was not a likely place for a stranger to hang around very long.
No one knew where the stranger came from or where he lived. Local citizens just assumed that he was passing through and probably camped somewhere near Sullivan creek. He was oddly dressed and spoke with a quaint but pleasant accent. He had peddler-like mannerisms yet nothing to sell. Moreover, although a stranger, he seemed to have a remarkable knowledge of Sandtown and the surrounding area. He was indeed a very mysterious and interesting person.
Billy Wayne Johnson was fascinated with the stories he told of things that were happening in the world outside as well as past events that happened around Sandtown. Each day for more than a week, the stranger would take up a station on the porch of the Sandtown General Store or on a stump by a shade tree next to the blacksmith shop; there he would spin one tale after another for hours on end. Young Billy Wayne hung on every word.
The stranger bragged of his treasure of gold. “Even one small portion of it would make a person richer than the richest man in Sandtown,” he said to Billy Wayne. He described, in vivid detail the site and the exact spot where it was buried.
“This is our secret,” he warned. “You must not tell a soul.”
Billy Wayne’s thoughts began to run counter to his character. At age nineteen, he longed to leave Sandtown, see the sights and experience the adventures the stranger described. He yearned to see the ocean, visit foreign lands, meet the people and taste exotic foods. Because of his Christian upbringing, he knew the act he was planning was forbidden but the motive was strong.
There was a full moon the night Billy Wayne yielded to temptation and set out to take a small part of the stranger’s treasure. He had no problem identifying the starting point on the west side of Sullivan creek just slightly southwest of the Sandtown Store. He carried with him a small spade and a spear-like hickory pole. The stranger’s description was so clear there was no doubt that he was following the correct route. In less than an hour, Billy Wayne arrived at the big oak tree with the distinctive “U” shaped limb the stranger had described. He carefully stepped off the distance between the tree and a rock formation to its left to pinpoint the exact spot to dig as the stranger had indicated.
He pushed the spade into the earth on the spot. The soil was soft and easy to penetrate. After digging out a few spades of soil, there was a distinctive smell of hardwood embers drifting out of the hole.
He then plunged the pole hard into the hole. Suddenly an orange-blue flame spewed up from the opening. Smoke from the flames burned his eyes and he almost choked on the strong smell of sulfur. The stranger abruptly appeared from behind the oak tree laughing with a menacing cackle.
Billy Wayne was terrified.
“I caught ye, you little thief!” the stranger yelled. “Did you think I would let you steal my treasure? What a foolish young man.”
Billy Wayne’s terror immediately turned to raging anger, his jaws tightened, his eyes bulged and he felt his temples pulsing so as they might explode. He grabbed the burning pole, ran toward the stranger stabbing him in the midsection with the flaming end of the pole. The power of the attack knocked the stranger to the ground. Billy Wayne stumbled but held the pole tightly vaulting over the stranger, his weight pushing the spear shaped pole completely through the cackling creature’s torso.
As Billy Wayne fled, he could hear the stranger’s hysterical laughter alternating with gruesome groaning.
The next morning Billy Wayne found the constable and confessed to killing the stranger. He told him the whole story.
The constable gathered a few men and searched the area Billy Wayne described. They didn’t find the stranger, the site or any evidence that what Billy Wayne told them ever happened.
Although no one has seen or heard from the stranger since that day, the constable concluded that Billy Wayne’s experience was all in his head, a nightmare. Many were convinced that Billy Wayne’s account of that night was accurate and continued to search for the treasure. There were numerous reports of encounters with the ghost of the stranger.
Some say that even now if you walk across the Sandtown bridge on any clear autumn night and look downstream into the woods past the left bank you will see the iridescent light of a fire. And if there is a faint southern breeze you can hear the stranger’s laughter and groaning in the distance.
Others say that the light is simply the glow of foxfire and the laughter and groans are nothing more than the wind coupled with a rich imagination. Billy Wayne Johnson knew the truth. He spent the rest of his life living as a recluse, searching for the treasure while, no doubt, being haunted by the ghost of the Sandtown Stranger.