Some of the oldest of supernatural reports around are about spirits, or ghosts, that haunted the landscape of the early world Ė and apparently still do. Among the Ancient Anasazi of the American Southwest, spirit-guides were generally believed to be either elders of the clan, their ancestors, or ethereal messengers of the Great Spirit sent to warn or counsel or lead the believer to a chosen destiny. Even in the early Christian Church, great importance was placed in the belief of spiritual beings that on occasion interacted with the living. An encounter with these other-worldly creatures often indicated a temporary bridge; an anomaly that opened the path from the after world to the present, for what ever the purpose.
Just across the ship channel from South Padre Islandís Isla Blanca County Park are the lonely stretches of sandy beaches of Boca Chica. Not easily accessible without a long drive through Brownsville, this southernmost stretch of beach in Texas is unpopulated except for a few summer or beach homes. But the history of the small peninsula is rich and diverse, a small stretch of insignificant sand that owes its historical role to it location.
Many a ship have broken apart on the shores of Boca Chica, stretching back as far as 500 years ago, or more, counting the crudely carved long canoes of the Maya traders who are believed to have plied the coastline from the Yucatan all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi. Brazos Santiago Pass borders Boca Chica to the north, and has longed been used by mariners seeking shelter from the unstable and often violent weather of the open Gulf. At one time, the Laguna Madre Bay offered deep water passage through the pass to even the largest sailing vessels that would seek refuge from storms or marauding pirates. Even pirates used the bay regularly to harbor their vessels, and much history from those Golden Days of New World exploration and exploitation still ring in the sand dunes of Boca Chica beach. From shipwrecks to naval battles of the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, many a stranded sailor or seagoing passenger ended up on the beach, usually beaten, lost and without provision. Many perished at the hands of the elements. Many more may have died from fierce attacks from the Native American tribes that populated the shores.
To visit Boca Chica beach today offers little in the way of available modern amenities. Even on a busy weekend day, there is still room to wander, and as you do there is often a profound feeling of history that engulfs those that are tuned to the awareness. Perhaps it is the ever-whispering sounds of the sea mist caused by the crashing surf. Perhaps it is the absence of modern sounds that usually accompany a visit to a public beach. On Boca Chica, it seems easier to commune with the environment, and in so doing somehow find a bridge, though faint and distant, to the past.
Many tales have originated from this lonely beach. There have been reports of drifting poltergeists that flitter first this way then that way, carried in the swirling currents of the ever-present Gulf breezes. There is reoccurring reports of ghostly uniformed soldiers garbed in Civil War or Mexican American War era gear, translucent and stoic as they march across the drifting dunes dead set on reaching an unknown location they are destined to never reach. There has been at least one report of a young Catholic Friar, a man believed to be the survivor of the 1554 shipwreck, who apparently lost his life after a Karankawa attack on a party of some 300 survivors of the three ship wreck. An eerie and ghostly figure wearing a Rosary is said to haunt the beach at night when the moon is just right, calling to his fellow survivors who have left him buried behind.
Boca Chica Beach, because of its remote location and proximity to Mexico, is said to be unsafe to visit at night. A great deal of narcotics activity has plagued the area in recent years and it is a favorite route for illegal immigration. Even today Boca Chica is isolated on the fringe of the real world. But it is after dark that most of these spectral sightings have been reported, including a long lost light keeper whose job it was to keep the small marinerís light burning on the tiny Island to guide ships through the pass. Still carrying his light above his head, the ghostly figure is said to wave the lantern back and forth as if signaling the ships at sea. The man reportedly died during a storm and in an effort to guide a vessel to safe harbor after the lighthouse light was blown out.
Undoubtedly most of these tales are the works of overexcited imaginations. Perhaps a few are pure fiction. But a casual walk down the beach at Boca Chica on a slow day does provide a brief glimpse into how such stories may have been generated while under the mysterious influence of a truly strange place in South Texas.