HUGH OF THE LITTLE HEAD
Before the Battle of
Culloden, Hugh, the Chief of the MacLeans, applied for knowledge of the
success of the battle to a s6er, who told him that if his wife a
particularly stingy woman, would give him butter the morning of the
battle without his asking for it, success would be his. Unfortunately,
her stinginess got the better of her, and he had to ask for it; so he
knew that his fate was sealed. In the course of the battle he was riding
at the head of his men when he was struck by a battle axe, and an arm
was severed completely from the body. As he fell from his horse he
picked up the arm and threw it ahead of his men, saying: “In life or in
death I lead the MacLeans.” Since then, he attends
at the death-beds of his clan. He has been .known to cross the ocean to
Nova Scotia, and people have heard the click, click of the loose shoe of
his charger, and have even seen himself as he rode to lead away a
MacLean to the other world. In proof of this the following story is
An old clansman in Inverness Co. was struggling in the throes of death.
A watcher by his bedside, named MacDougall. who afterwards told the
story, heard him say several times under his breath: “Waiting, waiting.”
He was so near death that they could not imagine how he was living at
all. All at once, they heard a rattling outside; MacDougall looked out
and saw a military man with a remarkably small head ride up to the door
on a grey horse, then tap on the window. He turned to the sick man, and
found that he was dead. He had gone to follow the lead of the MacLean.
A man named Greve, a
Lowlander, left Scotland because, as was said, he committed murder
there. In Scotland he was followed by a man with a gash in his throat
wearing a long grey cloak and accompanied by a dog. When he landed in
Halifax, N.S., he saw this individual before him whom he had left
Scotland to avoid. He settled in Mull River, Inverness Co. Everybody who
passed his house at night saw a man in a grey cloak standing facing the
house, a dog by his side.. Sometimes only the dog was visible. Hundreds
saw the apparition, so that it became known popularly throughout the
district as Bochdan Greve. It continued to be seen as long as Greve or
any of his family lived.
The M ’s, who emigrated from Uist, Scotland, were rather a worthless
crowd, quite inferior to the other pioneer settlers in Inverness Co.
Parties were given quite often at their house, at which drinking and
carousing were usually indulged in. One Hallow-e’en night two men were
walking from Port Hood to Mabou, a distance of ten miles. The road was,
at that time, little better than a path. Shortly before they reached the
M place they were joined by a man wearing a blue coat. (In those days
men wore cloaks instead of coats). He walked in the centre, keeping step
with them. All the doors and windows of the M- house were open, and the
noise of revelry could be distinctly heard. ‘‘They are having a grand
time whatever,” said one of the men. “That they are having,” said the
man in the blue cloak; “but many’s the one has to suffer severely on
account of their goings on. But the day will come when there will be no
one here to bear their name, and the grass, will be growing over their
doorstep.” By this time they had passed the house, and had reached a
sort of ditch across their path. The stranger was the first to make a
spring over it, but as he did so his cloak opened, showing to the men
behind a skeleton all on fire. He disappeared immediately.
To-day the name M is extinct in that district, and the old house, with
its gaping windows and hinge-less doorways, has not even a beaten path
leading to it; (Popular Tradition).
THE BEECH HILL BOCHDAN.
A short distance
outside Antigonish town there is a wooded hill which in pioneer days was
the scene of many strange preternatural manifestations. A road, which
was very little more than a bridle path, ran through the primeval
forest. As there were no stores in the country, pedlars used to go
around selling goods. One of these — so tradition says — disappeared in
the forest, and to this disappearance were ascribed all the strange
happenings at Beech Hill.
On one occasion, a Mr. Cameron, his wife, and his wife’s brother and
sister, were riding from South River to Antigonish in mid-winter. Mr.
and Mrs. Cameron rode on one horse, according to custom, and the other
couple on another. When they got to the centre of Beech Hill woods the
sun was just setting, and it was getting dark in the forest. All at once
a most extraordinary company came in sight. A huge pair of oxen yoked,
with heaps of non-deseript piled on their backs, were headed by a
shrivelled old man of very small stature, with a> rope over his
shoulders tied to the middle of the yoke. He strained on this rope with
all his might, as if to pull the oxen along faster. But, more
extraordinary still, four ordinary - sized women were following behind
wearing a peculiar head-gear, very high and unusual. Their dressesi made
a strange rustling noise, which especially frightened the horses.
Cameron had a quiet animal, so he succeeded; although with difficulty,
in getting by; but the other horse bolted into the woods. Only the
strength of MacDonald, the brother-in-law, prevented himself and his
sister from being thrown.
Cameron made inquiries along every road this company could possibly
take, but no trace of them could be found. Nor was anything like them
ever seen again. (Story told by Mr. Cameron’s grandson).
On another occasion a big man named Donald, who was famous for his
strength, set out to walk from Antigonish to South River over Beech
Hill. Night was coming on as he reached the woods, so he was very glad
to see a man dressed in grey walking ahead of him on the road. He
quickened his pace to have his company; but, if he did, the grey man did
also-, and kept a provokingly long stretch ahead. There was a loop in
the road, so Donald determined to catch up by going straight through the
woods and thus cutting out a considerable distance. When he again
reached the road, he looked back and saw that he had accomplished his
purpose. The grey man then took to the woods, with Donald in hot
pursuit. As the latter reached the opening in the forest through which
the grey man had disappeared he heard moaning. On proceeding further, he
saw the man lying under a tree; but his face was so horrible that he
took to his heels and never stopped until the woods was left far behind.
It was not only at nightfall that strange things happened at Beech Hill.
One fine Saturday morning, two brothers named MacDonald went out there
to cut wood. They were not men who- were over-credulous or easily
scared. They had not been working long when they heard a noise like that
of chains rattling, and perceived a dreadful odor. Then, something that
they likened to a coffin— bigger at one end than at the other—rose
before them and sailed through the air. At this, these hardy men got so
frightened that they left their work and made for home. (Story told by
their niece, who had it from themselves).
Later on, when Bishop Fraser was doing parish work in these parts, with
headquarters at Antigonish, he had as assistant Father John Grant, a
very powerful man. One Saturday evening the Bishop said to Father Grant:
“You had better have Mass at St Andrew’s to-morrow.” Father Grant
said:/‘All right. I’ll go there this evening.” The Bishop advised him to
wait till morning as the road through the forest was said to be haunted.
But the priest said he was not afraid, and so he set out about dusk.
Some hours later he returned on the gallop, hatless, and he and his
horse looked muddy and bedraggled. All he would say was that if the red
horse could speak he would tell a weird tale about that night’s doings.
So it was presumed that Father Grant had had an interview with the
Bochdan. Some curious people went out to Beech Hill the next day, and at
one spot the earth was torn up and covered with the marks of a horse’s
hoofs. In any case, tradition has it, that ever afterwards the forest
was free from its terrifying dwellers.
THE MEADOW GREEN BOCHDAN
In another part of
Antigonish Co. there is a beautiful tract of fertile land called the
Meadow Green, which extends as far as a forest that bears the ominous
title, Dagger Woods. All through this district, and even through the
woods, preternatural disturbances occurred many years ago. The usual
manifestation was in the form of cries. A cry was first heard in the
distance; then nearer, and consequently louder; and then just at hand.
The last time this was heard was not so many years ago.
A man and his sister were driving through the Dagger woods, when they
spoke one to the other of the Bochdan. Scarcely had they mentioned it
when a cry was heard away off towards Meadow Green. To this cry they
paid no attention; hut a second one nearer made them more anxious; a
third, within a few yards, terrified them. It was a human cry, hut a
hundred voices could not produce its volume.
Another time sixty years ago this same man’s father was going through
the Dagger Woods when he heard the cry in the distance; then nearer;
then right in the drain by the roadside. It was so terrifying that his
horse fell down and poured sweat. Many others heard these cries and were
frightened by them.
In this same district, on a road between St. Andrew’s and Heatherton,
there is a salt water spring around which strange sights were seen. A
man living near by saw several times a barrel floating in the air, with
something like fire coming from either end of it. He would be a brave
man who would pass this spring at night. Near the spring is an old road,
on which, not far from the present one. quite a number of times an old
man was seen dressed in grey, but no one had enough courage to speak to
him. One man, with a courage born of a few glasses of liquor, declared
that he would lay the ghost. A number of people went with him to the
edge of Meadow Green, and he went forward alone some distance. He heard
the cries, and presently saw a big pot turned upside down tipping
towards him. He did not wait to see more, but turned and fled with great
speed towards his friends. (These stories I took down from the dictation
of a near relative of the people concerned, who had them from
In Inverness Co., Mr. B was going along a lonely road one fine night,
when just at a turn in the road he saw a gigantic horse barring the way.
Although very much frightened, he managed to get by. Some time later he
was going over the same road in daylight with a friend of- his. When
they arrived at the spot where he had seen the horse, his friend turned
to him and said: “I got the fright of my life here one night.” He went
on to describe the very same horse that Mr. B had seen.
(Story told by Mr. B ’s daughter).
Dougall. the hero of this story, when seventy-six years old was still
smart and active. One fine afternoon he went with two horses and a
truck-waggon to a neighboring village fourteen miles away. On his way
back home he had to pass a spot where “ugly things” were reported to
have been heard, and even seen. But these little ghost stories were
merely detached, unauthenticated rumors, yet they were very persistent.
But Dougall never saw anything preternatural in his life. On his return
home, then, about an hour and a half of the night had overtaken him
before he reached the spot. When coming to the place, the tired horses
were walking slowly; Donald was up on top of the truck-waggon on an
improvised seat, holding the reins somewhat loosely, his head bent a
little. When he reached the spot the horses stopped suddenly, planted
their eight legs under them, and raised their heads in great terror and
excitement. At this moment Dougall was lifted off his seat, as it were,
by a gust of wind, or rather by air that was not wind, and planted down
under the legs of the horses; but the horses did not move in the least.
He cxelaimed: “A Dhia, sabhaill m’anam!” (God save my soul!). He
regained his seat as quickly as possible and took the reins. The horse3
then started on the dead gallop. He had all he could do to keep the
waggon from upsetting. And on the dead gallop they kept until they came
to Dougall’s own gate. (The man who gave me this story said that he
could vouch for it. He wrote:4 ‘Dougall, who was a most truthful man,
told me every word of it in his own house”).
Lake Ainslie in Inverness County, Cape Breton, carries its blue waters
for thirteen miles through a bonny highland glen, emptying by means of
the world-famous Margaree River into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Reached
Seventy years ago there was no priest stationed at Margaree, Inverness
Co., and people had to depend for their spiritual needs on a priest from
Quebec, for the settlement was largely French. Among them was a man very
much addicted to strong drink, who at last was found dead out in the
open fields as a result of a serious drunk. These French, who were very
scrupulous with regard to Christian burial, refused to put the body in
consecrated ground, and buried it instead on an island, just opposite
Bochdan Brook, on the mainland.
Soon “ugly noises” began to be heard from the island, and a man who was
famed for Second Sight used to “see things” at Bochdan Brook. One
Christmas night as this man, whose name I am not permitted to divulge,
was crossing the road by this brook, he was attacked by a wicked Bochdan,
and they wrestled until morning, the man losing one of his braces in the
encounter. But all this time he refrained from speaking to his
assailant, for the Bochdan could not speak unless addressed. At last a
priest came to the place. He, too, heard the noises around the island,
so he determined to investigate. Not a soul could he get to go with him,
so he went alone. Nobody knows whether he saw anything or not; but he
blessed the grave of the poor outcast, and advised the people to do for
his soul what they were accustomed to do for others. After this the
noises ceased; nor was anything more seen or heard at the Bochdan Brook
which still bears its sinister name. (Popular tradition).
At Sight Point, Cape Breton, there is another Bochdan Brook where horses
used to be very much frightened. The valley, through which the brook
flows, is walled in by high mountains, making the place very secluded
and very lonely. Through an opening in the mountains a road runs, and
the brook is bridged at this point. On one occasion a, young boy was
walking over this road at night. When he reached the bridge, a huge,
hairy dog attacked him. This monster rapidly transformed itself into a
long, lean hound, from which he had the greatest difficulty to escape.
Later, two men on horseback met at the same spot a big dog which
transformed itself into a foal two months old, and terrified them beyond
Some time after these manifestations, serious disputes arose over a
school house built on this spot, which bade fair to end disastrously.
Finally, the matter went into the courts, and the site of the building
had to be changed. Everyone concerned, believed that the Bochdan seen
there were warnings against this wrangling and quarrelling. (Popular
THE PHANTOM SHIP
If you have never heard
of the Phantom Ship that appears periodically off the coast of Port
Hood, you cannot have been long in Cape Breton, for the appearance of
this phantom is so well authenticated that the whole countryside knows
about it, and many have seen it. The last time the ship was seen before
this writing was in November, 1929. A trustworthy witness of the prodigy
tells the story.
“The evening was calm. The short-lived November sun had trailed a path
of glory across the broad bosom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and had
gone down in splendor beneath the waters. The long beam from the
revolving light on Port Hood Island grew gradually in brilliance as
darkness settled down over the sea. The whiteness of the houses on the
islands became as indistinct as the greyness of the barns, and soon only
a dark outline against the sky marked where the islands stood. Lights
twinkled here and there along the shore. The honk of a passing
automobile alone broke the stillness, as night enveloped the little town
in quiet peace. I retired to rest with the breeze from the sea fanning
‘‘I wakened suddenly. The wind had risen and I was uncomfortably cold. I
arose to close the window — when, lo! out on the Gulf was a full-rigged
ship burning furiously. I stood amazed. Stories I had heard of the
phantom ship flashed across my mind. As I watched, I saw the flaming
sails drop from the ropes, and then the ropes themselves part from the
fiery spars. Soon the masts, too, went down in a shower of sparks, and
the lonely fire-filled hull drifted into the night and disappeared.
“How long I had watched I know not; but a clock somewhere in the house
struck midnight, as, chilled to the bone, I turned from the window, my
mind filled with questions.”