The Headless Desert Ghost

Note: This story was first brought up to me while camping in Death Valley, around the campfire.

SD: So this is about the ghost of Joe Simpson, ok? So in 1908 there was this saloon manager named Joe Simpson and he murdered the town’s banker. And because of that, the town lynched him, they tied him up, and then a LA Times reporter came down, they put him back up (after they had already taken him down from being dead), and what happened is that they decided to test if he had any diseases. So they cut off his head, and they lost the body of him. And so now, if you go around different parts of Death Valley, you can see this old west guy who is headless just walking around, trying to find his head, and trying to get revenge on the people who killed him.


This is a local story to Death Valley. It seems to be a good example of a local legend. A town had a traumatic event in their past, and this continues to haunt them today. This contains the motif of mutilated corpses coming back as ghosts. Many societies believe that the mistreatment of corpses leads to becoming a ghost. Not only was Joe Simpson’s corpse re-hung and beheaded, but he was lynched, tied up, and his body was lost. This could easily lead to the fear that his spirit could come back to exact revenge on the living. SD had visited Death Valley before, but hadn’t seen the ghost. He didn’t seem to believe the ghost was real, but said its was a common story.