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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beware the White Riders

“The difference between fact and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” ~Tom Clancy

Storms around here often make history simply by forming at all.  Many weeks—even months go by without a drop of rain or whisper of wind beneath a brutal sun as summer days drag on. Until at last upon a scorching breeze, a swirling inferno spirals across the desert plains; gathering up the bone-dry sand as it marches on in destructive fury.  And consequently, we have dust storms in a city with more blacktop than sand.

Phoenix, AZ

Fortunately, these occurrences aren’t frequent but they do occur and evidently always have, as in the legend of two cowboys.

Whether lost or simply wandering, two cowboys trudged across the desert beneath a searing sun as supplies began to dwindle with no sign of civilization—or water—in sight.  By the time their horses died of exposure, the two realized that travelling by day was becoming too perilous and stopped where they stood to await the soothing shelter of darkness. 

But a massive storm arrived before nightfall; whipping sand in their eyes, embedding small stones in their cheeks and raging on for days.  There was no rain, only wind; rendering travel at night as treacherous as if by day.  All the two cowboys could do was wait for the storm to pass.

When at last, on a starless night at the sound of pounding hooves, one of the cowboys wrenched open his sand encrusted eyes to see a band of white horses; their riders dressed in white with spurs of gleaming silver, charging up to where the men lay half-buried in the sand, and he raised a weary arm to flag them down.

He watched in silent gratitude as the White Riders gently carried the other cowboy to a riderless white horse and placed him in the saddle.  When the riders remounted and prepared to ride away, the remaining cowboy tried to cry out but his lips were swollen shut. He had not enough moisture left in his body for a teardrop as he watched them disappear one by one into the storm, but the last rider paused long enough to say “It is not your turn today.”

Stunned, the cowboy laid his head on his arm in despair until sleep was a cloak of blissfully dark oblivion. 

He woke to the insistent nudging of his shoulder by a prospector who wanted to know if he was dead because his buddy beside him sure was.  With that, the cowboy realized he had seen the White Riders of Death but they had somehow spared him.

As children, the legend was meant to deter ‘wandering’ and was taken quite literally; you wander off, the White Riders will find you. But since it was clearly not invented by a child, I have to believe there’s a deeper, even spiritual meaning behind it. 

Could it have been the cowboy’s subconscious awareness of his buddy’s death? Wishful dreaming of being rescued, by a desperate heart?  Do you get dust storms where you live?


  1. Hi, dear Diedre! That image of the Phoenix dust storm is shocking. It reminds me of the scene in The Ten Commandments in which Moses parts the Red Sea! Mrs. Shady and I were lucky to visit your area and to be back home in Florida before the monsoon season arrived. We did, however, encounter that curious smoky haze phenomenon as we traveled across the Sonoran.

    I enjoyed the tale of the White Riders of Death. It seems likely that the survivor was experiencing hallucinations, but part of me wants to believe in angels that surround us at the moment of death and carry us off to heaven.

    Thank you very much for sharing this thought provoking legend, dear friend Diedre! Enjoy the rest of your week!

    1. Hi, Shady! We may have a had a fire going on somewhere, for there to have been a smoky haze. It's normally as clear and bright as the day is long, all the way to Mexico :-) Unless of course, monsoon clouds have bruised the sky in shades of unspent passion...then things look a bit ominous.
      Your thoughtful interpretation is a shining example of logical positivity, and encourages further consideration of a perplexing paradox: ghosts vs. angels :-)
      Thanks so much for commenting, Shady!

  2. Look at that sandstorm! I wrote about sandstorms for A to Z and I still get chills when I see images like that. They're so eerie!

    That's an interesting legend. I had never heard of the White Riders before. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi, Chrys! Yeah, the storms are pretty frightening; treacherous to drive, difficult to breathe. I'm glad the don't occur any more often than they do.
      Oh, but I bet your state has some great legends too! Thanks for poppin in ;-)

  3. Oh wow. I have goosebumps at that story!

    1. Ha! As a child the tale made me shiver and not much as changed since! ;-)
      Glad you stopped by, Stephanie!

  4. That sandstorm looks brutal and I can't imagine getting caught in one. We have plenty of rain, so that's not a concern here. Never heard the story of the "White Riders of Death either, but I can see how it would be a deterrent for children to wander off. I always thought the colour of death was black, as in the "Grim Reaper". ☺ Interesting post!

    1. Debbie, what an extraordinary concept; "the color of death"! I guess I just always assumed that angels in white escort us to heaven while spirits in darkness remain in anguished limbo ;-)
      Thanks for stopping by with such a stirring comment, Debbie!


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