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The true story of the Headless Horseman

Many people don’t know the infamous Headless Horseman is not just a legend, but the spirit of an actualΒ person.

In Scotland, members of the MacLaine clan from the district of Lochbuie still cringe in fear when they hear the sound of clattering hooves at night.

Whenever their family sees this spectral horse and its headless rider, it means death will follow on swift heels.

Back when he still had his head, the horseman was named Ewen of the Little Head, ironically enough. Ewen was the son and heir of a MacLaine chief, but he couldn’t wait to get his hands on his father’s loot. As a result, there was quite a bit of infighting between the two.

This was 1538, and in those days, there was only one logical way to resolve familial disagreements of this kind: a battle. During the skirmish, Ewen was beheaded by one of his father’s followers. Since then, and well into the 20th century, many witnesses have seen the Headless Horseman coming to claim the souls of the Lochbuie MacLaines.

MacLaines confronted byΒ the terrible vision of a headless warrior with an upraised sword will not live to tell about it. The hoof prints of the man’s horse are proof that he was there.

When Ewen of the Little Head began stalking his kinsfolk after death, he was immediately recognized. He still rode his beloved dun-colored pony, he wore the same green cloak as he had in life, and he had the same small head, which he now carries with him.

Have you heard the story of Ewen of the Little Head? Do you believe the Headless Horseman exists? What would you do if your own family had the same kind of curse?

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67 Comments

  1. I think I’ve watched a couple of movies with the mention of the headless horseman πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, but was it the REAL headless horseman? πŸ™‚

      Reply
      • Don’t know.. have to pay attention the next time πŸ˜‰

        Reply
  2. I have not heard of Ewen of the Little Head – they should have just talked it out :). So he doesn’t have the decency to give them warning, he just turns up and they drop dead then? I suppose it beats guessing when you’re going to pop your clogs πŸ™‚
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    Reply
  3. Great post. I’ve heard about headless horsemen but never this specific with a story that it is an actual person. It would be pretty worrying being a part of the cursed family!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it would be terrifying, especially in childhood. “Do your chores, or the Headless Horseman will get you.”

      “Go to bed or the Headless Horseman will get you.”

      Being a kid is difficult enough.

      Reply
  4. Yes! When we were kids, my Dad used to put on scary Halowe’en records with scary songs and tales on them (I believe they were on the Pickwick record label). One was the Headless Horseman. Used to love that story.
    Great post. Loved the third para especially. Poetic.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks Lisa. I’m always poetic when I’m writing about death and destruction. πŸ™‚

      Is it just me, or were people a lot less careful about what they exposed their kids to when we were little as compared to now?

      Reply
    • JH

      Especially if you’re friends with the neighbourhood witch doctor. That always helps.

      Reply
  5. I remember the Disney cartoon version. Itchabod Crane was hilarious looking, but the ending always terrified me. It’s great to finally read about the source of this tale.

    Reply
    • JH

      I loved that cartoon! It was so delightfully spooky. Even as a kid, I loved anything scary.

      That particular cartoon was based on a fictional story, which was no doubt inspired by the true account of Ewen the Little Head.

      Reply
  6. I didn’t know it was based on true events. I wonder if they still see him to this day?

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m not sure, Alex. But I bet they get nervous if they’re out at night and hear horse’s hooves. I know I would!

      Reply
  7. Thank you for this! I had no idea the Headless Horseman was based on a real person. Being of Scottish descent, I also love that he was a Scot.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m of Scottish descent too, Kelly. πŸ™‚ They have the best legends and stories in that region. Everything seems creepy and eerie and cloaked with fog over there. I can’t wait to visit one day.

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  8. I didn’t know it was real. Ewen got what was coming to him though.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, the poor guy was greedy, but did he deserve to be beheaded by the order of his own dad?

      Justice was a little harsh in those days.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  9. I had not heard of the “real” headless horseman. Makes me think of nearly headless Nick from the Harry Potter stories.

    Reply
    • JH

      But a lot more ominous.

      Reply
  10. I’ve never heard the story of the Real headless horseman! Very interesting…
    I remember seeing a headless horseman in a movie when I was young but can’t remember the movie now. We went to the theater to see it. I always liked the headless horseman idea…

    Another great post J.H.!

    Michele at Angels Bark

    Reply
    • JH

      Maybe The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? I believe that one is based on the fictional story, the same one that inspired the famous Disney cartoon.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  11. Ah! A historical tale! Those are always fabulous.

    I have never heard of this story, but it sounds fascinating.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Djinnia. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I love history (and science). Truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

      Reply
  12. I’ve always enjoyed the Washington Irving tale (and all its interpretations), but I didn’t know there was a real legend he pulled from. Neat!

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    Reply
    • JH

      Often the best fictional stories have a glimmer of truth behind them.

      Reply
  13. Oh wow. I didn’t know it was an actual story. I remember being really creeped out by the story of Ichabod Crane when I was a kid. I guess all fiction is inspired by something, even if it’s twisted into an all new story!

    Reply
    • JH

      The best stuff tends to be. That was such a great cartoon. I loved it.

      Reply
  14. I’ve never been so glad to not be a member of the MacLaine clan. I live in the suburbs, so if I hear horse hoofs, you better bet I’ll be running!

    I’d never heard the complete story of the headless horseman. I’m not really one to believe in these sorts of legends, but I love the tales.

    Reply
    • JH

      They’re great stories, aren’t they? I love that, even though you’re not one to believe, you’ll still run if you hear a horse. πŸ˜€

      My work here is done.

      Reply
  15. Now I know, thanks for sharing that and warm greetings!

    Reply
  16. I knew there were some legends out there about headless horsemen, but I didn’t know the specifics. Thank you! πŸ™‚

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, you’ve introduced me to countless legends. It’s nice to return the favour.

      Reply
  17. I’ve never knew there was a real headless horseman, but my family could us one! A few of them would look good with out their heads. πŸ™‚

    It’s a great story, now a TV series Sleepy Hollow. Although, I don’t think the headless guy’s made an appearance lately they’ve gone off on another tangent. LOL

    Nice to make your acquaintance via the A to Z.

    Happy A to Z ing! Yay, the weekend’s here! πŸ™‚
    Ninga Minion @YolandaRenee from
    Defending The Pen
    Parallels
    Murderous Imaginings

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve so glad I found your blog, Yolanda! Will definitely keep in touch.

      Your comment made me laugh. Thanks for that!

      Reply
  18. Never knew this. Then again, I have never even read Sleepy Hollow. My education is so lacking, lol. It’s what happens when you major in math and science.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, look at it this way…I suck at math.

      Reply
  19. I had never heard of Ewen and I would not want to run into him. I am enjoying reading about all these legends, I mean true stories. If we would have a curse like that, I would be mad at the ancestor that caused it and then look the “ghost” in the eye sternly, until he abandons further missions!

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a good plan, Liesbet, but I hope you never have to test it.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  20. Heard of the headless horseman but this specific tale eluded me. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  21. Why I never! even the headless horseman turned out to be true now? okay, this is too much. The other day I saw Sleepy Hollow again, I love this movie, but not to the extinct that I want Ewen to follow me or anything. why do people get to be so greedy sometime?

    Reply
    • JH

      Perhaps they were bored. Without a duel, what else was there to do back in those days?

      Every horror story is “based on true events.” Didn’t you know? πŸ˜›

      Welcome back, Haneen!

      Reply
  22. Oh, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow scared me so much as a kid! Kind of creepy to learn it has a real life counterpart. Years ago, when we lived at our 1st house, I’d often hear the sound of shod hooves striking pavement through the screened window late at night. It was Hank, laying them down, as he and hubby rode home from a late night ride. πŸ˜‰
    Revisit the Tender Years with me during the #AtoZChallenge at Life & Faith in Caneyhead!

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, that’s one way the sound of horse’s hooves can be very comforting.

      That Sleepy Hollow story is responsible for a lot of nightmares.

      Reply
  23. It was scary enough to have a “pretend” headless horseman. Now I have to think about a real guy riding around with nothing on his shoulders!

    Reply
    • JH

      Sorry, Lee. I have the feeling I’m fueling your nightmares for weeks to come.

      Reply
  24. I’m playing catch up. I have heard of other headless horsemen but not this one. I think there is one with that haunted house in Englad that was burned down…Borley Rectory? I like the story and if I knew about a curse I probably would think it is cool and talk about it:)

    Reply
  25. Little head.
    I can’t get past it.
    Little head.
    πŸ™‚

    Heather

    Reply
  26. This is news to me! Thanks for sharing. I wonder if Washington Irving ever gave credit to the original story when he wrote his tale.

    Reply
  27. I think that almost all legends and folklore stories have a basis in fact. Over the years though, stories get embellished, changed, and added to, but the original story still exists! Always great to hear!

    Reply
  28. Yikes! I’d change my name and hope he doesn’t find me!

    Reply
    • JH

      Haven’t you read The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mary? One can’t escape these things. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  29. Love it. Happy Halloween

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna. And a belated Happy Halloween to you!

      Reply
  30. I’ve heard of the Headless Horseman and that those who hear hooves at night can expect death to follow. But I didn’t know that it is based on true events!

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, yes…as true as a story like this could be, I suppose. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  31. We just recently watched the old Disney version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with the kids. Like most things, they built up the IDEA of the story to be way scarier than it actually is. After watching it, they were like, “That’s it?”
    (I’m glad they didn’t like it, since 90% of the story is about womanizing and lechery).
    Also: We recently tried to watch the original Ghostbusters and they were bored out of the minds. My son asked “Why aren’t there more ghosts in this?” and my daughter wanted to know why Slimer was the bad guy. πŸ™

    TL;DR: Your post was great. I just went off on a tangent.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha ha, no worries. I like your tangents.

      I loved Ghostbusters back in the day, but I never found it the least bit scary.

      Reply
  32. I’d always thought the story was from the imagination of Washington Irving. Knowing the Headless Horseman was based on a family feud makes it more interesting.

    Reply
  33. This is a case of if you liked that, you will probably like this. If you liked The Headless Horseman, you will probably like Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow. This starred Patrick McGoohan back in 1963, and it had a surprisingly dark feel for a Disney movie.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the recommendation, Mark. I always loved the spookiness of the Crane Disney cartoon.

      Reply
  34. I’ve never heard of the headless horseman. Luckily, he has a horse to lead him wherever he is going. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, it’s a big folklore favourite in North America, partially thanks to Disney. The things you’ve missed, Liesbet. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  35. I never heard of the “Little Head” version of this legend, but it wouldn’t surprise me that stories like this were carried to the New World and incorporated into our folklore. The Ichabod Crane story was one of my favorites when I was a child–thanks to Disney.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Arlee. It was so delightfully spooky.

      Reply

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