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On dark nights west of the Pecos in Fort Stockton, Texas, say those who should know, the black-draped form of a faceless spirit paces the rooms of an old adobe house in a foredoomed quest for peace. The existence of el hombre vestido de negra, the man in black, is not often questioned by those of Indian-Mexican ancestry who live near the crumbling building at Nelson and Sherer streets; only the identity is debated. They have seen him stand at the rock cone of the water well or wander the neighborhood. Some supposedly have actually laid hands on him with terrifying results, while others have seen or heard evidences of his presence: moving lights and the sounds of upheaval and of shovel striking gravel. Eyewitnesses say he possesses definite mass, yet has no face, and wears a black hat and long dark coat like Lincoln. Literally a walking shadow, he is a bulto to those familiar with MexicanAmerican folk religion in the vicinity of the Texas-Mexico border. That Spanish word, which translates as a “figure” or “shape,” is used in reference to the carven image of a Catholic saint elsewhere in Spanish-speaking America, but near the Rio Grande boundary the concept incorporates man’s fear of death and the ultimate destiny of those whose lives held Fort Stockton Sutlery Fort Stockton sutlery, the so-called “Oldest House in Fort Stockton.” 64 Fort Stockton Sutlery evil deeds or whose work was left incomplete. The bulto must right that lingering wrong, satisfy that unfulfilled purpose, pay that outstanding debt, seek out that special something or someone. If successful, el bulto can escape purgatorial condemnation and enter hell or heaven; otherwise he or she must wander forever. Though it has no face, it does have the power of speech. It is never seen if it is heard, nor does it ever speak if seen. Too, though it is ambulatory, el bulto always appears or disappears during momentary shifting of the witness’s gaze or the blink of an eye. El bulto’s dress, actions, and words provide clues to its purpose, say those initiated in folk religion. The two colors it may wear, black or white, literally spell the difference between evil and good. Bultos of children or women are always in white, which symbolizes warmth, brightness, and good. Though without peace, they nevertheless may effect good in those to whom they appear. La Llorona, the crying woman in a white gown, is the most well known of all bultos. Having killed her children, she is fated to wander until she finds and restores them, but she still can serve as a positive force by eliciting reverence and fear in those to whom she appears. Black, meanwhile, always has been associated with mourning, death, gloominess, darkness, the unknown, and especially, evil. When the bulto of a man is so adorned, it indicates that a hideous, undisclosed deed was associated with his life. Perhaps he was the victim, perhaps the perpetrator, but he will never find freedom unless he reveals it. Also, a soul may not have attained its final state if the person did not receive last rites in the Catholic Church or a Christian burial and is awaiting proper prayers or entombment. Or a bulto may persist to warn of imminent danger, as in the case of the El Paso fire station at which some people claim a dead fireman appears as a prelude to every deadly fire in the city. But in a society in which poverty is commonplace, the most romantic concept associated with bultos involves concealed treasure. Treasure and spirits long have been interrelated in many cultures; supposedly, the body of a man was buried with pirate booty so his ghost would oversee it. But a bulto’s intent may be to reveal the treasure rather than guard it. Possibly, a person died without having last rites performed and seeks to have his or her soul prayed out of purgatory by disclosing a money cache to be directed to a priest as payment. Or the treasure may be predestined for a certain type of individual to whom the bulto bears the responsibility of revealing it. Regardless of the bulto’s purpose or duty regarding the treasure, this spirit holds no dominion over it. On the contrary, in border culture the treasure assumes a personality and identity of its own and even dictates the actions of the bulto. Too, because of its desire to be found...


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