The bone chilling legend of the Donkey Lady offers that a half-woman-half-donkey-like creature continues to haunt the concentrated woods amid the Medina and San Antonio Rivers just south of the Alamo City.
Faithfully, an October and Halloween tradition of searching for the terrifying Donkey Lady, or by now, perhaps her ghost, has been a teenage ritual going as far back as the late 1940s.
Some years back, Harlandale High School classmates and residents of the 1940s and 1950s sat at their local favorite lunch hangout on the south side, Bud Jones Restaurant at Military Drive and Commercial discussing their youth. The conversation turned to the Donkey Lady.
“To this day I swear it wasn’t just a made up deal,” claimed Archie Mabry, a retired electrician, who recalled “going out there as far back as about 1952 or 53. We decided we were going to ride our bicycles out there and actually camp because we wanted to find her.”
“The story we were told by, our older brothers, sisters and classmates, was that there was a man and woman, who lived with their small children near Elm Creek about where Jett Road and Applewhite Road was,” Mabry said. “It was right after World War II and he had come back home messed up in the head after being in the battles in Europe.”
“Well, the man was abusive and drinking all the time. One night she became scared when he came home drunk so she pulled a kitchen knife on him to protect herself and the kids. It ticked him off so he went and set the damn house on fire.”
“I guess fate, or what you call karma, took care of him because the husband and the two children died in the fire,” his friend and my father, Walter “Corky” Dennis, a retired San Antonio police detective added. “Supposedly, they found her barely alive and just severely burned all over. Someone finally took her to what was either called Brooke General Hospital, or Brooke Army Medical Center(BAMC) back then, on base at Ft. Sam (Houston). Now it’s a major trauma center.”
“She was so scarred up and disfigured that she looked somewhat like a horse or donkey,” Dennis emphasized. “But I don’t think we started calling her ‘Donkey Lady’ until after the drowning at the bridge.”
The old classmates nodded their heads agreeing to this version of the story.
“That’s right,” affirmed Mabry. “When she healed, her face kind of drooped, baggy-like and her fingers fused together like hooves.”
Others around the table explained that when the woman was released from the hospital and went back with no home, she “really had no choice but to settle camp style, wild-like, and isolated.”
“We grew up wondering if she would ever make her way into town where we lived,” Dennis smiled. “On summer nights, around campfires, we talked about how she needed to come look for food. We just knew she was out there in the dark waiting for the last one of us to go to sleep, or if one of us needed to walk away for a minute to go to the restroom.”
Stories spread over the generations of students throughout Harlandale, Burbank, McCollum, South San and Southside High Schools. Mutilated by the fire, and absolutely insane from the death of her children, her appearance, the beatings from her husband, and then the isolation in the woods, people reported she would wear a bonnet, scarf or hood during the day to hide her eerie form.
Shop keepers nearby said if she came into their stores, it would be with her beloved donkey. She’d remain unnervingly silent placing purchases on the counter, pay, and simply walk out.
However, at night, the sightings were treacherously different—even sinister in the descriptions. Those who dared to venture over the Applewhite Road Bridge crossing Elm Creek in the dark were terrorized by the sound of animals, especially the unnatural wailing of a donkey.
The old friends around the table turned serious as they told about the bicycle trip Mabry, and three other young Harlandale Indians freshmen took to find the Donkey Lady.
“We thought we were on a safari or witch hunt,” one gentleman began. “We loaded our bikes up with everything we thought we needed to camp out and find the Donkey Lady: lanterns, bedding, slingshots, food, a hatchet, matches, cowboy canteens, just everything you could imagine.”
“We were something out of the ‘Little Rascals,’ now that I think about it,” laughed Mabry. “But we peddled ourselves way out there.”
“I bet we hadn’t settled down more than 30 minutes before we started talking about how she would come out like a wild lion and pounce on one of us, chewing and ripping one of us apart–and then we heard the sounds.”
“It was a donkey,” Mabry swore. “It was a wailing, crying, howling donkey. We could hear it back there in the trees and it was coming closer; right at us.”
The boys all started yelling and ran to their bikes, leaving their gear behind.
“It was sheer terror,” Mabry looked serious. Rubbing his hands together, he continued. “That’s the fastest I ever peddled in my life, both before and since.”
“One of the boys, Jimmy, the one in back of all of us, started screaming and I could hear his bicycle crashing on the ground. I figured that Donkey Lady was gnawing on him like a buzzard or lion would with their prey. Hell no, I didn’t look back to check on him. It was each one for themselves at this point.”
“Remember now, it was pure dark,” he emphasized. “We couldn’t see but maybe eight or ten feet in front of us. We had no idea if he was dead or not. All of our senses was devoted to survival. It was probably a good 30 minutes before we slowed down and stopped.”
“Jimmy wasn’t with us and we weren’t about to call out for him. Our hearts were pounding so loud and we were breathing so hard, we could barely whisper. We figured we were pretty much out of the ‘Donkey Lady Zone’ and decided to lay back–more like collapse–and catch our breath for a quick spell.”
“It wasn’t even five minutes and here comes something, we could hear it, behind us. We jumped up to grab our bikes and Harold said, ‘Look it James (Jimmy)!'”
“Now here comes Jimmy huffin’ and puffin’ towards us. He was mad as hell we left him behind and it wasn’t until he was right on us, that I noticed he didn’t have his pants on.”
“‘Where’s your pants Jimmy?,” one of us asked. ‘Did she get your pants?'”
“Then we saw he was buck naked from the waist down!”
“Hell no, you sons of a bitches,” he yelled. “You just deserted me and I swear I could hear her–she was snortin’ and her hoofs were coming for me. I sh_t my pants right then and there. Pulled them off–underwear and pants. Didn’t even wipe my arse and you guys just left me. You dirty bastards.”
“Speaking of dirty bastards you smell like crap Jimmy,” Mabry noticed.
“What the hell do you expect me to smell like,” Jimmy retorted. “My bicycle seat will never be the same. I tried to keep my ass up peddling because I kept sliding.”
“We didn’t really know what to do for Jimmy, but we had all night, so someone volunteered their socks over so he could try to wipe himself and his bike, but it still stunk all the way to Six Mile Creek. It was there we made him go down stream from us to wash himself better while we soaked and quenched our thirst.”
“I can’t remember, but I guess it was at least four or five days later, maybe a week, ’til we went back–in the daytime–to get our stuff we left back there.”
“It’s strange how different things look in the day than it did in the middle of the night knowing that Donkey Lady is sneaking around. It was still creepy.”
“Our food was all gone, but our blankets, my hatchet, lanterns and other stuff was still there. We think we saw hoof marks there too, but we didn’t stay around to analyse it,” Mabry grinned. “We quickly grabbed our things and rode back. But poor Jimmy. His mama made him bring those pants back home so HE could wash them proper. The underwear stayed. They were a lost cause.”