Banford Bulch, ventured west, from Missouri, on the Oregon trail with his young family, in the Summer of 1850, to claim land in a remote valley near the Portland hills. For a couple years the Bulches were alone nestled in the tranquillity of the fir covered uplands. Then, one cold October day, the Strump family, from upstate New York, moved into the valley and settled a claim close to Bulch land.
On the first meeting with the Strumps, Bulch instantly disliked them. Pa Strump would often stare possessively across the boundary into Bulch land. They also had weird habits like eating river shrimps and rocky mountains frogs considered to be either taboo or poisonous by most people. Ma Strump, was often seen glassy eyed near streams eating newly-caught, unfilletted raw trout. In the months and years that followed, numerous disputes between Bulch and the Strumps broke out over fences and boundaries surrounding a stream that was within Bulch land.
The Strumps, mysteriously called this stream the River of the Stelkie. Often the whole Strump family could be seen, guided by the mother, staring into its gurgling water. The only thing that seemed to disturb them in this trance-like state was owls. They were particularly fearful of owls and would rush away if one appeared, and would avoid going near the stream close to dusk or at night.
One day as dusk was approaching, Bulch was walking near the stream when he came across a large speckled trout writhing on the ground. He looked around to see if an angler had left it there, but there was no angler to been seen. As he approached the fish, he thought he saw, out of the corner of eye, something like an owl silently landing close to him.
When he turned around, the hairs on the back of his neck bristled. He was looking at old woman with large staring saucer-like eyes. “Dear sir, could you hand me that the fish, my back is too stiff and I can’t stoop down”, she said, in a matter of fact way, that suggested she routinely bumped into people in the middle of remote forests. Bulch shaking, stooped down picked up the trout and gave it to the woman.
“For helping me, I must give you this reward” said the woman. She then began to whisper and pointed to the river, “there is a power in this river that draws the strangest of creatures. This will help you protect yourself against them.” She pulled a penny out of her purse and pressed it against the side of his forehead, and the copper coin fell to the ground. Bulch reached down to get it, and when he looked up she was gone. When he woke up the next day, he vaguely remembered an old woman in the forest but dismissed the episode as just another dream, and quickly forgot about it.
A few years went by, and the hostility between Bulch and the Strumps receded, and Banford Bulch, needing help on his farm, hired Stanley Strump, the youngest son of the family. He gave him room and board for a year. One night close to dusk, at the end of that year. Strump approached the house with a large speckled trout and presented it to Bulch saying that it was customary in the Strump family to present the father of their intended with a newly caught trout, when asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Strump then turned round three times and asked for the hand of Susan, Bulch’s eldest daughter.
As Strump turned around, Bulch felt a burning sensation in his pocket, and pulled out a glowing penny, the light from the shimmering coin sparkled and revealed strange patterns on his hands like the feathers of an owl, Bulch raised the coin above young Strump and it revealed a fossegrim, a rare river creature, with fish entrails hanging from its mouth. The creature startled by the piercing green light of the coin fled into the safety of the forest.
Bulch ran immediately to the cabin and raised the coin above his family. His distressed wife, seeing his wild eyes, nervously asked him why he was holding a penny above his head but Bulch could see in a flash of the penny’s green light that his family were who they appeared to be.
That night, Susan and Stanely eloped to Seattle, and were married by a Justice of the Peace. Upon their return to the Strump family home, Balch was waiting for Stanely. He intercepted the couple travelling back from Portland with home-making supplies. Bulch held the penny in the air and aimed his double-barreled shotgun at Strump’s heart. In the blink of an eye, Susan threw herself in front of Stanley and was killed instantly. Her father was caught and hanged in front of the grieving families and a crowd of the usual rowdy drunks that gather at public executions. Soon after both the Bulch and Strump families left the valley.
It is said that Banford Bulch’s ghost returns to the old Bulch farmstead, on the anniversary of his hanging. For many decades, his ghost walked alone looking for his daughter and forgiveness. Few came near, feeling a ghostly presence that wasn’t entirely beneficent. Deprived of contact with humans, the ghost took to communicating its remorse by hooting to the owls that were perched in the fir trees above the ruins of its old home.
One night in October, many decades after the death of Susan, young student drinkers, with a hideout in the hills, gathered for a drinking session near the Bulch’s old farmstead. When drunk they would often imitate the sound of the owls that were roosting in the trees above them. This night the hoots and screeches of the owls seemed particularly intense.
So the students echoed the intensity of their calls. Bringing the hooting figure of a man into their midst, causing them to scream and flee.
Later, the students claimed it was a ghostly figure, dressed in 19th century clothing, that first hooted like an owl, then looked around and asked for “Susan”. Needless to say, no one ever returned to the valley after that.