The Monsters and Killers of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Photo by Raychel Sanner on Unsplash

Ghost Ranch, located in Abiquiú, New Mexico, has it’s fair share of interesting stories. The 21,000 acre retreat was once the home and studio of modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe who was infatuated with the barren landscape featured frequently in her art. The area is also an important palaeontology site with an impressively high concentration of dinosaur fossils. And, Ghost Ranch’s stunning redrock landscape has been the backdrop of numerous popular films including Red Dawn (1984), Wild Wild West (1999), No Country for Old Men (2007), and 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Today the ranch is a retreat and education centre run by the Presbyterian Church.

Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch in 1968 by Arnold Newman (source)

But the Christian retreat that promises to ‘enrich your mind, body, and soul’ was once the homestead of a pair of brothers who didn’t strive to accommodate their own guests in quite the same way.

The Archuleta Brothers, West American Serial Killers

The Archuleta brothers, drawn to one of the few water sources in the area, moved to the then vacant ranch during the late nineteenth-century. Here they let their cattle roam and built cedar-and-adobe houses for themselves and the one brother’s wife. Because of the isolated location and the convenient water source, other cattlemen would pass through and ask the brothers if they could stay the night. Allegedly, many of these cattleman would disappear and their horses, goods, and cattle would ‘mysteriously’ come into the possession of the brothers. All signs pointed to serial murder.

The murders were believed to be committed by luring the unsuspecting cattlemen up the surrounding cliffs and pushing them off or, alternatively, pushing them into the well on their property. This seems counterproductive considering the general lack of water sources, but I guess these things matter less when you murder for sport.

Some claimed to hear the cries of the brothers’ murder victims if they wandered too close to the ranch. Others say the brothers purposely spread a rumour that their ranch was haunted in order to keep away local busy bodies and law enforcement. Allegedly, the brothers hung dummies from the trees in order to send a warning to anyone who approached. Because of this, the ranch was given the name ‘Rancho de los Brujos’, or ‘Ranch of the Witches’ by the local community.

After a dispute over buried gold, one of the brothers killed the other – an act that isn’t unheard of when it comes to serial killer duos. Seeing an opportunity to reclaim the area, locals rode to Rancho de los Brujos and hung the remaining brother from a cottonwood tree, putting an end to the Archuleta murders once and for all.

It wasn’t until 1928 that the name of the ranch was changed to Ghost Ranch by Carol Stanley, the ex-wife of Roy Pfaffle who had won the deed to the property during a poker game. The name is fitting considering the strange paranormal rumours that Ghost Ranch can’t seem to shake.

Vivaron and the Creatures that Haunt Ghost Ranch

Vivaron is said to be approx. five times the length of a normal rattlesnake. Photo by Duncan Sanchez on Unsplash

The daughter of one of the Archuleta brothers came forward years later and confessed she had seen six-foot tall humanoid creatures covered in red hair that would crawl out of the sand and scream like tortured children. She dubbed these terrifying monsters ‘earth babies’. And her father had sworn he’d encountered a winged cow on numerous occasions that was actually a witch in disguise. It seemed that despite the brothers starting rumours of hauntings, there was some suspicion within the family that the ranch really was haunted.

Most famously, the ghost of a 30-foot-long rattlesnake-demon known as Vivaron was said to haunt the area around Huerfano Mesa, a sacred Navajo mountain. Vivaron would hide during the day in the tunnels under the mountain and emerge at sunset to commence its nightly hunt. And according to some versions of the story, Vivaron’s favourite food was children.

In 2016 a new species of reptile was identified at Ghost Ranch. The reptile has been named Vivaron after the snake-demon and was identified as a new species of rauisuchid, a distant relative of the modern day crocodile. Vivarons were between 12 to 18 feet long and lived in the area of Ghost Ranch around 212 million years ago. Rauisuchids were some of the largest and most dangerous carnivores in Pangea during the 16-million-year-long Triassic Period, so it’s suiting that this new rauisuchid was named after baby-eating Vivaron.

To celebrate the discovery of the new rauisuchid, The Guinness World Records cheekily awarded Vivaron the distinction of being the ‘Oldest Ghost’ ever recorded. The ghost of a 200-million-year-old reptile certainly puts any spirit haunting an old Georgian manor to shame. So if you’re a paranormal investigator who’s tired of the same old boring poltergeists and spectral children, perhaps ghostly prehistoric reptiles can be your new calling?

Illustration of Vivaron haydeni (source)

Want more weird stories from the Wild West? Check out The Tombstone Thunderbird Photograph and the Mandela Effect on Curious Archive!

Sources and Additional Reading

Ghost Ranch – Main Retreat Website
Guinness World Records – Oldest Ghost
International Business Times – 200 million-year-old ‘monster snake’ reptile identified as new species (2016)
Las Cruces Sun News – Pulse: Weekend at Ghost Ranch for a little history, high desert scenery
Psychology Today – Nineteenth-century Serial Killers at Ghost Ranch (2013)
Scientific American – Paleo Profile: Hayden’s Rattlesnake Demon (2016)
The Durango Herald – The spirit of Ghost Ranch (2010)
Western Digs – Giant Triassic Predator, Named for Baby-Eating Monster, Discovered in New Mexico (2016)
Wikipedia – Vivaron / Ghost Ranch


Ashley is a history lover, paranormal enthusiast, and easily swayed sceptic with a BA and MA in the History of Art. Originally from Canada, Ashley lives on England's Isle of Wight (one of the most haunted islands in the world!) and enjoys internet deep dives into peculiar histories from around our weird and wonderful planet.