Our Donkey Lady tee is by far one of our bestsellers and one of our biggest conversation pieces. It’s what gets native San Antonians in our booth, sharing their stories or telling us how much they feared her growing up. It’s been great listening to everyone's take on the Alamo City's most notorious lady—no two experiences ever exactly the same.
The legends themselves, though, are dark tales of some pretty brutal violence and, when you stop the think about it, really sad. In those stories she’s never depicted as a bad person. So, in an attempt to change her image, we decided to glam her up. Our Donkey Lady is more interested in eating a veggie burger at a fancy restaurant than eating your children under a bridge.
All that being said, the legends are still a great part of San Antonio history and are fun to scare your friends with. We’ve heard so many in our booth that it’s hard to keep track. I’ve included two of the most popular versions in this blog. The first is from the book Weird Texas and is the more prevalent of the two. The second is from the blog “Texas Cryptid Hunter” and is a version we’ve heard a few times from people excited by the shirt.
“Now, the way I heard it, back in the fifties, a young woman had been in a fire. (My wife says she heard the Donkey Lady had lost two children in that fire and that her husband had started it.) She was left horribly disfigured. It is said that when her face healed, the skin had something of a drooped, baggy appearance. Her fingers had all fused together, leaving dark stumps, or hooves. Disfigured and totally insane, she stayed mostly in the rural areas of Bexar County and terrorized anyone who approached her. As children, when we could stay out late on summer nights, we were absolutely positive that she waited in the darkness for us to separate so that she could pounce on a lone victim, ripping and chewing . . . well, you get the point.” —Weird Texas "The Legend of the Donkey Lady"
“. . . [S]ometime in the mid 1800’s, a settler woman lived near the banks of Elm Creek with her husband and two children. . . . One day, the son of a wealthy San Antonio merchant came riding onto or near their property. Somehow, the young man came into contact with a horse or mule belonging to the . . . family. The young man, the story goes, teased the animal and hit it with a stick. The poor animal retaliated in the only way it knew how and bit the merchant’s son. Enraged, the young man began to beat the animal even more severely than before. The poor creature’s cries reached the ears of the . . . couple and they quickly rushed to the scene. It became obvious to the couple that their animal, no doubt vital to their livelihood, was about to be beaten to death. The couple began throwing rocks at their animal’s assailant and pelted him several times. They did not realize this young man was the son of an important man in town. The young man hurled a string of expletives at the couple as he retreated but swore he would get even with them.
"That night, a party of men, led by the wealthy merchant and his son, stealthily approached the young family’s cabin and set fire to it with torches. The heavily armed men refused to allow anyone inside the cabin to leave. Desperate, the man of the house attempted to make a break for it in the hopes that his wife and children could escape while he distracted their attackers. Alas, he was gunned down almost immediately upon setting foot outside the cabin. The screams of the woman and her children as they burned alive were heard up and down the creek for over a mile.
"Just as the mob was sure that their unholy task was complete, a figure, engulfed in flames, smashed through what was left of one of the cabin windows and staggered toward the stunned and now terrified men. The woman’s hands seemed to have been burned down to mere nubs and her face appeared to have melted or sagged to the point that it was unnaturally long and deformed. The poor creature’s clothes were gone, burned away, revealing skin charred completely black . . . The . . . creature . . . let out a bone-chilling wail and then staggered past the men and hurled herself off the bank and into the waters of Elm Creek. The criminal mob followed . . . but saw no trace of her. Her body, it is said, was never found.” —Texas Cryptid Hunter: The Legend of the 'Donkey Lady' of San Antonio
There are other stories that combine different aspects of the two stories here and even some that add in pieces of La Llorona lore. My father, for example, used to tell me and my siblings that the Donkey Lady loved eating children and that he would drop us off at Donkey Lady Bridge if we didn’t behave.
The best stories, though, are the ones our customers tell us of actual people they know who have made the trip out to Donkey Lady Bridge at night and have come back with dented cars and terrifying accounts of hearing her screams and seeing a dark shadow run across the bridge or land on their car. There are too many to recount here, but if you’re curious enough to ask around, I’m sure you won’t have to ask too many people before you find someone who either has or knows someone with a first-hand account.
Whether you’re native to San Antonio or just visiting, take a trip out to Donkey Lady Bridge. It’s one of those spots, like the ghost tracks, that everyone should try and experience while they’re here in town. The parks department has recently cleaned up the area and now enforces a ban on the bridge after dark, but you can still go in the day and freak yourself out.
If you’re curious how big the Donkey Lady’s impact has been on Texas pop culture, check out the game Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games. She makes a special appearance. You can see a YouTube clip here.
Also, we’d love to hear your stories. Tell us your version of her story or leave your scariest Donkey Lady sighting in the comments below and we may include them in future postings.