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Past & Present: Theorosa’s Bridge

Beth Golay / KMUW

This time of year brings out tales of haunted places. One such place is Theorosa’s Bridge, situated north of Valley Center where 109th Street crosses Jester Creek. Local legend says that the ghost of a woman haunts it, distraught over the loss of her baby who was drowned in the creek. Uttering the phrase “Theorosa, I have your baby” results in the irate spectre going after the speaker.

The background story is less certain. One version says that Theorosa lived in the 1800s and was either a settler or Native American. Some say she killed her baby. Other stories say that her baby was murdered.  Some versions even say that Theorosa was actually the baby. Local papers and the census make no mention of a Theorosa, either as a mother or as a child, in Kansas during the 1800s.

A possible lead, for me, comes from the stories I heard growing up in New Mexico. A well-known legend in the Hispanic community is that of La Llorona. Like Theorosa, La Llorona is the ghost of a woman who haunts waterways searching for a lost child. Therefore, it is possible that the legend, or at least aspects of it, connect to Mexican Americans who arrived in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. At this point, it is only a hypothesis that needs more testing, but one that raises the possibility that a local legend may point more to 20th century migrations than 1800s pioneers.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.