The tale of the Ghost Bull on Roan Mountain is relatively contemporary, believed to have been first published during the 1970s. For reference, here is the most common version:
Travelers often encounter the ghost bull atop the highest portion of Roan Mountain. The story goes back to the earliest times, when the mountain was used like any other.
When the area was first settled, the early farmers shared the land. Sparse settlement meant fewer arguments over land boundaries or property lines. Herds were typically small, so there was no shortage of grazing area. Those who lived around the mountain always drove their cattle to the higher elevations to graze during the warmer months. This never caused a problem, until the Baron came.
The Baron was wealthy and his herd was massive. Neighboring cattle owners feared his herd would overgraze the land and all the other cattle would starve. The Baron wouldn’t hear of it. Around this time, he acquired an aggressive bull. Several neighbors suspected he deliberately purchased the most aggressive bull available. The hostile animal killed every other bull in whichever herd it encountered.
The community resented the selfish Baron. Neighbors warned him to keep the animal in his own pastures. He needed to keep his cattle nearby because others were angry. No amount of caution would sway the Baron’s arrogance. Winter passed and the following spring his herd seemed to have doubled. He drove them, as he had before, to the top of Roan Mountain. Just as he approached the meadow at the top, a shot rang out.
Someone shot his prized bull through the head. The animal fell over and the Baron left the carcass there. He eventually left the area and went out west, but his bull never left the mountaintop. Its bell and bellowing are still heard today.
The origin of this story is unknown, but the Roan Mountain community did have an unusual regard for a cow in the 1890s. The family of Edgar Nye had a milk cow called “Leydie,” whom no one would kill. For some reason, the community regarded her as “kind-hearted” and “soulful.” Nye held onto her until well past her age for milking, and then sold her to the family butcher. He assumed the butcher would slaughter her one day and they would never know.
Oddly enough, the butcher couldn’t kill her, either. He turned her out to pasture on Roan Mountain and she eventually succumbed to a natural death. It is probable that any ghostly cow sounds were first associated with her death, and later became associated with the greedy cattle baron and his angry bull.