Rotten Johnny Reb is a modern day undead creature thought to live in Avilla, Missouri (pop. 125.) Avilla is a tiny ghost town (pun) and it’s claim to fame is that it was the site of a number of civil war battles. More recently, it has used that fame to bring a bit of tourism to their small town. Rotten Johnny Reb is a revenant that is said to prowl the streets of Avilla at night. He is around all year, but is most prominently spotted during the area’s busy tourism season in the late summer and early fall.
Rotten Johnny Reb, civil war remnant
Before the Revenant of Avilla existed, Johnny Reb was the personification of the south during the civil war in much the same way that Uncle Sam is the personification of the United States now. He was supposed to represent the average soldier on the confederate side. His counterpart, Billy Yank, was the Union’s version of the every-man.
The Revenant of the Death Tree took on the name Rotten Johnny Reb as the only thing that was known about him was that he was a dead confederate soldier. The “Rotten” moniker isn’t social commentary, though. He picked that part up because his presence is supposed to bring with it the stench of rotting flesh. One of the only ways to properly sense his presence is by picking up the smell of death.
So he’s a stinky, dead confederate soldier.
Confederate soldier trapped by a tree
Rotten Johnny Reb is said to haunt the Avilla Death Tree. The tree is supposedly the “burial ground” of the confederate soldier who became Rotten Johnny Reb. His skull was hung from the tree, and his body was disposed of improperly. This is what caused him to become a revenant.
The story says that Rotten Johnny is unable to leave the tree because his skull still hangs from it. He’s walking around with his head stuck to a tree. And now to destroy him you have to find the tree and remove the skull from it before Rotten Johnny is able to kill you. Once you have the skull, you need to destroy it with fire, or give it a proper burial. Depending on how you feel about confederate soldiers, I guess.
This is something that Rotten Johnny is going to try to prevent, of course. Apparently everyone who has tried has died, or whatever.
Revenant or zombie or whatever
While some versions of his myth involve Rotten Johnny Reb being intangible and spectre-like, most stories indicate that Rotten Johnny is a corporeal undead being. A revenant, or a zombie, or whatever. Both versions share the characteristic “horrid stench” and “skull stuck in a tree” story. Either way, he’s a jerk and you need to find his tree to be able to lay him to rest.
The problem is, everyone who knows where the tree is has died. So the town is stuck with its “haunted ghost town” reputation for at least a little while longer. It’s probably super difficult for them to cope with the “we treat the confederate soldier as an evil creature” reputation.