USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American folklore’
Tales /märchen

Blind Stallion

Text: So basically there was this cowboy, and when he was a little kid, he would go out onto the range with his father. And there was this wild herd of mustangs that was roaming at the time, and there was this one little foal. It was a black stallion foal, and he was like, “One day I’m going to get that horse, and I’m gonna ride that horse.” So he grows up and spends his adult life wandering the hills trying to find the same horse that he saw as child. He wants to capture it. So he finally finds the herd after like a year of wandering, and he starts following it around because he wants to figure out how to catch the stallion. He spent three days following the horse, and with each day, he figured out that the stallion what is the strongest horse, but it always stayed next to its mother. It stayed with the mother horse that the cowboy saw it with when he was little. So he’s like. “Okay, whatever, kind of weird.” But it keeps going. After the three days, he decides that the only way he’s going to catch this horse is if he shoots the mother horse. So that the stallion won’t follow her anymore. So he shoots the mother, which is obviously sad and awful, and horses start running away. But the black horse starts running in the opposite direction and acting wild and crazy and falls off of the edge of a cliff. And then that was when the cowboy realized that the horse was always blind, and that the only reason he was following the mother around is so he could get around. And when the cowboy shot the mother, the stallion couldn’t get around anymore, so he fell off a cliff.

Context: SH is a born and raised Texan studying psychology at USC. Her time in the south led her to be exposed to many different stories with western flairs while she was growing up. In regards to the tale above, she doesn’t remember who told her the story, but it has never left her mind due to the fact that, “It’s so fucking awful.” SH thinks its significance means, “To leave nature be because you don’t always know what is going on behind the scenes, and if you insert yourself into nature it might not go the way you wanted to because you just don’t know.” I was told this piece of folklore over lunch one afternoon.

Interpretation: Tales are recognized as fictional stories that are used as fun ways to entertain and teach lessons to one another. They can sometimes reflect values and teach important lessons on behavior and ethics, or they can simply be stories for stories sake. They are not supposed to be viewed as true and exist outside of the real world. They also like to use groups of threes in their plot structure, a definite tactic employed in the blind stallion. This tale seems to function completely as a way to teach lessons, for there is a lot to be learned from the horrible acts committed in the above story. I will note that the tale does remain entertaining despite the horrible ending, due solely to its shock value and ridiculous logic in how the main character goes about getting what it wants.

I think that SH was correct in that the blind stallion contains some commentary about nature and how people should leave it alone. I also think it has possible lessons rooted in the shying away from greed, impulsive action, and murder. This tale also contains the idea that SH brought up about things not always operating as they appear, and the ghastly consequences that can unfold when people convince themselves that they understand something that they really don’t.


Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tomb visiting day in Taiwan

Background information:

My friend introduced me to a practice that he and his relatives often perform surrounding the celebration of his ancestors. He is of Taiwanese descent, as he was born in San Francisco, California and both of his parents were born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family moved to California since before he was born and have assimilated into the American lifestyle but still stay very true to their Taiwanese roots and take great pride in their Taiwanese culture.


Main piece:

My friend said that throughout his childhood and growing up, he would always celebrate his ancestors with his relatives. He explained that there is a special day in Taiwan where family members all get together and visit the tombs or graves of their ancestors. When they visit their ancestors, they do everything from pray to bring a large amount of food for both them as well as their ancestors to enjoy. He explained this as not being an event of sadness, but rather a celebration where family members are able to reconnect and bond over their unity in their family and eat traditional Taiwanese foods. He said that his family members come from all over Taiwan and therefore all of his family members travel to the location where their ancestors are buried, when they are celebrating this day, showing the importance that people place on this event and how crucial it is that everyone attends.

When I asked if there was any dish in particular that was popular for this event, he responded that fruit is very common to bring, along with other desserts such as red bean desserts and rice cakes, emphasizing that sweets are often preferred in his experience.


Personal thoughts:

Upon hearing this tradition, I felt that this was a fantastic way to celebrate relatives that have passed away because everyone in the family is joining in on this event, unifying the family a great deal. In addition to the unifying and memorable factors of this celebration, I feel that the great amounts of food definitely make this event even more successful, as I have always experienced that having food at events usually makes them vastly more successful and memorable.

Folk Beliefs


The story of Pocahontas and the reason I know and was told the story is because…. supposedly I am related to her.  Her story is that when the Europeans, English people, came to Jamestown, long, long ago, it was a harsh, harsh climate and environment, and they did not know how to survive and she was the princess of the Powhatan Tribe, she was a young girl though, and her father was chief… of the Powhatan Tribe, and she was very curious about the settlement and, um, was kinda always, you know, peering in and looking around, and finally she got braver and braver, um, came into the village, the people invited her in, but really, these people– the settlers– had no idea how to live in this climate and when winter hit, it was super harsh.  And they didn’t know what the land had to offer, I don’t even think they knew what sweet potatos were, they’d probably never seen corn before– things like that.  But the Indian people knew how to live, uh, they’d been there for millenia, so they– winter was not an issue for them, but it was killing all the Jamestown people.  And so, um, Pocahontas, who’d kinda befriended them, I think she was kinda  a pet, and particularly to John Smith.  So anyway, Pocahontas teaches these people how to live, but her father did not like her running over to the white men’s camp, and she had particularly befriended John Smith, and he didn’t approve of that at all.  So, I guess, John Smith– you know they were exploring and took a group of people out to the wilderness to look around and the Indians captured them cause they didn’t like the white people.  And I’m telling this so badly haha cause now I’m realizing that, like, Chief Powhatan didn’t know that Pocahontas had been sneaking into their village and he didn’t know that she had befriended any of those people.  So, uh, all he knew was that the white people were bad and he was afraid of them and thought they were bad people and so when he captured John Smith and his crew, he was gonna kill him, they were gonna kill them all.  So, supposedly, he was gettin’ ready to cut off John Smith’s head and Pocahontas came up on the scene and rescued them.  Said “Ohh, you can’t!”  She threw her body in front of the hatchet or whatever, the axe, and said, “No, no, no, you can’t do this, you cannot do this!”  And she protected John Smith from her father and from the Indians.  And then… the Indians helped, because of Pocahontas, the Indians helped the white people survive there, for the winter.  And that was the way it was told to me by my parents, and they said we should be so proud cause we were related to her…. and that she did such a huge thing– the beginning of a civilization.”




I had obviously heard of Pocahontas before, but I had never heard just a detailed telling of the story like this one I received from my mother’s childhood friend, Mary.  It was very cool to learn that she was a descendant of Pocahontas.  I was a little skeptical of this at first– Mary is white–, but she had proof.  A couple years ago, her son’s biology class went on a field trip to a lab to code for a sequence of DNA that was found in all Asian people.  At the end of the day, her son– who is white– and two other Asian kids were the only people to have the sequence in their DNA.  Surprised, Mary’s son, asked how this could be possible.  He didn’t have any Asian heritage that he knew of.  One of the lab’s scientist asked if had any Native American blood in his family.  The scientist explained that Native Americans originally crossed a land bridge to North America from Asia.  Baffled, Mary’s son told the scientist that his mom had always claimed their family was descendants of the Powhatan tribe.  


Folk speech

“When you know a thing, allow that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, allow that you do not know it. This is knowledge.”


“So in other words, knowledge– know it alls are kind of… stupid and the fact that they think they know it all.  Really knowledgeable and smart people are those that are open– they open their mind to learning… all the time.  And so if you don’t know something then you say, “Oh, tell me about that!” you know?  You don’t just act like you know it already.”




This was told to me by my Dad’s friend, Evan.  He says his mother used to tell him little sayings like this all the time.  He says that this one stuck with him more because he’s found it to be the most applicable in the different stages of his life.  He explains that the jist of this saying is that you have to accept your lack of knowledge on a subject before you can really start learning about it.



The Blind Woman and Her Dog

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SC.



SC:  There was this blind woman, this is an old horror story that I betch everybody.. your teacher’s probably heard it.  Ok so, there was this woman, this blind woman, she was blind.  And she lived alone and she had a dog, a german shepard, and the dog protected her and kept her safe, but the police came by and said, “There’s a serial killer out and you need to lock your doors and be very careful tonight.  You’re sure you don’t want us to stay with you?”  And she said, “No, no I have my dog.  He’s big, he would scare off anybody.  She says, “Watch this.  Everytime I call the dog, he comes and licks my hand and I know I’m safe.”  So she calls Fido, the dog’s name, and the dog comes and licks her hand right in front of the police officer.  “I really feel safe with him, I think I’m gonna be fine.”  So she says goodnight and you know, throughout the night she calls Fido and he comes and licks her hand and she goes to sleep… and Fido licks her hand.  And all through the night, she wakes up and Fido licks her hand.  She calls for her dog and Fido licks her hand.  And then, so the next day, the police officer comes by to check on her and he knocks and knocks on the door, no answer, no answer.  What is it?  You know, no answer, and nobody’s seen her or anything.  They go into the house, they break in and the woman is….. completely  dead.  You know she’s all dead, like cut up, slashed.  And the dog is slashed too, like the dog is hanging.. um from a lightbulb thing, like from a string or something is the way I remember it was told to me.  And in blood written on the wall, it said, “People can lick too.”


JK: Oh my gosh.


SC: Isn’t that awful!?!?  I learned that one when I was young and the reason why it was so scary for us is that we had a blind school nearby.  It hit close to home.  My friend Mitzy Freemyer, we would always have slumber parties at her house and she lived like just a block from the blind school, so it just felt more real to us.





I heard this story from my Aunt Susan.  I liked how it’s dark and gruesome story, but it ends with a comedic twist– I was expecting something more clever, not something I would laugh at.  Similar to the Ant Face Girl story, this tale really freaked out my Aunt because she could relate to it: she grew up close to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.  It’s interesting to see how small kids can scare themselves by finding any little connection to a story they’ve heard.  


The Ant Face Girl

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials MB.



MB:  This one scared me, oh my gosh.  Part of what scared me is what my grandmother said after.  You can add that to the folklore I guess.  So Ann, it was so funny, said “I don’t know if I want to tell you his story because it’s so scary, it’s been bothering me”.  And I said “Cmon cmon just tell me.”  This is when we were kids keep in mind.  And she says “Ok fine.  It’s this story about girlfriend and boyfriend and the girlfriend goes to the beach and she falls asleep there.  And when she woke up there were ants all over her face, all over her face.  Like red ants, stingy red ants all over her face.  So her face ballooned up, she got them all off.  And her face ballooned up, I mean have you ever been stung by a red ant?


JK:  Yea I think I have.


MB:  They can sting you and she got stung all over the place.  So she goes to the hospital and they bandage up her face.


JK:  Did this take place anywhere specifically?


MB:  My sister told me Galveston, Texas, right on the water.  So they bandage up her face and they’re like, “Whatever you do, DON’T itch.  DO NOT ITCH YOUR FACE.”  But when you’re healing like that, oh my gosh, it’s just indescribable, just irresistible to itch.  I mean it’s just like ahhh, all you can do.  But they had her face bandaged up, they even tied her hands, they’re like “DON’T ITCH YOU FACE.”  They tied her hands.  And um, but she had a boyfriend and she begged her boyfriend, going nuts, just going nuts that she’s not able to get at her skin and it itched so badly, because it was healing we think right?  But she convinces her boyfriend to undo her bandages and undo her hands and she started itching her face….. and ants…. crawled out.  And they had made all these tunnels and everything in her face….. like an ant farm.  Isn’t that awful!?!?”


JK:  Wow yea, that is nasty.


MB: Ohhh yea, it always bothered me.  So Ann told me cause she was so disturbed by it and then once she told me she felt better about it, and I was so disturbed by it then– I was like carrying it.  So I told my grandmother– Granny, who i called Granny– and um, the funny thing, what does my Granny say but, “Well, I suppose that could happen.”  Haha.  Which totally freaked me out.  There were so many red ants in Arkansas and you would get stung and it would itch, it would really itch a lot.  It hurt.  And the recovery itched.  But the itching she was feeling was the ants crawling around in her skin.  My imagination would think there are all these channels and tunnels in her skin.”



This story comes from my mother’s childhood friend, Mary.  She was originally told it by her older sister.  It was crazy to hear her tell the story in person and watch her face contort when she talks about the ants crawling out of the girl’s face.  It’s been almost 50 years since she first heard this, and it still fully geeks her out.  This story has the one aspect found in any great horror story: it is believable.  What’s more, Mary could relate to it because she grew up around red ants.  The cherry on top is her grandmother telling her, “Well, I suppose that could happen.”– Just the worst thing to tell a scared little kid who is looking for some kind of comfort/adult wisdom.




Mothman is a large creature that’s a cross between a man and a giant moth, and he supposedly lives somewhere on the East Coast. He has glowing red eyes and likes to fly at people’s car windshields when they’re driving. People claim that he was the cause of a collapsed bridge. Some news reports attribute Mothman sightings to large flying birds, however.

Informant is not American but knows a lot about contemporary American culture. He frequents Reddit, a “social network” very concerned with current events and urban legends. Mothman is an interesting piece of folklore because many have claimed to have seen it, like sightings of UFOs or Nessie, and the legends surrounding this creature are abound.