USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘camping’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Bears and Menstruation

My mother grew up in rural California. She spent a lot of her time outside and hiking. When she was a Girl Scout, she heard that when you are on your period you should avoid going in the great outdoors.

JE:”I always heard growing up that it wasn’t safe to hike or go camping while you were on your period. Apparently bears and other predatory animals can smell it and are more likely to attack. When I was growing up, two women were killed by a bear and the rumor was that it was because one (or both) of the women were menstruating.”

Me: Who told you this?

JE: My Girl Scout Leader was the most distinct person I can remember. There were some men at my church who wouldn’t let their daughters (my friends) because they thought that women should not hike, camp or even venture into the back county during their periods because it will attract predators who will come and eat them. This cautionary advice goes for women around the world. ”

Analysis: I researched the validity of this superstition, and it holds little scientific evidence. The superstition has a strong hold on people because it’s a pretty visceral- blood, gruesome attacks, young girls, etc. To me, however, it seems like a fear of bears morphed into an unfounded belief. At one point, this was perhaps a good way to keep young girls from exerting themselves in the woods when their families believed women should be at home. The stereotype only reinforces the idea that women are not as suited to survival in the wilderness as men.

For the Yellowstone Bearman’s advice on this folk belief, see:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/menstruation_data.html

general
Protection

Upside-down Boots

My informant is one of my father’s friends, he is a long-time ranch owner in the high deserts of Arizona. I was with him on a trip home this spring at a baseball game and he was recounting a night he was camping out in the desert and forgot to turn his boots upside-down one night.

PL: “It was very early in the morning, a little past dawn and we were up and breaking camp, and making breakfast and feeding the horses and whatnot. I sit on my cot and pull my boots over to me, but I forgot to turn them upside-down the night before so I gave them a good shake out. The first one came out clean, so I put it on, but I go and shake out the next one and what do’ya know a dang-ass scorpion falls out! Big guy, scurried away before I could squish it. Dang critter slept in my boot all night.”

Me: “It this something you have always done?

PL: “For sure, it’s something I was taught at a very young age. Scorpions like to sleep in dark, warm places like the toe of a boot, so you keep them turned upside-down at night to prevent the things from getting too cozy in your boot when you’re sleeping out in the desert, and not just outside too, it’s good to do in cabins or in horse stalls or wherever there may be scorpions.”

Me: “Who taught you this?”

PL: “My father taught me this. He lived out here his whole life and had only been stung once. I’ve never been stung so you do it out of caution you know? Those things can hurt you, you grow up fearing them and getting stung in the foot would be the worse.”

Analysis:

This is traditional knowledge known amongst campers, ranchers or anyone who spends time in the desert. Since scorpions are rather regional, at least in the United States, to the southwest region and so this sort of knowledge is a part of the identity of those from the southwest. Only those who have lived with scorpions or encountered them would know to avoid them or have feared them since they were kids and have reason for such precautions. Additionally, the majority of people from the Southwest and Arizona have a deep appreciation for the desert and often undergo “desert safety” days in school, so they spend quite a bit of time in the desert whether hiking, camping or horseback riding. Therefore, this sort of traditional know-how would be passed down from parents to kids or teacher to students, etc. It is simply one of many tidbits of desert wisdom that is passed on, so as to avoid run-ins with scorpions which are hazardous and can be deadly.

Game
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sespe Ouija Ghost

TO is a student at the University of Southern California, and current president of SC Outfitters, the student-run outdoors club.

TO shared an Ouija board encounter with me that took place on her first retreat:

“We were backpacking for our first guide retreat in the Sespe Wilderness near Ojai, and someone decided to bring an Ouija board. My friend Mac told us that a long time ago, exactly where we were camping, there was a troop of Boy Scouts that got caught in a flash flood and all drowned, so we decided to try and summon them with the Ouija board. We tried to get in contact with them, and the board spelled out “J X I,” which we were convinced meant “Jimmy.” We asked Jimmy if we could talk to him about the afterlife, and he said “no.” We attributed this to him being a young boy who wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers, so we let him go…I slept with a knife under my pillow that night, I was so scared.”

I asked TO if she had been back to that campsite since, and if she remembered hearing or seeing anything unusual.

“I’ve never been back to that specific campsite, no. We’ve done guide retreats in Sespe since but we seem to purposely avoid that campsite…new guides who weren’t there that first year want to go back and try and talk to Jimmy again, but I’m going to say no. I don’t remember seeing anything, but I was so on edge I thought every noise that night was the ghost of a Boy Scout or something.”

My analysis:

Campfire ghost stories are even scarier when they take place where you’re campfire is located, but people seem to enjoy telling these kinds of legends while out in the wilderness. Ouija boards are a fun folk object, but also a terrifying one, used to start and further new or existing ghost stories. TO says whether or not her friend made up the story of Jimmy and the Boy Scouts is uncertain, but her reluctance to return to the campground indicates she at least somewhat believes him. It also turns into a fun story for her to pass down to new generations of guides/members of the club, and possibly something they can one day go back and test, to begin creating their own sort of folklore for the club.

Foodways

Jerky Tradition for the Trek to Camp Wolfeboro

Informant is a 21 year-old, caucasian male who used to be an Eagle Scout. He used to live in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles to attend school at the University of Southern California.

Tradition: Every summer, a Eagle Scout troupe goes to Camp Wolfeboro. On their drive to the camp, it’s a tradition to stop at a jerky shop and buy jerky for the weekend.

Informant: So my troupe every summer goes to camp Wolfeboro. And it’s like a four hour drive, and so halfway through, ah there’s this dinky little town where we go to this sketch stand, and it’s a jerky stand. And this dude has all kinds of jerky ranging from chicken to alligator and ostrich. And it’s the best jerky you will ever eat. So our troupe–all the little kids–will be chanting “The jerky man! We’re going to the jerky man!” And everybody gets jerky, and everybody loves it, and they eat it all weekend at camp. We’ll trade the jerky with each other too.

Collector: How long has the tradition been going on for? How did you learn the tradition?

Informant: It’s part of the tradition of the troupe, and it’s been happening ever since I got there. And I’ve been talking to the older people than me, and it’s been happening ever since they’ve been there. It’s at least 10 years old.

Collector: What does it mean to you?

Informant: It’s kind of like a signaling of the beginning of Camp Wolfeboro, which is a pretty awesome weekend. And it’s a great bonding experience.

I believe that the informant participates in this tradition because it’s something that brings the community together. Everyone might already be in Eagle Scouts, but having something in common with each other bonds everyone even closer. Everyone can bond through sharing food, and this activity marks the brotherhood between its members.

general
Legends

Judge Cropsey Legend

The Judge Cropsey Legend as told verbatim by informant:

“Judge Cropsey was a story we learned when we went away to boy scout camp. Well there’s a bunch of different versions but the most popular version was that Judge Cropsey was a scout leader and every year he went to boy scout camp with you know one of the troupes from his home town and uh of course he taught all his kids how to um you know whittle with a pocket knife and how to use a hand axe and how to use other tools and you always had a project like building a tripod or building a tower, but Judge Cropsey was a real fanatic about safety and um he would be very upset if you didn’t use the tools properly. So one summer there was this kid you know this kid would not uh repeatedly didn’t use the tool properly particularly the hand axe and uh as Judge Cropsey was watching him one day this kid um (pause) was using the hand axe incorrectly and he managed to chop, lose control of the thing and hit Judge Cropsey in the wrist and knock of his hand. Judge Cropsey just went bananas. He had a psychological breakdown, went running through the woods, bleeding everywhere and kinda disa disappeared and from then on every summer at that boy scout camp there were sightings of Judge Cropsey in the woods usually at night time usually running around with a hand axe and of course threatening you know that he was going to chop off someone’s hand.

It was a typical campfire story you know. It was a lot of fun. And the whole purpose of the story of course was to scare the new kids you know at camp um but it became really a legend. And like I say there were multiple variations on the story. and of course anytime there were noises at night someone would scream (suppressed yell) ‘Judge Cropsey! Judge Cropsey!’ (laughing) And everyone would you know duck under the covers and you know hope that he wouldn’t come to your tent. You know the youngest kid at camp was 11, so. But everyone at camp knew the story.

You know, I think probably I told it outside of boy scouts because uh I used to take my friends camping. You know, and I’m sure I not only told the story but I’m sure I embellished it. There’s there’s another version that actually wound up in the movies. Uh where uh Judge Cropsey or someone similar to him grabbed the handle of the car and got dragged as the car was puling away and of course when the people didn’t realize what was going on and when they um when they stopped the car and got out they saw the hand um you know there. And then of course there’s the version where uh Judge Cropsey, because he lost his hand, he got it replaced by a hook and every once in a while someone would hear a scratching on their car and they’d speed off and then, of course, one day someone would look at their handle or look at their rear fender and see a hook hanging off it and that was Judge Cropsey’s hook.

I lived in Long Island and every year we’d go up in the Catskills where the boy scout camp was. So, but I think the hook man, my guess is that the hook man was a variation of the original Judge Cropsey boy scout story.”

The legend of Judge Cropsey in the boy scout context is perfect, as the informant mentioned, in terms of the scary campfire story and especially messing with the younger boys at camp. The threat of Judge Cropsey lurking in the woods at night with his axe is not only classic, but it does teach the boys a lesson in listening to their camp leaders, being alert, and of course staying on their best behavior. Running off to the woods isn’t so appealing if Judge Cropsey’s running around trying to kill kids. The informant’s connection to the fairly popular contemporary legend of the hook-man is interesting too, because the “embellishment” of Judge Cropsey or the essential collaboration of the two legends makes for an almost oicotype super-legend. If donned with a hook, Judge Cropsey isn’t limited to the woods, but can strike anyone at anytime. It’s also interesting because the legend of a child-threatening figure named Cropsey has numerous variations in other parts of New York, one of which was formally investigated in the 2009 documentary film “Cropsey.” The film explores the legend’s manifestation in Staten Island, where Cropsey kidnaps children and takes them to the woods where they are lost forever, then exploring its power in relation to the conviction of a local man as a child kidnapper.

Cropsey. (2009) Dir. Joshua Zemen and Barabara Brancaccio. Netflix. Web.

Musical
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Folk Song – American

The informant learned the following folk song, called “Froggy Went a-Courtin,’” at “Rendezvous . . . a campout. [He] learned it at a campout from several other people who were singing it ’round a fire playing guitar and a banjo.” The lyrics are as follows:

Froggy went a-courtin’ and a-he did ride, mm-hmm, mm-hmm
Froggy went a-courtin’ and a-he did ride, mm-hmm, mm-hmm

Froggy went a courtin’ and a-he did ride,
Sword and a pistol by his side, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Froggy went down to Miss Mousie’s house, mm-hmm, mm-hmm
Froggy went down to Miss Mousie’s house, mm-hmm, mm-hmm
Froggy went down to Miss Mousie’s house,
Wanted to marry that cute little mouse, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Sat Miss Mousie down on his knee, mm-hmm, mm-hmm
Sat Miss Mousie down on his knee, uh-huh, uh-huh
Sat Miss Mousie down on his knee,
Said Miss Mousie, would you marry me, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Not without Uncle Rat’s consent, uh-huh, uh-huh
Not without Uncle Rat’s consent, uh-huh, uh-huh
Not without Uncle Rat’s consent,
She would not marry the President, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.

Here is a sound clip of the informant singing the song: Froggy Went a-Courtin’

The informant says that the only place he’s ever performed the song or heard it performed is at campouts. His opinion of the song is that “it’s a great little song. It’s great for a singalong; it’s very easy to pick up.”

The song is rather repetitive and, according to the informant, has many more verses, so it does seem like the type of song that anyone could pick up, sing until he or she got tired of it, and then make up his or her own verses. My guess would be that the lyrics are quite flexible. The song is listed in the songbook 500 Best-loved Song Lyrics with slighty different phrasing as an English folk song (103) and there is actually a musical of the same name by Stanley Werner based on the song. The song is also interesting as a tale; it appears to promote the traditional value of female obedience.

Sources:

Herder, Ronald. 500 Best-loved Song Lyrics. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1998.

Werner, Stanley. Froggie Went A’Courtin.’ Woodstock, Illinois: Dramatic Publishing, 1970.

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