Tag Archives: Native American?

The Lover’s Leap

Informant is from Modesto, California, up in the northern part of the state. This is an area that

“So there is a place off of the freeway right by my city called the Lover’s Leap, and it’s like a big cliff area that overlooks the area. According to legends, there was once a young man and a young woman who were part of different warring Native American tribes who fell in love with each other. However, their tribe elders would not let them be together, no matter how much they pleaded and begged, as the clans really hated each other. So, one day, the two lovers came together and decided to run off with each other, but they were discovered by their respective tribes, who went to go and tear them apart. As a result, they ran until they reached the edge of the cliff, and seeing that there would be no way for them to be together as long as their tribes fought, they both made the leap off of the cliff to their deaths, hence the name The Lover’s Leap. It’s a really sad story actually, and it reminds me a lot of Romeo and Juliet.”

Do a lot of people go there?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty cool place just to get a view of the surroundings, and a lot of younger people our age will go there to hang out and sometimes do illegal things though. I think its a neat part of the city’s history and its background.”


Collector’s Comments:

This story sounds almost exactly like Romeo and Juliet, although within a Native American context, which makes sense because California was inhabited by many different Native American tribes long before anyone else was here. This makes me wonder if the story itself had originated from the Native American peoples themselves, or if it was made up later by people who had known of Romeo and Juliet beforehand, and had adapted it to fit their own surroundings. Either way, it is a fascinating explanation for the name of a location.

White Mountain skinwalker

Informant discusses a personal experience she had in Arizona over a decade ago.

SP: I was maybe ten at this point– I think it was probably ten or eleven, and I remember the first thing that freaked me out was my dog growling like crazy at nothing we could see. We were driving from Santa Fe and we crossed the border into Arizona and there’s this mountain chain there called the White Mountains. Super pretty, green, all that. Anyway, we had our dog with us, he was a terrier so pretty small and generally pretty chill, but he started doing this low growl and staring out the window. Almost like he wanted to launch himself out at something.

TK: So what did you see? I remember you telling me about this a while back. An animal, right?

SP: I looked out and there was this tall figure that looked like a mountain lion– some kind of big cat like– umm…it was standing on its hind legs, like a bear might, not natural. Maybe like fifty feet off the road in the woods. Not a bear, for sure.

TK: Did you guys stop or do anything?

SP: I told my parents and they figured it was some kind of illusion. I was reading a book in the backseat like usual and I guess they thought it was my imagination. But I remember being freaked out and the dog wouldn’t stop growling until like five miles later.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a mid-twenties female who grew up traveling with her family frequently and was always interested in myths and legends at a young age, specifically in cryptids (unproven or mythical animals) due to a childhood fascination with shape-shifting animals. She has never seen anything like this since but has heard similar stories of large animals walking on their hind legs in mountainous or rural regions, often chasing or looking at cars.

ANALYSIS: There seems to be a cultural emphasis on shape-shifters that is especially prevalent around communities of Native American tribes, who call them skinwalkers and usually choose not to talk about them at all due to the belief that discussing a thing will give it power and/or summon it (also seen in the Christian idea of summoning demons and, pop-culturally, in the Harry Potter universe as a protective spell against Voldemort– “he who must not be named.”) The skinwalker is often described as an evil person who got too involved in black magic and lost his or her human form, becoming more of a spirit and sometimes known to shift shape (mostly into animal forms) and often chase cars. Skinwalkers usually are described as being larger than average size, if they do appear as an animal they have eerily human mannerisms such as walking on their hind legs, and those who encounter them often report a true feeling of dread. The informant does not know much about this tradition and cannot say for certain much more about the appearance of the creature.

Native Americans and Dreams

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mother tells me about dreams and how Native Americans use them as a way to comfort us in times of trouble or uncertainty.

Mom: Something about us Native Americans is that we really read into dreams.

Me: Yeah, we’ve talked about this.

Mom: Yeah. I think we see it as a connection to our ancestors. For example, … I guess I need to give them backstory on this.

Me: Go ahead. I got 40 pages to fill.

Mom: [laughs] Are you going to put that in your report?

Me: Hell yeah.

Mom: [laughs] Don’t embarrass the family, son.

Me: Go on with the backstory.

Mom: Okay. Well, me and Joey’s dad got married in 1982, and we started trying to have a kid a year or so later, but it just never happened. We kept trying and trying, and we started thinking that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to have kids. It was a really hard time for both me and your dad. I was even told that I only had a ten percent chance of having a child, and then, like a little miracle, I got pregnant with Alyssa [my sister]. I was so thrilled, but I started getting worried. I started having this fear that I was going to die in childbirth. It still happens, a lot of people think it doesn’t. I was really worried, and then about a week before Alyssa was born, I had a dream. I saw my Grandpa Eli, who was this very stoic Indian man. He barely said a word to me, or really anybody, but I loved him very much. And in my dream, I was walking through this… mist? It was cloudy, kind of, like Heaven, and my grandpa was there, and he looked at me and said “Everything will be alright,” and it was.

Me: I have those dreams about Pa sometimes.

Mom: I think we all do. We’re a very spiritual people. But, anyways, your sister was born maybe a week later and everything was fine. I remember when I was in labor I just kept saying “everything will be alright”.

Me: What do you think those dreams mean?

Mom: I think they mean that they’re watching over us. That they’re walking alongside us. It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?

Me: Yeah.

Dreams have always been something my mother and I have bonded over, and I was always able to tell that she really believed that she was connecting to those she loved most. I think my mom is right in thinking they mean something, even if they’re not entirely real. She hears what she wants from who she wants to hear it from, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I’ve still been trying to decide whether my dreams carry any weight, but I do know I’ve been affected by them. She doesn’t put all of her life’s biggest choices in waiting to see what her dreams say: to her, they’re just supplementary, and will happen when you need them to happen.

Indian Joe

My roommate grew up in Houston, and she told me a piece of folklore from her time at a Girl Scout camp in Texas. She participated in the production of the folklore while she was at camp, but it is not something she believes is true now.

“I went to this girl scout camp, Camp Agnes Arnold, which is a little bit outside of Houston, kind of in the Conroe area. But we had a marker that everyone assumed was a grave for Indian Joe. And you always had to give the grave a very wide berth on your way back to the cabins, because if you stepped on it, it was going to rain for the rest of the week and your entire week would be spoiled because you stepped on Indian Joe’s grave”

Q: Who told you about Indian Joe?

“I…think it was probably a camp counselor at first. Either that or one of the older girls, because I had been going to that camp since I was eight or something, so I don’t necessarily remember the original source. But I remember I would warn other girls to stay away from Indian Joe’s grave so that we would have nice weather”

Q: Did anyone know who Indian Joe was?

“I want to say… I don’t think it was anything more than the basics. He was an Indian who had settled in the area and it was his land and then he had eventually died and been buried in that area, and it was just one of those things, like, show respect for the Indian grave”

In areas where Native Americans once lived, the foklore seems to come from two things: fear and respect towards the Native Americans. In this example, stepping on the rock will result in something bad (the stereotypical “Indian curse”) but it also seems to stem from a desire to be respectful to the grave, perhaps to make up for the past.

Calusa Protective Spell-Tampa

This piece of folklore came from my co-worker, who grew up in Tampa, Florida. Although he did not know much about the history of the Calusa Indians, what he did know was the legend in Tampa that the Calusa Indians cast a spell to keep them safe. Since it seems to be working, many people still believe in the legend. The Calusa Indians lived in the area where my co-worker lived, so the people in his area knew a little more about them, whereas people in other parts of Tampa might not be as familiar with the legend.

“There’s this urban legend in Tampa, where I’m from, about the Calusa Indians who were destroyed by the Seminoles, and it’s a whole history that I don’t know much about. But, there’s a legend that this chief put a spell over the Tampa area protecting it from hurricanes. So, when Hurricane Andrew came through and destroyed all of Florida, it was weird that Tampa was mostly unaffected. In recent history, with Katrina, it was supposed to go directly at Tampa and then a day before it was supposed to make landfall it just veered off towards Louisiana. In the last 20 years all of the really strong hurricanes have been forecasted to go at least somewhat into Tampa and none of them have ever hit Tampa. It’s really weird. We also get the branches of the storms that aren’t bad, so a lot of people believe that the Calusa Indians are protecting.”

Q: Will people say specifically that it’s because of the Calusa Indians?

“I mean, my mom would always say it and there were other people who believed it too…at least a lot of the people I knew would be like ‘oh it’s that old Indian tribe’ or something along those lines”

Dream Catchers

“This is from second grade, and we were learning about native Americans in class and–actually it might have been earlier, but, uh, some early elementary school grade, my teachers told me that native Americans made dream catchers. And so we spent one art class making dream catchers, because they told us that if we made them and hung them by our beds we wouldn’t have nightmares anymore. And so I made one and hung it over my bed. It did not work.”

This is a native American tradition, often taught in schools as representative of their beliefs in some way. It’s supposed to be protective, saving the person who has one and hangs it over their bed from having bad dreams. It is also partially belief oriented–my informant did not believe in its abilities, and thus it did not work for him. The dreamcatcher’s main body is a circle, in which are threaded strings in a generally intricate pattern. This web presumably catches the nightmares, keeping them from reaching the person who sleeps beneath it. It is also often decorated, sometimes with feathers hanging down towards the sleeping person.

It occurs fairly frequently in popular culture when one is referencing native Americans. Its protective ability was actually demonstrated (with a few tweaks) in a skit from the television show Saturday Night Live, in episode 13 of season 25. It was used to protect the protagonist against a curse put on him by a homeless man, as long as he hung it above his bed. His protection ended when his wife accidentally knocked it down and broke it.

Cherokee Creation Myth

Adopted by parents of Native American descent, my informant has no Native American “blood” in him but still values the traditions and stories of his family. This is the creation myth his grandpa told him.

“So, basically, all the animals are living in this land in the sky, and it starts to get crowded. So the water beetle gets sent down to swim around in the water and try to find land. And it doesn’t find any at first, but then it swims deeper until it comes against something solid, which is mud. And it brings up to the surface and the mud spreads out, like all across the earth until a third of it is covered. Then there were four strings made to attach the land to the sky. After that, the great buzzard flew down to check if the land was dry. And when it got too close to the land, the flaps of its wings created mountains and valleys. That’s how the world was created.”

My informant, though he doesn’t believe the story, says it’s important to him because it links him to his parents and family, making him feel like he belongs with them because they wanted to share their culture with him, since he is adopted.

I think the story’s interesting because of the way animals existed before humans did. This gives animals a kind of mystical quality and exalts them to an extent. Native American culture does tend to give animals more respect than modern Western culture, so this makes sense. The story also shows how our world is supported by strings, which could be taken to mean existence is fragile.

Dream Catcher

My informant here brought up the notion of a “Dream Catcher”, and began to tell me about her dream catcher that she had growing up as a kid. She told me that the basis of her dream catcher was that it was a round piece of wood with leather bands webbed inside of it, with feathers coming out of the top and hanging from the bottom. She said that her parents had bought it for her at some point when she was in elementary school in Pennsylvania. She remembers her mom telling her that if she placed it on the outside doorknob of her room, it would catch all of the bad dreams and nightmares that she would have, and would only allow her to have good and sweet dreams.

My informant said that she believed in this notion completely, and left it on her door for years until she moved out of her house in high school. “I don’t think I would have been able to sleep without it” my informant said. She found solace in believing that it was there to protect her, even though she “knew it probably didn’t actually do anything real”.

My informant tells me that her parents told her that it was a longstanding Native American tradition to use dream catchers, and that it had protected them from nightmares for centuries. “It was just something I believed and didn’t think about too much”, she said, “after a while it completely just blended in with my door, it’s like it was supposed to be there”.

I believe that this piece of folklore may have truly been started by the Native Americans years ago, and transferred to many parts of our culture because it is a nice idea and a good way to find solace in your sleep. I feel that it has lived on through parents giving them to their children, perhaps because the parents truly believe in them, and perhaps because they feel that it is a good part of growing up. I would believe that it is mostly children that use dream catchers, but believe that many adults do as well, as a part of keeping a tradition that they have had since childhood.

A Burning Ring of Fire

In the mountains of North Carolina, there is still a presence and reverence for Native Americans.  Pieces of folklore are still retold today including the tale of fire.  My informant for this story was my friend’s mother who told it to us on the way to school one day.  The tale starts at the beginning of the world when the bear owned fire.  He used it to warm his people through the cold nights.  One day, bear set part of a forest on fire to roast some acorns for his people.  The fire soared for a while, but then began to die down and called out to Bear to feed it so it could go on burning.  Bear didn’t hear the fire’s cries, but someone else did and he fed it all kinds of sticks and wood.  Bear came back to get fire, but fire was mad that bear had left him to die and he was now owned by man.

My informant recalls hearing this story from her relatives as a child.  She thinks it may serve as a form of remembrance as to how we treat the Earth and how we came to “own” nature and everything it entails.  This Native American tale is certainly unique among the others I’ve heard as it doesn’t appeal to someone’s logic as much as other pieces of folklore.

Lost But Never Forgotten: The Ghost of St. Boniface Indian School

Lost but Never Forgotten: The Ghost of  St. Boniface Indian School

            You are going to laugh at me because this is super lame, but my dad made me go to it. It was junior year of high school and my dad’s friend who is a professor at University of San Diego for American Studies was hosting a retreat at the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. I have like 1/1,000,000 percent Native American from my dad’s side, but he said this was an enlightening experience to learn more about who I am…blah blah blah! He went to the casino that week when my sister and I were at the retreat, so I think that was his real reason. However, I never even knew there was a place called Banning. The retreat was a four-day trip, in which we visited the Malki Museum and then camped out at the St. Boniface Indian School. The first day we were at some harvest event with the Malki Museum [called Fall Gathering] and then the last night we camped out at the former grounds of St. Boniface Indian School.

            It was fun especially because I got to interact with a college professor as a junior and USD was a school I was looking into. However, my favorite part of the retreat was the last night when we were camping. After a couple days of stereotypical activities such as weaving baskets and watching a dance performance at the museum, it was a bit weird to go to a quiet, abandoned school. The professor was telling us that the school was a boarding school for Native Americans during the early 20th century when Americans were trying to civilize the indigenous Native Americans. I was taking AP US History that year, so I did learn some practices that were used against the Native Americans. We were gathered around a campfire before going to bed and one of the graduate students told everyone a ghost story that is linked to the St. Boniface Indian School.  The story begins…

            There was a boy from the neighboring Morongo reservation who was sent to the boarding school here at the age of 12 and had to leave his mother and aunt who were the only members of his family that he knew of. Coming from a traditional family, he did not know any English and did not wear any western clothing. The first few months he attended the school, he was abused and badgered by the Catholic missionaries and instructors. If he ever spoke his native tongue, he would have his mouth washed with soap and he had his hair cut off. If he was caught ever practicing anything related to his native culture, he was beaten and one of the punishments was to stay in a cubby with a dunce hat on at the back of a classroom. One day the instructor in charge of his punishment forgot to open the crack for oxygen and the boy died from suffocation. The supervision changed after this incident, but people say that if you are quiet enough… you can hear a young boy talking in a lost language, yelling to go home to his family.

            This was my favorite story that I collected because I am currently enrolled in a Latin American culture course and we just discussed Indian boarding schools and the period of Americanization. I asked Leanne, “How did this change your outlook on your heritage or this issue?” Leanne said, “I always considered my Native American roots to be such a small part of who I am and joked about how it was a way for me to get into college! But that ghost story is something that sticks with me even now.”  The context of the story was with a campfire on abandoned camp grounds near a school with roasted corn in the fire, which is the picture perfect Hollywood image that we all have seen or can concur an image of… but it does not make the story any less authentic.

The retreat Leanne attended was for educational purposes and the activities at the Malki Museum were culturally enriching, but this ghost story was the keystone of her experience. It functions not only as a story to conserve the history of a people who were for the most part eradicated, but as a link an individual can connect to with his or her past, present, and future. This simple story of a young anonymous boy’s death speaks so many words as it gives a face to the injustice that was forced upon a group of humans and America is still in a period of healing.  One of the things that I found the most interesting was how the voice of the young boy is still crying out in his native tongue (which is now lost as many aspects of indigenous cultures due to a massive history of cultural eradication) to be able to go home. It is oddly heartwarming, but gives me goosebumps

Malki Museum website: http://www.malkimuseum.org/index.html