I called informant RM on the phone to ask if they could remember and retell any of the campfire stories they used to tell. RM remembered this one in particular because they could almost guarantee to get a scare out of at least one of their listeners.
For context, this story was usually told to a group of younger (around 7-11 years old) kids at night time either around a campfire or right before bedtime. When RM would tell this story they were sure to speak slowly and softly creating sustained suspense while enticing listeners to lean in closer.
The story is as follows:
“There was a farmer that lived out in the sticks and his wife lost her arm while working. The family was very poor, but she always wanted a golden arm so one day they got her a golden arm. As time went on, she died and the family buried her. Her two sons were having money problems so they went and dug her up but the golden arm was not there – one of the other ones had stolen it earlier. She was laying there in the coffin and then she set up and said ‘Who’s got my golden arm? Who’s got my golden arm?'”
At this point, the story is over and RM (the storyteller) would abruptly jump up and grab the arm of one of the kids who was leaning in to listen and scream, “YOU GOT IT!” RM reccounts many times where both the grabbed and ungrabbed listeners would jump with fright at this moment.
As RM finished retelling this story to the best of their memory, they laughed as they thought back to all of the times they tricked listeners with the same story.
As a campfire story, the story of The Golden Arm would not appear to carry any kind of meaning or moral. Its primary function is to simply entertain and scare listeners making for a enjoyable and memorable experience. While on its surface, this story might not seem to have any other significance, I am inclined to think that the artful performance of this story actually speaks to the relationship that is shared between the teller and its listeners. Since this story requires patience from both the listener and the teller and (ideally) culminates in a jump scare, I believe that this story would only be shared with listeners who the teller feels comfortable scaring. If there were no relationship between these parties, the teller could end up scaring the listener for good and lose their trust. The Golden Arm only works when trust is shared between its teller and its listeners. If this assumption is true, then perhaps The Golden Arm and other similar campfire stories might actually reveal more about the listener/teller and the relationships between them than initially meets the eye.