Tag Archives: Native American folklore

The Lost Dutchman

‘ This story is a true folklore story, at least for Arizona, and like all folklore, at least I believe, it has molded and changed over generations. This is the permutation that I learned and now recall… which is certainly probably not even close to the original form of this tale. In Arizona, back in the mid-1800s, there was a miner, a gold miner. This takes place in an area called the Superstition Mountains, directly east of Phoenix. Beautiful red rocks with huge buttress cliffs. On the north side, there is a place called Weaver’s needle which is a huge spike of sandstone sticking out of the desert. When the Apache’s lived in this area, there was a Dutchman and his partner… he was German and not Dutch, but back then everyone referred to Germans as Dutchmen. The Dutchman was portrayed as being an old, grizzled man with a long beard and a mule or donkey with saddle bags and a pickaxe. They were out prospecting for gold, and the Apache were living in this area. The Dutchman and his partner had gone into this area that the Apache considered sacred… a sacred burial and hunting ground. No one was supposed to go in there, but the Dutchman and his partner did. They found gold and created a gold mine. At one point, he and his partner brought out a few of the gold nuggets to have them assayed and confirmed that it was real gold, not fool’s gold. It turned out to be 100% 24 carat gold… so they went back to the mine and began mining out all of the gold. They buried the treasure nearby and took as much as they could. The legend has it that the Apache found out about this and killed the Dutchman and his partner for invading their sacred lands. The Dutchman and his partner never told anyone where this mine was, and awhile later, the remains of the Dutchman was found, but never of his partner… The idea was where was the mine? So, legend has it that the mine was found within the shadows of weaver’s needle. We don’t know if its morning shadows, evening, afternoon… For many years, people would go searching for the gold mine and treasure, and often when the prospectors got close to finding this mine, they mysteriously disappeared. The Apache would tell no one what truly happened… that they know nothing about this… but hundreds of people went missing. The legend goes that the ghosts of the Dutchman and his partner would kill and hide the prospectors when they got close to the gold.’ – PB

When PB was growing up, him, his brother, and his dad would go hiking and camping all around the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. His dad would tell them stories about the lost Dutchman… PB recalls that he cannot remember if they were the stories his dad learned growing up, or perhaps they got mixed up with stories he had mixed ups from the tales told during campfire nights with the scouts. PB’s dad would tell him this story whenever they would go camping in the shadows of Weaver’s Needle, and of course PB would get up to go look around for the gold mine. He grew up learning about this legend, and everyone in his scout group did too. He would often tell and recount these tales on hikes and around the campfires with his friends while being at the Superstition mountains.

While I have been to the Superstition Mountains many time growing up, I had never heard this legend before, but I knew of many ghost stories surrounding the history of the Native American peoples who lived in this area of Arizona. This piece of folklore fits well into the oral tradition that much of folklore embodies. This tale has been passed down throughout diverse communities for over a century. It combines cultural beliefs and important historical characteristics allowing for the imagination of story tellers to further spread and most definitely adapt this tale, as PB recalled his version is most likely very different from the one he heard decades ago, and especially from the original narrative. This legend also uses the supernatural to provide moral understandings for the disappearances of many and the cultural significance of the land. This piece of folklore has been an integral part of the folklore surrounding this part of Arizona, and the seemingly well-named Superstition Mountains. It is a tale I will now pass through to my peers and family when going back to visit this beautiful desert.

Legend – Fog of Bellevue


J is a freshman at USC, and a good friend of mine. He is from Mercer Island, Washington, a town within the Seattle metropolitan area. The island lies between Seattle and Bellevue.


“So I lived on an island (Mercer island), and it was surrounded by this big lake, and past the lake, it’s surrounded on two sides – one side by Seattle and the other by Bellevue, and there used to be this legend that the Native American people that used to live on our island would see in the morning – there was a lot of fog, right – and so they couldn’t see through to bellevue on the other side. But in the afternoon, when the fog cleared, they could see the land on the other side. So it was said that they used to believe that the island would rise up out of the water during the day and sink under the water during the night. My grandpa lived right on the lake, and I used to visit him a lot, and so he would tell me that story a lot of times when I was a kid, and one time when I was working at Subway just before I moved here to Los Angeles, there was a guy that came in who said the same thing. As a kid, when I was at my grandparents’ house, I would not see the land in the morning and then see it in the afternoon, and I thought maybe that it was true. I think it’s kind of cool to think about – when you’re a kid, you don’t know that Bellevue – that a city is a city, like you see a city landscape, like “oh those are things,” but you don’t really think about there are people there, so when I was a kid I just thought it was a landmass, and it was a really cool idea that it would sink and rise and it was just part of nature, and I guess I still like to think of it that way, so it’s kind of nice to think of nature as something unaffected by other people.”


The ways urban legends tend to grow out of a mystical view of indigenous people almost seems like a way to detach oneself from superstition. Especially in more modern and developed areas, there is a strong societal detachment from what is considered spiritual or legendary. In this sense, while modern, non-indigenous people may still believe in this story or be able to perceive it, it is much easier to apply that culturally to an indigenous group much more associated with ideas of spiritualism and natural phenomena. Yet the story regarding those previous folk who believed this still persists, striking a narrative about previously held beliefs that then affect the perceptions by those who currently interpret it. In a sense, this is folklore about folklore.

Mvskoke Thunderbird

Context: Informant is a member of the Mvskoke tribe. Although informant does not live within an indigenous community, and is about half native, they connect with their native culture through their mother’s heritage and traditions.

Informant: “The Thunderbird was something that I just always knew while I was growing up? Like how you don’t necessarily remember your parents teaching you like colors or your name you just grew up and it was integrated into your life. Different tribes and nations have their own interpretations of the Thunderbird, but it’s pretty universally a symbol of protection, often against bad spirits. It’s also important to note that not every “Native” symbol, story, etc. applies to every Indigenous person and community, but the Thunderbird is one that a lot of us from various Native cultures were taught about/have connections to. The Thunderbird is essentially an absolutely giant bird most closely resembling an eagle. You’ll see it on jewelry or pendants, etc. as a symbol of strength or protection as well! My tribe doesn’t have a lot of specific ties to the Thunderbird beyond viewing it as a symbol of protection, but there are others that have deep history and beliefs around it, including things like where it lives, different forms it can take on, what it means to see it in visions or dreams, etc. but since my tribe is a little more distantly connected to it it’s not my place to try and give super specifics!”

Background Information: Informant has a lot of respect for their native culture, and was happy to teach me about it.

Thoughts: The Thunderbird is interesting since it appears in multiple Indigenous tribe cultures. It’s interesting to see how this folklore will liken some tribes to one another, while creating distinctions among others. As the informant states, it is very important to remember that each tribe is very distinct and to not view the individual tribes as an overall ‘indigenous population.’ However, with this in mind, it is interesting to see the shared lore of different tribes. Even informant, who did not grow up within an indigenous community, knew the Thunderbird the same way all children know colors. The Thunderbird seems to be a thing of power, respect, dignity, and a unifying front for a diverse population of native Northern Americans

Legend of the owl.

H is a Caucasian-Native-American male originally from Tucson, Arizona. H is currently a corporate manager based in Austin, Texas.

H performed this folklore while visiting LA on a business trip. I met H in Downtown LA for lunch in order to collect folklore he had previously agreed to perform for me. The following is the second of two stories he provided. H first heard the following story from his grandfather.

H: Another legend is of the owl. The Apaches have nothing to do with owls, they see them as the night creature and if you see an owl, you run, my Grandfather would stop if we saw an owl and the trip would be over. The big owl in the Apache stories was evil, he was a giant. Sometimes he was man-like. They were able to paralyze humans with their stare or they could cry and everyone who heard it it was like thunder, and it would cause you to stop, uh, some owls were seen as cannibals and they would eat children, and so you avoided them. The Apaches claimed that the big owl was the sun of the sun, and.. when he was slain, his body hit the earth and his feathers flew off in every direction and those feathers transformed the owl that now live in the forest. And if you saw an owl, you turned and went home.

Reflection: Owls in Apache culture appear to have the same negative connotations that crows have in European culture. As far as I know, crows are not perceived the same way in Apache culture, so I find it interesting that their culture happens to consider the owl, a different type of bird, an evil portent. Based on H’s detail that owls in Apache legend have the power to paralyze people with their cries, there appears to be a direct link between how unsettling or intimidating a bird sounds and how it is perceived across European and Native American cultures. The deep “hoots” of an owl are an evil omen just as the harsh “caws” of a crow are associated with death in European culture.

The Tale of Salmon Boy

Main Piece:

The way that I heard it— so I heard different versions of it over time, like all my teachers told me slightly different stories. Um one of the field trips we went on in elementary school was going to the salmon hatchery which is the place where you hatch salmon…as I’m sure you could tell by the name (laughing). So we heard the story there as well. But basically what I heard the story was that there was this young boy who was not very respectful to the salmon. He would like spear them and just for fun he would like… torture the fish basically and just treat them horribly and was not respectful of the all of the things that having salmon meant, for their family, for their society, for him and he just was not was not aware. If he was aware he didn’t care, he was just a really selfish dude. And the gods got angry at the way he was treating their gifts to their society basically, and to teach him a lesson they turned him into a salmon. And he was living with the salmon and living their way of life and, um, going through the process of, you know, laying eggs in the river and going to the ocean, and going back to the river and he befriended the salmon and gained a lot of respect for their way of life. 

And this is where things get a little fuzzy and in the details of the different versions I heard was— one version I heard was that once he gained respect for the salmon, he befriended this other salmon that had taken him in and was like, making sure he was protected because he had no idea what he was doing as a fish… like you would if you were a human and turned into a fish… But there was another boy in the tribe that Salmon Boy knew, and that boy killed the fish he had befriended and was treating the fish horribly. And Salmon Boy was horrified and lost somebody that was very important to him and it, um, changed him and changed the way that he viewed salmon and the world, and having learned his lesson, he was turned back into a human and he was changed forever, you know. He was far more respectful and very careful with the way he interacted with salmon, and he still ate them because it was food, but he did it in a much more respectful way as opposed to actively torturing. 

So that was one version, but I heard another one where instead of it being a friend of Salmon Boy’s that got hurt, it was he himself that got hurt, and so the friend he’d known from the tribe that still remained human speared him instead of the [fish] friend, and treated him horribly and then he, like, you know, turned back into a human. And the other dude was like “oh no!” This is not the proper terminology obviously but that was the gist of it, that then he was treated horribly and then he goes to the salmon and learned his lesson that way. 


My informant, one of my friends, is a 20-year-old USC student from Washington state. Having grown up there her whole life, a significant part of her education from K-12 focused on the history of Washington state with emphasis on the Native groups that live there. She told me that Washington State History was a mandatory graduation required course for her and her peers, where they would learn “a lot about all the elements of their culture, words specific to the Pacific Northwest, so obviously salmon was one of them.” As stated in the main piece, this story was often told to her by various teachers. To my informant, the meaning of the story of Salmon boy was about “being respectful of the environment and being respectful even when you are using it. There are spirits and animals and you have to treat them gently, and not be cruel, and not think that you’re better than anything around you.” 


This story came up after I asked my informant that in one of my previous classes, we studied the Native American groups in the Pacific Northwest, and I told her that I heard a story about Salmon Boy. I asked if she happened to know the story, when she said yes, I asked for the versions she’d heard.


 The story of Salmon Boy is a well known tale (told as a  among the people of the Pacific Northwest, whether they’re Native American or not. What I liked is that my informant was able to tell me two different versions of the story that she heard, showcasing Alan Dundes’ idea of multiplicity and variation within folklore that allows it to grow as it’s told over and over to different groups of people. With a story that has two very different endings, it’s interesting to consider the way that it was used and during what circumstances. For example, it could’ve been told to misbehaving children as a cautionary tale with a tragic ending, but simultaneously, the other version could have emphasized the themes of forgiveness and growth.

What I also found interesting about this piece is that it’s considered Native American folklore, yet it’s continuously taught in schools across the Pacific Northwest. As a whole, the United States doesn’t hold folklore on the same pedestal as it does anthropology in part because of the country’s colonialist roots, meaning that a good percentage of folklore within origins in the United States is that of Native Americans’. Additionally, this exchange serves as an example of active and passive bearers: I had only heard of the story of Salmon Boy in an academic setting, but couldn’t remember it enough to tell it on my own. My informant on the other hand, became the active bearer by being able to recite two versions of the story, having grown up hearing them so often in her youth.