Tag Archives: native americans

Falling Rock

DC is a 53-year-old white woman who currently lives in Texas but was born in rural Montana. 

DC- You know when you’re driving down the road and you see the yellow caution signs that say ‘loose gravel’ or ‘falling rock’. When I was young, my parents used to tell us that Falling Rock was an angry Native American because we lived with a lot of Indigenous people. They would say that he would jump out and throw boulders at passing cars. I believe that I was in like late elementary school and I used to tell my friends about the legendary Falling Rock.

Me- Do you have any other details you can think about the story? Did your parents ever have a reason as to why he was angry and throwing rocks?

DC- He was angry because the land was taken. That’s all I can remember. My parents would tell us to be quiet and make us look for him when we saw signs. They always told us that as long as we don’t bother him he won’t bother us. His wife’s name was Loose Gravel. I think he also had kids named like boulders on the road or something.


The Falling Rock story has many different interesting aspects to examine. Firstly, this tale perpetrates many negative stereotypes towards Native Americans. While I don’t think it was DC’s parent’s goal to be hateful towards Indigenous people, equating important tribal names to the likes of signs found on the sides of roads is disrespectful and harmful, as well as spreading the idea that Native people are angry and violent.  DC and her family were not doing this on purpose, they considered themselves to be good allies and friends with many Indigenous people in their town. This goes to show that unconscious biases exist in everyone, and we need to make an active effort to be aware of the ways we may perpetuate harm without realizing it. An important part of being a good ally is being able to see where you have done wrong and improve from it. While DC heard this story as a young child and would tell others the tale then, as she has grown and become aware of the negative connotations of the story, she no longer spreads it, not even to her own children. 

While DC’s family may unconsciously have been spreading harmful stereotypes, this story also served to educate their children in some ways. Through the story, we can see that DC’s parents had at least a basic understanding of the ways that Native Americans had been unfairly treated, and were trying to teach their children. While it’s not as thorough as the education one may get in class, it still teaches the audience that Natives are valid in their anger because of the cruel way Americans have treated them in the past. They were taught to respect their anger and boundaries and understand their pain, at least slightly. While the story still holds many harmful beliefs, it is important to think through all the ways this story may have impacted its young, White audience. While it may have unfortunately further engrained a few stereotypes, it also helped them better understand the Native’s pain and history. 

Looking past the race dynamics, this story exemplifies many of the ways that similar stories begin and spread. It takes something as simple as a road sign to begin such an oral tradition. Every family has thought of ways to entertain, or quiet, their children on long car rides. Legends are much easier to create than one might imagine, they are being made all around you at every moment. 

White Sage Smudging – Shelby S

• (co-opted) Indigenous American practice

Whenever Shelby moves into a new place, permanently or just for a short period of time, as well as after an occurrence thats makes her feel her space has been “dirtied” with negative events or emotions, she “smudges” by burning white sage with the window(s) and door(s) open to “release” the negativity.

This is a ritual among Indigenous Americans on the West Coast, where Shelby grew up (she is Black), which is performed to remove harmful spirits, forces, and “energy” from a structure, place, or person. As she’s gotten older, learned about the endangerment of white sage due to the spirituality industry’s overharvesting, as well as the general problems with appropriating Native American religious traditions, Shelby put effort into developing a sustainable and thoughtful relationship with white sage smudging and other practices only known to her because of the Indian-mania of American culture during the mid-late 20th century in which she was raised. 

She also burns other leaves and barks, such as cedar, that are used for smudging in places like West Africa. She says various affirmations, sometimes out loud and sometimes in her head, that call in protective spirits and forces while expelling harmful ones. The change in smell alone makes the space/person/object feel anew, and bugs tend to not be fans of aromatic smoke, illuminating potential origins of the belief in the “cleansing” powers of white sage, and smudging in general. 

Water Babies of Pyramid Lake – Legend

Water Babies of Pyramid Lake


Long ago there was a Native American woman who had two children. She took her children down to the river to bathe them but they were dragged under the current. When she discovered her children’s death she took them to a burial sight to bury them. She cried so hard over her children’s grave that it filled with water and became pyramid lake. The woman then laid by the lake to watch her children where she turned to stone. To this day her babies can be heard in the lake and they drag unsuspecting victims down to drown them.


“I heard this story many times growing up as a kid and visiting the lake. Pyramid lake was on an Indian reservation so it always had some mysticism too it. I remember some of my uncles telling me the story while on a boat in the lake. After they told the story they threw me in to scare me. I guess I’m not much better than them now cause I use the story to scare my little cousins or brother whenever we visit.”


Pyramid Lake near Reno Nevada is often seen as a mysterious lake as it is a salt water lake with no outlets. The use of tears in the legend is used to describe why the lake is a salt water lake and its odd positioning without any outlets. The myth likely stems from the mysticism surrounding the Native American reservations that the lake lies on. Similar to the story of poltergeist and similar legends in which native Americans play a key role, the guilt of the actions taken by American settlers has led to stories of vengeful native spirits. Some state that the legend stems from the lake being used as a location where malformed native babies were drowned. All in all the legend of the pyramid lake water babies is another relic from the colonial Americans atrocities.

Moss Back.

L is a 78-year-old Caucasian male originally from Meridian, Mississippi. L is a retired drill sergeant and veteran of the American war in Vietnam.

While visiting Phoenix, Arizona I met with L to discuss folklore, as he had previously helped me collect war stories for an oral history project. I met L at his Phoenix office where he provided me with two scary stories he remembered from his past. The following is the second of these two stories, which he first heard as a boy in the late 1950s.

L: Moss Back, Um.. I think it was a Cherokee Indian… What happened? Trying to think, guess we’ll see, he gets his head cut off.. and uh, then he goes around looking for his head. You know laughs and you could hear him moaning at night when he’s coming through the brush and through the trees. So you didn’t want to go out at night and you didn’t want to hear “Moss Baaack.. Moss Baaack’s coming..” laughs Oh God, probably seven eight years old when I first heard it. It was really funny, uh, so at church we had a group called “RA’s” Royal Ambassadors. So we had a ball team we played softball and that kinda stuff so we had, I’ll never forget him. He was our assistant pastor to church and he did all the stuff with the boys. We had some friends that had a lake out in the country about ten miles outside of Meridian.. and so he fixed up a deal to throw us camping out there and fishing, an overnight stay at the lake. So, we fished that day and you know uh did some swimming and fishing and all kinda stuff. And then that evening, they built a big ol’ camp fire. And they started telling us ghost stories you know laughs and Moss Back was one of ‘em and all kinds, all kinds of stuff and here’s a bunch of boys from.. seven eight, to ten maybe twelve. Um, so we listened to all these stories.. and there was somebody I don’t remember who it was, but there was another man there helping the Pastor out. And they said ok said, uh, “you boys”, uh, you know “go on to bed and do whatever you’re going to do and we’re going to go on and fish for a while there’s good fishing out here at night.” So they got in this boat and paddled out into this lake. Well, they went to the other side and came around through the dark laughs and we’re all sitting around here heard all these ghost stories you know laughs and here they come you know they got right up close to us and they went “Moss Baaack’s a comin Moss Baaack’s a comin!” laughs imitates scream we jump up running in every direction laughs oh my God! laughs boy they got us good. They, they likely scared us out of a year’s growth you know.

Reflection: L provided a great example of a common way folk have historically interacted ostensively with scary stories, pranking. The ”insiders” with knowledge of a scary story tend to prank the ”outsiders” (those without knowledge of the scary story) as an act of initiation for transitioning from ”insiders” to ”outsiders” of the story. As L’s account demonstrates, this often takes the form of the ”insiders” pretending to be the monster featured in the scary story in order to frighten the ”outsiders.” Moss Back as a character appears to be based on racially problematic history, as beheading is a known method of execution that American settlers used to punish Native American populations.

The Story of Mount Timpanogos

Context: The ranch mentioned here is near where he vacations in Utah with his family. This story was initially told to him by the owner of the ranch, who he described as being like a second mom to him. The valley mentioned in the story is the Heber Valley in Utah. 


“So this story is about a Native American tribe, well actually two native American tribes, I wish I could remember the names of them. So, this story is regarding this mountain in the Heber Valley, which is called Mount Timpanogos. And, if you look up pictures of this mountain, it looks like a silhouette of this woman laying down on her back with her arms laying over her chest. Her head is on the left side and her feet are on the right. The story goes that she fell in love with this guy from a different tribe, from a different native american tribe. Her dad was the leader of the tribe she was a part of and her dad wanted her to marry someone from her tribe, to keep her tribe together or for whatever reason. And she was like no i really love this guy I really want to marry him. So, they came to the conclusion that they’d host a competition to see who can marry the leader’s daughter. The competition was whoever can get to the top of mount Tipanogos would win and get to marry her. So they started the competition and they were racing up and it turns out the guy from her own tribe and some of his friends cheated and threw the guy she really loved off the mountain. Little did they know, she was sitting right there watching it all happen. She watched the love of her life get thrown off this mountain. The story goes that she died of a broken heart on top of the mountain. There’s a series of caves in the mountain now, with a series of crystals in the center of the mountain resembling a heart, her heart. And in the winter, when the snow starts to melt, there’s a silhouette in the snow of her horse on the right side of the mountain.”


This piece of folklore is a good example of a local legend specific to this area. The reason this is a legend and not one of the other tale types is because it is possibly based in truth and reality and it takes place in the real world. Additionally it is aligned with the folklore based on geological anomalies such as this mountain that looks like a woman.