Tag Archives: native americans

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. 

Text:

“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.”

Analysis   

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. 

Paiute Indian Cure for Warts

Background:

As the main text of this piece describes, my informant learned this cure from a friend whose Grandfather was a Paiute Indian. Although he lived in a rural area between Cloverdale and Boonville, California, the man probably brought his knowledge of the treatment from somewhere in the Great Basin area that the Paiutes inhabited before genocide was committed upon them by white settlers.

Context:

This remedy was introduced to my informant by a childhood friend of hers who, upon seeing the wart on her thumb, asked to show her how to treat it.

Main Piece:

“So I had a wart on my bone of my thumb knuckle, and it would go away– I would get like the wart remover at the store, and I’d put it on and it would go away but it would come back. And my friend G who’s grandfather was Paiute Indian had these fish bones that he had saved when he was alive for just this process. Um–He had stored this fish-bone-jar in his pantry and he was long past but the fish was caught at the creek on their property and I believe it was a steelhead. And–uhhh–she told me that her grandfather told her if you take these fish bones and you put them in your wart, going in one side and coming out the other side in as many different angles as you could, the wart would fall off and never return. And so I did that and it looked like I had a little porcupine on my thumb and I had to put a Bandaid over it so it didn’t catch on things, but it eventually fell off with the fishbone spikes and it never came back!”

Analysis:

Because this treatment worked for my informant, it’s a perfect example of the effectiveness of folk medicine. While many people of Western society disregard the potential benefits of folk medicine, much of it promises value. Even though modern medicine is thought to be much more precise and successful than its folk counterpart, many folk remedies have undergone hundreds or thousands of years of trial and error. This has allowed their tradition-bearers to understand which natural compounds are good for use in medicine along with their specific applications, and which are not. Illustrating the idea I’ve just presented is the fact that many cures which we consider to be modern medicine are compounds synthesized from plants that are commonly used in folk medicine.

Rain Song from Living Earth Camp

Abstract:

This piece is about a rain song that is sung at Living Earth Camp when it hasn’t rain in awhile. It stems from “native” songs, but there is no evidence.

Main Piece:

“L: I went to like a nature camp in the years I was in middle school over the summer. So it was like a sleepaway camp, but it only lasted a week. And it was weird because it was mostly white people, but they’d be like “oh this is the ancient song, this ancient rain song.” I don’t think they realized how problematic it was. We had this one time when it hadn’t been raining lately, like we we in a drought or something, so they took us down to the river and said “so we’re going to sing this rain song.” So you sing this when you are splashing the water around and it goes like “wishita-do-yah-do-yah-do-yah, wishita-do-yah-do-yah-do-yah. Washa-ta-day-ah-day-ah-day-ah.” And you do that over and over again. And it actually ended up raining the next day.

C: Wow, so it worked?

L: Yeah, so now I have all this white guilt singing it.

C: What is the camp’s name?

L: Living Earth Camp. And it was or felt very spiritual and connected to nature. But it was still like a $500 camp for a bunch of kids to cover themselves in mud.

C: Where was it?

L: Like an hour away from where I lived, so still in Virginia.”

Context:

The informant is a 19 year old girl from Charlottesville, VA. She attended this camp for 3 years in middle school and learned this song the first year she was at the camp when she was in 6th grade.

Analysis:

Rain songs that are based on “native” traditions never seem quite genuine, but the intention behind them is interesting. I thought it was curious that a rain song has to have roots in “native” folklore, and not from somewhere else. This reminds me of learning of tourist items that were labeled as “authentic” or “native.” I think a lot of people try to go back to the roots of Native culture because of it’s connection to the Earth and spirituality. Though there is more to Native culture than that, in today’s popular culture that is what is most projected. Since children are little, we learn that there are certain things to sing to cause things to happen. When we want the rain to come, we sing things like this – the rain song, to bring rain. When we want rain to go away, we sing “Rain, Rain, Go Away.” It is important to recognize when songs are a bit problematic like the informant did as well.

The Whole Image (Soul Stealing and Microphones)

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl. When I asked her about her superstitions and pulled out a microphone, she sealed her lips and wouldn’t explain until I’d turned it off. And first, I was a bit peeved, but by the end of her explanation, it made a lot more sense.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Okay so the reason I don’t speak into microphones, no actually don’t – no please don’t. I’ll hold it. I’ll explain it to you, it’s completely legitimate! Okay. So… I don’t believe in speaking into a microphone if there’s no image along with it because my personal spiritual beliefs have to do with the reflection and the way that a person is viewed by other people. Kind of like everyone has a projection, so if your projection doesn’t capture the whole picture it’s wrong. I’ll only be in a video if there’s sound and I’ll only speak directly if you can see me doing it. Think about the way people look at Instagram. If I show you Ben’s insta you only get 3% of his personality. As a means of calculating the projections I give off, I don’t get to know people that well, I’m really picky with people I get to know, and I’m picky with how I represent myself, so I’ve deleted my insta, and I don’t like posing for photos. I don’t like artificial projection, because it goes against my spiritual beliefs. Voice overs for movies are different. That’s acting out a character When representing yourself, I only like the whole image. I don’t take pictures.

 “Partly just growing up, a big part of misunderstanding and getting along with people is getting the whole picture. I grew up never getting the whole picture, I feel like it’s important to be as genuine as possible. If you’re allowing someone to see you and know you as a person, and you only give them a partial image, then, intrinsically, you’re setting yourself up to be stereotyped, and like, put into a box.

 “That’s why I hate telling people I’m vegan. It’s like, yeah, I’m fucking vegan, but I like chicken wings sometimes, you know? I hate being put into boxes because no one will ever kno- you don’t even know yourself. No one will ever know anyone. So why make it easier for people to assume that they can? I’m interested in things, but part of my spirituality is just lack of definition. I just think definition is so limiting… And I’ve also tripped on acid a lot, so I’ve felt more things than human existence. I also – I – Identity is complicated. I think people have crossover, but I don’t think – there’s absolutely no way that there’s a carbon copy of me somewhere else. There’s no way that anyone has a carbon copy. I don’t know. Now you get why I don’t like being recorded! I’ve had a lot of problems with this. In high school, I was – me and a couple of people were going to start a band, and then… we didn’t because I wouldn’t record. It was weird.

 “To go back to the question, I am like – I have depersonalization realization. It’s like a mental disorder. Everyone experiences it differently, but I have a separation between myself and what I make. My ankle for example – I just broke it, but I didn’t really process the pain immediately. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but I see a body that my soul is in. It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. I mean, nobody will ever know you. Your appearance has nothing to do with who you are. I don’t give a shit about my body. I don’t eat. I don’t feel hungry, or like feel anything. I only feel things in my brain. That’s why I live inside my brain. I mean I can feel you, but I’m not – it’s not like I don’t have nerves. I just live inside my brain.”

This superstition is fascinating to me, as it ties together a few more common superstitions and builds upon them while following a strange sort of dream-logic. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding soul theft and photography is famed Lakota tribal leader Crazy Horse never having his photograph taken. It’s quite common for many Native American and Australian Aborigines tribes to view photography as a fracturing and subsequent thievery of the soul, as the whole concept of photography is freezing a moment of time. However, my friend puts a whole new spin on this as she adds audio and video recordings to the mix. It’s fascinating to follow her complicated web of spirituality, and it really does make you think about how we define ourselves and those around us.

For more information on soul stealing and photography, check out: http://www.bigbanglife.org/?p=404

For a skeptical view of the same, check out: https://www.csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography