Context: H is a 23 year old American, born in California and lived there until moving to Denver Colorado for College. After spending nearly five years in Denver he moved to New Mexico where he currently lives and has lived for the past two years. This entry was collected over a Zoom call.
Intv: “So a few years ago you moved out to New Mexico, have you heard any folklore from out there?”
H: “Oh yeah, people talk about these things called skinwalkers out here. I’ve been here for two years, and my first job out here was cooking for a diner up in the woods, in the national forest here. Which there’s not a lot of in New Mexico, but there are some forests. So I cooked out there, and I’d often hear about this old folklore of these things called skinwalkers. I think it comes from some of the native communities out here, but I’d be lying if I said I knew that for sure. I’ve just heard it mostly in conversation out here, a lot of the people, especially people who live out in some of the towns near the woods, like Cedar Crest, Tijeras, Madrid, and Edgewood, just like very much believe in these things. They all have a handful of stories of times when they’ve seen these things… I haven’t seen one of these things, but the legend is they’re kinda like these possessed animals, or kinda like shapeless amorphous things, that cause bad luck. There’s definitely a negative connotation, but most of the stories I’ve heard are like ‘I saw a deer stand up on its hind legs and look right at me.’ When I was working at the diner, everyone out there, very much believed it, and I know one of my coworkers who lived out in Edgewood. If you drive 30 minutes towards me you’re in the middle of the city, 20 minutes the other way and it’s the middle of nowhere, that’s where they went. They saw what they thought was a deer, but weren’t sure because it didn’t look much like an animal they had seen just standing in the middle of the street. They drove around it and tried not to look at it, because you’re also not supposed to look right at them, which obviously adds to the, you know, purposely not looking at something that’s supposed to be really strange adds to it. It’s just a really common thing to hear about out here, especially out of the city which is most of New Mexico. Lots of wild stories, lots of wolves or deer standing on hind legs and doing things wolves don’t do, oftentimes they can speak too. I haven’t heard a lot of folklore in New Mexico, but stories of skinwalkers are everywhere.”
Analysis: While being a very spooky and interesting story, the theory that these “skinwalkers” are animals experiencing some sort of prion disease is quite high. Either way, if you were walking across the frontier in America in the 1800s and something with a prion disease is near you, coming up with a monster absolutely makes the most sense, as there wouldn’t have been any other possible way to explain what one saw. I believe that’s what we’re hearing about when it comes to skinwalkers but I couldn’t say for certain. To read more about Skinwalkers, see “Sacred Evil: The Dark Side of Life Along the San Juan.” McPherson, Robert S. “The Dark Side of Life Along the San Juan.” Dinéjí Na`Natin: Navajo Traditional Teachings and History, University Press of Colorado, 2012, pp. 72–99.