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.