Tag Archives: road sign

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. 

Road Sign Game

“So like if you’re driving in a car for like a long period of time, and you’re like with a friend or something, you’re not gonna do it by yourself, and you’re not the driver, you look out the window and you have to, in order of the alphabet, find a sign on the side of the road that starts with the, um, the first letter is in the alphabet, so like, say I was looking for an ‘A,’ if I found an Applebee’s I’d yell out ‘Applebee’s’ and then, like, the next sign you saw that started with a ‘B,’ like um, Ben and Jerry’s, or something, somebody would yell it out. So it wasn’t necessarily like a competitive game, it was just like the whole car was trying to get the alphabet, or the signs in order of the alphabet before they arrived at their destination. It was just a way to stay busy . . . It’s more challenging if it’s a shorter distance, obviously. But instead of sleeping in the car, that’s what we would do.”


The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked the informant where she learned this game, she said, “I think from like traveling to dance competitions a lot and, um, I mean I know we didn’t just make it up, but I think it kind of derived from the license plate game, where it’s like you look at a license place and you try to find the alphabet in each license plate almost. But we made it signs, probably a little easier.” She said it was her mother who would take her to dance competitions and would sometimes participate in the game.


When I asked her what she thought this meant, she said, “It was a good way to bond with my other teammates and my brothers and avoid fighting because it’s not competitive.”
This game was interesting because it was one that the informant assumed everyone knew about. It was so entrenched in her childhood experience that she could not imagine anyone else growing up and not playing it. While this game most likely did not originate with the informant’s family, it is probably prevalent in families and groups of people that spend a lot of time on the road. I agree with the informant that the primary purpose behind this game is to distract children (or anyone bored on a drive) and keep them from fighting with one another. It also helps them familiarize themselves with their surroundings, take an interest in the world for a specific purpose, and practice their reading skills. It is also interesting that this game is not competitive in the usual sense, i.e. the participants are not playing against each other. This helps teach the participants to complete a task quickly and work together.