Tag Archives: rural legend

Arkansas Legend Quest


“There’s this light, it’s in this town like thirty minutes north of us, it’s in the middle of nowhere on a field. The story is that there was a conductor on a train and this railroad goes along the side of this road, and apparently a conductor fell off and his head got cut off and he looks for his head every night, and that’s why you see a light on the railroad. If you drive out there you’ll see a light floating above the road, and apparently if it touches your car then your car will turn off. So all of our parents have stories about it, like how they’ve gone and seen the light. I don’t know if they’re actually true. But my friends went one time, I didn’t go cause it was during Covid, but they went and I was on facetime with them when it happened. And my friend N, they were on the road and she just started crying like sobbing, and she like never cries. Cause she swore that she saw it, and then they all started screaming because apparently it was coming towards the car, and that’s when they pulled out and left. I’ve been before and nothing happened.” 


GR is a 19-year-old college student from a small town in northern Arkansas. He was in high school when this story was told, and he’d been hearing the stories about the railroad since he was a little kid. His parents and adults in his town would tell him their experiences of seeing the light, and he doesn’t know if they were making it up to scare him or not. Research shows that this legend is a popular one that can be found online, called the Gurdon Lights in Gurdon Arkansas. He says that his town and a lot of northern Akansas have a lot of hauntings and ghost stories, supposedly because the granite rocks in the ground are a conductor for spirits according to legend. 


This story is an example of legend questing, where a group of people go out to look for a legend and try to insert themselves into it. It’s also an example of a memorate, where someone’s existing experience fits into the pre established legend. Legend questing is especially popular amongst young people. There might be a multitude of reasons for that. Young people are still figuring themselves out, figuring out what the story of their life is going to be, so it can be compelling to insert themselves into a legendary story that already exists. Since they’re young, they’re supposedly further away from death, so seeking out ghosts and graphic stories about death can both be them putting to use the immortality they feel they have, and also interacting with the concept of death that is both scary and unfamiliar. In certain cultures and in older people, ghost stories are often comforting and warm, such as a visit from a family member. The ghost stories young people tell though, at least in America, are often graphic and tragic and scary, because that’s how they view death to be. They’re both interested in this concept that is so far away, and terrified of this concept that is actually so near, and this fear and interest manifests into young people seeking out ghosts. I also believe that young people seek out legend quests more often because children are raised on fairy tales and magical figures like the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa. They are raised being told that magic is, in some ways, real. As teenagers and young adults they’re expected to separate themselves from the childish idea that magic is real, but there’s a small part of everyone that still wishes that the mystical might be real. 

I also think that Arkansas might be a large hub for supernatural stories because it’s still quite a rural area, there aren’t as many large and prominent cities as there are in other states. While Christianity began spreading around cities, rural areas continued worshiping their own pagan gods. Christianity then decided to paint rural areas as places where the Devil lives, and declare the people who live there as Devil worshipers. This idea has made us see nature and the wild as areas prone to the influence of the devil, so these wide spans of nature secluded from everyone else are seen to be areas more likely to have hauntings and ghosts. Rural town populations in Arkansas have a largely Christian population now, so they might be more inclined to look at the isolated, wild areas near them (such as abandoned train tracks) as scary places of the Devil.

Ghosts and Paralysis


The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She recounts some of her grandmother’s traditions to cure paralysis. 


J: “So I got it from my grandma. So it talks about when people are suddenly paralyzed, they have to lie on their back and sometimes they blame it on a ghost. So, they actually say the ghost is dirty and you accidentally bumped into them when you were walking on the street because you can’t see them since they are a ghost but they want to get out – but they can’t. So you have to find someone who is specialized in the ghost theory and they will do some…they’re not like a magician…but they will do some sort of ritual/ceremony in order to get the demon outside of your body.”

A: “Kind of like a witch doctor?”

J: “Yeah like they will do different things like burn paper in order to cure and get out the demon from your body and then you can start to walk. I don’t know if it’s real, but what my grandma said is that it actually happened to one of her sisters and the witch doctor actually worked! I don’t know if she exaggerated some part of it.”

A: “Do you think that’s played into some of your grandma’s beliefs and what they have passed down to you?”

J: “I definitely think that it influenced her generation, but I don’t think it technically was passed down to my mom or me, but it’s still out there but we don’t actually believe it.”

A: “Do you think if you were to be paralyzed that your grandma would want you to have this treatment?”

J: “I don’t think so. What they say about ghosts is that there are less ghosts in the Western country like Europe and America they have less. Whereas in the eastern country, like China and things like that, we have more. Especially the rural parts like where the places aren’t civilized. Where it’s civilized with high rises, ghosts are scared of this because it’s crowded so they tend to move to the countryside and that’s where they are more active.”

A: “Is your grandma from a rural town?

J: “She was born in a rural town then moved to the big city when she was 16”


It is very intriguing regarding the informant’s grandmother and her beliefs that ghosts are stuck to people that then cause them to be paralyzed. This could relate to ancient Chinese medicinal cures as well for ailments and how she believes one has to perform rituals to rid one of the “ghost” of paralysis. This can also be seen as moe plausible due to the “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) phenomenon in which the informant’s grandma’s sister was cured from this ritual. An interesting note is one of her last sentences where she describes how ghosts are most active in the countryside since they are scared of cities. This could be due to the fact that usually rural towns are smaller and closer knit communities where stories are passed down more often and this plays into people’s beliefs. They also may not have knowledge on new medicinal technology. Whereas in the city, it can be a whole melting pot of many people from many places and this can cause some stories to be lost, and medicinal discoveries can be more easily known among an urban population.


En el Cerro


Material (In Spanish)

Bueno esta es una historia de una pareja que eran muy pobres y vivían en un en un digamos en un cerro solo ahí tenían su casa un iglito y entonces el señor dijo esa ves sabes esposa mía me voy me voy a ir a los estados unidos a trabajar y tú te estás aquí pues si se fue, se fue el señor. Entonces ella vivía sola con su niño y ya con sus llaves se enseraba en la noche y ya pues un día entonces su su señor no le fue tan-le fue bien y le mando su dinerito y lo fue a sacar al correo y entonces alguien la vio que andaba sacando dinero del correo y como estaba sola en la aldea en el cerro donde vivía, en la noche fue alguien y quiso escarbar, tumbar la casa era de adobe y la quiso tumbar para entrar a serle daño a ella y quitarle su dinero…y entonces ella….ella pensó como le hago entonces se acordó que tenía una hacha con que cortaba leña pa su lumbre y dice me voy prevenir cuando cuando este señor entre o la persona que sea entre quiera entrar va entrar de cabeza y yo le voy a dar un hachazo entonces le escarbo le escarbo y estuvo lista y entonces ya cuando cuando quiso ya entrar el señor ella agarro el hacha y le dio el hachazo  entonces ella ahí lo dejo entonces ella se fue a la cuidad a reportar a la a la autoridades que le dijo hice hice mate a este cristiano en defensa propia ahí estaba en mi case de mi casa y vengo y entonces a la señora no la detuvieron ni nada lo que si la sacaron de ahí de ese lugar y la llevaron a y le llevaron y le compraron una casa y la sacaron de ahí porque ahí estaba en peligro… y al señor se le lo llevaron pues si a sepultar pero a ella no le echaron causa porque ella estaba en defensa propia en su casa y así termino la historia.        


Well this is a story about a couple that were very poor and they lived in well let’s say in the woods where they only had their house and then the husband told his wife one time I am going to the United States to work and you will stay here and so he left, the husband left. Then she lived on her own with her son and with her keys that she locked herself inside the house at night; and then one day it went well for her husband and sent her some money so she went to the post office to pick it up and then someone saw her taking out the money and because she was alone in the woods where she lived someone went at night and wanted to dig their way into the brick house and wanted to take down the house so they could harm her and take her money…and then she…she thought what do I do, until she remembered that she had an axe that was used to cut wood for her fire and then she thought how am I going to protect myself when the, when the guy or whoever it is gets in, that person would want to enter head first and then  I will cut his head off so he dug and dug and she was ready and then when when he wanted to enter she grabbed her axe and cut his head off then she left him there and went to the city to report to the authorities that she had killed a Christian man in self-defense and that he was at her house, they did not withhold her instead they took her out of there and bought her a new house because she was in danger….and to the man they took him to bury him but she was not at fault because she was acting out of self-defense and that is where the story ends.


This story/legend is usually told by the elders to the young adults.

Informant Analysis

The informant was told this story when she was 17 years old by several older people. According to my informant this tale was told to people as they were growing up as a way to tell them of the rights they had. She views this as a caution tale for what might happen and what should be done if an occurrence like this does happen.

My informant grew up in Mexico and lived in the ranch for a while with her husband and her kids. She immigrated to the United States with her husband in the year 1973. She is now a widow who lives with one daughter and son and his family. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She is a natural performer.

Analysis from Collector

I think this is an interesting legend because I have never heard one like this, that deals with the rights people have. My informant told me that I am the first person she has told the story to since she heard it. I assume this is because in the 1950s in Mexico, many people were not aware of the legal rights they had especially in the rural areas in which information was a lot harder to come by. They would tell this story as a means to communicate the legal rights they had. Being in the United States and in this time and age most, if not all, people know about their rights so I believe she did not bother to tell others this legend because they already know about their legal rights. It is fascinating to think that information was spread through stories and legends told by the people. It is also interesting to see that even if the legend has been retold many times, the main principle of the story is still fully understood.