The Green Hand: A Family’s Traditional Ghost Story

The informant heard this ghost story from his grandfather. The narrative is told each time the family visits their grandparents on a ranch in Wyoming during campfire night. It is a story that caused sleepless night for the young grandchildren, but as they grew up they came to appreciate the humor and entertainment value of the story as well, such as the chosen name of “Beaver Dick” and the occasional history lesson the ever-changing story included. Now, the story is told to entertain family events and to reminisce on family get-togethers and childhood memories. The story generally brings about positive nostalgic feelings and familial memories.

Here is the story as told: “There was two beaver hunters named Beaver Dick and Buffalo Bill. They used to go out all the time together to go hunt beavers to sell their skins and they did it all the time until one night they are camping out and they had a little too much to drink and they got in a big fight and during that big fight Beaver Dick decided to pull out his giant machete that he uses to kill the beavers and he grabs Buffalo Bill by the arm and chops his arms off but not Buffalo Bill is super mad at him so he tries to kill him but in the process, Beaver Dick kills Buffalo Bill. But now Beaver Dick doesn’t know what to do with Buffalo Bill, so he throws his body into the river – yes that river right next to the house – but he forgets to throw his hand in the river too. That night, he sleeps, and the next morning he packs out and takes all their skins and goes to another place to hunt more beavers. He has a pretty good day that day and catches a lot of beavers. He decides to camp out by that lake, and has a good dinner and a nice fire and goes to bed. But then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, he wakes up and hears scratching on his tent door (makes scratching noises by dragging nails on the chair he sits on). He thinks it might just be an animal, like a small squirrel or something, so he goes back in his tent and goes back to bed. But he hears it again (makes scratching noises again) and decides to go out and check out whatever it is. So he goes out and lights a gas lamp or oil lamp and shines it around, but doesn’t see anything. He goes back to the tent and tries to go to bed, but he hears something in his tent. He thinks it’s a squirrel or something that got in his tent, so he turns over to try to catch it and throw it out of his tent. But there he sees a green, rotten hand! The Green Hand jumps on top of him! Ahhh! The hand strangles him! (Makes strangled screaming noises) and strangles him and strangles him and strangles him until he dies!”

Campfire stories are told to cultivate community through group entertainment, which happens in this family context as well. The grandchild says that he and his family now reminisce on these story-time fires as good memories, which demonstrates that the community was strengthened through the telling of this story. Why it was a ghost story and not some other story is likely due to entertainment value for the adults of telling scary stories and seeing the kids believe their fearsome legends. Fear brings people closer together as well, so that is a reason to (slightly) scare the children perhaps. This culture clearly values family bonding as they get together to tell stories around a fire each year, which is more often than most American extended families see each other. The culture also clearly finds a sort of fantasy and entertainment in the stories of the American Frontier as that is where the story is based: old beaver trappers in the newfound West.