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Folklore/Tall Tales

The rock-rolling whitefish is a little-known species of fish, whose existence has only ever been reported (as far as I know) in the June 1932 issue of Montana Wild Life magazine. Discovery of this creature was credited to Jack Boehme, a manufacturer of fish tackle.

Here's the information that Montana Wild Life offered about this unusual creature:
It seems that this rock-rolling Montana whitefish extolled by Jack Boehme, and organized by a taxidermist of no mean versatility, is endowed with horns. Boehme declares, to all visiting dudes, that the specimen on display was caught in Boulder creek. Of course Montana has some dozen of these Boulder creeks, hence the exact location of the catch is still a mystery. He further explains that the specimen, pictured in this edition of MONTANA WILD LIFE, obtains its food by rolling over stones by using the horns that grow from the stomach. He enlightens the seeker for knowledge with these remarks:

"At night this strange Montana fish manages to sleep by driving its horns into a log in the stream and remains there until the first ray of sunlight strikes it in the morning. The horns are caused to relax by the sunlight and thus it is freed from the log. It is one of the most difficult of Montana fish to land because of the horns. When hooked, it usually dives into a log jam and it is almost impossible to extricate it. The horns on its back and belly are firmly affixed to logs when it is hooked and the leader is usually broken. This fish was landed by removing the log to which the fish had fastened itself."

That's Jack Boehme's story and he's sticking to it just like the rock-rolling whitefish sticks to the log. Believe it or not.
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 15, 2014
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The Travel Channel show "Mysteries at the Museum" recently filmed an episode at the Salida Museum in Colorado, where they dug into the history of the fur-bearing trout.

Back in the late 1930s, a Salida resident, Wilbur Foshay (who was a bit of a con artist, as well as being a member of the Salida Chamber of Commerce), brought a lot of media attention to the town by claiming that fur-bearing trout could be found in the nearby Arkansas River. But he complained that the fur-bearing trout could never be caught because fishing wasn't allowed in Colorado rivers during January, when the fish was most active. So he was urging the Colorado Game and Fish Association to allow a special exception to allow fur-bearing trout fishing in January.

Los Angeles Times - Jan 10, 1939

The Pueblo Chieftain has some more details:

Foshay's story came complete with lots of details like the best bait to catch the fur-bearing trout was the "snow worm." He said those who tried to catch the fish had to have a special winter license specifically for fur-bearing trout.

The craze didn't stop with Foshay. One local musician, Ray Rainey, wrote a song about "Patricia" the fur-bearing trout.

Foshay had a taxidermist create two fur-bearing trout. One of them remains on display at the Salida Museum. The other is owned by the Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery.

The Pueblo Chieftain article includes a nice picture of Bob Campbell of the Salida Museum posing with their fur-bearing trout. And there's another picture of Campbell (with trout) posted at The Mountain Mail website.

But I should correct one detail in the Pueblo Chieftain article. It states that the fur-bearing trout was "a promotional story created by Wilbur Foshay." But Foshay didn't create the story. Tales of fur-bearing trout were circulating long before the 1930s. Foshay simply took advantage of the legend of the fish to help promote Salida.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 14, 2014
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The above photo has recently been circulating on social media purporting to show a "snow snake". A caption provides this warning:
This is the deadly snow snake. It has bitten 3 people in the state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. It’s been spotted in other states. It comes out in the cold weather and at this time there is no cure for it's bite. One bite and your blood starts to freeze. Scientist are trying to find a cure. Your body temperature start to fall once bitten. Please stay clear if you have see it. Please forward this and try to save as many people as we can from this deadly snow snake.

The usual skeptics are saying that the creature in the photo is really just a rubber snake, and that there is no such thing as a snow snake. Perhaps.

Or perhaps we can turn to more authoritative sources of information, such as Henry H. Tryon, author of Fearsome Critters (The Idlewild Press, 1939), who offers the following information about the Snow Snake.

Aestatesomnus hiemepericulosus

During the year of the Two Winters, when the July temperature dropped to -62°, these pink-eyed, white-bodied, savage serpents crossed over from Siberia via Bering Strait. They are bad actors; the venom is deadly, with a speed of action second only to that of the Hoop Snake or the Hamadryad.

Hibernating in summer but becoming active in winter, the Snow Snake coils on a low drift where its pure white color makes it wholly invisible to its prey. One strike is sufficient. Mankind is not often bitten as he makes too big a mouthful. But sometimes a Snake will get over-ambitious. When this does happen, tanglefoot oil is the only known remedy.

"I was treed by a Snow Snake" is still a much-used explanation of a late home-coming.

From newspapers, we also learn that the snow snake has long been considered to be the bane of skiers. As reported in the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980:
Although zoologists disagree on the exact origin of the snow snake, knowledge of his habits is invaluable to every level of skier. These albino serpents tend to breed and overrun beginners' hills, abrupt drop-offs and large moguls...

He is a skier's scapegoat for stumbling, falling down and looking stupid on the slopes. Skiers can — and often do — blame his attempts to attach himself to a ski or pole for what might, otherwise, be mistaken for the skier's own clumsiness.

Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980

Because of their remarkable camouflage, snow snakes have rarely been captured, or even photographed. But in the Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965 - we find some information about how one might try to capture a snow snake:
About the only way to capture these elusive creatures is to trick them into making themselves known. One method is to buy some black cough drops and lay them on the snow in a likely place. Then, when the snow snake takes the cough drop, it disappears. All you have to do is grab where the cough drop was but isn't and you have a snow snake. That is, you have one if you are quick enough at grabbing where the cough drop isn't.

Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2014
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In Japan, it's a Valentine's Day tradition for women to give handmade chocolates (Honmei choco) to men they have romantic feelings for.

This year there's a rumor circulating on Twitter, claiming that many young women are mixing their own blood into the chocolates, in the belief that this acts as a kind of love spell that will ensure their feelings are reciprocated.

The rumor gets even more stomach-turning, because there are also claims of mixing menstrual blood, saliva, fingernail clippings, and pubic hair into the chocolates. has posted many examples of these Tweets.

Is there any truth to these rumors? That's hard to know. It's certainly possible people would do something like this. But one hopes that all the Tweeters claiming to have done this are just bluffing.

However, it's worth noting that the central premise of the rumor is correct. Blood has been used for centuries as an ingredient in love spells. It's part of Blood Magic. In addition, blood (as well as every body part imaginable) was used extensively as an ingredient in western medicine up until the Victorian period. The historian Richard Sugg recently published an interesting book about this widespread practice of medicinal cannibalism.

So it's plausible that some young women would act upon these ancient folk beliefs and add a little something extra to the chocolate.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 07, 2014
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Tah gave me a heads up about this 'Here There Be Monsters' shirt that was the deal-of-the-day at Shirt Woot!

It reminded me that I recently came across a foldout Storyteller's Map of American Myths in the Aug 22, 1960 issue of Life magazine. It's full of strange creatures such as the Arizona Ghost Camel ("once imported by the army, wandered the desert with dead riders), Michigan Tigerfish ("lurking around Saginaw Bay ate cabin boys"), and the New Jersey Mosquito ("as large as a swallow and fierce as an eagle, was trained by the Indians to hunt. One sting could stop a deer in its tracks.")

And the same issue also had a foldout guide to "Yarns and Whoppers and Practical Jokes" that depicts creatures such as the Goofus Bird, Upland Trout, and Shoo Fly.

Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 31, 2014
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Henry Clay Hooker (source: wikipedia)

Henry Clay Hooker was a wealthy rancher in the Old West. He was known as the "cattle king of Arizona." Modern audiences may know him because he was played by Charlton Heston in the 1993 movie Tombstone.

Perhaps the most famous part of Hooker's life story is the claim that he made his fortune by herding 500 turkeys over the Sierra Nevada mountain range into Nevada.

The story goes that Hooker moved out to California from the East Coast as a young man. He opened a hardware store in Placerville, and was growing quite successful until tragedy struck in 1866 when his store and entire stock of goods burned to the ground, leaving him with only $1000.

But Hooker wasn't defeated. Drawing upon his Yankee ingenuity, he came up with a novel way of regaining his fortune. He used what was left of his money to buy 500 turkeys, at $1.50 a bird, with the plan of herding them over the mountains to sell to hungry, turkey-deprived miners in Carson City, Nevada.

Aiding him in this strange venture were one helper and several trained dogs. Despite the skepticism of the other Placerville residents, off Hooker went with his turkeys, up into the mountains.

All went well until Hooker and his turkey herd reached the outskirts of Carson City. There they arrived at a precipice too steep to descend but almost impossible to go around. But the dogs kept pressing the birds to go forward until finally they became desperate and took to the air (as depicted in the illustration above). Said Hooker:
"As I saw them take wing and race away through the air I had the most indescribable feeling of my life. I thought, here is goodbye turkeys! My finances were at the last ebb; these turkeys were my whole earthly possession, and they seemed lost. I thought of my wife and children who were expecting me back with the profits of my venture, all of which appeared to have gone glimmering in a few minutes."

But when he made it to the valley below, Hooker realized, to his relief, that all was not lost. There were his turkeys, all still alive. After rounding them up, he finished steering them to Carson City where he sold them for $5 a piece, thereby not only recouping his lost money, but almost tripling it. He used the windfall to establish a ranch and become a supplier for the army posts and Indian agencies in Arizona.

The story of the great turkey drive was never written down by Hooker himself, but it was recounted by Frank Lockwood in his book Arizona Characters (published in 1928). Lockwood, in turn, said he heard it from C.O. Anderson, a newspaper editor who had known Hooker well.

It's a colorful tale, but is there any truth to it? In a word, no. It's just one of the tall tales of the Old West.

Lynn Bailey offers a detailed debunking of the tale in her 1998 book Henry Clay Hooker and the Sierra Bonita Ranch (1998):
"A wonderful story, but an impossible one for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, turkeys of any kind cannot be herded. Somewhat intelligent, wild turkeys possess a flock instinct. They are wily birds, however, and will scatter in every direction when threatened. Domestic turkeys, on the other hand, are stupid, all intelligence having been bred out of them. Frightened of everything, the slightest sound will stampede them. Turkeys can be caged, loaded into wagons and driven anywhere, but trail-herded, no, impossible.

"Secondly, using dogs to handle turkeys would have had disastrous consequences. As in the case of sheep, dogs would have to be trained to handle any kind of poultry. Turned loose around a flock of turkeys, dogs would attack and kill the birds. There is no such thing as a 'turkey dog.' And thirdly, by 1866 Virginia City was a mature mining community with lavish residences, restaurants hotels, and saloons. .. . In short [Comstock miners] were eating as well as San Franciscans. Their days of beans and bacon were long gone. If there was a demand for turkey, it was minimal.

"Not by any stretch of the imagination did Henry Hooker drive 500 turkeys through the passes of the Sierra Nevada. Hooker's turkey story is a 'big windy,' a tale perfected to entertain guests and family around a dining room table. Every rancher and farmer has such a story."

Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 21, 2014
Comments (2)
Police in Edmonton recently launched a pinterest page on which they display "unique" lost and stolen items they've acquired. If anyone recognizes an item as their former possession, and can provide "specific details" that identify it, they'll be reunited with it.

One of the items is the mounted head of a jackalope.

I wonder what kind of specific details they need to identify this? I could say that it enjoys whiskey and is sometimes called the "warrior rabbit." But I don't think that's what they're looking for.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 17, 2013
Comments (2)
Sam Harris argues that parents should never lie to their own children, even about something as seemingly innocuous as the existence of Santa, because all lies can sow the seeds of distrust between parent and child. I see his point. But if any kid asks me if Jackalopes are real, I'm going to continue to tell them they are, because that's the truth.

The High Cost of Tiny Lies
Sam Harris

I don’t remember whether I ever believed in Santa, but I was never tempted to tell my daughter that he was real. Christmas must be marginally more exciting for children who are duped about Santa—but something similar could be said of many phenomena about which no one is tempted to lie. Why not insist that dragons, mermaids, fairies, and Superman actually exist? Why not present the work of Tolkien and Rowling as history?
The real truth—which everyone knows 364 days of the year—is that fiction can be both meaningful and fun. Children have fantasy lives so rich and combustible that rigging them with lies is like putting a propeller on a rocket. And is the last child in class who still believes in Santa really grateful to have his first lesson in epistemology meted out by his fellow six-year-olds? If you deceive your children about Santa, you may give them a more thrilling experience of Christmas. What you probably won’t give them, however, is the sense that you would not and could not lie to them about anything else.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 20, 2013
Comments (1)
Back in 1939, Lee M. Roberts won the University of California lying contest with the following discussion of the nation of Vinegaria:

The Vinegarians are a peculiar people whose government has existed largely on the income from a national pickle monopoly. Vinegaria is ideally situated for the support of this industry as it is entirely underlain with large subterranean caves. Pickle farmers plant cucumber seeds on roofs of caves and they grow through the surface, avoiding the necessity for plowing the ground for planting. Through a peculiar chemical disturbance in the ocean bed the sea has an unusual briny quality — exactly right for making pickles.

Until last year only sour pickles were produced. At that time, however, a dangerous group of radicals, claiming dill pickles were better than sour ones, gained control of the government, with the sour pickles in revolt against the new regime. Sour-picklers have nearly conquered all of the country, and except for a few government supporters or 'dillies,' as they are called in the capital, Gherkin-on-the-Brine, most of the radicals are dead.

All Vinegarians are characterized by a slight green complexion and are covered by small bumps. Supporters of old-style pickles are noted for a generally sour outlook on life. Radicals, in favor of dills, are considered dull, but this was due to a typographical error in the party platform. A near-sighted typesetter used a 'u' for an 'i.'

The national flag of Vinegaria is two crossed pickles on a field of hors d'oeuvres, symbolizing the hoped-for anschluss with that industry some day.

The country's motto is 'Preserve our national product,' and the usual answer to 'How are you?' is 'Oh, I'm feeling brine, thank you.'

I've always wondered how pickles are grown. Now I know!

There's a Lee M. Roberts, UC Berkeley grad, who currently teaches at Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Worth, but it can't be the same guy because he would have to be over 90 now. His son, perhaps?
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales, Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 09, 2013
Comments (1)
As part of its coverage of the debate in Wyoming over whether to make the jackalope the state's official mythological critter, the Casper Star-Tribune profiles Prof. James Holliday, emeritus professor of biology at Lafayette College, who's perhaps the foremost expert on the biology of jackalopes.

Scientific basis for the myth of the jackalope

"There is a virus that causes growths on the jack rabbit," Holliday said. The virus is called Shope papillomavirus. Growths can come out of rabbits' bottoms and heads. When they grow from the head, they can look like horns. Holliday described a rabbit that had a growth on its mouth. "The poor thing starved to death," he said. Holliday's jackalope website, which he runs with colleague Dan Japuntich, features photos of rabbits with Shope papillomavirus and even people with growths that look like horns. Scientists believe the virus was in North America for centuries, but showed up in Europe shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from his voyage to the New World.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 16, 2013
Comments (1)
I've previously noted a connection between Mormon folklore and Bigfoot — namely that some Mormons believe Bigfoot to be the Biblical figure Cain, condemned to walk the earth forever (and apparently grown big and hairy).

But I recently came across another Mormon/Bigfoot connection. Back around 1870, there was a Mormon settler named Ithamar Sprague who lived in the town of Washington, Utah. He terrified his fellow town's folk by creating giant wooden feet, three-feet long, that he used to place monster footprints all over town during the night. Rumors began to spread about a terrifying creature loose in the region. A posse was organized to hunt the beast down, but Sprague confessed before the situation got completely out-of-hand.

So Sprague anticipated Jerry Crew (the guy whose 1958 prank led to the popularization of the name 'Bigfoot') by almost 90 years.

The legend of Sprague and his "big shoes" has been kept alive over the years by Mormon storytellers. The most complete examination of the legend can be found in Andrew Karl Larson's essay, "Ithamar Sprague and His Big Shoes," in Lore of Faith and Folly (edited by Thomas Cheney).

You can also find Sprague's prank summarized on the Utah State History blog:

[Sprague] built a pair of huge "clodhoppers" and one night he put them on and left gigantic human footprints on the dusty village streets.
News of the mysterious prints spread quickly through town. Some residents laughed and dismissed them as the work of a prankster. Others believed a huge creature was actually stalking the village.
Sprague left tracks again on following nights. More and more townsfolk became convinced that a mysterious, ferocious being had begun to plague the town. Local Paiutes only added to the unrest when they told stories of a legendary giant who had once prowled that region, killing and plundering the countryside.
Sprague laughingly continued his prank. Residents began blaming mishaps on the mysterious beast: the hens were too frightened to lay, the milk soured too soon, and one lady had a miscarriage due to her fright. Search parties tried to capture the monster, but the tracks always either disappeared abruptly or led to rocks where they were no longer traceable.
One night, Ithamar snuck out of a dance, put on his huge shoes, stalked through the village, then returned to the dance. At intermission, Ithamar and friends went outside for a drink, and Ithamar spotted the fresh tracks.
A crowd gathered. People grabbed their weapons and set out to capture the giant--which they were sure was close by. But again the shoe prints disappeared in some rocks.
Several versions of how the town learned of Sprague's hoax evolved over the years. According to one version, the town met together and discussed deserting the village or sending a messenger to Brigham Young to ask for advice.
During the meeting a girl whom Sprague had been courting noticed his smug attitude and told him to confess. He asked her what she would do if he did admit to being the prankster. She replied that she would finally consent to marrying him. According to this story, Sprague excitedly jumped to his feet and confessed, and the couple got married shortly thereafter.
In another version, Sprague and another man were going to cut wood in the mountains. But the man’s wife refused to let him go, fearing the giant. In order not to have to cut the wood alone, Sprague confessed his prank.
However the truth came out, the townsfolk told the story so often that Ithamar Sprague became something of a legend—and the area’s most beloved prankster.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 06, 2012
Comments (1)
I received an email from Peter Barss recounting a 1985 April Fool's Day hoax he was involved in. It's a great story, so I'll let him tell it in his own words:

In 1985 the Bridgewater Bulletin had an April Fool's front page. Turn over the bogus page and there was the true front page with the day's news. One reporter created an image of a twelve foot starfish climbing out of the sea and up the side of a fisherman's building. Another wrote a story about an international airport that would be constructed just outside Bridgewater (Nova Scotia). That story made it to the provincial legislature where the Minister of Transportation stood and demanded why he hadn't been told about the airport.

My story, a feature on the upcoming Annual Whale Migration, was the longest article and caused the most consternation in our readership. The Lahave River is a wide slow-moving tidal river that runs inland from the sea about twelve miles from LaHave to Bridgewater and then turns into a smaller, faster moving river whose source is about fifteen miles further inland from Bridgewater. The distance from LaHave on the Atlantic side of Nova Scotia to the Bay of Fundy on the other side of the province is about 75 miles.

The central idea of my story was that whales, driven by instinct, migrate up the LaHave River and then overland to the Bay of Fundy every spring. The Department of Natural Resources was kept busy for weeks before the migration cutting a pathway through trees and brush to assist the whales in their overland journey. The department also applied grease on slopes facing the Bay of Fundy so that the whales could slide downhill.

As the day of the migration neared, plans were in the works for pancake festivals and other festivities along the banks of the LaHave River. Free balloons for the kids. The elderly Miss Whale Migration 1928 would be on the lead float in the grand parade that celebrated the whale migration.

Every article on the bogus front page and every cutline under every picture ended with "Happy April Fool's Day."

Nevertheless, the joke was taken very seriously by some people--more than one person bought a pair of binoculars to watch the whales. And when those who had been tricked figured out that they had been tricked there were many angry calls to the paper and not a few subscription cancellations.

Each year two young boys were chosen from the village of LaHave to watch for the whales and fire the cannon at the mouth the LaHave River when they sighted the first whales (see arrow). The attached picture (with arrow pointing to whales) was on the front page of the April Fool's Bulletin. The boys are my sons who agreed to pose for this picture before school.

Categories: Animals, April Fools Day, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 03, 2012
Comments (3)
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