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Ozark Superstitions 




NEW YORK 1947 









For obvious reasons it is not practicable to 
credit every item in this collection to the individual from whom 
it was obtained, as I have done in Ozark Folksongs and some of 
my other books. But for the sake of the record, I set down here 
the names of certain persons who have directly furthered my 
investigations. Among these must be listed Mrs. Anna Bacon, 
Galena, Mo. ; Dr. Charles Hillman Brough, Little Rock, Ark. ; 
Miss Nancy Clemens, Springfield, Mo. ; Dr. George E. Hastings, 
Fayetteville, Ark. ; Mr. Charles S. Hiatt, Cassville, Mo. ; Mrs. 
Dorn Higgins, Sulphur Springs, Ark. ; Mr. Earl Keithley, Day, 
Mo. ; Mr. Lewis Kelley, Cyclone, Mo. ; Mr. Maurice Lamberson, 
Bentonville, Ark. ; Mr. Cass Little, Anderson, Mo. ; Mr. Ernest 
Long, Joplin, Mo.; Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, 
Mo. ; Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey, Mincy, Mo. ; Mrs. Mabel 
E. Mueller, Holla, Mo. ; Mrs. Geraldine Parker, St. Louis, Mo. ; 
Miss Rubey Poyner, Southwest City, Mo.; Mr. Otto Ernest 
Rayburn, Eureka Springs, Ark. ; Dr. Oakley St. John, Pine- 
ville, Mo.; Mr. Clyde Sharp, Pack, Mo.; Mr. Elbert Short, 
Crane, Mo. ; Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Ark. ; Mr. Fred 
Starr, Greenland, Ark. ; Mrs. Olga Trail, Farmington, Ark. ; 
Mrs. Ruth H. Tyler, Neosho, Mo. ; Mr. John Turner White, 
Jefferson City, Mo. ; Mrs. Marie Wilbur, Pineville, Mo. ; and 
Dr. J. H. Young, Galena, Mo. I wish to acknowledge my indebt- 
edness to these people, but they are in no way responsible for my 
interpretation of the material, nor for the general character of 
the book. 

of the preliminary studies upon which this volume is 
d were printed as early as 1927, in the Journal of American 


Folklore. My books The Ozarks and Ozark Mountain Folks, 
published by the Vanguard Press in 1931 and 1932, contained 
accounts of backwoods folk belief. Many supernatural narra- 
tives, and some notes on water witching, first appeared in Ozark 
Ghost Stories and Tall Tales from the Ozarks, published and 
copyrighted by E. Haldeman-Julius, of Girard, Kansas. 
Several yarns about witchcraft were printed in Folk-Say, a 
regional annual edited by B. A. Botkin and brought out by the 
University of Oklahoma Press ; other related items first saw the 
light in the quarterly University Review, published at the Uni- 
versity of Kansas Citj\ I am grateful to the owners of these 
copyrights for permission to reprint the material here. 

V. R. 

Galena, Missouri 
June 10, 1946 















INDEX 353 

Ozark Superstitions 

1. Introduction 

The people who live in the Ozark coun- 
try of Missouri and Arkansas were, until 
very recently, the most deliberately un- 
progressive people in the United States. Descended from pio- 
neers who came West from the Southern Appalachians at the 
beginning of the nineteenth century, they made little contact 
with the outer world for more than a hundred years. They seern 
like foreigners to the average urban American, but nearly all 
of them come of British stock, and many families have lived 
in America since colonial days. Their material heirlooms are 
few, but like all isolated illiterates they have clung to the old 
songs and obsolete sayings and outworn customs of their an- 

Sophisticated visitors sometimes regard the "hillbilly" as a 
simple child of nature, whose inmost thoughts and motivations 
may be read at a glance. Nothing could be farther from the 
truth. The hillman is secretive and sensitive beyond anything 
that the average city dweller can imagine, but he isn't simple. 
His mind moves in a tremendously involved system of signs and 
omens and esoteric auguries. He has little interest in the men- 
tal procedure that the moderns call science, and his ways of 
arranging data and evaluating evidence are very different 
from thoj^e currently favored in the world beyond the hill- 
tops. frhe Ozark hillfolk have often been described as 


superstitious people in America. Tt Ts "true" tnat" some of them 
Have retained certain ancient nofTohs which have been discarded 
arid forgotten in more progressive sections of the United 
States. } 


It has been said that the Ozarker got his folklore from the 
Negro, but the fact is that Negroes were never numerous in 
the hill country, and there are many adults in the Ozarks to- 
day who have never even seen a Negro. Another view is that 
the hillman's superstitions are largely of Indian origin, and 
there may be a measure of truth in this; the pioneers did 
mingle freely with the Indians, and some of our best Ozark 
families still boast of their Cherokee blood. My own feeling is 
that most of the hillman's folk beliefs came with his ancestors 
from England or Scotland. I believe that a comparison of my 
material with that recorded by British antiquarians will sub- 
stantiate this opinion. 

The collection of some t} r pes of folklore riddles, party 
games, or folksongs, for example is a comparatively easy 
matter, even in the Ozark country. If a hillman knows an old 
ballad or game song any reasonably diplomatic collector can 
induce him to sing it, or at least to recite the words. But the 
mention of superstition raises the question of one's personal 
belief a matter which the Ozarker does not care to discuss 
with "furriners." The stranger who inquires about love charms 
or witchcraft will meet only blank looks and derisive laughter. 

Authentic data in this field cannot be gathered by running 
"Old-Timer" columns in newspapers, because the people who 
contribute to such columns are not typical backwoods folk 
at all ; the real old-timers seldom read newspapers, much less 
write letters for publication. The questionnaire method, too, 
has been tried at our whistle-stop colleges and among rural 
schoolmarms without any conspicuous success. The man who 
wants to study the Ozark superstitions must live with the 
Ozark people year after year and gradually absorb folklore 
through the rind, as it were. The information obtained JB this 
manner is more trustworthy, in my opinion, than that elicited 
by any sort of direct questioning. 

I first visited the Ozark country in 1899, and since 1920 
I have spent practically all of my time here, living in many 


parts of the region, sometimes in the villages and sometimes 
in the wildest and most isolated "hollers." I fished and fought 
and hunted and danced and gambled with my backwoods neigh- 
bors; I traveled the ridge roads in a covered wagon, consort- 
ing with peddlers and horse traders and yarb doctors and 
moonshiners ; I learned to chew tobacco, and dabbled in vil- 
lage politics, and became a deputy sheriff, and solicited local 
items for the newspapers. By marriage and otherwise I asso- 
ciated myself with several old backwoods families, in both 
Missouri and Arkansas. I spared no effort to become intimately 
acquainted with Ozarkers of the hillbilly type, and succeeded 
insofar as such intimacy is possible to one who was born a 

The Ozarker's wealth of folk material fascinated me from 
the very beginning. I carried scraps of newsprint in my pocket, 
and along with locals for the paper I recorded other things 
that interested me folksongs, tall tales, backwoods jokes, rid- 
dles, party games, dialect, old customs, and superstitions. This 
stuff was later typed on cards and placed in a trunk which I 
had converted into a filing cabinet, indexed and classified so 
that I could put my finger on any given item at a moment's 
notice. I made no secret of the fact that I was gathering old 
songs and intended to publish a book of them some day, but 
the other material was collected more or less surreptitiously. 

The cards in the file marked SUPERSTITIONS accumulated 
very slowly for the first three or four years, but my neighbors 
gradually became accustomed to seeing me around, and began 
to talk a bit more freely in my presence. In 1924 some witch- 
craft material which came to my attention seemed so extraor- 
dinary that I suspected my friends were greening me green- 
ing is a dialect word which means spoofing. It was only after 
checking and double-checking these tales, and getting almost 
identical items from different people in widely separated sec- 
tions of the hill country, that I began to realize the extent to 
which superstition still flourished in this region. 


In all the years of my collecting I have never known a hill- 
man to admit a belief in anything which he regarded as super- 
stition. "I aint superstitious myself," one old man told me, 
"but some things that folks call superstitious is just as true 
as God's own gospel !" Most of the real old-timers adhere to 
traditions wild and strange, and the fact that many of them 
contradict each other matters not at all. Nobody could pos- 
sibly believe, or even remember, all of the items listed in this 
book, but nearly every one of them is credited by hillfolk 
within my own circle of friends and neighbors. The man who 
laughs at witchcraft and supernatural warning is found to be 
a firm believer in the moon's influence upon crops, while the 
woman who doesn't believe in dummy suppers takes the ques- 
tion of prenatal "marking" very seriously indeed. 

One might expect to find a definite negative correlation be- 
tween superstition and intelligence, or at least between super- 
stition and education, but this does not seem to be the case. 
Perhaps the most famous water witch who ever lived in south- 
west Missouri was a physician, a graduate of Washington 
University, and a man of really extraordinary attainments. 
One of the most credulous and superstitious hillmen I ever knew 
was intelligent enough to learn surveying and had sufficient 
book learning to enable him to teach the district school with 
unprecedented success. 

It must be admitted that some of the items in this collection 
are folktales rather than superstitions proper. That is, they 
are not really believed by intelligent adults, but are repeated 
to children just as parents elsewhere tell the story of Santa 
Claus or assure their offspring that rabbits lay parti-colored 
eggs on Easter Sunday. The old sayin' that killing a toad 
will make the cows give bloody milk, for example, is probably 
just a way of teaching children to let toads alone; the farmer 
knows that toads destroy insects, and he likes to see them 
around his doorstep on summer evenings. Every backwoods 
child has heard a little rhyme to the effect that one who 


defecates in a path will get a "sty" on his posterior a notion 
doubtless promulgated by barefoot housewives who wish to 
keep the catwalks clean. Perhaps the children don't really be- 
lieve all this either, but it sometimes amuses them to pretend 
that they do, and thus the stories are preserved and trans- 
mitted from one generation to the next. But even here I do not 
presume to define the exact limits of credulity. Sometimes it 
appears that backwoods parents begin by telling outrageous 
whoppers to their children and end by half believing the wild- 
est of these tales themselves. 

Many of the civic boosters in the Ozark towns are sensitive 
about their hillbilly background and regard anybody who men- 
tions the old customs or folk beliefs in the light of a public 
enemy. This sentiment is reflected in the Ozark newspapers, 
particularly in the smaller cities. An address of mine, de- 
livered before the State Historical Society at Columbia, Mis- 
souri, in 1938, offended people all over the Ozarks because it 
dealt in part with backwoods superstition. Once in Springfield, 
Missouri, during a dinner at which I had been invited to speak 
by the Chamber of Commerce, a casual reference to super- 
stition so moved the president of that body that he suddenly 
sprang up and denounced me and all my works. Another time, 
in the dining room of a hotel at Joplin, Missouri, an old gen- 
tleman cursed me at the top of his voice and even made as if 
to strike me with his stick, because I had published something 
about Ozark superstition in Esquire. Others who have spoken 
or written on the subject have had similar experiences. The 
general feeling is that the persistence of the old folklore is 
somehow discreditable to the whole region, and the less said 
about it the better. 

A Little Rock attorney who read this book in manuscript 
says that "it applies only to a few ignorant old folks who 
live in the most backward and isolated sections of the Ozark 
country." Well, it is true that much of my information was 
obtained from elderly people in the back hills. The educated 


young folk are certainly less concerned with witchcraft and 
the like than were their parents and grandparents. And yet 
I have known college boys, proud possessors of dinner jackets 
and fraternity pins, to say and do things which would be 
quite inexplicable to anyone not familiar with the superstitions 
of their childhood. And there was a pretty girl once, a senior 
at one of our best Ozark colleges, who obtained her heart's 
desire by a semipublic "conjuration" which would not seem 
out of place in a medieval book on demonology. 

The wildest kind of superstition was accepted as a matter of 
course by the grandparents of these backwoods collegians, 
and resistance to change has always been the chief regional 
characteristic of the Ozark people. The principle of organic 
evolution has been pretty well accepted everywhere for a long 
time, but as I write these lines it is still against the law to 
teach evolution at the University of Arkansas. 

A Missouri politician writes me that "the old superstitions 
you describe may have existed in my district fifty years ago. 
In fact, I know personally that some of the most fantastic 
did exist as late as 1900. But you may rest assured that the 
folks down there do not believe any such nonsense today." To 
this I can only reply that nearly all of my material was 
gathered since 1920, and that many of the most striking items 
in the collection came from the locality indicated in this man's 

It is difficult to see why our civic leaders and politicians 
should be so concerned about these matters. Surely they must 
know that people in other sections of the country, even in 
the great cities, have superstitions of their own. Some very 
eminent gentlemen in Washington are known to consult me- 
diums and fortunetellers on occasion, and there are many 
women in New York who still believe in astrology and nu- 

I think that the hillfolk are somewhat less superstitious to- 
day than when I began this study, twenty-five years ago. Much 


of my best material came from men and women who were old 
in the 1920's, and nearly all of them are dead now. One has 
only to compare the young people with their grandparents, or 
the isolated settlements with the villages along our new motor 
highways, to appreciate the present status of folklore in the 
Ozark country. 

Wherever railroads and highways penetrate, wherever news- 
papers and movies and radios are introduced, the people 
gradually lose their distinctive local traits and assume the drab 
color which characterizes conventional Americans elsewhere. 
The Ozarkers are changing rather rapidly just now, and it 
may be that a few more years of progress will find them think- 
ing and acting very much like country folk in other parts of 
the United States. This standardizing transformation is still 
far from complete, however. A great body of folk belief dies 
very slowly, and I suspect that some vestiges of backwoods 
superstition will be with us for a long time to come. 

2. Weather Signs 

and superstitions about the 
weather naturally seem important to a 
people who live by tilling the soil, and 
are taken very seriously in the Ozark country. There is no deny- 
ing that some old hillmen are extraordinarily acute in their 
short-range predictions of rain and frost. The old-timer gen- 
erally speaks dogmatically of bad luck, death bells, ghosts, 
witches and the like) But he becomes a bit more cautious in 
discussing the weather. "Nobody ever claimed that them old 
signs was always right," a gentleman in Jasper county, Mis- 
souri, said reasonably. "But I've been a-watchin' the weather 
for sixty years, an' I believe these here goosebone prophets are 
just about as good as the government men we've got nowa- 

The spotty nature of the Ozark weather, with conditions 
varying widely between one hollow and another a few miles dis- 
tant, may also give the local weather predictor a slight edge. 
"Them government weathermen do pretty well on a flat prairie, 
like Kansas or western Oklahoma," an old man told me, "but 
they aint worth a damn in a hilly country." 

The most colorful official of the United States Weather 
Bureau in the Ozarks is C. C. Williford, who has been giving 
a daily broadcast over a local station at Springfield, Missouri, 
since 1933. Williford differs from most of his colleagues in 
his readiness to argue with the "groundhog watchers" and 
other defenders of superstition. He takes a lot of ribbing 
about this, particularly when the goosebone meteorologists 
predict the weather more accurately than the government 


weather prophets, as sometimes happens. The backwoods Chris- 
tians known as "Holy Rollers," in Taney county, Missouri, 
have more than once held public prayers for "that feller in 
Springfield that lies so much about the weather." Williford 
gets many astonishing items by mail; as an example of Ozark 
innocence in these matters, here is a letter dated Oct. 21, 1939: 

We thought maybe you would say something about the moon falling 
Sunday night. There might not have been many saw it but we sure did. 
There was six of us witnessed it. It looked to be about 1 or 2 hours 
high when it just suddenly turned over and fell like a star would 
fall, making a ball of fire which could be seen down low for 5 or 10 
minutes. No one around here ever heard of the moon falling, even 
people 50 years old. Some wouldn't believe it. It was between 7:30 
and 8 o'clock. If you or anyone else ever heard of this before I wish 
you would please mention it. 

Paul Murrell 
Strafford, Mo. Route 3 

To this communication Mr. Williford replied soberly that 
what Paul Murrell and his friends saw was probably a pilot 
balloon from the Weather Bureau, since one was lost that 
night. The records show, he added, that at the hour mentioned 
the new moon was almost invisible a faint sickle riding low 
on the horizon. An account of this episode was printed in the 
Springfield News # Leader, Oct. 22, 1939, under a two-column 
head: "Extra! The Moon Falls on Strafford Route Three!" 

There are so many rain signs, and they vary so widely in 
different sections of the Ozarks, that one frequently encounters 
contradictions and differences of opinion as to their proper in- 
terpretation. One old fellow told me that when the tall grass 
is bone-dry in the morning he "allus figgered on rain afore 
night" but he also insisted that a heavy dew is one of the most 
reliable rain signs known. Some time later, during a prolonged 
drouth, I showed him that neither statement had any great 
merit, but he was not at all disturbed. "All signs fail in dry 
weather," quoth he and seemed perfectly satisfied to let it go 
at that. And even Will Talbott, who used to be the govern- 


ment weatherman of Greene county, Missouri, in 1930, was 
quoted as saying "the only sure thing about the weather is 
that a dry spell always ends with a rain." 

Many common indications of rain are found in the activities 
of animals. If rabbits are seen playing in the dusty road, if 
dogs suddenly begin to eat grass, if cats sneeze or wash behind 
their ears or lick their fur against the grain, if large numbers 
of field-mice are seen running in the open, if sheep turn their 
backs to the wind, if wolves howl before sunset, the hillman 
expects a shower. Any backwoods farmer will tell you that 
when a hog carries a piece of wood in its mouth there is bad 
weather a-comin*, and I am almost persuaded that hogs do 
sometimes pile up leaves and brush for nests several hours 
before a storm. 

(When horses' tails suddenly appear very large, by reason 
of the hairs standing erect, it means that a drouth will soon 
be broken. If cattle and horses refuse to drink in very dry 
weather, the farmer expects a cloudburst. When horses sud- 
denly stop feeding and begin scratching themselves on trees 
or fences, it is a sign of heavy rains. Farmers who live in the 
river bottoms are alarmed when they see dogs or cats carrying 
their young to higher ground, believing that these migrations 
indicate floods or cloudbursts/ 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Rolla, Missouri, says that "if 
the cat lies in a coil, with head and stomach up, bad weather 
is coming, but if it yawns and stretches, the weather will be 

(Some country women believe that chickens are somehow able 
to tell what the weather is to be for several days in advance. 
When chickens or turkeys stand with their backs to the wind, 
so that their feathers are ruffled, a storm is on the way. If 
hens spread their tail feathers and oil them conspicuously, it is 
sure to rain very soon) 

A rooster's persistent crowing at nightfall is regarded as a 
sign that there will be rain before morning : 


If a cock crows when he goes to bed, 
He'll get up with a wet head. 

This jingle is evidently very old and is one of the few instances 
in which the male fowl is called a cock in the Ozark speech. 
In ordinary conversation the hillman says crower or rooster 

In front of my cabin near Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, a 
rooster crowed repeatedly at high noon. "What's that a sign 
of?" I asked an Ozark girl who sat beside me. "Oh, that aint 
no sign at all," she answered. "I reckon he's just a-crowin' 
up company." 

In this same connection Mrs. Mueller says that her 
neighbors are much impressed when chickens suddenly go to 
roost outside the henhouse. One might suppose that, if the 
fowls really know what they are about, this would be an in- 
dication of fair weather, but the people near Holla regard it as 
a sure sign of rain. A storm is expected, too, if the chickens 
are seen going to roost earlier than usual. Mrs. Mueller says 
also that "if chickens stand on the woodpile and pick their 
feathers, rain is on the way." 

(When chickens and other fowls are seen feeding in the fields 
during a shower, it means that the rainy weather will continue 
for at least twenty-four hours longer. When ducks or geese 
or guineas suddenly become very noisy, without any visible 
reason, it is a sure sign of rain. When crows, or woodpeckers, 
or hawks make more racket than usual, the hillman expects 
rain in twenty-four hours or less. If robins suddenly begin 
to sing near the cabin, when they are not accustomed to sing 
there, the housewife prepares for a shower. The call of the 
yellow-billed cuckoo, which the Ozarker knows as the rain crow, 
is widely recognized as a sign of wet weather. If a big owl 
hoots in the daytime, or calls loudly and persistently near the 
house at night, there will be a heavy rain within three days^ 

When kingfishers and bank swallows nest in holes near the 
water, the hillman expects a dry season; if these birds nest 


high above the stream, the hillfolk prepare for much rain and 
flooded rivers. If wild ducks nest close to the water's edge a 
fairly dry summer is expected ; if they make their nests farther 
back, the Ozarker looks for a wet season. 

If quail are found sunning themselves in coveys, or if brush 
rabbits are lying in shallow, unprotected forms, the Ozarker 
feels safe in expecting two or three days of pleasant weather. 
The latter sign in particular inspires great confidence, and I 
am almost persuaded that there may be something in it. I have 
often seen farmers go out and flush two or three rabbits, and 
examine their nests carefully before deciding to go on a jour- 

It is generally believed that snakes particularly rattle- 
snakes and copperheads become very active just before a 
rain. Thus an abundance of snake trails in the dusty road is 
regarded as a sign that a drouth will soon be broken. 

The voices of tree toads always forecast a shower, accord- 
ing to the old-timers. Men who hunt bullfrogs say that the 
skin of these creatures turns dark about twelve hours before a 
rain. Old rivermen claim that when they see a great many 
fish coming to the surface and "stickin* out their noses," there 
is sure to be a rainstorm in three or four hours. 

When flies and mosquitoes suddenly swarm into a cabin, or 
snails become very abundant, or spiders leave their shelters 
and crawl aimlessly about, or glowworms shine brighter than 
usual, or crickets chirp louder, or bees cluster closely about 
the entrance to their hives, or a centipede appears where centi- 
pedes are not usually seen all these are signs of an approach- 
ing storm. When the burrows of ants and crawfish are "banked 
up" about the entrance, the mountain man looks for a cloud- 
burst, or a sudden rise in the water of the streams. 

If the sun "rises red" it is a sign of rain, according to the 
old rhyme: 

When the morning sun is red 

The ewe and the lamb go wet to bed. 


When the sun rises into an unusually clear sky, even if it isn't 
red, many farmers expect showers before night. Others contend 
that the meaning of this depends upon the season of the year 
in summer a misty dawn means a dry spell, but in winter it 
is a sign of rain. 

A red sunset is supposed to promise at least twenty-four 
hours of dry weather. If a dull blue line shows around the 
horizon at sunset, one may expect rain the following day. 
JVhen a "sundog" circle is seen about the sun, there will be 
some radical change in the weather. Some say that a sundog 
means a prolonged drouth. When a fringe of cloud hides the 
sun, just before sunset, it is a sign of rain.) 

A rainbow in the evening means clear weather, but a rainbow 
in the morning indicates a storm within twenty-four hours. If 
the weather clears between sundown and dawn there will be 
more rain within forty-eight hours. When fog rises rapidly it 
is always a sign of rain: 

Fog goes up with a hop, 
Rain comes down with a drop. 

If a fog descends and seems to disappear into the ground, the 
hillman expects several warm, bright days. 

Lightning in the south is a dry-weather sign, while lightning 
in any other direction usually indicates rain. 

When the crescent moon rides on its back, with the horns 
turned up, there will be no rain for some time. This is the 
moon that will "hold water," the moon a feller can "hang a 
powder horn on." When one of the horns seems much 'higher 
than the other, the concavity will no longer hold water, and 
one may expect rain shortly. If the moon remains low in the 
southern sky, the old folks say that it is well to prepare for a 
severe drouth. 

uV. ring around the moon is said to be a sure sign of bad 
weather usually rain or snow.) You can tell how many days 
will elapse before the storm by counting the number of stars 


inside the circle; if there are no stars in the ring, the rain is 
less than twenty-four hours away. There is a very general 
notion that if it doesn't rain at the change of the moon, there 
will be little rain until the moon changes again. In the midst 
of a drouth, one of my neighbors remarked that it couldn't 
rain until the new moon appeared. When the stars appear 
faded and dim, some people say that a big rain is on the way, 
no matter what the moon signs may be. 

A great many hillfolk believe that an abrupt drop in the 
water line of a spring or well is a sure indication that wet 
weather is coming soon. When the surface of plowed ground 
appears damp, or moisture seems to gather on the gravel in 
dry gullies, a rain is expected within a few hours. Nearly all of 
the old-timers seem to believe this. One of the most successful 
and progressive farmers in my neighborhood told me that he 
does not believe in many weather signs, but that he is prepared 
to wager even money up to a thousand dollars that whenever 
the flint-rocks in his field suddenly begin to sweat, there will 
be some precipitation within twenty-four hours. 

A man in Greene county, Missouri, has a cave on his place. 
He says that when the roof of this cave begins to drip, after a 
spell of dry weather, it always rains within two or three days. 
He used to crawl into the cave, particularly at harvest time, 
to see what sort of weather was coming. 

^ When a housewife is boiling food in a kettle, and it seems 
necessary to add more water than usual, she expects a rain 
shortly) Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Rolla, Missouri, says that 
her neighbors watch the coffeepot if the coffee boils over too 
often, they regard it as a sign of an approaching rain. The 
lumping of table salt, the unusual creaking of chairs, the loud 
sputtering of a kerosene lamp, an extraordinary amount of 
crackling in a wood fire, the "warping up" of a rag carpet, 
the sudden flabbiness of hitherto dry and crisp tobacco leaves 
all these phenomena are supposed to indicate rain. 

If the leaves of a tree turn up, so as to show the undersides 


which are usually lighter in color, the hillfolk expect a rain 
within a few hours. When the upper blades of corn begin to 
twist, as they do in very hot dry weather, many farmers pre- 
dict rain. If dead limbs fall in the woods, with no perceptible 
wind blowing, it is regarded as a sure sign of rain ; but when 
an entire tree topples over, under the same conditions, it is not 
so considered. 

If oaks bud earlier than ash trees in the spring, a wet sum- 
mer is expected ; if the ash buds first, look out for a drouth in 
July and August. 

It is said that certain flowers, which ordinarily close at dusk, 
sometimes remain open all night this is a positive indication 
that it will rain very shortly. A sudden appearance of toad- 
stools or mushrooms is regarded as a sure sign of rain within 
twelve hours. If a hillman sees thistledown or milkweed or other 
hair-winged seeds flying in the air, when no breeze is otherwise 
apparent, he predicts rain. 

\ When rain falls while the sun is shining, it will be of short 
duration "a sunny shower won't last an hour." A sunny 
shower means that "the Devil is a-whuppin' his wife," accord- 
ing to the old-timers, and is a sign that there will be more rain 
on the following day. If drops of water hang on twigs or leaves 
for a long time after a rain, you may be sure that more rain 
is coming. It is said also that if one sees many large bubbles 
in roadside pools after a rain, it means another shower within 
a few hours. The belief that showers which begin early in the 
morning do not last long is recorded in the old sayin': 

Rain before seven 
Shine before eleven. 

Many hillfolk believe that large raindrops mean a brief shower, 
while small drops indicate a long siege of rainy weather. 

A series of hot days and cool nights, some old-timers say, is 
a sign of a long dry spell to come. If it seems very warm in 
the evening, and unusually cool next morning, the hillman con- 


eludes that a rain has "blowed over" or "went around," and 
he expects three or four days of dry weather. 

There are farmers in Arkansas who insist that the blood of 
a murdered man bloodstains on a floor or garments will 
liquefy even on dry sunshiny days, as a sign that a big rain is 
coining. Burton Rascoe, who once lived in Seminole county, 
Oklahoma, told me that this notion is common in many parts 
of the South, and that the field hands on his father's farm 
used to go to a cabin where a Negro had been shot and examine 
the bloodstains on the planks to see whether a rain was about 

Many persons believe that twinges of rheumatism, unusual 
soreness of corns and bunions, or attacks of sinus trouble inform 
them when it is going to rain. 

Country women say that when milk or cream sours sooner 
than usual, a rain may be expected and they insist that this 
works in fairly cold weather as well as in the heat of summer. 
Also that the little globules of fat in a cup of coffee to which 
cream has been added collect at the edges of the cup when a rain 
is coming, and in the center when there is dry weather ahead. 

Little whirlwinds in the dusty road are regarded by many as 
sure signs of rain. If the wind blows suddenly and strongly from 
the east, many old-timers expect a heavy rain soon. 

People in some parts of Taney county, Missouri, live so far 
from a settlement that they do not ordinarily hear trains or 
motor cars or church bells. Once in a while, however, they do 
hear these sounds, very faintly. When this happens, the people 
expect a good rain before many days. It is generally believed, 
in many sections of the Ozarks, that gunshots, church bells, 
whistles and the like may be heard at a greater distance when 
rain is approaching than when continued dry weather is in store. 

A rain on Monday, according to some backwoods folk, means 
that it will rain more or less every day that week. Others say 
that if it rains on Monday there will be two more rainy days in 
the week, and maybe three, but that Friday will be bright and 


fair. There is a common notion that Friday is always either the 
fairest or the foulest day of the week. If the sun "sets clear" on 
Tuesday, it is sure to rain before Friday. If the sun sets behind a 
cloud on Tuesday, there will be showers before the next Tuesday. 
If the sun "sets cloudy" on Thursday one looks for heavy rains 
before Saturday night. 

Many people insist that "the sun shines every Wednesday" 
even if only for a moment, but if a Wednesday should pass 
without a sunbeam, there will be some sudden, violent change 
perhaps a cloudburst or a tornado. 

When rain falls on the first Sunday in the month, most old- 
timers expect showers on the three following Sundays. If it rains 
on the first day of the month, at least twenty days of that month 
will be wet. This is really taken seriously by farmers in some 
localities, and they consider it in planting and cultivating their 

A number of farmers in Greene county, Missouri, have told 
me that, during the month of July, it never rains at night. One 
old gentleman said he had watched the weather for nearly sixty 
years and had never yet, during the month of July, known rain 
to fall after dark or before dawn. 

There is a common notion, in rural Arkansas, that it never 
rains during dog days that is, the period in July and August 
when Sirius the dog star is supposed to rise at dawn. 

Many old-timers are obsessed with the notion that there is 
always a big storm at Easter time. Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, 
of Springfield, Missouri, writes : "I have lived to be 'over twenty- 
one' in the Ozarks and I have never failed to see an Easter squall 
yet. I believe if Easter came as late as the Fourth of July we 
would still have that squall. When I was a girl we used to always 
depend on it for our Easter picnics, and dread it." There is 
also the common belief that if it rains on Easter Sunday, the 
seven Sundays following Easter will be rainy too. 

It is said that the last Friday and Saturday of each month 
rule the weather for the next month that is, if the last Friday 


and Saturday in May are wet or cloudy days, the month of June 
will be wet or cloudy. 

I have known hillfolk who more or less seriously forecast the 
weather for many months in advance by splitting open a persim- 
mon seed in autumn. If the little growth at one end, between the 
two halves of the seed, looks like a spoon, it means that the next 
summer will be moist and warm, and that everybody will raise 
bumper crops. But if the seed carries a tiny knife and fork, 
instead of the spoon, the growing season will be unsatisfactory 
and many crops will fail. 

Some hillfolk claim to predict the rainfall, in a general fash- 
ion, for a whole year in this wise: take twelve curved pieces of 
raw onion, set them in a row, and place an equal amount of salt 
in the hollow of each piece. The first piece represents January, 
the second piece February, the third March, and so on. Let all 
the pieces stand undisturbed over night. The one which contains 
the largest amount of water in the morning shows which month 
will have the greatest rainfall. 

In any case, a dry March is supposed to mean plenty of rain 
and good growin' weather later on. There is an old sayin' that 
"a bushel of dust in March is worth a bushel of silver in Sep- 
tember." Many farmers say that if dandelions bloom in April, 
there will be both rain and hot weather in July. 

Will Rice quotes a patriarch at St. Joe, Arkansas, as saying 
that "for every 100-degree day in July there will be a 20-below 
day in the following January." * Rice assures his readers that 
this idea has come down from grandpappy's day, and that many 
hillfolk believe it absolutely. 

fJulj 2 is a mysterious and important day to some backwoods 
weather prophets) The idea is that if rain falls on that day the 
season will be moist and prosperous, but if it does not rain on 
July 2 there will be no rain for six weeks. 

July 15 is also an important date in connection with weather 

i Rayburn'a Ozark Gfuide, Lonsdale, Arkansas (September-October, 1943), 
p. 17. 


prediction, but I have been unable to get any definite informa- 
tion about this. There are many hillfolk who insist that if No- 
vember 1 is clear and cool, it means that big rains or snowstorms 
are coming soon. Others say that if November 11 is cold, we 
may expect a short, mild winter. 

Some people think that the weather on December 25 is some- 
how correlated with the rainfall and temperature of the fol- 
lowing summer. A mild Christmas, according to many Ozark 
farmers, always means a heavy harvest. A good season for the 
crops is supposed to be bad for human life, however, hence the 
old saying that "a green Christmas makes a fat graveyard." 

If there is no wind on New Year's Day, the Ozarker expects a 
very dry summer ; a fair breeze mans sufficient rainfall to make 
a crop ; a real windstorm on New Year's is a sign of floods the 
following autumn. 

Many hillfolk believe that the first twelve days of January 
rule the weather of the entire year. That is, if January 1 is 
cloudy, the whole month of January will be cloudy; if Janu- 
ary 2 is clear, the whole month of February will be clear; if 
January 3 is stormy, the whole month of March will be stormy, 
and so on. One finds Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing 2 rejoicing with 
her neighbors that January 6 was dry, therefore June would 
be dry enough to permit work in the cornfields ; it was fortunate 
also that January 7 and 8 were wet, since that assured rain 
enough in July and August to make a crop. Clink O'Neill, of 
Day, Missouri, remarked to me that there may be something 
in this theory "if it aint carried too far," adding that he doubted 
whether snow on January 8 means that there will also be snow- 
storms in August. 

Mr. Ora McGrath, a farmer of Taney county, Missouri, 
tells me that in his family it has always been believed that the 
twelve "old days" the last twelve days in December rule the 
coming year. Some old-timers near Farmington, Arkansas, think 
that the "ruling days" are the last six days in December plus 
2 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan, 28, 1917. 


the first six days in January. Still other hillfolk believe that it 
is Old Christmas (January 6) and the eleven days which follow 
Old Christmas which really determine the weather for the year. 

The dates of the first and last frosts are matters of consid- 
erable import to the Ozark farmer, and he has many curious 
ideas about the prediction of these frosts. There is a very gen- 
eral notion that katydids sing to bring on cold weather in the 
fall. A writer in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Aug. 25, 1936) 
says that the katydids "can sing for frost, and get it in about 
two weeks," but the old-timers say that it can't possibly be 
done in less than six weeks. In some parts of Arkansas and Mis- 
souri the farmers expect the first frost exactly six weeks after 
the katydids' singing begins ; others say that nine weeks is the 
correct figure, and many Missourians hold out for three months. 
Mr. Elbert Short, of Crane, Missouri, says that it was always 
three months to the old folks in his neighborhood. Whatever the 
period, nearly all Ozarkers feel that there must be something 
in the katydid-frost theory. I know many hillfolk who listen for 
the katydids and arrange their agricultural schedules accord- 
ingly, and I have interviewed very few old-timers who did not 
believe in this sign to a certain extent. 

An old man in Washington county, Arkansas, told me that 
he always marked on the calendar the date when he saw the first 
Devil's-darning-needle the walking-stick insect, that is. His 
prediction was that the first real frost comes just six weeks 
later, and he swore he had missed it only twice in twenty-seven 

In Taney county, Missouri, they say that the first killing 
frost comes ten weeks after the "locusts begin to holler" the 
locust or jarfly is really a cicada. The locusts usually began to 
holler about the Fourth of July, when I lived in Taney county, 
but the first killing frost, in the average year, doesn't come to 
the Ozarks before the middle of October. 

There seems to be some correlation between the date at which 
deer change their coats and the time of the first frost. In south- 


west Missouri, in 1943, it was said that fawns "lost their spots" 
about the middle of July; old-timers who observed this all 
agreed that it indicated an early fall. 

Butterflies seen late in the autumn are signs that cold weather 
will be here very soon. The same is true of big woolly caterpil- 
lars. The intricate designs made by the tiny larvae that work 
inside leaves are said to be significant in weather prediction, but 
I have been unable to learn just how to read their signs. 

Many Ozarkers tell me that it never frosts until the cockle- 
burs are ripe nobody ever saw a frostbitten cocklebur. As 
long as green cockleburs are in evidence, one may be sure that 
there will be no frost for several weeks. It is said that persons 
who suffer from hay fever are reliable weather prophets the 
first attack of the season always comes just ninety days before 
the first frost. When angleworms and grubs are found close to 
the surface there is no danger of frost. When crab grass lies 
flat on the ground, many country folk say that there'll be a 
frost within twenty-four hours. 

I have known old-timers in Carroll county, Arkansas and in 
Taney county, Missouri, who believe that thunder in February 
always means frost on the corresponding date in May ; that is, 
if it thunders on February 12, there'll be a frost on May 12, 
and so on. Others contend that there are always as many frosts 
in May as there are thunderclaps in February but do not insist 
that the dates must correspond exactly. 

Several old hillfolk tell me that the number of fogs in August 
is always equal to the number of snows in the following winter. 
Some say that the number of days the first snow remains on the 
ground indicates the number of snows to be expected during the 
winter. Another view is that the whole thing depends upon the 
date of the first snowfall. One man told me that if the first snow 
falls on December 1 it means that there will be twenty-four 
snows altogether. "What if the first snow came on November 
sixteenth?" I asked. "Then thar'll be a hunderd an' seventy-six," 
he answered after a moment's thought but refused to tell me 


how he arrived at these conclusions. Another old-timer whom I 
consulted gave me the same figures for these two dates, adding 
that every man should obtain the method of "figgerin' it out" 
from the elders of his own family, and that it would be very 
bad luck for him to tell me about it. I "figgered it out" for myself 
later on, however; one simply multiplies the number of the 
month by the number of the day, and in case the latter is less 
than fifteen doubles the result. 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Holla, Missouri, tells me that 
people in her neighborhood count the number of sunny days 
between July 1 and September 1 and multiply by two this 
gives you the number of freezing cold days to be expected the 
following winter. 

Some old folks take careful note of the age of the moon, at 
the time the first snow falls. It is said that the number of days 
the moon is old, at that time, is always equal to the number of 
snows which will come that winter. 

The deepest snow of the winter, according to some Ozarkers, 
is forecast by the height to which the brush rabbits gnaw the 
sassafras sprouts in the fall. I have heard this mentioned in all 
seriousness at least fifty times, from Mena, Arkansas, to the 
suburbs of St. Louis. But I do not think that the genuine old- 
timers take much stock in it. Personally, I am not even sure that 
brush rabbits are accustomed to gnaw sassafras sprouts in the 

There is an old saying that "clouds on frost means bad 
weather," and many believe that when a heavy frost is accom- 
panied or immediately followed by a cloudy sky, it is well to 
prepare for severe storms and lower temperatures. 

Nearly all of the old-timers believe that when a frost comes 
in cloudy weather it is less harmful to crops than a frost in 
clear weather. Many insist that a frost in the light or increase 
of the moon is much less harmful than a frost in the dark or 
waning of the moon. Some go so far as to say that fruit is never 


killed by frost in the light of the moon, though anybody who has 
lived in this country a few years can see that it isn't so. 

I know deer hunters in Arkansas who think that if an autumn 
campfire spits and sputters more than usual, it means that a 
snowstorm is not far off. The firewood, they say, is "stompin' 
snow." Mr. Elbert Short, of Crane, Missouri, agrees with the 
deer hunters. "If your wood fries an' sings an' pops an' cracks," 
says he, "it's a sure sign that snow is a-comin'." 

Children in the backwoods sometimes make a great show of 
counting the nodules on cane, the knots on lilac bushes, the spots 
on bass in September, the freckles on their left hands and so on, 
to determine the number of cold spells to be expected in the 
coming winter, but I do not believe that any of these signs are 
taken very seriously by adult hillfolk. 

Many of them do believe, however, that they can make some 
general forecasts about winter weather by examining the breast- 
bone of a wild goose killed in the fall. If the bone is thin and 
more or less transparent, the winter will be mild; if the bone 
is thick and opaque, the winter will be severe. If the bone is 
white, there will be a great deal of snow ; if the bone is red, or has 
many red spots, the winter may be very cold, but the snowfall 
will be unusually light. 

These goosebone weather prophets are still common in some 
sections, and their predictions are often recorded and discussed 
solemnly in the country newspapers. J. 0. Wadell, veteran news- 
paperman of Springfield, Missouri, used to comment editorially 
upon the weaknesses of the goosebone school of weather fore- 
casting. In the Springfield Press, he wrote : "The fact that one 
goose-bone may be thin and another from the same flock be 
thick, as has often been demonstrated, has no effect upon the 
old superstition. Folks believe it just the same." 3 

The severity of the approaching winter is indicated by the 
thickness of furs and feathers and cornshucks and so on. If hair 
Oct. 31, 1930, p. 3. 


on muskrats, skunks, coons, and possums is unusually thick, the 
hillman expects a hard winter. If goose feathers are "veined 
close" it means severe weather ahead. Every backwoods child 
has heard the little rhyme : 

Onion skin mighty thin, 
Easy winter comin' in. 

Some old men tell me that a summer in which the foliage on trees 
is unusually dense, or exceptionally bright in color, is followed by 
a very cold winter. When great numbers of squirrels are seen 
moving toward the south, it is regarded as a sign of an early 
fall and hard winter. 

Many old people say that if the hornets build their nests low 
in the trees, it means that a severe winter is coming; if the 
hornets' nests hang high, the following winter will be mild. 

A big crop of walnuts indicates cold weather to come. A great 
abundance of mast which means acorns is a sure sign of a 
severe winter. If cherries or lilacs bloom in the fall, the winter 
will be unusually long and severe. If woodpeckers begin at the 
foot of a tree and work clear to the top, it means that cold 
weather is coming very soon. When a cat sits down with its tail 
toward the fire, the hillman looks for a cold spell. If the moon 
appears farther north than usual in the fall, the Ozarkcr pre- 
dicts an unusually cold winter. Most old-timers feel that a very 
hot summer is likely to be followed by a winter of extraordinary 

When snowflakes are very large, it means that the storm won't 
last long; if the flakes are small, it may be only the beginning 
of a heavy fall of snow. If snow lays on the ground, without 
melting appreciably, it is a sign that another snowfall may be 
expected soon. 

Pick up a handful of snow, and try to melt it with a lighted 
match. If it melts quickly, the snow on the ground will soon 
disappear. But if the snow in your hand does not melt easily, 


t means that there will be snow on the ground for a considerable 

Old hunters say that when a deer lies down casually in the 
now, there will be another snowstorm within a few days. But 
fhen deer paw out places in the snow, as if to make beds for 
hemselves, it means that there will be no more snow for a week 
>r two at least. 

The old belief regarding Groundhog Day is very widely ac- 
epted in the Ozarks. The groundhog is supposed to emerge 
rom his burrow on Groundhog Day, and if the sun is shining 
ie goes back to sleep, knowing that there will be six more weeks 
f winter weather. 

February 2 is recognized as Groundhog Day in most sections 
f the United States, and is so marked on our calendars and 
Imanacs. Otto Ernest Rayburn says that the Missouri Legis- 
ature has established February 2 as the legal and official 
rroundhog Day of Missouri. 4 But there are thousands of peo- 
>le in Missouri and Arkansas who regard February 14 as 
rroundhog Day, and it is February 14, not February 2, that 
hey consider in deciding the proper dates for plowing and 

The publisher of the Crane (Missouri) Chronicle comments 
ditorially : "In Pike county, 111., where I was born, groundhogs 
aw or failed to see their shadows on February 2nd. That date 
>revails to this day as far west as the Mississippi. Down here, 
he official date is February 14th." 5 

Uncle Jack Short, Galena, Missouri, told me in 1944 that he 
ever heard of February 2 being called Groundhog Day until 
fter 1900. "February fourteenth is the real old-time Ground- 
og Day," he said. Mr. Short was born up on Crane Creek, not 
ar from Galena, in 1864. His father came from Tennessee in 
he 1840's. 

* Arcadian Magazine (February, 1932), p. 18. 
c Feb. 18, 1943. 


In 1933 I was in Greene County, Missouri, where February 2 
was clear, while February 14 was dark and cloudy. The "fur- 
riners" prepared for six weeks of cold weather, but the old- 
timers shucked their sheepskin coats and began to spade up 
their garden patches. The following is clipped from the Spring- 
field (Missouri) Press, Feb. 16, 1933. 

"What's all this talk about February 2 being groundhog day?*' 
asked a man at the courthouse Wednesday who is old enough to know 
what he is talking about. "It was always February 14 until late years. 
Suppose the darned hog has caught the spirit of the times and is 
stepping on the gas working under high pressure and starting his 
year 12 days earlier than in the good old days when men arid ground- 
hogs both took time to live in a rational manner. 

"My father and my grandfather, and all the generations from 
Adam down to 20 years ago pinned their faith to February 14 St. 
Valentine's day. That is the correct date, and it matters not what 
the younger generation may say about it. There was no shadows Tues- 
day and Winter is about over." 

Three years later the people in Greene County were still 
wrangling. Here is an editorial comment from the Springfield 
(Missouri) Leader, Feb. 4, 1936: 

Groundhog saw no shadow here and a large faction says it makes 
no difference whether the hog saw a shadow or not on February 2, 
as the correct date for such an observation is February 14. The 
second- of -February faction elaim that those who stand by the four- 
teenth have mixed the date up with Valentine Day. A great many 
people are neutral on the subject, or pretend to be in order to avoid 
making enemies. 

The last sentence of the above quotation shows how seriously 
the controversy is taken by some persons. Springfield is a town 
with a population of perhaps 60,000 souls, and many of these, 
including some newspapermen, are not native Ozarkers at all. 
Most of the weekly papers in the back-country villages do not 
even mention this controversy about the date. Their readers all 
know that Groundhog Day falls on February 14, and there is no 
need for any argument about it. 


It is said that Deacon Dobyns of the Oregon (Missouri) 
Sentinel kept careful records of Groundhog Day for more than 
forty years and discredited the see-your-shadow prophecy in 
his section of the country, for either February 2 or February 
14. But that doesn't matter in the least to the old-time hillman, 
who still believes in Groundhog Day. I have encountered, in 
some isolated localities, traces of an ancient notion that birds 
and rabbits begin their mating on February 14, and some old 
folks say that it is unlucky to eat rabbit meat after this date. 

There are other ways of determining whether winter is really 
over, regardless of Groundhog Day. Even though many warm 
days come early in the spring, if the moon appears just a hair 
farther north than it should be, many an Ozark farmer fears 
another killing frost. Some people say that the moment a sign 
of green shows on the bodark tree (bois d'arc, or Osagc orange) 
the cold weather is definitely over, but many hillfolk are skepti- 
cal even of this sign. 

One often hears frogs piping very early. Mr. Kufe Scott, 
attorney at Galena, Missouri, has noticed for many years that 
during court week (the second week in March) the frogs holler 
for the first time. In this locality it is commonly believed that 
the frogs always come out too soon, and are "froze back" three 
times before spring really arrives. The birds known as killdccrs 
are much more reliable than frogs, but even killdeers are some- 
times mistaken about the weather. One certain sign of spring, 
however, is the return of the turkey buzzards; the old-timers 
all agree that there is never any freezing weather after the first 
buzzard is seen. 

There are occasional violent tornadoes or cyclones in the 
Ozark country. I have seen long lines of big trees uprooted in 
the timber, and sometimes one of these storms destroys a settle- 
ment with considerable loss of life. But somehow the hillfolk 
as a rule are not much concerned about windstorms, and there 
is little of the tornado-phobia that used to be so common in 
the cyclone-cellar belt of Kansas and Oklahoma. 


I have heard farmers declare that the wind always slacks up 
at milkin'-time, both morning and night. Some of them really 
believe this, while others tell it to their children along with the 
old story that a boy who rubs a sow's milk in his eyes can see 
the wind. 

Some people say that the angle at which a star falls somehow 
indicates the direction of the wind which will arise next morn- 
ing. Charles J. Finger, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, tells me that 
his neighbors believe that the "set" of the Milky Way shows 
the direction of the prevailing wind for a month in advance. 

Many hillfolk think that cats are able to tell when a wind- 
storm is on the way ; some even say that just before a storm a 
cat always scratches itself and points with its tail in the direc- 
tion from which the wind will come. When crows fly erratically, 
or pitch about high in the air, the hillman expects a strong wind 
within the next hour or so. 

If a hog is seen looking up, when nothing is visible which 
would ordinarily attract his attention, some folk conclude that 
a terrific storm or tornado is imminent. Several farmers near 
Green Forest, Arkansas, and Berryville, Arkansas, where wind- 
storms have destroyed houses and killed many people, claim 
to have seen hogs looking up at the sky not long before the big 
winds came. 

There are still a few diehards in the Ozarks who believe that 
men can control the weather to some extent by charms and in- 
cantations, but the average farmer has little confidence in such 
methods. The wild rain dances of the Cbeyennes, not uncommon 
across the Oklahoma border, excite only laughter among the 
mountain folk. One hears occasionally of certain preachers, 
particularly those of the Pentecostal or "Holy Roller" cults, 
who have big meetings at which the whole congregation prays 
for rain but apparently without much effect. 

Other hillmen try to produce rain by burning brush along the 
creeks, or hanging dead snakes belly-up on fences, or killing 
frogs and leaving them in the dry road, or putting salt on 


gravel bars, or suspending live turtles above the water. Singing 
late at night is said to "fetch on a shower," as explained in the 
little rhyme: 

Sing afore you go to bed, 

You'll git up with a wet head, 

but I have never known any grown-up hillfolk to take it seri- 

In very dry periods a farmer may try to "charm up" a rain 
by pouring a gourdful of water on the ground in the middle of 
a dusty field. Children are sometimes told to do this by their 
elders, but I don't think that many adults have any real con- 
fidence in it. 

In some localities people imagine that they can cause a rain 
by submerging a cat in sulphur water they don't drown the 
animal, but make sure that it is completely under water for a 
moment at least. I once saw this tried at Noel, Missouri, but 
without any success. 

There is an old saying to the effect that "rain follers the 
plow," and this is sometimes interpreted to mean that a farmer 
can actually bring on a rainstorm by plowing in the dust. I 
have met farmers who repeated this saying and said that they 
believed it. But the only man I ever knew who actually put the 
idea into practice was a religious fanatic, not a typical Ozark 
hillman at all. 

Mr. G. H. Pipes tells me that in 1929 an old man appeared 
at Reeds Spring, Missouri, and announced that he was a pro- 
fessional rain maker. The country was mighty dry just then, 
and the tomato crop seemed certain to fail. Mr. Pipes says that 
Jim Kerr, who owned the tomato cannery in those days, offered 
fifty dollars for a good soaking rain. The old man begged a lot 
of used motor oil from a filling station and carried it to the top 
of a high hill near the village. That night he set the stuff afire, 
and the blaze could be seen for miles around. Next day came 
a good rain, and Jim Kerr paid him the fifty dollars without 
any quibbling. The rain maker stayed around Reeds Spring for 


several months, and the old-timers claim that he produced sev- 
eral other showers when they were sorely needed. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord says 6 when she was a child the 
rain maker knelt down facing the sunrise, bowed three times, and 
repeated the 6th verse of Psalm 72: "He shall come down like 
rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth." 

Some say that if one kills a spider it won't rain for seven 
days, and in certain families the children are very careful not 
to kill spiders in dry weather. It's only a sort of childish game, 
though. And I doubt if many of the children really believe that 
there is anything to it. 

Mr. Elbert Short, of Crane, Missouri, quoted for me an old 
sayin' that if a farmer doesn't provide sufficient cook wood for 
his womenfolk, his crops will suffer from lack of rain. I have 
heard this in several remote sections of Arkansas and Oklahoma, 
but very few backwoods farmers pay any attention to it, and 
the women still split most of the cook wood. 

Some Ozark farmers are very careful, at corn-planting time, 
to save the cobs from the seedcorn and soak them in water 
this is said to insure plenty of rain to make the crop. Once the 
crop is safe, these cobs are buried in the ground or thrown into 
a running stream. On the other hand, I am told that the people 
who live in the White River bottoms burn every seedcorn cob, 
contending that this prevents floods which would otherwise 
damage the corn. Will Rice of St. Joe, Arkansas, remarks that 
his neighbors believe that "if after you shell the seedcorn from 
the cobs, you throw the cobs in the creek, your corn will have 
all the moisture it needs. But if you burn the cobs in the stove, 
your corn crop will burn up in a drought." 7 

Many hillfolk feel that it is best not to call a tornado or 
cyclone by name. I remember a man near Pineville, Missouri, 
who viewed a sudden black cloud with considerable alarm. But 

6 KWTO Dial, Springfield, Mo., October, 1946, p. 3. 
i Kansas City Star, May 5, 1943, p. 2. 


he was careful to avoid the word cyclone. "I'm afeared something 
bad is a-cominY' he quavered. 

There is an old story to the effect that when a farmer sees a 
cyclone coming he should run into a field and stick his knife into 
the ground, with the edge of the blade toward the approaching 
cloud. The knife is supposed to "split the wind," so that his 
dwelling and barn will be spared. This notion is widely known 
in the Ozarks, and it is said that it is still practiced in Carroll 
county, Arkansas. I know a lot of backwoods people in Carroll 
county but have never found a man who would admit having 
done such a thing himself. Several of them have told me, however, 
that such "foolishment" is common among their neighbors. 

I was once present in a backwoods settlement when the place 
was struck by a high wind trees uprooted, some buildings 
turned over, and so on. The natives ran wildly about, cursing 
and screaming, exactly as people do elsewhere in similar situa- 
tions. One bewhiskered citizen prayed a little and then sprang 
into a pigpen where he somehow broke one of his legs. But if 
anybody stuck knives into the ground, or worked any sort of 
magic spells against the approaching storm, I found no evidence 
of it. 

3. Crops and 

' The changes of the moon and the signs 
of the zodiac are very important in de- 
termining the best dates for planting 
certain crops. What the hillman calls the "dark" of the moon is 
the period from the full moon to the new, the decrease or waning 
of the moon ; the other half of the lunar season, from the new 
moon to the full, when the moon is waxing or increasing in size, is 
known as the "light" of the moon. In general, it is said that 
vegetables which are desired to grow chiefly underground such 
as potatoes, onions, beets, turnips, radishes, and peanuts are 
best planted in the dark of the moon. Garden crops which bear 
the edible part above ground, such as beans, peas, tomatoes, 
and so on, are usually planted in the light of the moon. 

1 Besides the moon's phases, there are also the signs of the 
zodiac to be considered, and almost any hill farmer can make 
out these signs in the almanac, even though he cannot read a 
line of ordinary print. Merchants in the backwoods settlements 
distribute large calendars in which the phases of the moon and 
the signs of the zodiac are graphically and plainly represented. 
If a man can "read figgcrs" and knows the date he can see at a 
glance just what the situation is for any day in the year. In- 
stead of using the names of the twelve constellations as the 
astrologers do, the hillman usually designates the portion of 
the human body with which each is associated. Some very suc- 
cessful farmers believe that underground crops, such as pota- 
toes, should be planted "when the sign's in the feet" that is, 
when the moon is in Pisces. Jf a hillman wishes to indicate 
Aquarius he says "when the sign's in the legs." In the same way 


Capricornus is connected with the knees, Sagittarius with the 
thighs, Scorpio with the sex organs or "privates," Libra with 
the kidneys, Virgo with the bowels, Leo with the heart, Cancer 
with the breast, Gemini with the arms, Taurus with the neck, 
and Aries with the head. It is interesting to note that some 
Ozarkers say "the sign of the crawpappy" when they mean 
Scorpio, simply because the picture of the scorpion in the 
almanac looks rather like a crawfish. 

Mr. C. C. Keller, farm agent in Greene County, Missouri, 1 
stirred up a great controversy once by advising farmers to 
plant their potatoes on March 17 every year, with no regard 
to the signs of the zodiac or the changes of the moon. One of my 
neighbors in McDonald county, Missouri, was so horrified at 
this heresy that he decided not to send his son to the village 
high school. "If education don't learn a man no better than 
that," said he, "I don't want none of it in my family !" 

Uncle Jack Short of Galena, Missouri, told me that some 
farmers back in the 1880's used to plant potatoes on February 
14. Mr. Short himself thinks that this is much too early; he 
plants his own spuds on March 17, or even later sometimes 
as late as March 30. I have met a few old-timers who say that 
the one-hundredth day of the year is the proper day to plant 
potatoes, regardless of the weather or any other considerations. 

However farmers may differ about the proper date for plant- 
ing, they are generally agreed that potatoes should be dug in 
the light of the moon, as they will rot otherwise. 

There are men in Arkansas who are always careful to plant 
onions and potatoes on opposite sides of the garden, believing 
that potatoes will not do well if onions are growing too close, 
A little boy who asked about this was told that the odor of 
onions "makes a 'tater cry its eyes out." This was only a joke, 
of course, but the fact remains that these people do not plant 
potatoes and onions together/. 

It is very generally agreed that beans should be planted when 
i Springfield (Missouri) Press, Mar. 15, 1933. 


the sign is in the arms. Plant them in Virgo, the old-timers say, 
and you'll get large plants and plenty of bloom, but mighty few 
beans and poor quality at that. An old woman fingering some 
very inferior beans at a crossroads store remarked : "They must 
have been planted when the maid held the posies" in Virgo, 
that is. Bunch beans should be started on Good Friday regard- 
less, according to some very successful bean growers. All beans 
should be planted in the morning rather than in the afternoon, 
and there is a widely accepted theory that beans planted in 
May never amount to much. Some old hillmen contend that one 
should never plant beans until after the first whippoorw ill's 
cry is heard, no matter what the weather conditions are, or 
what the signs indicate. The farmer who burns the hulls of his 
seed beans or peas will get no crop anyhow, no matter what 

Cucumbers are best planted in Gemini, other things being 
equal, but some old-timers insist that cucumber seeds must be 
planted on May 1 before sunup this protects the vines against 
insects. Many hillmen believe that the size of a cucumber de- 
pends upon the virility of the man who plants the seed cu- 
cumbers planted by a woman or an old man never amount to 
much. A feeble-minded person is particularly successful in 
growing certain crops, and there is an old saying that "it takes 
a damn fool to raise gourds." Peppers thrive best if the indi- 
vidual who plants them is angry at the time, and if a lunatic 
can be induced to do the planting, so much the better. It is 
considered very bad luck to plant sage in one's own garden the 
backwoods housewife always calls in a stranger to do this job 
if possible. 

The old-timers around Marionville, Missouri, tell me that 
watermelon seeds should be planted on May 10, regardless. 
Many farmers in Arkansas, however, plant watermelons on 
May 1, before sunrise, just like cucumbers. Some hillmen soak 
watermelon seeds in sweet milk overnight before planting them, 


and one fellow near Clinton, Arkansas, told me that this trick 
is supposed to make the melons sweeter. 

Cabbage, head lettuce, or any vegetable that heads, is sup- 
posed to be planted in Aries. There is a widespread notion, 
however, that all lettuce is best planted on Saint Valentine's 
day February 14, which the old-timers still call Groundhog 
Day. Otto Ernest Rayburn tells me that once, when Valentine's 
Day fell on Sunday, the people at Kingston, Arkansas, got up 
before daylight to plant their lettuce, so as not to be seen violat- 
ing the Sabbath. Peas are always planted on February 14 
many gardeners cling to this idea after they have discarded most 
of the other superstitions. 

People who used to raise hemp for cordage the same weed 
that is called marijuana by the moderns say that this stuff 
is best planted on Good Friday. Flax must be planted on Good 
Friday no matter what the weather conditions, according to 
the old settlers, but not much flax is grown in the Ozarks now- 

Farmers who differ widely about the proper signs and dates 
for other crops are pretty well agreed that turnips should be 
planted on July 25, regardless of signs, weather, or the phases 
of the moon. Uncle Jack Short, of Galena, Missouri, quoted a 
little rhyme: 

Sow your turnips the 25th of July, 
You'll make a crop, wet or dry, 

and he tells me that this has been known and followed in his 
family for more than a hundred years. 

Oats which are to be thrashed must be sowed in the light 
of the moon, to insure good full heads. But many hillmen believe 
that oats intended for fodder should be planted in the "olden 
moon" the dark of the moon, that is. Some people near For- 
syth, Missouri, contend that all wheat and oats are best sowed 
in the dark of the moon if planted in the light of the moon 
the stalks will be too tall and spindlin', and likely to fall down. 


One of the men who told me about this remarked also that a man 
who is raising oats should not have his hair cut during the 
growing season, but the younger members of the family smiled 
at this "old fogy notion." 

The best time to plant corn is when the oak leaves or the 
hickory buds, according to some hillmen are as big as squir- 
rels' ears. Some think that it is better to plant corn immediately 
after the first dove coos in the spring, or w r hen the first martins 
appear, usually in late March or early April. There is an old 
saying that one should never plant corn the first two days of 
May, no matter what the circumstances or the weather. Corn 
never amounts to much if it is planted on one of the "blind days" 
the day before the new moon, the day of the new moon, or the 
day following the new moon. If a man laughs loudly while plant- 
ing corn, it is said that the grains on the cob will be irregular 
and too far apart. Many farmers plant corn in the dark of the 
moon. Roy Cole, of Taney county, Missouri, says that the 
light of the moon grows tall stalks and lots of top fodder, but 
mighty few ears of corn. Many hillfolk believe that corn is best 
planted in Scorpio, other things being equal. 

Some hillmen always plant sugar cane on a certain day in 
July, and it is said that this is figured from the number of snows 
in the preceding February, but I have never been able to learn 
just how it works. Mrs. Pearl DeHaven, of Springfield, Mis- 
souri, says that "when the katydids first begin to sing it is 
time to plant cane, if you want your stock to eat it." There 
are substantial farmers in Arkansas who believe that a man 
with a child less than one year old should never plant cane or 
"soggrums" at all, though what the penalty is for violating 
this rule I do not know. 

; Fruit trees are set out in one of the "fruitful" signs, such as 
Scorpio, and in the dark of the moon, although any country 
boy will tell you that trees must be pruned in the light of the 
moon. Transplanted trees should be set in their old positions 
relative to the points of the compass the north side of the 


tree must still face the north. Some farmers contend that any 
sort of tree may be transplanted at any time of the year (in the 
dark of the moon, of course) if one is careful to water it every 
day exactly at noon, and keep this up until the first rain falls. 

In planting peach trees, it is always well to bury old shoes 
or boots near the roots. Not far from Little Rock, Arkansas, 
I have known farmers to drive into town and search the refuse 
piles for old shoes to be buried in peach orchards. The older 
and more decayed the leather, the better it works as fertilizer. 

Many hill people drive nails into peach trees, but just what 
effect this is supposed to produce I do not know. Some say that 
nails are driven into barren trees in order to make them bear 
fruit, or to keep the peaches from falling off before they are 
ripe, but others are noncommittal or evasive. "Them's family 
matters," one old man growled when I asked why a certain peach 
tree was so thickly studded with big old-fashioned nails. 

I have met intelligent and educated farmers in Arkansas who 
believe that if the wind is in the south on February 14, the 
peach crop will fail. Some farmers prefer to express this notion 
in another way, saying that "if the wind aint in the south on 
Groundhog Day, we'll get peaches no matter how cold it is." 

There is an old saying in southern Missouri that a big yield 
of peaches means that certain other crops especially corn, 
wheat, and oats will be poor and scanty ; this notion is stoutly 
defended by farmers who pay little attention to other super- 
stitions. Akin to this is the theory that a season which is good 
for tomatoes is somehow bad for walnuts ; a man who has run 
a "tomater factory" (a cannery, that is) for many years tells 
me that when the tomato crop is exceptionally good there aren't 
any walnuts at all. 

Up around Marshfield, Missouri, many farmers say that if it 
rains on May 23, there'll be no blackberries that summer. Near 
Rogers, Arkansas, I met a family of berrypickers who believe 
that even a few drops of rain on June 2 will ruin the prospect 
for berries, while other hillfolk claim that June 13 is '*black- 


berry day" if it rains or even thunders on June 13, the 
blackberries will not be worth picking. Many people feel that 
rain on June 1 is bad for the grape crop, both wild and culti- 
vated. Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, told 
me of the belief that if it rains on June 20, the grapes will fall 
right off the vines. 

Some people insist that mushrooms must be gathered when 
the moon is full gather 'em at any other time and they will 
be unpalatable, or perhaps even poisonous. It is said that any 
mushroom which grows in an orchard where apple trees are 
blooming is edible. 

The clearing of underbrush and the killing of sprouts is a seri- 
ous matter to the Ozark farmer. There is a widespread belief 
that on some certain day one can kill large trees merely by 
touching the trunk with the blade of an ax, but there is so much 
difference of opinion about the proper date that little practical 
use is made of this theory. Nevertheless, nearly all of the old- 
timers are convinced that there is something in the idea. 

Some hillfolk believe that if sprouts are cut on the ninth or 
tenth of May, they will never grow again. One of my neighbors 
near Pineville, Missouri, insisted on clearing his garden patch on 
these two days, although his wife and child lay dying only a few 
yards away. 

Roy Cole, of Taney county, Missouri, says that "if you stick 
an ax in a saplin' in the spring, when the sign's in the heart, the 
leaves will wither in a few hours, and the tree will be dead in 
three or four months." Uncle Jack Short, of Galena, Missouri, 
would not commit himself about the sign, but told me that he 
had killed big oaks in May, when the oak leaves had not quite 
reached their full size, by making two or three deep cuts. The 
trees were positively not "ringed" or "girdled," he said, as in 
an ordinary deadening, but the leaves shriveled up in about six 

A woodsman near Walnut Shade, Missouri, told me that June 
2 was "tree-killin* day" in his neighborhood, and that one man 


cutting brush on this day can accomplish more than ten men 
working at any other season. 

In general, I think that most Ozarkers believe it is best to cut 
weeds and grub sprouts and deaden timber in August some 
say between August 1 and August 20. There is a pretty general 
opinion that the dark of the moon is better than the light of the 
moon for this work. I have met men who prefer to grub sprouts 
in Virgo, or Gemini, but the great majority speak for Leo 
"when the sign's in the heart." 

By the same token* experts in these matters say that one 
should never cut hay when the sign is in the heart : if you do, 
it'll kill the roots, and you'll have no hay next year. "Lots of 
these here book farmers, when their clover or alfalfa dies, think 
it was froze out," one old man told me. "But the facts o' the 
matter is, the damn' fools cut it when the sign's in the heart, and 
that's what killed it." 

A man who owns land near Carl Junction, Missouri, tells me 
that some farmers in his neighborhood cut sprouts only on the 
dates marked "Ember Days" in the almanac ; they hire all the 
men they can get on these days and "sprout" large areas, claim- 
ing that this is more economical than the ordinary way of 
sprouting fields. 

Ask almost any Ozark farmer, and he will tell you that if 
you fell a tree in the dark of the moon the log will show a definite 
tendency to sink into the ground, while a log cut in the light of 
the moon will not sink. Shingles or "shakes" rived out in the 
dark of the moon lie flat, but if made or put on during the 
moon's increase they warp and turn up. In recent years I have 
met several men who say this is all wrong, that shingles must 
be made and roofs laid in the light of the moon. All agree, how- 
ever, that "board trees" from which shingles are made must be 
cut in the dark of the moon, otherwise they will rot. Rail fences 
are subject to the same principle; if the rails are split and 
laid in the light of the moon they are sure to curl and twist, and 
decay much more rapidly than if they are cut when the moon is 


dark. Even seasoned planks, if laid on the ground in the light 
of the moon, invariably warp or cup, while in the dark of the 
moon there is no such difficulty. Hog raisers sometimes build 
their fences during the moon's last quarter ; they believe that 
this causes the bottom rail to sink into the ground, so that hogs 
cannot root under the fence. 

Many Ozark farmers say that it is very bad luck to drive 
fence posts in the light of the moon, but just why this is so I 
have not been able to learn. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Mis- 
souri, tells me that a posthole dug in the dark of the moon can 
be filled up level full with the dirt that was taken out of it ; 
when a posthole is dug in the light of the moon, however, there 
is always more dirt than can possibly be replaced. In Baxter 
county, Arkansas, I was told that in making posts one should 
sharpen the end that was nearest the ground in the living tree ; 
it's bad luck to set a post upside down. 

The old-timers long ago discovered, or at least believed, that 
chickens which roost in cedar trees are healthy and free from 
mites and other parasites, so that many farmers periodically cut 
cedar boughs and put them in their hencoops. A few years ago, 
when bananas became common in the village stores, people some- 
how got the notion that a banana stalk hung up in a 'chicken 
house would rid the whole place of mites and chicken lice, and 
these stalks are still seen in outbuildings occasionally. 

Some chicken raisers tell me that it is a mistake to keep 
chickens near a potato patch, or near a place where potatoes 
are stored. The smell of potatoes, it is said, makes hens quit 
laying and want to brood. I have often seen hens with corn 
shucks fastened to their tails this is supposed to discourage 
a settin' hen in a few days. 

It is generally thought best to set eggs in the light of the 
moon. Never set a hen or an incubator when the wind is blowing 
from the south, or mighty few of the eggs will hatch. Eggs 
carried in a woman's bonnet, it is said, invariably make pullets. 
Mrs. Pearl DeHaven, of Springfield, Missouri, repeats the story 


that if eggs are carried in a man's hat, they all hatch roosters. 
Unusually long eggs, or eggs with shells noticeably rough at one 
end, are also regarded as "rooster eggs." It is said that eggs 
set on Sunday produce roosters, but one hears also that eggs 
placed under a hen in the forenoon, no matter what the day, 
always hatch a majority of pullets. Some hillfolk believe that 
chicks hatched in May, regardless of how favorable the other 
conditions may be, will never mature properly. 

There are several magic tricks to protect domestic fowl from 
birds of prey. Mrs. Lillian Short, of Galena, Missouri, tells me 
that one of her neighbors used to take a smooth stone from a 
runnin' branch, just about big enough to fit the palm of the 
hand, and keep it in the oven of the cookstove this was sup- 
posed to prevent hawks from killing the chickens. Most hillfolk 
of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone, and 
some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently 
fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In 
the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even 
set into the mortar at the back of the chimney. 

Some chicken grannies pull one feather out of each chicken in 
their flock and bury these feathers deep in the dirt under the 
henhouse or henroost. As long as the feathers remain there, it is 
believed that those particular chickens cannot be carried off by 
hawks or varmints, or stolen by human chicken thieves. 

I once saw a large flock of chickens in the Arkansas back- 
woods, and about half of them had dirty rags fastened round 
their necks, like collars. "There's coal oil on them rags," an old 
woman remarked, "an' it cures the roup." 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, says that a handful 
of "polecat brush," put into the chickens' drinking water, will 
stop an epidemic of roup or chicken cholera quicker than any 
other treatment. Polecat brush is a shrub with tiny yellow flowers 
I have not been able to identify this plant. Some people call 
it aromatic sumac. 

It is very commonly believed that people who raise chickens 


should never give away a chick always take some sort of pay- 
ment, even if it is only a matter of form. A neighbor told me 
that when she wanted to give some chicks to her mother-in-law, 
the old lady insisted on "paying" her with a handful of wild 
strawberries, carefully counting out one berry for each chick. 
The old saying is that if you give away a chick, your luck goes 
with it. I remember a woman who had two black chicks that the 
hen wouldn't own, so she gave them to a little girl from the city. 
The old-timers predicted ruin for the whole family, and the pre- 
diction came true with a vengeance. Before the year was out, 
my neighbor's husband was sent to the penitentiary, and her 
only daughter "went wrong." 

Down around Rogers and Bentonville, Arkansas, there are 
many people who believe that healthy geese lay the first eggs 
of the season on March 17 if the eggs appear very much later, 
it means that the geese will have a bad year. Most backwoods 
women are taught that live geese must be picked in the new moon, 
and never at any other time ; some say that this makes the birds 
produce a fine new crop of feathers, others think that it some- 
how affects the quality of the feathers already plucked. 

There are several peculiar taboos against mentioning aloud 
the exact number of chickens in a flock, or cattle in a herd, 
particularly if it happens to be an even number one divisible 
by two. A real old-timer never counts aloud the flowers or fruit 
on a tree, or the number of peas in a pod, or even the number 
of ears on a stalk of corn, because of an ancient notion that 
this counting may injure the crop. 

A hill farmer, when asked how many bee-gums he has, never 
mentions the exact number if he did so, he would get no honey 
that season. Some beekeepers believe that every hive must be 
moved an inch or so on February 22, in order to prevent an 
infectious disease called foul brood. Moths which destroy the 
honeycomb are driven away by scattering splinters from a 
"lightnin'-struck" tree over the hives, and I am told that the 
same treatment will rid a cabin of fleas and bedbugs which 


latter pest the Ozarker calls "cheenches." When a death occurs 
in the family, the hillfolk attach a bit of black cloth to each 
hive; if this is not done, the bees are likely to leave the place 
and carry their stored honey away to bee trees in the woods. 
Honey is best removed from the hive in accordance with the state 
of the moon and the signs of the zodiac, but a man who can hold 
his breath is never stung by honeybees, anyhow. In the case of 
yellow jackets one protects himself by chanting: 

Jasper whisper jacket! 

You caint no more sting me 

Than the Devil can count sixpence ! 

There are many cattlemen in the Ozarks who will not feed 
an even number of cattle. I knew one man who bought forty-one 
steers, expecting to feed them through the winter and sell them 
in the spring. When he discovered that one was missing he was 
much disturbed and immediately tried to buy another animal 
to replace it. Failing in this, he sold one at a very low price, 
preferring to winter thirty-nine steers rather than forty. When 
I asked what would be the penalty for violating this rule against 
even numbers, he said that the cattle would not be "thrifty, 5 * 
by which he meant that they would not fatten properly. The 
same man told me that it was bad luck to pull a pig's tail, as 
this may cause the animal to become "unthrifty." 

Mr. Elaine Short, of Carl Junction, Missouri, tells me that 
his neighbors always dehorn cattle in Aquarius, believing that 
this prevents hemorrhage and infection. My friends in all sec- 
tions of the Ozarks know better than to castrate pigs without 
considering the signs of the zodiac, for animals cut when the 
sign is in the heart are almost sure to become infected and die. 
The best time for this operation is "when the sign's in the legs." 

Many hillfolk, in both Missouri and Arkansas, repeat the 
saying that "a man with lots of hair on his legs is always a good 
hog raiser," but whether this is meant literally I do not know. 
Perhaps akin to the above is a hillbilly crack reported by Nancy 
Clemens, of Springfield, Missouri, to the effect that "pigs born 


in January always have black teeth.** Miss Clemens isn't sure 
just what this means, and neither am I. 

Some of the old folks are very careful to see that hogs, at 
least hogs which they intend for their own use, do not have 
access to garlic. Several country women have told me that if a 
hog eats one little sprig of garlic and is butchered within a 
week, all the meat is so impregnated with garlic that "it aint 
fitten to be et." To feed hogs on soft, frostbitten corn is an- 
other sure way to ruin the pork ; some farmers believe that this 
spoiled corn spreads the cholery, but the best hogmen say 
there's nothing to it. 

The hillfolk believe that sweet milk is not very good for 
grown-up human beings to drink, and that it is frequently fatal 
to hogs. Very few of the real old-timers can be induced to give 
sweet milk to pigs they prefer to wait until the stuff has "clab- 
bered up." Many backwoods fox hunters think that sweet milk 
is poisonous to dogs, too, and are horrified to see tourists feed 
valuable hunting dogs with messes containing sweet milk. 

In many parts of the Ozark country I have heard stories of 
"mule-footed" hogs a breed of swine with solid hooves. It was 
my impression at first that the mule-footed hog must be a 
mythical creature, comparable to the willipus-wallipus or the 
jimplicute, but Uncle Jack Short of Galena, Missouri, tells me 
that he once saw several mule-footed hogs exhibited at a carnival 
or street fair in Stone county, Missouri. The Christian County 
Republican, a weekly published at Ozark, Missouri, carried the 
following advertisement : 

INFORMATION WANTED: Concerning what used to be known in this 
locality as "mule-footed" hogs. Anyone still having this strain 
or any information pertaining is asked to communicate with me. 
Floyd C. Goddard, Box 234, Olds, Alberta, Canada. 2 

I have always intended to write Mr. Goddard and try to find 
out just what he learned about this subject, but never got around 
to it, somehow. 
2 Dec. 30 1943, p. 8. 


Some people believe that to steal a very young pig will bring 
them luck. I knew a man who caught a boy in the act of stealing 
one of his little pigs. He let the boy get away with it and made 
no complaint which was not in character at all. I kept pester- 
ing the old man about it, and finally he said that the boy "didn't 
steal it just for the pig" 

The best time for butchering hogs is a very important matter 
in the Ozarks, because apart from wild game pork is the hill- 
man's only meat. Few Ozarkers will eat mutton, and they don't 
care much for beef even when they can get it. The real old- 
timers butcher in the light of the moon, believing that pork 
killed in the dark of the moon is tough, has an inferior flavor, 
and does not keep well. Besides, most women claim that pork 
butchered in the decrease of the moon will "all go to grease" and 
curl up in the skillet when it is cooked. 

Many farmers keep a few sheep for the wool, and goats are 
valued because they eat underbrush and thus help to clear the 
land. The old-timers never shear sheep or wash wool in the de- 
crease of the moon, believing that the wool will shrink if handled 
at this time. Some Ozarkers who have no interest in breeding 
goats nevertheless buy or borrow a male goat occasionally and 
turn it in with sheep, cattle, or even horses. The idea is that a 
goat in the same pasture keeps other animals healthy, and is 
especially good for horses and cattle with diseases of the respir- 
atory tract. 

Barn swallows are supposed to bring good luck to cattlemen, 
and it is said that a barn in which swallows are nesting will 
never be struck by lightning. To shoot a barn swallow is always 
unlucky, and sometimes it makes the cows give bloody milk. It 
is generally believed that eating persimmons makes cows go dry ; 
there may be some truth in this, and all cows seem to eat per- 
simmons whenever they can get at them. Eating large quantities 
of acorns or turnips is also supposed to make cows go dry. "If a 
cow loses her cud, give her a dishrag to chaw" is an old sayin' 
in the Ozarks, but I am not sure just what is meant by it. 


There is a very widely known superstition that to kill a toad 
will make one's cows give bloody milk. Most people think that 
nothing can be done about this, once the toad is dead, but Otto 
Ernest Rayburn found hillfolk in Arkansas who claim to be able 
to repair the damage, particularly if the toad was killed acci- 
dentally. 3 "Get seven pebbles," says Rayburn, "and throw them 
over your left shoulder into an open well at sundown. The milk 
will be all right after that." 

Many farmers say that it is a good idea to bury a bit of a 
cow's afterbirth under a pawpaw tree, as this will cause her to 
bring forth female calves thereafter. It is best to begin weaning 
calves on the third day before a full moon this makes 'em 
grow into big healthy cattle. Most Ozarkers wean calves when 
the moon is in Aquarius, without considering any other factors. 
When a calf is sold, some hillfolk always drag it out of the pen 
tailfirst, so that the cow will not miss it so much ; I saw a man 
doing this once, and he said that it was all foolishness, but he 
always pulled 'em out by the tail to please his children. 

Even today, in some parts of the Ozark country, cattle are 
not fenced up in pastures but merely marked or branded and 
allowed to roam the hills at will, so that the matter of finding 
one's cows is often difficult. However, a boy has only to consult 
a harvestman, or daddy longlegs, and cry out : 

Longlegs, longlegs, 

Tell me where the cows are 

whereupon the creature will immediately crawl in the direction 
of the strayed animals. If a daddy longlegs is not available, the 
farmer may spit in his hand and strike the spittle smartly with 
a finger ; the fluid is supposed to fly toward the lost cattle. 

If the white of a horse's eye shows all around the iris it means 
that the animal is a killer many hillfolk believe that human 
beings whose eyes protrude are dangerous, too. Horses with 
certain white markings are looked upon with disfavor, accord- 
ing to an old rhyme: 
a Ozark Gauntry, p. 271. 


Four white feet an' a white nose, 

Take off his hide an* throw him to the crows. 

A horse foaled in May, it is said, always has a tendency to lie 
down in a running stream and often does so with a rider on his 
back. No matter when a colt is born, the old folks insist that 
it should be weaned when the sign's in the legs. "Try to wean a 
colt when the sign's in the belly," an old woman told me, "an 5 
see what happens ! He'll raise hell sure, an' maybe git sick be- 

Roy Cole, who lives on Bear Creek in Taney county, Mis- 
souri, says that it is easy to tell whether a colt will make a big 
horse or a small one. When a colt is first able to stand, measure 
the distance from the ground to the point of its shoulder this 
is exactly one-half of the height the horse will attain at matu- 
rity. Some horsemen measure from the hairline of the colt's 
front hoof to the center of the knee joint this distance is one- 
fourth of the height the horse will be when full grown. In other 
words, if the colt's hoof-to-knee measurement is sixteen inches, 
the grown horse will be sixteen hands high a hand is four 

A great many hill people claim that when a mare's first colt 
is a mule, her second, although sired by a stallion, is sure to 
have a stripe down its back. Professional horse breeders ridicule 
this notion, but a lot of old-time hillmen still believe that there 
is something in it. 

Akin to the superstition regarding prenatal influence and the 
"marking" of babies is the idea that a horse breeder can color 
a colt to suit his taste simply by hanging a cloth of the desired 
color before the mare's eyes when she is bred. 

The fact that a horse rolls on the ground has no particular 
significance, but near Harrison, Arkansas, they say that if a 
horse rolls over and back, it means that he's worth a lot of 

It is very bad luck to change a horse's name ; to sell a man a 
horse and tell him its name incorrectly is regarded as a dirty 


trick, since it means that he will never get any satisfactory 
service out of the animal. There is an old saying that one should 
"always name a good dog after a bad man," but a long list of 
dog names which I once collected in the Ozarks shows no evi- 
dence that the hillman really puts it into practice. 

There are many outlandish remedies and treatments for the 
ailments of domestic animals. Ordinary soft soap made with 
wood ashes is regarded as a sort of universal tonic for hogs, so 
the hillman just mixes a little soap with the hog feed occasion- 
ally. "Soap will cure a hog no matter what ails him, if you git 
it to him in time," said one of my neighbors. Equal parts of soft 
soap and lard are administered to cattle as a cure for the mur- 
rain. Many old-timers mix soot from the chimney with the salt 
they give their cattle, but I have been unable to learn the rea- 
son for this. 

^ To cure holler horn in cattle, some hillmen take a gimlet and 
bore a hole in the horn just above the hairline, leave the hole 
open for several days, and then plug it with a small cork. Others 
fill the cavity with salt, which seems to work as well as the stop- 

If a cow has the disease known as holler tail, you must split 
the tail open and apply a mixture of salt and vinegar, then 
bind it up with woolen yarn. Mrs. Pearl DeHaven, of Spring- 
field, Missouri, thinks that salt and pepper is a better com- 
bination than salt and vinegar. "Of course," she writes, "mod- 
ern veterinaries tell us there is no such thing as holler tail, but 
these young squirts have a lot to learn." Any disease which 
involves paralysis of the hindquarters seems to be called holler 

A neighbor of mine, when several of his horses were sick, spent 
an entire day rounding up every horse and mule on the place. 
With a sharp knife he split the end of each animal's tail just 
a little, and let it bleed a few drops. I tried to find out what 
was wrong with the horses, but the man had no idea. He said 
that splittin' their tails always cured them, no matter what 
the trouble was. 


When a horse has colic, these amateur vets jusi blow a little 
salt into each of its nostrils. If an animal's legs are cut by barbed 
wire, the hillman burns a bit of wool and blows the smoke over 
the wounds by way of antisepsis ; sometimes he twists a cord 
tightly about the creature's tail, believing that this stops the 
injured legs from bleeding. 

^Farmers sometimes mix gunpowder with a watchdog's food, 
believing that it renders the animal more vicious?^ have never 
known a hillman to give gunpowder to a foxhound or a tree 
dog. I did see a boy in Galena, Missouri, dosing an Irish setter 
with gunpowder somebody had told him it was a sure cure for 
distemper. Many hillfolk treat distemper by rubbing kerosene 
on the back of the animal's neck. Others claim to cure distemper 
by burning chicken feathers in a paper sack and holding the 
sack over the dog's head so he is forced to inhale the fumes. A 
dog's nose, the hillman thinks, should be black, and a red-nosed 
dog is always regarded with suspicion. Many old-timers imagine 
that a dog whose nose isn't black must be sick, and they keep 
their own dogs away from such an animal, fearing infection. 

Here is a "recept" from an old manuscript book belonging 
to Miss Miriam Lynch, Notch, Missouri. 


apple sider vinegar % pint 

blue stone teaspoon l / 2 full 

allom teaspoon % full 

borax teaspoon % full 

coppers teaspoon % full 

then Take yellow rute and make 
a strong Tea and Disolve x 

the rest in it. ^ 

The "blue stone" mentioned is copper sulphate ; "allom" is 
alum ; "coppers" is ferrous sulphate, which is often called cop- 
peras; "yellow rute" is probably golden-seal (Hydrastis), also 
known as yellow puccoon. 

To cure a dog of fits, just cut up some of your own hair into 


pieces about one-eighth of an inch long, mix these pieces with 
lard, and make the dog swallow a spoonful once a week. 

The best way to keep a dog at home, according to some of 
the old-timers, is to bury a little of its hair under the hearth 
or the doorstep. I once knew a hunter in southwest Missouri 
who had ten or twelve foxhounds. He was a man who moved 
frequently from one shack to another, as he owned no property 
and was unable to pay any rent. His wife told me that every 
time they moved he cut a little hair off each dog's tail and buried 
it carefully somewhere about the new cabin. This woman ad- 
mitted that the hounds stayed at home better than most, but 
she attributed it to the vast quantities of "dog cornbread" which 
her husband required her to bake for them, rather than to the 
hair which he buried under each shanty. "Them dogs' hair is 
planted under ever' old shack for miles around," she said, "but I 
take notice they allus come home where the bread is at !" 

Some hillfolk say that to keep a dog at home one has only 
to cut a green stick exactly the length of the animal's tail and 
bury it under the doorstep. Another method is to cut off the 
tip of his tail and nail it on a gate ; I have twice seen this tried, 
but without any good result so far as I could perceive. 

If a night dog will not bark "treed," some old hunters pro- 
fess to cure him of this fault by smashing green gourds on the 
tree above his head. Otto Ernest Rayburn mentions this, 4 and 
I have heard of it in many different places. But experienced 
dogmen tell me that it is "just an old hillbilly joke" and was 
never meant to be taken seriously. 
* Ozark Country, p. 157. 

4. Household Superstitions 

The signs and omens listed in this chap- 
ter are mostly concerned with matters 
of no great import, but they are seri- 
ously considered none the less, especially by women and children. 
The arrival of a visitor, for example, is an important event in a 
backwoods cabin, and there are numerous signs and portents of 
his coming. 

(When a woman drops a dishrag she knows at once that some 
dirty individual is coming toward the cabin ; if the cloth falls 
in a compact wad the visitor will be a woman, if it spreads out 
upon the floor a man is to be expected. It is bad luck to drop a 
dishrag anyhow, and many women take the cuss off by throwing 
a pinch of salt over the left shoulder immediately. To drop the 
towel used in drying dishes means that a stranger will arrive 
very soon, and if the towel is dropped twice it means that the 
newcomer will be hungry, and a meal must be prepared. The 
accidental dropping of cutlery also signifies a guest a fork 
means a man, a case knife a woman. If you help yourself to 
something at table, when you already have some of the same 
stuff on your plate, it means that somebody is coming who is 
hungry for that particular article of food. ) 

If the coffeepot rattles back and forth on the stove, or a 
rocking chair moves along the floor as the woman rocks in it, 
she expects company before night and makes her household 
preparations accordingly. If she accidentally drops a bit of 
food on the floor, she knows that the visitor will be hungry. 
Children sometimes try to "fetch company" by running in one 
door and out another, or jumping out the window if the cabin 


has only one door, which is frequently the case. If coffee grounds 
cling to the sides of the cup, high up, it is a sign that com- 
pany is coming with good news. 

When two roosters fight in the yard, it is said that two young 
men will soon arrive ; if two hens fight, female visitors are ex- 
pected. If a dog rolls on the ground before the door, the chil- 
dren watch him closely, knowing that when he gets up his nose 
will point in the direction from which a stranger is approaching. 

If the housewife's nose itches, it means that some unexpected 
company is on the way. An itching on the right side of the nose 
indicates a man, an itching on the left side means a woman. 
Some hillfolk say that such a visitor will be poor or needy, ac- 
cording to the old rhyme: 

If your nose itches, if your nose itches, 
Somebody coming with a hole in his britches. 

If the woman's right hand itches, it means that she will soon 
shake hands with an unexpected guest. When the joint of either 
thumb itches, she expects an unwelcome visitor within an hour 
or two. 

A pretty girl who lives appropriately enough in a town called 
Blue Eye, Missouri, told me that "if your right eye itches you'll 
be lucky, but if your left eye itches it means a disappointment." 
Most Ozarkers don't see it this way, however they believe that 
an itching of the right eye signifies bad luck, but when the left 
eye itches it means that good news is a-comin'. "Never in all 
my life," an old lady told me, "did my right eye itch real bad, 
without I got into some kind of trouble before the day was 
out!" Some people think that if your right ear burns, a man 
is talking about you, while if your left ear burns, a woman is 
taking your name in vain. Others say that an itching of the 
right ear means that someone is speaking well of you, but a 
tickling of the left ear means that someone is talking unfavor- 
ably about you. If your left hand suddenly begins to itch, the 
old folks say, you will shortly receive an unexpected present. 


When a woman sneezes before breakfast, it means that com- 
pany will arrive before noon. If she sneezes during breakfast, 
it is a sign that two or more people will leave the house before 
sundown. If she sneezes with food in her mouth, it means that 
she will hear of a death before twenty-four hours have passed. 
If she sneezes while telling a story, it is a true story even 
though she ma} 7 believe that it is a lie. Some people say that the 
girl who sneezes on Monday is sure to kiss a stranger before 
the week is out. 

Mrs. Coral Almy Wilson, of Zinc, Arkansas, quotes the fol- 
lowing sneezing-rhyme : 

[ Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger, 
Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger, 
Sneeze on Wednesday, sneeze for a letter, 
Sneeze on Thursday, sneeze for better, 
Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for sorrow, 
Sneeze on Saturday, a friend you seek, ^ 

, Sneeze on Sunday, the Devil will be with you all week, y , 

Here is a different version from Reynolds county, Missouri. 

Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for fun, 

Sneeze on Tuesday, see someone, 

Sneeze on Wednesday, get a letter, 

Sneeze on Thursday, something better, 

Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for sorrow, 

Sneeze on Saturday, see your beau tomorrow, 

Sneeze on Sunday, the Devil will control you all week. 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Rolla, Missouri, tells me that the 
old-timers were careful never to let the supply of salt get too 
low they believed that to run completely out of salt meant a 
whole year's poverty and privation for the family. Above all 
one should make sure that the salt shaker is full on New Year's 
Day, since this insures prosperity for the coming year. 

When I first came to the Ozarks I heard several vulgar wise- 
cracks about candle salt as somehow connected with the sex life 
of elderly persons ; when I asked what candle salt was, they told 


me that the old folks used to put salt on tallow candles in the 
belief that it made them last longer. 

At table it is bad form to take a salt shaker from another 
person's hand, since this may bring evil fortune to both parties ; 
the correct thing is to wait until your neighbor sets the salt 
shaker down on the table and withdraws his hand, then you are 
free to pick it up. 

If one spills salt at the table it is said that there will be a 
violent family quarrel, ending only when someone pours water 
on the salt that has been spilled. Some folks try to "take the 
cuss off" by throwing a pinch of salt into the fire, or over the 
left shoulder, but most of the old-timers regard this as childish 
the only thing that really helps is to pour water on the 
spilled salt. 

It is bad luck to lend salt, often causing some sort of a "frac- 
tion" between the lender and the borrower. The mountain house- 
wife seldom borrows salt if she can possibly avoid doing so, and 
if she does borrow the stuff, is careful never to pay it back. 
When a woman borrows a cupful of salt she replaces it with 
an equal amount of sugar, or molasses, or some other household 
staple never salt. 

Many people think it is a bad omen to spill pepper, and that 
the person who does so will have a serious quarrel with one of 
his best friends. 

When a woman burns light bread, so that the crust is black, 
it is a sign that she will fly into a rage before the day is over. 
The person who eats this blackened bread will have good luck, 
however, and among other blessings will never be troubled by 
intestinal worms. 

Some people say that when a woman burns pancakes or bis- 
cuits it means that her old man is angry. There are many jokes 
and wisecracks about this notion. I once boarded at the home 
of a widder woman, and when she burnt the biscuits one morn- 
ing another lodger cackled: "Well, I don't know which one is 
the maddest, Randolph or old man Miller !" The widder woman 


scowled at this, which she regarded as a very coarse and vulgar 
remark, and an outrageous falsehood besides, since neither Mr. 
Miller nor myself had been overintimate with our hostess. 

Among the real old-timers, when one gives a neighbor some- 
thing to eat or drink, the housewife returns the vessel unwashed, 
since to send it home clean is a sign of an early quarrel with 
the donor. I have known women in the hill country deliberately 
to smear a pot or kettle before returning it, in case the vessel 
had been washed by mistake. 

It is very bad luck to give away yeast. A careful housewife 
doesn't like to lend yeast, either. If one must get yeast from 
a neighbor, it is best to buy it. Women who would be insulted 
by an offer to pay for any other article of food are glad to ac- 
cept a penny or a nickel for yeast. 

If two persons use the same towel at the same time there is 
sure to be a quarrel, or some sort of difficulty : 

Wash an* dry together, 
Weep an' cry together. 

In case two persons should unthinkingly start to dry their hands 
on the same towel, they hasten to twist the cloth between them 
this is supposed to take the cuss off'n it, in a measure at least. 

When two friends are talking together, and a third person 
suddenly comes between them, they instantly turn away from 
the intruder for a moment, so as to prevent a quarrel not a 
quarrel with the third party, but between themselves. May 
Stafford Hilburn refers to something of this sort when she says 
cryptically that "girls turned their backs to each other to ward 
off an untoward event if a third party stepped between them 
during a conversation." 1 

If two friends are walking side by side, and "unthoughtedly" 
allow a tree to come between them, it means that they will have 
a serious quarrel soon. One way to break this spell is for both 
parties to cry instantly and in concert "Bread-and-Butter !" 

i Missouri Magazine (October, 1933), p. 14. 


In Galena, Missouri, some children insist that one of the per- 
sons involved should say "Salt-and-Pepper" instead. Another 
way is for them to touch hands and hook their little fingers to- 
gether while they chant a certain verse it is very bad luck 
to repeat the verse at any other time, so I am unable to obtain 
the words of it. 

No hillman would think of giving a steel blade to a friend 
such a gift is sure to sever their friendship. Whenever a knife 
changes hands, it must be paid for, even if the sum is merely 
nominal. I have seen a salesman, a graduate of the University 
of Missouri, present his son with a valuable hunting knife but 
he never let it out of his hand till the boy had given him a penny. 

The accidental crossing of two case knives at the table must 
be avoided, as it is likely to cause a desperate fight between 
members of the family ; if knives are crossed inadvertently, 
they must be touched only by the same person who crossed them. 
If an Ozark woman finds a pair of scissors open, she closes them 
instantly if she fails to do this she will quarrel with her 
dearest friend before the moon changes. If one finds an open 
clasp knife he snaps the blade shut immediately ; if it is a sheath 
knife of the rigid kind, he thrusts the blade into the ground at 

A thoughtful hillman is careful to leave a neighbor's house by 
the same door through which he entered, knowing that to vio- 
late this simple rule may cause a serious quarrel. The host, on 
his part, always politely turns away as a guest leaves his cabin 
if he were to watch a departing friend out of sight he feels 
that they might never meet again, 

If the fire spits and sputters without any apparent cause, it 
means that two members of the family will quarrel within twenty- 
four hours. 

It is very bad luck to return to the house for anything which 
has been forgotten, or to come back to the house when you 
have started to go somewhere. If you must return, however, 


always make a cross in the dust of the road and spit on the cross, 
before setting out again. Some old-timers insist that the cross 
must be marked on the doorstep. Other people take the cuss off 
by sitting down in a chair and counting ten, or sitting down 
and making a wish, before leaving the cabin for the second 
time. Some say one has only to sit down for a moment and spit 
three times on the floor. Others think it is necessary to walk 
backward out of the house, while counting "ten, nine, eight, 
seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, AMEN !" 

When a hillman starts out on a journey which he regards 
as important, he is careful never to look back as he leaves his 
own premises. 

Some people won't drive down a road if they see a little 
whirlwind in it a journey which takes one through a whirl- 
wind is always unlucky. 

It is bad luck to close a gate which one finds open, and the 
mountain man who inadvertently does so is often quite upset ; 
some hillfolk, starting on a journey, regard this matter of the 
gate as such an evil omen that they postpone the trip until 
another day. 

I once knew a man near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who threw 
little pieces of tobacco into the river whenever he was about to 
start on a journey. He was a white man, of some education, but 
he had learned this propitiation of the river gods from Negroes, 
I think. 

When you meet a cross-eyed woman at a place where the 
road forks, always spit in your hand, or on the ground, and 
mark a cross in the saliva. One fellow told me that he always 
spit in his hat on such occasions and "let the cross go by." 
Some say it is well to cross one's fingers and count ten back- 
ward, also. 

When starting to visit someone, if you meet a flock of geese 
you'll be a welcome guest, but if you find hogs in the road you 
will not .be so well received. 


To encounter a red-haired girl on a white horse is always 
a good omen ; to meet a red-haired girl on a white mule is superla- 

Some people of Polk county, Arkansas, believe that it is bad 
luck to ride in a vehicle painted green. When a local sportsman 
suffered a series of accidents on the new highway, Mrs. Emma 
Dusenbury, of Mena, Arkansas, was heard to ask : "Well, what 
could he expect, with that old green car?" 

Never let anyone step directly into your tracks in mud or 
snow, for this may cause headaches or even blindness. It is wise 
not to step in anybody else's tracks, either. 

When you find a pin in the road, never fail to pick it up : 

See a pin, pick it up, 
All day long, good luck; 
See a pin, leave it lay, 
Have bad luck all day. 

Another view is that if the head of the pin is toward the finder 
he will have good luck, but if the point is toward him it means 
that he has a dangerous enemy to contend with. 

To find a hairpin in the path means that you will soon meet a 
new friend. If the prongs of the hairpin are of equal length, 
the new friend will be a girl ; if one prong is a bit longer than 
the other, it's a boy. 

Never pick up a spoon lying in the road. Women who are un- 
lucky in their household affairs sometimes throw away a spoon, 
believing that their bad luck will pass to the person who picks 
it up. 

Many of the old settlers say that it is good luck to find a 
rock with a hole in it, but that such a stone found in running 
water is superlucky. At several homes in the Ozarks I have seen 
little boxes containing stones with holes in them, placed under 
the porch or the wooden doorstep. Near Marvel Cave, in Taney 
county, Missouri, the Lynch sisters who own the cavern used 
to have a lot of these stones strung on wire ; when Nancy Clemens 


and I visited the place in 1936, Miss Miriam Lynch took down 
one of these wires and gravely presented each of us with a lucky 
stone. Some say that lucky stones keep off witches and evil 
spirits; others tie one of the stones to a bedpost in the belief 
that it somehow prevents nightmare. Near Harrison, Arkansas, 
children are told that it is good luck to find a round stone with 
a hole in it, but that such a stone must be thrown away at once 
and never carried in the pocket. 

Do not pick up a black or dark-colored button in the road. 
There is some tale about such buttons being left by people who 
think they are sick because of witchcraft, and that the sickness 
will go to whoever picks up the button. I haven't been able to 
get any definite information on this. Everybody agrees, how- 
ever, that it is some sort of bad luck to pick up a black button 
in the road. Children near Southwest City, Missouri, say that 
when you find a button in your path it means that you will soon 
receive a letter with as manv pages as there are holes in the 
button. Asked if they picked up these "letter buttons" the chil- 
dren answered that they always picked up white buttons and 
carried them home, but that "Mommy don't want no black but- 

A button received as a gift is always lucky, no matter what 
the color. Years ago, many an Ozark girl collected buttons from 
her friends and strung them together into a sort of necklace 
called a charm string. A charm string not only brought good 
fortune to the owner but also served as a sort of memory book 
for women who could not read one button recalled a beloved 
aunt, another a friend's wedding, still another a dance or a 
quilting party or an apple-peelin' or some other pleasant occa- 
sion. Nancy Clemens, of Springfield, Missouri, says that the 
craze for charm strings once reached a point in Douglas county, 
Missouri, where girls had to borrow pins to fasten their dresses 
before they could go home from a party. May Stafford Hilburn 
remarks that "each donor of a choice button came under the 


charm, and nothing could break the friendship between that 
person and the owner of the charm string." 2 

Many hillfolk think that the man who finds a horseshoe with 
the closed end toward him will do well to "leave it lay." If the 
open end is toward the finder, he sometimes spits on it and 
throws it over his left shoulder, a procedure which is supposed 
to bring good fortune. Or he may place it in a tree or on a fence, 
saying: "Hang thar, all my bad luck!" In this case, whoever 
touches the hanging horseshoe falls heir to the misfortune of 
the man who placed it there. In some parts of the Ozarks one 
sees dozens of bad-luck horseshoes hanging in trees along the 
roads, but no real old-timer will touch one of them for love or 
money. Near the village of Day, Missouri, I have noticed that 
even my old friend "Doc" Keithley walks wide of these horse- 
shoes, although he is scornful of most taboos and superstitions. 

Members of the older generation feel strongly that cornbread 
must be broken it is very bad luck to cut it with a knife. Some 
old-timers are much upset to see a stranger, even in a hotel, cut- 
ting cornbread. I have known several who refused to eat at the 
table where such a thing occurred but got up and left at once. A 
"furrin" schoolmarm in McDonald county, Missouri, having 
her first meal at the boardinghouse, offended everybody by cut- 
ting a piece of cornpone. "Dang it, she's sp'iled the bread !" 
muttered one young man, jumping up from the table. 

I know several families near Big Flat, Arkansas, who have a 
strange notion that one should never allow a piece of bread to 
fall upon the ground the idea is that to do so will somehow 
injure the next crop of corn. 

There is an old saying that eating bread crusts brings good 
luck in fishing and hunting, and also makes one's hair curly. I 
think, however, that this is told to children in order to cajole 
them into eating the crusts and is not taken very seriously by 

When a small boy plays at stirring the fire, it is a sign that 

* Missouri Magazine (December, 1933), p. 11. 


he will urinate in his bed that night. This old saying prevents 
many a little boy from messing with the fire, since whenever he 
goes near it the other children begin to giggle. People in Baxter 
county, Arkansas, tell a long story about a girl who was sitting 
up with her beau, while her little brother kept running in and 
stirring the fire ; this was regarded as very embarrassing, and 
the poor girl's friends "plagued her plumb to death 'bout it." 

To eat or drink at the same time one urinates or defecates 
is very bad luck, and I have known children to be severely 
whipped when the mother caught them eating candy in the 
privy. The child who eats anything under such conditions is said 
to be "feedin' the Devil an' starvin' God." 

There is a persistent notion that Providence is somehow 
tempted by stepping on cracks in the floor. Some people think 
that a boy who fails to "miss the cracks" in the schoolhouse steps 
will fail in his lessons that day and probably be punished for it. 
Other hillfolk say that by stepping on cracks a boy does some 
injury to his parents, and I have heard children quote the 
rhyme : 

Put your foot onto a crack 

An' you will bust your mother's back. 

It is bad luck to put the left shoe on before the right, or to 
put the left foot out of bed first in the morning. Nearly every- 
body in the Ozark backwoods is familiar with these notions, but 
no one has ever told me just what will happen to a man if he 
should violate such rules of conduct. 

A woman mixing a cake always stirs the batter in one di- 
rection if you stir it first one way and then another you'll 
spoil the cake sure. Another thing to remember is that the per- 
son who begins the stirring must stay with it and complete the 
job, because if two persons try to divide the labor they may 
as well throw the cake away. Mrs. W. D. Mathes of Galena, 
Missouri, one of the best pastry cooks in the Ozarks, tells me 
that cakes must be stirred by hand ; she has tried several sorts 
of electric mixers but never had any luck with them. It is said 


that a good cook never allows anyone else to stir the dough 
that she is to bake, but what is supposed to result from the vio- 
lation of this rule I have never been able to learn. 

One often encounters an ancient notion that a woman render- 
ing out lard will never have any luck unless she stirs it with a 
sassafras "bat," and I have known women to walk quite a dis- 
tance in order to get a proper stick for this purpose ; some say 
that the bark of the sassafras actually flavors the lard or keeps 
it from becoming rancid. 

There are several interesting superstitions about soft soap, 
which is made by cooking lye with waste fats from the kitchen. 
Lye is obtained by pouring water through wood ashes, which 
are carefully saved in a wooden trough called an ash hopper. 
Some old-timers say that it is impossible to make lye from the 
ashes of cherry wood ; it is said that the remains of a small twig 
from a cherry tree, or even a single chip that got into the fire 
by mistake, will ruin a whole hopperful of good ashes. 

Nearly all of the old-timers think that soap will not "make" 
unless it is stirred by a member of the family "a strange hand 
skeers the soap," as the old saying goes. Some believe that soap 
cooked in March thickens quicker and is somehow superior to 
that produced at any other season. In the dark of the moon, 
soap "biles high round the edges an' low in the middle," but in 
the light of the moon it "spatters up high in the middle of the 
kettle." Soap made in the increase of the moon is light in color ; 
that made in the decrease of the moon is considerably darker. I 
believe that the majority of soapmakers prefer to work in the 
dark of the moon, but there is no unanimity about this. "You 
can make good soap when the moon's a-fullin', or you can make 
it right on the full," said an old woman in Stone county, Mis- 
souri, "but don't never try to cook soap when the moon's 
a-wanin', or it won't be no good at all." 

In making vinegar from molasses and rain water, the Ozark 
housewife hastens fermentation by putting in nine grains of 
corn, which she names for the meanest, sourest persons of her 


acquaintance. This is usually regarded as a sort of joke, but I 
know many women who never fail to do it, even while they laugh 
at the idea that it really helps the vinegar. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, 
Mincy, Missouri, tells me that she never troubled to name the 
grains of corn, but was always careful to put in nine grains, no 
more and no less. It was mighty good vinegar too, she says. 

Some hillfolk believe that there is no use in trying to make 
cider or wine when the moon is waning it will turn sour every 
time. Others tell me that the best cider is made in clear weather, 
with the wind a-blowin' from the west, and the moon has nothing 
to do with it. There is an old proverb to the effect that the best 
way to keep cider sweet is to drown a water snake in it, but 
this is not to be taken literally. Who wants to keep cider sweet, 

Ordinary sauerkraut can be put up without any reference to 
the moon's phases, or the signs of the zodiac. What is called 
turnipkraut, however, must be made in one of the "fruitful 
signs," after the full of the moon ; the brine comes to the top 
and runs over, if you try to make turnipkraut in the increase of 
the moon. 

It is generally believed that a menstruating woman can per- 
form all of her ordinary household tasks save one she can't 
pickle cucumbers. I have known women who laughed at most 
of the backwoods superstitions yet were convinced that there 
was something in this idea. One girl told me that she and her 
sister had tried it out repeatedly, and that the pickles prepared 
by a girl who was menstruating were always soft or flabby, never 
properly crisp. 

Akin to this is the notion that a "bad woman can't make good 
applesauce" it will always be mushy, and not sufficiently tart. 
This is so generally accepted in some sections as to have passed 
into the language, and the mere statement that a certain woman's 
applesauce is no good is generally understood as a slighting 
reference to her morals. 

Many apparently insignificant actions must be avoided 


simply because they are regarded as unlucky, although no spe- 
cific penalty is attached to them. For example, it is bad luck to 
sit on a trunk, or for two persons to sit in one chair at the same 
time, or to rock a rocking chair when there is nobody in it, or 
to enter a strange house by the back door, or to count the cars 
in a train, or to throw water out of a window, or to sleep too 
near a spring, or to set two lights on one shelf, or to put a stamp 
upside down on a letter, or to tell a dream at the table, or to 
begin any important task on a holiday which falls in the light 
of the moon. Nobody knows just what would happen if one 
should violate these "chimney-corner laws," but many hillfolk 
avoid doing so whenever possible, anyhow. 

To turn a chair around with one leg as a pivot is always 
bad luck, and leads to family quarrels. Otto Ernest Rayburn 
quotes a backwoods girl: "If anybody twirled a chair on one 
of its legs, we knew father would come home mad as a wet hen 
about something." 3 

The typical hillman is upset by any trifling piece of ill luck 
which happens on his birthday, knowing that one who is unfor- 
tunate on this particular day is likely to have bad luck all year. 

It is unlucky to cut your fingernails on Sunday you'll have 
a pain in the neck for seven days, or the Devil will rule your 
house all week, or something of the sort. It's bad luck to trim 
fingernails on Friday, too. Monday is the best day for this, and 
it is said that people who cut their fingernails on Monday will 
always have plenty of money. 

White spots on fingernails are supposed to represent lies, and 
little boys often hide their hands to avoid betraying falsehoods. 
However, there is a fortunetelling rhyme children use when 
counting these white spots : 

A gift, a ghost, a friend, a foe, 
A letter to come, a journey to go. 

Some people say that a large white spot means a journey 
Ozark Country, p. 156. 


when the spot grows to the end of the nail, you will start on a 
trip to some distant place. 

It is unwise to laugh early in the morning, particularly be- 
fore getting out of bed. There is an old saying that the woman 
who laughs before breakfast will cry before supper. Another 
version lingers in the jingle: 

Laugh before it's light, 
You'll cry before it's night. 

Singing before breakfast is also discouraged in the familiar 
verse : 

Sing before you eat, 
You'll cry before you sleep. 

The child who sings in bed, or at the table, is likely to bring 
misfortune upon the whole family and come to a bad end as in- 
dicated in the old rhyme: 

Sing at the table, 
Sing in bed, 

Bugger-man will get you 
When you are dead ! 

It is also very bad luck to whistle or sing while urinating or 
defecating, and the child who does so is certain to get a whip- 
ping before sundown, but there isn't any little verse about this 
so far as I know. 

There is some sort of sign in the flame of a candle, which in- 
dicates that a letter is coming. While the "letter sign" lasts, a 
girl who spies it begins to count, rapping on the table with each 
numeral, and thus determines how many days will pass before 
the letter arrives. Otto Ernest Rayburn mentions this but doesn't 
make it clear just what happens in the candle flame. 4 There is 
an old song entitled "The Letter in the Candle," which appar- 
ently refers to this business. 

The woman who suddenly finds a large hole in her stocking 
regards it as a sign that there is a letter waiting for her at 
Rayburn' s Roadside Chats, p. 23. 


the post office. When a hillman sees a big spider exactly in the 
middle of the path, he knows that he'll get a letter within a few 
days. If coffee grounds cling to the sides of a cup, near the bot- 
tom, one may expect a letter with good news in it. 

When a woman is opening a jar of fruit, and some of the 
juice spatters into her face, it means that she will hear some 
welcome news very soon. It is also a sign of good tidings to 
drop a glass vessel without breaking it. If a man gets charcoal 
into his hair, accidentally, his friends assure him that he is 
about to receive a letter containing money. 

Mrs. Coral Almy Wilson, of Zinc, Arkansas, reports that her 
neighbors pay close attention to sweat flies, which they call 
news bees. A yellow news bee buzzing round one's head means 
that good news is coming, while a black news bee is a sign of 
bad tidings. 

If a woman accidentally splits a wooden clothespin, so that 
it falls in two separate pieces, she may expect some bad news 
from her husband's people. 

If there happens to be a snowfall in May, the housewife is 
supposed to melt some of the snow in the fireplace a sure way 
to kill all the fleas and bedbugs in the house. The same happy 
result is said to be obtained by burning a dirty dishrag the first 
time you hear it thunder in March. Some Ozark women scatter 
fresh walnut or butternut leaves about their houses to repel 
insects, but I can't see that it does any good. Burning old shoes 
on the hearth is a well-known method of driving snakes out of a 
house ; a schoolmaster who has been to college and made a par- 
ticular study of reptiles tells me that there may be some truth 
in this, but I suspect it is merely another superstition. 

When backwoods people are troubled by fleas, they just 
bring a sheep into the cabin for a few days ; the fleas all flock 
to the animal's wool and are thus disposed of. I knew a man 
in Springfield, Missouri, who wanted to put a sheep into the 
basement of his daughter's fine new house, but she was too high- 
falutin; said she'd rather put up with fleas in the bedroom 


than have a damned stinking sheep in the cellar. A smart fel- 
low from Lincoln, Arkansas, tells me that there are never any 
fleas in a sheepherder's house, but where a farmer has lots of 
hogs and no sheep, you'll find fleas all over the place. 

A mountain girl who wants a new dress has only to catch 
a butterfly of the desired color and crush it between her teeth ; 
she mutters some sort of a charm, too, while the insect is in her 
mouth, but I have never been able to obtain the magic formula. 
It is said also that the woman who shakes her apron at the new 
moon, under certain conditions, will get a new dress very shortly 
but this latter observation is regarded as somehow improper, 
and I am not certain just what is meant by it. I have heard 
allusions to this saying many times, however, all the way from 
Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, so I record 
it here for what it may be worth. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, says 
that the old women she knew as a girl were very careful never to 
make what is called a "diamond fold" in ironing table linen or 
bed sheets anything folded "diamond-shaped" is likely to bring 
bad luck on the entire household. 

Handwoven coverlets and the like should always be washed 
in snow water, according to the old grannies ; some say to ease 
the spirits of the dead women who made them years ago ; others 
contend more practically that snow water does not cause the 
old homemade colors to run or fade. Many hillf oik believe that it 
is bad luck to mend an old quilt or comforter by patching, 
although there's no harm in darning small rips or tears. 

The Ozark housewife seldom begins to make a garment on 
Friday never unless she is sure that she can finish it the same 
day. Many a mountain man is reluctant to start any sort of 
job on Saturday, in the belief that he will "piddle around" for 
six additional Saturdays before he gets it done. 

A woman who breaks a needle while making a garment for 
her own use is horrified, fearing that she will never live to wear 
it out. If the garment is intended for somebody else it doesn't 


matter at all, as in that case the broken needle has no sinister 

A mountain woman who sews after sunset, or who pours 
water on a window sill, will be poverty-stricken all her life. A 
basting inadvertently left in a garment is also a sign of poverty ; 
some people think it means that the cloth is not paid for. 

It is very unfortunate for a woman to button a new gar- 
ment before it has been worn ; a newly made shirt should be but- 
toned first on the person who is to wear it, but if this person is 
not available, button it around somebody else. 

If you put on a garment wrong side out, it means good luck, 
but you must wear it that way until bedtime. There are many 
tales of men who refused to do this and were carried home dead 
before the day was over. It is not uncommon for girls in high 
school and even in college to attend classes with their petti- 
coats wrong side out because of this superstition. 

Many of the old folks figure that May 1 is the proper day 
to shed heavy winter underwear. Children begin to go barefoot 
on May 1 too, for the first time that summer. "If you start on 
May Day," an old woman told me, "you can go bar'foot plumb 
till snow flies, an' it won't hurt ye a bit !" 

Winter clothing is packed away with fresh sassafras leaves, 
which are said to keep out insects much better than mothballs. 
The sassafras leaves don't work, however, unless a certain secret 
sayin' is repeated as the clothes are being packed. 

Every old quiltmaker knows that when a quilt is once stretched 
on the frame it must never be turned around ; if it is turned, at 
least one of the quilters will lose her skill, or her eyesight will 
fail, or her hands become paralyzed. 

It is bad luck to burn floor sweepings or shavings that have 
been produced inside the house. An old-time Ozark housewife 
seldom sweeps her cabin after dark, and she never sweeps any- 
thing out at the front door. Otto Ernest Rayburn observes that 
"one of the most progressive merchants in Arkansas will not 
permit his janitor to sweep dirt out through the door after 


dark." 5 A woman in Madison county, Arkansas, told me that 
ghosts and spirits are accustomed to stand about near cabins 
at night, and it is dangerous to offend these supernatural beings 
by throwing dirt in their faces. Sweepings are best gathered 
up and carried out of the house or swept down through a wide 
crack in the floor so as to fall beneath the cabin, although there 
are hillfolk who see no harm in sweeping dirt out at the back 
door always in the daytime, of course. Some people say that 
once you begin to sweep a room, it is bad luck to stop before the 
job is done. Many women are careful never to sweep the house 
on Monday, even in broad daylight, as this is likely to sweep 
away the family's "money luck" for the entire week. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, tells me that no true 
hillbilly ever burns walnut shells. If a walnut shell is inadver- 
tently cast into the fire, some member of the family hastens to 
snatch it out at any cost. 

The hulls or skins of certain vegetables, on the other hand, 
are always burned, never disposed of in any other manner. I 
have known households where the women made a great show 
of saving onion peelings, which were carefully gathered up and 
burned in the fireplace or the cookstove. One woman told me that 
people who throw onion peel out on the ground are likely to 
suffer some financial reverses, and that she knew personally of 
a case in which carelessness in this matter caused a Civil War 
veteran to be deprived of his pension. 

Never look directly into a fire that is being kindled; if you 
do it will not burn properly and may bring bad luck to the 
whole household besides. Some hill people become quite irritated 
if a guest persists in staring straight into a stove or fireplace, 
when it is not burning well. To do so is very bad manners and 
somehow appears to cast discredit upon the family. 

It is said that lightning often strikes a cookstove but has 
never been known to strike one with a fire in it. In Baxter county, 
Arkansas, several persons warned me never to sit in the "dog 
& Ozark Country, p. 146. 


run" the covered passage between the two rooms of a log 
house during an electrical storm ; it seems that lightning often 
goes through such a passage, killing dogs which have taken 
refuge there, without damaging the house proper. I know many 
backwoods families who always try to drive the hounds away 
from their cabins during a thunderstorm, in the belief that "a 
dog's tail draws lightnin'." 

In some sections of Arkansas there are people who bury the 
entrails of a black hen under the hearth on "Old Christmas." 
This is said to protect the house against destruction by light- 
ning or fire. A gentleman at Hot Springs, Arkansas, told me 
that people used to do this when he was a boy, but added con- 
temptuously that it was "just an old nigger superstition," and 
that he did not believe it was taken seriously by any white peo- 
ple nowadays. However, I know that some "peckerwood fam- 
ilies" did bury chicken guts under their hearths as recently as 
1935, not far from the enlightened metropolis of Hot Springs. 

A lot of backwoods families are very careful not to use the 
wood of a lightnin'-struck tree for fuel, in the belief that this 
renders the cabin more likely to be struck by lightning. 

Many hillmen believe that black walnut trees draw lightning 
and will not go near them in a storm. It is quite common for 
hillfolk to cut down all the walnuts, even little ones, that grow 
near their cabins. 

When lightning strikes the ground, some woodsmen pretend 
to look around for the thunderbolt, which is supposed to be a 
piece of iron about three feet long, forked at one end. These 
thunderbolts are said to be used in making fish gigs, and a 
finger ring hammered out of thunderbolt iron is a sure cure for 
rheumatism. I have myself seen, in Washington county, Arkan- 
sas, an old iron ring which the owner told me was made of a 
thunderbolt recovered in Kentucky before 1815. 

I have met hillmen who think that it is bad luck to use the 
word thunder, particularly during an electrical storm. They 
feel that people who keep talking about thunder are likely to 


get struck by lightning. Instead of saying thunder, they use 
some familiar circumlocution, such as "the 'tater wagon is 
a-rollm'," or "they're crossin' the old bridge now." Some Ozark 
farmers deliberately cross their "galluses" on stormy days to 
guard against lightning, but the man who gets his galluses 
crossed accidentally, when he puts on his trousers in the morn- 
ing, will have bad luck all day. 

It is very generally believed that thunder and lightning cause 
milk to sour in a few hours, even in the coldest weather. This 
can be prevented, however, by putting a rusty nail in the crock 
or pan. A man who was looked upon as exceptionally intelli- 
gent and "well posted/' who served several terms in the Missouri 
state legislature, assured me that this was no superstition at 
all but a well-established scientific datum, adding that the rusty 
nail "works somethin' like a lightnin'-rod." 

In November, 1943, a big flock of wild geese was struck by 
lightning at Galena, Missouri, and about three hundred of the 
birds fell near the village. People went out and picked them up. 
I got one myself, which we roasted next day, and found it very 
good indeed. Many people in the vicinity ate them, with no bad 
results so far as I could find out. But several families would 
not touch these geese, saying that it was dangerous to eat any 
creature killed by electricity. 

It is very bad luck to bring cedar boughs or mistletoe into 
the house, except during the Christmas season. Mrs. Isabel 
Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, says that every bit of green 
stuff must be out of the house before midnight on January 5, or 
some unspeakable calamity will overtake the whole family. Many 
old people feel that it is better not to have mistletoe in the house 
at all. It is always bad luck to carry peacock feathers into a 
cabin, and several hillfolk actually refused to sleep in my cot- 
tage because an old-fashioned fan made of peacock feathers was 
nailed to the wall as a decoration. 

Never carry a hoe or a mattock into the house, even to prevent 
the tool from being stolen. If a hillman does bring a hoe into his 


cabin by mistake, he must carry it out again at once, walking 
backward. Most people agree, however, that there is no harm 
in keeping hoes or mattocks under a porch, or even beneath the 
floor of the cabin itself. 

It is always bad luck to place a hat or a shoe or a rifle on a 
bed. Mountain men sleep with pistols under their pillows, how- 
ever, without any bad results. Never place a shoe or shoes on 
the table in a hillman's cabin ; this applies even to brand-new 
shoes in a box, or in a sealed mailing carton just arrived from 
Montgomery Ward or Sears and Roebuck. 

The mountain housewife is careful never to drop a broom 
so that it falls flat on the floor, and it is doubly unfortunate 
for a woman to step over a broom handle. Some people say that 
when a girl, even a very young girl baby, steps over a broom 
it is a sign that she will be a slovenly housekeeper all her life. 

A person may go barefoot or shod anywhere, but it is tempt- 
ing fate to go out of doors in one's stocking feet, or to walk 
even in the house with one shoe off and one shoe on. 

Hillfolk seldom remodel their houses, except to add a lean-to 
or "shed room" when an increasing family demands more space. 
It is bad luck to cut a doorway between two rooms after the 
house is built, and the average backwoods family will not do 
this under any condition. 

A hillman courts misfortune if he moves his family from one 
house to another in the dark of the moon, and I have known 
otherwise intelligent people to put up with a deal of incon- 
venience rather than make such a move. Even in a case where 
a house is destroyed by fire, some hillfolk prefer to camp under 
a ledge, or sleep in a wagon, until such time as the moon is "fa- 
vorable" that is, at the appearance of the new moon. The 
idea is that the family's prosperity will increase as the moon 

In building a new dwelling, the old-time hillman was careful 
to use a few timbers from an older building. A house composed 


entirely of new lumber is sure to bring bad luck, usually sick- 
ness or death, upon the persons who live in it. 

If you find your initials in spider webs near the door of a 
new home, it is a sign that you will be lucky as long as you live 
there. No furniture or supplies should be carried into a new 
house until the salt and pepper are in their proper places on a 
shelf. An empty hornets' nest is hung up in the loft of nearly 
every old-time mountain cabin, and I have seen such a nest tied 
to the rafters of a new house that had not yet been occupied ; 
some people say that this brings good fortune to the whole 
household, particularly in connection with childbirth and other 
sexual matters. 

Most people think that it is good luck if a strange black 
cat visits the house, but very bad luck if the animal takes up 
its permanent abode there. To carry a stray cat into a house 
brings bad luck, and children are often warned against this 
folly. It is always bad luck to kill a cat, but the hillfolk do not 
hesitate to drive a cat away by all sorts of cruel treatment. 
One of my neighbors in McDonald county, Missouri, would 
not kill a cat which had annoyed him, but he chopped off one 
of its feet and threw the animal out into the snow. Whatever 
happens, never burn a dead cat; bury it deep in the ground, 
or throw it into a running stream. 

A few hillfolk say that it is good luck to see a white cat on 
the road; there is some difference of opinion about this, but 
everybody agrees that it is a very bad sign when a black cat 
crosses ahead of a traveler. Many Ozark people turn back or 
detour to avoid crossing a black cat's trail. I have seen coun- 
trymen near Little Rock, Arkansas, take off their hats and 
turn 'em around on their heads, after seeing a black cat in the 
path. Black cats are worst, of course. But many people are a 
bit leery of all cats, particularly on the highways. "I'd just as 
soon there wouldn't be 710 cat runnin' acrost the road ahead of 
me," said an old man near Elsey, Missouri, in 


It is very bad luck to be photographed with a cat. I was at 
Rose O'Neill's place in Taney county, Missouri, when a photog- 
rapher came out from St. Louis to make some pictures of Miss 
O'Neill and her house. He took one photo which showed a group 
of us in the O'Neill library, with the family cat crouching on a 
table. This was later published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch* 
and I showed the paper to one of the neighbors. "God Al- 
mighty," she shivered, "I wouldn't have set in that there picture 
for a hundred acres o' land !" 

A girl who drops the comb while combing her hair is doomed 
to some sort of disappointment, but she may "take the cuss off" 
in a measure by counting backward from ten as she retrieves the 
comb. To open an umbrella inside a house is tempting Provi- 
dence, but very few of the real backwoods women own umbrellas 
anyhow, so it doesn't matter much. 

It is said that misfortunes always go in threes, and this is 
especially true of household mishaps. The housewife who smashes 
a dish, or burns the cornbread, or barks her shin on the oven 
door generally expects two more minor accidents before the 
spell is broken. 

The woman who happens to get her first glimpse of the new 
moon unobstructed by foliage "cl'ar o' brush," as the old 
folks put it considers herself lucky. "Everyone knows," writes 
May Stafford Hilburn, "that to see the new moon through the 
leafy branches of a tree means bad luck throughout the month. 
It still gives me cold shivers to see the moon behind treetops, 
and I hastily close my eyes, remembering an old 'charm' of 
childhood, clasp my hands over my heart and say 'bad luck, 
vanish !' Then I feel better." 6 A housewife who sees the new 
moon through a windowpane fears that she will break a valued 
dish, or some other piece of household equipment, before the 
moon is new again. 

Some of my present associates do not profess religion and 
never go to church but are nevertheless convinced that it is very 
Missouri Magazine (September, 1933), p. 20. 


bad luck to do any work about the house on the Sabbath. An old 
man who is known all over the country as an outspoken free- 
thinker told me soberly : "I don't hold with this here church 
business, an' I don't never feed no preachers. But I believe that 
if a man works six days a week he'll have plenty, and if the 
same man works seven days a week he's liable to starve out !" 
Another neighbor assured me that a roof mended during the 
Christmas holidays will leak worse than ever, and that a spring 
or well cleaned out on Sunday is likely to go dry. 

A great many of the old-timers call December 25 "New 
Christmas" in order to distinguish it from "Old Christmas," 
which falls on January 6. They tell me that in pioneer days 
nearly everybody celebrated Christmas twelve days later than 
they do now. Old folks say that elderberry always sprouts on the 
eve of Old Christmas even if the ground is frozen hard, you'll 
find the little green shoots under the snow. A man at Pineville, 
Missouri, told me that bees in a hive always buzz very loudly 
exactly at midnight on the eve of Old Christmas ; if several bee 
gums are set close together, the "Old Christmas hum" can be 
heard some distance away. This shows that January 6, not De- 
cember 25, is the real Christmas. 

Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, tells me that 
the old folks in her neighborhood sometimes call January 6 
"Green Christmas" or the "Twelfth Night." It is on January 5, 
the eve of Old Christmas, that the cattle are supposed to kneel 
down and bellow, exactly at midnight, in honor of the birth of 
Jesus. Some say that the critters have the gift of speech on this 
night, so that they may pray aloud in English. Mrs. Spradley 
quotes an old woman with reference to the family water supply : 
"Our well had a charm put on it the night the cows talked, and I 
wouldn't clean it out for silver !" I don't know what the charm 
is that this old woman referred to, but there are people in 
Arkansas today who say that the water in certain wells turns 
into wine at midnight on January 5. 

It is said that on the morning of Old Christmas there are 


two daybreaks instead of one I have talked with men who claim 
to have seen this phenomenon. Boys born on Old Christmas are 
supposed to be very lucky in raising cattle ; some say that these 
"Old Christmas children" can actually talk the cow brute's 

There are old men in the Ozarks today who swear that they 
have actually seen cattle kneel down and bellow on Old Christ- 
mas eve. But skepticism sometimes prevails, even in the Ozarks. 
A neighbor tells me that when he was a boy he watched re- 
peatedly to see his father's oxen kneel but was always disap- 
pointed. His parents told him, however, that the presence of a 
human observer broke the spell, and that cattle must always 
salute the Saviour in private. "But I just drawed a idy right 
thar," he added thoughtfully, "that they warn't nothin' to it, 

In some settlements this notion about the cattle kneeling has 
shifted from Old Christmas to New Year's. Mr. Elbert Short, 
of Crane, Missouri, told me that his sister slipped out to the 
barn one New Year's Eve "to see the critters kneel down and 
talk." At exactly twelve o'clock one old cow fell on her knees 
and let out two or three low moans. A moment later another 
animal knelt but with this the girl suddenly became fright- 
ened and ran back to the house. Another funny thing, says Mr. 
Short, is that if you go out before midnight on New Year's 
Eve and cut an elderbush off flush with the ground, by sunrise 
it will have "pooched up" at least two inches. 

Every backwoods family, even if no member of the group is 
able to read, has a calendar and probably an almanac as well, 
in order to keep track of the signs and phases of the moon. But 
it is very bad luck to hang up a calendar or almanac before 
sunup on New Year's Day, and I have known children to be 
severely punished for doing so. 

An unexpected visitor on January 1 signifies that many others 
will come to the house during the year; this prediction is often 
regarded with mixed emotions, since hillfolk do not care for 


saying: "On New Year's you just eat black-eyed peas, with a 
dime under your plate, an' wear a pair of red garters, an' you'll 
have good luck the whole year." 

A dish known as hoppinjohn, which consists of black-eyed 
peas cooked with hog jowl, is the traditional New Year's din- 
ner in many well-to-do families who would not eat such coarse 
food on any other day. Mr. Walter Ridgeway, of West Plains, 
Missouri, always contended that this custom began in Civil 
War days ; some planters who had nothing to eat but black- 
eyed peas at a New Year's dinner were lucky enough to regain 
their fortunes, and later on they somehow connected this good 
luck with the New Year's hoppinjohn. Other hillfolk, however, 
have told me that the custom of eating black-eyed peas on New 
Year's is much older than the War between the States. The 
Ridgeways say that the name hoppinjohn originated when a 
guest named John was invited to "hop in" and help himself to 
the food. 

Perhaps the most striking feature of the Ozarkers' New Year's 
behavior is their reluctance to allow anything to be taken out 
of the house on January 1. I once knew a woman who absent- 
mindedly carried a bucket of ashes out on New Year's morning ; 
she was shaken almost to the point of hysteria, and the whole 
family was horrified, although nobody seemed to know just 
what specific calamity was supposed to result. 

Many broad-minded modernists pretend that there is no harm 
in carrying something out, provided you are careful to take 
something else in ; thus it's permissible to throw out a pan of 
potato peelings if one immediately lugs in a bucket of water 
or an armload of wood. The real old-timers figure it is safer not 
to carry anything out of the cabin on January 1, but to pack 
in as much stuff as possible. Some old folks take this so seriously 
that they will not allow anyone to enter on that day without 
depositing something, even if it is only a few walnuts or a hand- 
ful of chips. This precaution, according to the old tradition, 
insures a whole year of plenty for the people who live in that 



house. "It aint much trouble, just for one day," an old man 
said as he insisted that I get a stick from the woodpile before 
coming into his shanty, "an* me an' Maw don't aim to take no 

5. Water Witches 

Nearly all of the old settlers in the 
Ozark country believe that certain per- 
sons can locate underground streams by 
"cunjurin' round" with forked sticks. These characters are 
called water witches or witch wigglers, and the forked switches 
they carry are known as witch sticks. Despite this sinister 
terminology, the waterfinder has no dealings with the Devil, is 
not regarded as dangerous by his neighbors, and has nothing 
to do with witchcraft proper. 

I have known several water witches intimately and have seen 
more than a score of them at work, and there is no doubt that 
they themselves are sincere believers in their ability to find 
water. Nearly all of the really old wells in the Ozarks were lo- 
cated by witch wigglers. Even today there are many substantial 
farmers who would never think of drilling a well without getting 
one of these fellows to witch the land. 

When I first came to Pineville, Missouri, in 1919, Dr. Oakley 
St. John was the only educated person in the village. He was 
an outspoken atheist and materialist, the last man whom one 
would expect to find involved in any superstitious practice. But 
the neighbors all told me that Doc was the best witch wiggler 
in the Ozarks, with the possible exception of old John Havard, 
who used to live over in Greene county. So I took to hanging 
around St. John's little drugstore, and tried to talk with him 
about these matters. 

The doctor parried my questions for a long time, but finally 
admitted that he had located a large number of wells. 

"I used to laugh at this water-witch business," he told me, 
"but I got to fooling with it one day, and discovered that I'm 


a pretty good witch wiggler myself. I can't defend the thing 
scientifically, but I can find water in these hills. I've never staked 
a dry hole yet." 

"But how do you do it. Doctor?" I asked. 

"Well, I just cut me a green fork off a peach tree some fel- 
lows use witch hazel or redbud, but peach always works better 
for me and take one prong in each hand. Then I walk slowly 
back and forth, holding the fork in front of me, parallel with 
the ground. When I cross an underground stream the witch 
stick turns in my hands, so that the main stem points down 
toward the water. Then I drive a stake in the ground to mark 
the place, and that's where I tell 'em to dig their well." 

After a little more talk we went to an old peach orchard, 
where the doctor trimmed up a nice witch stick. The thing looked 
very much like a slingshot handle, except that it was nearly 
three feet long. Climbing through the fence, we strode out into 
a big pasture. Thrusting the stick forward, St. John walked 
across the rocky hillside, with me close at his heels. Suddenly, 
he hesitated, then moved forward very slowly, the green switch 
turning and twisting in his hands. There he stood, holding the 
thing as if it were a living, writhing reptile. 

"Look at that !" he cackled triumphantly. "I couldn't hold it 
still if I tried ! It would twist the bark right off the God damn' 
stick !" 

I shivered a little and felt as if the hair were rising on the 
back of my neck. There was something uncanny and obscene 
about that witch stick. 

"Let me have the thing a minute," I said shakily. 

St. John handed it over, and I carried it back and forth ex- 
actly as he had done. But nothing happened. The stick in my 
hands was just a stick, and nothing more. 

The moment I returned it to the doctor the thing began to 
twist about and point to the ground, just as it had before. Evi- 
dently the power, whatever it is, resides in the man and not in 
the witch stick itself. 


"If you were to dig right here," St. John declared, "you'd 
get a good well, sure. And you wouldn't have to go more than 
thirty feet, either." 

"How do you tell about the depth, Doctor?" 

"Well, I judge by the strength of the pull on the stick," he 
answered. "If the water's too far down it doesn't register at all, 
and the nearer it is to the surface, the stronger it pulls. I just 
kind of guess at it," St. John added, "but you'd be surprised 
how close I come to the truth !" 

Another water witch named Truman Powell, who lived near 
Reeds Spring, Missouri, and is still remembered as one of the 
explorers of Marvel Cave, used to defend a different method 
of estimating depth. Powell always marked the spot where he 
first felt a pull on the stick and then drove another stake at the 
place where the pull was most intense. The distance between 
these two points, he said, was equal to the depth of the well. 

Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, tells of 
a witch wiggler who determined the depth by walking away 
from the stake, counting his steps, until the stick regained its 
normal horizontal position; multiply the number of steps by 
three, and this gives the number of feet it is necessary to dig. 

There was also the veteran waterfinder interviewed by 
Betrenia Watt in Hickory county, Missouri, who claimed that 
his witch stick moved downward by a series of separate jerks. 
Each of these "nods" or "beats," said he, represents a foot, and 
one has only to count them in order to determine how far the 
water lies beneath the surface of the ground. 

Dr. St. John told me about a chap named Patterson, of 
Carter county, Missouri, who was rated as the best "witcher" 
in all that region for many years. Using a peach-tree switch, 
he once located "living water" at a depth of only five feet, in 
the middle of the dryest summer that ever hit the Ozarks. One 
of Patterson's aunts "follered the witchin' trade" for awhile 
but gave it up because some tourists laughed at her. 

J. O. Jackson, an early settler in Springfield, Missouri, used 


to "project round" with a hazel or peach-tree stick. "Dig right 
there," he would say, "an' if ye don't git water at forty feet 
I'll pay for th' diggin'." There is no record of his ever having 
to pay. It was Jackson who located the big well behind the 
Lyon House on Commercial Street, the best hotel in Spring- 
field in the seventies and early eighties. Jackson always refused 
to accept money for his witching, being convinced that to do so 
might weaken his mysterious power. 

The late A. M. Has well, of Joplin, Missouri, was a well-known 
water witch but never became superstitious about it. "The 
switch certainly does move in my hands," said he. "Whether 
that movement is caused by underground water, I do not know. 
All I know is that without the least aid from me indeed in 
spite of the strongest grip I can apply to it the switch does 
move." Haswell experimented with several varieties of wood, 
but always claimed that a hazel twig was much superior to any 
other. "Some fellows prefer the wahoo, which used to be called 
Vitch elm,' but a good hazel fork works better for me." The 
hazel bush preferred by Mr. Haswell is still known as witch hazel 
in some localities. 

There is a very general notion that virility has something to 
do with this "power," and that certain physical qualifications 
are essential to a good witch wiggler. "A feller has got to be a 
whole man," one old gentleman said, "if he aims to take up 
witch wigglin'." He meant that a water witch must be normal 
sexually ; a man who has anything wrong with his genitals can 
never locate wells with a witch stick. Some hillfolk say that 
women and children can't work the forked stick; I have never 
seen a child operate the thing successfully, though I have known 
many who tried it. I have met several women witch wigglers, 
however, and they seemed to do about as well as their male 

Mrs. Ethel Davis, of Huggins, Missouri, differs from most 
water witches in that she uses a wild-plum branch instead of 
peach or witch hazel. Mrs. Dinnie B. McBride, of Licking, 


Missouri, has been very successful in locating wells and is quoted 
as saying that most any sort of green switch will do in a 
pinch ; if one forked stick doesn't work to suit her, she throws 
it away and tries another. Mrs. Bettie Williams, of Bolivar, Mis- 
souri, is firmly convinced that water witching somehow runs in 
families. She cites several cases in which the "power" seems to 
have been inherited. "My mother-in-law witched all the country 
around Bolivar, and always found water," she declares, "and 
my oldest son, E. A. Williams, can do the same thing." Mrs. May 
Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, agrees with Mrs. 
Williams and others that the necessary magnetism must be an 
hereditary trait. "I have seen the power of water-witching run 
in families," she writes, "girls and all!" 

My old friend Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Ar- 
kansas, himself an amateur water witch, told me that it may 
be true that the ability runs in families, but he thinks that only 
one member of each generation has the "power" to witch water. 

There used to be so many witch wigglers at Butler, Missouri, 
that in 1934 they organized a "Water Surveyors' Club," with 
George Hartrick as president. The following is taken from a 
signed article which Mr. Hartrick published in the local news- 
paper : 

Last Summer we located many a good well during the drouth, by the 
use of the stick. Many of the members learned how to tell the depth 
of the water, and so forth. . . . We do not feel that this is a divine 
gift any more than the power of music or art. It is the duty of all to 
use their gifts for the progress of humanity. All persons cannot 
locate objects with the water-witching stick any more than all can 
be musicians. Everyone is welcome to our meetings, and we welcome 
any information on the subject. Water-witching is riot a new activity, 
as Jacob in the Bible located his living well of water by this method. 1 

Dr. F. A. Middlebush, president of the University of Mis- 
souri, has experimented with witch wiggling. "I can vouch for 
the fact that a properly selected and trimmed branch will move 
in my hands," he writes, "but I failed to apply this mysterious 

i Springfield (Missouri) News, April 28, 1938. 


art when I had a well dug at my place in the Ozarks, near Cam- 
denton, Missouri." Dr. Middlebush says that Professor J. W. 
Rankin, of the English department at the University of Mis- 
souri, also claims to be an expert water witch. Mayor Bryce B. 
Smith of Kansas City is another amateur witch wiggler, accord- 
ing to his friends. It appears that Middlebush, Rankin, and 
Smith all use the conventional peach-tree fork. 

In the 1930's, when a well was to be drilled at a golf club 
near Springfield, Missouri, it appears that those in authority 
wanted to have the ground witched but were laughed out of it 
by the younger members. The well was said to be three hundred 
feet deep, but it never produced water enough for the clubhouse. 
So they decided to drill another well, and this time, rather sur- 
reptitiously, they called in the water witches. These fellows 
went over the golf course with their peach-tree switches and 
located a new place for the drillers. And this second well, ac- 
cording to local testimony, was quite satisfactory to all con- 

Several witch wigglers have told me that in southeast Mis- 
souri, along the Mississippi River, there are men who claim 
to locate wells with willow switches. "But I don't put no con- 
fidence in wilier myself," said an old fellow in Neosho, Missouri. 
"Them folks down at Cape Girardeau must be a turrible igno- 
rant set, or else they'd know better'n that." 

Near Everton, Missouri, lives a famous water witch named 
Fred Goudy, distinguished from other members of his profes- 
sion by the fact that he uses no switch at all, but only a piece of 
heavy copper wire. When J. M. Jones, a wealthy cattleman of 
the neighborhood, needed a well he called in Fred Goudy to 
witch the land. "The water-witch used a copper rod," said the 
Kansas City Times (Oct. 13, 1936), "and locating a desirable 
spot, paused above it while the divining rod 'nodded' thirty-nine 
times." The idea is, I take it, that the underground stream lay 
thirty-nine feet below the surface. 

There used to be a man in Christian county, Missouri, who 
enjoyed considerable success as a water witch and attributed 


his power to the fact that he always wore rubber boots and 
worked in dry weather besides. "You got to be insulated from 
the ground," said he. This gentleman was quoted as saying that 
anybody could witch water if he were properly insulated and 
had sense enough to hold the stick correctly. "There's no magic 
about it, and no superstition," he said. "There's something in 
running water that pulls the stick. It must be electricity, or 
maybe magnetism." 

Some people say that the witch stick can also be used for 
locating coal, gas, and oil, but I have never heard of this being 
successfully practiced in the Ozark country. Old W. H. Johnson 
always claimed that the artesian well which supplies the village 
of Hollister, Missouri, was drilled by one Dr. Diemar, upon 
information furnished by an "oil witch" who professed to feel 
"a peculiar wiggling in the fingers" when he approached oil- 
bearing sand. The well has produced a lot of excellent water, 
but never a drop of oil. 

Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and 
buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the 
witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, 
he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it is silver that 
he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a 
silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses 
two different metals usually a dime and a penny. 2 Witch sticks 
thus equipped for treasure hunting are sometimes called "doo- 
dlebugs," but I don't know if this is an old backwoods term or 
a recent importation. I have seen perhaps a dozen doodlebugs 
in operation but have yet to hear of any treasure being found 
by the doodlebuggers in the Ozarks. It is said that a switch 
loaded with metal will not react to water, or to any other sub- 
stance save the particular metal which is attached to the stick. 
I am told that there are a few witch wigglers in the Ozarks 
who have commercialized this sort of thing, and make their 
living by the manufacture and sale of doodlebugs. There are 
2 Ozark Country, p. 128. 


others who offer to locate treasure at so much per diem, or even 
to work on a percentage basis in some cases. There used to be 
a man near Steelville, Missouri, who professed to locate mineral 
deposits at a flat rate of five dollars per deposit. He even claimed 
that he could tell, by the behavior of his witch stick, whether the 
alleged deposit was a vein of the mineral, or a mere pocket. 

When I lived in McDonald county, Missouri, I had occasion 
to drill a well near my cabin. A local water witch came out to 
witch the land for me, and he indicated a spot high up on the 
hillside, in a most inconvenient place. "Dig there," said he, 
"and you'll get a good strong flow at sixty-five feet." It was a 
very unhandy place for the well, and I asked the man to check 
on a little clearing just behind the cabin. He picked up his 
witch stick again and tested every foot of the ground about the 
house, without any result. "Dry as a bone," he decided. So I 
reluctantly drove the driller's stake in the designated spot on 
the hillside. 

But when the well-drilling outfit came out from the nearby 
town of Anderson, I had a talk with the boss driller. His name 
was Lee Cantrell, and he was a man of very decided opinions 
on all matters pertaining to his craft. Cantrell said that he 
had been drilling wells for many years, and that water witching 
was all damned foolishness. "If I was in your place," said he, "I 
wouldn't pay no mind to this witch business. I'd just drill that 
there well wherever I wanted it." 

This advice seemed so eminently sane and sensible that I 
agreed at once and blushed to think that I should have even for 
a moment considered any other course. And so we disregarded 
the location stake on the hillside and set up the drill rig in the 
little clearing behind the house. At a depth of fifty-two feet we 
struck a great underground river, "clear as crystal an' cold as 
ice," as Cantrell assured me. That well is still in use, and there 
is no better drinking water in southwest Missouri. 

The witch wiggler could hardly believe that we had really 
found water in the place he said was dry as a bone. He came 


out with a plumb line and sounded the well long before we could 
get a pump in. He tasted the water, too, and shook his head as 
if greatly puzzled. That water witch and I were good friends. 
We got drunk together sometimes and discussed our common 
prejudices and detestations freely enough. But I do not recall 
that he ever mentioned water witching in my presence again. 

Charles J. Finger, in a book entitled Ozark Fantasia, re- 
counts his experience with a water witch near Fayetteville, 
Arkansas. 3 The chief difference between Finger's experience and 
my own is that the stick turned in his hands. I have met Mr. 
Finger, and he impressed me as a very practical sort of man, 
with no place in his mind for any kind of backwoods supersti- 
tion. He could not believe in any such hocus-pocus, even though 
he did hold the witch stick himself. And so he ends his disserta- 
tion thus : "My notion, without any ingenious assumptions, is 
that there is water almost anywhere ; that the waterfmders act 
in good faith ; and that the dipping of the stick is the result of 
unconscious fatigue." But even Finger, evidently, is not quite 
satisfied with this explanation, for he qualifies his statement 
with the final sentence: "This, of course, fails to account for 
certain coincidences." 

It is surprising how many intelligent people do believe in 
this sort of thing. In 1931 I published a book about the Ozarks, 
in which there was some mention of witch wigglers. Several 
months later, in the New York Sun I saw a review of my book 
by Burton Rascoe, eminent literary critic. Rascoe resented my 
referring to this method of finding water as a backwoods super- 

I believe in water-witches [wrote Mr. Rascoe]. When my father 
bought a tract of land down in Seminole county, Okla., in 1911, there 
was no drinking water on the place except that to be had from the 
streams. My father engaged a water-witch, whose fee was $25 a 
lot of money in that part of the country in those days. The water- 
witch wandered about and took in the topography of the farm pretty 

Pages 135-130, 


thoroughly. He cut himself a forked willow switch and carried it 
along in front of him until the end of it bent toward the earth. Then, 
having found the underground stream, he followed it along to where 
he knew it was widest and deepest. This happened to be in a most 
unlikely looking place, on top of a hill. The old gentleman told my 
father that if he dug forty-five feet into the ground at that spot he 
would find a plentiful and continuous supply of excellent water. The 
well that was sunk there went just forty-five feet into the ground. 
To this day that well supplies an abundance of fine water, even in 
periods of prolonged drought. 4 

Since that time I have received many letters on the subject, 
and nearly all of them took me to task for my skepticism re- 
garding the claims of water witches. But it seems to me that 
there is no scientific basis for a belief in water witching. Sys- 
tematic records show that where several witch wigglers are 
called to work on the same plot of ground, there is no consist- 
ency in tbe results their drill stakes are scattered from one 
end of the field to the other. It appears that hundreds of dry 
wells have been drilled in places where the water witches were 
sure of finding water in abundance. Witch wigglers have been 
kidded into walking directly over great underground torrents 
in unlikely places, even water mains and reservoirs, and their 
witch sticks didn't move at all. 

The scientific conclusion is summarized by Dr. O. E. Meinzer, 
of the United States Geological Survey, who expressed himself 
as follows : "It is difficult to see how, for practical purposes, the 
water-witch theory could be more thoroughly discredited. To 
all inquiries the United States Geological Survey therefore gives 
the advice not to expend any money for the services of any water- 
witch, or for the use or purchase of any machine or instrument 
devised for locating underground water or minerals." 

* New York Sun, Oct. 30, 1931. 

6. Mountain Medicine 

Regular physicians are not very num- 
erous in the Ozarks, and a great many 
"chills-an'-f ever doctors" are practicing 
illegally. Most of these are men who had a year or two of train- 
ing at some Southern medical college, but others have just 
"picked up doctorin' " by assisting some old physician whose 
practice they have inherited. The "chills-an'-fever doctors" 
save the overworked M.D. many a long night ride and are fre- 
quently protected and advised by the medical profession. The 
average hillman, of course, knows nothing of this distinction 
between qualified and unqualified physicians. He calls 'em all 
"Doc" and lets it go at that. 

Besides the regular and irregular physicians, who live mostly 
in the villages, the backwoods country swarms with "yarb 
doctors" and "rubbin* doctors" and "nature doctors" who 'have 
never studied medicine at all. Some of these nature doctors 
are women, others are preachers who do a little doctorin' on 
the side, and many of them are unable to read or write. They 
rely mainly upon herbs, barks, roots, and the like. For internal 
medication these substances are steeped in hot water, and 
"horse doses" of the resulting teas are administered at frequent 
intervals. In some cases the tea is boiled down to a thick paste 
called ooze, or mixed with strained honey to make a syrup. The 
yarb doctors are great believers in poultices, which are applied 
both hot and cold for all sorts of ailments. Doubtless some of 
these homely remedies have real value and may be listed in the 
Pharmacopoeia for all I know. The hillfolk, however, seem to 
feel that the efficacy of a treatment varies directly with its 


unpleasantness ; bitter tea is always best, and the more a 
poultice hurts the better they like it. 

"God Almighty never put us here without a remedy for every 
ailment," said old Jimmy Van Zandt of Kirbyville, Missouri. 
"Out in the woods there's plants that will cure all kinds of sick- 
ness, and all we got to do is hunt for 'em." 

Mullein-flower tea is supposed to be good for colds, sore 
throat, flu, and even pneumonia. A tea made of sumac berries 
is favored for coughs and sore throat. Strong cider vinegar, 
with salt and pepper added, is used as a gargle. Cranesbill 
(Geranium maculatum) is brewed into a fine astringent medi- 
cine for sore throats. Pine needles, steeped in water over night 
and boiled down with sorghum, make another popular cough 
remedy, but a tea made of linn or basswood flowers is better for 
a cold in the head. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, says 
that she has broken up many a bad cold with "red-pepper tea, 
simmered in butter and water, and made pretty sticky with 

Horehound is one of the best cold remedies. Just take a pan- 
ful of horehound leaves, add water, and keep warm on the back 
of the stove for several days. Then pour off the liquid and con- 
centrate it further by boiling. This is the standard cough 
medicine of the Ozarks, but it's pretty bitter. Many people 
think that horehound tea should be mixed with wild honey 
the blacker the honey the more effective the syrup. Some young 
folk like it better if the mother adds a lot of sugar to make 
horehound candy, which is poured out on a buttered platter and 
allowed to harden, then broken into pieces and distributed 
among the children. 

Many Ozark youngsters are dosed with large quantities of 
skunk oil for throat ailments, particularly croup. This stuff is 
rendered from the fat of skunks trapped in the winter a strong 
stinking mess which makes many children vomit. There are tales 
also of yarb doctors who use liniments made of rattlesnake oil, 
but I have never seen any of this myself. Croup is treated ex- 


ternally by a poultice of lard and fried onions, applied very hot. 

Charley Cummins, veteran newspaperman of Springfield, 
Missouri, always called a severe cold a tissic that's his own 
spelling. He said the only way to cure such a cold was to apply 
a poultice of lard, camphor, turpentine, and fried onions. 

Dr. W. O. Cralle, of Springfield, Missouri, writes me that 
some backwoods friends of his have used a tea of onions and 
wild lobelia with great success, in cases of "pneumony fever." 
Some old settlers make poultices of chicken manure mixed with 
lard as a treatment for pneumonia ; it is said that the dung of 
black chickens is best. A hot poultice of hopvine cones and 
leaves is a famous remedy for pneumonia ; I have seen this used 
hour after hour, fresh poultices always in the making, and a 
new one applied every fifteen minutes. 

A tea made from the roots of butterfly weed (Asclepias), also 
known as pleurisy root, is used for "lung trouble," which usu- 
ally means the late stages of tuberculosis. Some hillfolk believe 
that drinking fresh warm blood is the best treatment for "lung 
trouble"; I knew an elderly couple who sold their farm and 
moved to a city so that their consumptive daughter could get 
fresh blood from a slaughterhouse every day. One old man said 
that he had kept his family free of disease by putting ground 
dandelion root into their coffee, but many hillfolk use dandelion 
root as a coffee substitute or adulterant with no thought of 

A pinch of gunpowder, washed down with a glass of warm 
water or sour milk, was regarded as a sure cure for diphtheria 
in the Ozark country, long before we ever heard of vaccines or 

A family at Lamar, Missouri, claims to cure hay fever by 
feeding the patient honey made from Spanish needles. Sumac 
leaves are supposed to cure asthma and hay fever ; some people 
make a sumac tea, others dry the leaves and smoke them in a 
pipe. Jimson-weed (Datura) is used in treating bronchial 
troubles and asthma. Wild plum bark, scraped down, is a 


specific for asthma; most yarb doctors just make a strong tea 
with a little sweetening, but some add a great deal of sugar or 
molasses and make a regular syrup of it. 

In scraping bark from a tree or shrub, the direction in which 
it is cut may make a vast difference in its effect as medicine. 
Peach-tree bark, for example, if the tree is shaved upward, is 
supposed to prevent vomiting, or to stop a diarrhea. But if the 
bark is scraped downward, the tea made from it is regarded as 
a violent purgative. In general, the old-timers say that if the 
pain is in the lower part- of the body, it is best to scrape the 
bark downward, to drive the disease into the legs and out at the 
toes. If the bark in such a case were stripped upward, it might 
force the pizen up into the patient's heart, lungs, or head, and 
kill him instantly. 

The root of the yellow puccoon or golden-seal is fine for all 
sorts of stomach and intestinal troubles. If a hillman "gets to 
pukin' an* caint keep no thin' on his stummick," he just drinks 
a little yellow puccoon tea, or eats a bit of the fresh root every 
day. Some people carry a piece of this root in their pockets and 
chew it like tobacco or chewing gum. 

The inner lining of a chicken's gizzard, chopped fine and 
made into a tea, is used in cases of dyspepsia, stomach cramps, 
colitis, and so on. They tell me that this stuff "settles the 
stummick" quicker than anything found in the drugstore. 

Rattlesnake weed (Poly gala senega) is good for bellyache, 
flatulence, and intestinal pains ; the natives make a strong tea 
from the dried root and drink it hot. 

Many hillfolk chew angelica root, which is another famous 
stomach remedy, supposed to cure everything from gastric 
ulcers to appendicitis ; six-year-old Dorothy Farris died near 
Hartville, Missouri, in 1938, because she mistook poisonous 
water hemlock (Conium) for the aromatic angelica, which her 
mother had told her to gather and eat every day. 

Red-pepper tea, catnip tea, horsemint (Monarda) tea all 
of these are mightily cried up as remedies for stomach cramps 


or bellyache. Strong onion tea without salt, taken in small doses 
every fifteen minutes, is said to be a sure cure for "wind-on-the- 
stummick." Dr. W. O. Cralle, Springfield, Missouri, tells me 
that a decoction of "milk pursley" is highly recommended in 
all sorts of stomach and bowel trouble. Wild ginger (Asarum) 
and Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum) are also good for 
digestive difficulties ; the root of the latter can't be eaten in its 
natural state, but they say that it loses its bite when boiled. 
Snakeroot (Aristochia serpentaria) is often made into a tea and 
substituted for the more drastic Indian turnip. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, tells of a neighbor 
who "burned a saucer of whiskey, the blue flame toasting a 
rancid bacon rind, the juice dripping down into the saucer." 
When the flame went out, this "witchified potion" was given to 
a man with severe stomach pains. He made a rapid recovery, 

Siippery-elm bark, boiled down to a thick ooze, is a common 
remedy for all sorts of digestive troubles particularly such as 
are caused by excessive use of alcoholic liquors. The gelatinous 
bark is widely used also as a capsule for quinine, or any other 
medicine that has an unpleasant taste. Some yarb doctors treat 
typhoid by administering large doses of slippery-elm ooze, 
forbidding the patient to eat any solid food, and finally build- 
ing up a great smudge of corncobs under the bed. 

Slippery-elm bark is sometimes given in cases of poisoning, 
to produce vomiting, and seems very effective. A thick ooze of 
peach-tree leaves is another valuable emetic, according to 
Mr. Lewis Kelley, of Cyclone, Missouri. So is a tea made of 
puke root (Gillenia stipulata), also known as wild ipecac. Some 
yarb doctors get the same result by taking a living fly, pref- 
erably a green stable fly, and washing it down the patient's 
throat in a cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk. 

The yarb doctors are familiar with many purgatives or 
"loosenin* weeds." One of the most violent and griping is the 
root of the May apple or mandrake, made into a thick tea or 


ooze. The so-called black physic (Veronica virginica) is another 
root with a strong cathartic action. The inner bark of the white 
walnut or butternut is also a popular laxative ; most people 
boil this down to a thick syrupy mess, then thicken it with flour 
and roll it into pills, which are allowed to dry with a little sugar 
on the outside. Flaxseed is also highly recommended for chronic 

Near Walnut Shade, Missouri, a man told me that the early 
settlers didn't bother much with vegetable purgatives, as they 
all preferred to take Epsom salts. When I asked where the pi- 
oneers obtained Epsom salts, he said that there was a whole 
mountain of it down the road. At the time it did not occur to 
me that the man was in earnest, but I learned later that there 
is a high ridge nearby called Salts Bluff. I went to this place 
and saw for myself the white powdery substance on the rocks 
under some overhanging ledges. I tasted the stuff, and it is like 
Glauber's or horse salts rather than Epsom. But it is evidently 
cathartic in its action, and there is no doubt that the early 
settlers did gather this material and use it as medicine. 

Ragweed tea, made by steeping the fresh leaves in cold 
water, is a famous cure for diarrhea what the hillfolk call 
flux. An old woman at Pineville, Missouri, talked me into trying 
this once, and it worked like magic in my case. Smartweed (the 
kind with red stems) is used in the same way, except that in 
this case the tea is made with hot water instead of cold. The 
root of a plant called cranesbill (Geranium maculatum) is also a 
popular "flux stopper." A tea of white-oak bark is good for 
diarrhea too, and in small frequent doses is indicated in chronic 
indigestion or colitis. 

Backwoods babies seem particularly subject to an intestinal 
disorder known as "summer complaint." Many children die of 
this ailment, and the only sure cure is a tea made from the roots 
of the wild artichoke. A young couple in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 
came near losing their baby, and the city doctors didn't seem 
to do the child any good. The father went out and searched 


the country around Tulsa but could not find any wild artichoke. 
Finally he got into his car and drove back to his old home in 
Taney county, Missouri, where he obtained a good supply of 
artichoke roots. When he got back to Tulsa the doctors thought 
the baby was dying, but the artichoke tea brought relief within 
a few hours, and a week later the child was as well as ever. This 
is the story, anyhow, and there are many old-timers around 
Forsyth, Missouri, who believe it. 

Where no artichoke is obtainable, some folks treat summer 
complaint with a tea made by mashing up sow bugs and steeping 
them in hot water; some mountain healers give large doses of 
this mess to sick babies. I have seen this tried, and the child 
recovered in spite of the sow bugs. 

A young girl near Forsyth, Missouri, used to take large 
quantities of tea made by boiling toasted egg shells in water, 
but I was unable to find out what was the matter with her, or 
what effect this "egg-shell tea" was expected to produce. Chil- 
dren are sometimes dosed with chamber lye which means urine 
mixed with sweet oil; it is said that this is a sure cure for 
stomach cramps. 

When an Ozark child has colic, the mother squeezes a little 
of her own milk into a teacup. Then she takes a reed pipestem 
and blows clouds of tobacco smoke into the cup, so that it 
bubbles up through the milk. When the baby drinks this nico- 
tinized milk it becomes quiet at once and soon falls asleep. Other 
people treat a "colicky" infant simply by blowing tobacco 
smoke up under its clothes ; I have seen this done several times, 
and it really did seem to relieve the pain or at least to distract 
the child's attention for the moment. 

Tobacco is used in other ways by the yarb doctors and 
granny-women. I have seen severe abdominal pain, later diag- 
nosed as appendicitis and cured by surgery, apparently relieved 
at once with a poultice of tobacco leaves soaked in hot water. 
The tobacco poultice is very generally used for cuts, stings, 
bites, bruises, and even bullet wounds. A poultice of tobacco 


leaves in cold water is often applied to "draw the pizen" out of 
a boil or a risin'. Some people think such a poultice is more 
effective if fresh mullein leaves are bound on outside the tobacco. 

For rectal troubles the yarb doctor favors a salve made by 
boiling bittersweet berries in lard. Sometimes, however, the 
patient is merely directed to sew a piece of sheep's intestine to 
the tail of his shirt. Charley Cummins, old-time newspaper re- 
porter of Springfield, Missouri, always claimed that he could 
make an "almost infallible pile cure" out of mullein leaves, but 
he would never give me any details of the treatment. Several 
herbalists have told me of the "balm-o'-gilly" tree, doubtless 
identical with the Balm of Gilead, said to be a kind of poplar; 
they cook the waxy buds of this tree with tallow, and the result- 
ing salve is used in treating burns and abrasions as well as 

There are several outlandish semimagical methods of curing 
piles, which involve some hocus-pocus with urine. The following 
story is vouched for by a sober and respectable business woman 
in Mountain Grove, Missouri, who would never have believed 
such a tale had she not known all the parties involved and seen 
the thing for herself : 

An old woman on relief at Mountain Grove, Mo., kept asking for 
a suit of brand-new underwear. Finally a member of the Ladies' Aid 
bought it for her. The old woman did not wear the suit, but sent it, 
with a dollar bill attached, to one of her neighbors; she asked the 
neighbor to wear it ten days, then send it back to her unwashed, and 
she would wear it for three days this would cure her piles, she said. 

The neighbor wanted to humor the old woman, so she sent back 
the dollar and put on the union suit. A few days later the old woman 
wrote again, saying that she hated to tell the whole story at first, but 
that the cure demanded something more. After wearing the suit ten 
days, the neighbor was to take it off and urinate on it, wetting it all 
over, and then drying it in the sun without washing. Next, the old 
woman would wear it for three days, then wash it and return it to 
the neighbor, as the whole process had to be gone through with again. 

The neighbor was kind of discouraged by this time, and sent the 
underwear back to the old woman, with a note saying that she did not 


believe in superstitions, and recommending a certain patent medicine 
for piles. 

It is not stated what happened after that, but at last reports 
the old woman still had her hemorrhoids. 

Some years ago a prominent Ozark farmer suffered from 
hiccoughs, which continued for many days, so that his life was 
endangered. One yarb doctor said that if the man would just 
grind up some white beans, mix the resulting powder with vine- 
gar, and take a teaspoonful every thirty minutes, he would 
stop hiccoughing within twenty-four hours this was tried 
without any results. Other local healers contended that a big 
dose of dill tea, or tea made of the inner lining of a chicken 
gizzard, would cure hiccoughs almost immediately. An old 
woman from Rocky Comfort, Missouri, wrote the man's doctor 
suggesting that he "drench" the patient with sweet milk and 
black-pepper tea. A poultice of raw potatoes, fastened tightly 
across the abdomen, was also highly recommended. An amateur 
herbalist at Pineville, Missouri, told me that a tonic mixture 
of whiskey, tansy, and ragweed leaves was indicated in all such 
cases ; "I take it every day myself," said he, "an* it agrees with 
me fine. I aint had the hiccoughs but once in fourteen year I" 

Many hillfolk treat sprains by tying on rags soaked in hot 
vinegar to which salt has been added. Others put mullein leaves 
in the vinegar instead of salt. A poultice of red clay moistened 
into a paste with vinegar is also common. Another application 
for sprains is a hot mixture of cornmeal and buttermilk, with 
a little bran stirred into it. A poultice made by boiling down 
the inner bark of black oak, stiffened with bran or sawdust, is 
said to reduce the swelling of sprains and bruises. Also recom- 
mended are the leaves of horse balm (Collinsonia canadensis) , 
widely used to poultice bruises and even open wounds. 

A poultice made of the root bark of polecat weed (a little 
aromatic bush with yellow flowers) chopped fine and boiled in 
salt water is very good for wounds and bruises. Some folk seem 
to think that a poultice of mullein leaves simmered in vinegar 


is helpful in almost any sort of painful condition. I have seen 
such a poultice applied to a wound made by a charge of bird 
shot ; it not only eases pain, I was told, but "loosens up the shot" 
so that the doctor can easily extract the pellets. 

A weed called square stalk, apparently a kind of figwort, is 
used in making poultices to reduce swelling. At the same time, 
it is supposed to "bring a risin' to a head." A mixture of soft 
soap and brown sugar seems to get the same results. Some peo- 
ple cure boils by soaking a piece of snake skin in vinegar 
and tying it on the affected part. Sour-dock leaves are also used 
to bind up boils or carbuncles. Fresh possum-grape leaves are 
tied on open sores, or on boils which have come to a head. 

Dr. W. O. Cralle, Springfield, Missouri, tells me that Aunt 
Mary Johnson, of Theodosia, Missouri, treats "proud flesh" 
or "blood poison" with a poultice of prickly pear, beets, and 
sweet milk cooked together and applied as hot as the patient 
can bear it. Old leg sores, and the condition called milk-leg, are 
said to be relieved by binding "the pup bag of a bitch dog" on 
the affected part and wearing it for seven days. A wound made 
by a rusty nail is best treated by fastening a very old corroded 
penny over the puncture it is believed that the "green moss" 
on the copper will draw out the poison and prevent tetanus. 
Another method is to burn woolen rags in a copper kettle and 
hold the injured member in the thick smoke for several minutes. 

Chimney soot, thoroughly mixed with molasses, is good for 
cuts and open wounds. Spider webs are used for this purpose, 
too, and are said to stop bleeding at once. Best of all is the dry 
dust from the fungi called puffballs, especially the big yellow 
kind known as the Devil's snuffbox. Golden-seal root, ground 
into a fine dry powder and dusted on an open wound or sore, 
seems to cure it up about as well as anything. The pain of a 
bee sting is relieved by applying the crushed leaves of three 
plants any three will do, just so they are of different species 
to the painful area. 

The hillfolk use kerosene or coal oil both externally and in- 


ternally, for many minor ailments and injuries. Some of them 
claim Biblical authority for this treatment in the passage: 
"Nothing but the oil of the earth will cure ye in the latter days," 
but I have not been able to locate this in the Bible, so far. I 
have seen snake bite treated by sticking the swollen leg into a 
bucket of kerosene ; if the snake was really poisonous, it is said 
that the "pizen" forms a greenish scum on the top of the oil ; 
many of those present claimed to see the green venom very 
distinctly, but I saw nothing but the iridescent surface color 
of the kerosene. A poultice of soft soap mixed with salt is 
sometimes used for snake bites and is believed to draw out the 
poison if it is applied in time. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Taney 
county, Missouri, recommends "a bit of real snake-weed, boiled 
in sweet milk," but it is a rare plant, and I have not been able 
to find a specimen. "The leaves are slender, almost like blades 
of corn," she writes, "but four corne out of the stalk, all exactly 
opposite each other, and at the top is a little white blossom." 

For kidney and bladder trouble, the yarb doctor usually 
burns the dried blood of a rabbit and makes a tea by boiling the 
ashes in water and decanting off the liquid. Gravelroot (Eupa- 
torium) is good too it is boiled down to a strong tea, and then 
diluted with water as taken. A tea brewed from parsley is also 
a popular kidney medicine. The root of sevenbark (Hydrangea 
arborescens) is a remedy for scanty or difficult urination, as 
is the shrub known as ninebark, which looks very much like the 
common white spiraea seen in flower gardens. 

Corn-silk tea, made by steeping corn silks in very hot water, 
is said to cure bed wetting in children. Some people think that 
sumac-berry tea is better, however. Similar claims are made for 
a strong decoction of finely chopped watermelon seeds. Another 
sure cure for bed wetting is to feed the child a pancake with 
bedbugs cooked into it; I saw this tried once and noted that 
the patient was not told about the bugs until several hours after 
he had eaten the pancake. Miss Betrenia Watt, who taught the 
village school at Preston, in Hickory county, Missouri, tells 


me that the old-timers use seven bedbugs to each pancake, but 
the folks in my neighborhood didn't bother to count the 

I remember a young woman near Pineville, Missouri, who was 
very ill indeed. The local M.D. said that she had Bright's disease 
and held little hope for her recovery. One of this woman's male 
relatives searched the hills for days and finally dug up a root 
which seemed to do her more good than any of the doctor's 
prescriptions. She was still alive several years later, apparently 
much improved in health. I interviewed the man who found the 
magic root. He boasted that he had cured the woman "after all 
the doctors done give her up" but refused to tell me the name of 
the root that did the business. A yarb doctor who saw the stuff, 
however, told me that it looked to him like yellow-root, by which 
he meant golden-seal (Hydrastis). 

Plenty of sexual intercourse is regarded as a sure cure for 
bladder and kidney ailments in women. It is often said of a 
widow who remarries : "Well, I guess Lizzie has throwed away 
her gravel medicine." Perhaps this is somehow related to the 
hillman's habit of saying, as a sort of toast when he takes a 
drink of whiskey : "Well, this is for my wife's kidneys !" I have 
heard this remark many times, in different parts of the Ozark 
country, but am not certain just what is meant by it. 

The yarb doctor is brother to the witch and close cousin to 
the preacher, and not infrequently mixes a little religious hokum 
with his teas and plasters. People who visited Hollister, Mis- 
souri, in the spring of 1934 will not soon forget the "prayin' 
corn doctor," a bewhiskered old herbalist who specialized in 
corns and bunions and prayed loudly over his remedies. As late 
as 1940 there was one of these fellows in Taney county, Mis- 
souri, a long-haired chap with beaded moccasins and a deerskin 
vest. He carried many little bags of dried herbs, each marked 
with a mysterious sign supposed to be Cherokee picture writing. 
This medicine man treated all ailments and agreed to cure any- 
thing for six dollars in cash. He asked every patient "You be- 


lieve in God, don't you?" and they all answered that they did. 
Muttering strange words as he opened each little sack of medi- 
cine, he put several kinds of dried leaves into a pint of water 
for each patient. The leaves were so finely divided that they 
were not easily identified, but I tasted the tea made from them, 
and I think it was mostly senna and gentian. 

A woman in McDonald county, Missouri, had some sort of 
kidney trouble her body was enormously swollen. The M.D. 
said there was no hope for her, but the family called in an 
illiterate healer from the backwoods. This yarb doctor glanced 
at the patient and said that he could reduce the swelling in a 
few minutes, but this might endanger the patient's life, so he 
had best do the job gradually. He muttered some gibberish and 
applied a green poultice of his own making. He told me privately 
that this poultice was made of turnip tops, which he had 
"blessed with the power of Christ Jesus." The woman died two 
or three days later. "You orter have called me sooner," said the 
yarb doctor. 

Perhaps the most famous yarb doctor ever known in the 
Ozarks was Omar Palmer, who lived in the village of Hurley, 
Missouri. I went to see Palmer once, and the cars in fropt of 
his office sported tags from five different states. He had a larger 
practice, and made more money, than any of the licensed M.D.'S 
in the neighborhood. The Missouri State Board of Health had 
him arrested once for practicing medicine without a license, but 
at the last moment his patients refused to testify. The yarb 
doctor walked out of court a free man and was greeted with loud 
cheers from the assembled yokelry. Somebody even shot off some 
firecrackers, ordinarily reserved for Christmas and the Fourth 
of July. Palmer kept five or six men and women busy, collecting 
roots and herbs in the woods near Hurley. He sold his various 
teas in pint bottles. Unwilling to use alcohol to preserve the 
stuff, Palmer could not prevent its spoiling in a few days, so 
that the customer had to return to Hurley for another bottle. 

Sassafras tea, made from the bark of sassafras roots in the 


spring, is supposed to thin or purify the blood. It has the color 
of tawny port, and a very fine flavor though too much boiling 
makes it bitter. Some people put small quantities of May apple, 
wild cherry, and goldenseal into their sassafras tea, but most 
of the old folks take it neat. Sassafras is used not only in the 
backwoods but more or less all over the country. I have seen 
men selling little bundles of sassafras roots in the streets of 
Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Joplin, Missouri, and 
also in Fort Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas. The old-timers 
use only the fresh red roots the smaller and redder the better. 
The fellows who sell the stuff split larger whitish roots up to 
look like young ones, but the big roots don't make the best tea. 

The drugstores sell dried sassafras bark the year round, 
and some people buy this stuff in the winter, but the hillfolk 
claim that only the fresh roots have any value as medicine. 
Many of them say that sassafras is no good until Groundhog 
Day February 14. 

Many Ozark people make a tea from the bark of the spice- 
bush (Benzoin aestivale) in March and April. They drink this 
just as they do sassafras tea and regard it as a tonic and blood 
thinner. It tastes quite as good as sassafras, I think. Some old 
folks say that in pioneer days the spicebush was used to season 
game it softened the wild taste of venison and bear meat. 
Spicebush twigs are still used as a mat beneath a possum, when 
the Ozark housewife bakes the animal in a covered pan or a 
Dutch oven. 

Choctaw-root or dogbane (Apocynum) is also made into a 
tea, mildly laxative, which is said to "thin the blood an' tone 
up the system." I have never tasted this but have met men who 
say that it is better than either sassafras or spicebush. Some 
yarb doctors fortify their choctaw-root with wild-cherry bark 
and "anvil dust," whatever that may be. 

A strong tea of red-clover blossoms is highly regarded in 
some quarters as a blood purifier and general tonic. It is used 
in the treatment of whooping cough, too, but if the whooping 


cough is really bad nothing will help it but mare's milk. Many 
a father has been routed out in the night to ride to some farm 
where a mare has lately foaled. 

Bloodroot or red puccoon (Sanguinaria) is also supposed 
to be a great blood remedy, apparently because it has blood- 
red sap. By the same token a leaf shaped like a kidney, or a liver, 
or an ovary, or what not is supposed to designate a remedy for 
disorders of the organ which it resembles. The yarb doctors are 
all familiar with this principle, but they don't seem to take it 
very seriously or follow it consistently. 

Some hillfolk in southern Missouri gather the roots of the 
big purple coneflower (Brauneria) and brew a tea which is 
given to sick persons apparently regardless of what ails them. 
I know a man who was confined to his bed with a broken leg, 
and the doctor was no sooner out of sight than the womenfolks 
began to dose the patient with this "niggerhead" tea. "It made 
him sweat wonderful," an old woman told me later, "an' sweatin's 
good for a big man layin' in bed that-a-way !" 

Many of the old-time druggists make up bitters by putting 
wild cherries, together with the inner bark of the wild-cherry 
tree, into whiskey. This is a fine spring tonic, and some prefer 
it to sassafras tea. It is good for almost any ailment, in a pinch, 
and even families who are notoriously dry keep a quart of bitters 
in case of sudden sickness. A mixture of whiskey and rock candy 
is popular too but is not so highly recommended as the famous 
wild-cherry bitters. 

Children in Arkansas are sometimes encouraged to chew the 
gummy resin melted out of pine wood before the fireplace; I 
have seen children chewing this stuff by the hour, just as city 
children chew gum. The parents think that the turpentine in 
this resin keeps the children free of worms. A tea made from 
peach leaves is also a common remedy for worms, while some 
favor a mess made by stewing vermifuge seeds in molasses. 
Horsemint tea is supposed to be a sure cure for rectal worms 


in children. A decoction of pumpkin seeds is used to expel tape- 
worms, and it seems to be effective, too. 

Boneset tea is a favorite remedy for chills, fever, and ague. 
A tea made of elderberry roots is good, too. Some people have 
great confidence in blade-fodder tea, especially if the fodder 
has been kept in a dry place. Seneca-root or rattlesnake weed 
(Senega) is said to make a mighty fine chills-and-fever medi- 
cine. The unfermerited juice of the little wild possum grapes 
is supposed to cure malaria. Uncle Jack Short of Galena, Mis- 
souri, says that he used tt> drink gallons of peach-bark tea 
every fall for his "ager" ; also a tea made by boiling sheep 
manure, with a little spicewood added to kill the unpleasant 
taste. Fanny D. Bergen observes that "in central Missouri one 
is recommended to take for ague a whole pepper-corn every 
morning for seven consecutive mornings." x The plant known 
as fever-root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) is also used to reduce 
fevers and is a mild sedative as well. A gentleman in Cyclone, 
Missouri, tells me that his family made a "chill remedy" that 
was in great demand ; the exact formula was kept secret, he 
says, but the main ingredient was crushed burdock seeds. 

A good strong tea of saffron, taken often and in large doses, 
is said to be a sure cure for the "yaller janders." Another 
jaundice remedy is made by cooking fishworms in lard and 
rolling the result into big evil-smelling pills. 

Nanny tea, consisting of sheep manure and hot water, with a 
little sugar, is a very powerful medicine for measles ; it is be- 
lieved to make the patient "break out" at once, which the yarb 
doctors say is desirable. Spicewood tea, made by boiling the 
tender green twigs of the spicewood or feverbush (Benzoin 
aestivale), is another famous remedy for measles. 

Mrs. Coral Almy Wilson, of Zinc, Arkansas, tells me that 
her neighbors treat rheumatism with an infusion of wahoo 
(Euonymus) bark. In other parts of the Ozarks the yarb doc- 

i Journal of American Folklore, V (1892), 21. 


tors administer pokeroot (Phytolacca) tea for rheumatism, 
while people in eastern Oklahoma seem to think that celery 
leaves are about as good as anything. Mrs. May Kennedy 
McCord, Springfield, Missouri, claims that a mixture of sulphur 
and homemade sorghum molasses does cure rheumatism, no mat- 
ter what the doctors say. The so-called rheumatiz root (Dio- 
scorea) is much favored in some sections. A man near Marion- 
ville, Missouri, used to eat pokeberries, generally supposed to 
be poisonous, in the belief that they might help his rheumatic 
joints. A tea made by boiling cockleburs in water is another 
remedy for rheumatism. 

Water drunk from a gourd is somehow cleansed of all im- 
purities, according to the old-timers, and is regarded by some 
as a specific for rheumatism. I knew a lawyer in Pineville, Mis- 
souri, who always kept a gourd in his office, hidden behind the 
water cooler; he said that a man who was inclined to be rheu- 
matic should not drink from cups or glasses. 

Stiff joints are treated with a grease made by hanging a 
bottle of dead fishworms up in the sun a horrible stinking mess 
it is, too. The grease from skunks or civet cats, mixed with 
peppermint leaves, is highly praised by some hillfolk as a 
lubricant for rheumatic joints. It is said that the fat of a male 
wildcat is best of all. Big black ants are dried and powdered 
and mixed with lard ; this is rubbed on the legs of babies who 
are slow in learning to walk, or who seem weak in the legs. 

Sometimes a severe pain in the ear is relieved with a vinegar 
poultice just soak a piece of light-bread in hot vinegar and 
hold it against the ear until it cools. Some yarb doctors treat 
earache simply by blowing tobacco smoke into the ear; if this 
doesn't give relief, they blow the smoke into a cup of warm 
water with a reed or pipestem and put a few drops of this 
smoke water into the ear at intervals. Others prefer to pour 
sweet oil, or skunk oil, or goose grease strained through silk 
into their ears. Some use human urine in the same way, although 
it is claimed that mule's urine is better. An infusion of sheep 


manure, called nanny tea or sheep-dumplin' tea, is also much in 
favor as a remedy for earache. If the pain is caused by a bug 
getting into the ear, however, one has only to squirt water into 
the other ear, and the insect will be washed out immediately. 

Fresh urine is the best lotion for chapped hands, sore feet, 
and chilblains. I once knew a lady south of Joplin, Missouri, 
who thought that the practice of rubbing urine on one's feet 
was disgusting; she contended that a nice salve made of hog 
bristles cut very fine and mixed with skunk oil was more effica- 
cious, anyhow. 

A mess of peach roots, ground up and mixed with lard, is said 
to cure the seven-year itch. Some people prefer a salve made of 
hopvine leaves. Bloodroot or red puccoon, pounded up fine and 
steeped in vinegar, is another very popular itch medicine. Some 
claim to cure the itch by taking sulphur and molasses internally, 
but most yarb doctors scoff at this. Others treat itch with a 
paste made of gunpowder and wood ashes mixed with sweet 
cream, applied at frequent intervals. In Pineville, Missouri, my 
old neighbors asked the druggist for "a dime's worth of acker 
fortis an' a nickel's worth of quicksilver," by which they meant 
nitric acid and mercury, to make some kind of itch medicine. 
Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, says that 
boiled pokeroot used to be a famous remedy for itch, but "it 
burned like fire, and the cure was probably worse than the ail- 
ment." A strong ooze of pokeberry root, a man from Madison 
county, Arkansas, assures me, "will make you think hell aint 
a mile away, but it sure does cure the eetch." 

The skin disease called tetter is treated with spunk water or 
stump water simply rain water which happens to be retained 
in a hollow stump. Bloodroot is good for tetter also, and there 
is another herb known as tetter weed, but this latter I have not 
been able to identify. The yarb doctors all insist that tetter 
weed is not identical with bloodroot (Sanguinaria) which is 
called tetterwort in some parts of the United States. The root of 
the bull nettle is used in the treatment of skin diseases, according 


to Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I have 
seen skin eruptions treated with mud supplied by crushing dirt- 
dobbers' nests and adding water mud from these nests is 
credited with some astringent virtue not found in ordinary earth. 
A poultice of pokeberry leaves is said to cure ivy poisoning. Some 
people say that a big dose of sulphur and molasses, with a pinch 
of saltpeter, will render a person immune to poison ivy for 
several weeks. 

Many hillfolk treat ringworm by daubing it with the juice 
of a green walnut; this smarts a bit but really does seem to 
arrest the ringworm in some cases. Another way of curing ring- 
worm is to burn a bit of flannel on a flatiron, so as to leave a 
tiny drop of dark-colored oil ; this oil is applied directly to the 
ringworm, care being taken not to get any of it on the surround- 
ing tissue. 

I have heard of Ozark yarb doctors who claim that they can 
cure epileptic fits, but I have never met one of these gentlemen. 
The old folks say, however, that a poultice of colts-tongue 
leaves, applied to the sufferer's forehead, often affords a meas- 
ure of relief. "Mirandy" Bauersfeld tells of an Ozark granny 
who chewed up fitweed leaves and then thrust them in}:o the 
patient's mouth, but I have not been able to find any plant 
called fitweed. 2 A tea made of fresh parsley is supposed to be 
beneficial in epilepsy, and some yarb doctors prescribe it for 
hysteria and other nervous diseases. It is often said that parsley 
will stop an epileptic fit, but only in the light of the moon. I 
talked with one epileptic boy about this, but he said that he 
seldom had a seizure in the light of the moon, whether he drank 
parsley water or not. A human bone, pulverized, is sometimes 
given internally for epilepsy just a pinch of the powder 
stirred into a hot toddy, or a cup of coffee. 

Old sores, syphilitic lesions, and skin cancers are sometimes 
treated with powder made from the bones of a person long dead. 
In order to obtain this material the hillfolk dig into Indian 
2 Breezes from Persimmon Holler, p. 129. 


graves and Bluff Dweller burials under the ledges. The hillman 
always tells strangers that he's digging for arrowheads and the 
like, which can be sold to tourists ; but I have seen these old 
bones broken into small pieces with a hammer and ground up to 
be used as medicine. 

Some people named Carney, living near Cape Fair, Missouri, 
have for several generations been treating skin diseases. They 
claim to have cured many cancers. The treatment is simply a 
poultice of crushed, boiled sheep sorrel. Some say it must be 
boiled in a copper kettle. This stuff is applied freely to the sores 
and cures a lot of them, but it is terribly painful. I asked 
Dr. J. H. Young of Galena, Missouri, about this, and he said that 
the oxalic acid in sheep sorrel was effective, if the patient could 
stand it. Of course, he added, the sores that the Carneys had 
cured were not really cancers. 

Judge Gerrit Snip, Lamar, Missouri, in 1919, announced 
publicly that he had healed a cancer on his hand with an in- 
fusion of "sheep shower" probably the same as sheep sorrel. 
He said it hurt like hell but cured the cancer. 

To prevent hives, one has only to put several buckshot into 
a glass of water and drink a spoonful of the water every two 
hours ; some people say that there must be exactly nine buck- 
shot in the glass, no more and no less, but others think that 
this numerical idea savors of superstition. If one does get hives 
despite all attempts at prophylaxis, maple-leaf tea is the best 
remedy ; the hard maple or sugar tree is better than the ordinary 
kind. Some hillfolk soak cloths in the tea and apply them to 
the skin, others get equally good results by taking large doses 
of the stuff internally. 

Nearly every hillman has heard of the strange disease called 
bold hives or boll hives, supposed to be invariably fatal. Ozark 
M.D.'s tell me that there is no such thing, but they have all been 
called in great haste to treat the mythical disease. "When I get 
there," said Dr. J. H. Young, "I generally find a case of ordinary 
hives, and they always get well." Babies are supposed to be es- 


pecially susceptible to bold hives, but adults sometimes have 'em 
too, according to the old settlers. 

The fat found on rabbits' kidneys in the fall is said to be 
a specific for sexual debility ; I have known several old men who 
obtained large quantities of this fat from rabbit trappers and 
claimed great things for it. A tea made from black snakeroot 
(Cimicifuga) is another powerful aphrodisiac, according to the 
wise men of the mountains, but it seems to upset the stomach if 
large doses are taken, and is best mixed with whiskey. There is 
a widespread belief that a man who "loses his manhood" is 
doomed to die before the year is out ; a gentleman ninety-three 
years old told me that he used to believe this himself but had 
finally been forced to the conclusion that "there aint nothing 
to it," 

Ginseng or sang root is supposed to prolong life and to 
strengthen the sexual powers in aging men. There are probably 
a few old fellows in the Ozarks who still use it, and there are 
reports of secret sang patches here and there. But wild ginseng 
is almost extinct now, and it sells for between ten dollars and 
fifteen dollars per pound. Not many hillfolk can be induced to 
eat anything that they can sell for that much money. ,There 
are some people down at Compton, Arkansas, who have been 
growing the stuff in sang arbors since old "Frost" Petree 
started the practice about 1900, but the domestic roots do not 
bring the high prices paid for wild sang. The plants don't bear 
seeds until they are three years old, and the seeds won't sprout 
until two years after they are picked. Roots less than five years 
old are hardly big enough to market some of the four-pronged 
wild roots are said to be twenty or thirty years old. The whole 
project of sang raising is too slow for the hillman's taste. 

Most yarb-doctors gather their own yarbs, but there are 
many root diggers and herbalists in the Ozarks who collect such 
stuff for the market. Much of this material is sold or bartered 
to country storekeepers, who ship it to a famous root-and-herb 
broker in St. Louis. This man operates a business founded by 


his father some ninety years ago and sends out a yearly price- 
list of nearly one hundred roots, herbs, and barks that he will 

People near Walnut Shade, Missouri, still tell the story of 
how an amateur root buyer named Cummins went broke through 
buying counterfeit sang. Lou Beardon, who lived on Bear 
Creek, discovered that two-year-old pokeroots, properly dried, 
look very much like ginseng, and it is said Cummins bought 
nearly a hundred dollars' worth of this so-called bogue sang 
before he learned to distinguish the two. 

Roots for the market must be dug in the fall dig 'em in the 
growin' season and they shrink away to nothing. Bark is best 
gathered in late winter and early spring. Leaves and herbs 
should be collected while the plants are blooming. Flowers are 
picked when they first open, seeds are gathered as soon as they 
are ripe. All of these things must be dried slowly in the shade 
and not shipped until they are perfectly dry, otherwise they 
will become moldy and lose their value as medicine. I have 
known several backwoods wanderers who lived by gathering 
roots and herbs ; it seemed to me that they worked harder than 
most farmers, and I don't think many of them earned more than 
fifty cents a day. Some of the herbs gathered in the Ozarks are 
ultimately sold to legitimate drug houses, while others are no 
longer prescribed by regular physicians but are used in various 
patent medicines and also by the medicine-show quacks who 
still flourish in many parts of the United States. 

The yarb doctors are not very well provided with sedatives 
or soporifics. They sometimes try to quiet the nerves of alco- 
holic patients by rubbing the head with a paste of sunflower 
seeds ; I let a woman at Rogers, Arkansas, smear some of this 
stuff on my head once, but it didn't seem to do much good. A 
thick sassafras-bark shampoo is sometimes used in similar 
cases and has the added advantage that it kills headlice as well 
as soothing jangled nerves. 

A tea made from the roots of the butterfly weed (Asclepias) 


is supposed to be good for nervousness and restlessness. A pil- 
low stuffed with dried hopvines relieves pain and puts the pa- 
tient to sleep. Mistletoe leaves are made into a remedy for 
dizziness and head noises. Catnip tea is a common sedative, 
taken warm just before going to bed. Lady's-slipper (Cypripe- 
dium) roots are boiled in milk to make some sort of "nerve 
medicine." An infusion of fresh alfalfa, taken in large doses, is 
said to quiet the nerves and produce sleep. Mr. Lewis Kelley, 
Cyclone, Missouri, tells me that his neighbors used a tea made 
of skullcap root (Scutellaria) for nervousness, and it was more 
effective than the "nervine" sold at the drugstore. For per- 
sistent insomnia, one has only to put a handful of Jimson-weed 
(Datura) leaves into each shoe and set the shoes under the bed 
with the toes pointing toward the nearest wall. A few Jimson- 
weed leaves, placed in the crown of a hat, are believed to protect 
the wearer from apoplexy or sunstroke. A tea made from 
Jimson weed is used in the treatment of nervousness, hysteria, 
and delirium, but without much success so far as I can see. 

The shell of a black walnut is supposed to represent the 
human skull, and the meat is said to resemble the brain, there- 
fore people who show signs of mental aberration are encouraged 
to eat walnuts. I know of one case in which an entire family 
devoted most of the winter to cracking walnuts for a feeble- 
minded boy. They kept it up for years, and I believe the poor 
fellow ate literally bushels of walnut goodies. 

A few years ago I visited an aged couple in northwest 
Arkansas, and noticed a lump of brown resin-like stuff, about 
as big as a baseball, on the fireboard. "What is that?" I asked. 
The old man grinned. "That's gum opium," said he, "it's been 
settin' there since the fall of 1904. They tell me it's agin the 
law to sell opium now, but you could buy it at any drugstore 
in them days. Whenever I don't feel right peart, or Maw either, 
we just scrape off a little o' that stuff and it fixes us right up." 
From what I have heard elsewhere it seems that a great many 
pioneers took opium or laudanum freely, and always carried 


it with them, or kept it in their cabins. One might think that 
they would have all become dope fiends, but the old-time doctors 
say that there was very little drug addiction in those days. 

I am told that the early settlers raised hemp, great fields of 
it, and used the fibers to make rope and coarse cloth. They never 
thought of smoking it, but it was genuine hemp all right (Can- 
ndbis sativa), the same plant that is called marijuana nowa- 
days. Many people believe that fried fish and sweet milk, taken 
into the human stomach at the same meal, combine to form a 
deadly poison and several persons have told me that hemp tea 
is the only known antidote for this fish-and-milk poisoning. 

Some otherwise intelligent and progressive mountain people 
patronize the yarb doctor rather than the regular M.D. because 
of their fear of surgery. This is understandable when one re- 
members that in the early days, with little attempt at aseptic 
conditions, often without any anesthetic, even minor operations 
were horrible indeed and very often fatal. 

Another thing which prejudices the hillfolk against the M.D. 
is the fact that so many modern drugs are administered hypo- 
dermically. In the old days, the hypodermic needle was used 
chiefly for injecting opiates. Very often the doctor was not 
called until the patient was desperately ill. When he arrived 
to find some poor devil dying in great pain, the physician just 
sighed and gave the sufferer a big shot of morphine. Thus the 
pioneers came to regard the needle as a kind of death warrant, 
and to this day the backwoodsman is afraid of hypodermic 
medication. Even children in the schools, who make very little 
fuss over being vaccinated against smallpox, often raise a ter- 
rific disturbance when the doctor tries to give them a "shot" of 
antityphoid serum. 

There is a widespread belief that physiological phenomena 
are somehow connected with the increase and decrease of the 
moon, but the various healers have such divergent ideas of this 
that no general principles are apparent to me. The matter is 
often mentioned by the yarb doctors in talking with their pa- 


tients, and I have heard some of these conversations, but can 
make little of them. On the whole, it seems that yarb medicines 
for internal use are best taken in the "dark" of the moon, when 
the moon is waning, since most of them are supposed to stop 
some deleterious process, or to arrest some injurious growth. 

There are also the signs of the zodiac to be taken into account. 
A great number of people believe that stomach trouble is most 
likely to be acquired or aggravated when the moon is in Cancer, 
diseases of the throat during the sign Taurus, venereal infec- 
tions in Scorpio, and so on. The treatment of disease is tied 
up with these constellations also, and many people, if forced 
to undergo a surgical operation, are careful to postpone it 
until an appropriate sign is indicated on the calendar. 

In discussing this matter of operations, May Stafford Hil- 
burn says that all operations are best performed "when the 
sign is going into the feet or legs," unless the operation is to be 
performed upon the feet or legs. "We know," she writes, "that 
if an abdominal operation is to take place, and the sign is in 
the bowels, we can look for trouble." 3 

Dr. J. H. Young, of Galena, Missouri, told me that he had 
a patient all ready to go to the hospital once, when the man's 
relatives suddenly discovered that the sign wasn't right for his 
operation and said it must be postponed for about a week. 
Young warned them that the patient might be dead before the 
week was out, if they didn't let the surgeon operate. They still 
refused, so Dr. Young withdrew from the case and washed his 
hands of the whole business. The patient survived, and all his 
kin are still great believers in "operatin' by the sign." 

Dr. Glenn Jones, dentist at Crane, Missouri, told me that 
many of his patients waited until the sign was right before hav- 
ing teeth extracted, even when they were in considerable pain. 
Hillfolk generally agree that a tooth should never be pulled 
when the sign is in the head to do this is to risk a serious 
hemorrhage. Most people think that extractions go best in 
s Missouri Magazine (September, 1933), p. 20. 


Aquarius or Pisces, but there is no certainty about this. The 
old-timers say that it is better to pull a tooth in the morn- 
ing than in the afternoon, no matter what constellation the 
moon's in. 

Some hillfolk imagine that if a pain or disturbance in any 
part of the body coincides with the sign as shown for that date 
in the almanac, there is no cause for alarm. I once found a 
neighbor writhing on the floor with a terrific cramp in his ab- 
domen. It occurred to me that the fellow probably had a hot 
appendix, and I urged 'him to call a doctor at once. He asked 
me to fetch him a calendar from the kitchen, and when he saw 
the picture of Virgo he relaxed with a sigh of relief. "The sign's 
in the guts," he gasped, "I'll be all right in the mornin' " and 
sure enough he was completely recovered five hours later. I have 
often known men to complain of sharp pains here and there, 
which they explained by saying "the sign's in the ," nam- 
ing the part of the body which seemed to be affected. Had the 
sign been elsewhere on that particular day, these pains would 
have been taken much more seriously. 

An old friend showed me a bottle of medicine prescribed for 
him by a very competent M.D. named Wade, who used to prac- 
tice in Christian county, Missouri. "Take a dose of that stuff 
every day," Dr. Wade had told him, "and keep it up till snakes 
crawl" Wade prescribed this medicine in late February, and 
no snake was seen thereabouts that year until March 24. In- 
stead of saying so many days or weeks, this physician used a 
real backwoods expression, which pleased the patient much 
more than an arbitrary date. He felt that his recovery was 
somehow tied up with the orderly processes of Nature, rather 
than governed by some man-made rule in a medical book. When 
a neighbor boy came running in, on March 24, shouting that 
some woodcutters had found a snake, my friend put away the 
medicine. He was a well man. 

Most of the backwoods healers do little harm, and even the 
worst of yarb doctors seldom poison anybody. They kill their 


patients indirectly sometimes, simply by preventing them from 
getting proper medical or surgical treatment. One of my neigh- 
bors suffered a ruptured appendix, whereupon the local yarb 
doctor assured him that there was no need of an operation and 
applied a poultice of hot boiled potatoes. The man died, of 
course not because of the poultice, but because the yarb doc- 
tor's bad counsel prevented him from calling in a surgeon. Most 
of the damage done by yarb doctors and granny-women is of 
this negative type. 

Occasionally, however, one encounters a bit of medical prac- 
tice that seems ill-advised, not to say hazardous. A physician 
in southwest Missouri tells me that a young woman in his neigh- 
borhood had some sort of colitis painful and depressing, but 
not dangerous. Along came a granny-woman who induced this 
patient to swallow a half-tumblerful of turkey shot, and she died 
a few days later. It appears that people in this vicinity often 
take small doses of fine shot for "bowel trouble," without any 
apparent damage. "But it certainly doesn't do 'em any good," 
said the doctor grimly. 

Another case is that of a hillman who had what was called 
"locked bowels." The doctor from a neighboring town said that 
he would probably die anyhow but recommended that he be taken 
to a hospital at once. Instead of doing this, the patient's brother, 
in the presence of the whole family, knocked the patient uncon- 
scious by striking the back of his head with a small sack of 
salt. The young physician, who had not been long in the Ozarks, 
thought that the patient was being murdered before his eyes and 
left the house immediately. But the man's people were trying 
desperately to save him, working on the theory that unconscious- 
ness allows the internal organs to relax and might thus dispose 
of the obstruction. After knocking the patient cold, they 
"cupped" him with fruit jars of boiling water poured the 
water out and clapped the empty jars against his abdomen. 
The poor fellow died, as the doctor had predicted. The father 
of the dead man said sadly : "Too bad we couldn't save Jim. I've 


saw several fellers with locked bowels cured that-a-way." It is 
said that the physician asked the county officers to place man- 
slaughter charges against the bereaved family, but nothing was 
ever done about it. 

Sometimes when an infant does not grow and function prop- 
erly, the granny-women decide that the child is "liver-growed" 
meaning that the liver has somehow become attached to the 
body wall. In such cases a stout old woman grasps the baby's 
left hand and right foot and twists them together behind its 
back, then does the same with the right hand and left foot. She 
has to pull pretty hard sometimes, and the child hollers some- 
thin' turrible, but it's the only treatment for a liver-growed 
baby. The more difficult it is to bring the hands and feet together 
in this fashion, the more certain it appears that the child is 
really liver-growed. This is a rather alarming thing to witness, 
but physicians tell me that it does not seem to do any particular 

Another dubious item, to my mind, is the idea that if a small 
boy has a fit, the parents should strip him instantly and make 
him walk home stark naked. Such treatment may be harmless 
in warm weather, but it surely must be a bad thing to force a 
little naked screaming child to walk through the snow in the 
dead of winter. But there is no doubt that it is still practiced, 
in some sections, by parents who are firmly convinced that it is 
the proper scientific procedure. 

Many yarb doctors insist, when a bullet wound goes clear 
through an arm or leg, on trying to pull a silk handkerchief 
through the wound. The connection between bullet wounds and 
silk handkerchiefs is common enough to have passed into the 
language, and there are several stories and backwoods wise- 
cracks about it. A boy who once lived in my home was insulted 
and enraged when a girl sent him a fine silk handkerchief as a 
Christmas present. "She'd orter sent it to Bob Taylor, that's 
allus a-kickin' up dust round there," he said grimly, " 'cause 
Bob's the one that's goin' to need it !" 


A farmer in McDonald county, Missouri, had a persistent 
headache which the yarb doctors failed to relieve. Finally one 
of them told him that his only hope was to have a thin silver 
plate set under the scalp at the back of his head. The yarb 
doctor remarked that he could do the job himself but advised 
the patient to have some "town doctor" attend to it. "It'll cost 
ye four or five dollars maybe six," said the yarb doctor, "but 
it's worth the money." The patient was so charmed with the 
idea of having a silver plate in his head that he rushed into the 
office of Dr. Oakley St. John, at Pineville, Missouri, demanding 
that the operation be performed immediately. It was with some 
difficulty that St. John persuaded him that a silver plate was 
not indicated in his case. 

Physicians in the Ozark towns have remarked upon the prac- 
tice of giving turpentine as a worm medicine. Turpentine is 
still administered by many yarb doctors and granny-women, 
large doses being given to small children. The stuff may elim- 
inate the worms, but it seems to be bad for the child's kidneys. 
A lot of little children in the Ozarks die of nephritis, and the 
M.D.'S say that nephritis is caused or aggravated by this in- 
discriminate dosing with turpentine. 

7. The Power Doctors 

Very different from the yarb doctors 
described above are healers of another 
type, who make no pretense to scientific 
knowledge but depend entirely upon charms, spells, prayers, 
amulets, exorcisms, and magic of one sort or another. These 
are the so-called "power doctors," backwoods specialists, each 
claiming to be endowed with supernatural power to cure cer- 
tain specific ailments. They seldom attempt any general prac- 
tice, and most of them take no money for their services, although 
they may accept and even demand valuable presents on occasion. 
Some of these people, usually old women, can cool fevers merely 
by the laying on of hands ; others draw out the fire from burns 
by spitting or blowing upon the inflamed areas, while still others 
claim to heal more serious lesions by some similar hocus-pocus. 
One old lady who specializes in burns says that she always 
mutters a few words which she "Parnt out'n the Book" the 
Bible, that is but refuses to tell me what particular text is 

A gentleman near Crane, Missouri, has enjoyed a great suc- 
cess in relieving the pain from superficial burns. He just blows 
gently upon the burned place, touches it with his finger tips, and 
whispers a little prayer. The prayer may be told to persons of 
the other sex, but never imparted to one of the same sex. This 
man said he had learned the magic from Mrs. Molly Maxwell, 
an old woman who lived in Galena, Missouri. Since he could 
not tell me, I asked a young woman to get the secret words 
from him. This is what* she heard : 

One little Indian, two little Indians, 
One named East, one named West, 


The Son and the Father and the Holy Ghost, 
In goes the frost, out comes the fire, 
Ask it all in Jesus' name, Amen. 

In teaching this prayer to a member of the opposite sex, the 
healer said, one should whisper it three times and no more. If a 
person cannot learn the prayer after hearing three repetitions, 
I was told, "he aint fit to draw out fire nohow !" 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, knows 
how to "draw out fire" from a burn. She learned it from Harry 
N. Force, an old-time druggist who spent many years in Cotter, 
Arkansas. You just mutter: "Two little angels come from 
Heaven, one brought fire and the other brought frost, go out 
fire and come in frost." As you say the last word you blow gently 
on the burn. This "sayin' " is supposed to be a great secret and 
must be learned from a member of the opposite sex. 

I met an old-time healer near Gainesville, Missouri, who cured 
sores, sprains, and bruises in this way: he laid his right hand 
on the wounded place, and his left hand on a corresponding 
part of his own body. Then he shivered for a moment, threw back 
his head, and muttered some gibberish under his breath. Many 
people declared themselves benefited by this treatment. I asked 
the old man if the magic words were from the Bible. "No, they 
shore aint !" said he. 

There used to be a woman at West Plains, Missouri, who had 
a great reputation as a "blood stopper." A wounded man was 
brought to her home in a wagon. The whole wagon bed seemed 
to be covered with blood, and the man's friends were unable to 
stop the bleeding from two deep knife cuts. The woman looked 
at the patient, then walked out to the barn alone, with a Bible 
under her arm. In about three minutes the bleeding stopped, 
and the healer returned to her house. She would take no money 
for "blood stopping," and she would not discuss the method. 
She was not a religious woman, and rarely looked at the Bible 
except when she was asked to stop the flow of blood. The old 
woman confided to a friend that she had already imparted the 


secret to three persons, and that if she ever told a fourth the 
"power" would be taken from her. 

"About this blood-stopping charm, it really works," wrote 
Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. "We had 
a neighbor at Caddo Gap, who could do it. Our eleven-year- 
old son had a severe case of bleeding, and we were unable to 
stop it by ordinary methods. We told our neighbor and he asked 
the boy's full name, then went out into the yard and repeated 
a few words we couldn't hear them. And lo and behold, the 
bleeding stopped! I do not know how to explain such things, 
but they do happen." Later on Rayburn reports his encounter 
with another power doctor who stops bleeding; this man "re- 
peats a certain verse from the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. He 
walks toward the East while repeating the lines. ... A man 
who has the power may tell the secret to three women ; a woman 
may tell three men. Some think they will lose the power if they 
tell the secret to the third person." 

Mrs. Anna L. Coffman, of Marshfield, Missouri, says that to 
stop bleeding you repeat the sixth verse, sixteenth chapter, of 
Ezekiel: "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in 
thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, 
Live ; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live." 

Mrs. Callie Brake, Seymour, Missouri, used the same verse, 
adding: "You call the person by name and the wound by name 
and walk toward the sunrise repeating God's Word and the 
bleeding will stop. My daddy always kept that chapter at hand 
so he could find it right quick. He would read it if we cut our- 
selves dangerously and the great God of Israel would stop the 
bleeding. There is no 'charm' about this stopping blood, it is 
God's own words." l 

Another old woman, perhaps the best blood stopper in Mc- 
Donald county, Missouri, simply held up both hands and cried: 

Upon Christ's grave three roses bloom, 
Stop, blood, stop ! 
i Springfield (Missouri) News, July 29, 1940. 


An old gentleman who told a girl reporter the secret of blood 
stopping cautioned her never to write it down or publish it, as 
in that case the charm would lose its efficacy. Several blood stop- 
pers tell me that the secret can only be passed to a person of the 
opposite sex, and one said that he could tell it to three persons, 
and no more. He had already told two women, and was saving 
the third telling for his little granddaughter. 

In a letter to Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, written by Mrs. 
M. R. Smith, Marionville, Missouri, dated March 7, 1941, Mrs. 
Smith says : 

Speaking of stopping blood, I can do it. I have on several occasions. 
My mother had cancer of the face, and it would bleed till she would 
almost pass on. So my brother-in-law told us about an old man in the 
neighborhood who could stop blood, and all he needed was to be told 
did not have to see the person. So we sent him word one day and 
the blood just stopped, all at once. Why or how you will have to 
decide for yourself, but it did stop. So my mother wanted that I 
should learn how, and this old man taught me, and I stopped my 
mother's face bleeding many times. Last time I tried it I stopped 
my son-in-law's throat bleeding when he had his tonsils taken out 
and they started bleeding after he had worked too hard and got too 
warm. So between me and my God, it will work. I can tell only one 
more person, and that takes the charm away. A woman tells a man, 
who is not a blood relative, and a man tells a woman, who is not a 
blood relative. Can only tell three, and the third one takes the charm. 

An old man in Joplin, Missouri, told me that perhaps "all 
that Bible stuff" was necessary to stop serious hemorrhage, as 
when somebody had cut his throat, but an ordinary nosebleed 
could easily be "chipped off" without any religious monkey busi- 
ness. You just catch a number of drops of the blood on a chip 
one drop for each year of the patient's life. Put the chip with 
the blood on it in a dry, safe place on a high rafter, for ex- 
ample, or seal it up in a dry glass jar. As long as the chip is 
not disturbed, the nose will not bleed. 

If a patient is suffering from a deep cut or knife thrust, some 
power doctors burn the sole of his shoe and apply the ashes to 


the wound. This is said to stop bleeding and make the cut heal 
without "blood poisoning." If the cut is on the right side of the 
body, the right shoe is burned ; if the left side of the body is in- 
jured, the healer burns the left shoe. In case a man received a 
knife wound in the exact center of his chest, I don't know just 
what the power doctor would do ; I asked one backwoods healer 
about this, but he smiled thinly and made no reply. 

One hillman of my acquaintance treats boils, ulcers, and the 
like in this wise: he reaches behind him, picks up a stone with- 
out looking at it, and spits upon it. Stirring the saliva about 
with his finger, he repeats the words : 

What I see increase, 
What I rub decrease, 

and with that he rubs a little on the growth, which is supposed 
to disappear in a week or so. All this must be done, however, 
when the moon is waning; if it should be attempted before the 
full moon the sore would grow larger and larger instead of 
wasting away. 

One way to cure boils, according to an old neighbor, is to 
rub a greasy string on a rusty nail and then throw the nail 
away where it will not be found. Hang the string on the inside 
of the cabin door, and touch the boil with the string several 
times a day. 

A woman in Stone county, Missouri, is known far and wide 
as a healer of goiters, boils, carbuncles, tumors, open sores, and 
even skin cancers though she says modestly that she can't 
cure the latter unless she gets them in the early stages. She uses 
no drugs nor herbs, just makes a few magic passes and mutters 
some secret old sayin's, supposed to be adapted from the Bible, 
She says she is "not allowed" to tell how it's done ; the secret is 
handed down in the family ; her mother was a healer and "blessed 
her with it"; she intends to pass the knowledge on to one of 
her own daughters before she dies. This woman makes no charge 
for her services, but if somebody offers her a present, such as a 


new dress or a side of bacon, she seldom refuses the gift. It is 
said that those who do not reward her liberally always come to 
some misfortune shortly afterward. She must know the name of 
the disease before she can treat it; therefore many of her pa- 
tients go to the local M.D. for diagnosis and ask him to write 
the medical name of their ailment down on a piece of paper. 
The whole business is very hush-hush for some reason. I lived 
next door to this woman for several months before I learned 
that she was a power doctor. 

Warts are common enough in the Ozarks, but it is surprising 
that so many of these folk remedies should refer exclusively to 
warts. Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Missouri, has 
collected and written down 125 wart cures. There is a high de- 
gree of specialization in these matters, too. I once visited a 
renowned wart witch and showed her an infected tick bite on 
my anHe. "I'm the best wart taker in this country," she said, 
"but that thing on your leg aint no wart it's a risin 9 . I don't 
never monkey with risin's. You better go to town an' git Doc 
Holton to lance it for ye." 

John Proctor Gentry, in Springfield, Missouri, assured me 
that he could "conjure" warts. He refused to tell me how it was 
done, but Mrs. Gentry says he just touches the wart and mut- 
ters something which begins "hocus-pocus" and ends in "un- 
intelligible gibberish." 

Mr. Rube Cummins, of Day, Missouri, eighty-five years old, 
tells me that he has been curing warts in the neighborhood since 
he was a boy. "I just tetch 'em, an' then I say a little ceremony 
to myself. I don't never tell nobody what the ceremony is." 
Asked if the ceremony was something out of the Bible, he said 
emphatically that it was not. 

There used to be a wart witch at Seneca, Missouri, who tied 
a string around the wart, muttered a few words under her 
breath, and pulled the string off with a great flourish. Then 
she presented the string to the patient and told him to bury it 
in the ground where nobody could find it. If the string lay un- 


disturbed for nine days and nights, she said, the wart would 
soon shrivel and gradually disappear. 

Another old-timer tells me that it is only necessary to tie a 
woolen string around the wart, then spit on the wart and rub 
it with the finger tip. This done, remove the string and burn it 

Warts may be disposed of by hiring some boy to "take them 
off your hands" two or three more warts don't matter to a 
chap who has a dozen or so already. Just give the boy a penny 
or a nickel for each wart,- and they will pass from you to him 
as soon as he spends the money. 

Some specialists go through a kind of wart-buying ceremony, 
but no money actually changes hands. You show the man your 
wart, and he says: "Want to sell it?" You answer "Yes, sir." 
Whereupon the wart taker produces a big safety pin with many 
buttons strung on it. He selects one of these and hands it to you 
saying : "Carry that there button in your pocket till the wart's 
gone. Hit's mine now, 'cause I done bought an' paid for it." 

Another way to "pass" a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of 
paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; 
the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up 
the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and 
one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any 
rural schoolhouse. 

Some hillfolk prefer to lose their warts at a crossroad, or 
better still at a place where the road forks three ways. Take a 
grain of corn for each wart and place each grain in the road 
under a small thin stone. The warts will be taken over by the 
person or animal that moves the stones and uncovers the grains 
of corn. 

Or you may put as many pebbles as you have warts in a 
paper bag, walk down the road alone and throw the whole 
thing backward over your right shoulder. Whoever picks up the 
bag and counts the stones will fall heir to the warts. 

One old lady who has cured warts for a large family says 


that she just lets 'em alone until she happens to dream of a man, 
then seeks this fellow out and induces him to spit some tobacco 
juice on a penny; after rubbing the warts with the penny she 
gives it to the man, and as soon as he spends the coin the warts 
drop off. I asked her if the warts "passed" to the men who spit 
on the coins. She looked a bit disturbed by this query but an- 
swered stoutly that she "never had no complaints." 

The exact number of warts is important in some of these cere- 
monies. When a hillman tries to remove warts by applying stump 
water he repeats this formula : 

Stump water, stump water, 
Kill these warts ! 

The dash represents the number of warts that the patient has, 
and it is essential to state this number correctly. If a man says 
six when he has only five warts, the warts will not be cured, and 
another one will appear in a few days. 

An old man near Bentonville, Arkansas, had quite a local 
reputation as a wart specialist, though he made no secret of 
his method, and said that anybody could perform similar cures 
if they only "knowed how." He told me that he just fastened a 
bit of cloth to the wart, blindfolded the "warty feller," and 
turned him around seven times ; then he buried the cloth in the 
ground, and very seldom did the wart last more than three or 
four days thereafter. 

One school of wart catchers place their trust in dirty dish- 
rags, and some healers say that they require stolen dishrags. 
After touching each wart with the rag, one either buries it se- 
cretly in the earth or hides it under a flat rock, being careful to 
replace the rock in exactly the position in which it was found. 
Sometimes the patient is told that the wart will disappear in 
three days, or seven days, or nine days, or twelve days. More 
conservative practitioners say rather that as the dishrag de- 
composes, the wart will grow smaller and finally disappear. A 


variation of this procedure is to steal a dishrag and burn it 
secretly, then rub the ashes on your warts, and rest assured 
that they will soon be gone. But it is essential to avoid telling any- 
body that you have done this, else the warts are likely to come 

An old man in Pineville, Missouri, told me as a great secret 
that he could cure any wart by squeezing a drop of blood out 
of it on a grain of corn and feeding the corn to a red rooster. 
According to another version of this story, it is best to rub 
the wart with two grains of corn, feed one to the rooster, and 
carry the other in your pocket. When you lose the grain from 
your pocket, the wart will be gone. The losing must be acci- 
dental, but that is not difficult ; most cabins are full of rodents, 
and a grain of corn in the pocket of one's overalls will soon 
"turn up missinV 

Another "sleight" for getting rid of a wart is merely to prick 
it with a thorn until it bleeds, then throw the thorn over the left 
shoulder and walk away without looking back. 

If the weather conditions are favorable, one has only to hold 
a hailstone against his warts ; as soon as the hailstone melts, 
the warts will crumble and fall away. If no hailstone is at hand, 
just wet your finger and mark a circle about the wart, and then 
make sure that your hand doesn't get wet again for twenty- 
four hours. A schoolteacher in Barry county, Missouri, be- 
lieves that the best way to get rid of warts is to rub them with 
a green bean leaf until each wart looks green and then go to 
bed without washing your hands. Another common theory is 
that it is only necessary to touch a wart with nine beans and 
then throw the beans one at a time over the right shoulder. Or 
cut a small potato in two equal parts, and rub the wart with 
the same half for three mornings in succession. Or you may just 
rub the wart with a piece of onion, then throw the onion back- 
ward over your right shoulder and walk away without looking 
back. Another school contends that it is best to touch your 


wart with a whole red onion ; then you cut the onion in two, eat 
half of it and bury the other half ; when the buried part decays, 
the wart will disappear. 

The stick-notching treatment used for many other ailments 
is also adapted to the removal of warts. A little boy near Hot 
Springs, Arkansas, showed me a green switch with four notches 
in it, tied to the end of an old wooden gutter; each notch rep- 
resents a wart, he said, and as the water rushes over the notches, 
it gradually dissolves away the warts. 

Other hillfolk say that it is best to use an elderberry stick, 
and to cut the notch carefully so that it just fits over the wart 
to be cured. Then bury the stick on the north side of the cabin 
and never mention it to a living soul. 

A prominent Arkansas lawyer tells me that in his boyhood 
the essential thing was to cut big notches in a stranger's apple 
tree with a stolen knife, one notch for each wart to be removed. 
This was quite an undertaking, for knives were highly prized 
and hence difficult to steal. Even more serious was the fact that 
the people in the neighborhood were all acquainted, so that a boy 
had to travel a considerable distance before he could find a 
stranger's apple tree. 

Some hillfolk say you can remove warts simply by spit'ting on a 
hot stovelid one expectoration for each wart. Another method 
favored in some quarters is to get up exactly at midnight and 
make faces at yourself in a mirror ; if you do this on three suc- 
cessive nights your warts will disappear within a fortnight. 
Dr. W. O. Cralle was told in Taney county, Missouri, that the 
best way to cure warts is to smother a mole and hold the dead 
animal above your head for a moment. 

I know several healers in McDonald county, Missouri, who 
pretend to do the job by letting a big grasshopper or katydid 
bite the wart. They just hold the critter's head up to the wart, 
and he'll bite it all right. It is painful for the moment, but they 
tell me that the wart soon dries up and falls away. 

A group of old-timers in Phelps county, Missouri, contend 


that the best way to dispose of warts is to carry a black cat, 
freshly killed, into a graveyard at night. Some say that the 
dead cat must be placed on the grave of a person buried the 
same day, and if this person has led a wicked life, so much the 

Or one may kill a toad, rub its intestines on the wart, then 
bury the entrails under a stone. All this must be kept secret, 
otherwise it won't work. The boy who acquainted me with this 
method still had several large warts ; when I asked why the 
toad's guts hadn't cured them, he explained that he had told 
his mother what he was doing, in order to escape punishment 
for killing the toad. The mother was opposed to killing toads 
in the dooryard ; she said it was an unlucky and senseless prac- 
tice and might make the cows give bloody milk. 

At the funeral of a close friend, a "warty feller" is supposed 
to touch his warts and repeat the following jingle: 

They are ringing the funeral bell, 
What I now grasp will soon be well, 
What ill I have do take away 
Like j n the grave does lay. 

This is believed to benefit tumors, sores, boils, and even cancers 
as well as warts. 

There is a widespread belief that warts can be "charmed off" 
by touching them with the hand of a corpse. I have seen this 
tried several times. The warts disappeared after a while, just 
as they generally do under any other treatment, or with no 
treatment at all. On the other side of the balance, I have met 
an undertaker who handles many bodies every year, and both 
his hands are covered with warts ! 

Ringworms are no trouble to an old-fashioned power doctor. 
He just draws a life-sized picture^f the ringworm in the soot 
on the bottom of a mush pot and burns off the picture in the 
presence of the patient. I was once in a cabin where this was 
being done, and the "doctor" himself described it to me a few 


minutes later, but they would not let me witness the treatment 
because my unbelieving gaze might somehow spoil the charm. I 
came back two weeks later to see the ringworm and found that 
it had almost disappeared. 

Otto Ernest Rayburn reports a variation of this method of 
curing a ringworm. "Go to a tea kettle of boiling water," he 
writes, "rub your thumb in a circle the size of the ringworm on 
the inside of the lid, and then around the ringworm. Do the 
same with the forefinger, then with the thumb again. Do this 
with all the fingers on that hand, alternating each time with 
the thumb. When through, go away and do not look back at 
the tea kettle." 2 

Many healers can cure a sore or a boil by drawing a circle 
around it with a burnt stick, and marking a cross in the middle 
of it. Others do the job by sprinkling a little line of dust to 
form the circle and the cross. Some people charm off a corn 
by spitting on the forefinger of the left hand and marking a 
cross on the corn three times. Sometimes they mutter some- 
thing as they do this, but what magic phrase they use I do not 

A family near Noel, Missouri, has inherited an "old sayin' " 
which is guaranteed to cure boils, old sores, pimples, and even 
blood poisoning. Just cross your hands behind your back and 
repeat three times : "Bozz bozzer, mozz mozzer, kozz kozzer !" 
The old woman who told me this said that originally her kin- 
folk knew what the words meant, and they were supposed to be 
Dutch. But somewhere along the line, an ancestor of hers got 
the idea that the meaning must be kept secret, and therefore died 
without revealing it. "And now," said the old woman, "there 
aint nobody livin' that knows, 'less'n it would be in one o' them 
Dutch countries across the water !" 

The best way to cure a bunion is to rub it three times with a 
stone and repeat : "Bunion, bunion, if you be one, leave my foot 
and take to this stone." Then bury the stone in the dust of a 
2 Ozark Country, p. 259. 


main-traveled road, not too deep. As soon as the dust is washed 
away by rain, or blown away by wind, or worn away by traffic, 
so that the stone is fully exposed, your bunion will disappear. 
An old man at Harrison, Arkansas, told me that this might 
work, all right, but that he had cured his own bunions simply 
but turning his shoes upside down every night. 

For a pain in the side, pick up a flat rock, spit under it, and 
put the rock back exactly where you found it. Some say you 
must walk away without looking back; if you ever see that 
rock again and recognize it, the sideache will return. 

A persistent headache may be "conjured off" by putting a 
lock of one's hair under a stone and not mentioning either the 
hair or the treatment for seven days. I met a witch doctor in 
Little Rock, Arkansas, who cured headaches and eyestrain 
simply by writing MOTTEK FOTTEK on a piece of paper and let- 
ting the patient burn the paper in the presence of three wit- 
nesses. For a "misery in the back" a friend of mine just waits 
till he hears the first whippoorwill call in the evening, then lies 
down on the ground and rolls over three times. To remove a 
"j'int felon" one goes out on a cold night, draws a deep breath, 
and runs seven times round the house without exhaling. It's a 
good trick if you can do it. 

I have been told that a bath in a flowing stream before day- 
break on Easter morning will relieve the most stubborn case of 
rheumatism, but none of my neighbors have ever tried this 
remedy, so far as I can find out. 

To cure malaria, chills, fever, and ague all you need is a 
hickory peg about a foot long. Drive it into the ground in some 
secluded place, where you can visit it unseen. Do not tell any- 
one about this business. Go there every day, pull up the peg, 
blow seven times into the hole, and replace the peg. After you 
have done this for twelve successive days, drive the peg deep 
into the earth so that it cannot be seen, and leave it there. You'll 
have no more chills and fever that season. If the cure doesn't 
work, it means that you have been seen blowing into the hole, 


or that you have inadvertently mentioned it to somebody. 

Here is another way to cure chills : take a piece of silk thread, 
tie a knot for each chill that the patient has had, and bury the 
string under the drip from the roof of a barn. This must be 
done secretly, and the healer must not be a blood relative of the 
patient, or of the same sex. If the patient has another chill after 
the string is buried, somebody must dig it up and tie another 
knot. Some healers make a great show of using a silk string for 
infants but claim that a piece of woolen yarn is better for grown- 
ups. Others tie the knotted string around a persimmon tree, 
instead of burying it. 

"Tying off chills" was still practiced in Christian county, 
Missouri, as late as 1934. You take a string and measure the 
patient's girth at the chest, then go into the woods alone, never 
looking back, and find a tree of exactly the same measurement. 
First tying one knot in the string for each chill that the patient 
has had, you fasten the string about the tree at the height of 
the patient's chest. Do not look back at the string after it is 
tied around the tree, and do not tell anybody about the matter 
until you are sure that the patient has fully recovered. 

If a child does not grow fast enough, back him up against a 
tree and cut a notch in the bark, on a level with the top of his 
head. Put some of the child's hair in the notch. On two occa- 
sions I have seen this tried, and one of the children did appear 
to grow very rapidly thereafter. 

Three drops of cat's blood, in a jigger of whiskey, is said to 
cure malarial fever quite as well as any of this complicated 
tree magic, but the patient mustn't know that there's anything 
unusual in the whiskey, or it won't work. Mrs. May Kennedy 
McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, says that some people gather 
dirt from the nest of a mockingbird that is setting on three eggs 
no more, no less. They dissolve this dirt in lukewarm water 
for a gargle, which is supposed to relieve any sort of throat 

To cure asthma, bore a hole in a black-oak tree, at the height 


of the patient's head. Drive a little wooden peg into the hole, 
so as to hold a lock of his hair. Cut the hair and peg off flush 
with the trunk. When the bark grows over the hole so that the 
peg is no longer visible, and the patient's hair grows out to re- 
place the missing lock, the asthma will be gone forever. 

Otto Ernest Rayburn reports a case in which asthma was 
cured by tying a live frog on the patient's throat. The frog 
"completely absorbed the disease" and was left in position un- 
til it died. 3 Rayburn says also that some hillfolk treat asthma 
by killing a steer, cutting it open and thrusting the patient's 
bare feet into the warm body cavity, and keeping them there 
until the entrails cool. 

What the hillman calls "sun pain" is a terrible headache 
which lasts all day but doesn't keep the patient awake at night. 
It must be some sort of sinus trouble, which is relieved in the 
prone position. Sometimes the pain persists for many days and 
is so severe that the country M.D.'S, usually conservative in pre- 
scribing narcotics, administer large doses of morphine or codein. 
Mrs. Coral Almy Wilson, of Zinc, Arkansas, tells me that peo- 
ple in her neighborhood treat sun pain by bathing their heads 
in a stream which flows toward the east. The old-timers used to 
stir up a certain kind of fungi or green mold and "breathe the 
stink" in nine deep inhalations, on nine successive days ; this 
was supposed to relieve head catarrh, which we call sinusitis 

The body of a buzzard is somehow used to treat cancer, but 
this must be done secretly, for the killing of a buzzard means 
seven years of crop failure for the whole countryside, and the 
man who shoots one of these birds is naturally unpopular. Dr. 
Oakley St. John, of Pineville, Missouri, tells me that a farmer 
who killed a buzzard some years ago, to treat his daughter's 
cancer, so enraged his neighbors that they threatened him with 
bodily harm, and several people came into town to see if he could 
not be punished by the county officers. 
Ozark Country, p. 258. 


I have copied the following literatim from an old letter, dated 
1869, belonging to Miss Jewell Perriman, Jenkins, Missouri. 


Git up soon and dont speak tell you git to a bush and ef hit is a post 
oak or aney other kinde of oak you must say Good morning Mr post 
oak and then say Good morning Sir then say I have came to git you 

to cure a cancer on my . And take your rite hand and brake 

off a lira and then turn your back to the bush and thro the lim over 
your left sholder and don't look back. . . . And you must go before 
sun up and not speak tell you git to the bush. 

Any posthumous child can cure the croup simply by blowing 
in the patient's mouth ; one of my neighbors happened to be 
born several weeks after his father's death, and although he 
ridicules the healing power himself, he is frequently called out 
of his bed at night by distracted parents who want him to save 
their children. The same treatment is used for sore mouth in 
babies, a white, cotton-like eruption which is called thrash or 

In certain backwoods settlements in Arkansas it is believed 
that all one need do to cure thrash is to have a preacher blow 
in the child's mouth. A preacher I know tells me he; has done 
this hundreds of times, although he has little faith in the rem- 
edy. "They git well, all right," he said, "but I can't see as they 
git well any quicker'n them which I don't blow in their mouth. 
But there aint no harm in it, an' I aim to 'commodate folks 
whenever I can." 

Some power doctors cure thrash without blowing into the 
child's mouth; they even profess to do it at a great distance, 
by mail or over the telephone. But it appears that the healer 
always wants to know the child's full name. In one case the 
baby's name had not been fully decided upon, but the man 
would do nothing about the thrash until the baby's parents had 
agreed about the name. A granny-woman of my acquaintance 
must have not only the full name but also the date of the child's 
birth : she ernes outdoors and repeats the mairir; words three 


mornings in succession, before sunup, and the thrash is gone. 
She would not tell me the formula, but said that it had nothing 
to do with the Bible, and that God was not mentioned in it. 

Dr. W. O. Cralle tells of a woman at Theodosia, Missouri, 
who treated thrash by holding the child extended in her arms 
while she repeated: "In the name of the Father, the Son and 
the Holy Ghost, I command you to leave this child's mouth and 
enter the mouth of some dumb beast !" 

An old woman in Washington county, Arkansas, told me 
that all these spells and charms are "just ignorant foolish- 
ment," adding that she had reared eleven children and never 
had any difficulty in keepin' 'em clear o' thresh. "An' no monkey 
business, neither. All I ever done was to make 'em drink rain 
water out of an old shoe. The only thing is, you got to make 
sure that the shoe aint never been wore by any o' the baby's 

A granny-woman in the Cookson Hill country of eastern Okla- 
homa treated thrash simply by putting crushed green oak 
leaves in the child's mouth every three hours, and the babes in 
her charge recovered about as quickly as those submitted to 
supernatural spells. If no green leaves were handy, she used sage 
tea, with some honey and a little alum in it, which seemed to 
work about as well as the oak leaves. 

There is no excuse for a properly reared mountain baby ever 
having thrash anyhow, since it can be prevented by carrying 
the newborn babe to a small hole in the wall or chinking and 
allowing the sunlight which streams through to enter the child's 

A woman at Noel, Missouri, told me that an old charm to kill 
intestinal worms had been passed down in her family for at least 
three generations. All you have to do is look the patient in the 
eye, cross your fingers behind your back and say : 

God's mother ~Mary walked the land, 
She held three worms all in her hand, 
One white, one black, an* t'other'n red, 
For Jesus' sake the worms are dead ! 


Trachoma is very common in the Ozark country, and there 
are many superstitions about sore eyes, granulated lids, and 
other "eye troubles." The tail of a black cat, drawn across the 
eye every day, is the prime remedy for granulated eyelids ; some 
healers even claim to have cured cataract with this simple remedy, 
reinforced by a few "old sayin's." In treating what is known 
as a sty, it is necessary to cut the end of the cat's tail a bit and 
apply a few drops of the blood to the sty itself, repeating this 
performance daily until relief is obtained. Another method is 
for the sufferer to go alone to a crossroads, exactly at midnight 
in the dark of the moon, and cry : 

Sty, sty, leave my eye, 

Go to the next feller passin* by ! 

Certain minor eye troubles are treated with a weed called 
eyebright, but I have not been able to learn just how this plant 
is used. If a baby's eyes are sore, the mother's milk is regarded 
as the best possible lotion. Sassafras tea, not too strong, is also 
regarded as a good eye wash. Young girls often rub sweet cream 
into their eyes, but I am not sure if this is a medicine or a cos- 

The hillfolk try to avoid looking directly at a person who 
has sore eyes, fearing that their own eyes may be affected. They 
do not realize that trachoma is infectious, however, and use 
towels, wash basins, and the like without any fear of contracting 
the disease. I have heard a highschool teacher insist that girls 
with "pinkeye" should wear colored glasses, not for the sake 
of their own eyes, but to keep other students from catching the 
disease. When the schools at Blue Eye, Missouri, were closed 
because of an epidemic of pinkeye the fact was mentioned by 
newspapers all over the country. The citizens of Blue Eye were 
not pleased, since they think pinkeye is caused by uncleanli- 

A girl from Cape Fair, Missouri, once told me that a woman 
can peel or cut up raw onions without making her eyes smart, 


simply by holding a needle in her mouth while she does the job. 
And in other backwoods towns I have heard that a needle in the 
mouth is generally believed to be good for sore or watery eyes, 
no matter what the cause of the irritation. Akin to this perhaps 
is the idea that an object held in the mouth somehow affects the 
inner ear and the organs of equilibrium. A sober and educated 
woman, the wife of a preacher in Yell county, Arkansas, told 
me that she could never walk a certain difficult footlog until 
some "peckerwood gals" showed her how. "All you have to do," 
she told me, "is to hold a little stick crosswise in your mouth !" 

I have known old people who went to a great deal of trouble 
to obtain pieces of hornets' nests, which they used to wipe their 
spectacles. Not only does this stuff clean the lenses better than 
the finest cloth or paper, they say, but it is somehow good for 
sore and tired eyes. 

Many backwoods people believe that a man with weak eyes 
should always grow a mustache, as hair on the upper lip 
strengthens the eyes. One man told me that when one of his 
eyes was injured, the pain in his upper lip was worse than that 
in the eye itself, so that it was quite impossible for him to shave 
the upper lip for several weeks. 

Wearing a green ring is good for people who have weak or 
defective eyesight. I once met a blind street singer in Little Rock, 
Arkansas, who wore two rings with large green stones in them. 
Asked if he expected these rings to restore his sight, he said "No, 
but I got the damn' things before I went blind, figgerin' they 
might strengthen my eyes. It didn't do me no good, but I got 
'em, so I might as well wear 'em." 

Piercing the ears is supposed to prevent or cure certain types 
of eye disease. Even little boys' ears are sometimes pierced for 
this reason, although I have never seen an Ozark boy wearing 
earrings. It is said that the child who can spit on a lightning 
bug in full flight will enjoy good vision all his life. 

When a foreign body gets into the eye, just press a big white 
button against the eyelid and wink repeatedly; the object which 


is causing the trouble will pass out through one of the holes in 
the button. Near Day, Missouri, a small boy got some sawdust 
in his eye. A friend cut a small pearl button off his shirt, washed 
it carefully, and somehow placed it under the boy's eyelid. I 
was told that the poor chap walked about for several minutes, 
with the big bulge in his eyelid plainly visible. It must have been 
terribly painful, but he stuck with it until the tears washed the 
sawdust away. 

I have heard some talk in Searcy county, Arkansas, of an eye- 
stone. This thing is said to work like a madstone, except that 
it is very small, no larger than a BB shot. One man told me that 
he had seen several of these eyestones, and that they looked like 
opals. You just wet the stone and slip it under the eyelid; in a 
few minutes it is supposed to draw any foreign substance out 
of the eye. 

The madstone treatment for rabies was once popular in many 
parts of the United States and is still well known in the Ozarks. 
The madstones I have seen are porous and resemble some sort 
of volcanic ash, but the natives all claim that they were taken 
from the entrails of deer. These stones are rare now, and they 
are handed down from father to son, never sold. No charge is 
made for using the stone, although the patient may make the 
owner a present if he likes. I have never seen the madstone in 
actual use, but they tell me that if the dog was really mad the 
stone sticks fast to the wound and draws the "pizen" out. After 
awhile the stone falls off, and is placed in a vessel of warm 
milk, which immediately turns green. The stone is then applied 
to the wound again, and so on until it no longer imparts a green 
color to the fresh milk. Virtually every old-time hillman believes 
that if the madstone is applied soon enough and sticks properly, 
the patient will never suffer from rabies, even if the dog was mad. 

J. J. Hibler, veteran real-estate dealer in Springfield, Mis- 
souri, kept a madstone in his office for many years ; it was fa- 
mous in the nineties, and people came from all over southwest 
Missouri to use it. 


Homer Davis, of Monett, Missouri, used to have a madstone, 
shaped like a half-moon. The old-timers say that it was always 
dipped in hot milk before applying it to a wound. It was a porous 
stone, said to have been taken from the stomach of an albino 
deer more than seventy-five years ago. 

Many old people allege that the madstone in a deer is always 
found in the stomach, while others place it in the intestines or 
the bladder, or in the udder of a doe, or even "betwixt the wind- 
pipe and the lights." Uncle Lum Booth, of Taney county, Mis- 
souri, who had given the matter considerable thought, said that 
so long as the deer was white it made no difference in what part 
of the body the stone appeared. 

Even in Kansas City, Missouri, madstones were still in use 
as late as 1931, according to the Kansas City Journal-Post, 
Aug. 4, 1935. A stone belonging to Mr. Noel E. Jackson, aged 
pioneer, is said to have been brought from Scotland in the early 
days by a man named Bates. It looks like whitish limestone, 
about an inch and a half long, with a sort of honeycomb struc- 
ture; it has the appearance of a fossil, though Mr. Jackson 
thinks it came from the stomach of a deer. He says he has seen 
this stone used hundreds of times and has never known it to 
fail. He has never charged a cent for the use of it. In 1931 Mr. 
S. T. Dailey of Strasburg, Missouri, was bitten by a rabid mule. 
The stone adhered to Dailey's wound for nine hours. Jackson 
says the stone is often applied to the same patient several times. 
In the case of a little girl from Independence, Missouri, it stuck 
for fifty-five minutes and then fell off. Jackson cleaned the thing 
in sweet milk, dried it carefully, and two days later he applied 
it again. This second time the stone adhered for thirty-five 
minutes. Several days later it was tried again, but failed to stick 
at all, which the neighbors regarded as evidence that the child 
was safe from rabies. 

Miss Naomi Clarke, of Winslow, Arkansas, writes me that 
madstones are applied to the bites of poisonous snakes as well 
as dog bites in her neighborhood. I have seen nothing of this 


myself and have so far been unable to learn anything definite 
about it. 

"A hair of the dog that bit you," in the Ozarks, does not 
mean simply a morning shot of whiskey to repair a hangover. 
People actually do swallow hair from a dog that has bitten 
them. I once knew a man who was in some doubt as to which of 
two dogs had bitten his little girl; finally he killed both of the 
animals, and forced the child to eat a few hairs from each dog's 
tail. This man would not admit that he believed such a pro- 
cedure would prevent rabies. He said that the dogs ought to 
be killed anyhow, and that the business of swallowing the hairs 
was a very old custom, and there might be something in it. 

The idea that rabies is especially prevalent during the "dog 
days" of late summer, under the influence of Sirius the dog star, 
is pretty well exploded in most sections of the United States. 
But it is still widely accepted in the Ozarks, and I am told that 
some towns, in both Missouri and Arkansas, have passed ordi- 
nances forcing the citizens to confine their dogs at this season. 
Many hillfolk believe that it is dangerous to go swimming in 
"dog days," especially if one has cuts or open wounds in the 
skin, since the water is poisonous and may produce an infection 
akin to rabies. A lot of intelligent people in Sebastiari county, 
Arkansas, are convinced that the green scum which appears on 
ponds in summer has something to do with rabies. "I know the 
doctors don't believe it," an old farmer told me, "but the doc- 
tors aint always right." 

Some woodcutters who live on Sugar Creek, in Benton county, 
Arkansas, believe that a mad dog never bites a man who carries 
a piece of dogwood in his pocket, according to an old gentleman 
I met in Bentonville. "The folks up that way are all damn' fools, 
though," he added thoughtfully, "an' maybe there aint nothing 
to it." Another Benton county man told me that sensible peo- 
ple are seldom bitten by rabid dogs anyhow. "If you just hold 
your breath," said he, "a dog caint bite you, whether he's mad 
or not." 


To stop a toothache, one has only to walk into the woods 
with a friend of the opposite sex, not a blood relation. Stand up 
against the biggest ironwood tree you can find, while your friend 
drives a little wooden peg into the tree at the exact height of 
the aching tooth. I have seen many of these "toothache pegs," 
and when I pulled one out invariably found some brown gummy 
substance in the hole. But people who do this trick tell me that 
the peg is perfectly clean when it is driven into the tree. To 
check this matter I drove some pegs into an ironwood tree my- 
self, without any toothache or magical mumbo jumbo; I pulled 
these out later, at intervals varying from a few weeks to a year, 
but never found any gummy stuff on my pegs. There may be 
more to this toothache-peg business than I have been told, but 
I am setting down such information as I have, for the sake of 
the record. 

Another way to cure toothache is to find the skeleton of a 
horse or mule. Be sure that nobody is watching you. Pick up 
the jawbone with your teeth and walk backward nine steps, being 
careful not to touch the thing with your hands, and then let 
it fall to the ground. This done, walk away without looking 
back, and do not mention the matter to anybody. If the pain 
doesn't stop within thirty minutes or so, it means that some- 
body did see you with the mule's jaw in your mouth. In that 
case, the only thing you can do is to hunt up another skeleton 
and go through the whole business again. 

A man in McDonald county, Missouri, showed me a big tooth 
fastened to a leathern string, hanging over the fireplace. "That 
there," he said solemnly, "is the blind tooth of a big boar hog. 
Whenever one o' the childern gits the toothache, I make 'em 
wear that tooth round their neck till the ache's plumb gone." 
The blind tooth, I found out later, is the hindmost upper molar, 
but why this particular tooth is required for a cure I do not 
know. A boar's tusk, which is the canine or eye-tooth, carried 
in the pocket is said to relieve toothache. If the aching tooth is 
on the right side, carry the tusk in the right-hand pocket ; if on 


the left, carry it in the left-hand pocket. The tusk treatment 
serves a double purpose, since the carrying of a boar's tusk is 
also believed to protect the carrier against venereal disease. 

Some people believe that a man who always puts his left shoe 
on first will never have a toothache; it appears that most men 
put on the right shoe before the left. I know several families who 
always keep a supply of toothpicks made from a lightnin'-struck 
tree ; the use of these splinters is believed to stop the teeth from 
aching, and prevent decay. The hillfolk sometimes deaden an 
aching tooth by filling the cavity with gunpowder they say it's 
very painful for a minute or so, and then the tooth feels fine for 
several hours. Aunt Mary Johnson, of Theodosia, Missouri, is 
quoted as saying that the best plug for a holler tooth is a bit 
of wax from the patient's ear. Another method of treating tooth- 
ache is to tie knots in a string, one knot for every tooth which 
doesn't ache. If all else fails, the tooth is extracted, either by a 
regular dentist or an old-time "tooth jumper" who does the job 
with a specially made punch and mallet. 

Some say that it is good luck to place one of your own teeth 
under your pillow at night this is supposed to prevent further 
dental decay. But to lose such a tooth, or have it fall into the 
hands of an unfriendly person, may bring disaster to the whole 

To make teething easier, backwoods babies often wear neck- 
laces of elder twigs, cut into short sections and dyed brown ; a 
woman told me that the twigs were brown because they had been 
boiled in possum grease, but it looked more like walnut stain to 
me. A silver coin hung round the child's neck is said to help in 
cutting teeth. Some people think that a string of dried berries 
is better for teething babies, and that a necklace made of Job's- 
tears is best of all. Job's-tears are the seeds of Coix lachryma 
and used to be sold in country drugstores. 

In some parts of Arkansas, when a babe has a hard time in 
cutting its teeth, they kill a rabbit and rub the fresh brains on 
the child's gums. Another way to make teeth come easier is to 


give the child a mole's foot to play with. The old tradition is 
that it should be the left hind foot, but the big fleshy front 
paws are the only ones I have actually seen given to babies. I 
have heard hillfolk say that the best thing for a teething baby 
is to put butterfly eggs on its throat, but am not sure that this 
is meant to be taken literally. 

Parents sometimes collect a child's milk teeth as they are shed 
and bury each one separately under a stone; they believe that 
this will prevent dental decay in later life. "Whatever you do," 
an old woman told me, "don't never leave a child's baby tooth 
lay around where the hogs can git at it. If a hog swallers one 
o' them teeth, a great big tush will grow in its place !" When a 
child's tooth is extracted, he is told that a fine new gold tooth 
will replace it within a week, provided that he refrains in the 
meantime from probing the cavity with his tongue. 

A bright new dime, placed inside the upper lip in front of 
the teeth, will often cure bleeding gums or even stop nosebleed. 
People in Stone county, Missouri, use a folded bit of brown pa- 
per instead of the coin. A white bone button, held in the mouth, 
is recommended for any pain above the tongue, especially head- 
aches and earaches. 

Some mountain folk cure the earache, it is said, by putting 
a brass button in the patient's mouth and then unexpectedly 
discharging a gun behind his back. There are several more or 
less funny stories about this treatment, one in particular about 
a boy who swallowed the button when the gun went off. The 
earache was cured, but he had a terrible pain in his throat. Later 
on he complained of cramps in the stomach and was dosed with 
May-apple root, which is a drastic purgative. Still later came a 
severe pain in the bowels, and finally he screamed with agony 
as the big button was discharged from the rectum. The boy 
sighed with relief for a moment, just after the button was ex- 
pelled. Then he sprang to his feet and howled again the ear- 
ache was just as bad as ever. 

Another common treatment for earache is to prick a betsey 


bug with a pin and put a drop of its blood into the ear. There 
seem to be several species of insects called betsey bugs or bessy 
bugs ; one is a big black beetle, nearly two inches long, found in 
old stumps and rotten wood. People subject to earache some- 
times keep several of these betsey bugs alive in a glass jar, to 
be used as needed. 

Some families are accustomed to treat chills-an'-fever by 
placing an ax under the patient's bed. Since this procedure is 
also used in "granny-cases" to relieve the pains of childbirth, 
there are many jokes and wisecracks about it. I once went to 
see a very fat man, who had malarial fever. He stayed in bed 
as the doctor ordered and took the doctor's medicine, but his 
wife held to the old superstition and insisted on putting an ax 
under the bed. I noticed this when I came into the room, and 
asked: "What's that ax doing there? You expecting burglars?" 
He laughed and clasped both hands over his great paunch, twist- 
ing his face in a ghastly imitation of a woman in labor. "Naw," 
he answered, "just expectin'!" 

Many people think it is a good idea to burn feathers from a 
black hen under the bed of a fever patient. I have seen the 
feathers of black chickens dried and saved in little paper bags 
for this purpose. For night sweats some hillfolk put a pan of 
water under the bed ; I have known the wife of an M.D. to do this 
in her own home, without the doctor's knowledge. May Stafford 
Hilburn says that "if the case was persistent we sprinkled black 
pepper in the water. Usually in three nights an improvement 
could be noticed, but in some cases it might take a week. This 
remedy seldom failed. In fact, I do not know of a case where 
it did fail." 4 

Most Ozarkers are much afraid of the painful disease called 
shingles, since it is commonly believed if the inflamed area ever 
completely encircles the body, the patient will die. Regular 
physicians say that this never happens, since shingles always 
follows certain nerve sheaths, which do not quite come together 
* Missouri Magazine (September, 1933), p. 21. 


in front. The old-timers insist that they have seen men die of 
the shingles, and they continue to fear this ailment above many 
more serious diseases. A lawyer in Joplin, Missouri, tells of be- 
ing awakened in the middle of the night and induced to drive 
forty miles into the country to make a will for a dying man. 
When he got there he found that his client had shingles, and 
since the red spots came near meeting in front, the poor fellow 
was convinced that he had only a few hours to live. 

A power doctor near Fayetteville, Arkansas, says that in 
order to cure shingles^one has only to cut off the head of a black 
chicken and smear the blood thickly over the affected parts. 
Wrap the patient in sheets and let the whole mess dry. Next 
morning you just soak the wrappings off, and the shingles will 
be gone. 

Miss Jewell Perriman, of Jenkins, Missouri, reports that in 
her neighborhood a black cat is sacrificed to treat shingles. She 
knew a man whose shingles had "nearly gone around" him, but 
the power doctors cured him by killing a black cat and applying 
the blood. 

In some places one finds people who believe that the blood 
of black birds or animals has some special virtue as a treatment 
for any sort of skin eruption. Only a few miles from the city 
of Hot Springs, Arkansas, two young girls stole a black dog 
and killed it, in order to use the blood as a remedy for smallpox ; 
they believed that by smearing their faces with the dog's blood 
they could avoid being pitted or scarred by the disease. 

At many points in Missouri and Arkansas country folk treat 
chickenpox by bringing a black hen and chickens into the sick- 
room and making them walk over the patient's body as he lies in 
bed. Near Bentonville, Arkansas, I knew a woman who brought 
a black rooster into her house and placed it again and again 
upon the bed where a little boy lay sick with chickenpox. I 
asked a local M.D. what he thought of this treatment. "Well, it 
can't do any harm," he said, "the bed was dirty anyhow." There 
are several funny stories about the black-chicken-on-the-bed 


business, and it may be supposed to accomplish something be- 
yond the cure of chickenpox. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, tells me that one of 
her neighbors treated a goiter by baking a toad in the oven till 
the oil ran out of it and putting a little of this toad oil on the 
goiter every day. It got better, too, says Mrs. Mahnkey. An- 
other goiter treatment is to wear a little packet of salt on a 
string round the neck. The salt is renewed every day, and the 
used salt buried in the ground each night. Some people believe 
that the only way to cure a goiter is to rub it with a dead 
man's hand. A small-town undertaker tells me that an old woman 
in the neighborhood is always coming to his place, wanting to 
try this. A goiter is said to be reduced by applying the two 
halves of an apple, after which the patient eats one half and 
buries the other half in a cemetery. Some old-timers contend 
that the part buried must be put into the coffin of a friend of 
the opposite sex, with whom the patient had been intimate. 

It is said that a tongue-tied child may be cured by making 
him drink rain water out of a new bell. I know of several families 
who actually tried this, but without any benefit so far as I can 

Grease from the mountings of a church bell, put into the ears 
at intervals, is believed to cure deafness. In answer to my ques- 
tion, two old ladies told me plainly that the grease from a school 
bell would not do. Well, I persisted, what about the Fair Grove 
bell? Everybody knows that Fair Grove is a schoolhouse on 
weekdays, and a church house on Sundays, and they have 
only one bell. This disturbed the old folks for a moment, but 
then they answered that the bell at Fair Grove was a school 
bell, and the "meetin'ers" used it on Sundays only because 
they didn't have no church bell. It served the purpose of calling 
the worshipers together, but it was not a church bell, and grease 
from its mountings would not cure deafness. 

The best way to stop hiccoughs is to run around the house 


seven times without drawing one's breath. Or you can just stand 
on one leg and cry "Hick-up, stick-up, lick-up, hick-up" three 
times without pausing for breath. Some healers claim to cure 
hiccoughs by rubbing a rabbit's foot on the back of the patient's 
neck unexpectedly. If all else fails, just stick your fingers in 
your ears, and have a person of the opposite sex .pour nine cups 
of rain water down your throat. 

As recently as 1942, in a modern hospital at Springfield, 
Missouri, a patient insisted upon treating his hiccoughs by 
naming three grains of corn for three friends, and then putting 
the corn into a vessel of water which was to be suspended above 
his head. 

A woman in Greene county, Missouri, used to tell her fam- 
ily that, in the early 1880's, she saw a child "ground in the 
hopper" to cure some sort of paralysis. The whole family went 
to a primitive neighborhood grist mill, and the miller placed 
the sick girl in some part of the machinery. The thing spun 
round and round, and when the little patient was lifted out and 
placed upon the floor, she became dizzy and vomited. The others 
stood and watched in silence. There were no comments and no 
questions. It was a solemn occasion. The miller took it all quite 
seriously too and had evidently been called upon for the same 
service before. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, tells 
of a novel treatment for colic in infants. You just take nine 
honeybees, alive in a tin can, and roast them in a hot oven. 
When the bees are absolutely dry, grind them up into a fine 
powder and feed it to the baby in syrup. Mrs. McCord learned 
of this "cure" from Mrs. George Roebuck, of Morrisville, Mis- 
souri, and Mrs. Roebuck had it from some elderly people in the 
Boston range of the Arkansas Ozarks. 

Another way of curing colic is for the mother to hold the 
baby upright, walk three steps backward without speaking, and 
then give the child a drink of water from a brass thimble. If the 


child has convulsions or "spasms," they may be relieved tem- 
porarily at least by wiping the child's face with a greasy dish- 

Fred Starr, of Greenland, Arkansas, has a sure cure for 
leg cramps, learned from a granny-woman in Washington 
county, Arkansas. All you have to do, he says, is to stick the 
toe of one shoe inside the other when you go to bed, and leave 
'fcm that way all night. An old gentleman who lives in Hickory 
. county, Missouri, tells me that he wards off cramps and leg 
pains by carrying a dried puffball in his pocket. 

To relieve neuralgia or neuritis, especially if the pain is in 
the back or the legs, one has only to walk around the room 
three times every morning, without a stitch on but the left sock 
and shoe. A lady in Little Rock, Arkansas, told me that this 
had been known in her family for at least four generations and 
was taken very seriously by the older people. 

There are several very strange notions about venereal dis- 
ease in the hill country. Nearly all of the old-timers are con- 
vinced that gonorrhea and syphilis are simply two different 
stages of the same ailment, and that gonorrhea will invariably 
turn into syphilis if not properly treated. It is generally be- 
lieved that all prostitutes are diseased, and that any woman 
who has sexual intercourse with seven different men will acquire 
a "bad sickness," even though all the men are free from venereal 
infection. Many country folk believe that venereal disease is 
much less likely to be contracted when the moon is in its last 
quarter than at any other time. Some hill people think that 
the best way to cure a "dose" of syphilis or gonorrhea is by 
communicating it to as many other persons as possible a 
theory that is responsible for untold misery in the Ozark coun- 

Every old woman has heard that owls' eggs are a sure cure 
for alcoholism. Owls lay their eggs in March, and it is said 
that many Ozark children are kept out of school and sent by 
their mothers to search for owls' nests in the tall timber. Many 


a hillman has been fed owls' eggs, scrambled or disguised in 
one way and another, without knowing what he was eating. 

Another way of curing drunkards is to put a live minnow in 
whiskey and let it die there. The poor chap who drinks this 
contaminated whiskey doesn't notice anything wrong with the 
taste, but it is supposed to destroy his appetite for liquor. 

It is said that some Ozark temperance workers have advo- 
cated placing a pawpaw in the hand of a dying person ; if a 
drunkard, not knowing of the "cunjure," can be persuaded to 
eat this pawpaw, he will quit drinking in spite of himself. My 
wife and I knew an old woman who, when the doctor told her 
she was dying, called for a pawpaw. She held the fruit for a 
moment, then asked that it be fed to her youngest son after her 
death. This was done, but the boy was still a booze fighter the 
last I heard of him. 

The hill people have singular notions of the best means of 
preventing disease, and many of them carry charms or amulets 
of one sort or another. A prostitute in Little Rock, Arkansas, 
always wore two or three turns of fine wire around her leg; she 
said this was a protection against venereal disease. I observed, 
however, that she also used the conventional prophylactic meas- 
ures favored by the girls who do not wear wires round their 

Dr. Hershel Shockey, an osteopath who practiced in Stone 
county, Missouri, during the Second World War, told me that 
he saw a young man with some rare skin disease brought into 
an osteopathic clinic in Kansas City. This patient was a hill- 
billy from southwest Missouri. Told to strip, he took off every- 
thing but a piece of copper wire wound about his arm. Jok- 
ingly one of the physicians tried to remove this wire, but the 
patient wouldn't have it offered to fight the whole hospital 
staff rather than take off that little twist of wire. 

A copper ring, or a piece of sheet copper carried next the 
skin, is believed to ward off attacks of rheumatism as well as 
venereal infection. I have seen old men in Arkansas with long 


pieces of copper wire wound round their ankles, under their 
socks. In the early days it is said that the telegraph companies 
had considerable difficulty with hillfolk who cut off pieces of 
telegraph wire for this purpose. Some young people now con- 
tend that an ordinary brass finger ring works just as well as 
pure copper, but the old-timers still cling to their wire anklets. 

Nails taken from a gallows are supposed to protect a man 
against venereal disease and death by violence. Country black- 
smiths used to secure these nails and hammer them out into finger 
rings. As recently as 1943 there were boys in the Army wearing 
rings of metal taken from a gallows at Galena, Missouri, where 
"Red" Jackson was hanged for murder in 1936. 

I have known hillmen to spend hours and even days searching 
the rivers for very large crawpappies in order to get the two 
circular lucky-bones found in their bodies. These are carried in 
the pockets to ward off syphilis. The bigger the bones the bet- 
ter, and really large lucky-bones are rare. 

Some mountain men wear wide leather cartridge belts, not to 
carry cartridges in, but because they believe that the wearing 
of such belts prevents rheumatism and arthritis. One school 
contends that a potato carried on the person keeps^ off rheu- 
matism as well as anything. Others think that a buzzard's feather 
is best of all, a belief attributed to the Cherokees ; an old woman 
near Southwest City, Missouri, painfully bent and twisted by 
rheumatism, assured me that the black feather she always wore 
in her hair "had done more good than twenty year o' doctorin' I" 
A man in Washington county, Arkansas, credited his freedom 
from rheumatiz and neuralgy to a nutmeg which he carried for 
many years; he had induced a jeweler to drill a hole through 
the thing and wore it on a black shoestring round his neck. "In 
central Missouri," says Fanny D. Bergen, "rheumatism is pre- 
vented by carrying in the pocket a nutmeg or a walnut, Juglans 
nigra." 5 I have inquired about this, but have never found an 
Ozarker who used a black walnut as a pocket piece. 
* Journal of American Folklore, V (1892), 20. 


Many Ozark hillmen carry buckeyes in their pockets, and 
this practice is not confined to the backwoods districts. The two 
most important bankers in Springfield, Missouri, are buckeye 
carriers ; so is the head of one of the biggest corporations in 
St. Louis, and also a recent mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. 
At least one governor of Arkansas not only carried a buckeye 
but was also known to flourish it publicly on occasions of great 
emotional stress. 

There is an old saying that no man was ever found dead 
with a buckeye in his pocket, but this is not to be taken seri- 
ously. Most people who carry buckeyes regard them as a pro- 
tection against rheumatism, or hemorrhoids. One of the most 
successful physicians in southwest Missouri always carries a 
buckeye ; when it was mislaid once he was very much disturbed 
and let an officeful of patients wait until his pocket piece was 
recovered. It is very bad luck to lose a buckeye. I asked this 
doctor about it once. "No, I'm not superstitious," he said grin- 
ning, "I just don't want to get the rheumatism !" 

To some people the buckeye means more than mere protec- 
tion from piles and rheumatism. I once saw a young fellow with 
a very old truck, about to attempt the crossing of Bear Creek, 
in Taney county, Missouri. The water was high, and the ford 
was very bad. The boy looked the situation over carefully, then 
set his jaw and climbed into the driver's seat. "Well, I've got a 
buckeye in my pocket," he said quite seriously. "I believe I can 
make it !" 

There is a persistent story that the custom of carrying buck- 
eyes came from the Osage Indians, who used them in poisoning 
fish. But the Osages tell me that it was the root of the buck- 
eye tree, not the nut, that they used to kill fish. And I have 
never found an Osage who would admit that he carried a buck- 
eye for luck. 

Wearing a green penny in a sack round the neck is supposed 
to prevent "lung trouble" which usually means tuberculosis. 
A large bullet hung at the throat wards off catarrh, but it must 


be an old-fashioned bullet of solid lead; the modern bullets 
with copper or steel jackets are worthless for this purpose. A 
piece of rhubarb root, worn on a string round the neck, will 
protect the wearer against the bellyache. It is said that a pair 
of crawpappy pincers sewed into a man's clothing has the same 

Dr. C. T. Ryland, of Lexington, Missouri, told me that he 
was called to see a sick infant in a family from south Missouri. 
The child had what was called "summer complaint," with a high 
temperature. Noticing a string of yellow wooden beads around 
the baby's neck, Dr. Ryland was told that "them's bodark, to 
keep fever away from the brain." 

I once met a very old man on the road near Sylamore, Arkan- 
sas, wearing a string of large red glass beads. I asked five or 
six of his neighbors about it, and they all told me that he wore 
the beads as a remedy for nosebleed. "Oh yes, I reckon it works 
all right," said one young fellow in answer to my question, "but 
I'd ruther have nosebleed as to pack them fool beads all the 

Some Ozarkers believe that epileptic fits may be prevented, 
or at least made less violent, if the afflicted person carries a hu- 
man tooth in his pocket, but the tooth must be that o/ a person 
not related to the patient by ties of blood. It is believed in some 
quarters that an epileptic may postpone his attacks by "packin' 
a flintrock," especially if he can find a lucky flint with a hole 
in it. 

Ozark children, in many isolated sections, still wear little 
packets of asafetida all winter to protect them from the com- 
mon diseases of childhood. When spring comes, with sassafras 
tea and other internal prophylactics, the child is permitted to 
discard the asafetida. Small boys are sometimes forced to wear 
little bags of camphor sewed to their shirts, to prevent their 
catching meningitis or infantile paralysis. Others have flat 
leather bands or red woolen strings round their necks, or even 
dirty socks under their collars to ward off colds and influenza. 


A little iron wire worn as a necklace, according to some power 
doctors, will protect a child from whooping cough. A piece of 
black silk around the neck is regarded as "liable to keep off 

Otto Ernest Rayburn says that "in grandmother's day a 
mouse's head tied around the baby's neck prevented certain 
ills," 6 but I have never been able to learn just what these ills 
were, or to get any definite information about this matter. In 
one settlement I found the children coming to school with little 
round pieces of porous stone sewed into their garments ; it is 
said that these stones are taken from the bladders of deer, and 
are supposed to protect the wearer against violence and finan- 
cial loss as well as diseases. 

Many backwoods women wear red yarn strings about their 
abdomens. Some say that this is in order to prevent cramps. I 
am not sure that this is the true explanation, but it is a fact 
that red woolen strings are worn, particularly by young un- 
married women. 

Some say that the dried skin of a mole, stuck fast to the chest 
with honey, will prevent or even cure asthma. I once persuaded 
one of my neighbors to try this, but it didn't seem to do him 
any good. Women sometimes wear a mole skin, or the dried 
foot of a mole, between their breasts in the belief that it pre- 
vents cancer. 

The best way to avoid getting the mumps is to cut a chip off 
an old hog trough, carry it in your pocket, and rub it over your 
jaws and throat every day. The adult male Ozarker is afraid 
of mumps, because he fears that the disease may "go down" on 
him and damage his testicles. Some men think they can prevent 
this calamity by smearing the parts with marrow from a hog's 
jaw. Other hillmen wear a little sack of salt, tied around the 
waist with a string. A country lawyer told me, in all serious- 
ness, "I never knew a man who carried salt to have the mumps 
go down on him. Probably it's just a coincidence, but just the 
e Ozark Country, pp. 253-254. 


same " he unbuckled his belt, pulled up his shirt, and showed 
me the little package fastened around his middle with a neat 
cotton band. It is said that when a hillman actually gets the 
rnumps he may still prevent the disease from "going down" by 
soaking a woolen string with hog manure and tying it round 
his neck. But a man in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, tells me that he 
gave this measure a fair trial, and "there aint nothin' to it." 

In some parts of eastern Oklahoma, when a man comes to the 
place where a horse has just been rolling on the ground, he spits 
this is supposed to ward off backache or lumbago. I knew a 
farmer near Harrison, Arkansas, who was careful to spit in 
the road whenever he saw a big woolly worm or caterpillar ; he 
said that failure to do this always caused him to have a chill 
within twenty-four hours. Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of 
Springfield, Missouri, used to say "kiss a mule, cure a cold, 5 ' 
but I'm not certain that she meant it to be taken literally. 

A big red onion tied to a bedpost is said to prevent the occu- 
pants of the bed from catching cold. A famous politician in 
Arkansas had an onion fastened to his bedpost as recently as 
1937. When I asked him about this he laughed rather sheep- 
ishly. "That's just one of Maw's notions," he said, referring to 
his mother-in-law. "She lives with us, and she's getting old, and 
we try to humor her. Of course, I don't believe in such things 

One often hears hillfolk say that wearing a piece of dog fen- 
nel in the left shoe will prevent the wood ticks from biting your 

A great many Ozarkers believe that a live minnow swallowed 
by a baby will prevent it from ever having the whooping cough. 
Miss Jewell Perriman, Jenkins, Missouri, tells me that this is 
not a superstition but a well-known fact, and she has seen it 
demonstrated several times. Other hillfolk think that it isn't 
necessary for the child to swallow the minnow; they just put it 
inside the infant's mouth and pull it out again by a string at- 
tached for that purpose. Once, in Washington county, Arkan- 


sas, I saw a power doctor put a live minnow into a baby's mouth ; 
his purpose in doing this was not made clear to me, but the child 
did not catch whooping cough. It died about four months later 
from some other ailment, which the parents diagnosed as "sum- 
mer complaint." 

Most backwoods healers believe that night air is poisonous 
and advise their patients to shut every door and window tight, 
although a large family sleeps in a small cabin. If it were not 
for the chinks in their clumsily built shanties, and the draught 
of their great chimneys, some of these folk might easily be suf- 
focated. Many old-timers are convinced that malaria is some- 
how caused by stagnant water, but nearly all of them laugh at 
the idea that mosquitoes have anything to do with it. 

It is generally believed that chills are caused by eating water- 
melons or muskmelons or cucumbers too late in the autumn, and 
that it is dangerous to eat any sort of fruit or vegetables out of 
season. In one southern Missouri county the relief agency dis- 
tributed fine shipped-in carrots in the winter of 1940; the peo- 
ple were hungry, too, but I saw bunches of these carrots in the 
ditches along the road, where my neighbors had thrown them 
away. One farmer gathered up a lot of carrots and fed them to 
his pigs, "so's to be sure the childern wouldn't git a-holt of 'em I" 
The relief office in the same village gave away a lot of grape- 
fruit also, but many of the people had never seen grapefruit be- 
fore, and some of them threw the stuff to the pigs rather than 
take a chance with it. Several families boiled their grapefruit, 
since it never occurred to them that fruit could be eaten raw 
in the wintertime. 

There is a very general notion in the hill country that the 
instrument wjhich caused a wound is still a part of the situation 
and must be somehow included in the treatment given the wound 
itself. Thus when a mountain man cuts himself accidentally, he 
hastens to thrust the offending knife or ax deep into the soil, 
believing that this will stop excessive bleeding and make the 
wound heal faster. 


A boy at Harrison, Arkansas, stepped on a nail which passed 
entirely through his foot. After his father had dressed the wound 
with vinegar he took the boy on a horse and went back to the 
place where the accident occurred in order to find the nail. The 
father wanted to take the nail home, wash it in kerosene and 
put it away in a dry place. "If the nail rusts," said he, "the 
wound will fester." 

Miss Jewell Perriman, Jenkins, Missouri, tells me that the 
people in her neighborhood, if injured by a rusty nail, apply 
turpentine to the nail before they put it on the wound. Boys in 
some parts of Arkansas carry the nail home and thrust it into 
a bar of soap, to the same depth that it was accidentally stuck 
into the foot; it is not clear exactly why they do this, but it is 
evidently connected with the idea of preventing rust, which is 
associated in the hillman's mind with tetanus, or lockjaw. 

In dressing gunshot wounds, doctors are often requested by 
the patient to put a little salve or antiseptic on the bullet which 
caused the injury, in order to prevent blood poisoning. I knew 
one man who always carried the bullet which had been cut out 
of his leg ; whenever he felt a twinge of pain, he would take the 
bullet out of his wallet and put a drop of skunk oil on it. He 
laughed a little every time he did this, and never admitted that 
he believed in the efficacy of such a procedure. 

Something of the same sort is shown in the treatment of snake 
bites. Several miles west of Hot Springs, Arkansas, I came upon 
some small boys. They had built a rousing fire by the roadside 
and were burning a large copperhead. This snake had bitten 
one of the boys, whose leg was already badly swollen. I asked 
why they didn't do something for the boy, but they replied 
that their chief concern was to burn the snake "plumb to ashes." 
As soon as the body of the snake was entirely consumed, the 
boys told me, they were going to take the injured lad to the 
doctor in a nearby village. 

I have known educated hillfolk, who depend upon regular 
physicians for ordinary ailments, surreptitiously to consult a 


backwoods magician when bitten by a poisonous serpent. Dr. 
W. 0. Cralle, Springfield, Missouri, tells of an old woman who 
warned him never to go to an M.D. in case of snake bite. The 
doctor might fix it up temporarily, she said, but the bite would 
always hurt on the anniversary of the day it occurred, so long 
as the patient lived. An old-time healer, on the other hand, 
would cure it in his own fashion, and it would never cause any 
further trouble. 

Miss Jewell Perriman, of Jenkins, Missouri, tells me that her 
Uncle Bill had a secret method of curing snake bite, and people 
came from miles around for treatment. Uncle Bill belonged to a 
family of which it was said "them folks don't kill snakes." This 
is very unusual in the Ozarks, where most people do kill every 
snake they see. When a large copperhead was found in the 
Perriman house, Uncle Bill caught it with the tongs, carried it 
out into the orchard, and released it unharmed. His cure for 
snake bite was known in the family for at least a hundred years. 
Uncle Bill had it from his father and told it to his eldest son. 
The son was an educated fellow, an M.D. from a great university, 
and he did not believe in this magic stuff. So the young doctor 
never used the family treatment, but he did not laugh at it, and 
he never told it to anybody, so far as is known. The secret is 
lost now, for Uncle Bill is long dead, and his son died suddenly 
without issue. All that Miss Perriman knows of the snake-bite 
cure is that the snake must not be injured, and that Uncle Bill 
had a strip of ancient buckskin in which he tied certain knots as 
part of the treatment. She showed me the buckskin. It was about 
half an inch wide, perhaps twelve inches long, carefully rounded 
at the ends. Three knots had been tied in it, one in the middle and 
one at either end. 

Another Ozark youth, a member of a clan which doesn't kill 
snakes, was startled into shooting a water moccasin one day, 
when he was fishing. Immediately the boy began to see moccasins 
everywhere. He shot and killed about thirty in two hours and 
then became a little frightened, as there seemed to be some- 


thing supernatural in the sudden appearance of so many poi- 
sonous serpents. When he told his father what had occurred, 
the old man just looked at him solemnly and said nothing at all. 
That boy was terribly nervous for several weeks, and he never 
killed another snake as long as he lived. He would not admit 
that he was in any degree superstitious but said several times 
that there was "something funny" about his family when it 
came to "messin' with snakes." 

Some backwoods Christians of the wilder Holy Roller cults 
adherents of the so-called "new ground religion," "pokeweed 
gospel," or "lightnin'-bug churches" do not believe in doc- 
tors and will riot take any sort of medicine. Their preachers say 
that the Word is ag'in physicians, and quote James 5:14-15: 
"Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the 
church ; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in 
the name of the Lord ; and the prayer of faith shall save the 

I have seen seven or eight backwoods preachers kneeling 
about a sick man's bed, shouting the gibberish they call "the 
unknown tongue." As soon as these fellows knew that I was 
present they stopped yelling, since they believe that the pres- 
ence of an unbeliever breaks the charm. They claim some re- 
markable cures of inoperable cancer and the like. I know per- 
sonally of cases where they have attempted to raise the dead; 
in one instance they "wooled the corpse around" for several 
hours, even pulling the body off the bed by their frenzied "laying 
on of hands." 

In Taney county, Missouri, I knew an old woman who was 
very ill and sent word to the nearest meetin' that she wanted 
the preachers to pray for her, but did not want them to come 
to her house because the family was opposed to the "pokeberry 
religion." Several of the preachers knelt down in the church, 
took bottles of holy oil from their pockets, poured a little of 
the stuff on a handkerchief, and prayed over it in the unknown 
tongue. The old woman applied the handkerchief to her ab- 


domen next the skin and wore it for several days ; then she an- 
nounced that she was miraculously healed, and the preachers 
claimed to have effected the cure at a distance of two and one- 
half miles, without even seeing the patient. The woman died a 
few weeks later. 

In cases of difficult childbirth the "buck-brush parsons" 
sometimes try to help, and their prayers are so loud as to drown 
out the screams of the wretched woman ; this scandalizes the 
conventional midwives, who feel that men should not be present 
at such times. 

Rex Thomas, newspaperman of Lamar, Missouri, told me 
about the Rev. A. D. Etterman, an evangelist who was "run out" 
of Newport, Missouri, in October, 1934. The villagers claimed 
that Etterman's family spread the itch through the whole com- 
munity, so that the public school had to be closed for two 
weeks. It was said that Etterman could cure leprosy by super- 
natural means, but the lowly scabies was apparently beyond 
his powers. 

These Pentecostal fanatics do not patronize the backwoods 
herbalists or power doctors or granny-women, at least not 
openly. Sometimes it may be that a Holy Roller weakens under 
the lash of pain and visits a nonreligious healer in secret. But 
when a "new ground" religionist calls a doctor he generally in- 
sists upon a licensed M.D. from town. Physicians in the Ozark 
communities tell me that when they are called to a Holy Roller 
cabin they usually find somebody at the point of death. "Such 
people don't want treatment," one doctor said grimly, "they 
just want me to examine the patient, so that I can sign a death 
certificate !" 

8. Courtship and 

In pioneer days it appears that a woman's 
[least attempt to make herself attractive 

by artificial means was regarded with 
suspicion. There are places in the Ozarks even now where a 
married woman who uses "face whitenin* " is looked down upon 
by her respectable neighbors. In the remotest settlements now- 
adays, however, young girls manage to get "store-boughten" 
cosmetics cheap powder, lipstick, and perfume. A few years 
ago the mothers of these girls used flour or corn-starch for face- 
whitenin', and I have seen a woman take an artificial rose off an 
old hat, dampen it with her tongue, and rub the dye on her cheeks 
by way of rouge. The old-timers tell of a weed called cow slob- 
ber, too, with a red sap which gave color to many a hill-country 
belle's cheek. 

There are many odd folk beliefs connected with backwoods 
beauty treatments. Dew, or dew and buttermilk, or various mix- 
tures of honey and buttermilk are recognized remedies for 
roughened skin and pimples on the face and neck. Rain water 
caught on the first day of June is supposed to clear up muddy 
complexions and eliminate freckles. The fresh blood of a chicken 
that of a black pullet in particular is also said to remove 
freckles and make the skin white and creamy. Fresh tomato 
juice is a very fine bleach for darkened skins, although some 
girls prefer to rub their arms and faces with cucumber pulp 
just before going to bed. Mrs. Addah Matthews, of Monett, 
Missouri, says that Ozark girls used to apply sassafras tea to 
their faces, in the belief that it would benefit their complexions. 
A few years ago, girls came to believe that a poultice of 


fresh cow dung removes freckles, makes the skin soft and fresh, 
and greatly improves the feminine complexion. A pretty woman 
in Crane, Missouri, told me that she and her chum made thick 
masks of cow dung and wore them for hours at a time. "It 
drawed up my face," she said, "till I couldn't hardly move a 
eye-winker !" 

The dirty water from a blacksmith's tub, in which hot horse- 
shoes have been tempered, is famous as a lotion for a spotted or 
muddy complexion. Many girls try to remove freckles by rub- 
bing the face with a boy baby's diaper, wet with fresh urine. 
Some of the most popular treatments are kept secret. Once I 
made some complimentary remark to a girl about her com- 
plexion, and she started to sing the praises of a new cosmetic 
she had brewed out of beet tops, when suddenly she stopped short 
with the remark that if she told anybody the spell would be 
broken and the charm wouldn't work. 

It is proverbial that the winds of March are bad for the 
complexion : 

March winds and May sun 

Make clothes white and maids dun. 

Many mountain women say that to eat chicken hearts, espe- 
cially raw chicken hearts, will make any girl good looking; I 
know one poor damsel who ate them for years, but without any 
benefit so far as I could see. May Stafford Hilburn says that 
in her section of the Ozarks the girl must swallow the chicken 
heart not only raw but whole! 1 In Cassville, Missouri, a 
woman told me that to swallow a raw chicken heart at one gulp 
may not make a girl beautiful, but it will render her sexually 
attractive, so that "she can git whoever she wants." 

The touch of a dead man's hand is popularly supposed to dis- 
courage moles, blackheads, enlarged pores, and other facial 
blemishes. I have seen a little girl, perhaps three years old, 
dragged into a village undertaking parlor and "tetched," in 

i Magazine (September, 1988), p. 21. 


the belief that a large red birthmark on the child's face might 
thus be removed.^ 

A girl can cure her chapped or roughened lips by kissing the 
middle bar of a five-rail fence, but it is well to put a bit of lard 
or tallow on the lips also, according to my informants. 

Most country girls have their ears pierced for earrings, but 
this should be done when peach trees are in bloom, and when 
"the sign is right/' If the ears are pierced at any other time, the 
openings are likely to become infected ; one girl told me her ears 
got so sore she "couldn't hardly pull the strings through with- 
out hollerin' !" 

The Ozark women have several outlandish treatments for fall- 
ing hair, but the details of these are supposed to be kept secret, 
as to tell anybody will break the charm. I have been unable to 
learn anything definite about this business, beyond the fact 
that one course of treatment takes forty-nine days and requires 
large amounts of fresh urine, which is carried in bottles and 
buckets from all over the neighborhood to the house of the 
woman undergoing the treatment. 

In Washington county, Arkansas, there are women who claim 
to cure baldness, or at least to arrest falling hair, with a salve 
made from tallow mixed with the scrapings of old harness, pref- 
erably that which has been worn by a white mule. Wild-cherry 
bark makes a fine hair tonic and hair restorer. Sage tea is not 
only popular as a hair dressing but is also said to restore the 
natural color of hair which is turning gray. A tea made from 
peach-tree leaves, with a little sulphur added, is said to be a 
sure cure for dandruff. Sap from wild grape vines is highly 
recommended as a hair tonic. 

I am told that in pioneer days some women made a curling 
fluid by steeping flaxseed in hot water, but just how this was 
supposed to work I do not know. Some say that it was applied 
to the hair just before the rag curlers were put on. "We didn't 
have no curlin'-irons in them days," an old woman told me. 

The girl who cuts her hair at the time of the new moon will 


see it grow rapidly and luxuriantly. Hair cut in the dark of 
the moon is likely to lose its luster, or even to become gray pre- 
maturely. A woman's hair should never be cut in March this 
makes it dull and lifeless and sometimes causes headaches which 
persist until midnight on March 81. 

A mountain girl of my acquaintance placed a lock of her 
hair under a stone in a running stream, believing that the water 
would make her hair glossy and attractive. Another way to 
promote the growth of hair is to bury a "twist" of it under the 
roots of a white walnut tree, in the light of the moon. 

To burn combings, or hair which has been cut off, is forbid- 
den to Ozark girls, as it would make their hair brittle. Combings 
should be buried in the ground. Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey, 
of Mincy, Missouri, tells me that one must never throw comb- 
ings out of doors if a bird should use even one hair in building 
a nest, the original owner of the hair is likely to go insane. 
Others say that to have your hair in a bird's nest won't neces- 
sarily drive you crazy, but it will cause a series of terrible 

Children are often told that eating bread crusts makes the 
hair curly, and some parents contend that a diet of carrots also 
causes hair to curl. Most mountain folk feel that curly hair is 
somehow more attractive than straight, so it may be that these 
sayings are intended primarily to induce children to eat bread 
crusts and carrots. One often hears that if a straight-haired 
girl shaves her head, the new hair will "come in curly," but I 
have never known anybody to give it a trial. 

It is always bad luck to part one's hair with a comb that has 
touched the head of a corpse; to do so may cause the hair to 
fall out. 

Country women in the Ozarks seldom put water on their hair 
they prefer to dry-clean it with cornmeal. But when it is 
necessary to wet one's hair, it is best not to use a comb until 
the hair is perfectly dry. To comb wet hair always makes it 
coarse, according to the granny-women. 


Nearly all of the old-timers disliked to comb their hair by 
artificial light. I have seen a man at least seventy years old 
hobble out into his back yard and stand in the moonlight while 
he combed his long white hair, rather than comb it in front of 
a mirror in the kitchen illuminated by a kerosene lamp. 

A young woman should never comb her hair at night, under 
any condition, since to do this is said to "lower a gal's nature" 
that is, make her less passionate sexually. That is the mean- 
ing of the old sayin' : 

Comb your hair after dark, 

Comb sorry into your old man's heart. 

Many hillmen still believe in love powders and potions, and 
this belief is encouraged by the country druggists, who sell a 
perfumed mixture of milk sugar and flake whiting at enormous 
profits. This stuff is dissolved in a girl's coffee or fed to her in 
candy and & said to be quite efficacious. Many mountain dam- 
sels carry love charms consisting of some pinkish, soaplike ma- 
terial, the composition of which I have been unable to discover ; 
the thing is usually enclosed in a carved peach stone or cherry 
pit and worn on a string round the neck, or attached to an 
elastic garter. I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore 
a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit's foot 
fastened to the other. 

f Surreptitiously touching the back of a man's head is said to 
be a sure way of arousing his sexual passionsj\md every moun- 
tain girl knows that if she puts a drop of her menstrual fluid 
into a man's liquor he is certain to fall madly in love with her. 
.Whiskey in which her fingernail trimmings have been soaked is 
said to have a very similar effectAThese beliefs are taken so 
seriously in the Ozarks that the victim of a love-charm or philter 
is not held morally responsible for his actions, and many a de- 
serted wife is comforted by the reflection that her man did not 
leave of his own free will but was "cunjured off." 

Ozark girls sometimes carry little wasp nests in the belief 


that they somehow attract men. These objects are usually 
pinned to the lady's undergarments if she wears any under- 
garments. It is said that if a girl steals the band from a man's 
hat and makes a garter of it, the original owner will fall in love 
with her at once. Yellow garters are very popular, as they 
attract men to the wearer and even render her lovers faithful. 
For a married woman to wear yellow garters is not so good, 
however it indicates that she is interested^ in men other than 
her husband.)Many a mountain girl conceals dried turkey bones 
about the room in which she meets her lover, or even secretes 
them in her clothing, in the belief that they will render him more 
amorous. I once heard some village loafers "greening" a young 
chap because some turkey bones had been found behind the 
cushions of his Ford, the supposition being that they had been 
placed there by women who had ridden with him. 

Mountain girls sometimes carry the beard of a wild turkey 
gobbler concealed about their clothing. Rose O'Neill, of Day, 
Missouri, asked a neighbor about this once and was told that 
"we use it to clean the comb with." Probably the gobbler's beard 
does make a satisfactory comb cleaner, but there is no doubt 
whatever that some backwoods damsels regard it as a love 

A plant called yarrow, or milfoil (Achillea millefolium), is 
used in making love potions. The same is said to be true of 
dodder, also called love vine or angel's hair. Women in north- 
west Arkansas tell me that the roots of the lady's-slipper or 
moccasin flower (Cypripedium) contain a powerful aphrodisiac. 
The leaves and stems of mistletoe are made into some kind of 
"love medicine," but the whole matter is very secret. I have on 
two occasions seen women boiling big kettles of mistletoe out of 
doors but was unable to get any details of the procedure. 

(If a girl has quarreled with her lover, she may get him back 
by taking a needle and drawing a little blood from the third 
finger of her left hand. Using the needle as a pen, she writes her 
initials and his in blood on an ironwood chip, draws three circles 


around the letters, and buries the chip in the ground. The 
recreant boy friend will be hangin' round again in three days, 
or less. 

The boys in northwestern Arkansas make a love medicine 
from the web of a wild gander's foot, dried and reduced to 
powder. Put a pinch of this in a girl's coffee, and she will not 
only fall in love with you at once but will be faithful to you as 
long as she Jives. This is somehow connected, in the hillman's 
mind, with the belief that wild geese mate but once. 

By cleaning her fingernails on Saturday, and muttering a 
mysterious old sayin' at the same time, a girl can force her lover 
to visit her on Sunday. When a boy says "my gal fixed her 
fingernails yesterday," he means that he is going to see her and 
implies that he does so rather reluctantly, 
f If a girl puts salt on the fire for seven consecutive mornings 
it will bring her absent lover home, whether he wants to come 
cr not.NOrfshe may place her shoes together on the floor at 
right angles, so that the toe of one touches the middle of the 

other, and recite: 

^ . 

When I my true love want 
I put my shoes in the shape 

This is said to be especially effective when the errant swain is 
married or has become entangled with a married woman. 

I once knew two sisters in Jasper county, Missouri, who 
went far out in the woods and bent several twigs on a pawpaw 
tree, tying them fast in the bent position with twisted locks of 
their own hair. Relatives of these girls told me that this had 
something to do with an unsatisfactory love affair in which 
both girls were involved, but I was unable to learn anything 
definite about the matter. It was not the sort of thing that a 
mere acquaintance could safely investigate. 

In rural Arkansas the backwoods girls tie little pieces of cloth 
to the branches of certain trees usually pawpaw or hawthorn, 
sometimes redbud or ironwood. I have seen five of these little 


bundles in a single pawpaw tree. I have untied several and 
examined them carefully; there was nothing in them that I 
could see, just little pieces of cloth, doubtless torn from old 
dresses or petticoats. The natives say they are love charms, 
but just how they work I do not know. No woodsman that I 
have ever known would think of touching one of these objects, 
and I have often been warned that it is very bad luck to "monkey 
with such as that." 

In some localities it is said that a man hides the dried tongue 
of a turtle dove in a girl's cabin this makes her fall madly in 
love with him, and she can't deny him anything. I was told of 
a case in which a girl's superstitious parents searched the cabin 
for days, trying to find the tongue which they believed must be 
hidden there. The neighbors laughed about this, and the girl 
herself said that turtle doves' tongues had nothing to do with 
the case, but the parents still believed the old story. They never 
did find the dove's tongue, however. 

A girl can take a needle which has been stuck into a dead 
body, cover it with dirt in which a corpse has been laid, and 
wrap the whole thing in a cloth cut from a winding sheet ; this 
is supposed to be a very powerful love charm, and a woman who 
owns such a thing can make any man fall in love with her. A 
needle which has been used to make a shroud is useful, too. If a 
girl thrusts such a needle into her lover's footprint in her own 
dooryard, he is forced to remain with her whether he wants to 
or not. If he leaves the neighborhood he will get sick, and if 
he stays away long enough he will die. 

Girls in love are supposed to have an inordinate appetite for 
cucumber pickles. In the eighties boys used to leave little boxes 
of fruit and candies at their sweethearts' doorsteps on the eve 
of February 14. For a boy to include a pickle was considered 
very daring, and the old folks said that a girl who ate one of 
these Valentine pickles was henceforth unable to resist the boy 
who gave it to her. Some old-timers, however, insist that pickles 
were traditionally regarded as a cure for love sickness rather 


than a love charm or an aphrodisiac. According to this in- 
terpretation, the pickle in a Valentine box was no more than 
a humorous reference to a rival, or to some previous love affair. 

Negroes in Arkansas make and sell charms to keep husbands 
constant, to bring back wandering lovers, to help in seducing 
girls, and so on. They are little cloth bags containing feathers, 
hair, blood, graveyard dirt, salt, and sometimes human bones. 
Some low-class white people buy these and carry them. They are 
called charms, conjures, hands, jacks or jujus. Many white 
people laugh at this "nigger business," but I have known edu- 
cated white men who were careful to avoid touching these 
charms. It was a dealer in jujus, in Little Rock, Arkansas, who 
told me that a man infatuated with an unworthy woman could 
cure himself by smearing the fresh blood of a male deer over 
his genitals. 

A hillman whose wife is "triflin' on him" is sometimes per- 
suaded that he can make everything right by going into the 
woods at midnight and boring a hole in the crotch of a pawpaw 
tree. This done, he mutters a secret Biblical quotation, drives 
a stout wooden peg into the auger hole, and walks away without 
looking back at the tree. The hole behind the peg may contain 
a wad of human hair, dried blood, fingernail parings, 'a piece 
of a woman's undergarment, and some unidentified material 
resembling beeswax. This method of curbing marital infidelity 
is known as the "pawpaw conjure" and is said to be of Negro 

It is generally believed that a man who seduces little girls 
is likely to have a curse laid upon his family, and his own chil- 
dren are particularly liable to the same outrage that he has 
perpetrated upon the daughters of others. 

Marriage is still regarded as a serious matter in the Ozarks, 
and there are many singular superstitions connected with the 
choice of a mate. The typical hillman is determined to marry a 
virgin at any cost, and is firmly convinced that he can detect 
virginity at a glance. The theory is that every female child 


has a tiny cleft or depression in the end of her nose, and that 
this depression immediately disappears after sexual intercourse 
is effected. 

There are several strange old notions about the use of mir- 
rors in testing female virtue. One of these is reflected in a song 
still popular in the backwoods : 

Mamma, mamma, have you heard? 
Papa's goin' to buy me a mockm'-bird ! 

If the mockin'-bird won't sing 
Papa's goin' to buy me a golden ring. 

If the golden ring is brass 

Papa's goin' to buy me a lookin'-glass. 

If the lookin'-glass don't shine 

Papa's goin' to shoot that beau of mine ! 

A young woman near Mena, Arkansas, who repeated these 
verses, explained the final stanza by saying that the lookin'- 
glass "shines" only for virgins and virtuous wives. 

Many hill women are firmly convinced that a man's penis is 
exactly three times as long as his nose, and a girl who "keeps 
company" with a very long-nosed man is subjected to the good- 
natured raillery of her friends. There is an old saying to the 
effect that a girl with a small mouth has a small, tight vagina. 
Teeth set wide apart indicate a passionate, sensual nature. Cold 
hands are believed to be associated with a warm heart and are 
often regarded as a sure sign that one is in love. A woman with 
very small ears is likely to be miserly and petulant. If a girl's 
second toe is longer than the big one, she will try to bully her 
lover. When a woman has the habit of resting her thumb inside 
her clenched hand, everybody knows that she will be ruled 
absolutely by her husband, while if her thumb is habitually 
extruded the man who marries her will probably be henpecked. 

To tell if a person is jealous, hold a buttercup under his chin ; 


if the yellow color of the flower is reflected, so that the skin 
looks yellow, he's jealous. There is some trick of detecting 
jealousy by holding a red-hot poker near the face; a little boy 
lost one of his eyes because of this foolishness at the Cherry 
Grove schoolhouse near Lamar, Missouri, in 1938. 

To speak of a person as white-livered, in some parts of Amer- 
ica, is to call him a coward. In the Ozarks, however, white-livered 
generally means oversexed. When a lively, buxom, good-looking 
woman loses several husbands by death, it is often said that her 
inordinate sexual passion has killed 'em off, and she is referred 
to as a white-livered widder. Usually it is only a figure of speech, 
but there are people who actually believe that a "high nature" 
is correlated with white spots on the liver, and that this con- 
dition has often been revealed by postmortem examination. 

There are many ways of determining whether or not one's 
sweetheart is faithful. If the fire which a man kindles burns 
brightly, he knows that his sweetheart is true to him, but if it 
smolders, she is likely to prove unfaithful. As a further test, 
he may go into a clearing and bend down a mullein stalk so 
that it points toward her cabin ; if she loves him the stalk grows 
up again, but if she loves another it will die. Mrs. Addah Mat- 
thews, Monett, Missouri, says that "a girl used to name' a mul- 
lein stalk, then bend the stalk toward her fellow's house; if it 
grew bent in that direction he loved her." Sometimes the girl 
puts a bit of dodder or love vine on a growing weed ; if it flour- 
ishes, her lover is faithful, and if it withers he is not to be 
trusted. Or she may pluck a hair from her head and draw it 
between her fingers if it curls he loves her, if it remains straight 
he does not. Another girl picks a cocklebur, names it for her 
lover, and throws it against her skirt; if it sticks, she knows 
that her lover is true to her, if it doesn't stick she thinks he is 

A hill girl often names a match for a boy whom she admires 
and then lights the match ; if it burns to the end without break- 


ing, she is assured that the boy loves her. My neighbor's daugh- 
ters once used up half a box of matches in this search for 
knowledge, an extravagance which was harshly rebuked by the 
frugal parents. Another common trick is for a girl to light a 
match and hold it straight up; if the blackened head turns 
toward her boy friend or her boy friend's home, it is a sign that 
he loves her. But if the match points in some other direction, 
she has reason to doubt his fidelity. 

If a ring suddenly breaks upon a person's finger, without 
any obvious reason for its breaking, it means that his or her 
loved one is unfaithful ; some say that it means the absent one 
has committed an act of infidelity at the exact moment when 
the ring cracks. 

To find out if her sweetheart loves her, a girl hangs a Bible 
up with a string and repeats aloud: "Whither thou goest, I 
will go. Where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be 
my people, thy God my God." Then she shouts the name of her 
boy friend Jim or Bill or Alec or whatever it is. If the Bible 
turns on the string so that the edge points toward the speaker, 
it is a sign that the boy loves her. Some say it means that they 
will marry. 

There are many ways in which a mountain girl may learn the 
identity and characteristics of her future husband. She may 
put a live snail in a glass fruit jar over night; the initials of 
the man she is to marry will be outlined in the snail's slimy track. 
An old woman once told me that if a girl counts nine stars each 
night for nine consecutive nights, on the ninth night she will 
inevitably dream of her husband-to-be. A simpler method is to 
stare very hard at the brightest star in sight and wink three 
times ; this produces the dream on the first night and gets the 
same result with much less expenditure of time and energy. Some 
girls divine their future marital adventures by what is called 
cancellation; they write down their own names with those of 
their boy friends, and cancel out identical letters, shouting 


"false, true, false, true*' the while. This cancellation business 
is a bit more complicated than appears at first sight, and I have 
never been able to understand exactly how it works. 

Down south of Hot Springs, Arkansas, they tell me that a 
girl goes out in the woods after a rain and "repeats a verse" 
meaning a passage from the Bible. Then she reaches behind her 
without looking and lifts up a flat stone. Under the stone she'll 
find a hair, and it will be the same color as that of the man she 
is destined to marry. 

A woman at Zinc, Arkansas, says that when a girl hears a 
dove and sees the new moon at the same instant, she repeats this 
verse : 

Bright moon, clear moon, 

Bright and fair, 

Lift up your right foot 

There'll be a hair. 

Then she takes off her right shoe and finds in it a hair like that 
of her future husband. 

Mrs. Effa M. Wilson, Verona, Missouri, has a slightly dif- 
ferent version. She says that when you hear the first dove coo 
in the spring, sit down wherever you are and take off your right 
stocking. In the heel of the stocking you'll find the hair, and 
it will be exactly the color of your future husband's hair. A 
lady in Marshfield, Missouri, tried this, and to her amazement 
she did find a hair in her stocking. It was a blond hair, though, 
and she married a black-haired man. 

Sometimes a mountain damsel boils an egg very hard, then 
removes the yolk and fills the cavity with salt. Just before bed- 
time she eats this salted egg. In the night, according to the old 
story, she will dream that somebody fetches her a gourd filled 
with water. The man who brings her the water is destined to 
be her husband. It is surprising how many young women have 
tried this, and how many feel that there may be something in it. 

A girl near Clinton, Arkansas, tells me that she has only to 
write the names of nine boys on a slip of paper and put the 


paper between her breasts at bedtime; she is sure to dream of 
the one who will be her husband. 

The girl who looks at the new moon over her right shoulder 
and repeats : 

New moon, new moon, do tell me 

Who my own true lover will be, 

The color of his hair, the clothes that he will wear 

And the happy day he will wed me, 

will dream of her future mate that night. 

They tell me that sometimes a girl writes the names of six 
boys on six slips of paper and puts them under her pillow. When 
she awakes in the night, she pulls out one at random and throws 
it on the floor. She does not look at it until daylight, when it 
will be found to bear the name of her future husband. The girl 
who lights a lamp to look at the slip before morning will have 
very bad luck and perhaps get no husband at all. 

If a girl finds a pod containing nine peas, she hangs it up 
over the door. The first eligible man to walk under the pod will 
be her future husband. 

The first time a country girl sleeps in a strange room, she 
names the four corners for four boys of her acquaintance. The 
first corner that she looks into when she awakes bears the name 
of the boy she will marry. 

In some sections, when a backwoods girl sees the new moon, she 
names a boy pronounces his name aloud. Then she watches 
for the boy, day after day. If he happens to have his face toward 
her, the first time she sees him, she thinks that they will someday 
be sweethearts. If his back is toward her, she feels that there is 
nothing to do but forget him. 

The first day of May is important to girls who are looking 
for information about their future mates. If a girl gets up 
early on the morning of May 1, goes to the spring, and breaks 
a guinea's egg into a cup, she'll see the face or the initials of 
her husband-to-be in the water. A girl who looks obliquely into 
a mirror when she first wakes up on May Day will see the re- 


flection, or at least initials or letters forming the name, of the 
man who is to be her mate. 

A maiden lady who wants to see her future husband goes to 
.a well at noon on May 1 and holds a mirror so as to reflect the 
light down into the darkness. Some girls say that they have 
actually seen their mates-to-be in the water. Others are afraid 
to try this stunt, because sometimes a girl doesn't see any man, 
but an image of herself in a coffin, which means that she'll die 
before another May Day. If a girl sees nothing at all in the 
water, she is very likely to be an old maid. 

A woman in Christian county, Missouri, used to do the same 
trick with a gold ring in a glass of water. She set the glass in 
front of a mirror and gazed fixedly at the reflection of the ring. 
I was told of another maiden who looked into this ring-mirror 
gadget and saw a new-made grave by the river; everybody 
thought it meant that the poor girl would die soon, but she lived 
to be nearly seventy. 

On the last night of April, a girl may wet a handkerchief 
and hang it out in a cornfield. Next morning the May sun dries 
it, and the wrinkles are supposed to show the initial of the man 
she is to marry. Or she may hold a bottle of water up to the 
light on the morning of May 1, just at sunrise, and see apicture 
of outline of the boy who is to be her husband. 

Sometimes a widow gets up before dawn on May Day and 
hangs a horseshoe over her door. The first creature to enter 
will have a complexion and hair color like that of her future 
mate. There is a whole cycle of funny stories based on this 
belief, tales of possums, rats, snakes, or even skunks wandering 
in, and so on. 

Some girls hunt birds' nests on May 1. If the first nest a girl 
finds on that day has eggs in it, she'll be married soon; if the 
nest is empty, she will be an old maid. "But what if there are 
young birds in the nest?" I asked the girl who told me about 
this. She cast down her eyes, blushed, and made no answer. Her 
mother overheard the question, and called the girl into the 


house at once. I have never been able to learn what happens 
to the girl who finds young birds in the nest. 

Here is another way of looking into a mountain maiden's 
future: take three bowls, one containing clean water, one full 
of dirty water, one empty. Blindfold the girl, lead her into the 
room, and ask her to select one of the bowls. If she picks the 
clean water, she'll be happily married; if she picks the dirty 
water, she will soon be a widow; if she picks the empty bowl, 
she'll be an old maid. 

One may always ascertain the future bridegroom's occupa- 
tion by counting the buttons on a girl's new dress rich man, 
poor man, beggarman, thief, doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief 
but this does not seem to be taken seriously except by very small 
girls. If a little girl is always getting her apron wet, when she 
washes the dishes, it is a sign that she'll marry a drunkard. 
The woman who finds a broken feather or a crooked twig in 
her hair will marry a most unsatisfactory man some say that 
her husband will be a cripple. 

If a girls wets her nightdress, hangs it before the fireplace 
to dry, and goes to bed stark naked in a room by herself, she 
is sure to see her future mate before morning. The story is that 
his image appears as soon as the nightdress is dry enough to 
be turned ; he walks into the room, turns the nightdress around, 
and walks out again. There are many stories about this "con- 
jure," some of them a bit ribald. 

Or a girl may urinate on the sleeve of a man's shirt and hang 
it up between her bed and the fireplace. In this case her future 
husband is forced to appear in the night and move the shirt 
so that it will not burn. "He aint really there, of course," one 
woman told me,. "She just dreams it." 

Some hillfolk say that a girl can call up a phantom of the 
man she is to marry by wrapping a lock of hair with some of 
her fingernail clippings in a green leaf and thrusting them into 
the ashes in the fireplace. Then she sits down before the fire. 
When the hair and fingernails begin to get warm, the ghostly 


appearance of her future husband is supposed to rescue them 
from the fire. Sometimes several girls try this at once. The 
door must be left open, and everyone must maintain absolute 

In some sections of Arkansas, the girls "set a dumb supper," 
by making a pone of cornmeal and salt, in complete silence. 
Each girl must take her turn at stirring the meal, each must 
shift the pone as it bakes ; each must place a piece of the bread 
on her own plate, and another on the plate next hers at the 
table. When this is done, the girls open the doors and windows, 
then sit down silently and bow their heads. All during the bak- 
ing, the wind has grown stronger, and by this time there should 
be a regular gale blowing through the house. Often the lights 
are blown out. The phantom husbands are supposed to enter 
in silence. Each girl is supposed to recognize the man who sits 
down beside her. If she sees nobody, it means she will never 
marry. If she sees a black figure, without recognizable features, 
it means that she will die within a year. Many people still take 
this business seriously enough to forbid their daughters to 
trifle with it. Some parents say it aint Christian and smells of 
witchcraft, while others object to such foolishness because it 
sometimes frightens nervous girls into hysteria. 

An old woman in Washington county, Arkansas, told me that 
when she was a girl they always walked backward while cooking 
and serving a dumb supper, and measured everything by thim- 
blefuls instead of by spoonfuls or cupfuls. According to this 
version of the tale, nobody expects to see an apparition enter 
the room, no extra plates are set for ghostly visitors, and there 
is no supernatural wind to blow out the lights. Each girl sits 
down in silence and eats her tiny portion of food, then bows 
her head over the empty plate. If all goes well, she sees the 
outline of her future husband's face in the plate, comparable to 
the figures seen by crystal gazers and the like. 

Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, says 
that in his neighborhood early May was the only proper season 


for a dumb supper; Rayburn's informants seemed to regard 
the ritual as more or less of a joke, but the old-timers that I 
have interviewed were very serious about it, even a little fright- 
ened. May Stafford Hilburn, apparently referring to the region 
about Jefferson City, Missouri, mentions the dumb supper as 
an old-fashioned custom "to hasten the culmination of a bud- 
ding romance through the mystic rites thus performed." 2 I am 
not certain just what this means, but Mrs. Hilburn's description 
calls for midnight, absolute silence, walking backward and so 
on, just like the dumb-supper ritual in other sections. 

In Cedar county, Missouri, the same sort of function was 
called a "dummy" supper. Working in absolute silence, walking 
backward and looking over her left shoulder, each girl placed 
a chair at the table and set out dishes, knives, and forks as if 
for a meal, except that the dishes were empty. This done, the 
girls took their places behind the chairs and stood with bowed 
heads. The idea was that after a short period of silent concen- 
tration the wraith or spirit of each girl's husband-to-be would 
appear for a moment in the chair she had prepared for him. 
One spoken word, a laugh, a smile, or even a frivolous thought 
on this solemn occasion was supposed to break the charm. 
There have been cases in which overwrought damsels persuaded 
themselves that they really saw ghostly figures seated at the 
"dummy table." One old woman assured me that the phantom 
husband was visible to all of the girls about the table, but the 
general opinion is that he appeared only to the damsel who 
stood directly behind his chair, and who was destined to become 
his wife. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, tells a good story 
about the dumb-supper ceremony. She says that it is not fiction, 
but a tale that was told and believed in Taney county, Mis- 
souri, when she was a girl. Here is the story in Mrs. Mahnkey's 
own words, as published in the White River Leader, Branson, 
Missouri, Jan. 4, 1934: 

2 Missouri Magazine (October, 1933), p. 14. 


A dear friend of mother's, a plump and jolly woman, comforting 
and reposeful, not one capable of harboring such strange and weird 
beliefs, told the story of the dumb supper, so vividly, so impressively, 
that I never forgot. She and mother were quilting and as the story 
progressed, and she would bend her face to bite off her thread, she 
got in the way of giving a cautious glance over her shoulder, and 
before the tale had ended, I, too, was giving rather awed glances out 
into the long, darksome hall. 

She was talking as if she had been present, or as if she had in- 
timately known the parties engaged in this supernatural feast. It 
seemed the family were away for the night, and the grown girls, left 
in charge of the home, had invited in some neighbor girls to keep 
them company, so a dumb supper was proposed. This meant, that in 
utter silence, and every step taken, to be made backwards, the table 
was to be laid for a guest, who would come in at midnight, and who 
was to be the future husband of the girl at whose plate he sat down. 
The table was only set for one, as it seemed at the test, only one girl 
was brave enough to thus put her fortune to the trial. 

The others watched her in fascinated silence, as she stepped 
quickly, if awkwardly, about her task, in the big low ceilinged kitchen. 
She placed a peculiar knife at the side of the mysterious guest's plate, 
with a roguish smile at her friends. A sharpbladed knife, set into a 
piece of deer horn, for one handle. 

In utter silence they waited, until the old clock slowly droned out 
the 12 strokes of midnight, when to their terror, the door was dashed 
open, a tall form advanced, with swift noiseless steps, and then an 
icy wind blew out the light, and one of the horrified girls screamed. 
But one braver than the rest, closed the door and lighted the lamp. 
No spectral visitor, they were alone, but the maiden who had set the 
table, pointed with white face and shaking hands, the peculiar old 
knife was not there. 

Later, this girl did marry a stranger, who had come, as a visiting 
cousin, to the home of a nearby neighbor. And they seemed to be very 
happy, although the man was very quiet, even taciturn. 

One day the girl's mother, going across the ridge to visit her, found 
the little cabin strangely cold and forbidding, and hurried in, to 
find her daughter lying as if dead, with a knife thrust into her breast. 

When at last help had been summoned, and the old backwoods 
doctor, able surgeon was he, too, brought her back to consciousness, 
shudderingly she told the story. 

In a moment of girlish confidence she had told the story of the 


dumb supper, and the strange guest, "as tall as you/' she had said, 
and he had listened, in sinister silence* Then he went to an old leather 
valise he always kept locked, unlocked it, took something in his hand 
and said to her coldly, "And you are the one. You are that witch. That 
night I walked through hell," and thrust the knife into her breast, and 
ran from the house. He was never seen again, and the knife was the 
same old peculiar knife with the deer horn handle and the keen blade, 
that the thoughtless girl had laid when so careless and gay, she had 
set the dumb supper. 

When a man has asked a girl to marry him, and she cannot 
decide whether to have- the fellow or not, the old women some- 
times advise her to "leave it to the cat." In this procedure she 
takes three hairs from a cat's fail, wraps them in white paper, 
and puts the package under her doorstep. Next morning she 
unfolds the paper very carefully, so as not to shake up the 
three hairs. If they have arranged themselves in the approxi- 
mate form of the letter F, the answer is yes; if they fall into 
the shape of an N, she will do well not to marry the young man. 

There are some things such as kissing over a gate that 
lovers must never do, under any condition, though it is not 
clear just what would happen to them if they disobeyed this 
injunction. Neither must a man kiss a girl while he is standing 
and she is sitting in a chair, since to do so would cause a violent 
quarrel or "fraction" at once, and perhaps some more serious 

The girl who kisses a man, or even winks at a man, while she 
is menstruating will ultimately be "ruint" and probably have 
an illegitimate child. The same fate will come to a menstruating 
girl who sits in a chair that has just been vacated by a boy. 
Many mountain girls who do not really believe these things 
are still careful about this chair business. "There's nothing to 
those old sayin's, of course," one young woman told me, "but 
everybody knows about 'em, so it don't look modest for a girl 
in that shape to go round settin' in boys' chairs. And some of 
these old grannies always notice it. They've got an eagle eye 
for things like that." 


It is said that if a family keeps black cats about, all the 
daughters will be old maids. Young girls are told that if they 
trim their fingernails on Sunday they will be slow in finding 
husbands. A girl who rides a mule will never get a man. If a 
woman sits on a table, or lets anyone sweep under her chair 
or across her feet with a broom, she will not get married for 
a long time. A girl who inadvertently steps over a broom will 
either not marry at all, or she will be unhappy in her married 
life. If a country girl accidentally upsets a chair, she will remain 
single for at least a year ; when a young girl knocks over a chair 
in the presence of persons not friendly to her, she abandons all 
decorum and leaps wildly to set it up again, because any ma- 
licious individual may begin to count inaudibly as the chair 
falls, and the number of counts made before the chair is picked 
up represents the number of years which must elapse before the 
poor girl's marriage. 

There is an old saying that a girl who takes the last biscuit 
from the plate at the table will be an old maid, and there are 
some people in Missouri and Arkansas who take this very seri- 
ously. If a man happens to take the last biscuit it is said that 
he will soon kiss the cook but this latter notion is only a joke, 
a cause for polite laughter. 

If a boy meets a girl with whom he has been intimate and 
doesn't recognize her because she is dressed up, it means that 
one or both of them will marry very soon. If a dog who knows 
you well suddenly acts as if you were a stranger, it is a sign 
that you will soon be married. If the first corn silk you see in 
the summer is red, you will attend more weddings than funerals 
that year. 

When one sees two snakes in a house at once, it means that 
there will be a wedding there before long. If two crows per- 
sistently circle over a cabin, it is a sign that a daughter of the 
house is about to marry. A girl who accidentally steps on a cat's 
tail will be married before the year is out. If a girl's skirt is 
always catching on briars, it is said that she will soon catch 
a husband. 


When three candles or lamps are accidentally placed in a 
row, it means that there will soon be a marriage in the family. 
If four people happen to "shake hands crossways" a wedding 
is also to be expected. A butterfly in the house, or a bee in a 
woman's shoe, or the accidental dropping of three pans at once 
are also wedding signs. When a woman inadvertently puts two 
knives or two forks together at one plate, she knows that some- 
one who sits at the table that day will be married before the 
year is out. If the coffee grounds in the bottom of a cup form a 
ring, it means that somebody in the family will be married soon. 

Some backwoods girls cross their fingers and then listen for 
the whippoorwill, every repetition of the bird's cry representing 
a year which must pass before the listener can get a husband. 
When an Ozark girl finds a jointsnake she hits it with a stick 
and carefully counts the pieces ; as many segments as the snake 
breaks into, so many years will elapse before her wedding. If 
she hears a mockingbird sing after dark she often hastens to 
put a man's hat on her head, since this means that she will soon 
be happily married. 

I knew a young schoolmarm in Missouri who scorned most of 
the backwoods superstitions, but who always kissed her thumb 
when she stumbled, in obedience to the old rhyme : 

Stump your toe, 
Kiss your thumb, 
You'll see your beau 
'Fore bedtime comes. 

If a girl inadvertently speaks in rhyme, it is a sign that 
she will meet her lover that night: 

Make a rhyme, make a rhyme, 
See your beau before bedtime ! 

It sometimes happens that a girl has a spot of dirt on her 
face, without knowing it. Somebody sees the spot and cries: 
"You got a beauty spot !" Thereupon the girl kisses the back 
of her hand, certain that she will see her lover in a few hours. 

If a redbird flies across a girl's path, she is sure to be kissed 


twice before night f all. (When a boy and girl accidentally bump 
their heads together, ribald old men say it's a sign that they 
will sleep together soon perhaps that very nighty 

When a girl's apron is unfastened accidentally, or her skirt 
turns up, or her stocking falls down, or her shoe comes untied, 
she believes that her lover is thinking of her. The woman who 
inadvertently addresses one person by another person's name 
knows that the second individual is thinking of her at the mo- 
ment the name is pronounced. But when a girl burns the corn- 
bread it means that her sweetheart is angry, and if she finds 
cobwebs in the cabin she fears that he will never visit her again. 

Some folk name two apple seeds for a boy and a girl, and 
drop them on a hot fire shovel ; if the seeds move closer together, 
the boy and girl will marry, but if the seeds spring apart, the 
boy and girl will separate. Apple seeds are also used by a 
girl to see which of her suitors she should accept ; she names 
a seed for each lover, moistens the whole lot and sticks them 
on her forehead. The seed which adheres longest represents the 
most ardent and persistent of her admirers, and the one who 
will make the most satisfactory husband. 

Many hillfolk tell fortunes and predict marriages by means 
of certain quotations from the Bible. For example, the twenty- 
first and thirty-first chapters of Proverbs have thirty-one verses 
each. Chapter 21 is man's birthday chapter; chapter 31 is 
woman's birthday chapter. A boy looks up his proper verse in 
the man's chapter, according to the date of his birth. A man 
born on the twenty-third of any month, for example, reads 
Proverbs 21 : 23 the content of this verse is supposed to be 
especially significant to him. 

There are few professional fortunetellers in the Ozarks, 
although many of the backwoods seers are accustomed to take 
money for their services. They always point out, however, that 
the "power" is not for sale, but that the client may make them 
a small gift if he likes. So far as I can see, the methods of these 
women do not differ greatly from those used in other sections 


of the country cards, tea leaves, crystal gazing, palmistry, 
and the like. Mrs. Angie Paxton, of Green Forest, Arkansas, 
perhaps the most famous of the Ozark fortunetellers, generally 
made use of coffee grounds, in a cup which was "shuck up" by 
the customer. Mrs. Josie Forbes, of Wayne county, Missouri, 
whom the newspapers always called "The Witch of Taskee," 
used to sit at a table with the client and make four dots with a 
pencil on a piece of paper. She marked one N, one JE, one S and 
one W. "Them's the four directions," she said solemnly. Around 
these four characters he traced random curving lines, until 
the whole thing looked like a conventionalized Arabic inscrip- 
tion. Then she began to talk, glancing carelessly down at the 
paper from time to time as if for confirmation. Her "readings" 
were the usual stuff, except that she rather specialized in the 
diagnosis of obscure diseases, for which she recommended 
various herbs and proprietary medicines. Both Angie Paxton 
and Josie Forbes talked a good deal about love and marriage, 
whenever the customer was not too old or decrepit. 

Groups of unmarried women at quilting bees used to shake 
up a cat in the newly completed quilt and then stand around 
in a big circle as the animal was suddenly released. The theory 
was that the girl toward whom the cat jumped would be the 
first of the company to catch a husband. At other times the 
quilters would wrap an engaged girl up in the new quilt and 
roll her under the bed, but the exact significance of this pro- 
cedure has never been explained to me. 

When a lot of sparks are seen to fly from a chimney late at 
night, passers-by say it is a sign that "young folks are 
a-courtin* " in the cabin. If a bachelor sits between a man and 
wife at the dinner table, it means that he will be married before 
the year is out. The girl who washes her face in dew, just at 
sunup on May 1, will marry the man she loves best. When a 
butterfly alights on a young woman's head, it is a sign that she 
may change her old beau for a new one "before snow flies." I 
once knew a widow who liked to put a four-leaf clover in her 


shoe before going to town; she said it might bring her a rich 

In some localities, when a girl sleeps with her legs crossed 
it means only that she is dreaming of her sweetheart, but 
several old-timers in Scott county, Arkansas, and Jasper 
county, Missouri, tell me it is a sign that she is destined to have 
many children. 

A schoolmarm in Fayetteville, Arkansas, says that a girl 
who looks into a spring before breakfast on May 1 will see, not 
only her future husband, but also the children she is to have by 
him. A young woman may check this latter information by 
skipping flat stones on the surface of a stream, believing that 
the largest number of skips represents the largest number of 
children it is possible for her to bear. 

In the hills near Mena, Arkansas, I met a woman who care- 
fully counted the little branches on a brier that stuck to the 
front of her dress. She said that the number of branches was 
supposed to equal the number of children she might expect to 
bear. Perhaps this brier-counting is not taken very seriously, 
but it is certainly known to many young women in the back- 
woods sections of Arkansas and Missouri. 

The signs and omens connected with the marriage ceremony 
are numerous and conflicting, but there is a general feeling that 
long engagements and postponed weddings do not augur any 
good. The old sayin' "happy the wooin' not long a-doin' " 
expresses the Ozarker's attitude. 

The best dates and seasons for weddings are determined in 
part by the changes of the moon and the signs of the zodiac, 
but the interpretation of this material varies widely. Many 
old-timers believe that marriages consummated at the full moon, 
or when the moon is waxing and near the full, are the happiest 
and most prosperous. In this connection, mountain boys declare 
that "tomcattin' " is always best in the moonlight, especially 
when the moon is full, contending that at this time a man does 


not acquire any venereal disease and is refreshed rather than 
exhausted by his efforts. 

The Clinton (Missouri) Eye, in reviewing old-time Missouri 
superstitions, says cryptically that "it is bad luck to marry 
in the wrong sign of the moon." 3 Many hillfolk believe that 
June weddings, consummated when the moon is full, are best 
of all. However, marriages in January are highly regarded in 
some quarters, according to the old rhyme : 

Marry when the year is new, 

Your mate will be constant, kind and true. 

Weddings in May are said to be unlucky, and so are those cele- 
brated in rainy or snowy weather; bright, warm wedding days 
are best, and there is an old saying "happy is the bride that 
the sun shines on." To marry while the wild hawthorn or red- 
haw is in bloom would be very bad luck indeed. There are some 
people, however, who say that young folk should marry when 
the sign's in the loins in Scorpio, that is and that nothing 
else matters. 

The wedding day is called the bride's day ; if it is bright arid 
pleasant her wedded life will be happy. If the morning is fair 
and the afternoon rainy, the first part of her married life will 
be happy, and the latter half unhappy. The day after the 
wedding, when the "infare" dinner is held at the home of the 
bridegroom's parents, is known as the man's day, and the same 
weather signs indicate his future happiness or unhappiness. 
To postpone a wedding is very bad luck, however, an almost 
certain sign that one of the contracting parties will die within 
a year, so that when a certain date is once decided upon the 
ceremony must be performed, no matter what the weather con- 
ditions may be. 

It is best to purchase a wedding ring from a mail-order house, 
because the ordinary "store-boughten" ring may have absorbed 

* Sept. 7, 1936, p. 5. 


bad luck from someone who has tried it on in the store. Once on 
the bride's finger, the ring should not be removed for seven years. 

A couple being married should stand with their feet parallel 
to the cracks in the floor, as to stand crosswise invites bad 
luck and evil spirits ; this is taken quite seriously in some places. 
A bride is sometimes audibly reminded to thrust out her right 
foot as she turns away from the preacher after the ceremony, 
since it is bad luck to begin one's married life on the left foot. 
A pinch of mustard seed may be thrown after a newly married 
couple, by the bride's parents ; this is never commented upon, 
and I have been unable to learn its significance. If newly mar- 
ried people see a toad in the path, immediately after the cere- 
mony, they regard it as a good omen. 

Another old-time notion is that the newlywed who falls asleep 
first after the wedding will be the first of the couple to die ; this 
is widely credited in some sections, although it is rarely men- 
tioned or discussed. Others think that if the number of letters 
in the couple's given names both names added together is 
divisible by two, it means that the bridegroom will live longer 
than the bride ; if the number is odd, the bride will outlive her 

Some mountain girls believe that it is bad luck to marry a 
man whose surname has the same initial as one's own : 

Change the name an' not the letter, 
Marry for worse an* not for better. 

It is a very bad omen for a bride to help cook her own wed- 
ding dinner, and some say it means that she will die soon after 
the ceremony. Many Ozark mothers will not even allow their 
daughters to go into the kitchen for several days before they 
are to be married. 

It is quite all right, however, for a bride to make her own 
wedding garments, and considerable thought is given to the old 
adage that a bride should wear "something old and something 
new, something gold and something blue." 


Mountain girls sometimes conceal a lock of their own hair 
in the hem of another girl's wedding dress, or thread a fine 
needle with a single hair which is then sewn into some incon- 
spicuous part of the bride's outfit. Exactly what sort of "con- 
jure" this is I can't say, but it is akin to witchcraft, and some- 
how benefits the owner of the hair at the poor bride's expense. 
I know of one girl who borrowed a reading lens and examined 
her wedding garments very carefully, to make sure that the 
women who helped make the dress had not surreptitiously sewn 
some of their hair into it. 

The color of a bride's dress is important, of course, and every 
hill girl knows the little rhyme: 

If when you marry your dress is red, 
You'll wish to God that you was dead ; 
If when you marry your dress is white, 
Ever 'thing will be all right. 

There are similar verses about the other colors, but they 
seem to be taken less seriously somehow: 

Marry in green, 
Ashamed to be seen. 
Marry in brown, 
Move into town. 
Marry in blue, 
Always be true. 
Marry in yeller, 
Ashamed of her feller. 
Marry in black, 
Very bad luck. 

Here is another version as I heard it near Harrison, Ar- 
kansas : 

Blue is true, 
Yaller's jealous, 
Green's forsaken, 
Red is brazen, 
White is love 
And black is death. 


This is the way they say it at Sallisaw, Oklahoma : 

Marry in white, you have chosen just right, 
Marry in blue, your man will be true, 
Marry in brown, live out of town, 
Marry in green, ashamed to be seen, 
Marry in red, wish yourself dead, 
Marry in black, better turn back, 
Marry in yellow, got the wrong fellow, 
Marry in gray, you'll be a widow some day. 

This brings us to another old-time verse, which deals with 
the significance of eye color in women: 

If a woman's eyes are gray, 
Listen close what she's got to say; 
If a woman's eyes are black, 
Give her room an' plenty o' track ; 
If a woman's eyes are brown, 
Never let your own fall down ; 
If a woman's eyes are green, 
Whip her with a switch that's keen ; 
If a woman's eyes are blue, 
She will always be true to you. 

A hill woman is very careful not to exhibit any of her wed- 
ding garments until she has worn them, or at least tried them 
on. I recall a girl who was about to show her mother the new 
pink "weddin' slippers" which had just arrived by mail, but 
caught herself just in time, reminded by her sister's agonized 
outcry. The entire family trembled over this narrow escape 
from some nameless calamity. 

After the bride is completely dressed for the ceremony, she 
must not look into a mirror until the preacher has pronounced 
the fateful words if she does, the marriage will turn out badly. 
The bride sometimes dresses before her mirror, but is careful 
to leave off some small item of attire, such as a bow of ribbon, 
which is put on at the last minute without looking in the glass. 

It is bad luck for a backwoods bridegroom to put away 
his wedding clothes immediately and resume his workaday over- 


alls. He is always advised to wear his new suit occasionally for 
several months, whether he goes to town or not. The bride does 
not seem to observe any such custom ;*she may not sell the dress 
she was married in, but she is free to wear it, or pack it away as 
a sort of keepsake, or give it to a younger sister. Ultimately 
it finds its place in the patchwork quilts of the clan, where it 
may be pointed out as Gran'ma so-and-so's wedding dress, long 
after the bride and groom and all the "weddin'ers" are sleeping 
in the buryin'-ground on the hill. 

There seem to be no particular taboos attached to the newly- 
weds' cooking utensils, except that it is very bad luck to set 
up housekeeping with a new coffeepot. I have known hillfolk, 
even educated ones, to borrow a battered old coffeepot and use 
it for a month or two, before bringing a brand-new one into the 

Some religious hillfolk, particularly the adherents of certain 
so-called Holy Roller cults, consider it proper to refrain from 
sexual intercourse the first night after marriage ; some of them 
are so ostentatious about the taboo that they do not allow the 
bride and groom to be alone in a room together. This is sup- 
posed to show that the union is somehow spiritual, not based 
upon mere physical attraction. A fourteen-year-old girl in 
McDonald county, Missouri, was about to be married, and 
spoke with something like alarm of what might happen on her 
wedding night. The girl's aunt said to her, in the presence of 
my wife and several other women : "Don't you be skeerd, honey. 
You're a-marryin' a Christian gentleman ! He won't do nothin' 
the first night, not even if you was to ask him !" 

9. Pregnancy and 

The superstitions connected with preg- 
y^r^-. nancy and childbirth are very numerous, 

kept alive and promulgated by the back- 
woods midwives who are known as granny-women. Many hill- 
men will not allow a physician to attend their wives in child- 
birth, believing that a granny-woman is better. It is surprising, 
too, how many women do not want a physician at this time. 
"Doc Holton's all right, in case o' sickness," the mother of 
seven children said to me, "but I sure don't want no man-person 
a-conjurin' round when I'm havin' a baby!" Male yarb doctors 
and power doctors have many remedies for "female troubles," 
and some of them try to produce abortions, but they generally 
leave obstetrics to the granny-women. When a granny-woman 
gets into difficulties she seldom consults with a yarb doctor or 
a power doctor, but calls in a regular physician. 

Large families are common among the old-timers, and some 
hillfolk believe that a girl will have the same number of chil- 
dren that her mother had, if she allows nature to take its course. 
When a woman has her first baby, the granny-woman looks 
very carefully for any lumps or enlargements in the umbilical 
cord, since the number of these lumps is supposed to indicate 
the number of children the woman will bear. There is a general 
notion among these people that more babies are born in August 
than in any other month, and when a woman's first child is born 
in August it is a sign that she will have many more children. 
It is said that if a child is conceived in the winter the mother 
will be subject to chills, and if it is conceived in the summer she 
will have "hot flashes" and fevers. Some pregnant women sew 


little pebbles into their garments, or wear pebbles strung around 
the waist in little cloth sacks; there is something secret about 
this, something not to be discussed, but it is supposed to prevent 
future pregnancies. 

If a woman does not wish to become pregnant, she is very 
careful about letting people place babies on her bed. Here is 
an item from the Springfield (Missouri) News # Leader, Dec. 
10, 1933: "At a party in Springfield not long ago, a woman 
started to lay her baby down" on the bed. The hostess didn't 
want a baby right away v so she asked the guest to lay the baby 
on a chair. . . . And if a bride is very anxious to have a baby, 
her friends may all take their babies to her house and lay them 
on her bed. It's regarded as a sure sign of the coming stork." 

A male visitor should always leave a cabin by the same door 
he entered; if he fails to do this, it may mean that there'll be 
an increase in the host's family. Many mountain people take 
this very seriously, and some women make certain that a visitor 
does go out the same way he came in. There are a lot of bawdy 
stories on the subject, of course. 

Every mountaineer's wife knows that if a baby's diaper is 
left in her house by some visiting mother, she herself will very 
shortly become pregnant. I've heard some good stories about 
that one, too. 

Mistletoe is used somehow by women who wish to have chil- 
dren, and some say that it can be administered by the husband, 
without the wife's knowledge or consent. If a woman cannot 
conceive, the power doctor may take nine little switches and 
tie a knot in each. Then he burns them and makes the woman 
eat the ashes. 

A tea made of tansy leaves is a well-known abortifacient. 
Mrs. May Kennedy McCord says: "Girls used to soak tansy 
leaves in buttermilk to whiten their skins, but I remember very 
plainly that when they went to Grandma Melton's to get the 
tansy . . , they were very particular to tell her what it was 
for! Camomile tea was another suspicious character sp'ttin* 


tea.** * Mrs. McCord returns to this subject in the News, 
Aug. 16, 1941, where she remarks : "And I recall that no woman 
ever drank cedar-berry tea without being 'talked about.' Men 
might take it for chills, but never women !" Pennyroyal leaves 
are also supposed to bring about abortions, and so is a tea made 
from the roots of the cotton plant, though the latter is usually 
mixed with tansy for the best results. Large doses of turpentine 
are believed to cause abortions. Any drug used for this purpose 
should be taken in one of the odd months January, March, 
May, July, September, or November. 

I have known middle-aged women who, at certain times or 
seasons, mixed pennyroyal leaves with the tobacco which they 
smoked in their pipes. They were rather secretive about this, 
implying that it had to do with some female disorder, but I was 
never able to get any definite information on the subject. 

A tea made of black snakeroot (Cimicifuga) is also used as 
a medicine for "female troubles" which usually means amenor- 
rhea. Squawroot (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is highly recom- 
mended for "the diseases of women." The blossoms of red clover, 
dried and powdered, are supposed to "relieve irregularity." 
A tea brewed from horehound and raspberry leaves is recom- 
mended to young girls who complain of a scanty or painful flow, 
although some yarb doctors think that a strong infusion of 
red-stemmed smartweed is better in such cases. 

Some women in Washington county, Arkansas, are loud in 
praise of DevilVshoestring as a remedy for menorrhagia; I 
am not familiar with this plant, but the name is sometimes ap- 
plied to goat's-rue, a weed which the Choctaw Indians use in 
poisoning fish. 

Blackhaw bark, according to the old folks, makes a tea that 

is useful in all sorts of "female complaints." It is good for scanty, 

irregular, or painful menstruation. Women going through the 

change of life consume large quantities of blackhaw bark, and 

i Springfield (Missouri) Newt, Dec. 3, 1940. 


this use of the stuff is so well known that there is a whole cycle 
of allegedly funny stories about it. 

Mountain girls are not overfond of bathing at any time, but 
they are taught never to bathe or even wash their hair while 
they are menstruating. There is an almost universal belief 
among the hillfolk that to do so causes coughs and colds, leads 
to pulmonary tuberculosis, or may even induce a paralytic 
stroke. Pregnant women bathe very seldom, and never in cold 
water. In some clans it is believed that death is the penalty for an 
expectant mother who crosses a running stream, and there are 
tales of women going to great lengths to avoid this danger, 

A pregnant woman may go about her household tasks as 
usual, but she should never try to "put up" fruit the stuff 
will spoil every time. She can attend to her chickens, milk cows, 
work in her garden, and do other farm chores, but she must 
on no account jump over the endgate of a wagon, or stoop under 
a horse's neck if she does, she is certain to miscarry. "That 
ought to be good news to the gals who want to get rid of their 
babies," I said to the old woman who told me this. "Hit don't 
work that-a-way, an' you know it," she answered. "You aint 
serious-minded, Vance, an' it aint no use to tell you 'bout them 

It is common knowledge that in certain neurotic families the 
husband falls ill when the wife becomes pregnant. One man 
told me that his wife had six children, and that during each 
pregnancy he vomited every morning, and so on. The midwife 
confirmed his story, as did a local physician who was familiar 
with the case. This man's wife was much pleased, thinking that 
her husband's suffering indicated the depth of his affection for 
her and somehow made her pregnancy easier. "My man he allus 
does my pukin' for me," she told the neighbors proudly. Such 
a situation is not rare enough to cause much comment and is 
referred to as a sort of joke on the husband. 

Not many hillfolk practice any sort of magic to determine 


the sex of an unborn child, although some granny-women teach 
that parents may "fetch a boy" by sticking a knife in the 
mattress, while a woman who wants a girl can get results by 
placing a skillet under the bed. 

There is a rather common idea that the sex of a child is 
somehow determined by which parent is the more powerful 
sexually ; if the father is most passionate, the children will be 
mostly girls, while if the mother is more sensual than the father, 
there will be many boys in the family. 

Some peckerwood folk in central Arkansas believe that if a 
husband sits on his roof for seven hours, near the chimney, his 
next child will be a boy. I have known several men to try this, 
but only one stuck it out for the full seven hours. He took a 
hammer up with him, and when anybody that he knew came along 
the road, he pretended to be fixing the roof. The next child was 
a boy, too. 

Granny-women say that when a pregnant woman's burden 
seems to be "carried high" the child is likely to be a female, 
but an unborn babe that is "carried low" is nearly always a 
boy. A woman who is "big in front" early in her pregnancy 
expects a boy baby, while one who grows "big in the back" will 
give birth to a girl. 

When a pregnant woman has a craving for some particular 
article of food, every effort is made to satisfy it, because other- 
wise the child is very likely to be "marked." I have seen birth- 
marks which were supposed to resemble strawberries, cherries, 
sweet potatoes, prunes, eels, and even hams all of which owed 
their existence to the mother's unsatisfied craving for these 
things. Even if the child has no external marks, his mind is 
likely to be affected, and he is sure to be "a plumb glutton" for 
the particular food that could not be obtained for his mother. 

Children are also said to be marked by some sudden fright 
or unpleasant experience of the mother, and I have myself seen 
a pop-eyed, big-mouthed idiot whose condition is ascribed to 


the fact that his mother stepped on a toad several months before 
his birth. In another case, a large red mark on a baby's cheek 
was caused by the mother seeing a man shot down at her side, 
when the discharge of the gun threw some of the blood and 
brains into her face. Another woman in my neighborhood saw 
two large snakes fighting or copulating, and when her babe 
was born some months later it had two writhing serpents in 
place of a head, according to local testimony. I recall a young 
farmer who had been worsted in a drunken fight and appeared 
in the village all covered with blood and dirt. Instantly every- 
body sprang to prevent the injured man's pregnant wife from 
seeing him, and one old man shrilled out : "Git Emmy away, folks 
she'll mark that 'ar young-un shore !" 

The editor of a newspaper at Pineville, Missouri, told me 
that during the Civil War some bushwhackers killed a man near 
that place; they cut off one of his ears and threw it into his 
wife's lap as she sat on her little front porch. The woman was 
pregnant at the time, and when her child was born one of his 
ears "warn't nothin' but a wart." The people in Pineville re- 
garded this as a classic case of "marking" a positive proof 
that prenatal influence is a fact. 

Mr. J. A. Wasson, of Nixa, Missouri, in the Springfield News, 
Sept. 16, 1941, tells of Uncle Wesley McCullah, who was killed 
by a bullet which incidentally knocked out two of his front 
teeth. Shortly afterward McCullah's widow gave birth to a 
baby girl, "born with two teeth the same as her father lost." 

"Babies are certainly marked by their mothers during preg- 
nancy," writes Miss Annie K. Wilson, of Magnolia, Arkansas, 
"a red spot on my finger attesting to that fact, for didn't 
Mother dress a cut on my father's knee and get blood on her 
finger?" 2 

A pregnant woman must not look at a dead body, since this 
is likely to mark the baby and might cause it to be born dead ; 
* Arcadian Life (April, 1987), p. 27. 


women in the early months of pregnancy sometimes attend 
funerals but always take care not to look directly at the corpse, 
even if it is that of a near relative. 

In Lawrence county, Missouri, a woman gave birth to a 
female child who was said to be "marked for a cat" the mother 
having been startled by an unexpected encounter with a trapped 
wildcat in the fourth month of her pregnancy. This baby looked 
all right except that its body was unusually hairy, but it never 
learned to talk or to walk erect. It mewed and growled like a 
cat, ate like a cat, and slept curled up on a pillow behind the 
stove. When the cat girl reached the age of thirteen she began 
to have "wild spells" at regular intervals, like an animal in 
heat. So the family built a stout cage inside the house, and 
shut her up while the "spell" lasted a neighbor said that "you 
could hear her a-hollerin' an' a-yowlin' half a mile off." I am 
told that this cat woman was still living near Aurora, Missouri, 
in 1941, and she must have been more than fifty years old at 
that time. In recent years, however, she has been very quiet. 
She sleeps most of the time and does not have to be caged any 
longer. I asked a physician who knows that neighborhood about 
the cat woman. "I have never seen this case," he answered, "but 
I have heard about her for many years. I don't doubt that they 
have got an idiot in that house, who walks on all fours, and is 
unable to talk. Doubtless she eats like an animal and behaves 
like one in other ways. You can see such creatures in any 
asylum. But all this stuff about her being 'marked' by a cat 
that's just backwoods superstition. If the mother of that idiot 
had been scared by a wolf instead of a wildcat, the child would 
have been called a 'wolf girl,' and these farmers would imagine 
that the noises she makes sound exactly like a wolf growl- 

Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, tells 
of a woman who was frightened by cattle during her pregnancy, 
and the child had a strange cowlike face, "with two small 
growths protruding from the head like horns." Not only that, 


but the creature "emitted low, rumbling sounds like the bellow- 
ing of a bull !" 

I am told that there are numerous secret things to be done 
and other equally secret things to be avoided during pregnancy, 
in order to make the delivery as easy as possible. For example, 
it is very bad luck to make a cap or any kind of headgear for 
a baby before the baby is born to do this nearly always makes 
the "birthin' " a difficult one. In fact, it is dangerous even to 
talk about the head or headgear of a baby before it is born; 
above all, it is bad luck to tell anybody not to make a cap under 
such conditions. If some ignorant outsider does give an ex- 
pectant mother a child's cap she burns it instantly, sometimes 
right before the donor's eyes. 

A woman at Paris, Arkansas, told me that a plant called 
spikenard was the best thing to make childbirth easy, adding 
that a woman who had plenty of spikenard didn't need no 
granny-woman; she bought the dried herb from a traveling 
yarb doctor and didn't know whether it grew wild near Paris 
or not. "If you caint git spikenard," she said, "the next best 
thing is sweet flag" (A corns calamus), which is common in 
many parts of the Ozark country. People near Paris tell me 
that spikenard is also known as wild licorice; it may be Aralia 
racemosa, but I'm not sure about this. 

An oil made from pigs' feet is often given internally in the 
belief that it somehow facilitates the bearing of healthy chil- 

I have met two granny-women who carry old silver coins that 
were once stolen from a church. It is said that to put one of these 
coins into a feather bed protects the person who sleeps on the 
bed from cramps and venereal infections, but above all it is 
used to ease the pains of childbirth. 

There are some old people who always make sure that an 
empty hornets' nest is hanging in the loft of the cabin where 
a woman is to be confined. I have heard of granny-women who 
refused to deliver a child until they saw the hornets' nest for 


themselves but have never met one who would admit this. It 
is a fact, however, that there are few really old cabins in which 
one cannot find a hornets' nest suspended under the eaves, or at- 
tached to one of the rafters. 

Near Pineville, Missouri, I once sat with a neighbor out in a 
woodlot, while his wife was giving birth to a child in the house. 
This man had a regular physician in attendance, but one of the 
neighborhood granny-women had arrived ahead of the doctor. 
The patient screamed several times, and then the granny-woman 
came out to the wood pile and picked up the ax, which she 
carried into the house. I was horrified at this, but the husband 
sat unmoved, so I said nothing. After it was all over I asked the 
doctor privately how on earth the old woman had made use of 
a five-pound double-bitted ax in her obstetrical practice. The 
doctor laughed and replied that she just put it under the bed. 
"A common superstition," he said. "It's supposed to make a 
difficult birth easier, and she saw that this was going to be a 
pretty bad one." 

Later on I learned that this ax-under-the-bed business is 
practiced in all parts of the Ozark country. An old granny 
near Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, told me that an ax used for 
this purpose must be razor-sharp, since a dull ax may do more 
harm than good. It appears that some families I found several 
near Sylamore, Arkansas place a sharp plowpoint under the 
bed, instead of an ax. 

In cases of difficult childbirth, many hillfolk burn corncobs 
on the doorstep, or even under the bed. There is an old story 
to the effect that red cobs are much more effective than white 
cobs, but this is not taken seriously. There is some connection, 
however, in the hillman's mind, between corncobs and child- 
bearing. J once knew a fellow who was outraged because his 
wife gathered a great many red cobs and burned them in the 
fireplace at night ; he thought that she did this because she was 
unwilling to have any more children. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, says 


that some granny-women, when things begin to go wrong, snatch 
up all the blankets in the house, dip 'em in hot water, and hang 
them up around the woman's bed. 

Many of the old midwives still administer gunpowder and 
water to women in labor, believing that it stimulates the 
muscular contractions which expel the child. 

Dr. J. H. Young, Galena, Missouri, told me of an old-time 
healer who proposed to "quill" a woman who was having a very 
difficult delivery. Dr. Young had no idea what "quillin' " meant, 
but he found out that the old "doc" intended to fill a turkey 
quill with snuff and blow it in the woman's face. The theory is 
that the snuff makes the woman sneeze, and the baby is born 

Granny-women in many parts of the Ozark country used to 
give a tea made of blackberry root to a woman in childbirth ; 
this was supposed to expedite matters but was regarded as 
much less drastic than the use of the quill. 

After the babe is delivered, some hillfolk burn a handful of 
chicken feathers under the bed, as this is supposed to stop 
hemorrhage. If the woman has a really bad "bleedin' " they 
kill a chicken and fasten the warm lining of its gizzard over 
the affected part, usually burning a few feathers at the same 
time. Needless to say, one never sweeps under the bed of a woman 
in childbirth, or she would surely die. So the ashes of corncobs, 
chicken feathers or anything else that is burned must lie there 
until the woman is up and about. 

When a babe is "born blue" the granny-woman makes "skillet- 
bark tea" from the soot off'n the bottom of a kettle or frying 
pan. She feeds a few drops of this to the child every ten minutes 
or so over a long period of time, perhaps as much as twenty- 
four hours. 

Many granny-women are accustomed to give every newborn 
babe quantities of onion tea, then wrap it in a blanket and wait 
till it "breaks out with the hives." If the reddish rash does not 
appear, they fear that the child will not live long. 


A very common idea is that the afterbirth must be buried 
just outside the house, at the corner of the chimney. Some 
women say that the particular spot is not important, but they 
all agree that the afterbirth should be buried; if it is burned 
or thrown into water, the mother will not make a proper re- 
covery. 3 

There are several strange notions about babes born prema- 
turely. The grannies all insist that while seven-month babies 
are not uncommon, eight-month babies are almost unknown. 
Or, as one old woman put it, seven-month babes often live, while 
eight-month babes are nearly all born dead, or die a few hours 
after birth. I once asked Dr. Oakley St. John, of Pineville, 
Missouri, whether seven-months babies ever lived to grow up. 
"Yes," he said solemnly, "if the parents of a seven-months 
baby are newly married, the baby generally lives. But when a 
woman who has been married more than eight months has a 
seven-months baby, it nearly always dies." An old backwoods 
midwife who was in the office scowled darkly. The granny- 
women regard this as a serious question, and they do not like 
to hear people joking about it. 

Nothing can convince some of these women that premature 
babies ever have fingernails. When a baby is born less than 
nine months after its parents have been married, the old gos- 
sips always look for the nails. "Caint fool me," said one 
old woman. "Them young-uns planted their corn 'bout six 
weeks 'fore they built their fences. I seen fingernails on that 

Many old-timers believe that women never suffer "after- 
pains" following the birth of a first baby, but very often have 
them after subsequent births. So if a woman does experience 
these pains after the birth of her first child, her reputation is 
more or less damaged, no matter what the midwives and the 

s The same thing is true of amputated limbs, although here the belief is 
that the owner will return after death in a mutilated condition and be forced 
to search for the lost member through all eternity. 


doctors say. Everybody thinks she must have given birth to 
a baby some time previously and kept it secret. 

There is a very general notion that a woman loses a tooth 
every time she has a child. Some say that this goes for abortions 
or miscarriages as well, so that every pregnancy involves the 
loss of a tooth, no matter what happens to the fetus. 

Multiple births are regarded with something like horror in 
many localities. "It aint fitten for a woman to shell out young- 
uns in litters that-a-way, like a brute beast!" said one of our 
old neighbors at Pineville, Missouri. Twins are always asso- 
ciated with tragedy and misfortune. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, 
Mincy, Missouri, recalls that the wife of a notorious Bald Knob- 
ber named Matthews gave birth to twins shortly before her 
husband was hanged at Ozark, Missouri, in 1889. There was a 
good deal of talk about this at the time, and it is still remem- 
bered and discussed in Matthews' old neighborhood. 

If a child is born with a caul or "veil" the membrane is care- 
fully dried and given to the child after it reaches maturity, 
otherwise the youngster is condemned to a life of perpetual mis- 
fortune. The series of calamities which befell one of my neigh- 
bors is accounted for by the fact that she was born with a veil, 
which the granny-woman in attendance very properly hung on 
a bush to dry ; this woman forgot to bring it to the house, how- 
ever, and a great storm blew the thing away into the hills. In 
case the afterbirth or the veil falls into the hands of an enemy 
of the family, the child will be more or less in this person's power 
always and may be forced into all sorts of evil deeds through 
no fault of its own. Another important thing to be remembered 
is that the band which protects the navel of an infant must be 
turned over three times before it is washed or burned; some 
people regard this as a safeguard against witchcraft, while 
others think that it simply prevents the child from having back- 
ache later in life. 

Many old-timers believe that sexual unions between human 
beings and domestic animals are sometimes fruitful. Stories 


of women giving birth to litters of puppies, mares bringing 
forth colts with human heads, and a great variety of similar 
phenomena are related and generally believed. I have never been 
able to locate a hillman who has actually seen any of these 
monstrosities "the folks allus puts 'em out o' the way," as one 
old man told me. 

Hillfolk will seldom admit that their children were born crip- 
pled or defective, since this might somehow discredit the fam- 
ily. They always say that a defective child was injured shortly 
after birth, or that its condition is due to smallpox, measles, or 
scarlet fever. I remember a little boy with a crippled foot the 
sort of thing that the doctors say is always congenital. The 
child's father insisted to me that the boy was perfectly normal 
until the age of two, when he was sick for a long time and "the 
fever fell in his leg." Another member of the family told me pri- 
vately that the child had been crippled from birth, because 
somebody had "throwed a spell" upon the mother. 

The place where a birth occurs is of no great importance in 
Ozark folklore, although some say that a babe is lucky to be 
born in a covered wagon, or under a wagon sheet. It is gen- 
erally thought best, however, that the mother's head should be 
toward the north. Misfortune would certainly be the portion of 
a child should the moonlight fall upon the bed at the time of its 
birth, and even an adult who sleeps much in the moonlight is 
likely to go blind or crazy, or both. 

Most of the old-timers believe that a woman should never be 
bathed "all over," or her bedding completely changed, for nine 
days after the child is born. Some say that the palms of a child's 
hands should not be washed until the child is three days old to 
do so washes away the infant's luck, particularly in financial 
matters. It is always best to bathe a new baby's head with 
stump water ; if ordinary water is used, the child is likely to be 
prematurely bald when it grows up. 

Mrs. May Stafford Hilburn says that it is customary to "wrap 
a newborn boy baby in his father's shirt, to bring the child good 


luck. A baby girl is given her mother's petticoat as swaddling 
clothes, for the same reason." 4 

Backwoods people sometimes carry a baby boy out into the 
dooryard when he is very small and show him the outside of the 
house it is said that this will prevent him from running away 
from home later on. Many granny-women think it is a good 
thing to carry any newborn babe three times around the cabin ; 
some say it protects the infant against sore eyes, others that it 
wards off colic. 

In some clans, when a baby boy is born, a sister of the babe's 
father comes to the house, looks at the child, and then burns 
the first hat she finds. No matter whose it is, nor how valuable, 
she just picks up a hat and throws it into the fireplace. Many 
people laugh at this and pretend to take it lightly, but it is 
never omitted in certain families. I know of one case where 
there was some doubt about the child's paternity, and the hus- 
band's family were by no means friendly to the young mother, 
but despite all this one of the sisters came and burned the hat ; 
she did it silently and grudgingly and most ungraciously, but 
she did it. This practice is never discussed with outsiders, but it 
is sufficiently known that a series of funny stories has grown 
up about hats being burned by mistake, strangers' hats missing, 
doctors leaving their hats at home, and so on. 

Medical men say there's nothing to it, but thousands of old 
women in the Ozark country are firmly convinced that cats must 
be kept away from new babies ; they believe that if a cat gets 
a chance, it will sit on the baby's chest and suck its breath until 
the child is suffocated. 

When a very young baby cries and seems in pain, the mother 
looks to see if the wind is in the northeast; if it is, she doesn't 
worry, since all babies are supposed to be irritable when the 
wind is in the northeast. 

There are numerous old sayin's about the influence of the 
day of a child's birth upon its character and prospects. Some 
* Missouri Magazine (September, 1988), p. 21. 


of these are recorded in a rhyme contributed by Mrs. Marie 
Wilbur, Pineville, Missouri. 

Monday's child is fair of face, 
Tuesday's child is full of grace, 
Wednesday's child has far to go, 
Thursday's child is full of woe. 
Friday's child is loving and giving, 
Saturday's child must work for a living. 
A child that's horn on the Sabbath day 
Is blithe and bonnie and rich and gay. 

Here is a variant from an old manuscript book belonging 
to Miss Miriam Lynch, Notch, Missouri. 

Sunday never to want, 
Monday fair in face, 
Tuesday full of grace, 
Wednesday woeful and sad, 
Thursday a long ways to go, 
Friday loving and giving, 
Saturday work hard for a living. 

A baby born on New Year's will be lucky always, no matter 
what day of the week it happens to be. A child born at the time 
of the new moon will be exceptionally strong and muscular. 

Children born on Friday the thirteenth will always be un- 
lucky, but- a part of this evil may be avoided by falsifying the 
record; if such a child ever does have any good fortune, it will 
be after the death of the last person who knows the true date. 

Some granny-women claim that a baby born between June 
23 and July 23 will be a "natural born failure" all its life, 
clumsy and unlucky at everything it tries to do. I have known 
two women, living in widely separated parts of the Ozarks, who 
took extraordinary precautions to prevent their children being 
born at this unlucky season. Mr. Booth Campbell, of Cane Hill, 
Arkansas, told me that the old-timers in his neighborhood always 
claimed March 21 as the unluckiest birthday in the month, and 
one of the most unfavorable days in the whole year. 


There are several methods of predicting what a child's fu- 
ture life is to be. One of the commonest is to offer a boy baby a 
bottle, a Bible, and a coin. If he grasps the bottle first, he will 
be a drunkard ; if the Bible, a preacher, or at least a religious 
man ; while if he chooses the coin, he will engage in some mer- 
cantile pursuit. 

If there are seven sons in a family, and no daughters, the 
seventh son is clearly intended to be a physician. The seventh 
son of a seventh son is a physician in spite of himself, endowed 
with healing powers which cannot be denied. Even if such a man 
does not study or practice medicine, he is very often called 
"Doc" or "Doctor" by common consent. However, small-time 
gamblers are often called "Doc" too, just as every backwoods 
auctioneer becomes a "Colonel." 

If there are ten sons in a family, and no daughters, the tenth 
son must be a preacher. "God meant it to be that-a-way," an 
old woman once told me. "He knows how many preachers we 
need in this world." She would not go so far as to say, however, 
that it is a mistake to call men who are not tenth sons into the 

Many hillfolk believe that a third son is more intelligent than 
his brothers and should therefore be encouraged to "git more 
book-1'arnin'." Others contend that, other things being equal, 
the fourth child has the brains of the whole family. It is often 
said too that a child who is small for his age is unusually bright, 
while a boy who is large for his age is generally slow or even 

One often hears that babies with long hair grow very slowly, 
since their strength all goes into the hair. Some hillfolk believe 
that an infant with very long hair, or any other characteristic 
which makes it appear older than its real age, will not live long. 
It is very unfortunate for a baby to see his reflection in a mir- 
ror; some say that this will cause the child to have bad luck 
all his life, others think that he will never live to reach maturity. 

A boy baby who bites his nails very young will not grow tall 


and is likely to be in poor health most of his life. It is a bad 
sign for a child to talk before he walks. Many old folks say 
that if a baby walks before he crawls, there is not much chance 
of his getting very far in life; some think that such a baby 
will become insane, or at least very eccentric, when he grows 
up. A small child who sticks his head into a gnat ball (a swarm 
of gnats or other small flying insects) will be unlucky and in 
poor health for seven years. 

It is good luck for a new baby to wear another baby's clothes ; 
but once worn, these must never be returned to the child for 
whom they were first intended. Never tickle a baby under the 
chin, as this may make him stammer. I have seen backwoods 
mothers give children water in a thimble ; this is believed to help 
in their teething and produce strong, pleasant voices in later 

Some old people say that if you take the first louse ever 
found on the baby's head and crack it on a bell, the child will be 
a good singer. Nancy Clemens, of Springfield, Missouri, tells 
me that she once knew a girl who talked a great deal ; the girl's 
parents said, half seriously, that it was because when she was 
a baby an old woman found a louse on her head and cracked it 
on a cowbell. 

A blister on a boy's tongue is a sure sign that he will be a 
liar when he grows up, but a blister on a girl's tongue has no 
such significance. Little girls are told that if they can touch 
their elbows with a blister on their tongues, they'll turn into 
boys. It is very bad luck for a little boy to eat birds' eggs ; some 
of the old-timers think that a boy who does so will never mature 
sexually or will be somehow abnormal in that regard. Small chil- 
dren of either sex are warned against sitting on rocks, or stone 
steps, since the old folks say it will make 'em hardhearted. A 
little boy who persists in wearing a string of beads always 
comes to a bad end and is very likely to be hanged. 

Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, tells me that the 
natural or accidental death of a child's pet kitten is a fine thing 


for the child, according to the old-timers in her neighborhood. 
But it is very bad luck for anybody to kill a child's cat inten- 

Never call a baby "angel," because babies called by that 
name do not live long. When an infant smiles in its sleep, it may 
mean that the child is talking to the angels, and this is a bad 

Ozark women have some peculiar notions about the proper 
feeding of nursing mothers. Some women eat great quantities 
of raw onions, while others drink sorghum-and-water by the 
gallon, to insure good rich milk for the baby. I know one woman 
who never touched tobacco ordinarily, but while she was nursing 
her babe she chewed snuff and "long green" incessantly ; she said 
that this was supposed to purify her milk. 

Many Ozark mothers can hardly be induced to wean their 
children. The doctors say that eight or nine months is long 
enough for a woman to nurse a child, but thousands of back- 
country mothers nurse their babes for eighteen months, or even 
longer. Dr. J. H. Young, Galena, Missouri, tells me that some 
of his patients don't wean their babes until they are two or even 
three years of age. I myself have seen children at least five years 
old run to the mother who was nursing a younger child and beg 
for "jest a taste, Maw!" The chief reason for all this, I take it, 
is the belief that a woman who is nursing a child can't become 
pregnant. I have heard a great many funny stories about this 
matter of backwoods reluctance to wean children. 

One of the more innocent of these tales refers to a sixteen- 
year-old boy who had never used tobacco. One day he suddenly 
asked his father for a chaw, and the man expressed some sur- 
prise. "Well," said the boy, "Maw's been eatin' onions again, 
an' I got to have somethin' to take the taste out o' my mouth !" 

Many backwoods women say that they are not afraid of any 
infectious disease so long as they are nursing babes. This ap- 
plies particularly to measles and scarlet fever; women with 
babes at their breasts walk fearlessly into houses where people 


are sick with these diseases, when they would hesitate to do so 
if their babes were weaned. Some even claim that a nursing 
mother is temporarily immune to venereal disease, but I do not 
know how widely this latter idea is accepted. 

When a mother is finally persuaded to wean her child, the 
general opinion is that it should be done in Aquarius, when the 
sign is in the legs. Others say that either the thighs or the knees 
are favorable places for the weaning sign. One woman told me 
that any sign below the heart will do, but that it is absolutely 
impossible to wean a child when the sign is above the heart, add- 
ing that she had seen it tried with most distressing results. May 
Stafford Hilburn says that "an Ozark mother weans her baby 
by the sign. If it should be in the head he will be stubborn and 
refuse food. If it is in the heart he will cry himself sick, and give 
her much worry. Neither will she disregard the sign if it is in 
the stomach, for then strange foods will upset his digestion. If 
she waits until the sign is 'going down' he sleeps like a log, and 
no bad effects are noticed." 5 

Even after the child is weaned, there are still some difficulties 
about feeding. I have seen a woman sitting at a table, with the 
whole family present, also several strangers who had been in- 
vited to dinner. Sitting there with the babe on her lap, she 
chewed up bits of meat and other food, removed it from her 
own mouth, and fed it to the child with a little wooden spoon. 
This performance may be good for the child, but it's pretty 
tough on the spectators. 

* Missouri Magazine (September, 1933), p. 20. 

10. Ghost Stories 

Nearly all of the old-time hillfolk are 
firm believers in ghosts and wandering 
spirits, although few adult males will 
admit this belief to outsiders nowadays. But in the childhood 
of men and women still living, the telling of ghost stories was 
much more common than it is today. The pioneers used to in- 
vite people to their cabins for the express purpose of swapping 
supernatural tales. It was a recognized form of social enter- 
tainment, especially favored by people who did not hold with 
dancing or card playing. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, thinks 
that the decay of ghost stories in the Ozarks is due to the fact 
that there are so few really lonesome places nowadays. In order 
to raise a good crop of ghosts, she says, we must have a lot of 
old mills and deserted houses and covered bridges and these 
romantic spots are not so common as they used to be. 

It seems to me that the Ozark ghost stories do not differ 
greatly from those that are told in other sections of the United 
States. An account of Ozark superstition, however, would be 
incomplete without any mention of these tales, so I record some 
of them here for what they may be worth. 

There are many humorous cracks about the hillman's be- 
lief in ghosts. One ancient wheeze refers to a superstitious fel- 
low who was afraid to walk past the graveyard at night. His 
friends tried to build up his morale, assuring him that ghosts 
have never been known to hurt anybody. "Maybe not," said 
the hillman, "but I just don't want *em a-follerin* me around!" 

Mr. Lewis Kelley, Cyclone, Missouri, told me a kind of comic 


ghost story he had heard near Cyclone in the eighties. It seems 
that old lady Jones and her two sons were stealing sheep from 
Jim Bray, a rich old man who had not walked for years be- 
cause of his rheumatism. The old woman would wait in the 
graveyard by the road, while her two boys went into a field and 
got one of Bray's sheep. She always examined the animal they 
carried out, and if it wasn't fat enough she'd make the boys 
turn it loose and go back after another. One dark night she sat 
in the graveyard and waited impatiently. The boys were a little 
slower than usual. Meanwhile Jim Bray was talking to his fam- 
ily, upbraiding them because they didn't catch the sheep thieves. 
"If I could walk," he cried, "I'd go over an' lay for 'em in the 
old graveyard, an' I'd stay thar till I did ketch 'em." Finally 
two of the Bray boys said "All right, Pappy, we'll jest pack 
you over thar," so they picked up the old man and carried him 
across the pasture. It was a very dark night, but they knew 
the path. When the two boys carried their father into the grave- 
yard, old Mis' Jones saw them dimly and thought that it was 
her boys returning with the sheep. " 'Bout time you-uns was 
a-comin'," she croaked hoarsely. "Is he fat?" and she pinched 
the old man's leg! With wild yells of terror the Bray boys 
dropped their Pappy and "tuck out" for home, but the old man 
was right at their heels when they reached the cabin. Mr. Bray 
never doubted that the Devil himself had been waiting for him 
in the graveyard. All the rest of his life he boasted that the Old 
Boy had riz up out of hell to cure his rheumatism, after the 
doctors had plumb give up the case. 

Another old tale of the same general type was about two men 
who heard that the Devil had been visiting a certain buryin' 
ground, so they went and hid behind a stone wall to see what 
they could see. This was just before dusk. Two little boys came 
along, with a sack of pawpaws they had gathered. They spread 
the pawpaws out on the ground, on the opposite side of the 
wall from where the two men were hiding, and began to divide 
them. "You take this one, I'll take that one ; you take this one, 


Fll take that one," one of the boys chanted, as he placed the 
pawpaws in two separate heaps. Finally the other boy said: 
"Well, that's all, except them two big ones over there. You take 
the dried-tip one, and I'll take the fat one." This described the 
two men pretty well, and they broke out of hiding and ran yell- 
ing for home. They thought that some Evil Spirits were divid- 
ing up the dead, and that they had been counted in with the 

One of my friends at Mena, Arkansas, told of a young man 
who was notoriously afraid of the supernatural, and some of 
his comrades planned to play a joke on him. They dressed in 
white garments and hid near an old graveyard. When the 
"skeery" fellow came along the road they sprang out with loud 
groans and shrieks. The young man was frightened almost to 
the point of madness. He gave one great leap and ran blindly 
until he was stopped by a wire fence. Screaming at the top of 
his voice he snatched out an old revolver and emptied it at his 
tormentors. Two of the masqueraders were hit, one of them be- 
ing quite seriously wounded. There has been no more "playin' 
ghost" in that neighborhood. 

A woman near Sparta, in Christian county, Missouri, tells 
a story she learned from her grandmother. A young man had 
been visiting his sweetheart, and as he rode away from her gate 
at midnight she called out "I'll be with you all the way home." 
Soon he noticed something white floating in the air behind him. 
He put spurs to his horse but the white thing stayed close. 
Just before he reached home the young man's hat blew off, and 
he did not stop to look for it. Next morning he told his mother 
that the girl was a witch, and that he would never go to see her 
again, or have anything to do with her. The girl had no idea 
what was wrong; she wrote several letters to the young man, 
but he did not answer them, and a few months later she married 
and moved to Oklahoma. Our young man never saw her again, 
but that fall he walked out in the woods one day and found 
the lost hat in a patch of brambles. A roll of cotton was attached 


to it. The girl and her mother had been carding cotton on the 
night of his last visit, and some of the stuff had caught under 
his snakeskin hatband. The long roll of cotton, streaming from 
the hat, was the "white thing" that had floated behind as he 
rode homeward. 

In Jackson county, Missouri, the old folks tell of two loafers 
who were employed to transport a corpse secretly from a vil- 
lage graveyard to a medical school in Kansas City. This was 
in the eighties, and they had the body wrapped in canvas and 
covered with straw in the back of a wagon. It was a dark, cold 
night, and the ground was covered with snow. They stopped for 
a toddy at a roadside tavern, and while they were inside a 
drunken country boy, knowing nothing of the corpse under the 
straw, crawled into the wagon box and went to sleep. When the 
grave robbers started on again they had a bottle of whiskey 
and became gradually more jovial. Finally, as they were taking 
a drink out of the bottle, one of them turned around and shouted 
to the corpse: "Git up, old stiff, and have a snifter!" This 
aroused the country boy, who sat up with a jerk. "Don't kcer 
if I do," he answered loudly. The boy was astounded when both 
men screamed wildly, leaped out of the wagon, and fled into the 
woods. "I could hear them fellers a-hollerin' for a long time," 
he said later on. "They kept a-gettin' fainter an' fainter, but 
they was still a-hollerin'," he added. 

Some of the tales that the hillfolk call ghost stories are not 
very startling, but simply accounts of sights or sounds com- 
monplace enough, except that the usual causes of these sensa- 
tions are apparently lacking. Some people named Criger, for 
example, drove up to a house near Rogersville, Missouri. This 
house had long been vacant, and the villagers said it was ha'nted. 
The Crigers stopped because they saw smoke coming out of the 
chimney. They entered the house and found it empty, every- 
thing covered with dust. They examined the chimney, and made 
certain that there had been no fire there for a long time. There 
were no birds' nests in the chimney, no chimney swallows to stir 


up dust. So the Crigers, unable to explain the smoke other- 
wise, reluctantly decided that perhaps the house was ha'nted. 

In many parts of the Ozark country one hears of a cabin 
which is haunted by a wood-chopping ghost. People who try 
to camp there are kept awake by somebody chopping wood all 
night. At intervals one can hear a grindstone being turned 
slowly to sharpen an ax, and even detect a change in the sound 
every few minutes, as if water were being poured on the stone. 
But there is no grindstone in the vicinity, and nobody has 
lived there for more than twenty years. 

An old lady in McDonald county, Missouri, told me that she 
once sat alone in her two-room cabin, with the door bolted and 
the windows fastened on the inside. Suddenly she heard the latch 
on the door move, and the sound of a heavy man walking across 
the floor. "I could hear one of his boots squeak at every step," 
she said, "and then I heard the dipper rattle in the water bucket, 
like somebody was a-gittin' a drink." The old woman jumped 
up and ran into the kitchen, but there was nobody there. The 
door was still bolted, and the windows were still fastened on the 

Tom Moore, of Ozark, Missouri, tells the story of a "Squire 
Reardon" who went out with some other lawyers to visit a farmer 
in Taney county, Missouri. This farmer claimed that he could 
hear his daughter singing out in the woods every afternoon, 
although the girl had been dead for several months. They heard 
"a woman's voice, gradually increasing in volume until some 
of the words were reasonably plain . . . as if it were traveling 
along the pathway . . . loud enough for the yodeling to be 
heard at the end of each verse." Two lawyers hurried toward 
the sound and watched the pathway along which the ghost was 
supposed to walk, but they could see nothing of the singer. 1 
The "Squire Reardon" of Moore's story was easily identified as 
Lou Beardon, a lawyer who lived in Branson, Missouri. I knew 
Beardon well and asked him about this ghost-story. Beardon 
i Mysterious Tales and Legends of the Ozarks, pp. 116-121. 


said that he did not believe in ghosts but admitted that he heard 
a strange sound in the woods that day, adding that Judge Moore 
and others professed to believe it was the voice of a girl who had 
died some time before. "We all heard something," said Beardon. 
"I never heard anything quite like it in the woods before, but I 
reckon it must have been some kind of a varmint, or maybe a 
bird. It sounded like a girl singing, but there wasn't no girl 
there. ... I don't know what it was," Beardon ended slowly. 

Mrs. Coral Almy Wilson, of Zinc, Arkansas, tells of a couple 
who tried to sleep all night in a haunted house. They barred 
the door with a hickory stick, thick as a man's arm. The ghost 
burst in the door at one blow, but there was nothing to be seen. 
A moment later they heard something like big marbles or bil- 
liard balls rolling over the floor. They got up and lit a candle 
but saw nothing out of the ordinary. The man barred the door 
again, and he and his wife were about to lie down again when 
the ghost resumed its labors. The door burst open for the sec- 
ond time, and as the man sprang to his feet the sound of the big 
marbles rolling was heard again. "Once is a God's plenty, and 
twice is too much," so the couple gave up the project and rushed 
out into the night. 

Miss Emma Galbraith, Springfield, Missouri, got this tale 
in 1934? from an aged Negro : A yellow woman was entertaining 
another man in the cabin, while her husband was away. She 
was parching corn at the fireplace. The husband came home un- 
expectedly, and she braced herself against the door, so as to 
give the man a chance to escape by a window in the rear. The 
enraged husband fired through the door, and the woman was 
instantly killed. Neighbors both white and black declared that 
they could smell corn parching whenever they passed the cabin 
in the evening, even after the place had been vacant and dilapi- 
dated for many years. 

Around Cape Girardeau, Missouri, they tell of a Yankee spy 
who was captured in the vicinity during the Civil War. Awaiting 
execution, he danced and sang and "carried on" so that many 


people were disgusted. They thought that a man about to die 
should not sing dirty songs or shout ribald jokes at everybody 
who came within sound of his voice. But the spy took nothing 
seriously, laughed at the good priest who visited him, and even 
made fun of his own relatives when they came to bid him good- 
bye. Finally he was hanged at the big gate of St. Francis Hos- 
pital and buried in Lorimer Cemetery. To mark his grave they 
put up a stick about three feet high and hung the dead man's 
army hat on top of the stick. When anybody approached the 
grave at dusk, the ragged old hat would wiggle and dance about, 
even when there was not a breath of wind stirring. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey once saw clearly a little cabin on a ridge 
in the old McCann game park, near her home at Mincy, Mis- 
souri. Never having noticed the building before, she got down 
the big field glasses and scrutinized it very carefully, remarking 
that there was smoke coming out of the chimney. But the next 
day the cabin was gone. And the neighbors told her that there 
had never been any cabin at that place, so far as any of them 
could remember. 

There are many ghost stories concerned with Breadtray 
Mountain, in Stone county, Missouri. Otto Ernest Rayburn 
repeats a number of these legends, which are largely concerned 
with buried treasure. "Breadtray Mountain has a legendary 
reputation seldom paralleled," says Rayburn. "It is a land- 
mark of strange incident, and hillfolks carefully avoid it." 2 
Many old-timers firmly believe that Spaniards, at some time or 
other, buried a great store of gold on Breadtray Mountain just 
before they were all killed by the Indians. This seems to be a 
variant of the well-known "Lost Louisiana" treasure story. 
Tom Moore says that people who visit Breadtray Mountain at 
night hear sobs and groans and smothered screams ; they be- 
lieve that these noises are made by the ghosts of Spanish sol- 
diers who were massacred by Indians. Judge Moore intimates 
that he has heard these sobs and groans himself, as he says that 
* Ozark Country, pp. 304-306. 


his tale "does not come from second-hand information, nor is 
it based upon hearsay." 8 Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey also refers to 
mysterious sounds heard by many hillfolk at night on Bread- 
tray Mountain. 4 

The following tale is told about one of my neighbors near 
Pineville, Missouri, and believed by practically everybody in the 
settlement. This woman was unkind to her stepchildren, and 
one day, as she sat alone in the cabin, a violent blow knocked 
her flat on the floor, while a loud voice cried out: "Be good to 
my children!" This story is confirmed by the woman herself, 
who certainly had some sort of a stroke or seizure at the time. 
Several of her neighbors swear that they visited her later in 
the day and saw the print of an invisible hand on her face sev- 
eral hours after the attack. 

Not far from my old home in McDonald county, Missouri, 
according to the old-timers, a man was captured years ago by 
a band of night riders, who hanged him with his own knitted 
"galluses" until these broke and then finished the hanging with 
a hickory withe. Some women living nearby buried the body, 
but it was dug up later by dogs. Not liking the spectacle of 
human remains being gnawed by dogs, the ladies gathered up 
the bones and dropped them into a big hollow tree. 'Serious- 
minded, sober men and women assure me that they have seen 
strange lights about this tree and heard groans, and something 
like old-fashioned gun caps exploding all about. 

Some fifty miles south of Springfield, Missouri, on the old 
Wire Road, the Oak Grove schoolhouse was supposed to be 
haunted by the ghost of a man hanged there by bushwhackers 
during the Civil War. Only a few years ago four men rode 
by the schoolhouse on the way home from a dance and saw a 
grinning, bald-headed fellow peering out through the window. 
Coming closer, they noticed that the stranger had no eyebrows 
or eyelashes. The hillmen addressed the man politely at first, 

Mysterious Tales and Legend* of the Ozarks, pp. 8-13. 
White River Leader, Branson, Missouri, Jan. 11, 1934. 


but he made no answer. Finally one of the boys drew his six- 
shooter and fired six shots which smashed the glass of the win- 
dow, but the stranger grinned on unmoved. Then two of the 
boys kicked in the door and searched the schoolhouse, but the 
room was empty. The two boys who remained outside, how- 
ever, could still see the stranger sitting just inside the broken 
windowpane. There are several versions of this tale. Judge Tom 
Moore, of Ozark, Missouri, who says he is not superstitious, 
writes the whole thing up in his book Mysterious Tales and 
Legends of the Ozarks. 6 

Mrs. Carrie George, of Toronto, Missouri, says that a cabin 
on Old Brushy creek, in the Glaize Park area overlooking the 
Lake of the Ozarks, was regarded as haunted for more than 
fifty years. The story is that the people who lived there had 
murdered a peddler for the sake of his pack and buried the 
body under the kitchen. The peddler's ghost returned almost 
every night and disturbed people so that the farm changed 
hands often. One owner tore down the shed kitchen and dug in 
the earth underneath, but did not find the peddler's bones. The 
ghost kept coming back as before and frightening people. For 
a long time the house stood empty and was still unoccupied the 
last I heard of the matter. 

There are many tales about ghosts who speak to people, 
telling them to dig at such-and-such a place to find a buried 
treasure. The ghost is usually that of some fellow who died 
without being able to tell anybody where his treasure was con- 
cealed, and who cannot rest quietly until someone gets the money 
and enjoys it. I met one man who had a persistent vision in 
which his grandfather, dead for many years, appeared and told 
him such a tale. After having this dream three nights a-runnin', 
he dug at the place indicated. He found no treasure but left the 
hole open, so the ghost could see that his instructions had been 
carried out. Apparently the grandfather's spirit was satisfied, 
since the man had no more of these disturbing dreams. 
5 Pages 14-22. 


People in Wayne county, Missouri, say that somewhere near 
Taskee an old man was murdered in a farmhouse, supposedly 
for his money. For many years after that the old man's ghost 
was seen there at intervals and nobody would live in the house. 
Finally a traveler who was not afraid of ghosts went to bed 
there, after building a rousing fire on the hearth. In the night 
he awoke to see the ghost of an old man sitting in front of the 
fireplace. "Follow me," said the ghost, "and I'll show you 
where the money is. I caint get no rest until somebody finds the 
stuff and spends it for something useful." They went outside, 
where the ghost pulled out some small stones at the base of the 
chimney. Reaching his hand into the hole, the traveler found 
quite a sum of money wrapped in an old newspaper. The ghost 
was never seen again. 

In Benton county, Arkansas, one hears of a family who have 
become accustomed to the presence of a ghost, named Sissy. 
Sissy was an old maid relative, who wore a peculiar slat bonnet 
and a sort of cape, easily recognized at a distance. Very often 
members of the family catch a glimpse of Sissy in the orchard, 
or near some of the outbuildings. She never comes into the house 
and never makes any noise or other disturbance. Sissy died about 
the time of the Spanish-American War and was still seen as late 
as 1940. The children are told never to laugh at her or to bother 
her in any way. It is said that strangers have come to the farm 
and seen Sissy, always at a little distance, without suspecting 
that she is not a living person. One member of the family even 
tried to photograph Sissy but never caught sight of her while 
he had the camera in his hands. 

I personally knew a young woman, a distant connection of 
my family, who died under most unhappy circumstances. On 
her deathbed she tried to tell her parents and her brothers some- 
thing they thought it was the identity of the man who had 
betrayed her. But she was unable to make herself understood. 
The whole neighborhood believes that this girl's spirit came 
back and haunted the house for many years. The family con- 


suited mediums and planchettes but could never get in touch 
with her, although the ghost could be heard walking about and 
opening drawers in an old bureau almost every night. 

In November, 1934, the Associated Press carried a long story 
about "The Ghost of Paris" a specter which has been seen at 
intervals in Paris, Missouri, for more than seventy years. The 
"Ghost of Paris" was a woman, tall, dressed in black, carrying 
some sort of wand or cane in her hand. She appeared every year 
about the middle of October and was seen now and then about 
the town until spring. The story identified this ghost as the 
jilted sweetheart of a Confederate soldier; on her deathbed she 
swore to haunt her faithless lover and the whole town forever. 
The "Ghost of Paris" was never known to injure anybody, but 
she frightened children into hysterics. Even grown men, in sev- 
eral cases, had been known to run down the middle of the street, 
yelling for help. It seems that the ghost has not been seen in 
Paris since 1934, and some people have suggested that the news- 
paper publicity somehow exorcised it. 

It was in 1932, I think, that an odd story went the rounds 
in Madison county, Missouri. A party of local people coming 
along Highway 61 noticed that a certain house had burned 
down. Nothing was left but the chimney, with the remains of a 
cookstove and two iron beds standing upright in the ashes. 
Several days later, having told their friends about the house 
being burned, they passed the same way again. They were 
astounded to see the house intact, and the people who lived 
nearby said that there had been no fire. Most persons regarded 
all this as a sign that the house would burn down in the near 
future, but it was still standing when I drove by the place in 

About three miles west of Reeds Spring, Missouri, is a little 
hog wallow. known as Dead Man's Pond, so called because two 
bank robbers were killed there not long after the Civil War. 
About 1886 Mr. Will Sharp, of Reeds Spring, found a skull and 
some other human bones in the mud. He picked them up and 


put them in an old hollow stump nearby. The neighborhood of 
Dead Man's Pond has long been supposed to be haunted, and 
many persons have reported strange doings in the vicinity. Will 
Sharp, who still lives near the place, refuses to admit that he 
ever saw a ghost there, but says that his brother, Palmer E. 
Sharp, had a peculiar experience. "Palmer had been to take 
his girl home," writes Will Sharp. "They had attended a party, 
riding a horse apiece, and he was leading her horse in the old- 
fashioned way. As he went back home alone it was a nice starry 
night. Just as he was passing the Pond, the horse he was leading 
slowed up and caused Palmer to look around. He said he would 
have sworn there was a man in the saddle of the horse he was lead- 
ing. The man just seemed to disappear right before his eyes, and 
Palmer always tried to beat the dark after that. Now, my 
brother was not afraid of ghosts, but what did he see?" Mrs. May 
Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, refers to the ghost 
stories about Dead Man's Pond and tells of one Willie Webber, 
who saw a woman in black "with a red apron, and her hands 
rolled in the apron" coming along a path near the pond. Sud- 
denly the woman's figure vanished, though it was "late evening" 
(which means late afternoon, before sundown) and Webber 
could see plainly for several hundred yards in all directions. 
There was no way that the figure could have disappeared so 
suddenly, but it did so disappear. Mrs. McCord lived not far 
from Dead Man's Pond as a child and often heard stories of its 
being haunted. She says that even now she would be afraid to 
go there alone, after nightfall. 

In several widely separated localities I have heard the story 
of a savage, ill-tempered woman who was always fighting with 
her husband. She died suddenly, and some people thought the 
man must have poisoned her, but the doctors found no evidence 
of poison. After her death, the widower continued to live in the 
old house. Neighbors heard noises, as if he was still fighting 
with his wife. Dishes breaking, shouts and curses, furniture be- 
ing thrown around, and so on. One neighbor rushed over there, 


and found the man sitting quietly in front of the fire. All the 
racket seemed to be in the lean-to kitchen. The neighbor could 
plainly hear the woman cursing ; he recognized her voice as well 
as certain unusual cuss words and obscene phrases to which 
she had been partial in life. "Don't get excited," said the 
widower quietly. "She ain't mad at nobody but me." 

There is an old story of two villagers who had to pass a 
buryin' ground on their way home from sparkin' some country 
girls. On several occasions they saw a gigantic white bird flop- 
ping about among the tombstones like a swan, or maybe a 
pelican, but much larger than either. Finally one of the boys 
decided that it was a ha'nt, and called out loudly : "In the name 
of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what's the matter with 
you?" The great bird croaked a reply: "I'm lost and tortured 
in hell ! I'm lost and tortured in hell !" Having said this, it flew 
away toward the south, and was not seen again. 

Otto Ernest Rayburn quotes an old-time hillman who re- 
marked : "If a white moth lingered about us, we thought it was 
the spirit of one of our deceased grandparents hovering over 
us." 6 I have mentioned this to many Ozarkers but have never 
found anybody who had heard of such a belief. The general 
feeling is that while demons or perhaps lost souls might assume 
the forms of birds or animals, the idea of one's grandparents 
turning into insects is an alien notion. "It must be that feller 
has got some Injun in him," one old man observed. "An Injun 
will believe any kind of foolishment," he added solemnly. 

A very common backwoods tale concerns a cabin where a 
peddler or a traveler is supposed to have been murdered many 
years ago. There was a big blood spot on the floor, and this be- 
came wet with fresh blood every year on February 2, the date 
of the peddler's death. A man sitting in this house on February 
2 would see weasels, skunks, minks, wolves, or even deer dash 
in at the open door, plunge into the big fireplace and vanish up 
the chimney. I have heard this story perhaps twenty-five times, 
Ozark Country, p. 157. 


in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, but I have never yet 
found anybody who could tell me just where the cabin was lo- 

There are many tales of great ghost dogs, and other mon- 
strous animals. One of my best friends told me seriously that as 
a little boy in McDonald county, Missouri, he once met a spotted 
hound that was bigger than a cow, and made tracks in the 
snow nearly two feet across. At the time he was astounded that 
a dog should attain such a size, but it never entered his head 
that there was anything supernatural about the animal. It 
was years later, when he came to realize that there were no such 
dogs anywhere in the world, he knew that he had seen a "booger 
dog." When I first heard this tale I suspected that the man had 
invented it for my especial benefit, but on checking with his 
relatives I learned that he had told the same story more than 
twenty years previously, and that it was known to everybody in 
the neighborhood. 

Around the town of Bunker, in Reynolds county, Missouri, 
they still tell of the ghost dog that Dr. J. Gordon encountered 
years ago. Crossing a little stream on horseback, near the Bay 
Cemetery about nine miles west of Bunker, late at night, he saw 
a figure like a dog, but very much larger. This thing apparently 
walked on the water without a sound or a ripple. Dr. Gordon 
saw it many times, once in bright moonlight. Sometimes it 
crossed ahead of him. Once it jumped on the horse behind the 
doctor. The animal plunged wildly, and the doctor fired his 
derringer into the ghost dog twice, but it was not dislodged. He 
struck at the beast with his fist, the gun still in his hand, but 
could feel nothing, and his arm slashed right through the figure 
as if there was nothing there. 

Some night hunters in Pemiscot county, Missouri, swore they 
saw an enormous black dog, fully eight feet long, without any 
head. They came close to the creature, and one man threw his 
ax at it, but the ax passed right through the body of the booger 
dog and stuck fast in a tree. The coon hounds which accompanied 


the men paid no attention but acted as if they didn't see the big 
varmint at all. One member of the party had been drinking, 
but the rest of the hunters were quite sober. And every one of 
them saw the headless ghost. The fact that the dogs paid no 
attention somehow reassured them, and they were not panic- 
stricken as might be expected. 

Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey tells how a fiddler named 
Jake Lakey was killed at a dance in Taney county, Missouri, 
about 1900. Her neighbor young Lewis Blair and another boy 
were sent on horseback to break the news to Jake's wife, who 
lived several miles away. Blair told Mrs. Mahnkey that a great 
black dog ran beside their horses all the way, and when one of 
the riders struck at the creature with a quirt, the quirt slashed 
right through it. And when they got to their destination, Mrs. 
Lakey said calmly: "You'ens have come to tell me that Jake is 
dead." 7 

A young man near Alma, Arkansas, was passing a deserted 
house one night, when he saw a strange woman in a long white 
robe standing at the gate. A little fuzzy white dog ran out in 
front of him, and it seemed to be barking, although he heard 
no sound. The boy threw a stone at the dog and was astounded 
to see the animal separate into two parts, let the stone pass 
through, and then go back together again. He talked the mat- 
ter over with his parents, and they agreed that it was evidently 
a warning of some impending evil, probably an early death. The 
young fellow lived for many years, however, and I believe he is 
still alive. But about a month after he saw the ghost dog, he 
had one of his eyes gouged out. 

Farmers near Braggadocio, Dunklin county, Missouri, tell 
of a headless dog supposed to live in a hollow elm tree just out- 
side the town. At night this phantom runs through the village 
streets. It behaves just like any other dog, but it is clearly head- 
less. Many people have seen it on moonlight nights, usually at 
a distance of about twenty yards. The town dogs always get 
v Ozark Life (June, 1930), p. 81. 


out of its way but do not seem panic-stricken or unduly alarmed. 

Tom Moore tells of an old woman who lived alone in a shanty 
near Galena, Missouri. Each evening passers-by heard her talk- 
ing animatedly, although they could see that she was alone. 
People who heard her talk said that she spoke as if to a man 
and often referred to a dog which accompanied the man, though 
neither man nor dog was visible. Finally the old woman became 
ill and was taken to the poorhouse where she died. After her 
death several residents of Galena saw a whiskered stranger with 
a big dog near the old woman's cabin. This man and dog were 
seen by different people on several occasions but disappeared 
suddenly at the edge of a cliff. Because of this unexplained dis- 
appearance, apparently, Judge Moore and others decided that 
the stranger and his dog were somehow supernatural. 8 

People near Pevely, in Jefferson county, Missouri, tell of a 
ghostly white fox which has been seen by many farmers, and 
even by motorists on Highway 61, as recently as 1932. Albino 
foxes are not unknown in the Ozarks, but there was something 
very special about this one. It was quite tame and had been fired 
on many times at close range, but without result. Foxhounds 
seemed aware of its existence, but they would not chase it. Sev- 
eral persons believe that it could transform itself into a skunk 
at will ; others say that they actually saw it turn into a short- 
haired black and white dog, with a stump tail. 

In southeast Missouri old soldiers claimed that during the 
War between the States some men used to see the specter of a 
monstrous black hog just before a battle. This was recognized 
as a sign that the man who saw the thing would be killed in 
action. He told his comrades, made arrangements for letters 
and keepsakes to be sent home, and so on. It is said that a man 
who saw the black boar never lived more than seven days. They 
tell of one trooper who saw the death sign just before a major 
engagement but came through the battle unhurt. He laughed at 
"superstition" and bragged about his escape, but was killed the 
Myfterioug Tales and Legend* of the Ozarkt, pp. 142-148. 


next evening by the accidental discharge of a comrade's re- 
volver. It was a Yankee pistol captured in the battle, one of 
the new double-action or self-cocking kind, with which the boys 
were not familiar. While the new owner was fiddling with the 
lock of the weapon, it was somehow discharged. The bullet 
smashed through the brain of the cavalryman who had seen the 
great black boar. 

In Stoddard county, Missouri, near Bloomfield, stood the 
ruin of an old house, so dilapidated that there was not much left 
save the big stone chimney. There was a neighborhood story that 
gold and silver were buried somewhere about the place. Peo- 
ple who tried to dig for the treasure were all driven away by 
pigs dozens of wild pigs which came squealing and dashing 
back and forth over the site of the old building. They were ghost 
pigs, not affected by stones or bullets. One man fired repeatedly 
with a shotgun at very close range, but the animals paid no at- 
tention. The general impression was that the phantom swine 
were somehow stationed there to drive off treasure hunters. 

A very similar story used to be told in the vicinity of Jane, 
Missouri, near the Missouri- Arkansas line. In this case the pigs 
were said to be guarding the place where a murdered woman 
was buried many years ago. The woman had some valuable 
jewelry concealed on her person, and it is said that her own 
half-wild pigs prevented the murderer from exhuming the body 
and getting the valuables which he overlooked at the time of the 
killing. This all happened long ago, of course; the pigs which 
guard the spot nowadays are not living animals, but ghost pigs. 

The children near Southwest City, Missouri, a few years ago, 
were afraid to go near an old slaughterhouse. The story is that 
the place was full of ghost cattle, some of them headless. A 
prominent citizen told me that he himself had seen the shadowy 
figures of "little bulls" with great spreading horns, often seven 
feet from tip to tip. He mentioned this as showing that the 
cattle ghosts somehow derived from pioneer days, as there have 
been no long-horned cattle in the Ozarks for many years. 


Much has been written about the "headless ghost of Nicker- 
son Ridge," but I have been unable to get much information 
beyond that published by my old friend Otto Ernest Rayburn, 
the author of Ozark Country. It appears that Tomp Turner, 
who lives near Kimberling Bridge on White River, in the south- 
ern part of Stone county, Missouri, is not a superstitious man. 
He did not believe the headless ghost story until about 1915, 
when he saw the thing himself. Highway 13 follows the old 
Wilderness Road, where the headless specter had been reported 
by the settlers in pioneer days. One night Tomp was riding 
south on the highway, when his horse suddenly became very 
nervous. He saw the figure of a headless man approaching slowly 
not walking, but gliding along as if on roller skates. When 
the thing came within thirty steps, Tomp's horse became un- 
manageable and bolted into the brush. Tomp finally forced it 
back into the road again, some fifty feet beyond, but the ghost 
was nowhere in sight. And, as Tomp himself remarked, he didn't 
go back to look for it. Several other people have caught glimpses 
of the thing in recent years. On wet nights it is said that the 
ghost keeps to the brush along the roadside, and groans and 
cries are heard from among the bushes. It seems that the head- 
less ghost is never seen or heard except on a particular stretch 
of road, not more than two or three hundred yards in length. 
I met Tomp Turner myself at his home in July, 1932, when Otto 
Ernest Rayburn and I went down White River. It was Rayburn 
who told me the story in the first place, and he has never been 
able to find any legend or history of a murder at this place 
which might explain the apparition. 

Another headless ghost has been seen in Morgan county, 
Missouri, since the Civil War. Some claim that it was on the 
job even before the War, as early as 1850. John A. Hannay, 
formerly of Versailles, Missouri, says that he saw this ghost sit- 
ting on top of a strawstack in the moonlight. It was plainly 
headless, but was called "Old Raw Head*' by the natives. When 
Mr, Hannay saw the thing it was about forty yards distant, but 


as he approached the ghost slid down the opposite side of the 
stack and was gone. Hannay's grandparents had seen the same 
specter many years before, according to the family tradition ; 
they were riding along a country road, and this headless thing 
ran right between their horses, frightening the lady almost into 
hysterics. Some people claim to have heard "Old Raw Head" 
scream and even pronounce words distinctly, but I have never 
been able to find out just what the headless specter said. Some 
people have thought that it must be the ghost of someone who 
was murdered in the vicinity. Mr. Hannay says that there 
were plenty of cold-blooded murders committed here in the years 
following the Civil War, and that he knows the names of many 
people involved in these killings ; however, he thinks that it is 
best not to mention these people now, because their relatives 
and descendants are still living in Morgan county. 

Some farmers tell of a headless ghost in St. Francois county, 
Missouri, at a house on Back Creek, near Highway 61 south of 
Farmington. This ghost appears at upstairs windows of the old 
house and rattles chains to frighten campers and tourists away. 
They say that a family named Griffin once lived there, and that 
the Griffins used to give semipublic dances in the building. One 
night there was a big fight, and a fiddler cut off Johnny Griffin's 
head with his bowie knife. Griffin was short of stature, while 
the ghost appears very tall even without his head. Nevertheless, 
many people believe that the headless specter is the ghost of 
Johnny Griffin, doomed to haunt forever the scene of his decapi- 

There are men and women still living who recall the excite- 
ment that swept the village of Fair Grove, Missouri, in 1895, 
when a picture of the Devil suddenly appeared upon the wall 
of the Methodist church. The following account is clipped from 
the Springfield (Missouri) Republican, dated Jan. 5, 1896. 

If anyone should entertain the idea that superstition is forever ban- 
ished from the minds of the American people, he should visit just now 
the little town of Fair Grove in Greene county. The appearance of 


a face upon the Methodist church wall has aroused the whole com- 
munity and many are speculating upon its origin. During the prayer 
meeting on the night of December 19th someone made a discovery. 
On the north side of the cupola, in the church room facing the pulpit, 
appears a curious looking picture. How, when, or from what source 
it came is a mystery and will perhaps never be solved. The picture is 
about life size and the most hideous looking thing that can be imag- 
ined. The face has the appearance of Satan with fearful eyes, wide 
open mouth and a terrifying look. The next morning after the dis- 
covery people all around town began flocking to the church to see 
the strange picture. Some were quite sure it was the work of the devil ; 
others believed it the work of God. Some thought it the work of 
human hands, and some thought it had been caused by a leak in the 
roof. It was plain to see that the likeness had not been placed there 
by a human hand, as there was no paint used, and it was perfectly 
dry when found, and could not be erased. The theory that it had been 
caused by the rain appeared to be contradicted by the fact that the 
top of the picture was three feet from the ceiling, and all above it 
was perfectly dry. The rain could not have come through the building 
wall as that wall was on the inside and some eight feet from the out- 
side of the church. Many people in and around Fair Grove are much 
wrought up over the matter. Like the handwriting on the wall at the 
feast of Belshazzar it stands. It is said that a few days prior to this 
strange appearance, Rev. John Morgan and Rev. E. Plummer were 
conducting a revival and little interest was manifest. After preaching 
an eloquent sermon on the righteous life, the minister requested those 
who wanted to live this life, and go to heaven, to stand up. Finding 
no one who responded, the minister then asked if there was anyone 
who deliberately chose to go to hell, and if so to stand up. One young 
man promptly arose to his feet, much to the surprise of all present. 
It is claimed by some that the young man did not understand the 
minister's proposition, and stood up by mistake. At any rate he is of 
good family and stands well in that community. Those who are super- 
stitious about the strange picture which has appeared on the wall 
of the church, think it was sent there as a rebuke to the young man 
who arose to his feet on that occasion. 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, tells of several local 
people who thought they heard a baby crying in a certain 
deserted log house. But there was no baby there. After some 
puzzled talk about this, it was remembered that "a family had 


formerly lived there who had a feeble-minded girl. This girl was 
known to be an expectant mother, but no one ever saw the infant 
and after a time the family left the country." Mrs. Mahnkey 
was content to leave it at that, but local opinion is that the 
baby was born and was killed by one of the girl's brothers, who 
probably buried the little body somewhere about the cabin. 

Another of Mrs. Mahnkey's stories of the supernatural con- 
cerns the death of a certain "old man Cook," head of one of 
the great clans of the Swan Creek neighborhood, in Taney 
county, Missouri. "One of the women told me a curious tale of 
the night Gran'pap died," writes Mrs. Mahnkey. "Some of the 
watchers were out in the yard. They knew that the end was very 
near. Suddenly they were startled to see a solitary horseman 
ride up to the front gate, a military figure on a great white 
horse. Phantom-like and eerie, as there was not a sound. And 
just then someone came out from the house, and said the old 
man had died, and the silent rider and the big white horse dis- 

Tom Moore tells of an old building at Sand Springs, on the 
road between Holla and Springfield, Missouri, where during the 
Civil War a preacher used to hold forth against the Southern 
cause. One Sunday night a Confederate officer threatened the 
preacher, then rode his horse right into the meetinghouse, and 
had almost reached the pulpit when he was shot dead. The 
officer's body fell to the floor near the pulpit, and his horse 
turned and walked slowly out of the building. In recent years, 
according to Judge Moore's version of the tale, people who 
visit the place at night have heard the horse walk into the build- 
ing. A moment later they hear the thump of a falling body on 
the dirt floor, then the sound of the horse walking slowly out 
of the place. Several persons have followed the sound of the 
horse's hooves with flashlights but have seen nothing. 9 

Miss Mae Trailer, schoolteacher at Everton, Missouri, re- 
ports her investigation of a ghost which frightened the country 
Mysterious Tales and Legends of the Ozarks, pp. 35-51. 


folk near the town. Many persons in the neighborhood had seen 
this ha'nt near the old Payne orchard. Usually a vague, gaseous 
shape would rise in front of some startled pedestrian, float along 
ahead of him for a bit, and then sail slowly away into the tree- 
tops. Miss Trailer and another teacher drove out to the haunted 
orchard at twilight and loitered about waiting for the ghost to 
appear. Suddenly they both saw it "a strange luminous ob- 
ject, something like a fog, but I shall always declare it had a 
human shape," writes Miss Trailer. "The thing wavered and 
started toward us, then with a faint breathlike sigh it drifted 
off above the orchard and away." Oddly enough, this seems to 
have been the ghost's final appearance Miss Trailer never 
heard of its being seen again. 

People around Nixa, Missouri, still talk about the mysterious 
motor car that forced Sheriff Frank Jones off the road and 
caused his death in the spring of 1932. Several prominent citi- 
zens have seen this phantom car on the highway between Nixa 
and Ozark, and Fred McCoy, manager of the local telephone 
system, narrowly escaped being wrecked at the exact spot where 
Sheriff Jones was killed. 

A spectral horseman has been reported occasionally for 
many years at a certain point on what is now Highway 13, in 
Polk county, Missouri, not far from Bolivar. A little knoll 
about a hundred yards east of the highway is called Dead Man's 
Hill, and there is an old story about a horse thief who was shot 
to death here and buried on top of the knoll. A rude headstone 
may still be seen, but there is no inscription, since the man was 
a stranger. Flowers were found on this grave at intervals for 
many years, so it was believed that the thief's identity was 
known to somebody who lived nearby, but who did not reveal 
the secret. Men who have seen the ghostly rider have remarked 
particularly his neat homespun garments, dyed brown with 
butternut juice, his cowhide boots, and the two big Colt re- 
volvers swinging at his side. There is nothing in this to identify 


the ghost, however, since many figures similarly attired rode 
the Missouri trails in the early days. 

Members of the McDowell family, pioneers in Stone county, 
Missouri, tell of a ha'nt that used to live in a big black-oak 
tree, just across the James River from Galena, near the Fred 
McCord farm. The McDowell children would slip down the road 
sometimes just at dusk and stand well back from the haunted 
tree, keeping an eye out for the ghost to appear. Soon or late 
one of them would see "something white a-risin* " in the under- 
brush, upon which they all screamed and lit out for home at top 
speed. Nobody ever stopped for a second look, and therefore no 
detailed description of the "black-oak ghost" is available, but 
at least two generations of the McDowell clan were firm be- 
lievers in it. 

In the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, some fourteen miles 
from Joplin, Missouri, is a lonesome stretch of country road 
called the "Devil's Promenade." Some mighty strange people 
have lived along this road, and some very strange things have 
happened there. The best of the "ha'nted road" stories cannot 
be told at this time, but there is no longer any secret about the 
phenomena of the "Indian lights," which have been seen by thou- 
sands of tourists and discussed in newspapers as far off as St. 
Louis and Kansas City. One has only to drive slowly along 
the road any night after dark to see the "jack-o'-lantern" come 
bobbing along, always traveling in an easterly direction. Some- 
times it swings from one side of the road to another, sometimes 
it seems to roll on the ground, sometimes it rises to the tops of 
the scrubby oak trees at the roadside, but it never gets more 
than a few feet from the road on either side. I have seen this 
light myself, on three occasions. It first appeared about the size 
of an egg but varied until sometimes it looked as big as a wash- 
tub. It is hard to judge the distance, but the light seemed about 
a quarter of a mile off when I first saw it and disappeared when 
it approached to a distance of perhaps seventy-five yards. I saw 


only a single glow, but other witnesses have seen it split into 
two, three, or four smaller lights. The thing looked yellowish 
to me, but some observers describe it as red, green, blue, or even 
purple in color. One man swore that it passed so close to him 
that he could "plainly feel the heat," and a woman saw it "burst 
like a bubble, scattering sparks in all directions." A fellow who 
drove his car straight at the dancing phantom lost sight of it, 
but others standing a little way off said that they saw the light 
hovering impishly above the pursuer's car, out of his sight but 
plainly visible to everybody else in the neighborhood. 

Some people think that the light at the "Devil's Promenade" 
is the ghost of an Osage chief who was murdered near this spot ; 
others say it is the spirit of a Quapaw maiden who drowned her- 
self in the river when her warrior was killed in battle. Others 
have suggested that the effect is produced somehow by electrical 
action of the mineral deposits in the ground, or by marsh gas. 
Mr. Logan Smith, of Neosho, Missouri, always contended that 
the mysterious lights are those of automobiles driving east 
on Highway 66, some five miles away. F. H. Darnell of Neosho, 
and a group of surveyors from Joplin, also incline to the view 
that cars on the distant highway are responsible for the mys- 
terious lights. A. B. MacDonald, of the Kansas City Star, who 
came down to investigate the matter in January, 1936, is an- 
other convert to the Logan Smith theory. William Shears, who 
lives near the Promenade and has studied the phenomena, thinks 
that the lights may derive from the beacons at the Quapaw air- 
port some six miles away. But the old-timers laugh at all such 
explanations, claiming that the Indian lights were seen at the 
same spot in the deep woods, fifty years before the "Devil's 
Promenade" road was built. Fred C. Reynolds of Kansas City 
says that his grandfather, a pioneer doctor at Baxter, Kansas, 
observed these lights "long before there was any such thing as 
a motor car," adding that he himself saw the "jack-o'-lantern" 
as a boy. Bob Hill of Joplin, Missouri, observes that the phan- 
tom was seen by many persons in this vicinity before there was 


a Highway 66, and certainly long before the airport was estab- 
lished at Quapaw, Oklahoma. 

In many parts of the Ozark country one hears tales of mov- 
ing lights, which usually appear in cemeteries. These "grave- 
yard lights" are seldom seen at regular intervals or by large 
numbers of witnesses, but reports of them are fairly common 
nevertheless. People who live near a little buryin' ground on 
Highway 123, between Spokane and Walnut Shade, in Taney 
county, Missouri, have talked about such "fox-fire lights" for 
many years. A bluish light, they say, apparently about as high 
as a man's head, first appears among the gravestones and then 
slowly crosses the road. It moves about as fast as a man walk- 
ing, I was told. After listening to these tales I went to this 
graveyard myself and waited in the dark for hours on three 
consecutive nights but saw nothing out of the ordinary. 

May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, printed sev- 
eral tales of local ghosts and spirits in the Springfield News $ 
Leader (Feb. 2, 1936). Here is a letter which she received a 
few days later, from a minister of the gospel : 

Dear Madam I read your ghost stories with interest, and I will add 
a modern daylight story. Two days before Christmas 1925, four of 
us were sitting in plain view of Little Creek cemetery, and there ap- 
peared a pillar of fire, about ten feet high with a flaming star at the 
top of it. It occurred at 4:15 P.M., and was there at the same time 
three days later. It appeared four times. I have lived here fourteen 
years and have lived in sight of other cemeteries, but that is the first 
ghost I ever saw and I am 75 years old. I have been a preacher 55 
years. A man went to the cemetery to watch for it and be there when 
it came ; said he would throw his coat over it. Well, it came, but he 
run like a turkey. Yours in Jesus' name, A. J. Graves, Hartville, Mo. 

There is an old tale often told to children about a family 
that had just finished butchering hogs. That night, after they 
had all gone to bed, they heard a voice cry out: "Where's my 
hog's feet at?" The old man got out of bed but saw nothing. 
Pretty soon the voice was heard again : "I want my hog's feet !" 
The man jumped up again, and the old woman told him to keep 


a-lookin* till he found the intruder. Finally he peered up the 
chimney and sprang back as though amazed. "God-a-mighty I" 
he cried. "What's them big eyes for?" A long pause, and then 
came the deep-voiced answer : "To see you with." The old man 
turned away from the fireplace, but came back in a moment 
to ask: "What's them big claws for?" There was a hollow groan 
from the chimney, then the strange voice boomed : "To dig your 
grave with !" This quieted the old fellow for awhile, but a few 
minutes later he quavered: "What's that big bushy tail for?" 
A long silence, then the reply : "To sweep off your grave with." 
No more questions were put for some time, but finally the old 
gentleman couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "What's 
them big teeth for ?" he cried. "TO EAT YOU UP WITH !" At this 
point the story-teller's voice rises to a scream, and he jumps 
at the listening child with a great show of teeth. This story is 
sometimes called "Raw Head and Bloody Bones" or "Raw 
Bones and Bloody Meat." 

Another backwoods bedtime story, told to children around 
the fire at night, relates the troubles of a woman who killed her 
baby and cooked it and served it to her husband. Not knowing 
what sort of meat it was, the man ate the stuff without comment. 
Later in the night came the little ghost crying :, "Pennywinkle ! 
Pennywinkle ! My maw kilt me, my paw et me, my sister buried 
my bones under a marble stone. I want my liver an' lights an' 
wi-i-i-ney pipes ! Pennywinkle ! Pennywinkle !" 

Here's a fragment of another juvenile tale, salvaged in Chris- 
tian county, Missouri, some years ago : A traveler was a-ridin' 
along and he come to a ha'nted house. It was plumb full of cats. 
There was cats runnin' all over the place, and even up on the 
roof. A great big cat come up to the traveler and says : "When 
you git to the next house, you stop and tell 'em that old Kitty 
Rollins is dead." So the next house he come to, the traveler got 
down and went in. The house was empty except for an old 
bedraggled-lookin' cat settin' in the corner by the fireplace. 
"Well," says the traveler, "I come to tell you that old Kitty 


Rollins is dead." The old cat jumped up and says "By God, I'll 
be king yet !" and out of the door he run. 

A man once interrupted my lecture on Ozark folklore to 
ask how many people in the Ozark country really believe in 
ghosts and witches. I am unable to answer such a question, of 
course. Mr. H. L. Mencken, who lives in Baltimore, once an- 
nounced his conviction that 92 percent of the people in Mary- 
land believe in ghosts, and that 74 percent also believe in witch- 
craft. I have no idea how Mencken arrived at these figures, and 
I do not claim to know whether or not they are correct. I have 
some acquaintance with Maryland, however, both the cities and 
the rural districts, and I do not for a moment believe that people 
in Maryland are more superstitious than those who live in the 
backwoods sections of Missouri and Arkansas. 

Sometimes one encounters an outspoken skeptic, even in the 
Ozarks. An old man in Morgan county, Missouri, said: "I have 
heard talk about a ghost around here for fifty years, but I never 
seen it. I would walk ten miles to see a ghost any time. But I 
don't believe there is no such thing. The people here aint got 
much sense. One of my neighbors thinks a man who has been dead 
four years comes and steals cream out of his springhouse every 
night !" 

There is a rather general idea that departed spirits, when 
they return to earth, prefer to appear in the dark of the moon. 
It is also believed that the dead, if they can't rest in their graves, 
are somehow inclined to loiter about redbuds, pawpaw trees, 
and haw bushes though why they should be attracted to these 
particular plants nobody seems to know. Another common no- 
tion is that persons born on Hallowe'en are more likely to see 
ghosts and talk with them than are persons whose birthdays fall 
on other dates. 

Some people say that a rider can often see a ghost, ordinarily 
invisible, by looking at it from between his horse's ears. "You 
just sight down the horse's nose like it was a rifle bar'l," a farmer 
told me. It is widely believed that dogs and horses see all the 


ghosts that men do, and many more which are invisible to the 
human eye. So one may be sure that if there is a ghost any- 
where about, the horse's head will be pointed at it. I used to try 
this trick, whenever my horse showed alarm without any ap- 
parent cause, but I was never able to see anything supernatural. 

Several old-timers have told me that if one addresses a ghost 
with the words "in the name of God," the apparition will be 
powerless to do any harm. Other people think it's safer to cry 
out "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what do 
you want?" If the thing is a witch or a demon it will vanish 
when the sacred names are pronounced ; if it is simply a restless 
unhappy spirit it will return a civil answer in plain English 
and depart. 

I have heard many stories of backwoods preachers who claim 
the power to quiet wandering spirits and drive ghosts or demons 
out of haunted houses, but I have never been able to trace one 
of these tales to its source. I know several Holy Roller preachers 
who say they are willing to attempt the exorcising of a specter, 
but I have never found one who would affirm that he had actually 
done so. 

Some old folk pretend to lay a ghost by putting a stone on 
the dead person's grave. A very small pebble, qr a handful of 
gravel, will do as well as a large stone. I have myself seen graves 
which were conspicuous because of the large number of pebbles 
which had been placed on them. And I have seen apparently in- 
telligent adults always half -jokingly, or with some humorous 
apology toss little pebbles on such graves. 

The Ozark hillman frequently entertains a wry humor in 
connection with his folk beliefs humor of a sort not often en- 
countered elsewhere. An old gentleman in Eureka Springs, 
Arkansas, talked freely about pioneer customs, folksongs, play 
parties, and even feuds, but when asked for local ghost stories 
he had nothing to contribute. "There's ghosts in Texas," he 
said soberly, "and maybe in Oklahoma, but not here." I waited 



for a long moment, without any comment. "This country is just 
naturally too rough for ghosts," he said finally. And anybody 
who has visited Eureka Springs will understand exactly what 
the old gentleman meant. 

11. Animals and Plants 

There are numerous miscellaneous 
superstitions regarding animals and 
plants, which do not fall conveniently 
into any of the classes hitherto discussed. For example, there is 
the notion that roosters always crow at midnight, and again 
about 5 A.M., but that on Christmas morning they all sound off 
exactly at three o'clock. In some sections, farmers insist that 
snake doctors (Odonata) are never seen over the fields before 
10 A.M. or after 4 P.M. The harvest fly or summer locust, a big 
yellow cicada, is supposed to begin its song precisely at high 
noon ; I have seen a farmer stop work in the field and set his watch 
by the harvest fly's note. 

Many backwoods folk are convinced that there is a mutual 
understanding between squirrels and mosquitoes, so that the 
latter protect the former from hunters. In early June, when 
the squirrels are feeding on mulberries, mosquitoes sometimes 
appear in such numbers that a hunter cannot remain quiet long 
enough to stalk a squirrel. 

My ridge-runner friends nearly all insist that the big Ozark 
fox squirrels castrate the smaller gray squirrels ; the male fox 
squirrels and the male gray squirrels do fight savagely some- 
times, and it is true that many male grays in this region are 
without visible testes. 

A great many hillmen believe that the male opossum ejects 
his sperm into the nose of the female, which then blows the 
spermatic fluid into the vagina a belief wholly without founda- 
tion, which doubtless had its origin in the peculiar bifurcate 
form of the opossum's penis, and to the female's habit of nosing 
the vulva. 


Very few Ozark hunters accept the ordinary opinion that deer 
shed their horns annually. Each year, the hillfolk say, the horns 
soften and velvet shows on them ; evidently they itch, too, as 
the animals are often seen rubbing them against bushes. This 
rubbing causes the soft ends of the horn to split open, and some- 
times to bleed. Then the horns grow a bit, and turn hard again ; 
as the ends are split, there are two points where one grew be- 
fore. Sometimes one tip splits into three parts instead of two, 
so that the right and left antlers differ in the number of points. 
If deer really shed their horns every year, as the government 
game wardens say, how is it that we don't find them lying about 
on the ground? 

It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino 
deer is a bad sign ; some hillfolk think it has something to do 
with witches' work, others that it is an indication of disease 
among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven 
years. In 1939 a white deer was seen in Taney county, Mis- 
souri, and many natives were pretty much upset about it. Mrs. 
C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, wrote to a local newspa- 
per: "I cannot overcome a subtle uneasy feeling that this may 
be a token. In other words an omen, or warning, but old-timers 
use the old words." 

The old folks at Thomasville, in Oregon county, Missouri, 
say that the early settlers often saw a white buck in the woods, 
but nobody would shoot it for fear of some bad luck. It was 
seen at intervals for about fifteen years, and when it finally 
disappeared people said that it must have died of old age. 

Many old-time hunters believe it is a mistake to kill deer on 
Sunday. Not only sinful, but also unlucky ; some say a man who 
bags a deer on the Sabbath will not get another for seven weeks, 
even if he goes hunting every day. A well-known hunter in Mis- 
souri saw a small doe almost in his front yard one Sunday and 
refrained from shooting it, although he was badly in need of 
meat. Early next morning he looked out to see two fine bucks 
in the same place and killed them both. This man was firmly 


convinced that the two big deer were somehow sent to him on 
Monday, because he had resisted the temptation to shoot the 
little deer on Sunday. 

Woodsmen say that the fox sometimes "charms" squirrels 
out of the trees, simply by rolling about on the ground until 
the squirrel becomes "dizzy like" and gradually descends to 
see what is going on. Finally, when the distance is short enough, 
the fox suddenly recovers, makes a great spring and catches its 
prey. Three old hunters, sober and ordinarily trustworthy men, 
assure me that they have witnessed this performance. A great 
many others have heard of it, and seem to believe that foxes 
really do charm squirrels and even wild turkeys in this manner. 
Dr. J. H. Young, of Galena, Missouri, told me that he once saw 
a red fox rolling wildly about beneath a tree in which two squir- 
rels sat watching the fox's antics. Dr. Young waited a long 
time, but the squirrels did not come down. 

When a female fox is pregnant, or is nursing her young, 
many hillmen believe that something changes about the odor 
of her body, so that even the best hounds can't follow her trail. 
Frank Payne, of Stone county, Missouri, in the midst of an 
argument about religion, once mentioned this as evidence that 
there is a God who takes care .of foxes at such times, in order 
that they shall not be exterminated. 

In many parts of the Ozark country one hears of enormous 
wildcats ; there are men who swear they have killed cats four 
feet high, weighing 150 pounds ! A bobcat shot by Del Taylor, 
near Galena, Missouri, in January, 1945, was the biggest I 
ever saw in the Ozarks. But it was very thin and probably 
weighed less than forty pounds. 

Marvel Cave, near Notch, Missouri, was regarded with super- 
stitious awe by many of the old-timers, who used to warn tour- 
ists away from the place. A schoolteacher in Walnut Grove, 
Missouri, declared that one subterranean room was literally 
full of the bones of panthers and bobcats. All of these animals 
for miles around, according to the old story, made their way 


into the cavern before they died, to leave their bodies with those 
of their ancestors in the "cat room." It is true that the bones of 
panthers and wildcats, along with those of deer, elk, bears, and 
other animals, have been found in Marvel Cave. But the "cat 
room" story is obviously a myth. 

Many of the old settlers believe that panthers or "painters" 
have a great appetite for human infants and will go to almost 
any length to obtain one. It is said that they locate babies by 
smelling the mother's milk as the babe is fed. Wayman Hogue 
tells several stories of panthers devouring babies. At Hogue's 
own home, in Van Buren county, Arkansas, a painter fought 
their dog to a standstill and came down the chimney after a 
five-day-old infant. The beast was driven off by Hogue's mother, 
who tore open a straw mattress and threw the straw on the 
fire, producing a great blaze through which the painter could 
not descend. 1 

Farm boys always tell the city feller that a skunk cannot 
discharge his stinking liquid without raising his tail, and that 
one has only to hold the tail down to render a polecat harm- 
less. They say also that if a skunk or civet is suspended by the 
tail, so that its feet do not touch any solid object, the animal 
is unable to throw a single drop of perfume. 

Groundhogs are hunted by boys with dogs, and young ground- 
hogs are very good eating. But some of the old-timers frown on 
the modern practice of shooting groundhogs. They don't mind 
if city sportsmen do it but often forbid their own children to 
shoot groundhogs, because it is supposed to bring bad luck. 

There are persistent tales of a fine-haired, golden-yellow, 
red-eyed groundhog, much larger than the ordinary kind. Har- 
old Wales refers to this as the "yellow-bellied marmot." 2 I have 
met old hunters in Arkansas who claim to have shot these "big 
goldy groundhogs" but have never seen such an animal myself. 

The old folks are all agreed that it is bad luck for a hunter 

i Back Yonder, 1982, pp. 170-181. 
* Arkansas Gazette, July 3, 1938. 


to return home with an empty gun this entirely apart from 
the immediate advantages of personal protection and the like. 
I have been told of cases in which whole families have gone 
supperless because of a hillman's reluctance to use his last 

There is a very general notion in southwest Missouri that 
there were no rats in the Ozarks in the early days, until they 
were brought in by settlers from the east. One John Cooper, 
who lived in Springfield, Missouri, in the early 1900's, always 
contended that there were no rats until the Frisco railroad 
came in. The rats arrived in boxcars, he said, and later took to 
the woods and became common everywhere as they are today. 

It is bad luck for a rabbit to cross your path from left to 
right; you can take the curse off, however, by tearing some 
article of clothing just a little. If the same rabbit crosses your 
path twice, it means that you are needed at home immediately. 
One often hears that it is a bad sign for a flying squirrel to 
get into an automobile, and people who have closed cars are 
careful to run up the glass at night. There is a good practical 
reason for this, however, since flying squirrels have been known 
to gnaw big holes in the upholstery. 

Some hillmen claim they can prevent wolves from howling, 
or hounds from baying, simply by muttering some gibberish. I 
have seen this tried, but with no great success. Some men can 
make an owl cease hooting, it is said, merely by pulling their 
trousers pockets inside out, and others pretend to stop the 
noises of crickets, katydids, tree toads and even bullfrogs by 
the same procedure. 

I was once tramping through the woods at dusk, hunting the 
cows with a farm boy. We stopped at intervals and strained 
our ears for the distant bells but could hear nothing save the 
clamor of tree frogs and katydids. Finally we rested under a 
big tree which seemed to be full of these noisy creatures. "Watch 
me make 'em shut up," said the boy, and slapped the trunk 
lightly with his hand. Instantly all was silence. I have since tried 


this trick myself, and it seems to work under certain conditions. 
But I don't think there's any magic about it. 

The Ozarker does not like to hear a screech owl near his cabin, 
since it is always an unfavorable sign and may indicate sick- 
ness or approaching death. But above all he cautions his chil- 
dren never to imitate the call of such a bird under these condi- 
tions. If an owl hears its cry answered from within the cabin, it 
will return again and again and sooner or later descend the 
chimney and scatter the fire out on the floor, so as to burn the 
whole place down. 

One often hears children say that whoever hears the first 
dove coo in the spring will soon take a trip in the direction from 
which the sound came. Some older hillfolk really seem to be- 
lieve that whatever a man is doing when he hears the first dove 
of the season, that's what he'll have to do all summer. In Taney 
county, Missouri, they tell me that the ruling bird is the whip- 
poorwill rather than the turtle dove, but the idea is the same. 

Various sorts of birds are believed to carry warnings. A 
woman in my neighborhood whipped her grown daughters un- 
mercifully, until one day "the redbirds come an' ha'nted her" 
by tapping on the windowpane, which gave the woman a terrible 
fright and caused her to mend her ways. Another of my moun- 
taineer friends was greatly disturbed when a "rooster redbird" 
hovered about his door ; he said that it was a warning of death, 
and sure enough, one of his daughters died within a few weeks. 

If a bird defecates on a girl's hat or bonnet, it is regarded 
as positive evidence that her parents are stingy ; some say it's 
a sign that the parents do not approve of the girl's suitor. 

Buzzards are supposed to seek out and vomit upon persons 
guilty of incest. It is said that a certain man near Siloam 
Springs, Arkansas, never ventures out into the open if a buz- 
zard is anywhere in sight. There are persons who have a patho- 
logical horror of buzzards, just as some otherwise normal in- 
dividuals hate and fear cats. 

I have met men who contend that when the buzzards dis- 


appear in the fall they do not fly south but hibernate in caves 
like bears, bats, and groundhogs. Lennis L. Broadfoot quotes 
Ed Lehman, Carter county, Missouri, as follows: "I go in 
some caves where there's great flocks of buzzards. There's lots 
of people that don't know where the buzzard goes for the winter, 
but they live in the caves here in the Ozarks all winter long." 8 
There is an old story that when a crow fails in his duty as 
a sentry I believe it is true that some crows watch while 
others feed all the crows in the neighborhood meet to "try" 
the offender. If the culprit is found guilty the rest attack him 
and kill him at once. An old man in Southwest City, Missouri, 
told me that he had twice "heard the crows a-caucassin' " in 
the tall trees near his home and had on both occasions seen 
the guilty bird pecked to death by his fellows. The noise made 
by crows at a trial, he said in all seriousness, is very different 
from that which they make when they are tormenting a hawk 
or an owl. 

It is said to be very bad luck to count the birds in a flock. 
Nevertheless, Ozark children have a little jingle to sing when 
they see crows flying: 

One's unlucky, 

Two's lucky, 

Three's health, 

Four's wealth, 

Five's sickness, 

Six is death. 

I have heard this used in Newton county, Arkansas, as a 
counting-out rhyme, in connection with some childish game. 

To find a dead crow in the road is always lucky, but a dead 
"carr'n crow" is a sign of superlative good fortune. Just what 
"carrion crow" means in the Ozarks is not clear to me, as I 
have never examined one of these birds. Some old hunters say 
that the carrion crow is just a little larger than an ordinary 
crow, dead black rather than glossy, and that it croaks or 
a Pioneers of the Ozarks, p. 146. 


squalls rather than caws. But other Ozark woodsmen tell me 
that the real carrion crow is as big as a buzzard, but a bit 
darker in color, and its head is feathered while the buzzard's 
head is bare. It is said also that the tips of the carrion crow's 
wings are whitish and much more rounded than the buzzard's 
wing tips. These birds are said to fly with buzzards, and nearly 
all of the old folks believe that they mate with buzzards. Several 
river guides have pointed out flocks containing both buzzards 
and carrion crows on the shores of Lake Taneycomo, but they 
all looked pretty much alike to me, and I could never get close 
enough to see the difference in heads and wing tips. 

There is a good deal of confusion in the Ozarks about the 
whippoorwill, a crepuscular or nocturnal bird which is often 
heard but seldom seen. A great many hillfolk believe that the 
whippoorwill is identical with the night hawk or bullbat, often 
seen flying about in the late afternoon. Some Ozarkers ap- 
parently believe that the bullbat somehow changes into a whip- 
poorwill, or vice versa. Charles Cummins, a veteran newspaper- 
man of Springfield, Missouri, defends this belief in the Spring- 
field Leader <$ Press, Sept. 25, 1933: 

Coincident with the appearance of the Harvest Moon, Ozark bullbats 
are turning to whippoorwills. You are leary of that? Skeptical, also, 
that tadpoles turn to frogs, wiggletails to mosquitoes? The bullbat, 
which came off the nest early and has awkwardly, like the young 
martin, clung fast to a tree limb all Summer, soon will be seeking a 
barrage in low growth trees, where at evening tide it will begin that 
familiar and lonesome call. 

The truth is, of course, that the bullbat and the whippoorwill 
are two distinct species, which differ widely in appearance and 
habits. Neither bullbats nor whippoorwills "come off the nest," 
because they do not build nests but deposit their eggs on bare 
rocks or on the ground. I have seen both birds incubating, and 
found bullbats' eggs on a gravel roof in Joplin, Missouri. 

There are people at Thayer, Missouri, and at Mammoth 
Springs, Arkansas, who claim that the bullbat, the whippoor- 


will, and the rain crow are one and the same bird which pre- 
sumably gives the rain crow "holler" at midday, the bullbat 
cry in the afternoon, and the whippoorwill call at night. The 
rain crow of the Ozarks is the yellow-billed cuckoo, which has 
nothing much in common with either the bullbat or the whip- 
poorwill. Some Ozark natives have told me that the rain crow 
is merely a variant of the turtle dove, hatched by the same 
parents, so that the rain crow and the turtle dove are compara- 
ble to the red and gray phases of the screech owl. This con- 
fusion of rain crow and turtle dove is understandable, since 
the two are somewhat similar in appearance at a little dis- 
tance. According to W. S. White, of Bolivar, Missouri, most of 
his neighbors believe that the rain crow lays its eggs in other 
birds' nests as the cowbird does ; this belief seems very odd, since 
any sharp-eyed country boy can find the rain crow sitting on 
its nest, and the large pale-green eggs are common in Ozark 

It is said that all hawks are blind in dog days, which is ob- 
viously not true. Many farmers think that hawks call chickens 
to their doom by imitating the cry of a young chick in distress, 
and this may be a fact for all I know. 

Blue jays are supposed to be very rare on weekends, and 
children are told that these birds go to hell every Friday to 
help the Devil gather kindling. Another story is that the blue 
jay spends Friday breaking off twigs to be burned by wicked 
people here on earth. There is an old song with the chorus : 

Don't you hear that jaybird call? 
Don't you hear them dead sticks fall? 
He's a-thro win' down firewood for we-all, 
All on a Friday mornin'. 

The great plicated woodpecker, rare in most sections of the 
country, is still fairly common in the Ozarks. Most Ozarkers 
call it a woodhen, but it is also known as "God Almighty" or 
"Lord God Peckerwood," doubtless because of its large size ; it 


looks as big as a teal duck, or a crow. This bird is supposed 
to have some supernatural powers, and I am told that various 
portions of its body are highly prized by witches and goomer 

It appears that many old settlers have a peculiar feeling 
about the wren ; some of them really believe it is different from 
all other birds, and that there is something supernaturally 
evil in its habits. The bite of a wren is supposed to be deadly 
poison, perhaps because wrens eat so many spiders. I have 
known country boys who were accustomed to rob every birds' 
nest they could find, but had never even seen a wren's egg, much 
less touched one, although wrens were nesting all over the place. 
Several of these fellows told me that it is very bad luck to kill 
wrens, the best course being to let them severely alone. 

I have heard experienced woodsmen insist that young crows, 
before they leave the nest, are white. Why they say this I have 
no idea, since one has only to look into a crow's nest in the 
spring to see that it isn't true. 

There are numerous old sayings and proverbs about the dates 
when certain birds first deposit their eggs. One often hears it 
said that guinea hens never lay until the first week of "buck- 
berry swell." The buckberry swell is the season when the buds 
on buckbrush begin to enlarge, usually about the middle of 
March, I think. 

Many turkey hunters claim that loud thunder really does 
kill young birds in the egg, especially birds that nest on the 
ground such as turkey, quail, ducks, geese, and the like. They 
insist that it is the thunder that does the damage, not the 
lightning or the rain. One veteran hunter says that hen turkeys 
usually desert their nests about twelve hours after a severe 
thunderstorm ; he thinks they can tell somehow that the eggs are 
dead and realize that it's no use to fool with 'em any longer. 
Some of these Ozark bird hunters tell a story about the time 
the powder works blew up, over in Jasper county, Missouri, and 
no quail were hatched that year for seven or eight miles around. 


Old fishermen have told me that the redhorse and white suck- 
ers will not spawn until they see dogwood blossoms on the 
banks of White River. It is true that these fish shoal about the 
same time that the dogwood blooms, but it is doubtless a mat- 
ter of temperature ; certainly there is no evidence that any fish 
can see flowers on the shore, or distinguish between dogwood 
bloom and other flowers. 

Harold Wales, of Mammoth Springs, Arkansas, mentions 
the hillman's belief that the eel is a male catfish.* Many hill- 
folk believe there is something supernatural about the repro- 
duction of eels. This is doubtless because no little eels are seen 
in the streams, and eels are never found to contain spawn. The 
Ozarker does not for one moment accept the scientists' tale that 
eels reproduce only in salt water. 

Another odd notion is that if you leave a fried eel alone, 
the flesh will be '"blood raw" in a few hours, just as if it had 
never been cooked at all. This is not true, as anybody with a 
piece of fried eel can demonstrate. But I have heard the story 
all over the Ozark country, and have met a score of men and 
women who declared that they fried eels at night and saw the 
same fish dripping with blood next morning. 

Many Ozark people believe that eels are inordinately fond 
of human flesh, and there are stories of vast numbers of eels 
taken by fishermen callous enough to use this sort of bait. On 
the lower White River, according to one account, some fisher- 
men murdered a Negro girl and soaked thousands of dough balls 
in her blood ; with this gruesome bait they caught a whole truck- 
load of eels in two nights' fishing. This story was widely cir- 
culated at one time, but the peace officers who investigated the 
matter found no evidence of a killing, nor any trace of the 
truckload of eels. 

There are some Ozark folk who will not touch eels at all, but 
most of the old-timers eat blue eels freely enough, while contend- 
ing that the larger yellow species is poisonous. I have seen yel- 
* Arkansas Gazette, July 3, 1938. 


low eels weighing five or six pounds thrown away by giggers at 
Noel, Missouri, on the Cowskin River. And Mr. R. W. Church, 
of Pittsburg, Kansas, tells me that people near Stuttgart, 
Arkansas, think that yellow catfish are not fit to eat ; he says 
that the boys down there used to eat the blue catfish and throw 
the "yaller bellies" to the hogs. 

I know many rivermen who believe that spoonbill catfish, 
which grow quite large in some of the Ozark rivers, are not 
wholesome food for human beings. These fellows cut the heads 
off spoonbills and sell the flesh to the tourists as ordinary cat- 
fish, but they don't eat such stuff themselves. Other fishermen 
tell me that the injurious substance occurs mainly in the brain 
and spinal cord; if a man must eat spoonbill cats, he should 
split 'em open as soon as caught and remove not only the head 
but the entire backbone as well. In many places one hears ex- 
perienced fishermen say that a spoonbill catfish can't swim 
downstream, though nobody seems to have any particular rea- 
son for this belief. 

Catfish and men, it is said, are the only living creatures known 
to eat pawpaws ; dogs and even swine turn from them in dis- 
gust. However, though it is almost proverbial that catfish are 
"plumb gluttons for pawpaws," I have never seen a hillman 
use them as bait. "Fish that's a-feedin' on them things," an old 
man told me, "aint fit to eat nohow." It seems very odd that 
these fellows eat pawpaws themselves with every sign of relish 
but regard fish that have fed upon pawpaws as unwholesome. 
Personally, I do not believe that catfish have any particular 
fondness for pawpaws, although they doubtless eat 'em on oc- 
casion, as they will sometimes devour any sort of garbage that 
falls into the water. But the catfish-pawpaw legend is heard 
the length and breadth of the Ozark country, and is repeated 
even by second-growth hillbillies in the cities. 

Guides on the Ozark streams are always telling the tourists 
that gars are deadly poison, but I have seen people eating 
them on the lower White River. There is a very ancient idea 


that mussels, the shells of which are collected and sold to the 
button factories, are poisonous. This despite the fact that shell 
diggers are known to eat them, when times are hard, without 
any fatal results. In fact, I don't mind admitting that I have 
eaten mussels myself. They aren't very good, but they're cer- 
tainly not poisonous. 

Ozark fishermen are careful never to step over a fish pole, 
or over a fishing line on the ground ; if a man does inadvertently 
take such a step, it means that he will catch no more fish that 

Country boys often leave one fish of a large catch hanging 
in a tree near the fishing hole. "Oh just for the birds," a boy 
answered rather sheepishly when I asked him why this was done. 
The old-timers say that it is supposed to bring good luck next 
time. A woman at Calico Rock, Arkansas, told me that it was a 
trick learned from the Cherokees, who always left several of 
their best fish lying on the bank. The old Cherokees whom I in- 
terviewed, however, said they never heard of any such foolish- 

The old-timers believe that an east wind is the worst possible 
omen for a fisherman, but I have seen large catches of bass 
made in Lake Taneycomo when an east wind was blowing; I 
recall at least one fine jacksalmon which was taken in White 
River, when a regular gale was blowing from the east. There 
is a very general belief that all fish bite best during the dark 
of the moon, and also that fish exposed to moonlight are likely 
to spoil in a few hours. Another old story is that bass won't 
bite during an electrical display, but I have caught both big- 
mouth and black bass in a thunderstorm, with flashes of light- 
ning illuminating the whole countryside. Many old rivermen 
insist that fish won't bite when the sign is in the heart or stom- 
ach, but it seems to me that there is no truth in this, either. 

If dragonflies or snake feeders alight on a still-fisherman's 
bobber it is a sign of bad luck; but if the little black beetles 


called lucky-bugs gather around his cork, he may expect to 
catch a fine string of pan fish. 

Many rivermen say that fish may be kept fresh for several 
days, even in the hottest weather, simply by wrapping them in 
green walnut leaves. Others claim that the same result is ob- 
tained by smearing the dressed fish, inside and out, with black 

Any hillman will tell you that an ordinary mud turtle con- 
tains seven kinds of meat pork, beef, mutton, venison, chicken, 
duck, and fish. Despite this belief, the Ozarkers as a class sel- 
dom eat turtles. The hillfolk who do eat them choose the soft 
shell kind, not snappers or hard-shells, although I have eaten 
all three and find little difference. Some of the Indians in east- 
ern Oklahoma eat land turtles or box tortoises, and a dog which 
will point these creatures always brings a good price in the 
Osage Nation. Bird hunters will not believe this, but it is a fact 
that some pointers and setters will disregard quail in order to 
retrieve land turtles. 

Miss Margaret Lillie, of Rockaway Beach, Missouri, who 
boasts some Cherokee blood, told me that she had eaten land 
turtles and that they were very good. Later on I tried one my- 
self, as cooked by some Indians from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and 
found it palatable enough. But I have never known a non- 
Indian hillbilly who could be induced to taste a land turtle, and 
the majority of them will not eat any sort of reptile. 

There is an old saying that once a turtle bites a man, it never 
lets go until a clap of thunder is heard, but I don't think any- 
body really believes such an obvious falsehood. Akin to this is 
the idea that a snake can't possibly die until the sun goes down, 
no matter how badly it is injured. No snake can cross a horse- 
hair rope, according to the old-timers, many of whom have 
never even seen a horsehair rope. 

If a single horsehair is placed in water, in the summer time, 
it is. believed to turn into a snake. This notion probably arose 


from the fact that long hairlike worms, said to mature in the 
intestines of grasshoppers, are sometimes seen in watering 
troughs and roadside pools. I found one of these creatures once, 
in my springhouse at Pineville, Missouri. It was about a foot 
long, white, and rather thicker than a horsehair. One end was 
tapered, the other blunt the tapered end seemed to be the 
head. I kept the thing in an aquarium for several days. It was 
always moving, the tapered end being most active in exploring 
every crack and cranny as if seeking a way out. Later on some 
boys showed me another horsehair snake they had found in a 
creek. This one was about five inches long, dark brown in color, 
and very active. It really looked pretty much like a piece of 
horsehair, and the boys who found it had no doubt that it was 
a horsehair which, in the natural course of events, had "turned 
into a snake." 

The old story of the hoop snake which puts its tail in its 
mouth and rolls downhill is believed by many ; in most cases this 
creature pursues some poor hillman, misses him, and strikes 
the horn on its tail into a growing tree ; the hoop snake's horn 
is deadly poison, and the tree always dies within a few days 
sometimes the green leaves wither and fall within an hour. Otto 
Ernest Rayburn repeats the story of a woman who was attacked 
by a hoop snake, but the sting in the snake's tail barely touched 
her dress. She washed the dress next day, and the poison "turned 
three tubs of wash water plumb green !" 5 I have met reliable 
and honest farmers who say that they have seen hoop snakes 
rolling through the tall grass, and there is no doubt in my 
mind that they are telling what they believe to be the truth. 
But the scientific herpetologists are all agreed that the hoop 
snake is a myth. 

A variety of blacksnake called the "blue racer" is popularly 
supposed to chase people, particularly little boys playing tru- 
ant from school. Many people believe that the coachwhip snake, 
a big blacksnake with a red tail, has been known to catch a 
* Ozark Country, p. 267. 


child by the lips, take one turn round his neck, and whip him 
very severely; sometimes two coachwhips are said to work to- 
gether, one holding the victim while the other lashes him. 

Poisonous snakes, when in the water, are said to lie on the 
surface with the entire body afloat, while nonpoisonous ser- 
pents swim with only the head exposed ; many hillmen really 
believe that this is a reliable way to distinguish between the 
venomous cottonmouth moccasin and several species of harm- 
less water snakes. Some noodlers or rock fishermen, accustomed 
to catch big fish with their bare hands, say that moccasins 
never bite a man under water. Others believe that the snakes 
may bite, but are unable to inject poison into the wound while 
their heads are submerged. 

Many persons believe that female snakes, particularly water 
moccasins, swallow their young at the approach of danger. One 
of my neighbors says that he suddenly came upon a large "bitch 
cottonmouth" with a number of young snakes playing about 
her ; the moment the old moccasin saw him she opened her 
mouth wide, and the little ones instantly ran down her throat. 
A few moments later he killed the big snake, cut her open, and 
found fourteen little moccasins inside. 

A number of sober backwoods farmers have told me seriously 
that before a copperhead takes a drink of water, it discharges 
its venom carefully out upon a flat stone; a moment later, 
having drunk, the creature sucks the poison into its fangs 

There is an almost universal belief that the king snake, which 
has no poison fangs, can kill any copperhead or rattler. And 
there are people who say that the king snake is not affected 
by the venom of a rattlesnake, because it eats rattlesnake weed 
as an antidote. The story goes that every time a rattler bites 
the king snake, the latter hurries over to a snakeweed nearby 
and nibbles off a leaf or two, before returning to the fight. I 
have never found anybody who claims to have witnessed this 
performance, and the whole thing doubtless began as a tall 


tale, but there are people in Missouri and Arkansas today who 
accept it as a fact. 

Many people in northwestern Taney county, Missouri, tell 
me that they have killed big timber rattlers with hair on 'em. 
"Like coarse bristles, black, about three inches long," the story 
runs. "Mostly there's a scatterin' of bristles just back of the 
snake's head, and maybe a few more shorter ones about eight 
or ten inches from the tip of his tail." So many people in this 
region tell the story that I am almost persuaded that they have 
seen rattlesnakes with something like bristles on them. It oc- 
curred to me that the "hairs" might be some kind of parasite, 
but the experts at the American Museum of Natural History 
tell me that nothing remotely resembling bristles has ever been 
found on snakes anywhere; Dr. Charles M. Bogert, of the de- 
partment of herpetology, suggests that the "hairs" might be 
cactus spines, but this does not impress me since the only cactus 
in this region is the prickly pear, which has short thorns not at 
all like the three-inch bristles which my neighbors insist they 
have seen on these Taney county rattlesnakes. 

All snakes are supposed to go blind and change their skins 
during the dog days in late summer and become more belligerent 
than at any other time. Uncle Israel Bonebreak, an ordinarily 
reliable old gentleman who lives near Pineville, Missouri, tells 
me that he has often seen blacksnakes, chicken snakes, milk 
snakes, and other harmless serpents deliberately attack human 
beings during the dog-day period. There is an old saying that 
"all snakes go blind when huckleberries are ripe," and it ap- 
pears that some hillfolk accept it as a literal truth. 

A great many Ozarkers fear the common blow snake or puff 
adder quite as much as the venomous copperhead. Visitors from 
the city have fallen into this error too, and even Marge Lyon 
says that "the spreading adder, called spread head, is very 
poisonous." 6 The truth is, of course, that the vicious-looking 
adder is completely harmless. 
And Green Grass Grows All Around, p. 294. 


The innoxious little green tree snake is believed to carry a 
deadly poison. It is called the snake doctor, and is supposed to 
cure all other kinds of snakes when they are sick or injured. 
I once found a large timber rattler which had been badly 
wounded, apparently by deer or goats. An old hunter who was 
present said "Look out for the doctor!" and began to search 
the bushes nearby. Sure enough, in a few minutes he found one 
of these little green snakes in a blackberry bush. 

The old folks say that wherever you find a scorpion the 
Ozarker's name for a harmless little blue-tailed lizard there 
is always a snake only a few feet away. 

There are several old tales about an odd relationship between 
snakes and babies. According to one story, well known in many 
parts of the Ozark country, a small child is seen to carry his 
cup of bread and milk out into the shrubbery near the cabin. 
The mother hears the baby prattling but supposes that he is 
talking to himself. Finally she approaches the child and is 
horrified to see him playing with a large serpent usually a 
rattlesnake or copperhead. The baby takes a little food but 
gives most of his bread and milk to the big reptile. The mother's 
first impulse is to kill the snake, of course, but the old-timers 
say that this would be a mistake. They believe that the snake's 
life is somehow linked with that of the child, and if the reptile is 
killed the baby will pine away and die a few weeks later. I have 
heard old men and women declare that they had such cases in 
their own families and knew that the baby did die shortly after 
the snake's death. 

A spotted serpent called the milk snake is said to live by 
milking cows in the pasture. I know several persons who swear 
they have seen these snakes sucking milk cows, and they say 
that a cow which has been milked by a snake is always reluctant 
to allow a human being to touch her thereafter. 

Some of the Holy Roller preachers are accustomed to bring 
poisbnous snakes into the pulpit, declaring that God will pro- 
tect His servants from all harm, and quoting various Biblical 


references to such matters, usually the statement in Luke 10: 
19, where the saints are given power to tread on serpents and 
scorpions and assured that nothing shall hurt them, or the 
passage about taking up serpents in Mark 16: 18. I have not 
seen this performance myself, but I once called on one of these 
"snake-wavin' preachers" and was shown two large copper- 
heads in a cage. The man of God refused to handle them in my 
presence, although I offered to make a substantial contribution 
to his church. He said that he claimed nothing for himself, but 
that a temporary immunity to snake venom was sometimes given 
him by God Almighty for the purpose of impressing His poor 
sinful children. "I don't believe in temptin' Providence," he 
added, "an' I don't never touch no sarpints only when I feel 
the Power a-comin' on." 

It is very generally believed that there is something about 
the odor of gourds or gourd vines which repels snakes ; many 
people plant gourds near their cabins for this reason, although 
they will seldom admit it to an outsider. 

Some families have secret spells or "charms" which are sup- 
posed to protect them against snake bite, but the nature of 
these has not been revealed to me. I do know, however, that 
some hillfolk are very careful to avoid the use of the word 
"snake." Instead of warning their children to beware of snakes 
in the path, they say "look out for our friends down that way," 
or "there's a lot of them old things between here and the river." 
If despite all precautions a hillman is bitten by a reptile which 
he regards as poisonous, he still has recourse to some astound- 
ing remedies but I have dealt with the treatment of snake bite 
elsewhere in this book. 

There are many odd notions concerning insects and arach- 
nids. Big centipedes are common in the hill country, no matter 
what the Chamber of Commerce people may see fit to tell the 
tourists about it. Some old-timers say that a centipede tries 
to count the teeth of every child who approaches him ; if the 
creature makes a correct count, the child will die in a few weeks. 
I have seen children close their lips firmly and even cover their 


mouths with their hands when a centipede appears in an Ozark 
cabin. Many hillfolk repeat the tale that the bite of a centipede 
makes the flesh fall off the bones, but I don't think there's any 
truth in it. 

People near Natural Dam, Arkansas, told me that the Devil's 
horse, or praying mantis, is deadly poison, and that a boy near 
that place died as a result of its bite. Local physicians laughed 
at this story ; one doctor said that he didn't know whether or 
not the Devil's horse was poisonous, but he knew damned well 
that it had never killed anybody in his neighborhood. Children 
in the Ozarks are often told, however, that it is bad luck to 
"pester" a Devil's horse, as the creature is likely to spit tobacco 
juice in one's eye and perhaps cause blindness. 

The sting of the big Ozark hornet is a painful matter, but I 
never heard of hornets killing anybody. Mr. Elbert Short, how- 
ever, who lives near Crane, Missouri, reports the old idea that 
if seven hornets sting a man at once, the poor chap dies in- 
stantly, as if he had a bullet through his heart. 

Very few of the mountain people would intentionally kill a 
spider, since such an act is supposed to bring misfortune in its 
wake. It is bad luck to kill a cricket, too, though I have not 
heard of any definite penalty for this. My neighbors were dis- 
gusted to see me using little black crickets as fish bait. One man 
who looked at a fine string of perch that I had taken with 
crickets observed that he would not eat one of these fish or 
allow his children to do so. "I'd have to git mighty hungry," 
said he, "before I'd ever put one of them crickets onto a fish 

There are several peculiar superstitions relating to the larva 
of the ant lion, which lives in little cone-shaped pits in the dirt 
under rock ledges. Every boy is told that if he finds one of these 
nests and cries : 

Oh Johnny Doodlebug, 

Come up an* I'll give you a bushel of corn! 

the insect will climb out and show itself immediately. 


Mr. Lewis Kelley, of Cyclone, Missouri, tells me that prac- 
tically all of the old settlers believed that spiders hatch from 
eggs laid by "dirt dobbers" or mud wasps. "Just open up a 
dirt dobber's nest," he said, "and see if you don't find it full 
of live spiders." The truth is, of course, that the spiders are 
stung by the adult wasps into a state of paralysis and placed 
in the mud nests to serve as food for the young dirt dobbers. 
The old-timers have heard of this theory, but they don't be- 
lieve it. 

The white foam which appears on the stems of certain weeds, 
produced doubtless by the activities of some small insect, is 
always called frog spit; this is merely an imaginative name, 
however, since the hillfolk don't really believe that frogs are 
responsible for it. Many of them are convinced, however, that 
horse flies somehow hatch out of frog spit. I have met old men 
who told me seriously that fleas are hatched from eggs, under 
ordinary conditions, but are sometimes produced spontaneously 
from dog hair. 

Charles J. Finger, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, told me of 
his neighbors who believe that the drops of resin found on pine 
boards often turn into bedbugs. I have never encountered this 
idea but have known many hillfolk who think that bedbugs are 
somehow generated from bats. Some old-timers say that the 
daddy longlegs or harvestmen deposit their eggs on bats, and 
that these eggs hatch into bedbugs. "If you mash a daddy long- 
legs," said an old fellow in Polk county, Arkansas, "it smells 
just exactly like bedbugs"' this being regarded as evidence of 
parental relationship, apparently. 

There is an old saying to the effect that dog fennel breeds 
chiggers and kills ticks ; the hillfolk claim that chiggers swarm 
on the yellow flowers, and this may be true, for all I know. The 
old notion that fennel kills ticks seems to have no foundation 
in fact. The common milkweed with orange-colored blooms 
(Asclepias) is also called chigger weed and is said to be head- 
quarters for chiggers. 


The hills around Bonniebrook, the old O'Neill home near 
Day, Missouri, are crawling with chiggers and wood ticks all 
summer. There is only one place in the whole neighborhood 
where it is safe for campers to sit on the ground, and that is 
a certain hillside where pennyroyal grows. Pennyroyal is a kind 
of mint, and it really seems to discourage both ticks and chig- 

Many Ozark people insist that cedar trees are poison to the 
tiny seed ticks which are so abundant in July and August. One 
often sees farmer boys take off their overalls and brush their 
bare legs with a cedar bough. I have tried this myself, but 
without any benefit whatever. And the cedar thickets or "brakes" 
in Taney county, Missouri, are swarming with seed ticks every 

There are strange theories about certain trees, and I have 
touched upon some of these items in connection with witchcraft 
elsewhere in this book. Many old people believe that there is 
something supernatural about the propagation of the ironwood 
tree, which is supposed to be planted by the Devil's agents. And 
there are woodsmen in Missouri who say that sassafras trees 
do not grow from seeds, but somehow sprout from grub worms. 

One often hears that mistletoe, known as witches' broom, is 
used in casting magic spells and the like. Some farmers hang 
a bunch of mistletoe in the smokehouse, "to keep witches off* n 
the meat." About Christmas time the country boys make a little 
money by gathering mistletoe and sending it to the city markets. 
These fellows all say that mistletoe doesn't come from seeds but 
grows spontaneously out of bird manure. 

The pawpaw tree is well known to be connected with witch- 
craft and devil worship, and even a gray-and-black butterfly 
(PapUio ajax) is looked upon as "strange" because it is so 
often seen fluttering about pawpaw trees. People near Good- 
man, Missouri, tell me that there is some direct connection be- 
tween pawpaw trees and malaria, but just what this relation is 
I don't know. Pawpaws are becoming rare in many sections 


where they were formerly abundant; this is regarded by the 
old-timers as a bad omen, perhaps a sign that the end of the 
world is at hand. 

Several tales about the dogwood tree are linked up with re- 
ligious legends. One story, said to be very old although I never 
heard it until about 1935, is that the cross on which Jesus died 
was made of dogwood, and that He cursed the tree and doomed 
it to be stunted and twisted, unfit for any kind of lumber. In 
the center of the dogwood flower is something said to resemble 
a crown of thorns, while a brown mark like the stain of a 
rusty nail shows at the tip of each white sepal. A fanciful 
and romanticized version of this legend was written up by 
C. E. Barnes of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, in the 1930's and 
was published by many Arkansas newspapers. 7 

In Washington county, Arkansas, a wood chopper told me 
that it was the willow, not the dogwood, which was cursed by 
Jesus. "An 5 since that day," said the old man, "the wilier tree 
aint been worth a good God damn for nothin'." This man assured 
me that the tale of Jesus cursing the willow is in the Book 
by which he meant the Bible. "I caint read myself," said he, 
"but it's in the Book all right, an' any o' these here spindle- 
assed preachers can tell you all 'bout it." A related legend of the 
willow tree is the "Jesus and Joses" story recorded by Pro- 
fessor H. M. Belden who got it in 1914 from a man at Holla, 
Missouri. 8 

The wild hawthorn or redhaw (Crataegus) is another ac- 
cursed tree, though just how this came about is unknown to 
me. In March, 1923, the legislature named the hawthorn bloom 
as the state flower of Missouri, but there are many people in 
the southern end of the state who avoid touching it and regard 
even an accidental contact with the blooming tree as a very bad 
omen. Both redhaw and blackhaw bushes are common in the 

i See also a reference to the dogwood-cross story in Guy Howard's Walkin' 
Preacher of the Ozarks (New York, Harper, 1944), p. 141. 

s Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, Columbia, 
Univ. of Missouri, 1940, p. 102. 


Ozarks, and both are connected in the hillman's mind with 
sexual misadventures rapes and unfortunate pregnancies and 
disastrous abortions and the like. Other plants which may be 
mentioned in this connection are the lady's-slipper (Cypripe- 
dium) and the stinkhorn fungus (Phallus impudicus). 

The Oklahoma legislature, in 1937, passed a bill making the 
redbud Oklahoma's official state tree. This roused a great storm 
of criticism, because many people believe that the redbud is the 
unluckiest tree in the world, since Judas hanged himself on a 
tree of this kind. Some hillfolk who have no interest in religious 
matters still feel that the redbud or Judas tree is bewitched, at 
least in the spring, and it is well to keep away from blooming 
redbuds after dark. Mrs. Roberta Lawson, of Tulsa, vice- 
president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, led a 
large number of Oklahoma clubwomen who held public meetings, 
telegraphed protests to Governor Marland, and so on. Some 
important citizens of northeastern Oklahoma were still grum- 
bling about the matter, I am told, as recently as 1942. 

Some observers have thought they found a suggestion of 
tree worship, or something of the sort, in the Ozarker's use of 
masculine pronouns as applied to trees. One of my neighbors 
near Pineville, Missouri, said of a certain bee tree : "He's holler 
as a gourd ! I bet there's five hunderd pound o' honey in him!" 
A gentleman at Fayetteville, Arkansas, remarked that he had 
enjoyed the shade of a certain maple on his lawn for forty years 
and added: "I aim to be buried under him when I die." I have 
many other examples of this sort of thing. It does not seem 
particularly significant to me but has impressed several emi- 
nent scholars who have visited the hill country, and I set it 
down here for what it may be worth. 

12. Ozark Witchcraft 

(jThe Ozark hillfolk will talk about crop 
failures and weather signs with any tour- 
ist who happens along, but leTliim men- 
tion witches and they all shut up like clams. If they say any- 
thing at all on the subject, it will be that they do not believe 
any such foolishness. Some of them will even deny that they 
ever heard of witches or witch masters. 

The truth is, however, that a great many Ozarkers do believe 
these things. I meet people every day who are firm believers in 
witchcraft, and I have been personally acquainted with more 
than a score of so-called witches myself. 

A solid citizen of Little Rock, Arkansas, contends that every 
good Christian must believe in witchcraft. "It's just like John 
Wesley said," he told me, "if you give up witches you might as 
well throw away your Bible !" The Bible, he went on, not only 
requires a belief in witches but also demands that they be per- 
secuted. He quoted from memory at great length, but the only 
one of his quotations that I have been able to verify is in 
Exodus 22, where it says plainly "thou shalt not suffer a witch 
to live." 

This man assured me that "witches are thicker than seed 
ticks" in Pulaski county, even today. "Them things are goin' 
on same as they always did," said he, "but it's all under cover 
nowadays. The young folks lives too fast an 5 heedless. More 
than half of 'em are bewitched anyhow, so they don't care what 
happens. It looks like the Devil's got the country by the tail, 
on a downhill pull !" 

A witch, according to my informants, is a woman who has 


had dealings with the Devil and thereby acquired some super- 
natural powers, and who uses these powers to bring evil upon 
her neighbors. This definition excludes such estimable char- 
acters as Mrs. Josie Forbes of Taskee, Missouri, Mrs. Angie 
Paxton of Green Forest, Arkansas, Miss Jean Wallace of 
Roaring River, Missouri, and others of the same type. News- 
paper writers call these women witches, and the tourists natu- 
rally follow suit, but no real old-time Ozarker would make such 
a mistake. They may be clairvoyants, fortunetellers, seers, 
mystics, purveyors of medical advice, seekers of lost property 
but they are certainly not witches. 

Although I have known and interviewed twenty-four persons 
who were regarded by their neighbors as witches, only three 
admitted that they had sold themselves to the Devil. These three 
women were quite mad, of course ; the point is that their neigh- 
bors did not regard them as lunatics, but as witches. The other 
twenty-one claim that their efforts are directed against the 
forces of evil, and that their main business is the removal of 
spells and curses put upon their clients by supernatural means. 
These practitioners are variously known as witch masters, 
white witches, witch doctors, faith doctors, goomer doctors and 
conjure folks, and it is from them that I have obtained much 
of my information on the subject. 

Some hillfolk believe that a woman may become a witch by 
some comparatively simple hocus-pocus. Professor A. W. Bree- 
don, of Manhattan, Kansas, who was reared near Galena, Mis- 
souri, in the nineties, tells me his neighbors thought that a 
woman had only to fire a silver bullet at the moon and mutter 
two or three obscene old sayin's. A lady in Barry county, 
Missouri, says that any woman who repeats the Lord's Prayer 
backward and fires seven silver bullets at the moon is trans- 
formed into a witch instanter. But most of the genuine old- 
timers are agreed that to become a witch is a rather complicated 

Anybody is free to discuss the general principles of witch- 


craft, but the conjure words and old sayin's must be learned 
from a member of the opposite sex. Another thing to be re- 
membered is that the secret doctrines must pass only between 
blood relatives, or between persons who have been united in 
sexual intercourse. Thus it is that every witch obtains her 
unholy wisdom either from a lover or from a male relative. 

Not every woman who receives this information becomes a 
witch. A mother can transmit the secret work to her son, and 
he could pass it on to his wife, and she might tell one of her 
male cousins, and so on. All of these people may be regarded as 
"carriers," but not until someone actually uses the deadly 
formulae does a genuine witch appear. And thus, while a knowl- 
edge of witchcraft is admitted to exist in certain families and 
clans, it sometimes lies dormant for a long time. 

A woman who was regarded as a witch by her neighbors 
died some years ago, in Greene county, Missouri. I never met 
the old lady but am acquainted with her daughter a college 
graduate, very citified and sophisticated, who has not visited 
Missouri for a long time. I asked this girl if she had ever heard 
anything about witchcraft in the Ozarks. To my surprise she 
did not laugh it off. She said that she believed her own mother 
had possessed some measure of supernatural power, and that 
this power was definitely evil. She had never discussed the mat- 
ter with her motherQ^I always thought mamma would tell mja, 
about that some day*" the daughter said, ^but she never did." 

Some par.ts of the witches' routine are well known, even to 
people who deny all acquaintance with such matters. The trick 
of reversing the Lord's Prayer is a case in point. A pious Bap- 
tist lady in McDonald county, Missouri, once denounced a 
schoolmarm because the children were taught to shout their 
multiplication tables backward as well as forward. ("It's plumb 
risky, an' there ought to be a law ag'in it,'') growiea the old 
woman. "Learn them gals to say their 'rithrn^tic back'ards to- 
day, an' they'll be a-sayin' somethin 9 else back'ards tomorrow !" 

A virgin may possess some of the secrets of "bedevilment," 


imparted by her father or her uncle, but she cannot be a genu- 
ine witch, for good and sufficient reasons. Most of the Ozark 
witches seem to be widows, or elderly spinsters who are obviously 
not virgins. I knew one sprightly grass widder who was said 
to "talk the Devil's language," but most people doubted this 
because of her youth she was only seventeen! A woman can 
"do the Devil's work'] and practice the infernalHirts in a small 
way without any ceremony, but to attain her full powers she 
must be formally initiated into the sinister sisterhood^ 

When a woman- decides to become a witch, according to the 
fireside legends, she repairs to the family buryin' ground at 
midnight, in the dark of the moon. Beginning with a verbal 
renunciation of the Christian religion, she swears to give herself 
body and soul to the Devil. She removes every stitch of clothing, 
which she hangs on an infidel's tombstone, and delivers her body 
immediately to the Devil's representative^srthat is, to the man 
who is inducting her into the "mystery.'lThe sexual act com- 
pleted, both parties repeat certain old sayin's terrible words 
which assemble devils, and the spirits of the evil dead and end 
by reciting the Lord's Prayer backwarcLYThis ceremony is sup- 
posed to be witnessed by at least two initiates, also nude, and 
must be repeated on three consecutive nights.)fAfter the first 
and second vows the candidate is still free to change her mind, 
but the third pledge is final. Henceforth the woman is a witch 
and must serve her new master through all eternity. 

(The dedication of a witch is a solemn affair, not to be con- 
fused with the so-called "Witches' Sabbath" which occasioned 
so much talk in northwestern Arkansas, when a group of 
drunken young people suddenly decided to dance naked by the 
roadside. It was a mere accident that this lewd frolic was staged 
at the entrance to a cemetery. The incident had no connection 
with witchcraft. The term "Witches' Sabbath" was applied to 
it, not by the natives, but by an imaginative newspaperman 
from Illinois. 

The vagaries of some nude Holy Rollers near Forsyth, Mis- 


souri, have also been connected in the public mind with the 
initiation of a witch. I have examined the Rutledge photographs 
which were given so much publicity by the late Lou Beardon and 
others, but have never been able to find out just what happened 
at the Roller camp when these pictures were made. My opinion 
is that the White River nudists were merely religious fanatics, 
together with a few thrill-seeking young men from the nearby 
villages. Thgr^js jio evidence that theyha3^anything to do with 

I am told, by women who clamrtfijiaxe^xperience^ both, that 
the witch's initiation" is a moving spiritual crisis 
than that which the Christians call conversion. The primary 
reaction is profoundly depressing, however, because it inevi- 
tably results in the death of some person near and dear to the 

I once attended the funeral of a woman whose death was 
attributed to her daughter's participation in one of these 
graveyard ceremonies. The accused girl sat apart from the 
other members of the family and was ignored by the minister 
and the congregation alike. Witchcraft is very real to these 
people. A friend of the dead woman told me that the person 
who dies as a "witch's sixpence" generally goes to hell, and 
therefore such a crime is infinitely more horrible than an ordi- 
nary murder. It is not until after the first victim's death that 
the witch comes into full possession of her supernatural powers, 
but from that time forward she is able to do many things which 
are impossible to ordinary mortals. 

A witch can assume the form of any bird or animal, but cats 
and wolves seem to be her favorite disguises. In many a back- 
woods village you may hear some gossip about a woman who 
visits her lover in the guise of a house cat. Once inside his cabin, 
she resumes her natural form and spends the night with him. 
Shortly before daybreak she becomes a cat again, returns to 
her home, and is transformed into a woman at her husband's 


A big yellow cat once walked into a cabin where I was sitting 
with an aged tie hacker and his wife. The woman began to shout 
"Witch ! Witch !" at the top of her voice. The old man sprang 
up, crossed the fingers of both hands, and chanted something 
that sounded like "Pulley-bone holy-ghost double-yoke ! Pulley- 
bone holy-ghost double-yoke I" The cat walked in a wide circle 
past the hearth, stared fixedly at the old gentleman for a mo- 
ment, and then strolled out across the threshold. We followed 
a moment later, but the animal was nowhere in sight. It may 
have crawled under the cabin, or under a corncrib which stood 
only a few yards away, but the old couple insisted that it had 
vanished by reason of some supernatural dispensation. 

There is an old story of a drunken bravo in northwestern 
Arkansas who was bantered to sleep all night in a shack where 
witches were known to be "usin* round." He said that if they 
gave him a jug of whiskey he'd sleep anywhere. He lit a candle, 
and drank heavily, and felt very well until midnight, when sud- 
denly there appeared an enormous cat. The creature yowled 
and spit at him, and the man fired his great horse-pistol a 
muzzle-loading weapon loaded with buckshot. Somewhere a 
woman screamed, and the hillman always swore that just as 
the candle went out he saw a woman's bare foot, covered with 
blood, wriggling around on the table. Next day it was learned 
that a woman who lived nearby had shot her foot off accidentally 
and died from loss of blood. Some say that she died a-yowlin* 
and a-spittin' like a cat ! 

Another well-known tale is concerned with a witch who 
assumed the form of a swamp rabbit and lived on milk. A farmer 
saw this big rabbit sucking his cow and fired at it with a load 
of turkey shot ; the animal was only about thirty feet off but 
seemed quite unharmed. The man rushed home and molded 
several slugs of silver, obtained by melting half dollars. Charg- 
ing his shotgun with these, he fired again and killed the rabbit. 
A ffew hours later came the news that an old woman in the next 
holler had been shot to death; the doctor couldn't find the 


bullet, but everybody knew that it must have been a silver slug 
that killed her. 

Once I was riding through the woods with two hillmen, when 
a timber wolf suddenly appeared in a little clearing. One of 
my companions fired several times with his revolver, but the 
wolf trotted unhurriedly away, looking back over its left 
shoulder. "Damn it, I don't see how I missed th' critter !" cried 
the pistol shooter. "You didn't miss it," the other answered 
quietly. Nothing more was said, but I noticed that both men 
rode with their fingers crossed. I crossed mine, too, not wishing 
to be mistaken for an ignorant "furriner." 

A schoolmaster from Pea Ridge, Arkansas, used to tell the 
story of two young women who lived alone in a nearby farm. 
They owned no cattle and were never seen to do any milking 
but always had plenty of butter and homemade cheese. Finally 
a farmhand peeked in at their window and later swore that he 
saw these girls hang a dishcloth on the pot rack and squeeze 
several gallons of milk out of it. Turning about, he looked at 
the cows in a neighbor's pasture and saw that their udders were 
gradually decreasing in size. 

The teacher mentioned above is an exceptionally intelligent 
man, not at all credulous in ordinary matters, 'but he seemed 
inclined to accept this dishrag-milking tale as true. He sug- 
gested that the phenomena which we associate with hypnosis 
may be identical with those formerly attributed to witchcraft. 
Some high-powered salesman's exploits may be of this type, 
he thought, and referred with feeling to a chap who sold him 
some worthless magazines at an exorbitant figure. "That fel- 
low certainly got control of my mind somehow," he said rue- 
fully. "We call it hypnotism now, but the old folks would 
probably say I was bewitched." 

An old lady near Chadwick, Missouri, flew into a rage one 
Sunday morning because other members of the family insisted 
on going to church. Suddenly one of the horses became sick 
and fell right down in the harness. The women and children 


began to cry, and the whole expedition was thrown into con- 
fusion. Finally the menfolks managed to tail the animal up, and 
dragged it through a stream of running water. This broke the 
witch spell and cured the horse instantly, but it was too late 
for anybody to attend church. 

I remember a poor silly old woman who tried to buy some 
of my neighbor's ducks. The price she offered was very low, 
and Aunt Rosie decided to wait for a better market. "You'll 
be mighty sorry," the old woman shouted. "Them ducks is all 
a-goin' to die Monday." My neighbor paid no heed to this 
prediction, but the ducks did die on Monday, and it was gen- 
erally believed that the old witch had cast a spell on them. The 
possibility of poisoning, or some other material cause of death, 
apparently did not occur to any of the parties concerned. This 
unquestioning acceptance of supernatural explanations is not 
uncommon in the Ozark country. 

Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, tells me of an 
old woman in her neighborhood who "throwed a spell" upon a 
neighbor's tomato patch just by drawing a circle in the dust, 
marking a cross in the center of the circle, and spitting in the 
center of the cross. No buyer in this region, once he heard the 
news, would give a plugged nickel for that man's tomato crop. 

Aunt Sarah Wilson, who lives on Bear Creek near Day, 
Missouri, was worried about one of her nephews, who had 
wrecked four automobiles. She believed, and told several of her 
friends, that some witch was throwin' spells on the boy's cars. 
One day she was standing in her own backyard, when something 
fell right beside her foot. It was a witch ball about the size of 
an ordinary marble, made of black horse-hair. She knew im- 
mediately that the witches were workin' on her nephew again. 
And sure enough, he had an accident that same afternoon. 

I have been told of another Ozark witch who killed several 
of her enemies by means of a "hair ball" just a little bunch of 
blaok hair mixed with beeswax and rolled into a hard pellet. The 
old woman tossed this thing at the persons whom she wished to 


eliminate, and they fell dead a few hours later. It is said that the 
fatal hair ball is always found somewhere in the body of a per- 
son killed in this manner. In one case, according to my in- 
formant, the little ball of combings was taken from the dead 
girl's mouth. 

There are men and women in the Ozarks who believe that the 
strange feather balls known as "crowns," which sometimes 
form in pillows, are the work of witches and if not destroyed 
will inevitably cause the death of the person whose head rests 
upon the pillow. For a detailed account of these feather crowns 
see Chapter 13. 

Some witches are said to kill people with graveyard dirt, 
which is dust scraped from a grave with the left forefinger at 
midnight. This is mixed with the blood of a black bird ; a raven 
or crow is best, but a black chicken will do in a pinch. The 
witch ties this mixture up in a rag which has touched a corpse 
and buries it under the doorstep of the person who is to be 
liquidated. The practice of burying conjure stuff under houses 
and doorsteps is well known. I have heard it said of a sick 
woman that she "must have stepped on somethin' " meaning 
that she was bewitched. 

Occasionally the "bad thing" is concealed in the saddle or 
wagon or automobile of the person upon whom the curse is 
intended to fall. One often hears of such objects being sewn into 
clothing, especially wedding garments. The witch's desire is to 
put the bad-luck charm into the victim's possession without his 
knowledge, or in such a manner that he does not recognize it 
for what it is. Sometimes a pet animal or an adopted child is 
made to serve the witch's purpose a sort of left-handed mascot, 
as it were. 

A witch is delighted if she gets a chance to walk three times 
clockwise around a sick man, as this is supposed to kill the 
patient immediately. It can seldom be managed inside a house, 
since beds are usually placed in contact with at least one wall. 
So the witch comes in the dead of night and walks in a wide 


circle outside the cabin. Certain nondescript marks in the dirt 
are alleged to be witch's tracks, and some people think that 
by burning dry grass in these tracks they can somehow dis- 
comfit the witch and break the spell cast upon the sick person. 

One old woman in my neighborhood was unable to walk with- 
out crutches, but whenever a chicken was to be killed she in- 
sisted on doing the job herself. One of the boys would catch 
the chicken and bring it to granny as she sat in her chair under 
a tree. As she wrung the chicken's neck she spoke the name of 
an ancient enemy of hers. I asked once what effect this would 
have on the woman whose name she muttered. "Well, it won't 
do her no good," said granny with satisfaction. Both my neigh- 
bor and the woman she hated were supposed to have dabbled in 
witchcraft, and each denounced the other as a witch. 

Near Clinton, Missouri, only a few years ago, there were 
people who showed marks on their legs as evidence that a cer- 
tain old woman in the neighborhood was a witch. Their story 
was that when they undressed to go to bed, they felt pain as 
if they were being beaten with switches. One girl claimed to 
have been whipped so severely that the blood ran down to her 
heels. It is not clear to me how these people knew that a par- 
ticular old woman was responsible for all this, but there seemed 
to be no doubt in anybody's mind on that point. 

A little boy near Pineville, Missouri, failed to catch any 
rabbits in his clumsily built traps. "Them gums is spellt, that's 
what's the matter," he told me. I thought he meant spoiled, 
which the local people pronounce with a long i sound, and asked 
for further information. "They aint sp'ilt" he said disgustedly, 
"they're spellt/ Some old woman done it." That was the first 
time I ever heard spelled used to mean bewitched. 

Here is one of the old fireside witch tales, still told at Sparta, 
Missouri. A young boy worked on a farm for a widow and her 
two daughters. They all slept in a big one-room cabin. Several 
times the boy woke up in the night and found all three women 
gone, but the door bolted inside. In the morning he awoke to 


find them all in their beds as usual. Finally one night he just 
pretended to be asleep. About midnight he saw all three women 
get up and place a pan of water on the hearth. They washed 
their faces in the water, then each one said "Out I go and 
touch nowhere !" and flicked up the chimney like a swallow ! 
When the women were gone the boy got up, washed his face in 
the water and cried : "Out I go and touch nowhere !" Before you 
could bat an eye he was up the chimney and flyin' through the 
air. His hat blowed off. Pretty soon he lit in a big pasture, where 
all kinds of people was fiddlin' and dancin' and havin' a regular 
picnic. Some of them gals didn't have enough clothes on to 
wad a shotgun ! . . . the next thing he knowed he was back at 
the house in bed, and the women was in their beds, and the door 
still bolted. It wasn't no dream though, because there was soot 
on his nightshirt, and his hat was gone. He never did find the 
hat. But he quit the job before the moon changed and went to 
live with his kinfolks. 

A woman in Springfield, Missouri, told me that her own mother 
was an innocent sort of witch, who never did any serious harm, 
but interfered with household tasks and the like. Some strangers 
waxed loud in praise of the daughter's light bread ; this irritated 
the old lady, who fancied that her own bread was much better, 
and she threw a spell on the girl's baking. This all happened 
forty years ago, and the witch has been in her grave for a 
quarter of a century, but the spell still holds, and the daughter 
has never once since that fatal day succeeded in making a really 
good batch of light bread. 

There is a common belief that if a witch stirs soft soap, it 
won't be any good. A farmer's wife in Christian county, Mis- 
souri, was making soap in the back yard when an alleged witch 
came along. Immediately the woman raked the fire out from 
under the kettle and invited the witch into the house. When the 
witch had gone, the housewife found that every bit of the soap 
had boiled away, although there wasn't any fire under it. * 

Mr. A. W. Breedon, of Manhattan, Kansas, told me a tale 


he heard as a boy in Taney county, Missouri, in the nineties. 
There was a very wicked man living there a man who opposed 
all religion and refused to help build the meetinghouse. His 
family had drifted away, and the fellow was dying all alone, 
cursing at every breath. Some neighbors came over to take care 
of him, and while they were there a bolt of lightning fell out 
of a clear sky and set the house on fire. Two big men tried to 
carry the dying infidel out but couldn't lift him off the bed. 
Then they tried to move the bed, but even their great strength 
could not budge it an inch. Soon the house became intolerably 
hot, and the neighbors left just before the roof fell in. A strange 
black dog slipped out at the same time, apparently from under 
the sick man's bed. When the ashes cooled, there was no sign 
of the infidel's body "nary a bone !" 

Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, who still lives in 
the neighborhood where Breedon heard this tale, tells an almost 
identical story, booger dog and all. And even today there are 
folks who say that a strange black dog is seen about that region, 
wherever a fatal accident, fire, cyclone, or other calamity oc- 

Some old people in the neighborhood have hinted that the 
infidel was really a "he witch," and that the neighbors killed 
him and the black dog by shooting them with silver bullets. 
Then they burned the house with the bodies inside, and called 
it a good day's work. This variant of the legend also records 
the detail that no bones, either human or canine, were found in 
the ashes of the cabin. 

There are people in northeastern Arkansas who believe that 
the Devil appeared near the end of the eighteenth century, at 
a pioneer settlement called Kentertown, some say as a warning 
of the great earthquake that occurred there in 1812. Several 
versions of the tale are still in oral circulation, and they differ 
as to the town, the date, and the names of the witnesses. But 
all. the stories agree that two young Arkansas boys actually 
met the Devil in the brush, in broad daylight, and that he first 


appeared as a headless man with a cloven hoof. Later on he 
assumed other frightful shapes, roared like a lion, belched out 
great quantities of smoke, and so on. Finally the Devil snatched 
up one of the youths, tore out most of his hair, and handled him 
so roughly that he was unable to walk. Upon this the other 
young man fell upon his knees and cried out to God, asking 
help in Jesus' name. Instantly the Devil vanished in a cloud 
of stinking smoke, and the young man carried his injured com- 
panion back to town. 

Some skeptics said that the two young men had been drinking 
heavily and must have dreamed all this business of demons roar- 
ing and blowing smoke. But many thought that the boys really 
had seen the Devil, and there are people in Arkansas who be- 
lieve the story to this day. The Golden Book Magazine for 
March, 1926, reprinted a pamphlet entitled Surprising Account 
of the Devil's Appearing to John Chesseldon and James Arkins, 
at a Town near the Mississippi, on the 24th of May, 17 '8 4. 
This document was written by the two men named in the title 
and printed in 1792, according to the Golden Book. Fred W. 
Allsopp, in his Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, discusses the 
whole matter under the caption "The Devil in Arkansas." * 

An old man near Caverna, Missouri, told me tkat he once met 
the Devil walking along in the snow just south of the Missouri- 
Arkansas line. When I questioned him about the Devil's ap- 
pearance he described an ordinary countryman blue overalls, 
slouch hat, skinny face, long hair, shotgun on shoulder, and 
so on. "He just looked like any common ordinary feller," said 
the old man wonderingly. I pondered this for awhile. "But how 
did you know it was the Devil?" I asked. The old man looked 
fearfully around, then leaned toward me and whispered: "He 
didn't throw no shadder ! He didn't leave no tracks !" 

In various parts of Missouri and Arkansas one hears the 
story of a great hole in the ground, surrounded by rugged 
cliffs, where hunters have heard strange sounds and smelled 
1 1931, I, 234r-288. 


unusual odors. Some say that the Devil lives in that hole, im- 
prisoned under a heavy fall of rock. There are stories of old 
men who claim to have visited the place as children. Some of 
these men swear that they heard the Devil's groans and curses 
and smelled burning flesh and brimstone. Strange people live 
on the escarpments, it is said, and throw odd things into the 
pit at night, particularly when the moon is full. There are tales 
of dark-visaged "furriners" traveling at night, who make 
regular pilgrimages to the place from distant parts of the 

I have made some effort to locate this legendary spot, with- 
out success. There is a deep canyon with high rugged walls 
near Mena, Arkansas, which is known as "Devil's Half Acre," 
but the story of the Devil's imprisonment is not known to the 
people who live there. Some old-timers connect the story with 
Hot Springs, Arkansas, but I have never found anybody in 
that vicinity able to show me the bottomless pit, where I could 
hear the Devil yell and smell brimstone a-burnin'. 

The student of these matters must remember that the word 
witch and its derivatives are not always to be taken literally. 
Tangles in a horse's mane are called witches 9 stirrups, but I 
don't think the people who use this term really believe that 
witches have been riding their horses. I have heard snarls in a 
woman's hair called witches 9 cradles, but am not sure just what 
is meant by this. The great horned owl is often called a witch 
chicken, perhaps because of the belief that owls can charm a 
chicken off its roost. Witch ball is a common name for a big 
puffball, known also as the Devil's snuffbox; this fungus will 
"hold fire" for a long time, like pUnk, and it is said that the 
Indians used it to carry fire from one camp to another. Oc- 
casionally a pullet lays a very small egg, and this the housewife 
usually throws on the roof of the cabin, remarking humorously 
that it isn't big enough to cook, so she may as well "feed it to 
the witches. 99 I know a little boy who fell down and bloodied 
his nose and scratched his face and tore his clothes; when he 


came home blubbering, his mother cried: "My God, Tommy! 
You're a sight to skeer the witches!" When everything suddenly 
seems to go wrong, or a series of minor accidents disorganizes 
her kitchen, many an exasperated housewife exclaims that "the 
witches must be a-ridin' tonight!" But this is just on old back- 
woods expression, and she doesn't mean it literally. 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, Rolla, Missouri, tells of an old man 
who was much alarmed when his clock suddenly began to strike 
at random. On one occasion it struck fifteen or twenty times 
before he could get it stopped. Mrs. Mueller made some humor- 
ous remark about this, but the old man was deadly serious, de- 
claring that a witch was responsible. He carried the clock out 
of the house at once and sold it for a very low price. Later on 
a friend showed him that a part of the clock's mechanism was 
broken, but the old man still believed that a witch had somehow 
caused the trouble. 

A young man in Phelps county, Missouri, had an old gasoline- 
power woodsaw; it was always breaking down, and he didn't 
know much about machinery or gasoline motors, although he 
regarded himself as a mechanical genius. He always spoke of 
the saw "taking a spell," and insisted that it was "witched" 
by his enemies. Once he brought the machine to a farm where 
he expected to saw up a big pile of wood. He had cut about one- 
half a rick when the saw broke down. After tinkering with it 
awhile he flew into a rage and told the woman who had hired 
him : "My saw is witched ! You and your whole family are 
witches ! To hell with you all !" And no more wood was sawed 
that day. 

Here is another old fireside tale, current in the late eighties. 
I got this particular version from Clarence Sharp, who heard it 
near Dutch Mills, Arkansas. The story goes that a hillman was 
just falling asleep when a pretty girl appeared with a bridle 
in her hand. In a twinkling she turned the poor fellow into a 
pony, leaped on his back, and rode him wildly through, the 
woods. Later on she hitched him to a tree at the mouth of a 


cave, and he saw a group of "furriners" carrying big sacks of 
money into the cavern. Finally she rode him back home, and 
he woke up next morning all tired out and brier-scratched. This 
happened night after night, and the hillman consulted a famous 
witch master. The witch master advised him to mark the tree 
to which he was tied at night, so that he could find it again in 
the daytime. Then, said the witch master, it would be an easy 
matter to waylay the witch and kill her with a silver bullet, 
and afterwards they could get the treasure in the cave. So the 
next night, being transformed into a horse, the hillman "drapped 
as many drappin's" as he could to mark the place and started 
in to chaw a big blaze on the sapling to which he was tied. "I 
chawed an' I chawed," he said, "an' all of a sudden come a hell 
of a noise an' a big flash o' light. Then I heerd a lot o' hollerin', 
an' it sounded like my old woman was a-doin' the hollerin'. 
Quick as a wink I seen I was home again, an' it seemed like" 
here the hillman stole a furtive glance at his wife, who sat 
stolidly smoking by the fireplace "it seemed like I'd went an' 
benastied the bed-blankets, an' dang near bit the old woman's 
leg off!" 

Many people believe that a witch can ruin a man's health 
by placing a lock of his hair, a fingernail clipping, or even a 
photograph of him, under the eaves of a house where the rain 
from the roof will fall upon it. I have heard of a woman in 
Newton county, Missouri, who hung the framed pictures of 
her husband's parents under the eaves during a hard rain. Just 
for the record both of the old persons died a few weeks later. 
A man in Joplin, Missouri, told me that his disease, which the 
doctors called neuritis, had been wished on him wished is a 
common euphemism for witched. "I can lay here in bed any 
night when it's a-rainin'," he said, "an' just feel the water 
a-pourin' on my head an' shoulders !" 

To curse any particular part of a victim's body, the witch 
take's the corresponding part of an animal, names it for him, 
and then buries it in the ground or suspends it in a pool of 


water. There was a man near Neosho, Missouri, who said pub- 
licly that his prostatitis was "wished on him" in this manner 
by a former mistress. Many people think that witches can, by 
some hocus-pocus with the sex organs of a sheep, render a man 
impotent or a woman sterile. A girl in McDonald county, Mis- 
souri, named sheep's testicles for a boy who had mistreated 
her and put them into an anthill ; this was supposed to destroy 
the young man's virility but was apparently without effect, as 
he was still going strong the last I heard of him. 

Just across the river from Sylamore, Arkansas, I met several 
persons who told me that there was a witch in the neighborhood, 
adding that everyone was frightened but nobody could figure 
out who the witch was. According to the story, a local man was 
stricken by some mysterious disease, and a "power doctor" 
decided to bleed him. When a vein in the man's arm was opened, 
the blood which rushed out was jet black. The horrified healer 
hurried away saying that the man was witched, and that no 
earthly power could save his life. When the poor fellow died a 
few days later, the relatives were all convinced that some woman 
in the vicinity had sold her soul to the Devil. 

A physician at Ozark, Missouri, tells me that some people in 
that town became convinced that a man with an Aortic aneurysm 
was "goomered" by a witch who had died some time before. They 
called a goomer doctor down from Springfield ; he decided that 
there were live lizards and frogs inside the patient said he 
could feel 'em wriggling about under the swelling in the poor 
fellow's chest! The ceremony which was supposed to remove 
these creatures lasted several days and nights, but the patient 

It is surprising how seriously many people, apparently in- 
telligent and enlightened on other subjects, take this witchcraft 
business. I have even been accused of dabbling in sorcery myself ; 
there is an old woman still living near Farmington, Arkansas, 
who tells people that I "throwed a curse" which ruined* her 
whole family. A neighbor of mine, by no means an ignorant 


man, seemed delighted when the doctor told him that his illness 
was caused by a bad appendix, and that it could be cured by 
an operation. His reaction puzzled the physician, who asked 
what he was so happy about. The man answered that he had 
feared the pain was "wished on him" and could not be relieved 
by any natural means ! 

Nancy Clemens, of Springfield, Missouri, told me an old 
story about a man who was shot by a witch's bullet, a ball 
which leaves no mark but causes the victim to lose consciousness. 
This poor chap was picking apples in a high tree at the time, 
and the fall injured him so badly that he was confined to his 
bed for several weeks. An outsider would have thought that the 
old man just fainted and fell out of the tree, but the fellow 
himself insisted that he had been shot by a witch, and his friends 
and relatives agreed with him. 

It is generally believed that a witch acquires extraordinary 
merit by burning the body of a newborn babe. Many a granny- 
woman has been suspected of selling stillborn children to the 
witches. My father-in-law, a physician at Pineville, Missouri, 
claims that there are no witches in the Ozarks nowadays. But 
he once told me that a certain old woman was trying to obtain 
the body of an infant. "I think she wants to burn it," he ad- 
mitted reluctantly, "and make some kind of luck charms out 
of the ashes." 

It is said that a mirror framed on three sides only gives a 
witch telescopic and X-ray vision, so that she can watch her 
enemies no matter how far off they may be, or how well con- 
cealed. I have seen two of these mirrors, one of which was said 
to have been brought from England in colonial days and used 
by several generations of women who could "do things." The 
present owners can't work the mirrors, I was told, because they 
don't know the magic words. 

There are many ways of detecting a witch, such as hiding 
a Bible in her mattress, placing a broomstick in her path, 
scratching a little cross under the seat of her chair, or adding 


a bit of pawpaw bark to her tobacco. Any of these measures 
will make a witch deathly sick, while an innocent woman is not 
affected. Another method is to take a new awl and fix it in the 
seat of a chair, so that only a very little of the point sticks 
through. Then get the suspected woman to sit down in the chair. 
If she jumps and cries out, it means that she is not a witch, since 
a witch doesn't feel the sharp point at all. 

Many people believe that witches eat very little salt. If a 
woman complains that food is too salty, when it does not seem 
so to others, she is regarded with suspicion. "The Devil hates 
salt" is a very old saying. Farmers have told me that bewitched 
cattle will not touch salt. Some hillfolk say that one can detect 
witchcraft by placing a little salt in the suspect's chair ; if she 
is really a witch the salt melts like glue, and her dress sticks to 
the chair seat. 

There is an old story that if a man kisses or embraces a witch, 
the silver coins in his pocket will all turn black, but I do not 
believe that this is taken very seriously by the real witch 

When a witch comes into the house, raw onions that have 
been cut up and peeled are supposed to sour instantly and be- 
come poisonous. I have seen a housewife, when 'another woman 
entered the room, ostentatiously remove some raw onions from 
the table and throw them out into the yard. In this case the 
housewife did not really believe that the visitor was a witch, 
but she wanted to behave as if she believed it. 

The backwoods witch hunters have little confidence in the 
old notion that a witch must be aged, or stooped, or hatchet- 
faced, or hook-nosed, or swarthy according to the storybook 
pattern. There is no obvious physical characteristic that is 
relied upon to identify a witch. However, I did meet one old 
man, a basketmaker near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, who said 
that a witch always has a "shifty" eye, and "don't never look 
straight at nobody, unless she's got 'em cunjured." , 

If several persons are seated about a fire, and the sparks 


which pop out seem to be directed toward one particular in- 
dividual, it is said that this person is somehow connected with 
the powers of evil. I have often heard this notion dismissed 
lightly, as when a great burst of sparks flew directly at a very 
ugly old woman, who showed her toothless gums in a grin. "Fire 
Toilers beauty," she said. We all laughed, but some of the old- 
timers looked distinctly uncomfortable. 

Witches can make themselves invisible, as everybody knows, 
but there is one method by which anybody can see them. All 
you have to do is throw a pinch of dust from a certain kind of 
puffball, known as the Devil's snuffbox, into a little whirlwind. 
Whirlwinds are common on the dusty roads every summer, but 
they are nearly always seen at a little distance. It is like the 
story often told children, that in order to catch wild birds, one 
has only to put a little salt on their tails. 

A friend of mine went out to photograph an alleged witch, not 
far from Neosho, Missouri. The old crone posed willingly 
enough beside her little cabin, in the bright sunlight. When the 
film was developed, the building showed sharp and clear in 
every detail, but there was no human figure in the picture at all. 
"It gave me quite a turn," said the amateur photographer. 
"For a moment I almost believed that there was something 
supernatural about that old woman !" But I reckon the lady 
must have shifted the camera somehow, thus cutting the witch 
out of the negative. 

Probably the commonest way to keep witches out of the house 
is to nail a horseshoe over the door; this is regarded as a 
sort of general prophylactic against witches, bad luck, con- 
tagious disease, and other evil influences. Many hillmen insist 
that it doesn't work unless the open end of the horseshoe is 
upward, but the reason for this has never been explained to me. 

Some of the old-timers drive three nails into the outside of 
a door, in the form of a triangle, to keep witches away from the 
cabiri ; one man told me that the three nails represent the Father, 
the Son, and the Holy Ghost and were particularly efficacious 


in protecting an expectant mother from the powers of evil. 
Painting the outside of a door blue is said to be a sensible pre- 
caution also, and some people make doubly sure by driving 
several tiny pegs of pawpaw wood into the doorsill. 

A man in Fort Smith, Arkansas, told me that his father 
placed the entrails of a big horned owl over the door, to keep 
witches away. And Otto Ernest Rayburn tells of a man on trial 
for hog-stealing who wore "the dried gizzard of a hoot-owl tied 
roun,d his neck for good luck/' 2 A hunter who lived in the 
woods on Spring River, near Waco, Missouri, nailed the genitals 
of a male fox squirrel above the door of his shanty. When I 
asked the purpose of this he said that it brought good luck. 
"It skeers the witches, too," he added, "just like deer horns." 

Some of the old-timers used to make a net of horsehair a 
horsehair sieve, they called it and fasten it over a hole in 
the door or window. In order to reach the people in the house, 
it was said, a witch must go in and out at each of the holes in 
the sieve, which would slow up her activity to a very considera- 
ble extent. I have seen what was left of one of these sieves, but 
the woman who showed it to me explained that it had been used 
nearly a hundred years ago, and that she kept it only as a relic. 

Some people say that, in order to protect a building against 
witches, one need only fasten two little hazel sticks on the wall 
in the form of a cross. I have never seen this in a cabin occupied 
by human beings but have often found such crosses nailed up in 
barns, where they are said to protect cattle and horses against 

A new house, which has not yet been occupied, is sometimes 
protected from evil spirits by placing an old broom across the 
threshold. Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Mis- 
souri, says that the old folks used to set up the mop and broom 
so as to form a cross, in the belief that it would keep witches 
out of the house. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, 
writes me that the woman who cleaned house for her always 
2 Ozark Country, p. 11. 


did this, when the sweeping and mopping were finished. I have 
seen the crossing of the mop and broom several times in my 
own house near Pineville, Missouri, but the woman who crossed 
them would not admit any connection with superstition. "It 
just shows I'm all done cleanin'," she said. 

May Stafford Hilburn tells of an old woman who "kept the 
witches away by running three times around the cabin, just 
at dusk-dark, shaking a white rag above her head as she ran." 8 

Some hillfolk plant a cedar peg, with three short prongs, in 
the pathway to keep witches away from a backwoods cabin. It 
is said that this device is particularly favored by certain primi- 
tive Christians, who regard it as representative of the Trinity. 
It is very bad luck to disturb such a symbol, whether one be- 
lieves in witchcraft or not. Enlightened hill people may laugh 
at these outworn superstitions, but they are nevertheless very 
careful not to step on a "witch peg." 

By all odds the most striking barrier against witches is the 
so-called egg tree. Usually it is just a little dead bush with 
the branches closely trimmed, and literally covered with care- 
fully blown egg shells. There are hundreds of egg shells on a 
really fine egg tree, which often requires years to perfect. It 
is set firmly in the ground near the cabin, a favorite place being 
under a big cedar in the front yard. Just how the egg tree is 
supposed to drive off witches I was never able to learn. Egg 
trees are rare nowadays, and many people have spent years 
in the Ozarks without seeing or even hearing of such a thing. 
As recently as 1921 there were two or three near Pineville, 
Missouri, and Southwest City, Missouri, and I saw one in 1924 
not far from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. There used to be a 
very fine egg tree at the old Jim Cummins place, on Bear Creek, 
in Taney county, Missouri. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey tells me that 
she saw egg trees "now and then" when she was a child, and 
that the last one in her neighborhood stood in Granny Howe's 
yard near Kirbyville, Missouri. 

8 Missouri Magazine (December, 1933), p. 10. 


Many hillfolk believe that witches are discomfited by hearing 
the name of the Deity. A woman at Sparta, Missouri, com- 
plained that a local witch turned her into a calf and rode her all 
over the country. Many a morning she would awake all tired 
out and brier-scratched, with burs and beggars'-lice in her hair. 
Finally one night the witch forced her into a particularly pain- 
ful brier patch, and as the thorns tore her flesh she cried out 
"Oh God !" Instantly the witch and the brier patch disappeared, 
and she found herself out in a field, sitting on a bundle of fodder. 

An old woman near Conway, Arkansas, told me the following 
"charm," guaranteed to drive off witches, which she learned 
from her grandfather: 

Dullix, ix, ux, 

You caint fly over Pontio, 

Pontio is above Pilato ! 

A man in Hot Springs, Arkansas, claimed that he could stop 
any sort of supernatural evil-doing, temporarily at least, by 
repeating aloud: 

Old Tom Walker under your hat, 
Bound in the name of God the Father, 
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

Here is a rhyme from a manuscript book which Miss Miriam 
Lynch, Notch, Missouri, obtained from one of her neighbors. 
It is supposed to be repeated by one who is about to enter a 
struggle or contest and fears that his adversary may be assisted 
by the Powers of Evil: 

God the Father is with me, 
God the Son may be with thee, 
The Holy Ghost is with us all 
But I will rise and you will fall. 

In pronouncing any of these magic words against witches, 
it is well to clasp one's hands together, in such a manner, that 
the thumbs cross. Some think a better move against witches 


is to hold the right thumb in the left hand, and the left thumb 
in the right hand; this can be done inconspicuously, with the 
hands in one's lap. Either of these positions is supposed to be 
more effective than the ordinary crossing of the first and second 
fingers of the same hand, in the "King's X" fashion affected by 
school children. 

Another ancient method of discouraging witches is to take 
a buckeye and stand facing the rising sun. Then, while repeating 
a certain old sayin', you bore a hole in the buckeye with a sharp 
pointed flint-rock. The old sayin' is a secret, of course. "I 
wouldn't be allowed to tell," one woman said to me, "and there's 
some dirty words in it, anyhow." 

In a really serious situation the old-time Ozarker does not 
rely upon his own efforts to rout a witch but obtains the services 
of a professional witch master. If the witch master knows the 
identity of the woman who is causing the trouble, he draws her 
picture on a board and fires a silver bullet into it. This is sup- 
posed to kill the witch, or at least to cause her great bodily 
and mental anguish. I interviewed one renowned witch killer 
who cuts a silhouette out of paper and writes the witch's name 
on it. Then he very slowly tears the paper doll to pieces pulls 
off a hand one day, a foot the next, and so on. Finally he snips 
off the head, whereupon the witch is expected to die, or suffer 
a paralytic stroke, or become violently insane. 

Some operators prefer to make a little image of mud or 
beeswax to represent the witch. This "poppet" is covered with 
cloth once worn by the guilty woman. Then the witch doctor 
drives nails into the poppet, or beats it with a hammer, or 
burns it. 

Years, ago in Arkansas I knew a jealous woman who tried to 
"witch" the girl who had stolen her man. She set a human skull 
on a Bible, and before it placed two dolls, representing the 
erring husband and his light-o'-love. The poppet dressed as a 
girl had four big nails driven into its back. The whole thing 
was a failure, apparently ; I saw the girl several years later, and 


she seemed in good health and spirits. In 1938 Mr. D. F. Fox, 
a photographer of Galena, Missouri, wanted to make some 
pictures illustrating Ozark superstition; I fixed a skull-and- 
Bible altar for him, with two dolls posed exactly like those used 
by the jealous wife in Arkansas. The picture was later pub- 
lished in Life, June 19, 1939. William Seabrook describes Fox's 
photographs at some length, adding that he had helped to de- 
stroy similar hellish devices in France, in 1932. "I don't know 
what Messrs. Fox and Randolph think they are playing with," 
he writes. "They may have merely persuaded some old woman 
to show them how such things are set up, but the pictures in- 
trinsically stink of murder." 4 

Mr. G. H. Pipes told me a witch story, which he had from 
Grandmaw Bryant of Reeds Spring, Missouri, in the early 
1920's. It seems that some carpenters were building a house, 
and the work was going very well until a certain old woman 
walked slowly past. From that moment everything went wrong. 
The workmen couldn't hit nails but hammered their thumbs 
instead. They dropped their tools repeatedly, and one narrowly 
missed falling off the ridgepole. After two or three days of this, 
they called in a witch doctor. He found the old woman's trail 
in the dirt and drove a big nail into one of her heel prints. As 
soon as this was done, the carpenters went to work again, and 
the building was completed with no further difficulty. The old 
witch had a very sore foot and limped around with a bandage 
on her heel nearly all winter. 

A witch killer near Steelville, Missouri, says that it is only 
necessary to draw a rude picture of the witch on the north side 
of a black-oak tree, then drive a nail through the heart of the 
picture and leave it there. All this is done secretly, in the deep 
woods ; unless the witch can find the black oak and pull out the 
nail, she'll die very soon. 

I once knew a man who spent half-an-hour or so every evening 

* Witchcraft, Its Power in the World Today (New York, Harcourt, brace, 
1940), pp. 18-19. 


playing with a wooden spite doll, which was dressed to resemble 
a local woman who could "do things. " Time after time he would 
thrust the little image into the fireplace, until the feet touched 
the glowing embers, and then snatch it out again. The expres- 
sion on his face was most unpleasant. I am quite indifferent to 
the ordinary superstitions of the hillfolk. I visit graveyards at 
night, shoot cats on occasion, and burn sassafras wood without 
a tremor. And yet, something akin to horror gripped me, as I 
watched the witch master's sadistic foolery. I should not care 
to have that man burning a poppet wrapped in my undershirt. 

Some witch masters go into the woods and pile grass and 
twigs around in a big circle, perhaps fifty feet in diameter. 
Then they mutter their magic phrases, and one minute before 
midnight they set the ring of brush on fire. The idea is that 
this somehow forces the witch to appear within the circle, and 
anybody who does show up there is likely to get a silver bullet 
through the guts. There are several stories of travelers, usually 
doctors on late calls, blundering into these witch rings at mid- 
night. Sometimes the doctor talks his way out, while in other 
variants of the tale the unfortunate physician is shot to death. 

If it is possible to obtain any part of the witch's body such 
as fingernail parings, a lock of hair, a tooth, or even a cloth 
with some of her blood upon it the witch doctor has recourse 
to another method. Out in the woods at midnight he bores a 
hole in the fork of a pawpaw tree, and drives a wooden peg into 
the hole. Once, despite the protests of a superstitious hillman 
who was with me, I pulled out one of these pegs and examined it. 
The end was covered with beeswax, in which several long hairs 
were imbedded. There was a circle of what appeared to be dried 
blood higher up on the peg, and the auger hole contained a 
quantity of fine sand. A similar "pawpaw conjure" is some- 
times employed by cuckold husbands, but it is primarily intended 
to deal with women who "talk the Devil's language." 

In 'case the material for the pawpaw trick cannot be obtained 
from a witch, some hillfolk try to conjure her with any object 


that she has ever touched, or even a bit of wood or metal from 
the house in which she lives. I know a man who, as a child in 
McDonald county, Missouri, was sent by his parents to steal 
a shingle from a witch's roof. His grandmother burned the 
shingle and buried the ashes in the graveyard. But the little 
boy never understood the purpose of this business, and nobody 
ever explained it to him. He told me about the incident, and a 
few years later I met his mother, in a neighboring state, and 
asked her if she remembered it. "Yes," she said slowly, "I 
reckon Tommy got the shingle, all right. But it didn't mean 
nothin'. Just some of Granny Fitzhugh's foolishness. She was 
awful old, an* kind of weak in her mind." 

The discomfort caused by the witch master's spells finally 
forces the witch to show her hand, and she comes to the be- 
witched person's home. Usually she offers some apparently 
innocent gift or attempts to borrow some trifle. If the witch's 
gift is accepted, or her request for a loan granted, the witch 
master's charm is broken and the witch instantly regains con- 
trol of the situation. The safest plan is never to lend anything 
under such conditions unless the borrower speaks the words 
"for God's sake" it is said that a witch cannot pronounce 
these words. 

The witch master's immediate purpose is to check the particu- 
lar "bewitchment" which is injuring his client, but his ultimate 
intention is to kill or permanently disable the witch. When a 
witch dies, every jackleg witch doctor in the country claims 
credit for causing her death. When old Gram French was killed 
by falling off a bluff, an amateur conjurer in our neighborhood 
stalked solemnly about with rabbit blood on his forehead for 
several days. "But ever'body knows," a village loafer said scorn- 
fully, "that the pore half-wit never even seen Gram !" 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, Holla, Missouri, told me of an alleged 
witch in her neighborhood and repeated several stories she had 
heard about this woman. "A certain young man," she said, "was 
trying to court the old witch's pretty daughter. The old woman 


did not approve of the match, so she cast a spell on the boy and 
made him very sick. The boy's folks called the witch master, who 
drew a picture of the witch and pierced the head with a pegging- 
awl. 'I reckon that'll give the ol' devil a headache, anyhow,' he 
said. Next day the boy was much improved, and the old woman 
was in bed, with a bag of hot sand on her forehead. 

"On another occasion," Mrs. Mueller added, "this same old 
witch put a spell on a neighbor's daughter, so that she was 
stricken with some kind of lumbago and couldn't walk. The witch 
doctor didn't tell anybody just what he did this time, but in a 
few days the girl was feeling much better. And for weeks after 
that the old witch was seen walking aimlessly about in a rocky 
field, so crippled that she moved very slowly and leaned upon a 

"These stories were told me by people who believe every word 
of them," said Mrs. Mueller with a smile. "There was a time 
when nearly all of the backwoods people believed in witchcraft 
and sorcery, and such beliefs are not at all uncommon today, 
even among the more or less enlightened younger generation." 

A basketmaker at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, told me that 
children are best protected against witches by wearing a neck- 
lace of dried burdock roots, cut into small pieces and strung 
like beads. Some say that if a child is bewitched despite this 
precaution, it is only necessary to stand him on his head while 
you count forty-nine backwards to take the curse off. Another 
remedy is to strip the child and leave him naked while you boil 
his clothes in a kettle out of doors. Rap three times on the kettle 
with a stick, calling out the name of the woman whom you be- 
lieve to have bewitched the child. If the woman is guilty, the 
spell will be broken instantly. 

A family named Criger, in Greene county, Missouri, had an 
infant bewitched ; the baby cried constantly, but the doctors 
could find nothing wrong with it. The mother was advised to 
carry* the child to the front door every morning, and to lick its 
face "in a clean sweep from the nose to the hairline:" This was to 


continue for nine mornings, and on the ninth day the witch 
would appear and try to borrow something. Her request must 
be refused, and the refusal would break the spell forever. Sure 
enough, on the ninth morning an old woman appeared and 
wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. Mrs. Criger refused to lend 
any sugar, and the baby was perfectly normal thereafter. Otto 
Ernest Rayburn tells a very similar story, 5 but in his version 
the mother was told to "repeat the three highest names in the 
Bible" each time she licked the child's face "from nose to hair- 
line." In Rayburn's story, too, it was a man who had bewitched 
the infant. When this man was unable to borrow anything on 
the ninth day the child recovered, but the woman who told the 
mother how to break the spell "had a nice heifer to die the fol- 
lowing day." 

The following story came to me from Phelps county, Mis- 
souri, but variants of it are heard all through the Ozark region. 
An infant suddenly became very ill, and the parents suspected 
witchcraft, so they called in the local goomer doctor. He mut- 
tered some incantations, burned a little powder in the fireplace, 
and boiled all the baby's clothing in a kettle outside the cabin. 
"Don't take no gifts from nobody," he cautioned the parents, 
"an' don't lend nobody nothin'." The only callers next day were 
two women, one of whom carried a child in her arms. Just as 
they were leaving a little shower came up, and the sick baby's 
mother handed the other woman a shawl to protect the visiting 
child from the rain. Later that same day the baby died. "You 
must have took a gift," said the witch master, "or else loaned 
somethin'." Forgetting the shawl, the sorrowing mother denied 
this but later recalled the incident and admitted her mistake. 
"You ought to have done like I told ye," the goomer doctor 
said sadly as he took his leave. 

Clothing that has been bewitched is treated by burying it in 
the ground, "jest like if it had been stunk up by a polecat." 
Other hillf oik prefer to wash such clothing in milk and* hang 
Ozark Country, p. 164. 


it out of doors over night in freezing weather ; this is supposed 
to take the curse off somehow, so that the garments may be 
worn without danger. 

The rifle is still an essential part of the hillman's equipment, 
and in pioneer days it was even more important. There are many 
stories of witches who could utterly ruin a hunter by putting 
a spell on his rifle. One way of witching a man's weapon is to 
steal a bullet from his pouch and fasten it with string to a 
willow, so that it remains suspended in swift water. The poor 
fellow's rifle shakes from that time forward, just as the bullet 
shakes in the current, and he can never shoot accurately until 
the spell is removed. 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Holla, Missouri, told me about 
a farmer whose wife was reputed to have supernatural powers. 
One day the men of the neighborhood were engaged in a shoot- 
ing match, while the witch woman was working near the house. 
After awhile she called her husband. "John," she said, "come 
help me frame this here flax." John paid no attention, for he 
was an exceptionally good shot and didn't want to leave the 
shooting match. The next shot he fired went wild. His rifle was 
in perfect condition, but the witch had tied a little knot in the 
corner of her apron. After three more shots, all of which missed 
the target, John prepared to leave the match. "I'll have to go, 
boys," he said. "The old woman's done put a spell on my gun, 
an' she won't take it off till I 'tend to that damn' flax." 

A man in Christian county, Missouri, complained that his 
brand-new rifle was witched. The wtich doctor advised him to 
put it in the spring branch so that the water would run through 
the barrel, and not to lend anything. Pretty soon a woman 
who lived nearby came to borrow some medicine, but he told her 
no. She must have been the witch, said my informant, because 
she had a turrible runnin' off at the bowels, and he figgered it 
made the old devil sick when the spell was took off'n the gun. 

There is an old story of a famous hunter whose rifle suddenly 
lost its accuracy. He believed that the weapon was witched by 


an old woman who lived near his cabin. All smiles, the hunter 
went to see this woman and borrowed a nail to fasten the heel 
of his boot, which he said was loose. Returning home, he drove 
the nail into the stock of his rifle ; instantly the spell was broken, 
and the hunter could shoot as well as ever. 

It is said that a bewitched firearm can somehow be disen- 
chanted with asafetida, but I have never been able to find out 
anything definite about this method. 

An old man at Berryville, Arkansas, claims that witch doctors 
can write something on paper and place it under the metal butt 
plate of a rifle ; this is supposed to fix a gun so that it caint 
be witched. Some gunsmiths used to make all their weapons 
that way ; it is said that many of the earlier Hawkins rifles, for 
example, were warranted witch proof. A sort of built-in witch 
stopper, as it were. 

When the new moon comes on Friday, it is said to usher in a 
favorable period for molding bullets ; many old folks insist that 
bullets made at this time are luckier and deadlier than those 
cast at any other season. It is said also that rifle balls kept in 
a human skull for awhile become more lethal than ordinary 
bullets. Some old-timers believe or at least pretend to believe 
that the man who drives a coffin nail into the butt of his gun 
will never fail to kill an enemy. The coffin nail must be one 
which has been used and buried in the ground, of course. 

If a man threatens you with a firearm, cry out "Poxy soxy 
sorrox" and the gun will miss fire ; if it does go off, the bullet 
won't hit you ; if the bullet does hit you, it won't kill you. In 
the old days, many a pioneer carried a bat's heart, dried and 
powdered. Some said that it would turn bullets, others that it 
would keep a wounded man from bleeding to death. A bullet 
which has killed a man can be used in some kind of hocus-pocus 
against witches and is carefully preserved for this purpose. 

Many Ozark housewives think, when the butter doesn't come 
promptly, that it must be due to witches in the churn. I have 
seen these women wash a silver coin and drop it into the cream 


this is supposed to drive the witches out. Some people put a 
horseshoe into the churn, instead of a coin. Most of them say 
simply a horseshoe, but sometimes one hears that it should be a 
hot horseshoe. It may be that a hot horseshoe really would make 
the butter come, and not by any supernatural spells, either. 

A woman near Springfield, Missouri, tells the following tale 
which she had from her pioneer mother. One day they churned 
and churned with no result, so the housewife took a hot horse- 
shoe out of the oven, where it was kept to drive hawks away 
from the chickens^ and dropped it into the churn. The butter 
came instantly, and a moment later they heard loud screams 
from a shanty across the road. They rushed over there and 
found an old woman badly burned. She said she had fallen into 
the fireplace, but the burn looked as if it had been made by a 
hot horseshoe. 

A lady in Christian county, Missouri, was annoyed by a 
series of minor inconveniences, which she attributed to a neigh- 
bor who could "do things." One afternoon somebody remarked 
that if she shouted out the witch's name the spell would be dis- 
sipated. That very night she was sitting before the fire when 
she sensed the witch's approach. "I just drawed a good deep 
breath," she said later, "an' then I hollered 'Peggy McGee' as 
loud as I could ! The whole thing stopped right there, an' I aint 
had no trouble with witches since." 

Some witches seem to specialize in throwing spells on horses, 
cattle, and other livestock. One of my old neighbors told me that 
his hogs had been witched only a few years ago. When he went 
to feed 'em they wouldn't come to the trough at all but "jest 
lent back on their tails an' squole !" 

When, a cow gives bloody milk, it is generally due to some 
natural cause, but there is always the possibility of witchcraft. 
Put the morning's milk in a kettle, boil it over an open fire out- 
doors, and stir it with a forked thorny stick. If the cow has been 
witched, this procedure will send the witch into convulsions, 
and she will not bother your cows any more. 


Old Granny Bryant, of Reeds Spring, Missouri, used to tell 
of a family whose cow suddenly began to give bloody milk. They 
talked the matter over and called in a witch doctor. "Put some 
of that bloody milk in a fryin' pan," said he, "an* bile it over 
a slow fire. While the milk's a-bilin', beat on the bottom of the 
pan with a hickory stick." These instructions were carried out, 
and people who went to the local witch's cabin said that her 
back and buttocks were a mass of bruises, so sore that she could 
not walk for several days. The spell was dissipated, and the 
cow gave no more bloody milk. 

A lady named Barnes, at Galena, Missouri, sold her cow to 
a doctor. Later on she said that the physician had cheated her 
somehow and demanded the return of the cow, but the new owner 
refused to give it up. This angered Mrs. Barnes, and she "wished 
a sickness" on the cow, so that it took to throwing fits every 
day and was never of much use to the doctor or his family. "I 
never wished anything on anybody yet," said Mrs. Barnes in 
my hearing, "that it didn't happen !" 

Many farmers treat witched cattle with a mixture of burnt 
cornbread, soot, and salt. The soot is the important ingredient, 
I think the bread and salt are just added to make the stuff 
palatable. The water in which a blacksmith cools his irons is 
supposed to be good for witched cattle and is sometimes given 
to human beings also, particularly children. Some witch masters 
cure a witched horse or cow by snipping off a bit of hair from 
its head and burning the hair, the idea being that this will make 
a sore place on the witch's head and thus cause her to remove 
the spell. 

Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, Rolla, Missouri, told me of a neigh- 
bor whose cow was "on the lift" ; the animal's eyes bulged, and 
it had a peculiar frightened look said to be characteristic of 
witched cattle. The witch master came and cut off a little curl 
from the cow's forelock. Next day the cow was well, and the 
witch came to borrow some soda, but the family refused to lend. 
They noticed that a lock of hair had been cut from the front 


of the witch's forehead. The hired man asked her about this, 
and the woman said she had cut it off because it "bothered" 

Mrs. Mueller unearthed another witch tale, well known to 
some of the old-timers in Phelps County, Missouri. A young 
man wanted to marry the traditional farmer's daughter, but the 
match was opposed by his mother, who was able to "do things." 
He married the girl anyhow, and they had a baby. One day the 
young folks were picking blackberries, and the baby was sleep- 
ing under a tree only a few yards away. The husband heard a 
noise, and found that an old sow had mangled the infant so 
badly that it died. The boy looked at the sow and saw that it 
had eyes exactly like his mother's. He accused the old woman 
and threatened her life, but she denied everything. Their next 
baby was also attacked by a sow, but the father got there be- 
fore it was much hurt. He looked at the sow, and the animal 
trotted away. The boy went home, loaded a rifle with a silver 
ball, and pointed it at his mother. She screamed and begged 
and confessed on her knees that she had killed his baby. Then 
in the presence of all the kinfolk she swore that she would not 
molest his family again, and he was persuaded by his sisters to 
spare her life. The old witch kept her promise, and the young 
couple raised their other children without any supernatural in- 

I am indebted to Mrs. Mueller also for an account of a conjure 
man she knew in Holla about 1910. He was a mind reader, 
clairvoyant, fortuneteller, power doctor, witch master an old 
fellow with strange red eyes. This man told Mrs. Mueller how 
he learned the art of conjuring. He said that even as a small boy 
he always felt that he could "do things," and one day he saw 
what looked like a snake or an eel at the water's edge, in a small 
creek. He approached, and the thing crawled out on a gravel 
bar. A strange animal, black all over, about a foot long, shaped 
exactly like a coffin, with two red eyes like balls of fire. A voice 
told him to kill this creature, and he smashed it with a club. 


From that day forward he could conjure. There are people in 
Rolla today who remember the old man with the strange red 
eyes, like balls of fire. 

I have met elderly folk near Marionville, Missouri, who re- 
member the doings of Granny Whittaker. On one occasion she 
asked a neighbor's daughter to hold the Whittaker baby for a 
few moments, but the little girl refused to touch the infant. "It 
stinks," she said bluntly. "All right, young lady," cried the 
Whittaker woman, "you'll suffer for them remarks !" From that 
day forward the girl had fits, sometimes three or four fits in a 
single day. The poor child always cried out that she saw "old 
Granny Whittaker, in the shape of a turkey" just before the 
attacks came on. The girl's father could see nothing, but he 
often fired his pistol in the direction of the phantom turkey 
pointed out by the "fitified" girl. Once old Granny Whittaker 
lost a finger in some mysterious accident, and the neighbors 
thought that one of this man's bullets might have somehow 
struck her hand. The local conjurers and power doctors "sot 
up spells" against Granny Whittaker for years, but without any 
visible results. It is said that one famous witch master came all 
the way from Little Rock, Arkansas, to match magic with the 
Whittaker witch but accomplished nothing. 

There is one case reported from the Cookson Hill country 
of Oklahoma, just across the Arkansas line, where a prominent 
citizen died in rather strange circumstances. Some of his back- 
woods relatives got the idea that a witch was the cause of this 
man's death and decided to avenge him in the real old-time tradi- 
tion. The first step was to secure three nails from the dead man's 
coffin; these may be drawn before the coffin is buried in the 
ground, but not until after the body has been placed in the 
coffin. The nails must not be replaced by other nails, and the 
three holes in the wood should be left open. After the funeral 
the old-timers killed a goat, removed the heart, and thrust the 
three coffin nails into it. The goat's heart with the nails ?n it 
was then enclosed in a little basket-like cage of wire and sus- 


pended out of sight in the big chimney of the dead man's house. 
The theory is that, as the goat's heart shrivels and decays, the 
witch will sicken and die. If she does not sicken and die, it is 
regarded as evidence that she was not responsible for the man's 
death, after all. 

The preceding paragraph seems rather fantastic, but I be- 
lieve that the goafs-heart and coffin-nail business was carried 
out exactly as I have described it. I saw nothing of it myself, 
though I am intimately acquainted with some of the persons in- 
volved; I once sat within a few feet of the big fireplace above 
which the nailed goat's heart is suspended but did not peer up 
the chimney to see if the little wire cage was really there. I was 
told about this by two young, educated members of the family, 
who gave me permission to publish the story on condition that 
no names or identifying data were included. The man who sold 
the coffin refused to discuss this particular case, but admitted 
that "more than once" people had come to his place of business 
and wanted to pull nails out of coffins in which bodies were lying 
at the time. The nails, or screws, he thought, were to be used 
in "some Indian ceremony." Well, the clan in question boasts a 
"smidgin" of Cherokee blood so does my own family, for that 
matter. But the persons concerned in this goafs-heart affair 
have had little contact with Indians ; they know nothing of tribal 
religions or ceremonials, and many of them never even spoke 
with a fullblood in their lives. 

Many of the unsolved murders, and many of the outrages at- 
tributed to masked night riders, are directly or indirectly con- 
nected with the hillman's belief in witchcraft. The Henley- 
Barnett feud at Marshall, Arkansas, which killed so many peo- 
ple that the governor sent troops to prevent further bloodshed, 
is said to have been fanned into flame by an old woman who 
could "do things." This was common talk when I interviewed 
members of both factions at Marshall in 1934, although vigor- 
ously denied by those in authority. 

Less than a year ago I heard a man threaten an old woman's 


life, because he believed that she had bewitched his son. The 
boy had lived quietly at home until he reached the age of seven- 
teen, when he suddenly took to robbing tourist camps and filling- 
stations along the highway. "My boy was brought up honest," 
the old man said, "an* there aint no natural reason for this 
here trouble. He's witched, an' I know who done it !" 

Most of the Ozark superstitions are harmless enough, but this 
belief in witchcraft frequently leads to violent crime. When 
primitive people imagine that their troubles are caused by su- 
pernatural "spells," and that these spells are cast upon them 
by their neighbors, tragedy often results. Things happen in 
these hills which are never mentioned in the newspapers, never 
reported to the sheriff at the county seat. The casual tourist 
sees nothing to suggest the current of savage hatred that flows 
beneath the genial hospitality of our Ozark villages. "Still 
waters run deep," as Grandmaw Tolliver used to say, "an* the 
Devil lays at the bottom." 

13. Death and Burial 

Many trivial happenings in a mountain 
cabin are regarded as presages of an 
approaching death. The falling of a win- 
dow sash at night, or the spontaneous breaking of any household 
object when no one is touching it, is a sure sign of death in 
the house. When a picture falls from the wall of itself, many 
hillfolk believe that the person who picks it up will die within 
the year. Some say, however, that it is just a general sign of 
sickness and death for the entire household, and the individual 
who happens to pick up the picture is in no more danger than 
anybody else. But if anyone imagines that he hears the crash 
of glass, when no breakage actually occurs, the head of the 
house will meet a violent death before the year is out. 

The breaking of a mirror is always a sign of seven years* bad 
luck, but sometimes it means a death in the family. May Stafford 
Hilburn tells us how the looking glass in her home was smashed 
and adds that "in less than seven years my father died !" l 

Hillfolk are always upset by any unusual clicking or rum- 
bling in a clock they think that a relative or close friend must 
be dying at the moment when the sound is heard. If a clock that 
has not run for a long time suddenly begins to strike, there will 
be a death in the house within the number of days, weeks, or 
months indicated by the chimes, but there's a wide difference 
of opinion about the interpretation of this material. 

Any household noise of unexplained origin, if it suggests the 
tearing of cloth, is a death sign. An old woman near Fort Smith, 
Arkansas, told me that, as a girl, she heard somebody tearing 

i Missouri Magazine (October, 1933), p. 14. 


cloth in the kitchen. There was nobody in the room when she 
looked to see, but a few days later the house was full of women 
tearing up sheets to lay out her sister, who died suddenly and 
unexpectedly. Those were the days when they buried corpses in 
winding sheets^ l n g strips of cloth which were torn, not cut. 

Many hillfolk claim to hear another sound called the "death 
bones" shortly before someone dies. An old woman once said to 
me: "I heerd Lucy's death bones a-rattlin' this morning so I 
reckon she'll be dead afore night." And sure enough, Lucy died 
that afternoon, although the local physician had expected her 
to live for a month or so. 

If you hear raps, knocks, ticks, or bells, with no apparent 
cause for these noises, it is a sign that death is coming to some- 
one near you. The famous death watch or death tick, a sharp 
snapping noise sometimes heard in log houses at night, is sup- 
posed to mean a death in the building within a few days. This 
noise is similar to the sound made by cocking a pistol and is said 
to be produced by a beetle with a singular gift of divination. 

May Stafford Hilburn, of Jefferson City, Missouri, says that 
it is a very bad sign for a church bell to ring "without human 
hands to ring it. Calamity will certainly descend upon any com- 
munity should such a supernatural event take place, for floods 
or fire or other dire event may be expected." 2 

A ringing in the ears the jingle of the so-called death bells 
means that somebody near you is about to die. A little tinkling 
sound means the death of a close friend or relative. A very loud 
bell, so loud it makes the hearer dizzy, foretells the death of a 
high official or prominent citizen, someone important to many 
people. The Springfield (Missouri) News # Leader (Dec. 10, 
1933) observes that "several Springfieldians said they heard 
the loud death bells at the time of Dr. A. J. Croft's death." The 
name death bells is also applied to a row of little appendages 
found on the heart of a hog when it is butchered; Mrs. C. P. 
Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, knows about these and says it 
2 Missouri Magazine (September, 1933), p. 21. 


is important that they be cut off at once. Some people think 
that if these death bells are immediately removed, the curse is 
somehow lifted and the expected death may not occur. 

If an Ozark girl breaks a needle while making a quilt she is 
depressed ; some say that she will die before the quilt is finished, 
others think it means only that she will die before the quilt is 
worn out, which is much less serious, since quilts sometimes last 
longer than an ordinary lifetime. But it's bad luck to break a 
needle, anyhow. Most any mountain woman knows better than to 
make a dress or other garment for a person who is critically ill, 
as to do this means that the sick person has very little chance of 

If an Ozark woman is accustomed to fasten the door every 
night and forgets to do so, she regards it as an evil omen and 
is not surprised to hear of the death of a dear friend. 

The woman who washes clothes on January 1 is likely to bring 
about the death of a relative, according to a very common belief. 
"Wash on New Year's, and you'll wash away your kinf oiks!" 
said an old woman near Carthage, Missouri. I have heard many 
people laugh at this idea, but I have never known a real old- 
timer to do any washing on New Year's Day. 

It is very bad luck for an Ozarker to hang his boots against 
a wall, and many people regard this as a sign that he will not 
live to wear them out. If a woman sneezes with food in her mouth, 
she expects to hear of a close friend's death before another sun- 
rise. A girl near Mena, Arkansas, once showed me that the coffee 
grounds in her cup formed a straight line; she said this meant 
there would be a funeral in the house before many months had 
passed. The woman who throws an egg shell into the fire on May 
1 and sees a drop of blood on the shell knows that she will never 
live to enjoy another May Day. To sweep a floor after dark or 
allow a lamp to burn until the last drop of oil is consumed 
these things are taboo, and many people believe that they are 
likely to bring death into the family circle. 

When you see an oil lamp in an old-timer's cabin, very often 


there is a little piece of red woolen cloth, or a bit of red yarn, 
submerged in the oil. Some people say that this collects impuri- 
ties or sediment from the kerosene and thus prevents a clog- 
ging of the wick. Others think that a lamp with a red rag in it 
never explodes, while oil without the rag may take fire spon- 
taneously and burn the shanty down. But several old people in 
widely separated parts of the Ozarks have told me that the red 
wool in the oil is supposed to protect the family from death by 
violence or poison. 

The typical hillman avoids any firewood which pops or crackles 
too much, in the belief that burning such wood will bring about 
the death of some member of his family. To burn sassafras 
wood is supposed to cause the death of one's mother, and 
although sassafras makes very fine charcoal, no decent native 
will burn it, or even haul it to the kiln, unless his mother is 
already dead. There is an old saying that the Devil sits 
a-straddle of the roof when sassafras pops in the fireplace ; Otto 
Ernest Rayburn refers to this expression. 3 

It is very bad luck to burn peach trees, and dreadful results 
are almost certain to follow. I know a man and woman who cut 
down and burned some old peach trees, despite the warnings of 
their neighbors. Sure enough, their baby became sick a few 
days later. The neighbors helped them as best they could, but 
one and all refused to come into the house or have anything 
further to do with the family if any more peach trees were 

The Ozark children are told that if they defecate in a path or 
public road their sisters will die. If a mountain woman imagines 
that she sees the face of an absent friend in a mirror she expects 
to hear of this person's death, and if a young girl sees any 
coffin-shaped object reflected in water she is sure to die before 
the year is out. Most old-time hill women were taught that 
cloth contaminated with the menstrual discharge must be buried 
in the ground, never burned ; to disregard this is to court dfcath 
* Ozark Country, p. 157. 


in some particularly terrifying form. For a menstruating woman 
to take a bath is almost equivalent to suicide, according to the 
granny-women. It is regarded as dangerous for anybody to bathe 
just before starting on a journey; the traveler who does so has 
good reason to fear death by drowning. 

The farmer who carries a hoe into his house will cause the 
death of a near relative within the year. To carry an ax into 
the cabin is seldom permitted except in confinement cases, where 
the granny-woman puts an ax under the bed to ease the pains 
of childbirth. 

I once traveled through rural Arkansas in a covered wagon 
with Mr. Lewis Kelley,.of Cyclone, Missouri, an old-time moun- 
tain man. We camped by the roadside every night and slept in 
the wagon when the weather was bad. One morning I picked up 
the ax and started to put it in the wagon, but Mr. Kelley 
immediately stopped me, saying that it is bad luck to carry 
an ax in the wagon bed where men are accustomed to sleep; 
also, he added reasonably, it's likely to dull the blade. There 
is a place low down at the rear of the wagon, on the axle I think, 
where the ax fits perfectly, and that's where we carried it. 

If a hillman steps over a spade lying on the ground he is 
seriously disturbed by the belief that it will shortly be used to 
dig his grave. The man who inadvertently kicks a rifle on the 
ground will die of a gunshot wound, according to the old-timers. 
To step over a person lying on the floor is very bad luck, and if 
done intentionally is almost akin to homicide. Some liberal think- 
ers claim that one can stop the curse by crossing his fingers and 
immediately stepping backwards over the sleeping individual, but 
there is considerable doubt about the efficacy of this. 

A falling star is supposed to be somehow connected with the 
death of a human being; in 1917 I sat one night with a fellow 
soldier at Camp Pike, Arkansas, and as several stars fell the 
boy remarked gloomily that he reckoned "they must be a-killin' 
fellers right now, over thar." Some old folks claim to have 
seen a ball of fire travel across a field and down the chimney 


of a house where someone lay sick; this is a sure death sign, 
and the patient always dies within a few hours. 

When a dog under the cabin, or on the front porch, howls 
four times and then stops, it is said that there will be a death 
in the house very soon. If a dog rolls over and over in the same 
direction, it is said that he is measuring the ground for his 
master's grave. If a cat licks the door it is a sure sign that 
somebody in the house will die shortly. When horses take to 
running about and neighing without any visible cause, or mules 
suddenly begin to "ride" each other near the house, it means 
that someone is dying not far away. 

If a cow has just lost her calf, everybody expects her to bawl 
and pays no attention ; but when a cow begins to bawl without 
any apparent reason and keeps it up, the hillfolk become un- 
easy. I have seen a group of modern, educated, bridge-playing 
women in Joplin, Missouri, much upset by hearing some cattle 
bawling. I learned later that they had been reared in the wilds 
near Pineville, Missouri, and that a man related to most of them 
was very ill at the time. 

It is a bad sign for a rooster to crow in the doorway ; if 
anybody is dangerously ill in the house it usually means death. 
If a rooster crows seven times in front of the door'without turn- 
ing around, it means that someone in the family is going to die 
soon, whether any of them are sick now or not. 

If a hen makes any sound suggestive of crowing near the 
door, it is a sure sign of death, and I have been told of cases 
in which somebody died within ten minutes. A crowing hen will 
excite any group of backwoods people ; I have seen a man spring 
up and fire his revolver wildly into a flock of chickens, killing 
several. Some people do not hesitate to eat a crowing hen, but 
this man would not allow one to be cooked in his house. "Throw 
it to the hogs," said he, "and if they won't eat the damn' thing, 
we'll sell it to the tourists !" 

Whippoorwills seldom alight on buildings, but if one (Joes 
come to rest on the roof of a house and gives its characteristic 
call from this position, there will be a death in the neighborhood 


within twenty- four hours. Any sort of a bird rapping on a 
windowpane, or trying to get into the cabin, is a very bad sign ; 
a man from St. Paul, Arkansas, tells me that when a turtle dove 
flies into a house, somebody is sure to die soon. 

A bat in the cabin is even worse than a songbird, but a screech 
owl is worst of all. One cry from this bird, even if it is only in 
the dog run and not in the house proper, will upset almost any 
backwoods family. The mother jumps instantly to throw salt 
on the fire, while the older children, usually crying, begin to 
tie knots in a string. "Owls don't often get into houses," says 
Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, "but it's 
terrible when such a thing does happen." If there happens to 
be a sick man in the place, every effort is made to kill the owl, 
so that its body may be laid warm and bleeding on the patient's 
chest, for otherwise he will surely die. A man in Madison county, 
Arkansas, tells me that to throw a handful of salt or feathers 
on the fire will silence a screech owl outside the cabin. "Maybe 
it's the smell of salt a-burnin' that does the trick," he said 

The transplanting of cedar trees is a bad business, and the 
old-timers thought that the transplanter would die as soon as 
the cedar's shadow was big enough to cover a grave. I have 
heard of a case where a young fellow uprooted some little cedars 
that a "furriner" wanted for his lawn, dug the holes in which 
they were to be planted, and then hired a very old man to set 
them in the holes. The old codger didn't mind, knowing that he 
couldn't live long anyhow. One good thing is that cedars are 
hard to transplant successfully, and most of them die before 
they're big enough to shade a grave. A man told me once that 
the curse could be "throwed off" by putting a flat stone in the 
bottom of the hole where the cedar is planted, but others shook 
their heads at this theory. I know of some boys who hired out 
to transplant cedars in a nursery; these young men laughed 
at the old superstition, but their parents were horrified and 
ordered them to quit the job immediately. 

Mrs. Marion B. Pickens of Jefferson City, Missouri, editor 


of the Missouri Magazine, wrote me (Oct. 1, 1935) of her ex- 
perience shortly after buying a country home on the Osage 
River, near Tuscumbia, Missouri. "The new place is a beautifully 
located farm house," she said. "We planned to move some na- 
tive cedars into groupings and had great difficulty in finding 
someone to do the work because moving cedar trees was known 
to bring untoward happenings, nearly always a death to the 
immediate family. And these Tuscumbians cited actual cases to 
prove the rule. We finally found a native who was willing to risk 
the welfare of his family, but he had worked on the big roads out 
in the valley and had acquired a certain bravado or reckless- 
ness in tempting the powers that be. This is a bona fide expe- 

Mrs. Frances Mathes, of Galena, Missouri, once told me that 
years ago she transplanted a little cedar on the Mathes farm. 
Her young husband just grinned when he heard of it, but her 
father-in-law was almost prostrated. He urged Frances to go 
instantly and pull the tree up. Frances refused, and always after 
that the old man felt that she was destined for an early death. 
But the cedar tree is still flourishing, big enough to cover half 
a dozen graves now, while Frances Mathes outlived her hus- 
band and the whole Mathes family. 

The prejudice against transplanting cedars is known all 
through the Ozarks, and doubtless in many parts of the South. 
Other superstitions about trees seem to be local, or even limited 
to certain family groups or clans. There are people in southwest 
Missouri who will not under any conditions plant a willow. I 
once asked a hired man to "stick" some willows in a certain gravel 
bar, in order to turn the creek the other way and prevent it from 
cutting into my field. Without mentioning the matter to me, he 
went out and hired another man to attend to this. "It's sure 
death for us folks to fool with willers," he explained later, "so 
I just got one o' them Henson boys. The Hensons is eddicated, 
an* they don't believe nothin'." 

When a big tree dies without any visible cause, it is a sign 


that some human being will die before the year is out, exactly 
one mile north of the tree. If nobody lives there it doesn't mat- 
ter, the old folks insist that a man, woman, or child will die at 
the designated spot anyhow. I once tried to point out the fallacy 
of this theory, since one of our big walnuts had died, and there 
was no record of a human death to the north of us. But an old 
man, a deacon in the church, told me seriously that somebody 
had doubtless been made away with by which he meant mur- 
dered there, and the body concealed. 

For a baby's cradle to rock without any visible reason is a 
very bad omen, and it is generally believed that the child will 
not live to outgrow the cradle. Many hillfolk think, however, 
that the cradle-rocking has a more general significance, and that 
the person marked for death may not be the baby at all, but one 
of its parents, or some other member of the household. 

If a child less than a year old is permitted to see its reflection 
in a mirror, it will either be cross-eyed or will die before its sec- 
ond birthday. If a babe's fingernails are cut with a metal blade 
it will die within the year, or become a thief in later life. Most 
backwoods mothers take no chances with this dilemma ; they 
bite the child's fingernails off. 

For a baby to lose a shoe is regarded as a very serious mat- 
ter, and all the people in the house drop their other affairs to 
hunt for it. Sometimes men are even called in from the fields to 
help. If the shoe is not found, it is a sure sign that somebody 
in the family will die. 

In the Ozarks as elsewhere, of course, there are men who think 
they can "smell death" many days ahead. Mr. W. H. Scott, 
of Bennett Springs, Missouri, once wrote to the Springfield 
News (Apr. 3, 1941) : "I was born with a veil over the face, 
May 16, 1863. If there is going to be any death in the family I 
know it about two weeks beforehand. Also among close and 
particular friends." 

To see the wraith or double of a living person is a death sign. 
"One bitterly cold day," writes Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, 


a father and his son were gathering corn. All at once the lad ap- 
peared directly in front of the wagon, busily husking out the ears. 
The father spoke to him, rather amazed at his working ahead of the 
team like that, and the boy replied from the other side of the wagon, 
tossing in corn as he spoke. The father wondered, but said nothing. 
Again, a moment later, the boy was in front. The father stopped work 
and turned, and there he was, busy at his rows, the other side of the 
wagon. Bewildered, puzzled, the father resumed his work, and sud- 
denly the boy was at his side, snatching at the corn. But there he 
was, across the wagon, in his place ! In a sudden fright and unex- 
plained agony of apprehension, the father made an excuse to stop 
work and go to the house, as he said it was getting colder. The boy 
never helped him again. In just a few days he was dead, of pneu- 

No matter what his ailment, a sick man must never be lifted 
from one bed to another. If it becomes necessary to move him 
to another room or another building, the bed and bedding must 
be transferred also. Some hillfolk take this matter very seri- 
ously, indeed, and put themselves to a great deal of trouble and 
expense because of it. 

Never turn a bedfast person end to end, so that his head is 
where his feet have been. If you do, he'll die sure. A man who 
is dangerously ill must not be shaved in bed, since the old folks 
say that this is nearly always fatal. 

To sweep under a sick person's bed, in some localities, is re- 
garded as a bad thing, an admission by the sweeper that the 
patient is about to die. Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Spring- 
field, Missouri, writes to the Springfield News (July 24, 1941) : 
"I am so bound by these early superstitions that I can hardly 
get away from them, and to this day it makes me crawl all over 
when I am in a hospital and they sweep under my bed. The 
only comfort I get is that it isn't a broom they just have dust- 
mops. And I'm still living !" 

When a sick man wants to know his true condition, he touches 
a bit of bread to his lips and throws it to a dog; if the dog 

* White River Leader f Branson, Missouri, Jan. 4, 1934. 


won't eat it, the man knows that he has a very short time to 
live. If cocks crow or dogs howl or foxes bark unexpectedly 
near a sick room, the patient may die at any moment. On 
this point, Mrs. May Kennedy McCord declares that "all 
the dogs for five miles around" howl just before an old settler 
breathes his last, but maybe this is taking in a little too much 
territory. When a sick man begins to pick at the coverlet, or 
to slide down toward the foot of the bed, or to emit an odor like 
that of crushed pumpkins, his death may be expected very soon. 
What is more, it is said that the last person upon whom the dy- 
ing man's gaze rests will be the first among those present to 
follow him to the grave. 

Mr. Elbert Short of Crane, Missouri, tells me that every Ne- 
gro "bawls three times like a calf" just before he dies. There 
are no Negroes in the region about Crane, and Mr. Short has 
never seen a Negro die, but the old folks all repeat this bit of 
wisdom, so he reckons it must be true. 

Those attending a dying man, particularly if he is thrashing 
about or struggling, are very careful to keep their fingers away 
from his mouth, since the bite of a dying person is said to be 
deadly poison. In many localities I heard the tale of the doctor 
who was bitten in the hand by a dying child and died two weeks 
later of blood poisoning. 

There is a common belief that dying persons are particularly 
apt to take off just as the clock strikes the hour. Some say that 
more people die at 4 A.M. than at any other time. Mrs. Anna 
Bacon, of Stone county, Missouri, is an old woman who has 
seen many people die, and she says that "the change of the 
hour," meaning midnight, is the best time to go, if one has any 
choice in the matter. 

I once sat with a man who was dying of pulmonary tubercu- 
losis. An old woman looked at the sky and remarked that a 
storm was coming, adding that "as soon as it rains, he'll die." 
The doctor told me that rain had nothing to do with the time 
of the man's death and said that he would probably live for 


several days longer. Three hours later it rained, and thirty min- 
utes after the rain began the poor chap was dead. 

When a death finally occurs, one of the bereaved neighbors 
rises immediately from the bedside and stops the clock. Every- 
body knows that if the clock should happen to stop of itself 
while a corpse is lying in the house, another member of the fam- 
ily would die within a year, and it is considered best to take no 
chances. Several families near Southwest City, Missouri, are 
somehow persuaded that the old custom of stopping the clock 
is derived from the Indians. When I pointed out that the old- 
time Indians had no clocks, and that some local Indians have 
no clocks even today, these people said no more. But they still 
believe that the stop-the-clock business is based upon "a old 
Injun idy." 

The next thing to be done is to cover every mirror in the 
house with white cloths, which are not removed until after the 
funeral. This is done out of consideration for those who may 
come in to view the body, for if one of them should glimpse his 
own reflection in the house of death, it is believed that he will 
never live to see another summer. 

In some houses, immediately after a death occurs, the chairs 
are all turned up so that nobody can sit in theiri, and people 
who come into the presence of the dead are forced to stand. I 
have never been able to find out the purpose of this. One old 
man in Benton county, Arkansas, told me that it is a new-fangled 
custom, brought into the country by some "outlanders" about 

When a hillman dies all his bedding and articles of clothing 
are immediately hung on a line out of doors. People coming far 
down the road see this and know that the patient is dead. In 
predicting a sick man's demise, I have heard people say "Poor 
Jim's britches will be a-hangin' out most any day now !" 

The hillfolk have a veritable mania for washing dead bodies ; 
the moment a death occurs the neighbors strip the corpse ,and 
begin to scrub it vigorously. A man may be dirty all his life, 


and in his last illness his body and bedding may be so foul that 
one can hardly stay in the cabin, but he goes to his grave clean, 
so far as soap and water can cleanse him. All of the work con- 
nected with a death washing and dressing the body, and so 
on is done by friends and neighbors. Not one of the near rela- 
tives of the deceased will have any part in these doings, except 
in case of the direst necessity. 

Many hillfolk make a weak tea from the bark of the wahoo 
bush (Euonymus)) widely used as a medicine for chills and fever. 
Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, tells me 
that the old folks soak cloths in this wahoo tea and lay them 
over the face of the dead, in order to keep the face fresh so that 
it will look well at the funeral. Others wrap the head in a towel 
wet with soda water, believing that this will prevent the skin 
from turning dark. Mr. Hugh Wilder, a mortician of Fort 
Smith, Arkansas, says that country people in his territory often 
place a saucer of salt upon the abdomen of a corpse, "to keep 
the belly from bloatinV 

A county nurse in Arkansas recalled that when an old man 
she was attending died, she put little pieces of paper under his 
eyelids, so that the eyes would remain closed. But the family 
objected, saying: "We may be on relief, but we still got our 
corpse money !" They brought out two old silver dollars and laid 
them on the dead man's eyes. It appears that some families 
keep these same coins, set aside for this purpose only, for several 
generations. In one backwoods county a serious quarrel arose 
which finally ended in violence and arrest for several individuals ; 
peace officers said that the whole thing began over the refusal 
of one family to lend their "corpse money" when a death oc- 
curred in their neighbor's home. 

Whatever happens, the body must never be left alone for a 
single instant, for fear some animal should get at it; if a cat, 
for example, should so much as sniff at the corpse, some un- 
speakable calamity would overtake the whole family. The be- 
lief that cats will mutilate a dead body seems to be widely 


accepted in the South but appears to have little foundation in 
fact. It is true, however, that cats sometimes show marked symp- 
toms of excitement in the presence of the dead, and the hillman 
prefers to take no chances. 

Several young couples are usually called in to serve as a 
death watch, and at least two persons are supposed to remain 
beside the body, while the others may be kissing in a dark 
corner, or eating the elaborate lunch supplied by the sorrow- 
ing family. A jug of corn whiskey is sometimes provided for 
the menfolks the Ozark women seldom drink in public but 
there is very little drunkenness on these occasions. If an owl 
hoots or a wolf howls in the vicinity the watchers are seriously 
disturbed, because these sounds signify that one of the group 
will die before the year is out. 

When a backwoodsman dies, in certain sections of the Ozarks, 
it sometimes happens that one of his male relatives cuts a hick- 
ory stick just the length of the corpse. I have seen a hill farmer 
carrying one of these sticks on the day of his brother's death, 
and I have seen one tied to the wagon which conveyed a corpse 
to the graveyard, but I have never been able to find out what 
became of them, or what their significance was. I first thought 
that the stick was simply to measure the body for a coffin, but 
it is something more complicated than that, and there is some 
sort of superstition connected with it. 

If the weather and other conditions permit, a body is some- 
times kept for two or three days before burial. But it is usually 
considered bad luck to allow a corpse to lie unburied over Sun- 
day, and some say that it means another death in the family. 
When a corpse is lying in the house, members of the family and 
near relatives generally use the back door, although other 
visitors come in by the front entrance as usual. 

There is often a good deal of cooking in the lean-to kitchen 
while a dead body lies in the cabin proper, although friends 
and relatives bring in quantities of food already cooked. But 
nearly all of the old-timers believe that it is very bad luck to 


cook cabbage in a house where someone is "lyin* a corpse." 
Some say this is merely because cabbage attracts flies, but I 
don't think that is the real reason. 

One of my neighbors, an old fellow from West Virginia, was 
buried with a silver dollar in his mouth. Why this was done I 
don't know. I didn't have the courage to mention it at the time, 
but several years later I asked one of the younger members of 
the family. "Aw, it was just some of the old folks' notions," 
he said. 

A man dying in McDonald county, Missouri, said that he 
wanted to be buried lying on his left side, because he had never 
been able to sleep on his back. The village undertaker com- 
plained loudly about this, but the body was "laid to rest side- 
ways," as one of the dead man's relatives assured me. 

I know personally of an old-timer in Taney county, Missouri, 
who was buried with his Winchester rifle, loaded and cocked, 
in the coffin with him. His Colt revolver, also loaded, was in his 
belt. This was according to his own directions, given to his 
family during his last illness. 

There are stories of several other pioneers who were buried 
with loaded pistols in their belts, usually at their own request. 
Many will remember that Belle Starr, notorious Missouri-born 
outlaw, was buried in 1889 with a silver-mounted revolver at 
her waist. I remarked to one old settler that this seemed to me 
like "a heathen practice, probably got from the Indians." He 
answered that he didn't think the Indians had anything to do 
with it, and that it was no more "heathen" than the custom of 
burying bodies with valuable rings and other jewelry, which is 
common in all parts of the country. 

Some hillfolk of Indian descent insist upon sprinkling a little 
cornmeal over a corpse, just before the burial. This is done un- 
obtrusively, without any noise or ceremony, and many whites 
have attended funerals where the rite was carried out without 
eve* noticing it. As the mourners shuffle past the body, here 
and there you see one drop a tiny pinch of meal into the coffin. 


The relatives of a murdered man sometimes throw pawpaw 
seeds into the grave, on top of the coffin. It is said that this in- 
sures that the murderer will be punished. Other old-timers, in 
similar case, prefer to pull down the top of a little cedar tree 
and fasten it with a big stone. This somehow helps to catch 
the murderer. As soon as the man is punished, somebody must 
hurry out and move the stone ; if the cedar is not released there'll 
be another killing in the neighborhood. 

Some old people cherish a belief, said to have been borrowed 
from the Osages, that by burning the heart of a murdered man 
his relatives may make certain that the murderer will be pun- 
ished for his crime. There are whispers of such things being 
done in the back hills even today, but the rumors cannot be veri- 
fied, and it is not prudent for an amicable outsider to investi- 
gate these matters too closely. 

I have heard of several families near Southwest City, Mis- 
souri, who think it is a good idea to throw chicken entrails into 
the grave. This is definitely an Indian idea. Christian hillfolk 
don't like it much, but it is still practiced. Usually the stuff is 
placed under the coffin, and covered with dirt so that nobody 
knows about it, save the bereaved family and the gravediggers. 

Several methods are used in locating the bodies of persons 
drowned in the Ozark streams. One way is to set off charges of 
dynamite on the bank; this is said to bring the corpse to the 
surface. Some rivermen just float a loaf of light bread on the 
water and watch it carefully in the belief that it will stop and 
turn round three times at a point directly above the body. Others 
take a rooster in a boat and cruise about ; the rooster is sup- 
posed to crow when the boat approaches the corpse. When 
Charles Dunlap was drowned in White River, at Elbow Shoals 
just below the Missouri- Arkansas line, Nov. 22, 1941, the body 
was not recovered for about ten days. All three of the methods 
noted above were suggested, and it is said that all three were 
tried without success. 

Rube Meadows, city marshal of Branson, Missouri, claims a 


peculiar ability to locate the bodies of drowned persons. He has 
boasted of this "sleight 5 * since boyhood and is said to have 
found several corpses in White River and elsewhere. His method 
is comparable to water witching, but no forked stick is required. 
Mr. Meadows just reaches out of the boat and thrusts his bare 
arm into the water. There is a strange pull or attraction, he 
says, which indicates the location of the body. Mrs. C. P. Mahn- 
key, of Mincy, Missouri, first told me about this, but Mr. 
Meadows* claims are well known in Taney county, and many peo- 
ple feel that there must be something in it. 

There was no embalming in the early days, and bodies must 
needs be buried at once. There were no automobiles or hard- 
surfaced roads, either, and it was impossible for relatives who 
lived at a distance to get together at short notice. Thus it hap- 
pened that the actual "buryin' " frequently proceeded with no 
ceremony other than a short prayer at the grave, and the funeral 
was preached six months or a year later, when all the kinfolk 
could be present to hear the minister of their choice. These 
deferred funeral preachin's were held in the church house, and 
the mourners did not go to the graveyard at all. Such a cere- 
mony occurred near my cabin once, when a great number of 
people gathered to hear a country preacher eulogize a woman 
who had been dead and buried for more than a year. I have 
heard of one case in which the funeral of a man's first wife was 
attended by his second spouse, who sat beside her husband and 
wept with him for the loss of her predecessor. 

The old-timers all agree that the grave should be dug on 
the day of the buryin'. It is very bad luck to leave a grave 
open over night, as this is supposed to bring an early death to 
one of the dead man's relatives. A woman in Sparta, Missouri, 
tells how they dug a grave there for a body that was to arrive on 
an afternoon train ; the corpse did not show up at the appointed 
time, so that the buryin' had to be postponed until the following 
day. Sure enough, as the old-timers had predicted, another mem- 
ber of the family died a few weeks later. This belief is taken 


very seriously in some places, and I have known county officials 
to fail of re-election because they had callously permitted a 
pauper to be buried in a grave dug several days previously. 

It is strange that Lucile Morris, in describing the burial of 
Nat N. Kinney, the notorious Bald Knobber leader, near For- 
syth, Missouri, Aug. 25, 1888, says positively that it was cus- 
tomary for the Ozarkers to leave graves open overnight. "A 
handful of volunteers started digging the grave," she writes. 
"They worked until they were well along, then stopped until 
the next day, for few old-time Ozarkers will complete a grave 
on the day it is started. That is an invitation to some catas- 
trophe." 5 This statement seemed so much at variance with the 
Ozark practice that I went to Forsyth and tried to find out 
something definite about Kinney's burial. I located several per- 
sons who had attended the funeral, but the men who dug the 
grave are all gone now. Every one of the old-timers whom I 
interviewed assured me that if Kinney's grave actually was dug 
as Miss Morris says, it was a very exceptional case. Mrs. C. P. 
Mahnkey, whose father, A. S. Prather, was Kinney's chief lieu- 
tenant in the Bald Knobber organization, and who was herself 
well acquainted with the Kinney family, is very sure about this. 
"Lucile Morris is wrong, of course," she told me Dec. 12, 1943. 
"A grave is never started unless the burial is to be the same 

It is bad taste and also very bad luck for a woman to wear a 
brand-new dress at a funeral, but just what would be the pen- 
alty for a violation of this rule I have never been able to find 

Rainy weather is nothing short of calamitous on a wedding 
day, but at a funeral it is the best possible omen, since it means 
that the dead man's soul is at rest, and even a few drops of rain 
at this time go further to comfort the bereaved family than 
anything the "preacher man" can do or say. Every Ozarker 
knows the little verse : 

Bald Knobbers, Caldwell, Idaho (Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1939), p. 216. 


Happy is the bride that the sun shines on ; 
Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on. 

One must be careful at funerals to avoid counting the ve- 
hicles, since an early death is invariably the portion of the 
thoughtless individual who does so. Some say that the counter 
will die in as many weeks as there are buggies or cars to be 
counted. To cross a funeral procession, or to collide with a 
hearse, is regarded as almost equivalent to suicide. 

If a buryin' party is forced to stop on the way to the grave- 
yard, many old-timers believe that another member of the fam- 
ily will be buried before the year is out. I have known interested 
persons to send horsemen on ahead, to see that gates are open 
and everything is in readiness. It is bad luck also if the grave 
is not ready when the corpse is brought to the buryin' ground. 
This sometimes happens when the gravediggers strike big rocks 
or encounter some other difficulty. 

Many of the old-timers think that all burials should take place 
before noon ; if a body is buried after 12 o'clock, another mem- 
ber of the family is likely to die soon. But this is no longer in- 
sisted upon, except among some very old-fashioned families. 
In pioneer times the funeral lasted most of the day, with hill- 
folk milling around the buryin' ground for three or four hours 
after the corpse was buried and the grave filled up. There was 
preachin' and prayin' and singin' all day long, with time out 
at noon to eat the "basket dinner" which each family brought 
with them in the wagon. 

On no account must the mourners leave the cemetery until 
the last clod of earth is thrown into the grave to do so evi- 
dences a lack of respect for the dead and is likely to bring death 
and destruction upon the family circle. Every one of the grave- 
diggers must wait, because a man who digs a grave and does not 
stay to see it filled and covered is marked for an early death. 
Many hillfolk believe that deaths always come in threes, and 
it njay be that two more members of the group will be "called 
home" within a few weeks, anyhow. 


There is usually a lot of gabbling and hollering at an Ozark 
burial. In 1944, when Rose O'Neill was buried in the family 
graveyard near Day, Missouri, there was no preaching, no 
prayer, no religious ceremony at all. We just carried the coffin 
out of the house, lowered it into the grave and shoveled in the 
dirt, without saying a word. Some of the neighbors were horri- 
fied it was the first non-Christian burial they had ever seen. 
But they all did what they could to show their respect for the 
dead woman, even though she was an unbeliever. Every man of 
them stood stock-still until the last shovelful of earth was thrown 
into the grave. 

Some hillfolk become quite noisy at funerals. I have seen the 
immediate relatives of the deceased fling themselves on the corpse 
with loud yells, roll groaning and kicking on the floor, and even 
try to leap after the coffin when it is lowered into the grave. 
On the other hand, I remember one man who served his chil- 
dren with popcorn balls at their mother's funeral, and they all 
sat there eating the stuff within arm's length of the woman's 
body. A certain amount of noise is not regarded as bad taste 
at a buryin', but the old-timers do not favor long periods of 
mourning. Some say that protracted grieving, at least in public, 
is likely to interfere with the dead man's repose in the other 
world. "The dead caint sleep," an old woman told me, "when 
their kinfolks hollers too loud." 

Another superstition which has to do with the welfare of 
the dead is the tale of the heavenly crowns, also known as feather 
crowns and angel wreaths. The idea is that when a very good 
and saintly person is dying, the feathers in the pillow form 
themselves into a crown, a kind of symbol of the golden crown 
which the dying person is soon to wear in Heaven. Variations 
of this tale are heard in many places, over the whole length and 
breadth of the Ozark country. 

I have seen about twenty of these heavenly crowns. Several 
of them were loosely made, like inferior birds' nests. Crowns of 
this type may have been faked or have come together more or 

locc flrmHvn < fcil1'tr On/* r\t 4-Vo Irk/ionl-cr Vn-iill- sii.s>Ttr<rk o V\ A n -M^ii-n^ 


hole in the center, something like a bird's nest with the bottom 
punched out. Another was in the form of a ropelike ring, smooth 
and firm, about five inches in diameter, more like an undersized 
halo than a crown. 

The most finished type of feather crown, and the most im- 
pressive to my mind, is not shaped like a cap or doughnut at all, 
but rather like a large bun ; these are very tightly woven, solid 
enough to be tossed about like a ball, and surprisingly heavy. 
They are usually about six inches in diameter and two inches 
thick, slightly convex on both sides. They seem to be made in a 
sort of spiral like a snail shell, with the feathers all pointed the 
same direction and no quill ends in sight. All of the crowns I 
have seen, whether of the rough or the finished type, seemed 
very clean, and I saw no grease or glue or anything of the sort 
to hold the feathers together. I have pulled several of the loosely 
built crowns to pieces but have never been allowed to dissect 
one of the really fine, compactly woven kind. I do not believe 
that crowns of this latter type were deliberately fabricated by 
the horny-handed folk who showed them to me. 

When the bereaved family finds one of these feather crowns 
in the pillow of a relative who has just died, they are quite set 
up about it, sure that the dear departed has gone straight to 
Heaven and is "doin' well thar," as one old woman told me. The 
crown is taken out of the pillow with great care and displayed 
to all the neighbors ; sometimes there is a mention of it in the 
village paper, as a sort of postscript appended to the obituary. 
Some families keep such a crown in a box for many years, and 
I have seen two crowns sealed up in a glass-topped case of pol- 
ished walnut which had been made especially for them. 

May Stafford Hilburn describes the "angel wreath found in 
the goose-feather pillow of an old saint" of her acquaintance. 
She makes it plain that the wreath was regarded as a good 
omen, "a positive proof that the sainted old man had gone 
straight to Heaven." 6 

There is a farmer still living near Anderson, Missouri, who 
Mistovri Magazine (December, 1933), p. 11. 


treasures the crown left by his son. The boy spent several years 
in prison but finally came home to die, and the old man exhibits 
the crown as proof that the convict's sins were forgiven, since 
he not only went to Heaven but went rather ostentatiously at 
that. The implication is that the boy wasn't as bad as he was 
painted and may have been altogether innocent of the crime for 
which he was imprisoned. 

An old friend near Aurora, Missouri, tells of a widow in that 
neighborhood who displayed a very fine feather crown from 
her husband's pillow. The deceased was not at all the sort of 
man who would be expected to have a crown, and this particular 
specimen was so large and perfect that some of the neighbors 
suspected that the widow had woven it herself and stuck the 
feathers in place with molasses. 

There are stories of persons who have stolen crowns, and 
shifted pillows from one bed to another, and otherwise claimed 
crowns for persons who were by no means entitled to them. But 
it seems to me that such happenings are rare, since most hill- 
folk are too superstitious to meddle in these matters. 

It is difficult for an outsider to realize how seriously this 
heavenly-crown business is regarded by the old-time hillfolk. 
Here is a letter from Mrs. W. H. Haney, Dixon, Missouri, 
which was published in the Springfield (Missouri) News, Nov. 
16, 1940: 

I want to tell you that I know about these feather crowns that are 
found in pillows of the dying. I have three now that I found in the 
pillow of my darling daughter's bed when she passed away over ten 
years ago. No human hand could place those feathers like they are. 
So many of the old time things are true. The Bible teaches that there 
are "signs" for us to go by, and I believe everything the Bible teaches. 

I knew an old lady in Little Rock, Arkansas, who left in- 
structions that she was to be buried with her husband's feather 
crown in her bosom; the husband had died some thirty years 
before, but she had kept his crown in a box at her bedside. * 

I once took a city feller, a dealer in antique furniture and the 


like, to a backwoods cabin where he saw a fine feather crown in 
a box. When the thing was explained to him he became much 
interested and insulted everybody by offering to buy it for ten 
dollars. The old folks became very reserved, and one of the 
young men advised me to "take that feller back to town. He'll 
be tryin' to buy the stone off'n Sally's grave next, an' Paw's 
a-gittin' pretty damn' mad already !" 

Various theories have been advanced to explain the forma- 
tion of feather crowns. Mrs. J. H. Mayes, Mountain Grove, 
Missouri, published a letter in the Springfield (Missouri) News 
(Jan. 15, 1942) contending that the larvae of moths live in- 
side the quills, and "fasten the feathers together with an almost 
invisible thread, something like the web of a spider." She says 
that she has seen these larvae "emerging from the quills and 
dragging the feathers," and that she has found feather crowns 
fastened together with "almost invisible web." She adds "my 
pioneer mother told me that moths would get in feathers and 
form balls unless the feathers were periodically exposed to the 
sunlight." Mrs. Mayes thinks that these crowns are not found in 
feathers which have been scalded before storing them away. 

Commenting on two feather crowns which May Kennedy Mc- 
Cord presented to the Missouri Historical Society, later placed 
on exhibition at the Jefferson Memorial, an anonymous writer 
in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Apr. 3, 1942) offers the fol- 
lowing theory of their origin: 

A possible explanation lies in the physiological character of feathers. 
From the shaft above the quill are numerous vanes composed of barbs, 
and on the barbs are barbules with minute booklets on the side toward 
the tip of the feather. These booklets normally are caught in indenta- 
tions on the side of the barbules toward the quill. In a pillow they 
are likely to become loose, ready to hook any other minute thing. 
When two feathers come into contact, they are held together by the 
booklets. Other feathers join them, and a nucleus is formed. Just as 
feathers can be pushed through a small hole quill first with compara- 
tive ase, but tip first with difficulty, so feathers in a clump would 
tend to "climb" or move along each other toward the quill point. Such 


movement would continue until all the quill points attained a common 
center and could go no farther. Since downy feathers are all curved, 
the tendency would be for the outward curve to fit into an inward 
curve, and the feather clump would assume a spherical shape. 

A man in St. Louis, who used to buy and sell feathers in very 
large quantities, tells me that goose feathers sometimes "lump 
up" into firm rounded bunches, varying from the size of a biscuit 
to that of a washtub. These lumps have to be picked apart and 
broken up in order to handle the feathers. He doesn't know 
what causes this lumping but says that it can't be moth larvae, 
because feather dealers treat all their stuff with chemicals or 
live steam, which is certain to kill any insects that might be 

Mrs. Eliza Polete, of Fredericktown, Missouri, reported a 
feather crown "in which the feathers were intertwined with a 
light blue silk thread." And Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of 
Springfield, Missouri, mentions a crown that "appears as if it 
had been started around a pink thread, the like of which we do 
not have about the house, and never have had that I know of." 
Several persons have told me of crowns which contained pieces 
of thread from bed ticking, bits of dried chicken skin, uniden- 
tified animal matter, and long black hairs. A young widow in 
Greene county, Missouri, a month after her husband's death, 
found a crown in his pillow which contained several hairs from 
his head; this man's hair was dyed a peculiar color, so there 
was no trouble in identifying them. But how did these hairs 
get inside the pillow? The crowns which I have examined con- 
tained, so far as I could see with a pocket lens, nothing but 

Most hillfolk seem to think that the presence of a feather 
crown in one's pillow means good fortune here or hereafter, but 
there are some who believe they are death signs, the work of the 
Devil. Mrs. Nelle Burger, of Springfield, Missouri, president of 
the Missouri State W.C.T.U., has expressed herself about this. 
She says that in her childhood the people regarded feather 


crowns as evil omens, produced by the machinations of witches, 
which should be instantly destroyed wherever they are found. 7 
Mr. Rudolph Summers, of Crane, Missouri, recalls certain old 
settlers in his neighborhood who believe that feather wreaths 
are bad for everybody concerned and must be thrown into the 
fire immediately. 

Mrs. Ruth Tyler, of Neosho, Missouri, is another who re- 
gards the heavenly crown as a sinister thing. Writing in Ray- 
burn's Ozark Guide she tells her readers: "The feather-crown 
is a swirl of feathers that cling to a tiny thread or raveling. 
The feathers all turn in one direction, 'clockwise' to the right. 
It is very BAD luck to keep or give away one of these strange 
formations. Burn or destroy them at once." 8 

A lady whom I knew in Little Rock, Arkansas, never lets a 
month go by without examining every feather pillow in her 
house, to see if any suspicious lumps have appeared. Her hus- 
band is a politician, with many enemies, and she fears that some 
of them might employ witchcraft against the family. The idea is 
that these crowns grow slowly, over a period of several months, 
and that one can stop the whole business by searching the things 
out and burning them. But she thinks that if a feather crown 
ever comes to completion, the person who sleeps on that pillow 
will die immediately. That's why, according to her view, one 
never finds a perfect, finished crown excepting in the pillow of 
someone who has died. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, pub- 
lished a letter from a woman living at Fordland, Missouri, on 
this subject: 

According to what my husband tells me, as I have no knowledge 
myself, these crowns are definitely of evil. In fact very evil. As you 
say they are never found in a finished state only after the death of 
the user of the pillow and if you'll take a fool's advice you'll get rid 
of the specimens you have at once. 

T Springfield (Missouri) News, Jan. 15, 1941. 

*Lonsdale, Arkansas (July- August-September, 1944), p. 29. 


I was taught not to believe in superstitions, and this one I never 
heard of until I came to Missouri. My husband's people have lived 
in St. Louis since the days of Laclede and Choteau, and they firmly 
believe in this sort of thing. But they believe that if the pillow is 
burned if a sick person is using it, the hex will be removed and the 
sick one recover. One of his nephews' wives won't have a feather 
pillow in the home on this account. I do not like my name in the paper 
but I do think people should know that these feathers are not works 
of art but of the Evil One, in plain English, just a way of escaping 
punishment for murder. A READER. 9 

That's pretty strong language and leaves no doubt as to what 
the Fordland lady has in mind. 

There are many miscellaneous superstitions about grave- 
yards, and I have listed some of these in the chapters on ghost 
stories and witchcraft. When a man feels a sudden chill without 
any obvious reason, it means that someone or something 
usually a rabbit, a possum, or a goose is walking over the 
spot which will ultimately be his grave. 

It is very generally regarded as a bad business to move a body 
that has once been buried, and many hillfolk absolutely refuse 
to have any part in such an undertaking. 

Dr. W. O. Cralle, of Springfield, Missouri, met an old woman 
who told him that when a nearby cemetery was moved it was 
found that the corpses had gone to dust, but all the hearts were 
just as sound as the day the bodies were buried. Another version 
of this tale, which I heard in Washington county, Arkansas, has 
it that the hearts were petrified turned into solid reddish lime- 
stone. If a long-buried body is found to be well preserved, the 
hillfolk seem disturbed and a little frightened. They feel that 
it is natural for a corpse to decay and return to dust, and that 
a body which does not decay is somehow unwholesome or be- 
witched. Charles J. Finger, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was struck 
by this idea ; he suggested to me that it might be a remnant of 
the European belief in vampires. 

An odd notion, still quoted in many parts of Arkansas, is 
'Springfield (Missouri) News, Jan. 15, 1942. 


that a green brier always grows where a Yankee soldier is buried, 
while wild roses bloom over the graves of the Confederate dead. 

It is bad luck to carry anything out of a graveyard. One 
may move shrubs or flowering plants from one grave to another, 
but the person who carries a flower outside the gate will bury 
some member of his family within a year. May Stafford Hilburn 
mentions a woman who picked a bouquet from her father-in- 
law's grave, and sure enough her husband died the very next 
summer. "To this day," writes Mrs. Hilburn, "I do not take 
even a leaf from a cemetery !" 10 In 1936 a band of thieves car- 
ried off many tombstones from old cemeteries in southwest Mis- 
souri; it is supposed that the stones were redressed and sold 
elsewhere. People at Granby and Oronogo especially became 
very indignant about this and predicted that some supernatural 
calamity would overtake the criminals. 

In some sections of Arkansas I have seen newly filled graves 
with a pick and shovel left on the mound in the shape of a cross. 
This was evidently the gravediggers' idea. Perhaps it is some- 
how related to the familiar practice of crossing the mop and 
broom when the house cleaning is finished, as described else- 
where in this book. 

If a hillman happens to tread upon a grave, he is supposed 
to jump backward across it immediately, as otherwise a mem- 
ber of his family will die, according to the old-timers. One of 
my best friends, an educated Ozarker who is generally indifferent 
to superstition, surprised me by suddenly springing over a 
grave in this fashion. "It isn't a matter of what I believe," he 
said later, "but one must respect the prejudices of his neighbors. 
If I had not jumped back across that grave, it would look as if 
I want some of my relatives to die !" There are doubtless many 
other persons in the Ozarks who explain their observance of 
the old customs and taboos in similar terms. 

i* Missouri Magazine (October, 1938), p. 14. 

14. Miscellaneous 

~ The folk beliefs lumped together under 
this chapter's heading have little in com- 
mon, beyond the fact that they do not 
easily fit into any of the previous chapters. How should one 
classify, for example, the hillman's strange notions about the 
physical characteristics correlated with honesty and depend- 
ability ? There are still old-timers who will have no business deal- 
ings with a man whose beard is of a noticeably different color 
than his hair ; I have talked with men and women, as recently as 
1936, who refused to support a candidate for public office be- 
cause his hair was gray and his mustache red. 

Colonel A. S. Prather, who lived near Kirbyville, Missouri, 
in the eighties, always said "Never trust a man with ears too 
close to the top of his head." And Mrs. C. P. Mabnkey, daugh- 
ter of the Colonel, told me not long ago that she thought there 
must be some truth in it. Mrs. Mahnkey also quoted Uncle Jim 
Parnell, who placed small confidence in "a feller who rattled 
money in his pocket whilst he was a-tradin'." A person with 
very small ears is generally supposed to be stingy or "close." 
If a man's fingers are straight and held close together in re- 
pose, so that one cannot see the light between one finger and 
another, it is also a sign of stinginess or at least frugality. 
When a man begins to speak, and then forgets what he was 
about to say, many hillfolk believe that the statement he in- 
tended to make was a lie. 

The common expression "never trust a feller that wears a 
suit" does not really represent a superstitious belief, but merely 
the universal prejudice against men from the cities. The back- 


woods boys seldom wear suits. They buy expensive trousers 
sometimes but prefer leather jackets or windbreakers to match- 
ing coats. A woman in Branson, Missouri, once said to me: 
"Them Bull Creek boys is hell on big-legged pants. Don't keer 
much about coats, but pants is their pride." Many a prosper- 
ous young countryman, in possession of a farm, a car, some 
cattle and other livestock, has never owned a suit of clothes in 
his life. 

It is natural perhaps, in a fox-huntin' country, that a man 
who doesn't make friends with dogs should be regarded as a 
suspicious character. Related to this, no doubt, is the old idea 
that a beekeeper can always be relied upon, while a fellow who 
doesn't get along with bees is likely to be untrustworthy in 
financial matters. But what can we make of the old saying that 
"an honest man never rides a sorrel horse"? I have heard refer- 
ences to this sorrel-horse business in many parts of the Ozark 
country, over a long term of years, but even today I'm not sure 
just what is meant by it. 

There is a very old sayin' to the effect that a thief always 
looks into his cup before he drinks. This is quoted in a joking 
way, but I once met a deputy sheriff in Eureka Springs, Arkan- 
sas, who said that he had studied the matter for many years and 
was almost convinced that there was something in it. "Them 
old fellers that figgered out such notions," he told me, "was 
hunters an' Indian fighters. They had sharp eyes, an' they 
watched everything mighty close." 

In a poverty-ridden region such as the Ozarks, one would 
expect to find a number of superstitions relating to wealth. If a 
gray moth called the money miller hovers over you, or a little 
red money spider crawls on your clothes, you are sure to be- 
come rich some day. When a honeybee buzzes about your head, 
it is a sign that you will get a letter with money in it, or at least 
good news about financial matters. Mr. Clarence Marshbanks, 
of Qalena, Missouri, says that the children used to cry "Money 
'fore the week's out!" whenever they saw a redbird; the idea 


is that if you could get it all said before the bird was out of 
sight, there would be money coming your way by the end of 
the week. 

A person whose initials spell a word is certain to be rich, 
sooner or later. A man with a wart or mole on the neck is sup- 
posed to be fortunate in money matters, according to the old 
rhyme * 

Mole on the neck, 
Money by the peck. 

A woman with conspicuous hairs on her breasts will attain 
riches, if we are to believe the old-timers. 

Ozark children are often told that if the lucky-bones taken 
from crawfish are buried in the earth, they'll turn into nickels 
in a fortnight. Many a credulous mountain boy has tried this, 
and one youngster said disgustedly : "God, what a lie old Granny 
Durgen told me !" 

The man who has an eye tooth extracted should hasten to 
bury it in a cemetery, on an infidel's grave, because this is sure 
to bring money within six months. When you see a lot of bub- 
bles on the surface of your coffee, try to drink them all before 
they disappear, for if you succeed it means that you are about 
to make a large sum of money. 

On seeing a shooting star, always cry out "money-money- 
money" before it disappears, and you will inherit wealth. When 
you first glimpse the new moon, turn over a coin in your pocket 
without looking at the moon again, and you will be fortunate 
in money matters. It is always a good idea to be touching a 
silver coin whenever you see the moon, and it may be for this 
reason that rings hammered from silver coins are so popular 
in some sections. A girl who happens to see the new moon "cl'ar 
o' brush" hastens to kiss her hand three times and expects to 
find something worth a lot of money before the moon changes. 

Like most primitive folk, the Ozark natives attach consider- 
able importance to dreams, but their dream interpretations don't 


seem to differ greatly from those current among unlettered 
people in other parts of the country. 

To dream of muddy water means trouble, to dream of snakes 
presages a battle with one's enemies, to dream of money means 
that the dreamer will be poorer than ever before. A dream of 
white horses is unlucky and may mean sickness or death in the 
family. A dream of death is good luck if the dream comes at 
night and usually signifies a wedding, but to fall asleep in the 
daytime and dream of death is very unfortunate. A dream of 
childbirth is always welcome, a sign of a happy and prosperous 
marriage. The man who dreams repeatedly of fishes will attain 
great wealth. To dream of chickens is bad luck, and the vision 
of a black boat means an early death. A lady at Fort Smith, 
Arkansas, told me that she had discarded nearly all the super- 
stitions of her childhood, but still felt that it is bad luck to 
dream about cattle. To dream of a hoe or a rake signifies a 
happy marriage. The girl who dreams always of storms and 
floods will marry a rich man. It is good luck to dream of pigeons 
or doves, and usually means that a fortunate love affair is just 
around the corner. 

The first dream that one has in a new house, or when sleeping 
under a new quilt, will nearly always come true many moun- 
tain girls are anxious to "dream out" a new quilt or coverlet. 
The same may be said of a dream related before breakfast, or 
of one dreamed on Friday and told on Saturday : 

Friday night's dream, on Saturday told, 
Will always come true, no matter how old. 

An old woman at Pineville, Missouri, told me that as a little 
girl she dreamed of a gigantic snake coiled around her father's 
log house. She says this was a sign of the Civil War which broke 
out a few months later, in which her father and two brothers 
were killed. In 1865 she dreamed that the big snake was dead, 
upon which she knew that the War would soon be ended. 

Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, says 


that the best way to stop unpleasant dreams is to stuff cloth 
into the key hole. But I'm not sure that she means this to be 
taken literally. 

Some people are accustomed to place a knife under the dream- 
er's pillow, to prevent nightmares. I once noticed a small girl, 
not more than ten years old, sleeping with the handle of an 
enormous homemade bowie knife sticking out from under her 
pillow. "Maizie used to wake up a-hollerin'," the mother told 
me, "but since I put that there knife under the piller, we aint 
had no more trouble." Somnambulism is related to nightmares 
in the hillman's mind, and there is a widespread belief that one 
should never awaken a sleepwalker, as this may cause instant 
death. The Ozarker who sees a friend walking in his sleep just 
strides along beside him and tries to keep him from getting into 
danger, but makes no effort to wake him up. 

At several places in Missouri and Arkansas one hears of 
"electric springs." I never saw one of these, but persons in 
Lanagan and Anderson, Missouri, told me that if you dip your 
knife in the waters of a certain spring branch north of Ander- 
son, the steel blade becomes a magnet. A boy assured me 
that the blade of his clasp knife retained its magnetic prop- 
erties for several months, after being immersed in the "electric 
water" about five minutes. 

Most hillfolk believe that all water which is clear and cold is 
good to drink they cannot understand that such water may 
carry deadly organisms. Many persons contend that any spring 
water, no matter how contaminated, is purified by running over 
a hundred feet of gravel. 

It is said that a man who takes three drinks in three minutes 
from any Ozark spring is bound to return for another drink 
before he dies. In one form or another, that story is heard all 
over the Ozark country. But whether it is really old-time stuff, 
or was cooked up by the Chamber of Commerce propagandists, 
I have been unable to find out. 

There is an odd belief that stalactites or stalagmites are 


somehow deadlier than other stones, and that even a slight blow 
from a piece of "drip rock" is generally fatal. Carl Hovey, of 
Springfield, Missouri, was killed years ago by bumping his 
head on a stalactite and is still remembered and talked about 
whenever this superstition is mentioned. 

The "git-your-wish" class of superstitions is rather large, 
but I don't think it is taken very seriously by many adults now- 
adays. Grown people still go through the motions, but it is only 
the children who really believe that their wishes will come true. 

When a little girl sees a redbird she "throws a kiss an* makes 
a wish." If she can throw three kisses before the bird disap- 
pears, she is certain that her wish will be granted unless she sees 
the same bird again, in which case all bets are off. Some say 
that if one spies a cardinal in a tree he should always make a 
wish and then throw a stone ; if the bird flies upward the wish 
will be granted, but if it flies downward the desire will never 
be satisfied. 

The hillman who sees a snake trail across a dusty road often 
spits in the track and makes a wish; such wishes are supposed 
to come true, particularly if nobody is within sight of the spit- 
ter at the time. 

When a plowman hears the first turtle dove in the spring, he 
makes a wish and turns round three times on his left heel. Then 
he takes off his left shoe, and if he finds a hair in the shoe which 
is the color of his wife's or sweetheart's hair, he feels that his 
wish will be realized. Several sober and generally truthful farm- 
ers have told me that they have tried this and actually found 
the hair; one man said it was a very long hair, coiled up as if 
it had been placed in the shoe deliberately. 

Some hillfolk "stick a wish" on a soaring buzzard high up 
and far away ; if the bird passes out of sight without flapping 
its wings, they think that the wish will be granted. "When you 
see a little new colt," said one of my neighbors, "always spit in 
you/ hand an' make a wish; your wish is bound to come true, 
'cordin' to the old folks." 


Many Ozark children believe in "stamping mules," especially 
gray or white mules. On seeing one of these animals the child 
wets his thumb, presses a little saliva into the palm of the left 
hand, and "stamps" it with a blow of his fist. When he has 
stamped twenty mules he makes a wish it's sure to be granted. 
In some parts of the Ozarks, where Negroes are rare but not 
entirely lacking, I am told that the children "stamp niggers" 
the same as mules. I met children near Mena, Arkansas, who 
were stamping white horses too, but without much enthusiasm ; 
they said it was necessary to stamp a hundred horses before 
making a wish. 

An old woman near Noel, Missouri, always makes a wish 
when she sees a spotted horse, believing that if she refrains 
from looking at the animal again and tells someone about the 
occurrence as soon as possible, her wish will come true. "But it 
won't work in Oklahomy," she said with a toothless grin, "there's 
too many paint ponies over there." 

If a hillman happens to see a star before dark he shuts his 
eyes for a moment, spits over his left shoulder, and makes a 
wish. Many an Ozarker "sticks a wish" on a falling star ; if he 
succeeds in pronouncing the words under his breath before the 
star is out of sight and refrains from telling anybody the na- 
ture of the wish, he believes that it will come true. When the 
first star of the evening appears backwoods children make a 
wish, then cross their fingers and chant : 

Star light, star bright, 
First star I seen tonight, 
I wish I may, I wish I might, 
Git the wish I wish tonight! 

Children at Reeds Spring, Missouri, when they see a yellow 
boxcar standing still, stamp their feet and make a wish. If the 
yellow car is moving, the charm doesn't work. 

Some hillfolk say that if you make a wish at the bottom of a 
long steep hill and don't speak or look back until you have 


reached the top, your wish is sure to be granted. It is well to 
make a wish, also, when one walks on strange ground for the 
first time. Some people make a wish whenever they see a woman 
wearing a man's hat. 

In Taney county, Missouri, they say that the first time a 
woman sews on a button for a man, she should make a wish about 
that man's future, and such a wish invariably comes true. 

It is bad luck to drop a comb, but when an Ozark woman does 
so she invariably puts her foot on it and makes a wish. When 
a girl's dress turns up accidentally, she knows that her lover 
is thinking of her and hastens to kiss the hem and make a wish, 
confident that it will be granted. If her shoestring comes untied 
she asks a friend to tie it, and while this is being done she makes 
a wish. When a child's tooth is extracted he doesn't throw it 
away but puts it under his pillow and sleeps on it, confident 
that this will cause his chief desire to be granted within a few 

When a young girl in Springfield, Missouri, finds one of her 
eyelashes which has fallen out, she puts it on her thumb and 
makes a wish; then she blows the eyelash away and believes 
that her wish will come true. 

If two Ozark children happen to pronounce the same word 
or phrase at the same time, they must not speak again until 
they have hooked their little fingers together, made wishes, and 
chanted the following: 

First voice: "Needles/' 

Second voice: 'Tins/' 

First voice: "Triplets/' 

Second voice: "Twins." 

First voice: "When a man marries/' 

Second voice : "His troubles begin/' 

First voice: "When a man dies," 

Second voice: "His troubles end." 

First voice: "What goes up the chimney?" 

Second voice: "Smoke!" 


This done, the youngsters unhook their little fingers and go 
on about their business, each satisfied that his or her desire will 
be fulfilled. A girl in Stone county, Missouri, told me that all 
her schoolmates were familiar with this ceremony, and that many 
practiced it even after they were old enough to attend the village 
high schools. 

A woman at West Plains, Missouri, places her right hand on 
the closed Bible, makes a wish, and opens the book at random. 
She does this three times, muttering the same wish under her 
breath. If the opened Bible shows the words "it came to pass" 
three times in succession, she is sure to get her wish. This woman 
tells me that she has been doing this for many years, and that 
perhaps 90 percent of her prayers have been granted. "Of 
course," she told me smiling, "a body shouldn't wish for some- 
thin' that aint reasonable." 

Another semi-serious ceremony occurs when the first louse 
is found on a boy baby's head. This is quite an occasion in some 
families, and the other children all gather round while the 
mother kills the louse by "popping" it on the family Bible. While 
doing this she intones a wish about the children's future pro- 
fession and salutes him as lawyer, doctor, merchant, farmer, 
preacher or what-not. This ritual is not exactly a joke chil- 
dren are not allowed to laugh at anything in which the Bible 
is concerned but I do not think many adults really believe 
that the child's future is determined by "louse poppin'." 

One sometimes hears cryptic references to one hillman "drivin' 
a stake" or "plantin' a bush" in another's dooryard. My first 
impression was that these phrases referred to what the hill- 
folk call "family matters," but I learned later that sometimes 
they are to be taken quite literally. A lawyer in McDonald 
county, Missouri, told me that our local rich man, in a tower- 
ing rage, had exhibited a "green stake" which an enemy had 
driven into his front lawn at midnight. He wanted the lawyer 
to see that the stake driver was arrested and flung into jail. 
"He thought the fellow had made a wish on the stake, or some- 


thing," the attorney chuckled. "A kind of spooky business. No 
sense to it at all. I just threw the stake in the fire, an' advised 
my client to go back home an* forget it." 

In the Taney County Republican, a weekly newspaper pub- 
lished at Forsyth, Missouri, Feb. 20, 1941, appeared the fol- 
lowing bit of gossip: "Rita Reynolds and Arnold Davis are 
planning on planting a tree in Alvin Huff's yard." The neigh- 
bors told me that Rita had been "goin' with" Alvin, but the two 
had quarreled, and now she was "goin' with" Arnold Davis in- 
stead. Some members of the Huff family were said to be con- 
siderably displeased about this item in the Republican. But 
nobody seemed willing to tell me just what was meant by it. 

Some hillfolk believe that if the cicadas or "locusts" have a 
black W on their wings it is a sure sign of war. Mrs. May Ken- 
nedy McCord insists that there is something in this notion and 
recalls that she saw the fatal W on locusts' wings the year of 
the Spanish-American War. 1 

An old man near Bentonville, Arkansas, told me that it was 
no trouble to predict the result of any national election. If 
the Democrats are going to win, every garden is full of dog 
fennel; if a Republican victory is in the cards, dog fennel will 
be scarce, and plantain will choke every fence corner in Arkan- 
sas which God forbid ! Asked about the best method of doping 
out the Democratic primaries, the old chap just grinned and 
shook his head. 

During the presidential campaign of 1928, many Ozarkers 
saw a strange light in the sky, doubtless the aurora borealis. Some 
people in Christian county, Missouri, were very much frightened ; 
they thought the end of the world was at hand, so they held a big 
prayer-meeting. Clay Fulks, a professor at Commonwealth Col- 
lege, near Mena, Arkansas, told me that his neighbors believed 
that the light was a sign from God Almighty, warning the peo- 
ple not to vote for Al Smith. 

Iji the early days of the New Deal, many Holy Roller preach- 
i Springfield (Missouri) News $ Leader, Jan. 4, 1933. 


ers wandered through the backwoods of Missouri and Arkansas 
denouncing the "Blue Eagle" of the NRA, claiming that it was 
the evil sign described in the Apocalypse. The Joplin (Missouri) 
Globe (Aug. 29, 1933) discussed this matter seriously at some 
length, estimating that "between 20 and 25 percent of the pop- 
ulation of the foothill region" identified the NRA symbol with 
the seven-headed beast of doom mentioned by St. John. In 194*2 
I heard one of these fellows in the courtyard at Galena, Mis- 
souri, preaching against the government sugar rationing; he 
placed great emphasis upon the "mark" or "stamp" which he 
said was predicted in the Bible. "Right over thar at Troy Stone's 
store," he cried, "you caint even git a little poke o' sugar 
without that stamp !" 

Many Ozarkers feel that there is some religious or political 
significance connected with any unusual mark on an egg shell, 
and such marks are carefully studied. Old-timers in southern 
Missouri and northern Arkansas still talk of the "hen-egg re- 
vivals" which swept over this region in pioneer days. The story 
goes that some old woman found an egg with the words "Judg- 
ment is at Hand" plainly marked on the shell. Ministers of vari- 
ous sects came long distances to examine this egg and preached 
about it. The general impression prevailed that it was a "token" 
or omen and meant that the end of the world was soon to come. 
People became very religious for awhile, but after a year or 
so had passed and nothing happened, the excitement gradu- 
ally died down, and the "hen-egg revival" was regarded as a 
sort of joke. 

As recently as 1935 a similar excitement arose in the village 
of Couch, Missouri, when Mrs. Henry Bennett found an egg 
imprinted with the phrase "Here my Word 35." Viewing this 
as a religious portent, Mrs. Bennett told her neighbors about 
it. "A wave of excited piety overtook Couch," reports Time, 
Feb. 4, 1935. "To Mrs. Bennett's home went visitor after 
visitor, to emit fervent prayers. When, in a fit of devout jitters, 
a female preacher dropped the egg and broke it, Mrs. Bennett 


succeeded in gluing enough pieces on another egg so that the 
words were still visible." Mrs. Bennett said that she did not 
know what the egg meant, but "it was sent to us for some good 
reason, and there is no need for the children of God to be 

A woman once showed me a strange scar, something like a 
Chinese ideograph, on an egg shell. Later she told me privately 
that her husband, who was a Pentecostal preacher, had fallen 
into a trance at sight of the "inscription" and translated it. 
The message stated, he said, that Jesus Christ was going to 
visit the United States, run for President on the Democratic 
ticket, and "stump the whole State of Arkansas !" 

Well, so much for superstition in the Ozark country. When I 
began to collect material for this book, more than twenty-five 
years ago, it seemed to me that these old folk beliefs were dis- 
appearing very rapidly and would soon be rejected and forgot- 
ten. I intimated as much in my first paper on the subject, pub- 
lished in 1927. 2 We all talked at length about scientific progress, 
and enlightenment, and the obvious effect of popular education. 
But now, I am not so sure. I am not so sure about anything, 
2 Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 40 (1927), pp. 78-98. 


Not many studies of Ozark supersti- 
tion have been published. The titles listed below make up the entire 
literature of the subject, so far as I know. 

There are several important manuscript collections. Dr. Benjamin 
A. Cartwright, of Norman, Oklahoma, has more than 80,000 super- 
stitions typed on cards, and some of these items were collected in 
Barry and McDonald counties, Missouri, where he lived for many 
years. Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Rolla, Missouri, showed me a large 
file of ghost stories and witch tales, mostly from Phelps county, Mis- 
souri. Mrs. Isabel France, of Mountainburg, Arkansas, recorded a lot 
of folk remedies in the backwoods of northwest Arkansas. Mr. Otto 
Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has much unpub- 
lished material, and so has Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Spring- 
field, Missouri. A considerable amount of miscellaneous information 
about folklore was assembled by the Federal Writers' Project in the 
1930's; this material has since been delivered to the Library of Con- 
gress, where it is being worked over by Dr. B. A. Botkin, formerly 
a professor at the University of Oklahoma, editor of A Treasury of 
American Folklore (New York, 1944; 932 pp.) 

Allsopp, Fred W. Folklore of Romantic Arkansas. New York, Grolier 
Society, 1931. 2 vols., 333, 371 pp. 

Only one short chapter entitled "Some Early Superstitions" (II, 121-128) 
is ostensibly devoted to this subject, but both volumes contain much inter- 
esting information. Badly indexed, no documentation. Allsopp was manag- 
ing editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock for many years. 

Arkansas, a Guide to the State. New York, Hastings House, 1941. 
447 pp. 

Compiled by the Federal Writers' Project, sponsored and copyrighted by 
the Secretary of State at Little Rock, Arkansas. The word "superstition" 
does not appear in the index, but there is a brief section (pp. 97-102) en- 
titled "Folklore and Folkways" which contains a few items. 

Barker, Catherine S. Yesterday Today; Life in the Ozarks. Caldwell, 
Idaho, Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1941. 263 pp. 

Chapter XV, pp. 241-253, is entitled "Superstition" and contains a list of 
Ozark folk beliefs. Mrs. Barker lived at Batesville, Arkansas, for eleven 
years, and was a case worker for the Federal Emergency Relief Adminis- 
tration ; she collected the material for this book in the country near Bates- 


Bauersfeld, "Mirandy." Breezes from Persimmon Holler. Holly- 
wood, California, Printed by the Oxford Press, 1943. 207 pp. 

Behymer, F. A. 'The Legend Lady of the Ozarks," St. Louis Post- 
Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, July 7> 1943, p. 3-C. 

Brief article about Mrs. Mabel E. Mueller, of Rolla, Missouri, and her 
studies of witchcraft and other Ozark superstition. 

Broadfoot, Lennis L. Pioneers of the Ozarks. Caldwell, Idaho, Caxton 
Printers, Ltd., 1944. 195 pp. 

Charcoal portraits of elderly Ozarkers, with names and addresses attached. 
There is a page of printed matter opposite each drawing, usually a direct 
quotation from the subject. Note references to superstition, pp. 28, 30, 40, 
100, 142, and 146. Broadfoot is a self-taught artist, a native of Shannon 
county, Missouri. 

Clemens, Nancy. Girl Scouts in the Ozarks. New York, Alfred A. 
Knopf, 1936. 233 pp. 

"Grandma's Charm String," Mothers' Home Life, Winona, 

Minnesota (November, 1936), pp. 3, 11. 

"Heavenly Crown," University Review, University of Kansas 

City, Kansas City, Missouri (Summer, 1937), pp. 263-266. 

"Mountain Sibyl," University Review, University of Kansas 

City, Kansas City, Missouri (Winter, 1937), pp. 105-107. Re- 
printed in Lowry C. Wimberly's Mid Country, University of Ne- 
braska Press, Lincoln, Neb., 1945, pp. 403-406. 

"Taking My Medicine," Atlantic Monthly (February, 1938), 

pp. 265-266. 

A native of Cedar County, Missouri, Miss Clemens does features for the 
Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and has written several 
books and numerous magazine articles. What she says about superstition is 
trustworthy, because this material has come to her from kinfolk and in- 
timates. She lives in Springfield, Missouri. 

Cralle, Walter O. "Social Change and Isolation in the Ozark Moun- 
tain Region of Missouri," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 41, 
No. 4 (January, 1936), pp. 435-446. 

This is an abstract of a Ph.D thesis, presented at the University of Minne- 
sota in 1934. Cralle refers briefly to "the geographic configuration of myth, 
superstition, magical practices, and a wealth of folklore which still abounds 
in the more isolated sections" but does not treat this material in detail. Al- 
most the only groups available for study are those in schoolrooms, he says, 
"and here superstition, as well as dialect, finds itself in strained and hostile 
environment. It seems to the writer that superstition is more widespread 
and tenacious than dialect because less often exposed to criticism and ridi- 
cule." Dr. Cralle teaches sociology at the Southwest Missouri Teachers Col- 


lege, Springfield, Missouri, and has considerable firsthand knowledge of the 
hillbilly population. 

Davis, Clyde Brion. The Arkansas. New York, Farrar and Rinehart, 

One short section (pp. 216-221) is devoted to folk beliefs. "Many of the 
superstitions prevalent in the Ozarks have some universality," writes Davis. 
"Others are, I believe, peculiar to that region." 

DeHaven, Pearl. "Add Folklore/' Country Gentleman (May, 1944), 
p. 2. 

A brief letter to supplement "Folklore on the Farm" by Moran and Gale 
Tudury, in the March, 1944, issue of Country Gentleman. The Tudury 
article dealt with rural America in general, but Mrs. DeHaven adds a 
number of Ozark items. She lives in Greene County, Missouri. 

Finger, Charles J. Ozark Fantasia. Fayetteville, Arkansas, Golden 
Horseman Press, 1927. 342 pp. 

The sketch entitled "As to the Well Walter Dug," pp. 125-130, deals with 
water witches. 

France, Isabel. "The Hills of Home," a weekly column in the South- 
west Times-Record, daily newspaper published at Fort Smith, 
Arkansas, April, 1936 . 

Mrs. France now lives near Mountainburg, Arkansas, but was formerly a 
resident of Van Buren and taught several country schools in that vicinity, 
where she will be remembered as Isabel Spradley. She refers to supersti- 
tions only incidentally, but what she has to say is always worth attention. 
Mrs. France knows vastly more about Ozark folklore than most people who 
have written on the subject. 

Hilburn, May Stafford. "Traditional Beliefs of the Hill People, Mis- 
souri Magazine, Jefferson City, Missouri (September, 1933), 
pp. 20-21. 

"Rites and Sayings of Pioneer Folk," Missouri Magazine, Jef- 
ferson City, Missouri (October, 1933), pp. 14-15. 

"Culled from My Memory Box," Missouri Magazine, Jefferson 

City, Missouri (December, 1933), pp. 10-11. 

Mrs. Hilburn is a native Ozarker, who makes her home at Jefferson City, 
Missouri. She is inclined to be sentimental and poetic in her writing, but 
these three papers contain a great deal of valuable material, much of it 
derived from the author's childhood experience. 

Hogue, Wayman. "Don't Pity the Mountaineer," New York Herald- 
Tribune, Feb. 22, 1931, pp. 13-15. 

This article is reprinted in my Ozark Anthology (Caldwell, Idaho, Caxton 
Printers, Ltd., 1940), pp. 241-256. It contains some good witchcraft 


Back Yonder, an Ozark Chronicle. New York, Minton, Balch & 

Co., 1932. 303 pp. 

One of the finest nonfiction books ever written about the Ozark country. 
Hogue is a native of Van Buren County, Arkansas. He knows the truth 
about this region, and sets it down without any sentimental twaddle. Chap- 
ter XX, pp. 270-285, is entitled "Folklore and Superstition," but other 
valuable items are scattered throughout the book. 

Lain, Myrtle. "A Dummy Supper in the Ozarks," Arcadian Maga- 
zine, Eminence, Missouri (August, 1931), pp. 910. 
Miss Lain's material came from Old Linn Creek, Missouri. 
Lyon, Marguerite. And Green Grass Grows All Around. New York, 
Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1942. 307 pp. 

Chapter 23, pp. 200-210, "The Seer of the Ozarks," is apparently an account 
of the author's interview with Josie Forbes, the "Witch of Taskee." 

Fresh from the Hills. New York, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1945. 

283 pp. 

This author, who writes for the Chicago Tribune, spent some time in the 
hills near Mountain View, Missouri, and now lives at Eureka Springs, 
Arkansas. The section entitled "Don't Believe It," pp. 120-130, is devoted 
to Ozark superstitions and folk remedies. 

McCord, May Kennedy, "Hillbilly Heartbeats/' weekly column in 
the Springfield (Missouri) Leader-News, 1932-1938; appeared 
thrice weekly in the Springfield (Missouri) News, 1938-1942. 

This column was made up almost entirely of old songs, pioneer reminis- 
cences, folk remedies, ghost stories, and the like, sent in by Mrs. McCord's 
fans in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, and th'e files afford a 
vast reservoir of interesting material. Mrs. McCord was reared at Galena, 
in Stone county, Missouri, and both her family and that of her husband 
are well known in this vicinity, while she has "kinfolks an 5 connection" all 
over the Ozark country. She lectured on Ozark folklore in many places, 
played her guitar, and sang old songs at all the folk festivals and similar 
gatherings. Since 1942 Mrs. McCord has engaged in radio work and is heard 
on KWK in St. Louis and KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. 

Mahnkey, Mary Elizabeth. "In the Hills/' Springfield (Missouri) 
News, and the Springfield (Missouri) Leader fy Press, 1932 . 

Brief articles scattered at frequent but irregular intervals through the files 
of the two newspapers noted above. Many of these sketches contain im- 
portant references to superstition. 

"When Roseville Was Young," White River Leader, Branson, 

Missouri, July 27, 1933 March 22, 1934. 

A leisurely series of reminiscences in a little weekly paper. Mrs. Mahnkey 
was born at Harrison, Arkansas, but grew up in Taney county, Missouri, 


near Kirbyville which Is the Roseville of her story. It is a true chronicle, 
from the early 1880's down to the middle 1930's. A valuable source of in- 
formation about folklore and old customs. 

Martin, Roxie. "May Day Superstitions," Arcadian Magazine, Emi- 
nence, Missouri (May, 1932), pp. 14-15. 

It appears that Mrs. Martin once lived at Lanagan or Anderson, in Mc- 
Donald county, Missouri, and gathered much of her material in that 

Missouri, a Guide to the "Show Me" State. New York, Duell, Sloan 
& Pearce, 1941. 625 pp. 

Compiled by the Writers' Project in Missouri, sponsored and copyrighted 
by the Missouri State Highway Department. Old-time superstitions are 
mentioned on pp. 63, 136-139, and 534. 

Moore, Tom. Mysterious Tales and Legends of the Ozarks. Phila- 
delphia, Dorrance & Co., 1938. 148 pp. 

There are seven ghost stories in this book, all set in southwest Missouri. 
The names of the central characters are thinly disguised, and in many cases 
the place names are not disguised at all. The author is a prominent attorney 
in Christian county, Missouri. 

Mueller, Mabel E. "Sparks from the Spindle," weekly column in the 
Rolla New Era and the Rolla Herald, Rolla, Missouri, 1938-1940. 

Some of the same material appeared in a monthly called What Not, pub- 
lished at Rolla by Eleanor Tolman in 1942; also in Hillbilly News, printed 
at Winslow, Arkansas, by Gene Barnes in 1943-1944. Mrs. Mueller is es- 
pecially interested in tales of ghosts and witches. 

Oklahoma, a Guide to the Sooner State. Norman, Oklahoma, Univer- 
sity of Oklahoma Press, 1941. 442 pp. 

Compiled by the Writers' Program of the WPA, sponsored by the Uni- 
versity of Oklahoma. "It is in the hills of eastern Oklahoma that the beliefs 
and customs of another century are best preserved," we are told. A few 
superstitions are listed on pp. 119-120, but most of them have Indian or 
Negro references. 

Randolph, Vance. "Folk-Beliefs in the Ozark Mountains," Journal 
of American Folklore, Vol. 40 (1927), pp. 78-94. 

The Ozarks, an American Survival of Primitive Society. New 

York, Vanguard Press, 1931. 310 pp. 

Chapter V, pp. 87-137, is devoted to "Signs and Superstitions." 

"Witches and Witch-Masters," Folk-Say, University of Okla- 
homa Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1931, pp. 86-93. 

Reprinted in B. A. Botkin's Treasury of American Folklore (New York, 
Crown Publishers, 1944), pp. 692-696. 


Ozark Mountain Folks. New York, Vanguard Press, 1982. 

279 pp. 

Chapter II, pp. 80-41, is a revised version of the "Witches and Witch- 
Masters" paper from the 1931 Folk-Say. 

"Ozark Superstitions," Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 46 

(1933), pp. 1-21. 

"The Witch on Bradshaw Mountain/' University Review, Uni- 
versity of Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, June, 1936, pp. 

This is an account of Angie Paxton, Green Forest, Arkansas, with a draw- 
ing of Mrs. Paxton by Thomas Hart Benton. 

"Ozark Superstitions," Life, June 19, 1939, pp. 82-83. 

With six photos by D. F. Fox, of Galena, Missouri. 
"Ozark Superstitions," Click, December, 1939, pp. 20-21. 

With nine photos by D. F. Fox, of Galena, Missouri. 

Ozark Ghost Stories. Girard, Kansas, Haldeman-Julius Pub- 

lications, 1944. 24 pp. 

Tall Tales from the Ozarks. Girard, Kansas, Haldeman-Julius 

Publications, 1944. 31 pp. 

The section entitled "The Taskee Witch" (pp. 20-22) is an account of Mrs. 
Josie Forbes of Taskee, Missouri. 

Ray, Celia. Many short articles and paragraphs in the Springfield 
(Missouri) News fy Leader; also in the Springfiejd (Missouri) 
Leader fy Press, 1927-1932. 

Celia Ray is not particularly interested in folklore, but she sometimes used 
references to Ozark superstition in her regional gossip columns. Under her 
real name, Lucile Morris, she wrote Bald Knohbers (Caldwell, Idaho, Cax- 
ton Printers, Ltd., 1939; 253 pp.) which is still the best book available on 
the Ozark night riders. 

Rayburn, Otto Ernest. Numerous short articles and paragraphs, 
usually captioned "Ozark Folklore," in Ozark Life (Kingston, 
Arkansas, 1925-1930), Tulsa Tribune (Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1930- 
1931), Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas, 1930-1931), 
Arcadian Magazine (Eminence, Missouri, 1931-1932), Arcadian 
Life (Caddo Gap, Arkansas, 1933-1942), and Osark Guide (Eu- 
reka Springs, Arkansas, 1943 ). 

Rayburn is a schoolmaster from Iowa who wandered into the Ozark coun- 
try shortly after World War I and has been here ever since. His writings 
deal with folksong, dialect, pioneer dances, play parties, old customs, ghost 


stories, and backwoods history of a sort not often found in textbooks. Ray- 
burn has done a great deal to arouse popular interest in folk material, and 
the files of the little magazines Ozark Life, Arcadian Magazine, Arcadian 
Life, and Ozark Guide all of which he edited and published himself are 
full of fascinating stuff. 

Rayburn's Roadside Chats. Beebe, Arkansas, Underbill Press, 

1939. 48 pp. 

Ozark Country. New York, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1941. 

352 pp. 

This is the fourth volume of the "American Folkways" series edited by 
Erskine Caldwell. It is Rayburn's best work a summary of all his writings 
about the Ozarks. There are many references to Ozark superstitions, es- 
pecially pp. 6-11, 139-147, 156-167, 249-260. 

Russell, V. C. "Old Superstitions of the Ozark Mountains," St. Louis 
Post-Dispatch, rotogravure section, St. Louis, Missouri, Oct. 31, 
1937, p. 2. 

Seven posed photographs, illustrating superstitious practices in Taney 
county, Missouri. Each picture is accompanied by a brief explanation. 

Seabrook, William. "Beheaded Women Sacrificed to Witchcraft?" 
American Weekly, New York, July 2, 1944, p. 15. 

A fantastic story about the murder of two women near the Lake of the 
Ozarks, in Missouri, where the headless bodies were found in April, 1944. 
For a typical Ozark reaction to Seabrook's theory of this crime, see an 
editorial in the Springfield (Missouri) News $ Leader, July 30, 1944, p. 6. 

Shiras, Tom. "Weather Signs in the Ozarks," Arkansas Gazette f 
Little Rock, Arkansas, Feb. 20, 1944, pp. 5-6. 

Reprinted in Rayburn's Ozark Guide, Lonsdale, Arkansas, Vol. II, No. 8 
(October-December, 1944), pp. 51-54. Tom Shiras is a newspaperman who 
has lived in Mountain Home, Baxter county, Arkansas, for many years. He 
contends that some activities of birds, reptiles, and so on are conditioned by 
atmospheric pressure and thus serve as natural barometers. 

Simpich, Frederick M. "Missouri, Mother of the West," National 
Geographic Magazine, Vol. XLIII, No. 4 (April, 1923), pp. 421- 

One short section (pp. 425-428) is devoted to "Missouri Signs and Super- 
stitions." EVen this brief reference to the subject aroused the ire of many 
Missourians. See the comment on Simpich's article in the Missouri Histor- 
ical Review, XVII, 419-434. 

Smith, Walter R. "You Can't Tell About the Weather," Folk-Say, 
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1930, pp. 173- 


Starr, Fred. "Hillside Adventures/' a weekly column in the North- 
west Arkansas Times, Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 6, 1937 . 

The record is a bit muddled by the fact that Starr's column was formerly 
called "Plain Tales from the Hills" and later "Plain Tales from the 
Ozarks"; also that the newspaper was formerly known as the Fayetteville 
Daily Democrat. Under whatever name, the references to folk belief in 
Starr's copy are always worth reading. 

From an Ozark Hillside. Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Bar D 

Press, 1938. 90 pp. 

A selection of Starr's newspaper columns, with a preface by Lessie String- 
fellow Read. The book contains one section entitled "Hill Beliefs" (pp. 29- 
34), which is concerned with Ozark superstition in general, and another 
(pp. 73-75) dealing briefly with herb remedies. See also the items on pp. 22, 
23-24, 42, and 72. 

Pebbles from the Ozarks. Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Bar D 

Press, 1942. 55 pp. 

More extracts from Starr's newspaper column. Note especially the refer- 
ences to superstitions, pp. 15, 25, 37, 50-53. Starr is a schoolteacher by pro- 
fession, writes about the Ozarks in his spare time, and lives on a farm near 
Greenland, Arkansas. 

"Superstition and Folklore," Clinton Eye Centennial Edition, Clin- 
ton, Missouri, Sept. 7, 1936, pp. 3-4. 

A list of several hundred Ozark superstitions, without comment. 

"Superstition Still Rules in Remote Parts of the Ozarks," Kansas 
City Times, Kansas City, Missouri, April 15, 1938, p. 6. 

A report of "Folklore and Folkways of the Ozark Region," an "address by 
Vance Randolph of Pineville, Mo., delivered at the annual dinner of the 
Missouri State Historical Society, Columbia, Missouri, April 14, 1938." 

Taylor, Jay L. B. "Luminous Spectre Hunted to Its Lair," Missouri 
Magazine, Jefferson City, Missouri, October, 1934, pp. 1112. 

A surveyor in Joplin, Missouri, Mr. Taylor thinks that the ghost which so 
many people have seen at the Devil's Promenade is produced by the lights 
of cars on a distant highway. 

Thanet, Octave. "Folklore in Arkansas," Journal of American Folk- 
lore, V (April-June, 1892), 121-125. 

Octave Thanet was a popular novelist, whose real name was Alice French ; 
she spent her winters at Clover Bend, on Black River, in Lawrence county, 
Arkansas, for some thirty years previous to World War I. The whites at 
Clover Bend, she says, were just as superstitious as the Negroes, but they 
took little stock in the black conjurers and conjure doctors. "Charms of all 
kinds are favored both by whites and blacks," she writes, "but I observe 


that the white charms and the black charms are usually quite different." 
Miss French knew one Negro conjurer, "a pious man and a deacon hi the 
church," who was supposed to have killed ten persons by his magic. 

Thomas, John L. "History of Victoria," Missouri Historical Review, 
Columbia, Missouri, II, 1907-1908, 17-22. 

The story of Prudence Bevis, also known as "Queen Bevers," an alleged 
witch who terrorized people in Jefferson county, Missouri, between 1826 
and 1854. Compare the note in the WPA guidebook Missouri, a Guide to the 
"Show Me" State (New York, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1941), p. 534. 

Webb, W. L. "Burning Witches in Missouri/' Kansas City Post, Kan- 
sas City, Missouri, Jan. 16, 1916, p. 12 A. 

Webb says that the Shawnee Indians in southeast Missouri burned witches 
at the stake but offers no evidence that white Missourians ever did so. He 
tells several good stories of witches and witch masters in Jackson county, 
Missouri, and leaves no doubt that many of the pioneers were firm believers 
in witchcraft. 

Wilson, Charles Morrow. "Folk-Beliefs in the Ozark Hills/' Folk- 
Say, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1930, 
pp. 157-172. 

Material from "isolated communities in the Arkansas hill counties of New- 
ton, Franklin, Madison, Benton, Carroll, Jackson and Washington, and in 
Stone and Taney counties of Missouri." 

Backwoods America. Chapel Hill, N.C., University of North 

Carolina Press, 1934. 209 pp. 

Chapter VI, "Folk Beliefs," pp. 47-60, contains much good material on 
Ozark superstitions, most of it from Newton and Washington counties, 
Arkansas. Wilson is a native of Arkansas and spent his youth in Fayette- 
ville and its environs. 

Wolverton, F. E. "The Woman of Taskee/' in Eve's Stepchildren, 
edited by Lealon N. Jones. Caldwell, Idaho, Caxton Printers, 
Ltd., 19^, pp. 265-271. 

Wolverton is a state supervisor of public schools, who lives in Cape Girar- 
deau, Missouri. This piece is an account of his interview with Josie Forbes, 
of Wayne county, Missouri, known as "the Witch of Taskee." 


Abortifacients, 193 

Adder, 256 

Afterbirth, care of, 202, 203 

Ague, remedies, 10T, 133 

Ailments which indicate rain, 18 

Albino deer, 241 

Alcoholics, to quiet nerves of, 113; 
to cure, 150 f. 

Allsopp, Fred W., 276, 343 

Almanac, bad time to hang, 78 

Amputated limbs must be buried, 

Amulets, 151 

Angel wreath, see Feather crowns 

Angleworms, 23 

Animals, indications of rain in activi- 
ties of, 12; forecast cold weather, 
26; treatments for ailments of 
domestic, 50; ghosts of, 223 ff., 
227; superstitions about plants 
and, 240-61; witches disguised as, 
268 ff. ; bewitched, 295 ff. ; presage 
death, 306, 311; see also under 
kinds of animals, e.g., Cats ; Cattle ; 
Chickens; Dogs; Hogs; Horses, 

Ant lion, larva of, 269 

Aphrodisiac, 112, 163, 166 ff. 

Apoplexy, protection against, 114 

Appendicitis cure, 95 

Applesauce, bad woman can't make 
good, 65 

Arachnids, 258-60 

Arkansas, University of: against law 
to teach evolution, 8 

Arthritis, prevention, 152 

Associated Press ghost story, 221 

Asthma cure, 94, 95, 134, 155 

Ax under patient's bed, 146, 200, 305 

Babies, intestinal disorder, 97 ; treat- 
ment for arrested growth, 119; to 
determine sex of unborn, 196; pre- 
natal influence: fear of "marking," 
196 ff . ; treatment of newborn, 201 ; 
premature, 202; swaddling clothes 
for boy, 204; for girl, 205; cats 
must be kept away from: influence 
of day of birth upon character and 
prospects, 205; methods of pre- 
dicting future, 207; mother im- 
mune from disease while nursing 
baby, 209; proper time to wean, 
210; relationship between snakes 
and, 257; stillborn, sold to witches, 
281; bewitched, 291; other super- 
stitions connected with, 309; see 
also Childbirth; Children 

Backache, cure, 133 ; to ward off, 156 

Bacon, Anna, 311 

Baldness, cure, 164 

Ball of fire, 305 

Bark, direction of scraping for medi- 
cines, 95 

Barn swallows, 47 

Barnes, C. E., 262 

Bathing, during menses, 195, 305; 
during pregnancy, 195; mother or 
newborn baby, 204; before jour- 
ney, 305 

Bats, bedbugs generated from, 260 

Bauersfeld, "Mirandy," 110, 344 

Beans, when to plant, 35 

Beardon, Lou, 113, 215, 268 

Beauty treatments, folk beliefs con- 
nected with, 162 ff. 

Bedbugs, to rid cabin of, 44, 68; gen- 
erated from bats, 260 

Bedtime stories for children, 235 ff. 



Bed wetting cure, 102 

Bees, care of hives, 44; when death 
occurs in family, 45; "Old Christ- 
mas hum," 77; to relieve pain of 
sting, 101; man who doesn't get 
along with, 329 

Belden, H. M., 262 

Bellyache, protection against, 154 

Bennett, Mrs. Henry, 888 

Bergen, Fanny D., 107, 152 

Berries, 89 

Birds, activities indicate weather, 13, 
29, 30; to protect domestic fowl 
from birds of prey, 43; as good 
luck signs, 47 ; superstitions about, 
245 ff. ; killed in egg by thunder, 
249; presage death, 306 f.; see also 
under kinds of birds, e.g. Whip- 

Birth, see Childbirth 

Birthday, ill luck on, 66 

Birthmark, to remove, 164 

Biscuit, last, 182 

Bitters, 106 

"Black-oak ghost," 233 

Blacksnake, 254 

Bladder trouble, 102, 103 

Blair, Lewis, 225 

Bleeding, to stop, 101, 122 ff., 157 

Blood poison, treatment, 101, 132; 
prevention, 158 

Blood purifiers, 104 ff. 

Bloodstains as weather signs, 18 

"Blue Eagle" identified with seven- 
headed beast of doom, 338 

Blue jays, 248 

Boar, specter of a black, 226 

Bogert, Charles M., 256 

Boils, cure, 101, 125, 131, 132 

Bold hives or boll hives, 111 

Bonebreak, Israel, 256 

Booth, Lum, 141 

Botkin, B. A., 343 

Bowel trouble, treatment, 97, 118; 
protection against "summer com- 
plaint," 154 

Boys born on Old Christmas, 78 

Brake, Gallic, quoted, 123 

Bray, Jim, 212 

Bread, burned, 56; fallen on ground: 
crusts, 62 

Breadtray Mountain ghost story, 

Breedon, A. W., 265, 274 

Bride, courtship and marriage, 162- 
91; dress, 189; must not dress 
completely before a mirror, 190 

Bridegroom must not put away wed- 
ding clothes immediately, 190 

Bride's day, see Wedding day 

Bright's disease, 103 

Broadfoot, Lennis L., 246, 344 

Bronchial troubles, cure, 94 

Broom, 74 

Bruises, 100 

Brush, clearing, 40 

Bryant, Grandmaw, 288, 296 

Buckeyes carried in pockets, 153 

Bullbat, 247 

Bullets, silver, used for killing 
witches, 269, 275, 287, 289; super- 
stitions about, 294 

Bullet wound, silk handkerchief 
pulled through, 119 

Bullfrogs, 14 

Bunion cure, 132 

Burger, Nelle, 324 

Burial, 315-27; see also Funeral 

Buried treasure, see Hidden treasure 

Burns, to draw out fire from, 121 

Burying grounds, see Graveyards 

Bush planted in another's dooryard, 

Butter, witches in churn, 294 

Butterfly, gray-and-black, 261 

Buttons, 61 

Buzzards, 29, 245 

Cabin, see House 
Cake, stirring batter, 63 
Calendar, bad time to hang, 78 
Calves, weaning: dragged out of pen 

tail first, 48 
Campbell, Booth, 206 
Cancers, treatment, 110, 111, 125, 131, 

135; prevention, 165 
Candle flame indicates letter, 67 
Candle salt, 55 
Cantrell, Lee, quoted, 89 
Car, phantom, 232 
Carbuncles, 101, 125 
Carrion crow, 246 



Cartwright, Benjamin A., 343 

Cataract cure, 138 

Catarrh, to ward off, 153 

Catfish, 251 

Cathartics, 97 

Cats, forecast weather, 12, 26, 30; 
good and bad luck, 75 ; cruel treat- 
ment of, 75; indicate trend of love 
affair, 181, 182; kept away from 
new baby, 205; ghosts of, 236; 
witches disguised as, 268; in pres- 
ence of the dead, 313 

Cattle, indicate cloudburst, 12 ; taboo 
against mentioning number in herd, 
44; against an even number, 45; 
time to dehorn, 45 ; finding lost, 48 ; 
treatments for ailing, 50; behavior 
on Old Christmas, 77, 78; ghosts of, 
227; protection against disease, 
284; bawling, 306; see also Calves; 

Caul (veil), 203 

Cedar boughs, 73 

Cedar trees, prejudice against trans- 
planting, 307 

Cemeteries, see Graveyards 

Centipedes, 258 

Chamber of Commerce, 332 

Change, resistance to, 8 

Change of life, 194 

Character, physical characteristics 
correlated with, 328 ff. 

Charms, control of weather by, 30; 
as protection against disease, 151 

Charm string, 61 

Cheenches, see Bedbugs 

Cherokee Indians, 252 

Cheyenne Indians, rain dances, 30 

Chickenpox cure, 147 

Chickens, superstitions about, 12, 
42 ff., 240; fight, 54; crowing, 306 

Chiggers, 260 

Chilblains, 109 

Childbirth, superstitions connected 
with, 75 ; to ease pains, 146, 199 ff., 
805; "buck-brush parsons" try to 
help, 161; pregnancy and, 192-210; 
afterpains, 202; multiple births, 
203; place where it occurs: moon- 
light should not fall upon bed, 204 ; 
taboo against bathing mother and 

palms of baby's hands, 204; hat 
burning, 205 

Children, folktales repeated to, 6; 
number of, one might expect to 
bear, 186; reluctance to admit that 
they were born crippled or defec- 
tive, 204 ; protection from diseases, 
154; curse laid upon man who se- 
duces little girls, 170; tales told to, 
235 ff. ; protection against witches, 
291 ; see also Babies ; Childbirth 

Chills-and-fever treatment, 107, 183, 
146, 156 

"Chills-an'-fever doctors," 92 

"Chimney-corner laws," 66 

Choctaw Indians, weed used in 
poisoning fish, 194 

Christian County Republican (Ozark, 
Mo.), excerpt, 46 

Christmas, weather signs, 21; roof 
mended during holidays: New 
Christmas, 77 

Old (Ja. 6), forecasts weather, 

22; superstitions connected with, 
77 f. 

Chronicle (Crane, Mo.), excerpt, 27 

Church, R. W., 251 

Cider, 65 

City men, prejudice against, 328 

Civic leaders sensitive about hillbilly 
background or reference to super- 
stition, 7 

Clarke, Naomi, 141 

Clearing between sunset and dawn, 

Clemens, Nancy, 45, 61, 208, 281, 344 

Cloth, tearing of, a sign of death, 301 

Clothing, superstitions connected 
with, 69 f . ; wedding garments, 
188 ff.; bewitched, 292; new dress 
at funeral, 318; prejudice against 
suit, 328 

Cockleburs, 23 

Coffeepot, taboo on new, 191 

Coffin nails in goat's heart, 298 

Coffman, Anna L., 123 

Colds, remedies, 93 ; to ward off, 154, 

Cold weather, see Winter 

Cole, Roy, 38, 40, 49 

Colic cures, 98, 149 



College students, superstitions of, 8 
Colt, size of horse he will make : when 
first, is a mule: breeder can color, 

Comb, 76 

Comforters, see Quilts 

Complexions, to benefit, 162 ff. 

Confederate soldier, wild roses bloom 
over grave of, 327 

Conjure folks, 265, 297; see also 
Witch masters 

Conjure stuff buried under houses 
and doorsteps, 272 

Constellations, portions of body as- 
sociated with, 34; treatment of 
disease tied up with, 116 

Convulsions, to relieve, 150 

Cooper, John, 244 

Copperheads, 255 

Corn, to insure rain for crop, 32; 
planting, 38 

Cornbread cut with knife, 62 

Corn doctor, 103 

Cornmeal sprinkled over corpse, 

Cornshucks, thickness of, a weather 
sign, 25 

Corpse, sits up, 214; cornmeal 
sprinkled over, 315; locating, of 
drowned person, 316; see also 
Dead, the 

Cosmetics, use of, 162 

Couch, Mo., wave of religious excite- 
ment, 338 

Courtship and marriage, 162-91 

Coverlets, to wash handwoven, 69 

Cows, bloody milk, 6, 47, 48, 295, 296; 
go dry, 47; afterbirth: finding lost, 
48; milked by snakes, 257; see also 

Crab grass lying fiat, 23 

Cracks, stepping on, 63 

Cralle, W. O., 94, 96, 101, 130, 187, 
159, 326, 344 

Cradle-rocking, 309 

Cramps, prevention, 155 

Cream sours, 18 

Cricket, bad luck to kill, 259 

Croft, A. J., 302 

Crops, time for planting, 84 ff. 

Cross-eyed woman, 59 

Croup, treatment, 93; posthumous 

child can cure, 136 
Crowns, see Feather crowns 
Crows, 30, 246, 249 
Cucumbers, planting time, 86 
Cummins, Charles, 94, 99; quoted, 


Cummins, Jim, 285 
Cummins, Rube, 126 
Cyclones, predictions, 29; best not to 

call by name, 32 

Daddy longlegs, 260 

Dailey, S. T., 141 

Dandruff cure, 164 

Darnell, F. H., 234 

Davis, Ethel, 85 

Davis, Homer, 141 

Dawn, misty, 15 

Days of week, as weather indicators, 
18 ; taboo against starting work on 
certain, 69; unlucky, 206 

Dead, the: care of, 312 f.; burial cus- 
toms, 815-27; bad to move after 
burial, 326; see also Corpse; Fu- 

Dead Man's Hill, 232 

Dead Man's Pond, 221 

Deafness, cure, 148 

Death, protection against, by vio- 
lence, 152; and burial, 301-27; pre- 
sages of approaching, 301; things 
that are done immediately after, 

Death bells, 302 

"Death bones," 302 

Death watch or death tick, 302, 314 

Deer, superstitions about, 22, 27, 241 

Defecating, in path or public road, 
7, 304; taboo against eating while, 
63; taboo on singing while, 67 

De Haven, Pearl, 38, 42, 345; quoted, 

Delirium, treatment, 114 

Departure, superstitions connected 
with, 58 

Devil, in the buryin' ground, 212; 
picture of, on church wall, 229; 
appearances, 275; hates salt, 282 

"Devil a-whuppin his wife," 17 

Devil's-darning-needle, 22 



"Devil's Half Acre," 277 

Devil's horse (praying mantis), 259 

"Devil's Promenade," 283 

DeviFs-shoestring as remedy for 
menorrhagia, 194 

Devil's snuffbox, 277 

Diamond fold avoided in ironing, 

Diarrhea cure, 97 

Diemar, Dr., 88 

Digestive troubles, remedies, 95-96, 

Diphtheria cure, 94 

Dirt dobbers, 260 

Disease, means of preventing, 151 

Dishrag milking, 270 

Distemper cure, 61 

Dizziness remedy, 114 

Dobyns, Deacon, 29 

Doctors, see Physicians; Power doc- 
tors; Yarb doctors 

Dog days, 19, 142; effect upon snakes, 

"Dog run" avoided during electrical 
storm, 72 f . 

Dogs, name a good dog after a bad 
man, 50; cures for ailments, 51; to 
keep at home, 52 ; rolls before door, 
54; tails draw lightning, 72; mad- 
stone treatment for bite of, 140 ff. ; 
ghosts of, 224 ff., 237, 275; howling, 
306 ; man who doesn't make friends 
with, 329 

Dogwood tree cursed by Jesus, 262 

Doodlebug, 259 

"Doodlebugs," 88 

Door, leaving by same, through 
which entered, 58 

Doorway cut after house is built, 74 

Dove, first of season, 245 

Dream interpretations, 330 ff. 

Dress, to get a new, 69; new, at 
funeral, 318; see also Clothing 

Drowned persons, locating bodies, 

Drug addiction uncommon, 115 

Drunkards, see Alcoholics 

Dumb or dummy, supper, 178 ff. 

Duelap, Charles, 316 

Dusenbury, Emma, 60 

Dwelling, see House 

Earache remedies, 108, 145 

Ears, burn, 54; time to pierce, 164 

Easter weather signs, 19 

Eating while urinating or defecating, 


Eels, superstitions about, 250 
Eggs, superstitions about, 42 f. 
Egg shells, unusual marks on, 338 f. 
Egg tree, 285 
Elderberry sprouts on eve of Old 

Christmas, 77, 78 
Election, to predict result, 337 
"Electric springs," 332 
England, folk beliefs from, 4 
Epileptic fits, treatment, 110, 119, 


Epsom salts, 97 
Eruption, cure, 136 
Esquire, 7 

Etterman, A. D., 161 
Evolution, against law to teach, at 

University of Arkansas, 8 
Explosion, no quail hatched after, 


Eye (Clinton, Mo.), 187 
Eyes, protruding, 48; itching, 64; 

significance of color, 190 
Eyestrain, cured, 133 
Eye troubles, cures, 138 ff. 

"Face whitenin'," 162 

Fair Grove, Mo., picture of Devil on 

church wall, 229 
Farris, Dorothy, 95 
Feather crowns or balls, 272, 820-26 
Feathers, thickness of, 25 
Federal Writers' Project, 343 
Feeble-minded person successful in 

growing certain crops, 36 
Feeble-mindedness, treatment, 114 
"Feedin' the Devil an' starvin' God," 


Feet, sore, 109 
"Female troubles," medicines for, 


Fence posts, 42 
Fevers, to reduce, 107; to cure, 188, 

Financial loss, protection against, 




Finger, Charles J., 80, 260, 826, 845; 
quoted, 90 

Fingernails, cutting: white spots, 66 

Fire, spits and sputters, 25, 58, 304; 
stirring, 62; looking directly into, 
71; ball of, 305 

Fish and fishing, 250 ff . 

Fish-and-milk poisoning, 115 

Fits, treatment, 110, 119, 154 

Fleas, to rid cabin of, 44, 68 

Flying squirrel, 244 

Fog as weather sign, 15, 23 

Folklore, collection of, 4 ff. 

Folklore of Romantic Arkansas 
(Allsopp), 276 

Forbes, Josie, 185, 265 

Force, Harry N., 122 

Fortunes, told by means of Bible, 

Fortunetellers, 184 

Fowl, indicate rain, 12, 13; magic 
tricks to protect, 43; see also 
Chickens; Geese; Turkeys 

Fox, D. F., 288 

Fox, ghostly white, 226; charm 
squirrels and turkeys, 242; hounds 
can't trail a pregnant, 242 

"Fox-fire lights," 235 

France, Isabel, 843, 345 

Freckles, to remove, 162, 163 

French, Gram, 290 

Frogs, 14 

Frost, predictions of, 10, 22 ff. 

Fruit, dangerous to eat out of season, 

Fruit trees, time for planting, 38; 
see also Trees 

Fulks, Clay, 337 

Funeral, burial customs, 315-27; 
preachin's deferred, 317; new 
dress: weather, 318; avoid count- 
ing vehicles, crossing procession, 
or colliding with hearse, 319 

Fur, thickness of, weather sign, 25 

Galbraith, Emma, 216 

Gars, 251 

Gastric ulcers, cure, 95 

Gate, to close when found open, 59 

Geese, 44; meeting flock, 59; struck 
by lightning, 73 

Gentry, John Proctor, 126 

George, Carrie, 219 

"Ghost of Paris," 221 

Ghosts, stories of, 211-39; hanged 
men's, 217, 218; of animals, 223 ff., 
227; dogs, 224 ff., 237, 275; specter 
of black hog, 226; tales told to 
children, 235 ff. ; ghosts of horses, 
237; when and where they prefer 
to appear, 237 ; way to address and 
to lay, 238 

Glauber's or horse salts, 97 

Globe (Joplin, Mo.), 338 

Goats, 47 

Goat's rue used to poison fish, 194 

Goddard, Floyd C., quoted, 46 

Goiter cure, 125, 148 

Golden Book Magazine, 276 

Gonorrhea cure, 150 

Goomer doctors, 265; see also Witch 

Goosebone weather prophets, 10, 25 

Goose walking over grave, 326 

Gordon, J., 224 

Goudy, Fred, 87 

Grains, Time for sowing, 37 

Granny- women, 192, 196, 199-203 

Grapes, 40 

Grave, when it should be dug, 317 

Graves, A. J., quoted, 235 

"Graveyard lights," 233 ff. 

Graveyards, ghost stories, 211 ff., 
223 ; superstitions about, 326-27 

"Green Christmas," 77 

Grieving, protracted, 320 

Griffin, Johnny, 229 

Ground gives signs of weather, 16 

Groundhog, 243 

Groundhog Day, date of, 27 ff. 

Growth, treatment for arrested, 119 

Grubs, 23 

Gums, to cure bleeding, 145 

Gunpowder, fed to dogs, 51; as cure 
for diphtheria, 94 

Hair, treatment and superstitions 
about, 164 ff. 



Hair ball, 271 

"Hair of the dog that bit you," 142 

Hairpin, 60 

Hands, itching, 64; lotion for 

chapped, 109 

Haney, Mrs. W. H., quoted, 322 
Hanged men's ghosts, 21T, 218 
Hannay, John A., 228 
Hartrick, George, quoted, 86 
Harvard, John, 82 
Harvest fly, 240 
Haswell, A. M., 85 
Hat, 74 
Hat-burning ceremony at birth of 

boy, 205 
Haunted houses, 214, 219, 220, 222, 

223, 230 
Hawks, 248 

Hawthorn, wild (redhaw), 262 
Hay, cutting, 41 
Hay fever, patients reliable weather 

prophets, 23; cure, 94 
Headache, cure, 120; conjured off, 

133; "sun pain," 135 
Head catarrh, to relieve, 135 
Headless dogs, 224, 225 
Headless ghost stories, 228 
Head noises, remedy, 114 
Healers, power doctors, 121-61 
Health ruined by witches, 279 
Heavenly crowns, see Feather crowns 
Hemorrhage, to stop, 124 
Hemorrhoids, treatment, 99; protec- 
tion against, 153 
Hemp, 115 

"Hen-egg revivals," 338 
Henley-Barnett feud, 299 
Hens, see Chickens 
Herb collecting and marketing, 112 
Hibler, J. J., 140 
Hiccoughs, to stop, 100, 148 
Hidden treasure, use of witch stick 

to locate, 88; ghost stories about, 

219, 220, 227 
Hilburn, May S., 57, 61, 76, 116, 345; 

quoted, 146, 163, 179, 204, 210, 285, 

301, 302, 321, 327 
Hill, Bob, 234 
Hillbilly, see Ozark hillfolk 
Hives, to prevent, 111 

Hoe carried into house, 73, 305 

Hogs, as weather prophets, 12, 80; 
good hog raiser, 45; feeding, 46; 
mule-footed, 46; tonic, 50; in road, 
59; specter of a black hog, 226; 
story told to children, 235 

Hogue, Wayman, 243, 346 

Holidays, superstitions connected 
with, 77 if. ; see also Christmas ; 
Easter; New Year 

Holler horn and holler tail, cures for, 

Holy Rollers, prayers for govern- 
ment weather prophets, 11; pray 
for rain, 30; treatment of the sick, 
160; refrain from sexual inter- 
course first night after marriage, 
191 ; willing to attempt to exorcise 
specter, 238; bring poisonous 
snakes into pulpit, 257; vagaries, 
267; denunciation of "Blue Eagle" 
of NR A, 337 f. ; of sugar ration- 
ing, 338 

Hoop snake, 254 

Hoppinjohn, 80 

Horehound, 93 

Hornets, 259 

Hornets' nest, 75 

Horsehair, turned into snake, 253; 
sieve of, a protection against 
witches, 284 

Horsemen, phantom, 231, 232 

Horses, indicate cloudburst, 12 ; eyes, 
48; if name is changed, 49; cures 
for ailments, 50 ; red-haired girl on 
a white, 60 ; ghosts of, 237 ; protec- 
tion against disease, 284 ; give sign 
of death, 306; honest man never 
rides a sorrel, 329; see also Colt 

Horse salts, 97 

Horseshoe, as good or bad-luck sign, 
62; over door, 283 

House, old and new lumber to be 
used, 74 

Household superstitions, 53-81; in- 
dications of weather, 16; see also 
Weather signs 

Household tasks pregnant woman 
may or may not attend to, 195 

Hovey, Carl, 888 



Human body, cursing a part of, 279 

Humor in folk beliefs. 238 

Husband, falls ill when wife is preg- 
nant, 195 

Husband-to-be, to learn identity and 
characteristics of, 173 ff. ; May Day 
search for, 175 ff., 185, 186; occu- 
pation, 177 

Hypodermic medication, fear of, 115 

Hysteria, treatment, 110, 114 

Impotent, to render a man, 280 
Incantations, control of weather by, 


"Indian lights," 233 ff. 
Indians, superstitions inherited from, 

4; rain dances, 30; root and weed 

used in poisoning fish, 153, 194; 

leave best fish on bank, 252; eat 

land turtles, 253; burial customs, 


Infantile paralysis, prevention, 154 
Influenza, to ward off, 154 
Insects, forecast rain, 14; forecast 

frost, 22; to repel, 68; odd notions 

concerning, 258-61 
Insomnia remedy, 114 
Intestinal troubles, remedies, 95 
Ironing, diamond fold avoided in, 69 
Ironwood tree, 261 
Itching of nose, hand, or eyes, 54 
Itch remedies, 109 
Ivy poisoning, cure, 110 

Jackson, J. O., 84 

Jackson, Noel ., 141 

Jackson, "Red," 152 

January 1, see New Year's Day 

January 6, see Christmas, Old 

Jaundice remedies, 107 

Jealousy, detecting, 171 

Jefferson Memorial, 323 

Jesus Christ to run for President, 


Johnson, Mary, 101 
Johnson, W. H., 88 
Jones, Frank, 232 
Jones, Glenn, 116 
Jones, J. M., 87 
Journal-Pott (Kansas City), 141 

Journey, starting on, 59 
Judas tree (redbud), 263 
Jujus, 170 
Juvenile ghost tales, 235 ff. 

Kansas City Times, 87 

Katydids, 32, 38 

Keithley, "Doc," 62 

Keller, C. C., 35 

Kelley, Lewis, 96, 114, 211, 260, 305 

Kerr, Jim, 31 

Kidney ailments, 102, 103, 104 

King snake, 255 

Kinney, Nat N., 318 

Kissing, taboos, 181 

Knife, 58 

Lakey, Jake, 225 

Lard, rendering, 64 

Laudanum, 114 

Laugh before breakfast, 67 

Lawson, Roberta, 263 

Laxative, 105 

Leader (Springfield, Mo.), excerpt, 

Leader $ Press (Springfield, Mo.), 

excerpt, 247 
Leg cramps, cure, 150 
Lehman, Ed., 246 
Letter signs, 67 
Life, to prolong, 112 
Lightning, 71 ff.; in south, 15 
Lights, moving, 233 ff. 
Lillie, Margaret, 253 
Little Creek cemetery pillar of fire, 

Livestock, superstitions connected 

with, 45-51; see also Cattle; Cows 
"Locked bowels," treatment, 118 
Lockjaw, prevention, 101, 158 
Locusts, foretell frost, 22; summer 

locust, 240; black W on wings, 887 
"Lord God Peckerwood," 248 
Lord's Prayer, reversing, 266 
Louse, first found on baby's head, 

Love charms and medicines, 166 ff.; 

see also Aphrodisiac 
Lover, to see, in a few hours, 188 
Love sickness, cure for, 169 



Lucky signs, 70 ff. passim 
Lumbago, to ward off, 156 
Lunatics regarded as witches, 265 
Lung trouble, see Tuberculosis 
Lye, 64 
Lynch, Miriam, 206, 286; cure for 

dog's sore mouth, 51, 61 
Lyon, Marguerite, 256, 346 

McBride, Dinnie B., 85 

McCord, May Kennedy, 69, 86, 108, 
122, 124, 126, 134, 149, 156, 200, 211, 
222, 235, 284, 313, 323, 325, 331, 337, 
843, 346, 347; quoted, 19, 32, 193, 
194, 307, 310, 311, 324 

McCoy, Fred, 232 

McCullah, Wesley, 197 

MacDonald, A. B., 234 

McDowell family ha'nt, 233 

McGrath, Ora, 21 

Madstone treatment for rabies, 140 ff. 

Magic, 121 

Magic words against witches, 286 

Mahnkey, Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. 
C. P.), 42, 43, 65, 71, 93, 96, 102, 
148, 165, 179, 203, 217, 218, 225, 241, 
275, 284, 302, 317, 318, 328, 330; 
quoted, 180 f ., 309 f., 331 

Malaria, cure, 107, 133, 134 

Marijuana, 115 

Marmot, yellow-bellied, 243 

Marriage, 170-91 

Marriage ceremony, see Weddings 

Marriages predicted by means of 
Bible, 184 

Marshbanks, Clarence, 329 

Marvel Cave, 242 

Maryland, belief in ghosts and witch- 
craft, 237 

Mate, future, see Husband-to-be 

Mathes, Frances (Mrs. W. D. 
Mathes), 63, 308 

Matthews, Addah, 162, 172 

Mattock in house, 73 

Maxwell, Molly, 121 

May Day search for future mate, 
175 ff., 185, 186 

Mayes, Mrs. J. H., quoted, 323 

Meadows, Rube, 316 

Measles, remedies for, 107 

Medicine, 92-120; physiological phe- 
nomena correlated with phases of 
moon, 115 

Meinzer, O. E., 91 

Mencken, H. L., 237 

Meningitis, prevention, 154 

Menorrhagia, remedy for, 194 

Menstruation, taboo against pickling 
cucumbers during, 65; supersti- 
tions connected with, 181, 804; 
cure for irregular, 194; taboo on 
bathing, 195 

Mental aberration, treatment, 114 

Mice, 12 

Middlebush, F. A., 86 

Midwives, see Granny-women 

Milk, bloody, 6, 47, 48, 295, 296; sour- 
ing, indicates rain, 18; prejudice 
against sweet, 46 ; to prevent sour- 
ing, 73 

Milk snake, 257 

Milky Way, 30 

Mines, search for lost, 88 

Mirror, framed on three sides used 
by witches, 281; bad to break, 801; 
to see face of absent friend in, 304 ; 
baby must not see its reflection, 809 

Misfortunes go in threes, 76 

Missouri, legal and official Ground- 
hog Day established, 27; state 
flower, 262 

Missouri Historical Society, 823 

Mistletoe, 73, 261 

Moccasins, 255 

Months, weather signs for, 19 

Moon, falling, 11; as weather sign, 
15, 29; planting in dark or light of, 
84 ff.; other work governed by 
phases of, 41 f . ; favorable for mov- 
ing, 74; first glimpse of new, 76; 
new, conjured to reveal future 
mate, 174, 175; rules time for wed- 
dings, 186; favorable period for 
molding bullets, 294 

Moonlight, misfortune to be born in, 
or to sleep in, 204 

Moore, Tom, 217, 219, 231, 847; 
quoted, 215 

Mop and broom, crossing of, 284 

Morgan, John, 280 



Morris, Luclle, 318 

Mosquitoes protect squirrels, 240 

Mother, bathing after childbirth, 204; 

proper feeding of a nursing, 209; 

immune from disease while nurs- 
ing baby, 209; see also Childbirth; 


Moths, to rid beehive of, 44 
Moving, time for, 74 
Moyer-Wing, Alice C., 21 
Mueller, Mabel E., 12, 16, 24, 55, 278, 

293, 296, 297, 343, 344, 347; quoted, 

290, 291 
Mule, splitting tail, 50; red-haired 

girl on a white, 60 
Mumps, to avoid, 155 
Murdered men, ghosts, 219, 220, 223; 

to insure punishment of murderers, 


Murrell, Paul, 11 
Mushrooms, 40 
Mussels, 252 
Mysterious Tales and Legends of the 

Ozarks (Moore), 219 

Nail, rusty, treated to- prevent tet- 
anus, 168 

"Nature doctors," 92 

Needle, to break while sewing for 
self, 69 

Negro, Ozark hillfolk have slight 
contact with, 4; love charms, 170; 
bawls three times before death, 311 

Nephritis, many children die of, 120 

Nervous diseases, 110 

Nervousness, remedy, 114 

Neuralgia, to relieve, 150 ; to prevent, 

Neuritis, to relieve, 150 

New Deal, 337 

News (Springfield, Mo.), excerpt, 86 

News, signs of, 68 

News $ Leader (Springfield, Mo.)j 
11, 302; excerpts, 193, 194, 235, 309, 
810, 322, 323 

News bees, 68 

New Year's Day, superstitions con- 
nected with, 78 ff.; traditional 
dinner, 80; baby born on, 206 

New Year weather signs, 21 

Nickerson Ridge, headless ghost of, 

Night air, poisonous, 157 

Nightmares, 332 

Noises presaging death, 301 ff. 

Nosebleed, to stop, 124, 145, 154 

Nose itches, 54 

NRA "Blue Eagle" identified with 
seven-headed beast of doom, 338 

Nursing, belief that mother is im- 
mune from disease while, 209 

Nut crop indicates cold weather, 26 

"Oil witch," 88 

Oklahoma, state tree, 263 

Old Christmas, see Christmas, Old 

Old maid signs, 182 

"Old Raw Head," 228 

O'Neill, Clink, 21 

O'Neill, Rose, 76, 167, 320 

Onions, not planted near potatoes, 

Onion skin, 26, 71 

Operations, governed by signs of the 
zodiac, 116 

Opium, 114 

Opossums, 240 

Osage Indians, 153, 253; burial cus- 
tom, 316 

Oversexed person, 172 

Owl, cry of, unfavorable, 245; in 
cabin, 307 

Ozark Country (Rayburn), 228 

Ozark Fantasia (Finger), 90 

Ozark hillfolk, origin : characteristics, 
3, 6ff.; origin of superstitions, 4; 
superstitiousness decreasing, 8 

Palmer, Omar, 104 
Panthers, 243 
Paralysis cure, 149 
Parnell, Jim, 328 

Patterson, of Carter county, Mo., 84 
Pawpaw as food and bait, 251 
Pawpaw conjure, 289 
Pawpaw tree connected with witch- 
craft and devil worship, 261 
Paxton, Angie, 185, 265 
Payne, Frank, 242 
Peach crop, 39 



Peach tree, planting, 39; bad luck to 
burn, 304 

Peacock feathers, T8 

Peas, black-eyed, for New Year's 
dinner, 79, 80 

Peddler 's ghost, 219 

Penny, wearing a green, 153 

Pennyroyal, 261 

"Pennywinkle," 236 

Pentecostal cult, prays for rain, 80 

Pepper, superstitions about, 56, 75 

Peppers, planting, 36 

Perriman, Jewell, 147, 156, 158, 159 

Persimon seed, 20 

Petree, "Frost," 112 

Physical characteristics correlated 
with character, 328 ff. 

Physicians, "chills-an'-fever doctors," 
protected and advised by, 92; reg- 
ular and irregular, 92; prejudice 
against, 115; not wanted at child- 
birth, 192 

Physiological phenomena, correlated 
with phases of the moon, 1 15 

Pick and shovel crossed on grave, 

Pickens, Marion B., 307 

Pickled cucumbers, menstruation 
spoils, 65 

Pigs, castration, 45; ghosts of, 226, 
227; see also Hogs 

Piles, cure, 99; protection against, 

Pillar of fire, 235 

Pin, finding, 60 

Pinkeye, 138 

Pipes, G. H., 31, 288 

Planks, 42 

Plants, superstitions about, 261-63 

Plummer, E., 230 

Pneumonia, remedies, 93, 94 

Poisoning, treatment, 96 

Poleta, Eliza, 324 

Politicians sensitive about hillbilly 
background or reference to super- 
stition, 7 

Possum walking over grave, 326 

Post-Dispatch (St. Louis), 22; ex- 
cerpt, 323 

Potatoes, when to plant and when to 
dig, 34^ 35 

Poultices, 92 

Powell, Truman, 84 

Power doctors, 121-61 

Prather, A. S., quoted, 328 

Praying mantis (Devil's horse), 259 

Pregnancy, and childbirth, 192-210; 
bad to bathe often or to cross run- 
ning stream, 195; prenatal influ- 
ences, 196 ff . ; involves loss of a 
tooth, 203; see also Childbirth 

Prejudices, 328 ff. 

Prenatal influence, 196 ff. 

Press (Springfield, Mo.), 25; ex- 
cerpt, 28 

Privy, eating or drinking in, 63 

Prostitutes, 150, 151 

Purgatives, 96 

Quarrel, signs of, 56 ff. 
Quilting bee superstitions, 185 
Quilts, mending, 69; turning frame, 

Rabbit, 12, 14, 24, 29; crossing path, 

244; walking over grave, 326 
Rabies, madstone treatment, 140 ff. 
Rail fences, 41 
Rain, predictions of, 10; signs, 11; 

efforts to produce, 30 ; on wedding 

day and at funeral, 318 
Rainbow, 15 
Rain crow, 248 
Rain dances, 30 

Raindrops, size indicates weather, 17 
Rain maker, 31 
Randolph, Vance, 347; "throwed a 

curse" and ruined family, 289 
Rankin, J. W., 87 
Rascoe, Burton, 18; quoted, 90 
Rats, 244 
Rattlesnake, 255 

"Raw Head and Bloody Bones," 236 
Rayburn, Otto E., 27, 37, 40, 52, 67, 

84, 86, 109, 110, 178, 217, 223, 228, 

254, 284, 292, 304, 343, 348, 349; 

quoted, 48, 70, 123, 132, 135, 155, 


Rayburn's Ozark Guide, excerpt, 325 
Rectal troubles, cures, 99 
Redbirds, ha'nted by, 245 
Redbud (Judas tree), 263 



Red-haired girl on white horse or 
mule, 60 

Redhaw (wild hawthorn), 262 

Religious excitement, waves of, 338 

Republican (Springfield, Mo.), ex- 
cerpt, 229 

Return to house for forgotten object, 

Reynolds, Fred C., 234 

Rheumatism, cures, 72, 107, 133; pre- 
vention, 151, 152, 153 

Rice, Will, 20; quoted, 32 

Ridgeway, Walter, 80 

Rifles, 74; bewitched, 293; buried 
with the dead, 315 

Ringworms, 110; conjured off, 131 

Road, haunted, 233 

Roebuck, Mrs. George, 149 

Roosters, see Chickens 

Root-and-herb broker, 112 

Roots, used as tonics and blood puri- 
fiers, 104 ff.; collecting and market- 
ing, 112 

"Rubbin' doctors," 92 

Rutledge photographs, 268 

Ryland, C. T., 154 

Sabbath, 241; working on, 77 

Sage, planting, 36 

St. John, Oakley, 120, 135; quoted, 

82, 202 
Salt, superstitions about, 55 f ., 75 ; 

witch, devil, and bewitched cattle 

will not touch, 282 
Sang raising, 112 
Sassafras, 64, 70; tea from roots, 104; 

tree sprouts from grub worms, 

261 ; burning of, 304 
Scotland, folk beliefs from, 4 
Scott, Rufe, 29 
Scott, W. H., 309 
Screech owl, cry of, unfavorable, 245 ; 

in cabin, 307 
Seasons, weather signs for, 21 ff., 27, 


Sedatives, 113 
Seers, 184 

Sentinel (Oregon, Mo.), 29 
Seventh son, 207 
Sewing, 69 

Sex life, superstition connected with, 

Sexual attraction, decreased, 166 

Sexual debility, specific for, 112 

Sexual intercourse, taboo first night 
after marriage, 191 

Sexual misadventures, trees con- 
nected with, 263 

Sexual passions, arousing (aphrodis- 
iac), 112, 163, 166 ff. 

Sexual unions between humans and 
animals, 203 

Shakes (shingles), 41 

Sharp, Clarence, 278 

Sharp, Palmer E., 222 

Sharp, Will, 221 

Shears, William, 234 

Sheep, 47 

Shingles, fear of, 146; cure, 147 

Shingles for building ("shakes"), 41 

Shockey, Hershel, 151 

Shoes, superstitions about, 63, 74 

Short, Blaine, 45 

Short, Elbert, 22, 32, 78, 259, 311; 
quoted, 25 

Short, Jack, 27, 35, 37, 40, 46, 107 

Short, Lillian, 43 

Sickbed superstitions, 310 

Sideache cure, 133 

Singing, unlucky times for, 67 

Singing ghost, 215 * 

Sinusitis, 135 

Sissy, ghost of, 220 

Skin, care of, 162 ff. 

Skin cancers, 110, 125 

Skin diseases, 109; treatment, 111 

Skunk, 243 

Skunk oil, 93 

Sleepwalker, never awaken, 332 

Slugs, see Bullets 

Smallpox remedy, 147 

Smith, Al, 387 

Smith, Bryce B., 87 

Smith, Logan, 234 

Smith, Mrs. M. R., quoted, 124 

Snake bite, 102; treatment for, 158 

Snake doctor, 240, 257 

Snakes, 14, 253-58; to drive from 
house, 68; superstition about kill- 
ing, 159; poisonous, 255; effect of 



dog days upon, 256; relationship 

between babies and, 257 
Sneezing, 55 
Snip, Gerrit, 111 
Snow, predictions of, 23 ff.; duration, 


Soap-making, 64 
Somnambulism, 332 
Sons, superstitions about, 207 
Soporifics, 113 
Sore mouth, cure for dog with, 51; 

for babies, 136 

Sores, cures, 110, 125, 131, 132 
Sorrel horse, honest man never rides, 

Sounds of trains or bells forecast 

weather, 18 

Sparks from a chimney, 185 
Spasms, to relieve, 150 
Spiders, 259, 260 
Spider webs, initials in, 75 
Spirits, evil: to protect new house 

from, 284 

Spirits, wandering, see Ghosts 
Spoon, in road, 60 
Spradley, Isabel, 77, 208, 271 
Sprains, 100 
Spring, signs of, 29 
Springs indicate weather, 16 
Spring water, superstitions concern- 
ing, 332 

Sprouts, killing, 40, 41 
Squirrel, flying, 244 
Squirrels, superstitions about, 240; 

charmed by foxes, 242 
Stake driven in another's dooryard, 

Stalactites and stalagmites deadlier 

than stones, 332 f . 
Star, falling, 305 
Starr, Belle, 315 
Starr, Fred, 150, 350 
Stars indicate weather, 16 
State flower, Missouri, 262 
State tree, Oklahoma, 263 
Stepmother struck by ghost, 218 
Sterile, to render a woman, 280 
Stiff joints, treatment, 108 
Stinginess, signs of, 328 
Stocking feet, 74 

Stomach troubles, remedies, 95 

Stones, lucky, 60 

Storms, see Lightning; Rain; Thun- 

Sty, treatment, 138 

Sugar cane, planting, 38 

Sugar rationing, preaching against, 

Summer complaint, cure, 97; protec- 
tion against, 154 

Summer locust, 240 

Summers, Rudolph, 325 

Sun (New York), 90 

Sunday, 241 ; working on, 77 

Sun indicates weather, 14, 17 

"Sun pain," 135 

Sunstroke, Jimson-weed leaves as 
protection against, 114 

Supernatural tales, see Ghosts 

Superstition, no correlation between 
intelligence and, 6 

Surgery, fear of, 115 

Surprising Account of the Devil's 
Appearing . . . , 276 

Swallows, barn, 47 

Sweat flies, 68 

Sweeping, 70 

Sweetheart, testing faithfulness of, 

Swelling, to reduce, 101 

Syphilis, cure, 150; to ward off, 152 

Syphilitic lesions, 110 

Talbott, Will, 11 

Taney County Republican, 337 

Tape-worms, to expel, 107 

Taylor, Del, 242 

Teas from roots and barks as tonics 

and blood purifiers, 104 ff. 
Teeth extractions, governed by signs 

of the zodiac, 116 
Teething made easier, 144 
Telegraph wire, cut for rings and 

anklets, 152 
Tenth son, 207 

Tetanus, to prevent, 101, 158 
Tetter, remedy, 109 
Thief looks into cup before he drinks, 

Thomas, Rex, 161 



Thrash or thresh, to cure, 186; to 
prevent, 187 

Three, misfortunes go in threes, 76 

Throat ailments, remedies, 98, 184 

Thunder, 28, 72; kills birds in the 
egg, 249 

Ticks, 260, 261 

Time, excerpt, 838 

Toad, killing, 6, 48 

Tobacco used by yarb doctors, 98 

Tolliver, Grandmaw, 800 

Tongue-tied child, cure, 148 

Tonics, 104 if. 

Toothache cures, 143 

Tornadoes, predictions of, 29; best 
not to call by name, 32 

Towel, when two use, 57 

Trachoma, 188 

Tracks, to step in another's, 60 

Trailer, Mae, 231 

Treasure, search for lost, buried, or 
hidden, 88, 219, 220, 227 

Treasury of American Folklore, A 
(ed. Botkin),343 

Trees, indicate weather, 16; trans- 
planting, 88, 307; touching with 
^ax, 40; felling, 41; other strange 
theories about, 261-63, 337; Okla- 
homa's official state tree, 263; pre- 
sage death, 307 ff. 

Tree toads, 14 

Tree worship, suggestion of, 263 

Tuberculosis, treatment, 94; preven- 
tion, 153 

Tumors, 125, 131 

Turkeys, as weather indicators, 12; 
charmed by foxes, 242 ; desert nests 
after thunderstorm, 249 

Turner, Tomp, 228 

Turtle dove, 248 

Turtles, 258 

"Twelfth Night," 77 

Twins associated with tragedy and 
misfortune, 203 

Tyler, Ruth, quoted, 325 

Typhoid, treatment, 96 

Ulcers, cure, 125 
Umbrella, 76 
Underbrush, clearing, 40 
Unlucky signs, 69 ff. passim 

United States Geological Survey, 91 

Urinating, taboo against eating while, 
63; against singing, 67 

Urination, remedy for scanty or diffi- 
cult, 102 

Utensils returned unwashed, 57 

Van Zandt, Jimmy, quoted, 93 

Vegetables, time for planting, 34 ff. ; 
burning hulls or skins, 71 ; danger- 
ous to eat out of season, 157 

Vegetation indicates weather, 16, 20 

Veil (caul), 203 

Venereal disease, cures, 110, 150, 151; 
protection against, 150 ff. 

Vessels returned unwashed, 57 

Vinegar from molasses and rain 
water, 64 

Violence, protection against, 155 

Virginity, to detect, 170 

Virility, to destroy, 280 

Virtue, testing female, 171 

Visitor, signs and portents of advent, 
53; on New Year's Day, 78 

Wade, Dr., 117 

Wadell, J. O., quoted, 25 

Wahoo tea, 313 

Wales, Harold, 243 

Wallace, Jean, 265 

Walnut shells, burning, 71 

Wart cures, 126 ff. 

Wasson, J. A., 197 

Waterfinders, 6, 82-91 

Watermelons, planting, 86 

"Water Surveyors' Club," 86 

Water turns into wine, 77 

Water witches, 6, 82-91 

Watt, Betrenia, 84, 102 

Wealth, superstitions relating to, 329 

Weapons bewitched, 293 

Weather, signs, 10-33; control of, by 
charms and incantations, 30; rain 
on wedding day and at funeral, 318 

Weather prophets, government, 10 

Webber, Willie, 222 

Wedding day, 187 

Wedding garments, 188 ff. 

Wedding ring, 187 

Weddings, signs and omens con- 
nected with, 186 



Wells, indicate weather, 16; water 
turns into wine, 77 

Whippoorwill, 245, 247; presages 
death, 306 

Whirlwind, 18, 59 

White, W. S., 248 

White-livered, meaning, 172 

White moth the spirit of a grand- 
parent, 223 

White River Leader (Branson, Mo.), 
excerpt, 180 f. 

White River nudists, 268 

Whittaker, Granny, 298 

Whooping cough, remedy, 105; pre- 
vention, 155, 156 

Widow, white-livered, 172 

Wilbur, Marie, 206 

Wildcats, 242 

Wilder, Hugh, 313 

Williams, Bettie, 86 

Williams, E. A., 86 

Williford, C. C, 10 

Willow cursed by Jesus, 262 

Wilson, Annie K., 197 

Wilson, Coral A., 55, 68, 107, 135, 216 

Wilson, Effa M., 174 

Wilson, Sarah, 271 

Wind, indicates rain, 18; to split, 33 

Windstorms, predictions, 29 ; best not 
to call by name, 32 

Wine, 65; water turns into, 77 

Winter, weather forecasts, 10, 22 ff. ; 
determining end of, 27, 29 

Wishes, "git-your-wish" class of 
superstitions, 333 ff. 

Witch, definition, 264; how to be- 
come, 265; initiation, 267; dis- 
guises, 268 ff. ; ways of casting 
spells, 271; of killing enemies, 
271 ff., 279 ff.; ways of detecting, 
281; eats little salt, 282; can be- 
come invisible, 283; prophylactics 
against, 283 ff. 

Witch ball, 271, 277 

Witch chicken, 277 

Witchcraft, 264-300; way of detect- 
ing, 282 

Witchcraft "carriers," 266 

Witches' broom, 261 

Witches' cradles, 277 

"Witches' Sabbath," 267 

"Witches' sixpence," 268 

Witches' stirrups, 277 

Witch killer, see Witch masters 

Witch masters, 265, 282, 297; meth- 
ods of destroying witches, 287 ff. ; 
charm broken, 290 

"Witch of Taskee," 185 

"Witch peg," 285 

Witch rings, 289 

Witch sticks, 82 

Witch wigglers, 82 

Wolves, 12 

Women, witch wigglers, 84, 85; 
medicines for diseases of, 194 

Woodpecker, pileated, 248 

Wood ticks, to ward off, 156 

Words, magic: against witches, 286 

Worms, remedy for intestinal and 
rectal, 106; turpentine as medicine, 
120; charm to kiU, 137 

Wounds, 100, 101 

Wraith, to see, of a living person, 309 

Wrens, 249 

Yankee soldier, green brier grows 
over grave of, 327 

Yankee spy ghost, 216 

Yarb doctor, 92; kin to witch and 
preacher, 108; seldom poisons any- 
body, 117 

Year, weather signs for, 21 

Yeast, 57 

Young, J. H., Ill, 116, 201, 209, 242 

Zodiac, signs of: determine dates for 
planting, 34 ff. ; portions of human 
body associated with, 34; treat- 
ment of disease tied up with, 116