Shoo Fly

shoo-fly

Noted journalist, humorist, and spinner of tall tales Dan De Quille introduced the Shoo Fly to the world in the October 14, 1870 issue of the Territorial Enterprise. Since then, attempts to find a representative type specimen of this remarkable insect have failed.

Shoo flies are large aquatic flies native to a shallow warm lake fourteen miles northeast of Mud Lake in Washoe County, Nevada. They were discovered and appropriately named by prospectors. A shoo fly is black in color, four inches long and with an abdomen three inches in circumference. The transparent wings resemble those of a horsefly and produce a ten-inch wingspan. Shoo fly larvae are deep green in color, six inches long and four inches wide, and feed on rushes; after roasting they look like sweet potatoes and have a vegetable taste, making them prized food commodities.

Swarms of shoo flies buzz over the waters of the lake and under it. The flies can go underwater and produce an air bubble that forms around their heads. With this organic scuba gear, the flies can stay underwater indefinitely.

One dead fly was brought back to civilization by the prospectors, where it was displayed dangling from a string in Piper’s Saloon at the corner of B and Union streets. But when a San Francisco entomologist volunteered to identify the insect, suggesting that it may be a hymenopteran (bee or wasp) rather than a dipteran fly, De Quille pointed out that the snow storm blew all the flies into their lake, and the proprietors of the saloon refuse to part with their attraction. Furthermore, he added – tongue firmly in cheek – that based on the shoo fly’s “cuspidated tentacles” and the “scarabaeus formation of the thoracic pellicle”, he believed it to be “a genuine bug of the genus “hum””.

References

Lewicki, J. and the editors of LIFE (1960) Folklore of America, part V. LIFE Magazine, Aug. 22, 1960.

Loomis, C. G. (1946) The Tall Tales of Dan De Quille. California Folklore Quarterly, Volume V, No. 1, January 1946.

Haakapainiži

Variations: Hakapainije; Nikama (Giant); Aatakapitsi (Chemehuevi); Taünara; Grasshopper

Haakapainizi temp

Haakapainiži, the Grasshopper as he is known to the Kawaiisu, is an unpleasant ogre from Southern California, although he lives on a rock in a Nevadan lake. His counterpart in Chemehuevi folklore is Aatakapitsi, and their tales are parallel.

Haakapainiži takes several forms, but the best known is that of a giant grasshopper walking on two canes, with a basket on his back. His legs are armed with viciously sharp spikes. His legs are long enough to allow him to walk the 20 miles between Inyokern and Onyx in one step. He also appears as a giant, a harmless-looking old man, and a swarm of grasshoppers. Haakapainiži sings as he walks, hiding his evil intentions.

Children are Haakapainiži’s prey, and he stuffs them in his basket for devouring later. As such he is correctly classified as a bogey, and parents will quell children with warnings of “Haakapainiži is coming!”

Once Haakapainiži met a young girl. He coughed up mucus into his hand and presented it to her, saying “Come get this fat, grandchild”. When she did, he tossed her in her basket and carried her off to Nevada, where he ate her. He repeated the same trick with a little boy, but the lad grabbed onto an overhead branch and escaped the basket.

Another time, Haakapainiži slept alongside the Quail Sisters, who saw no reason to doubt the singing insect’s words. “I will sleep above your heads, and don’t worry, I won’t stretch during my sleep”. Sure enough, the sisters woke up in the morning unscathed. “What a nice old man”, they said to themselves, before Haakapainiži stretched his spiked legs and gouged out their eyes.

The Yucca Date Worm girls fell afoul of Aatakapitsi in the same fashion. Their husband Kwanantsitsi, the Red-Tailed Hawk, restored their eyes, then set out to avenge them. Yet every time he approached Aatakapitsi, the giant seemed to shrink until he disappeared entirely, leaving nothing but a swarm of grasshoppers. Exasperated, Kwanantsitsi hunted down the grasshoppers with a stick until they were all dead. This time, when he backed away, he saw the giant’s lifeless body.

Haakapainiži was killed by Mouse, who heated an arrow-sharpening stone in a fire and tossed it into the grasshopper’s mouth. “Close your eyes and open your mouth, I’ll feed you one of my children”, said Mouse, and allowed the heated rock to burn Haakapainiži’s insides. Both Mouse’s home and the petrified remains of Haakapainiži can be seen at Inyokern.

References

Laird, C. (1976) The Chemehuevis. Malki Museum Press, Morongo Indian Reservation, Banning.

Zigmond, M. L. (1980) Kawaiisu Mythology. Ballena Press, Socorro.

Swan Valley Monster

Swan Valley Monster

The Swan Valley Monster made its appearance on August 22, 1868, in the otherwise tranquil locale of Swan Valley, Idaho. Its presence was witnessed and reacted to by an unnamed old-timer crossing the river at Olds Ferry.

The first thing he saw of the monster was an elephant’s trunk rising from below the surface and spouting water. This was followed by a snake-like head the size of a washtub, with a single horn that kept moving up and down, and long black whiskers on both sides of the face. It had ten-inch-long fangs and a red forked tongue that spewed green poison. When it hauled its massive body onto the shore, the old-timer noted that it must have been twenty feet long, and it stank to high heaven. A pair of wing-like fins – or fin-like wings – came out of the sides of its neck. Its forward half was like a snake, the thickness of a calf, greenish-yellow with red and black spots; this in turn led into a fish-like section with hand-sized rainbow scales shining in the sun; finally, the tail was a drab, scaly gray like a crocodile or lizard tail. Shiny black barbed spines, like those of a porcupine, lined its back from head to tail. Finally, it had twelve stubby legs that were easily missed at first glance; the first pair under the fins had hoofs, followed by two pairs of legs with razor-sharp claws, then a pair of hoofed feet, a pair of clawed feet, and another pair of hoofed feet near the tail.

Of course, the old-timer’s first reaction to the abomination slithering up the bank was to fire a slug into its eye. The monster reared up, hissing, bellowing, and spurting poison over its surroundings, so it got shot a second time in its yellow belly, convulsed, and stopped moving. Everything its poison had touched, whether trees or grass or other living beings, withered and died.

As the monster was too large to be carried off by one man, the old-timer returned to town to fetch a wagon and six strapping lads to help him, as well as a tarp to protect them from the poison. They could smell the odoriferous creature a hundred yards away, and one of the men had to stay with the horses to keep them from bolting, while another got sick and refused to come any closer. But when they reached the bank where the monster had fallen, there was nothing but withered vegetation and a trail leading to the water.

Presumably the Swan Valley monster had crawled back into the river to die – or perhaps it didn’t die. Whatever its fate, the old-timer recommended keeping a close watch on the river, as “I’ve hunted an trapped an fished all over the state fer nigh ontuh seventy-five year… but I ain’t never seen nothin tuh compare with that speciment”.

References

Clough, B. C. (1947) The American Imagination at Work. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Fisher, V. ed. (1939) Idaho Lore. Federal Writers’ Project, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell.

Lewicki, J. and the editors of LIFE (1960) Folklore of America, part V. LIFE Magazine, Aug. 22, 1960.

Mi-ni-wa-tu

Mi-ni-wa-tu

The Mi-ni-wa-tu, or “sea monster”, is known from the folklore of the Tetons, and may be found in the Missouri River.

A mi-ni-wa-tu is an amphibious creature with a body like that of a buffalo, and covered with red hair. It has a single horn in its forehead, and a single eye. Its back is notched like a saw or gear.

The mi-ni-wa-tu may be safely seen at night when it swims powerfully up the river, churning the water and glowing like fire; in the spring, it breaks up river ice. Seeing a mi-ni-wa-tu during the day causes confusion and loss of sight. Madness sets in; after a day of convulsions, the unfortunate victim dies.

References

Dorsey, J. O. (1889) Teton Folklore Notes. Journal of American Folklore, Vol. II, No. IV, pp. 133-139.

Teelget

Variations: Teel get, Teelgeth, Delgeth

Teelget

As one of the Anaye, the “Alien Gods” of Navajo folklore, Teelget was born from a human woman who resorted to unnatural and evil practices. In this case, his “father” was an antler. The creature born was round, hairy, and headless, and was cast away in horror; it was this creature that grew into the monster known as Teelget.

The origin of Teelget’s name is not known with certainty, but the “tê” makes reference to his horns. He is like an enormous, headless elk or antelope, rounded in shape, hairy like a gopher, with antlers he uses as deadly weapons. Coyote was his spy, and between him and the other Anaye they laid waste to the land, slaughtering many.

It was Nayenezgani, “Slayer of Alien Gods”, who finally put an end to Teelget’s reign of terror. Armed with his lightning arrows, the hero tracked Teelget down, finding the monster resting in the middle of a wide open plain.

How was Nayenezgani to sneak up on Teelget without being noticed? The grass offered no cover, and Teelget was sure to detect him and retaliate. As he considered his options, he was greeted by Gopher. “Why are you here?” said Gopher. “Nobody comes here, for all are afraid of Teelget”. When Nayenezgani explained that he was here to destroy Teelget, Gopher was more than happy to help. He said that he could provide a way to reach Teelget, and all he asked for as payment was the monster’s hide.

Gopher then excavated a tunnel that led right under the sleeping Teelget’s heart, and dug four tunnels – north, south, east, and west – for Nayenezgani to hide in after Teelget woke up. He even gnawed off the hair near Teelget’s heart, under the pretext that he needed it to line his nest.

That was all Nayenezgani needed. He crawled to the end of the tunnel and fired a chain-lightning arrow into Teelget’s heart, then ducked into the east tunnel. Enraged and in agony, Teelget gouged the east tunnel open with his antlers, only to find that Nayenezgani had moved to the south tunnel. He destroyed that, then the west tunnel, but he only managed to put an antler into the north tunnel before succumbing to his injury.

Nayenezgani couldn’t tell if Teelget had died or not, so Ground Squirrel volunteered to inspect. “Teelget never pays attention to me”, he explained. “If he is dead, I will dance and sing on his antlers”. Sure enough, Ground Squirrel celebrated on top of the fallen monster, and painted his face with Teelget’s blood; ground squirrels still have streaks on their face after that day. In some retellings Chipmunk fills this role, painting stripes down his back.

A chunk of antler and a piece of liver were taken by Nayenezgani as trophies, but Gopher went to work at once skinning Teelget. “I will wear his skin, so that when humans increase once more, they will be reminded of Teelget’s appearance”. And to this day, rounded, hairy gophers still wear the skin that Teelget once wore.

References

Alexander, H. B. (1916) The Mythology of All Races v. X: North American. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.

Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.

O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.