Rural legends. Examples?

It was suggested in another thread that it would be interesting, informative and useful to come up with a list and/or discuss what JB has called “rural legends.” These would be similar to the well known term “urban legends,” but they would be much more common in rural areas and deal with the outdoors — wildlife, hunting and fishing, farming, grazing, politics related to these things.

So let’s see if we can discover some.

Already a number or people have described the belief that the state wildlife department or the federal government is dropping, transplanting, turning loose, various kinds of undesirable animals in rural areas.

I first heard this rumor in Idaho in the early 1980s when there was the persistent rumor that Idaho Fish and Game was turning loose “bad” grizzly bears from Yellowstone Park onto Coolwater Ridge, which is a tall and broad ridge between the Selway and Lochsa Rivers in north central Idaho — hundreds of miles from Yellowstone Park.

– – – – –

– more (important) A rural legend would be a sub-class of urban legends according the the Wikipedia article on urban legends. “Despite its name, a typical urban legend does not necessarily originate in an urban setting. The term is simply used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore in preindustrial times. For this reason, sociologists and folklorists prefer the term \’”contemporary legend.’ ”

Urban and rural legends are not the same as myths, but they are related. Once again, from the Wikipedia,

The earliest term by which these narratives were known, “urban belief tales,” highlights what was then thought to be a key property: they were held, by their tellers, to be true accounts, and the device of the FOAF was a spurious but significant effort at authentication. The coinage leads in turn to the terms “FOAFlore” and “FOAFtale”. While at least one classic legend – the “Death Car” — has been shown to have some basis in fact, folklorists as such are interested in debunking these narratives only to the degree that establishing non-factuality warrants the assumption that there must be some other reason why the tales are told and believed. As in the case of myth, these narratives are believed because they construct and reinforce the of the group within which they are told, or “because they provide us with coherent and convincing explanations of complex events” For this reason, it is characteristic of groups within which a given narrative circulates to react very negatively to claims or demonstrations of non-factuality; an example would be the expressions of outrage by police officers who are told that adulteration of Halloween treats by strangers is extremely rare, if it has occurred at all, or the vehement responses.





  1. Ky Girl Avatar
    Ky Girl

    Where to begin???? Let’s see…

    Fish & Wildlife brought in coyotes to kill off the deer. (Huh? When coys started popping up in KY, there weren’t that many deer! The deer population has just exploded in the last 20 or so years.)

    The reintroduced elk all have that mad cow disease. (Uh no… or at least to the best of the state veterinarian’s knowledge, none of them were carrying CWD. There have been a few cases of some type of a “brain worm” but no CWD – thank God!)

    They brought in bears and mountain lions to kill off the diseased elk. (See previous statement & hate to tell ’em but there were lions & bears in the mountains of Eastern KY loooong before the elk introduction took place – no matter what the powers-that-be might think!)

    And, my favorite, Fish & Wildlife released rattlesnakes in the mountains to try to keep out hunters. (Nope – they’ve been there forever too. But I’ve heard that a lot of the “good ol’ boys” used to release rattlesnakes around their pot fields to keep people from looking too closely. That one’s most likely true!)

  2. Ky Girl Avatar
    Ky Girl

    Oh and I forgot this one… When the state deer population was hit by a gnat-borne hemorrhagic syndrome last year (similar to blue tongue but different), I can’t tell you how many people I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to explain to that it wasn’t “mad cow disease” – that it was something totally different! The usual response was “Well, that’s what they want you to think!” Ahhh… conspiracy theorizing at it’s finest!

  3. Linda Hunter Avatar

    LOL . . Ralph that is a good one. . I hope it was true! The legends I have heard from around here are the same ones you always hear everywhere I guess. Last week I went out to one of my favorite spots in Washington and ran into a road crew that was fixing the road I wanted to go down. It was late in the afternoon and the work had stopped but the security guard and his family were staying the night there to watch the equipment. I talked with him about a slide area you couldn’t drive around which they had fixed. . . and then he mentioned that he and his family had seen a huge black bear, about 350lbs, and that there were a couple of rigs of bear hunters chasing him right then and that the big bear was running around right where I wanted to ride my bike. So we launched into a talk about bears and he told me after he realized I wasn’t “ascared” of black bears that now grizzlies . . . that’s another thing, we might have some of those around and they are monsters . . they will come right in on ya. I wanted to get on to what I came to do so I cut him short on that with the fact that I spent a lot of time with them in Alaska and as a matter of fact had written a book on them. I suspect that had I been a little less knowledgeable about bears I would have turned around and gone home. . which actually I did after I tracked the bear hunters for a while and realized that 1. the bear got away and 2. that they were frustrated and on the ridge above me. I am way more “ascared” of a rifle than a bear.

  4. Rob Edward Avatar

    Here’s a well worn one: “Wolves are putting people are going out of business.” I challenge anyone to provide even a single example where any rancher or outfitter was even arguably (let alone definitively) “put out of business” because of wolf depredation.

  5. JB Avatar

    Hal mentioned on the previous post the myth of the great “Canadian Wolf,” which is some mutant monster that averages 200 lbs and consumes everything in its path.

    A couple of other wolf myths:

    (1) wolves have never killed or attacked anyone in North America. In fact, wolf attacks in Alaska and Canada have been documented by McNay (here’s the report version:

    (2) Wolves are “decimating” elk populations across the West. This one has been thoroughly scrutinized in previous posts.

    There are so many, I’ll bow out and let others have some fun.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The reintroduction of wolves was designed to drive the Western livestock industry out of business.

  7. Salle Avatar


    The wolves were also reintroduced to kill all the elk so that they could close down hunting and ATVing in the woods in order to drive EVERYBODY OUT OF THE WOODS.

    And then, you know, the moose around Yellowstone are decimated by the wolves AND that they, get this ~in fifteen years’ time~ have evolved.

    Now this gets interesting because there are TWO evolution stories here, depending on which “they” you’re going for here;

    a) the moose have evolved in such a way as to have different antlers that are now capable of scewering two wolves in one swing of their head…

    b) the wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 were NOT the first reintroduction attempt this last century. They were actually reintroduced in the late 1980’s from someplace in northern Minnesota and let out somewhere near Gardiner and that they were some vicious strain of “powerwolf” but the ones from the 1995 reintroduction were smaller and tamer and they have now interbred and “evolved” into a more tolerable “strain” of wolf. Though they have still over populated and have eaten all the available elk to date.

    Then, did you know that wolves have several litters of pups a year, as in several times a year like cats can.?

    They never told me about these things in genetics class!! And I didn’t miss a lecture!

  8. Maska Avatar

    “No sound attracts wolves more than the sound of a laughing or crying baby.” I know this one’s gotta be true, because our very own Congress critter said so on the floor of the House of Representatives.

    And now Steve “Einstein” Pearce is running for the U. S. Senate against Tom Udall.

  9. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Don’t forget the UN black helicopters spying around the West!

  10. TPageCO Avatar

    Here’s one I heard at the gas station a few weeks ago…The government wants to list Polar Bears in order to end hunting. There are actually lots of polar bears in the Arctic, but the government changes the numbers to say they are endangered just to stop all bear hunting and promote the environmentalist global warming agenda.

  11. Dave Ausband Avatar
    Dave Ausband

    Hal and JB nailed it.
    The legend of the introduced, insatiable, omnipotent “Canadian Wolf” has to be one of the greatest tales ever told. The gist being that somehow the feds introduced a version of wolf that was never here to begin with and outcompeted the version of the wolf “that was already here” in 1995. This alternate strain of wolf kills everything, is huge, and wholly fearless of humans. Oh, and it has no morals, unlke its smaller, kind-hearted and apparently herbivorian brother that was here originally.
    I guess my question is this – do people really think wolves recognize, or have ever recognized, international borders?
    If you believe this legend then you believe that wolves in Idaho did not historically intermingle with wolves in Canada. Ever.
    But, alas, logic does not rule the day and I am merely laughed at by the fiends in their Spire of Mockery!

  12. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    From a recent letter to the editor in the Missoulian….”.wolves are the cause of the decline in the grouse population”.

  13. JB Avatar

    “wolves are the cause of the decline in the grouse population.”

    And I thought for sure they’d blame that one on coyotes! I suppose wolves are probably to blame for dying sagebrush as well?

  14. Buffaloed Avatar

    The BLM would have you believe that junipers are the reason for the decline of sage grouse populations. I guess that’s not just a rural myth but a government sanctioned myth.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Changing the subject from wolves, there is legend that the grazing of the rangelands has been neatly (effectively) replaced by grazing them with cattle.

  16. Layton Avatar

    How ’bout the one that says “wolves only kill the old, the sick and the crippled??

  17. Buffaloed Avatar


    Yes, that would be a myth but to say that wolves primarily kill the old, the sick, and the crippled would be accurate. I think that is what most educated people say and I would be quick to correct anyone who used the word “only” in that regard.

  18. Salle Avatar

    I can certainly attest that there is no end to the myths concerning wolves and the detriment they are to everything in this here god’s world. (Based on the earful I get on occasion from some of my favorite storytellers!)

    The one about wolves being overpopulated now is widespread, I hear it from tourists from other areas of the country. They know next to nothing, a great number of the folks I encounter at least, the media doesn’t cover it much, and certainly doesn’t care to include too much content when they do cover wolf issues.

  19. Buffaloed Avatar

    Ralph did you mean to say: “there is legend that the grazing of the rangelands by buffalo has been neatly (effectively) replaced by grazing them with cattle.”

  20. John Avatar

    Myths I’ve heard:

    Entire herds and flocks being obliterated in one night.

    The wolf’s utter incapacity to control their own number without human management.

    Wolves and coyotes interbreeding = super hyper killer mutant wolf gumbercules!

    An insatiable longing to stalk and kill children, not to mention any other small human owned critter (no offence intended parents).

    The act of making carcass ‘wards’ to scare other wolves off a ranch (unfortunately only humans react to such things). Personally I think its just showing off – could be mistaken.

    Wolves when hunting:
    – Tearing foetuses out of a living mother ungulate
    – Eating their prey alive* (*sometimes but not a frequent occurrence)
    – Being cruel when killing and thoroughly enjoying the act

    Then again we’ve also got the guys who accept the wolf as a predator… aka something that needs to be shot on sight because it spoils ‘happy time’.

  21. vicki Avatar

    wait, we forgot the one where wolves were reintroduced by vegatarians so thatthey could kill the cows off…
    and woves were an environmentalist scheme to kill all the cattle on public lands….
    the pine beetle problem is a result of the government trying to use them to control weeds…
    wolves would have died out in the Rockies even if they hadn’t been hunted to extinction there….
    wolves kill every animal they come across and leave them there to rot….
    all hunters want to keep elk feeding grounds so they can shoot bigger bulls and get more cow tags…
    every rancher is a wolf hater….
    women who are menstrating attract wolves…
    coyotes and wolves mate constantly, like rabbits,…

  22. Salle Avatar

    Oh yeah, how could I forget this one?

    Wolves also kill and eat each other, after they kill off all the other animals in the wilderness.

  23. John Avatar

    “women who are menstruating attract wolves…”
    I’ve heard the same about coyotes too.

  24. vicki Avatar

    I have actually literally seen-with my own eyes- where people have hung (about to get gross folks) used tampons from trees to attract bears and mountain lions…sick!

  25. John Avatar

    Makes me wonder now where and how they would get such an item.

  26. cobra Avatar

    Peter & J.B.
    I really don’t know why you think that the only useful animal to a hunter is one that he can kill. Most true sportsmen enjoy all the critters and yes even the wolves at times. As far as bigfoot tags go, I really don’t feel there numbers are great enough yet for a season and personally I hope no matter how many there are they won’t open a season. I would however like to train one to pack out my elk. I actually own an atv but I don’t hunt from it and with me getting older I can’t pack as well as I used to. I’ve been told though that the bigfoot is really fond of jerky and with the right jerky you can get them to do almost anything. I’ve never tried b-bq rats or bigfoot, but with enough catsup you can make anything taste better, probably even a wolf.

  27. Mike Avatar

    “Roadless areas lock us out of public land”

  28. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    cobra: Little bit out of this topic here, nevertheless:
    I have no problem at all with hunting in general – hunting for food (delicious!) to be precise. This however does not include what in Africa is called, “hunting bushmeat” – animals that are not really edible). I have however a problem with huting in so far as over the centuries countless species have been driven into extinction or to near extinction by over-hunting. I have a severe problem with ego hunting. With the “sportsmen” (a term left over from the glory days of hunting in the commonwealth I think) putting the lights out of a bear, a tiger, a lion, a buffalo, a coyote, an elk, a wolf, or whatever it is, just for the fun of it , just because one is able to do so! Just to show, with a pelt hanging near the fireplace, what a tough guy one is. Just to prove with a picture, where one is posing with a sheepish grin behind a bear carcass, or – even worse – with one foot on this carcass. I honestly dislike the hypocritical (is this the appropriate word?) attitude of our (german) hunting organisations: “We accept the presence of those wolves only if we are allowed to manage them.”

  29. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Please note my addition to the original post.

    For some help about the nature of urban, and so, rural legends, the Wikipedia article about urban legends is useful.

    Urban legend”. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  30. JB Avatar

    Ralph, I thought this one deserved moving!

    Moose Says:

    “From the UP of Mich – Insurance companies are funding a lawsuit to prevent wolves from being hunted so that the wolves will continue to eat all the whitetails and insurnace co.s wouldn’t have to pay for so many deer-auto accidents.”

    “I don’t know if you have seen the thread on rural legends. I wonder if this would qualify? RM”

    You betcha, eh!

  31. vicki Avatar

    I doubt we really want to know. I never saw any tracks around the tree, so it may just be a deterant. (Joke’s on them!)

    My uncle reminded me that the elk are “brought in” at night in RMNP.
    My daughter said not to forget that cats will suck away your infant child’s breath and suffocate them in their sleep. (I told her that wasn’t really about wildlife and she reminded me that cats are not recognized as domesticated animals, smarty pants!)
    My son told me his friends said that you could sing to bears and they’d leave you alone-easy to see where that one came from.

    The latest campaign by republicans boasts that you can drill for oil and technology makes it completely safe for the environment!

  32. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    I over heard that wolves are the reason Trumpeters are disappearing…

  33. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Pennsylvania is, arguably, one of the tamest states around, at least in the East, but that doesn’t stop some folks from reporting having seen a wolf or wolves in the state or Northeast. Here’s a comment one of my blog’s recent postings elicited from a reader. Cougars also attract the rumor-mill participants (wouldn’t one have been road-killed by now, given the presence of so many roads on the landscape?).
    “I saw a black wolf in SW Pennsylvania 2 years ago. At first it looked like a small-medium bear (due to distance). I ran to my truck to grab my spotting scope and was surprised to see that is was a wolf. I am a Biologist and so is one other person that was in our group. There is no chance that this animal was a coyote. I have lived in close proximity to several packs over the years and I know this animal was no coyote. I’m also willing to wager that it was no wild dog. Unfortunately it was too far away to get decent photos, but with the spotting scope we got very good looks.”

  34. Ryan Avatar

    Carbon Credits, oh wait thats an urban legend.

  35. Linda Hunter Avatar

    “but with enough catsup you can make anything taste better”

    I KNEW it . . that sweet red stuff in the plastic container is the whole problem. DOWN with “catsup”. We need to organize!!

  36. Linda Hunter Avatar

    By the way cobra. . your spelling is also correct, just not usual:

    “There were lots of other spellings, too, of which catsup is the best known, a modification of catchup. You can blame Jonathan Swift for it if you like, since he used it first in 1730: “And, for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo, catsup, and caveer”. [Caveer is caviar; botargo is a fish-based relish made of the roe of the mullet or tunny.] That form was also once common in the US but is much less so these days, at least on bottle labels: all the big US manufacturers now call their product ketchup.”

  37. dbaileyhill Avatar

    To add to Linda’s list—-In New Zealand it’s called “tomato sauce”.

  38. JB Avatar

    Here were the “legends” I posted on the other thread:

    (1) The Michigan DNR is deliberately introducing cougars in areas with high deer densities in order to control the deer population.

    (2) The Ohio DNR has used helicopters to drop rattlesnakes into rural areas; apparently (no joke) the rattlesnakes were wearing PARACHUTES.

  39. Buffaloed Avatar

    Here’s another rural legend:

    The mullet is a good hairstyle 😉

    I’ll also move my rural legend comments:

    I remember hearing a story from an IDFG person about how he was confronted by someone in Riggins, Idaho about how the IDFG was stocking grizzly bears, wolves, and rattlesnakes in the area.

    I’ve also heard the stories about Yellowstone rangers being asked questions like:
    Why do they put the blue stuff in the lake?
    Why are the those little red dogs hanging out with the buffalo?
    When do the deer turn into elk/moose?

    As a fisheries person I overheard someone explaining that the trout hanging out with the salmon were bull trout that were going to dig up the eggs so they could eat them. They were actually jack Chinook salmon, or males that only spend one year in the ocean as compared to 2 or three. FYI, they die just like the rest of them. That’s the biggest misconception I would run across with people.

  40. jburnham Avatar

    I love this thread!
    Lets not forget the myth that little bells attached to your shoes will warn grizzlies away.

  41. vicki Avatar

    ofcourse that’s legend…only the big bells work for grizzlies, the little one’s are for black bears!!!! lol

  42. John Avatar

    “The first outlined stage is a scarcity of wild game, be it due to habitat loss, seasonal migration or often times over-predation.
    Wolves begin approaching human habitations, though limiting their visits to nocturnal hours. Their presence is usually established by barking matches with local dogs.
    After a certain amount of time, wolves begin to frequent human habitations in daylight hours and observe people and livestock at a distance.
    The wolves begin acting bolder by attacking small stock and pets at daylight, sometimes pursuing their prey up to verandas. The wolves at this point do not focus on humans, but will growl and act threateningly toward them.
    The wolves begin attacking large bodied livestock and may follow riders.
    People begin to be harassed, usually in a playful manner. The wolves will chase people over short distances and nip at them, though will retreat if confronted.
    Wolves begin to attack people in predatory fashions. ”

    Don’t you just love the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation?

  43. LisaM Avatar

    I came across you guys while looking for locations or anything on the email pictures going around of elk in someone’s Rocky Mountain suburban neighborhood. But while I’m here, can anyone tell me for sure once and for all the lowdown on bears and their people attacks and omnivorous behaviors? I was taught that the grizzlys and polars will attack people for food as well as self defense, but that other smaller bears only attack people in defense. Then I heard that all bears (except for pandas) will attack people for food. What’s the legend and what’s the truth of it?

  44. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    That is a lot of questions. We have discussed parts of this many times.

    Does anyone want to try an answer?

  45. cobra Avatar

    Let’s not forget the wily critter of the plains and sagebrush. The trophy Jack-a-lope. A friend of mine had a sporting goods store in western colorado when I lived there. I would help him out at times with bore sighting rifles for the out of state hunters that would come into the store to buy their elk and deer tags. He had a Jack-a-lope mount on the wall and you wouldn’t believe how many people would belive that he had actually taken it not 5 miles from the store, some even asked if they had tags available. Those are the years I wore extra orange during the season and probably a big reason I started archery hunting more than rifle hunting.

  46. cobra Avatar

    Actually black bears have attacked more people than any of the others, but there are more black bears living where there are more people so there are more encounters. Personally I don’t trust any of them and respect all the predators, actually all wild animals. The only bear I’ve ever had to dispose of had been wounded a week prior to our meeting by some other hunters that made a bad shot, he fell seven feet from my rifle barrel and scared the hell out of me at full charge, this however is not normal and he was a black. I’ve had black bears close several times and they will dance on there forepaws back and forth woofing and huffing sometimes popping their teeth so loud you would think they would break, but every time I’ve seen this I back out slowly and other than maybe having to clean out my drawers haven’t had problem. I’ve read many books on documented bear attacks and all species will attack under the right circumstances. The main thing to do when in the woods I think is mainly be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to the tracks and scat, certain areas during certain times of the year are used more often than others by bears. Personally in North Idaho we have more encounters with moose than bears. Their big and can get kind of crazy during the rut and calving season.

  47. vicki Avatar

    I have a ton of those pictures. Why are you looking for them? I may be able to help you.

  48. LisaM Avatar

    thanks guys – a friend of mine forwarded those pictures, vicki – I was just wondering where they were taken, but there was nothing there except “rocky mountains”.

    So, do black bears attack people and deer, etc., for food regularly? I was under the impression that, like wolves, they normally kept to smaller stuff and fish, and being omnivorous, also relied on vegetation, so that they normally left people alone. I know about the tying up your grub when you’re out there, so the bears won’t get it, but there’s never really any warning about the bears getting You, unless you come between them and their food, or their younguns.

  49. JES Avatar

    I liked this on,
    Ranger tells everyone to wear bells around their neck and carry pepper spray to ward off bear attack. The bells alert the bears to your presence and the spray is a last ditch, ten feet, “hail Mary”, when all else fails. He tells the hikers that there are two kinds of bears in the area: Grizzlies and Black bears. He then tells them that they need to recognize the bear’s scat so they can tell the two species apart. He sez that black bears are much less likely to attack, so when they see black bear scat, they may continue. But if they encounter grizzly scat, they should give the area a wide berth.

    A tourist asks how to tell the difference. The ranger replies,” Easy, black bears are grazers, more than fish eaters. The black bear scat is usually full of blackberry seeds, hackberrys and acorns and other plant life and it smells like almonds. Grizzly scat is larger and it is full of bells and smells like pepper spray….


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan