Horror Story

Native American Storytelling

Native Americans did not celebrate Halloween rituals as Europeans did, but they passed on stories about spirits and ghosts. The following story is adapted from the Zuni tale, “Rolling Skull” on angelfire.com, Native American Legends, Myths, and Lore:

One day, a young man who was a great hunter found himself far away from home when it became dark and rainy. He saw smoke coming from a house and thought that he could find shelter there. An old woman let him in and offered him food. Later, she offered him her beautiful daughter for the night. The man agreed and went to sleep with the daughter. When he woke up, the house was only an old ruin and his blanket was just a rag. The woman he had slept with was a skeleton, and her bones rattled as he jumped up in fear and ran away. As he ran, he heard the old woman’s skull rolling behind him.

The man sought help from the Hawiku, who were dancing the yaya dance. But, as he joined the dance, the old woman’s skull rolled into the group of dancers and cried out, “Where is my daughter’s husband?” The hunter ran to the Navajo dancing a war dance, but the same thing happened. He ran to the Laguna dancing the harvest dance, and the same thing happened. The old woman’s skull rolled behind him everywhere he sought help or protection. The bluebird and the sunflower couldn’t help him, but finally the hunter reached Porcupine.

Porcupine gave the man pinon gum and told him to cover the door thickly with it. When the old woman’s skull cried out for her daughter’s husband, Porcupine told her to come and get him. The skull rolled in and stuck fast to the pinon gum. Porcupine set fire to the pinon gum and skull and burned it up. The man then stayed with Porcupine and married Porcupine Girl.

Though the story is simple, the hunter’s panic is palpable in the longer version, and the eeriness of the old woman’s skull more pronounced.

Zuni Pueblo-Pack Train, courtesy Smithsonian Institution and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

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