American Folklore

American Folklore: Idaho

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Admitted to the union in 1890 as the 43rd state, Idaho has more land owned by the federal government than any other state. It also has a long history of human settlement, going back thousands of years. In fact, European settlers did not really start to seriously inhabit Idaho until the mid-1800s, and the United States and the United Kingdom fought over it for a while until the United States finally won it. Idaho is more than just potatoes. It is a whole lot of pristine parkland and the home of some unique folklore of its own. These are some of the highlights of it.

Sharlie of Payette Lake

Anywhere there is a deep body of water, there is a good chance there will be a local legend of a monster there. Idaho is no different. In 1920, some settlers in McCall, Idaho saw what they believed to be a log moving in Payette Lake. In 1944, several groups of people at different times reported what they described as a dinosaur in the lake measuring about thirty feet long with a brownish-green colored back covered in scales and humps. Two years later, a group of twenty people observed the creature leaping out of the water and diving down back into it.

In 1954, a contest was held in a local newspaper that challenged people to name the creature of Payette Lake. The name “Sharlie” was the winner, and the creature has been referred to as that ever since. Sharlie has been seen several times since the contest, but the most recent reported sighting was back in 2002.

Water Babies

A legend of a famine that befell the Shoshone Native American tribe in Pocatello, Idaho centuries ago lives on as local folklore. The legend says that there wasn’t enough food to go around for a long time, and to keep the ones already in the tribe alive, or at least to give them a chance, mothers of newborns were forced to drown those newest lives in the nearby lake.

However, the babies did not die as their mothers believed. Instead, they transformed into small fish, and eventually adapted to living in the lake by growing tails, gills, and fins. Eventually, they transformed even further into sprites who enjoyed playing pranks on anyone who entered the water, and occasionally eating the people (only humans) who entered their lake. They are believed to still exist in the rivers and canals of the area, on the Shoshone-Bannock reservation, and will cry or laugh to lure unsuspecting potential victims to the same water into which they were plunged.

The Owyhee Dwarves of the Mountains

Local Shoshone and Bannock legend says that there are evil dwarves who live in the caves of the Owyhee Mountains. The dwarves are said to be tiny and twisted, standing only about two feet tall, with long tails, and a penchant for eating children. They are also fond of eating elk. Sometimes, they appear completely naked except for the dead elks they drape across their shoulders, but other times, they are clothed in their own, weird attire. Besides their small stature, they are easy to identify by their long tails, which they wrap around their bodies for warmth and shielding.

The Coeur D’Alene Fish Woman

The waters of Idaho seem to be generally dangerous, with a lot of folklore tales centering on bodies of water in the state. Lake Coeur D’Alene is one of these bodies of water. It is rumored to have a fish woman living in it (maybe a mermaid, but this is not certain), as well as a horned lake monster (as yet unnamed) that is big and strong enough to lift boats out of the lake and flip them.

The Ghost Stallion

In Owyhee County, there is a ghost stallion that is followed by a herd of phantom horses. They are heroes and descend from the sky whenever a cowboy or farmer is in danger. They will rescue them, as well as lead those who get lost in the wilderness to safety.

The Spirits of Spirit Lake

Yet another body of water in Idaho has a haunting or creature associated with it. This one is an old Kootenay Native American legend. The legend says that there were two young lovers, both of the Kootenay tribe, who wanted to marry. However, the woman was desired by the chief of another tribe that was not friendly to the Kootenay, and he threatened war if he was not allowed to marry her.

Knowing that they could not marry, they tied their wrists together in a symbol of eternal union and jumped off a cliff together into Spirit Lake. Today, some say their sad cries can be heard rising up from the water. On moonlit nights, their spirits can sometimes be seen gliding across the lake in a ghostly canoe.

Does Idaho Even Exist?

It depends on who you ask. There are actually a lot of people who do not believe Idaho is a real state or even a real place. This is because so few people seem to come from there or visit there. Out-of-towners say that if you ask anyone if they have ever been to Idaho, know anyone from Idaho, or know anyone who has been to Idaho, the answer is always a resounding “no.” The reasoning goes that if the answer to those questions is always no, then how can anyone be sure Idaho exists?

If Idaho does not exist, then what is it? There are those who believe it is a mind control experiment being operated by the government, and others who believe that those who think they live in Idaho are merely hallucinating it as a mass hallucination with others. Some believe Idaho is there, but only as a way to keep Montana and Washington from going to war with each other or to keep Utah away from Canada. When a state’s very existence is questioned, that is quite a bit of local folklore.



About the author

Ancestral Findings

Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been involved in genealogy research for over 24 years. The excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Check out, Why He Loves Genealogy and follow his photography podcast.