Being situated right in the middle of America, Nebraska has collected some fascinating stories from a variety of sources over the years. Some Native American legends live on in the minds of Nebraskans while new urban legends make their way into our collective consciousness as well. These eight tales are a sampling of the rich folklore in this heartland state.
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1) Mutant Radioactive Hornets
Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, plenty of urban legends popped up regarding radiation-related horrors reaching the mainland U.S. In 2013, a rumor arose that giant Asian wasps had made their way to central Nebraska. According to the reports, the hornets had been exposed to radiation and grew to four times their normal size. They were said to be extremely aggressive and to have venom 2000 times stronger than their non-mutated cousins. Although the Asian hornet (the beast pictured here) is very large and produces venom strong enough to kill a human after repeated stings, they did not gain these attributes from radiation exposure. Moreover, no Asian hornets have ever been spotted in Nebraska, and they certainly haven't killed anyone here.
2) The Legend of Blackbird Hill
The Blackbird Hill legend is a heart-wrenching story of lost love. It starts out with a young couple who were deeply in love; the young man was to travel abroad for a short period before returning to marry his young lady. However, he was shipwrecked during his journey and took nearly five years to find his way back to America. By that time, the young lady had given him up for dead and married a Nebraska pioneer.
The couple set up their home on Blackbird Hill, the burial place of honored Omaha chief Blackbird. One day, a man walked up the path toward their home. The woman went outside to greet the visitor and was shocked to see her former love. The man was dumbfounded; he had been heading west for California when he noticed the interesting hill and wanted to get a closer look.
The two confessed their undying love for one another and vowed to be together again. The wife planned to explain the situation to her husband that evening and ask him to release her from the marriage. Her love hid outside and waited for her to join him on his journey.
The husband, upon learning of his wife's affection for the other man, flew into a jealous rage and attacked his wife with a knife. As she lay on the floor bloody and screaming, her husband picked her up and carried her to the cliff at the top of Blackbird hill. He leaped from the cliff into the river below, killing them both. The young lover could not reach the couple in time to stop the tragedy. A final anguished scream rose from the river as the woman perished.
Legend has it that on October 17th of every year - the anniversary of the murder/suicide - the woman's terrified screams can still be heard echoing across the hill.
3) The Salt Witch of the Nebraska Plains
In southeast Nebraska, a powerful Native American chief was well-respected, but so surly that no one buy his lovely wife could stand to be around him for long. He loved her with a power greater than the earth and sky, and when she died he became a shell of his former self. He hid away in his lodge for so long that the tribe began discussing choosing another chief. One day, the chief emerged from his lodge in full war dress and left the tribe without a word.
He returned a month later carrying a bundle of fresh scalps and a large lump of salt. The scalps proved that the chief was still as powerful as ever, though the salt came with a far more interesting story.
According to the chief, as he slept one night he heard terrified screams nearby. He lifted his head to see a violent old crone holding a tomahawk over the head of a younger woman. As the women struggled, the younger turned her face toward the chief and he was astonished to see that it was his late wife. He ran toward the pair, reaching them just before the tomahawk struck the young woman's head; instead, his own weapon was buried in the old woman's head.
The chief reached for his wife, but the ground beneath the women suddenly opened and swallowed them both. In the aftermath, all that remained was a pillar of salt. Following this otherworldly experience, Native Americans gathering salt at the pillar pummeled the ground with weapons to keep the witch away.
4) The Legend of Rawhide Creek
An often-repeated tale is the origin of Rawhide Creek's name. The creek, a small tributary of the Elkhorn River in Douglas county, was the setting for a story of senseless violence and retribution.
As some settlers were known to do in the frontier days, a young white man murdered an unsuspecting Native American girl simply because he had vowed to kill as many Native Americans as possible. The girl's family soon tracked down her murderer and confronted him along with the rest of his party. The tribe gave the men a choice: either give up the murderer or they would all be killed. The group quickly handed over the young man to meet his fate.
As revenge for the senseless murder, the Native Americans beat and tortured the young man, finally skinning him on the banks of the creek. The creek was thereafter named for the grisly act.
5) Febold Feboldson, Drought Buster Extraordinaire
A Swedish immigrant named Febold Feboldson appears in several frontier tall tales. One in particular tells of how Febold broke a terrible drought in one of the hottest, driest summers Nebraska had ever seen.
The drought was so bad that Febold had to resort to drastic measures. After a long think, he came up with an outlandish idea: build a huge bonfire to bring on the rain. He made fires all around the banks of the lake; they burned so hot that the water in the lake all evaporated and lifted up into the sky as rain clouds. Febold got his rain, and the great drought was busted at last.
6) Karma's a Bunny
Not all Nebraska folk tales from come pioneer times. In fact, this one is fairly recent - from the mid-20th century. The story goes that two bored farmers in their 60s decided to take a little trip to Missouri to buy the kind of fireworks Nebraska doesn't allow. They came back to one of the farms with a large quantity of M1000s - an extremely powerful firework almost as strong as a stick of dynamite - and a bottle of peppermint Schnapps to share.
The rabbits had been particularly frustrating on the farms that year, so the pair trapped a number of them to have some gruesome fun. While drinking heavily, he men would take a single M1000 and a roll of duct tape, attach the explosive to a rabbit's back, light the fuse, and then let the animal go. The bunnies would run off into the distance and the farmers would laugh with delight when they were blown to bits.
One bunny got its final revenge, however. Instead of running for the hills after its fuse was lit, it ran straight for the pride and joy of one of the farmers: a brand new pickup truck. The terrified animal cowered under the truck until the fuse ran out, taking the bunny's life but also destroying the farmer's cherished new vehicle in a spectacular fireball.
7) The Hatchet House
The town of Portal, just south of Papillion, was once home to a quaint one-room schoolhouse on one side of a rather rickety wooden bridge. Known originally as Portal School, it would come to be called Hatchet House. Legend has it that the schoolteacher went crazy one day, decapitating all of the students inside and placing their heads on their desks. She then took all of their hearts to the bridge and threw them, one by one, into the water. Locals called it "Heartbeat Bridge" because as you traveled across it, the shuddering boards sounded exactly like the beating hearts lurking in the water below.
The Portal School is a real building which, because of frequent flooding, was relocated to Papillion where it serves as a fun field trip destination. Those who believe the legend still venture to the schoolhouse on dark nights to see if they can feel the presence of the mad schoolteacher and her ill-fated charges.
8) How Weeping Water Got its Name
The tiny town of Weeping Water in Cass county shares its name with the creek that runs through it. The rather poetic name stems from a tale of sadness.
A Native American legend tells of a war that broke out between two warring tribes. One had stolen a daughter from the other, and the only answer was to battle both for the life of the girl and for the honor of the tribe. Three days later, all of the braves from both tribes lay dead. The women from both tribes cried so many tears that they formed a new body of water - the "weeping waters."
All of these stories (other than the obvious fables like the Salt Witch) have been researched by a variety of interested parties and all were found to be nothing more than urban (or rural) legends. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t repeat them every chance you get – who doesn’t love a good story?