We’ve talked a little bit about the significance of black animals like the “boogers” in Ozark folklore, e.g. they are often supernatural creatures, they are sometimes ghosts in animal form, they are sometimes witches, they are sometimes used to terrify children. Now I’d like to talk a little bit about white animals. These hold a lot of the same significance for Ozark people as black animals do. It seems they are both viewed with a certain amount of suspicion and are often believed to have supernatural powers. From what I can tell, however, there aren’t the same associations with witchcraft as there are with black animals. White animals are often associated with ghosts and spirits of the land, some are also considered symbols of luck, others as omens of death.
Here are some examples from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore.”
“It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino deer is a bad sign; some hillfolk think it has something to do with witches’ work, others that it is an indication of disease among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven years. In 1939 a white deer was seen in Taney county, Missouri, and many natives were pretty much upset about it. Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, of Mincy, Missouri, wrote to a local newspaper: ‘I cannot overcome a subtle uneasy feeling that this may be a token. In other words an omen, or warning, but old-timers use the old words.’”
“A dream of white horses is unlucky and may mean sickness or death in the
“To encounter a red-haired girl on a white horse is always a good omen; to meet a red-haired girl on a white mule is superlative.”
“Otto Ernest Rayburn quotes an old-time hillman who remarked: ‘If a white moth lingered about us, we thought it was the spirit of one of our deceased grandparents hovering over us.’”
“Many Ozark children believe in ‘stamping mules,’ especially gray or white mules. On seeing one of these animals the child wets his thumb, presses a little saliva into the palm of the left hand, and ‘stamps’ it with a blow of his fist. When he has stamped twenty mules he makes a wish it’s sure to be granted…I met children near Mena, Arkansas, who were stamping white horses too, but without much enthusiasm; they said it was necessary to stamp a hundred horses before making a wish.”
There’s a significant amount of folklore surrounding white deer or white bucks. There’s even the famed “Snawfus,” the mythical white buck who makes the fog. Here are some anecdotes related to white deer.
“The old folks at Thomasville, in Oregon county, Missouri, say that the early settlers often saw a white buck in the woods, but nobody would shoot it for fear of some bad luck. It was seen at intervals for about fifteen years, and when it finally disappeared people said that it must have died of old age.”
“Homer Davis, of Monett, Missouri, used to have a madstone, shaped like a half-moon. The old-timers say that it was always dipped in hot milk before applying it to a wound. It was a porous stone, said to have been taken from the stomach of an albino deer more than seventy-five years ago.”
“The snawfus was a mythical albino deer with supernatural powers. It could jump through the tree tops with ease.” ~“Some Fabulous Monsters and Other Folk Beliefs from the Ozarks” by Otto Ernest Rayburn
“The snawfus, according to some backwoods folk, is just an albino deer with certain supernatural powers, puzzling to human beings but not dangerous. Some hillmen say that it can make tremendous leaps into the treetops; others endow it with great feathery wings, claiming that it can ‘fly through the timber, quiet as a hoot-owl.’ I have even heard that the snawfus bore flowering boughs instead of antlers. Leila A. Wade of Republic, Missouri, author of a serial entitled ‘On the Trail of the Snawfus’ which ran in Arcadian Life magazine from 1936 to 1938, added her impression that the animal “emitted spirals of blue smoke, which drifted away in delicate rings, and covered the hills.” Miss Wade told me that, as a child, she never doubted that the glamorous blue haze which hangs over the Ozarks in the Autumn was due to smoke exhaled by the snawfus.“ ~”Fabulous Monsters in the Ozarks” by Vance Randolph