The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is home to petrified wood — after millions of years, wood mineralized into rocks. Around the park, there are signs instructing visitors to not take anything home.

And legend has it — there’s a curse on a person who does.

The curse of the petrified forest, as Legends of America calls it, started in the 1930s when visitors who had taken petrified wood home began having bad luck. The Rainbow Forest Museum at the park houses a room devoted to telling the stories of people who have experienced this curse and it’s not uncommon for the park to receive written confessions when people return petrified wood.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah has an identical legend surrounding it. According to KSL-TV, the residents of Escalante are aware of the legend.

The West has a rich history of legends and folk tales — the Wild West atmosphere, desert and mountainous landscapes and rumors of monsters lurking in lakes have surfaced as tales have circulated. Folk tales by nature communicate the beliefs and culture of peoples who live in a specific area.

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The legendary tale of the Bear Lake monster and true story of the real Bear Lake monster

What is a folk tale example?

While folk tales may not be true in the sense the narrative espoused in the tales is factually accurate, there’s usually some kernel of truth about people’s beliefs or something revealed about a particular population. Oral tradition through stories and songs plays a big role in the dissemination of folk tales.

Some examples of folk tales include the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Molly Pitcher and the Bear Lake Monster. Distinguishing between folk tales and fairy tales is fuzzy, and it’s important to note folk tales can and often do have a basis in historical reality.

The case of Molly Pitcher is an interesting example because she’s sometimes associated with a woman named Mary Hays, but most commonly it’s a nickname to describe a group of women. Prologue Magazine said, “The name Molly Pitcher is a collective generic term inasmuch as “G.I. Joe” was a moniker for a soldier or soldiers in World War II. The name Molly Pitcher, like the term G.I. Joe, is a common label for the countless, nameless, women and men who are anonymously honored for their heroic service.”

Another famous folk tale is the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the story, the Headless Horseman is a Hessian solider turned specter (ghost) who rides around the county at night and will roam graveyards. Occasionally, this ghost would have an encounter with someone which usually left them spooked and injured.

Irving didn’t originate the headless horseman, but used the tale to say something about the times in which he lived — which were marked by a deadly recurring yellow fever epidemic. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “If we read a little more carefully, we’ll find a history lesson embedded in the Halloween tale, a reminder to contemporary readers that the pathologies of the past were just as terrifying as our own modern plagues — and just as cloaked in mystery and misunderstanding.”

What are some traditional American folk tales?

One of the most famous American folk tales is that of Paul Bunyan — although there’s some debate about whether or not this tale qualifies as a folk tale. It’s been retold in several different ways from “Hoodwinked” to “Lumber Jack-Rabbit.”

The story is simple. Paul Bunyan is a larger-than-life lumberjack with a blue ox named Babe. His ability to chop up wood is superhuman and he can cut entire forests. According to Legends of America, Bunyan was said to be seven feet tall and one of the most famous stories surrounding him was that he cleared the way for Lake Superior.

Another popular American folk tale deals with Johnny Appleseed — a real person by the name of John Chapman. Born in Massachusetts, Chapman had a knack for planting apple trees, which produced cider apples. Britannica said he traveled on feet as he planted apple trees walking from Pennsylvania to Ohio and also handed out Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological writings to those whom he encountered.

Oral accounts also began to circulate about Chapman. Nicknamed Johnny Appleseed, he was said to wear a sack instead of a shirt and constantly carry a bag of appleseeds, per Britannica. Not every account which circulated about him was exactly true, and soon Chapman’s life became mythologized as Johnny Appleseed.

You’ve heard of the Bermuda Triangle, but have you heard of the Bridgewater Triangle? In southeastern Massachusetts, there’s an area known as the Bridgewater Triangle. CBS News described it, “It’s a 200 square mile so-called paranormal vortex with three points in Abington, Rehoboth and Freetown. And inside? The communities of Taunton, Raynham, Berkley, Dighton, Brockton, Easton and Bridgewater.”

In this area, there are legends of UFO sightings, Bigfoot sightings and other hauntings.

What are some traditional Western folk tales?

The Wild West is home to several folk tales.

There’s the tale of the Bear Lake Monster (sometimes called Isabella). Locals share the legend of a giant serpentine creature lurking in Bear Lake. the Deseret News published Joseph Rich’s first account of seeing the monster in 1869 — he later called it “a world-class lie.”

To this day, the Bear Lake Monster remains a prominent folk tale in the area.

There’s another legend, and this one has to do with truly opulent wealth. Montezuma, an emperor of the Aztec Empire, was said to have ordered 8,000 Aztec warriors to move his treasure from Mexico to the U.S. so the Spanish conquistadors wouldn’t be able to find it. Some now think the treasure is in Kanab, according to ABC 4 News. People have searched for the treasure — estimated to be around $3 billion — but none have found it.

Another common folk tale in Utah deals with Butch Cassidy. Born in Beaver, Utah, Cassidy grew up to become a Wild West outlaw, who was surrounded by folklore. Like the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement’s website History to Go said fact and fiction are difficult to differentiate when it comes to Cassidy.

While it’s thought Cassidy died in Bolivia in 1912 after encountering the local military, some believe he actually lived and took on a new identity, per History to Go. “Among those making the claim were members of his own family; his sister Lula Parker Betenson claimed that Cassidy came for a visit in the fall of 1925. On that occasion he told members of his family that a friend, Percy Seibert, from the Concordia Tin Mines near San Vicente, Bolivia, identified the two bodies as being those of him and Sundance.”

What are the 3 elements of a folk tale?

Some believe folk tales can be split into three elements. The Kennedy Center said folk tales are compromised of setting, characters and a problem — also noting that characters in folk tales tend to be one-sided.

What is a tall tale?

Tall tales can be described as exaggerated stories about folk heroes, according to Britannica. ”The tall tale is essentially an oral form of entertainment; the audience appreciates the imaginative invention rather than the literal meaning of the tales.”

What is a fairy tale?

A fairy tale is a fictional story imbued with elements of magic and imaginary elements. Fairy tales are part of the folklore genre and include stories like Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and The Little Mermaid.