Urban Legends: The Native American Water Babies
What Is a Water Baby?
Depending on the source, a water baby is a spirit, a ghoul, or a monster. Most of them agree, however, that a water baby is a Native American bred urban legend of small child-like creatures living in the waters of reservations around the Western United States. This small creature has some specific characteristics that are sometimes conflicting in essence.
- Trickster: Some tales claim that a water baby is merely a mischievous trickster that spends the majority of its time teasing and abusing the humans that walk near its waters.
- Murderer/avenger: In some legends, water babies are murderers that crave the taste of human flesh. They can either be avenging their own death, or merely mindless killing machines with only one desire; Death.
There is little literature on water babies, but what there is, claims that lakes and rivers in California, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada are full of them.
Water Babies in Idaho and Utah
Pocatello, Idaho- Massacre Rocks
The urban legend of this area states that one year a terrible famine overtook the land of the Shoshone Indians. They could not feed themselves, nor could they feed any new mouths. Mothers were forced to drown their newborn babies in the local rivers and lakes.
It is said that the babies changed, they grew tails and fins and gills. They survived the famine by feasting on tadpoles and small fish. Now, these sprites can be seen playing in the canals and rivers around the Shoshone Bannock reservation. Their laughter can be heard as they attempt to lure unsuspecting humans to their death.
They never forgot the sins of their mothers and will claim the life of any foolish enough to approach the water's edge.
Provo, Utah- Utah Lake
Utah's own water baby urban legend is different from Idaho's. Their story tells of a Native American mythical creature much like a dwarf. These beasts live in the water of Utah Lake. They mimic the sound of a child's scream and cry to lure humans into the open water. Once there, they drag their victims to the bottom. Their purpose is unclear, but the urban legend is alive and moving in Utah.
Beware Utah Lake.
Water Babies in Nevada
Pyramid Lake, Nevada
Pyramid Lake near Reno, Nevada is a hot bed for urban legends and myths. The Shoshone tribe seems to be the most common Native American connection to the water baby, and it is no exception here. However, their tale and the tale of the local white man differ.
- Local Urban Legend
The local legends states that the tribe would weed out the weak and unhealthy by throwing deformed or sickly babies into the lake.
It is said that the angry spirits of these babies have overtaken the lake. Every year they find a unsuspecting white man and drag him to his doom. Their anger keeps them alive, and they will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.
- Native American Myth
The Native American's claim a different tale. Their story is of a man who discovers a beautiful woman with the tail of a fish. He brings her back to the lake to be his wife. Soon though, the tribe demands that he take her back to the spot where he found her. Rejected, the creature puts a curse on the lake.
Soon after, a baby was possessed by a water spirit in the shape of a snake. The baby latched its fangs into its mother and would not release the woman. The medicine man then made a deal with the demon; Release the mother, and the lake would be its domain forever.
California Water Baby Myth
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Sirens and Mermaids and the Unknown
In Greek mythology, the creatures called sirens shared similar attributes to that of the water baby. Though they didn't usually have fins and tails, these women lured men to their death. Sailors would be enchanted by the song of the siren and steer their ships into cliffs and ultimately dying.
The most likely relation to the legend of the water babies is that of mermaids. Mermaids are half woman, half fish. These creatures do not do much in mythology, however, except to fall in love with human men. Once in a while, a story will arise of a mermaid having something to do with storms; Whether it was causing one, or enjoying it, is never really decided.
Although the myth of Water Babies is fairly unique to the western United States and the Native American tribes that call this area home, their similarities to other ancient legends cannot be ignored.
All humans throughout time have been fascinated by the murky depths of the seas, lakes, and rivers that make up the majority of our world. Enchanted by the unknown, humans will create visions of woman or children in these unexplored places. This at least, helps us comprehend the similarities in the world-wide water legends.
Infanticide and Native Americans
The question remains; Why water babies?
- Infanticide-The act of intentionally killing an infant.
History tells us that Native American tribes, including those in the Western US, practiced infanticide. Shoshone were reported to have a shortage of women because of female infanticide.
I propose that the Native American legends of water babies and water spirits arose from questions as to what happened to their dead babies.
After all, myths, legends, and folktales are created to help explain the unexplainable and unforgivable.