I love history. More than that, I love weird history. In another life, I might've made a name for myself authoring history textbooks or researching obscure historical happenings for a novel.
Texas has its fair share of weird history in the form of urban legends, and some of my favorites have sparked my imagination lately.
My San Antonio-born mother told us the local legends of the Donkey Lady and the Ghost Tracks; my husband has wild tales of Monkey Bridge and the Fuller House in his old college town of Athens; and the legends of the White Lady of Sugar Hill near where I grew up always captivated my interest.
Since I don't believe in ghosts, what interests me most are the strange stories and cautionary tales that spread through rural Texas, where myths and legends seem to find new life with every generation.
Not surprisingly, many of Texas' tales originate from Hispanic folklore.
Known by many names, el cucuy, the small humanoid creature with glowing red eyes is said to hide under beds and in closets, while el chupacabra stalks fields and drinks the blood of farm animals and la lechuza, with a bird-human body and a woman's face, hunts at night and foretells of death in the family.
Like most stories, details are adapted by the story tellers, changing a little as they travel the globe.
La Llorona shares many similarities with the Donkey Lady and other tales of weeping women, always portrayed as grieving or angry, cursed for unspeakable crimes against their families, and sometimes described as half woman, half horse, or donkey.
La lechuza reminds of the Irish banshee, another wailing female spirit whose cries warn of familial deaths.
While my family never warned of el cucuy, my great-grandmother and her sister would warn against other nefarious night creatures – black panthers.
At the time, their stories of an escaped circus panther waiting in the trees to snatch unsuspecting travelers seemed like scare tactics to keep us from going out at night.
However, their cautionary tales became more believable years later when I learned that the area is home to a population of mountain lions; and more believable still when I heard their nocturnal cries and saw video evidence of one captured on a game camera just one county over.
Some stories aren't easy to believe until you get the facts or investigate their origins, and some are simply told to keep us from harm.
No doubt many of these legends were first told as exaggerated cautionary tales, the fantastic creatures born of them inspiring a healthy fear of the dark to keep us out of the shadows.