The Oklahoma Legend of Deer Woman… Have You Heard It?
Now I don't specifically remember how old I was when I first heard the legend of the Deer Woman but it had to be near the end of elementary school, fifth or sixth grade. I was growing up in a small oil town in the Cherokee Strip on the border of the Ponca Nation and every kid there grew up learning and sharing in native culture.
Now I don't know if it was just an average campfire tale or our generation of students entering early adolescents and some parents wanting to start their boys down a good path of learning how to treat others, but it terrified all of us.
The topic hasn't come up since then, out of sight, out of mind.
It wasn't until Reservation Dogs aired a Deer Woman episode in the first season that portrayed this spirit as a demon succubus of sorts. A beautiful woman with cloven feet that seduces promiscuous and evil men, only to hand them their death.
They explored the legend even more in the most recent episode of Reservation Dogs, giving Deer Woman an origin story and elaborating on why she does what she supposedly does.
I began to wonder what other stories existed in other tribal cultures.
With a quick Google, you'll read that Deer Woman, or Deer Lady in other versions, is a fertility spirit in many Native American tribes' cultural lore. Some legends depict her/it as a type of cupid that can guide some to find love and offer help to others to begin growing a family.
This is not the Deer Woman we learned about together in the lunchroom at my school.
Among Oklahoma tribes, Deer Woman takes on, for lack of a better term, the form of an evil bogeyman. A spirit that tramples and kills boys for one reason or another.
In most cultures, she/it is known for being the justice a man that hurts women and children is served... In my youth, she/it was the punishment for being too wild or disobedient to your parents.
The story was a total buzzkill that whole first year after hearing the tale. It made it a challenge for all of us little boys to be little boys, especially in our little rural Oklahoma town.
For reference, this was a Mayberry type of town at that time. It was the 90s and it was totally normal for the kids to go outside until the streetlights came on. No cell phones, little to no parental oversight, and we all loved some good old-fashioned getting in trouble.
Times were good, but when the activity was about to elevate to epic, it never failed... that one cautious kid in the group would say something like "What if Deer Woman catches us?"
Example: We tied a rope to a tree between our houses and dared each other to swing from one roof to the other... When one of our friends mentioned Deer Woman, it killed the idea before someone had a chance to get hurt.
Since there seem to be a few easily found versions of this legend, I'd be curious what you've heard of Deer Woman.