Deer Woman is a creature, half woman and half deer, of Native American legends. She is known to be an attractive young woman but has the hooves of a deer. Some say that her entire lower half is that of a white tail deer and when startled, you will see a flash of her tail.
On our reservation, the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, I heard a story of a recent sighting. The girls that saw her told their cousins that she had long black eyelashes, beautiful brown eyes, a stunning face but when they saw that she had the hooves like a deer, they left the area screaming. They knew that seeing the Deer Woman was not a good thing.
Legend has it, that Deer Woman will lure young men away from their home and has been known to trample them to death beneath her hooves. These stories have persisted for years and, interestingly, I found an account of a Deer Woman sighting in Alfred Kroeber’s book, The Arapaho published in the early 1900′s. Kroeber called the story an example of an “acute and violent delusion”. The story is from page 20. (It is paraphrased just a tad until the eye witness account!)
Among the Oklahoma Arapaho a man named Big-Belly imagined himself to be a deer and afterwards was given the name Deer (Bih’ih in the Arapaho language). He had several attacks of this delusion and an eyewitness told Kroeber the following account.
“Deer (Bih’ih) went hunting. Accidentally he came to a pretty woman. She was completely dressed in deer-skin. Straightway he wanted to court her, when he saw the woman. She motioned to him to approach.
‘Well, I will have you for [my] sweetheart ‘ Deer said to her.
‘And yourself do so’ (please yourself), she said to him.
Then he went to her. He was just going to touch her — to his surprise, she gave the cry of a deer, suddenly jumped, and ran off, looking backwards. Then he saw her to be a deer. Then Deer was ashamed at being deceived from desire to make love. Then he went back because he was ashamed.
Some time afterwards, Deer became like a deer. In the middle of the camp-circle Deer was chased like a deer; like a deer he cried, like a deer he leaped, like a deer he fled on the open prairie; all pursued him. When they caught him, his eyes looked different. Deer had his mouth open; all held him. At last he ceased being a deer. For this he is named Deer.”
Excerpt from The Arapaho by Alfred Kroeber
It is fascinating that the story continues to be with us today in so many varying forms but the fundamental story has never changed. Deer Woman is someone with whom young men fall head over heels in love with but will never have. Who she really is, remains a mystery to me. Perhaps the answer is still out there, waiting to be uncovered.