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The Burr Woman

scary-eyes1-jpegI spent so much of my childhood wishing I was older.  Now I suspect that I’ve forgotten about 95% of what happened to me as a kid.  But I’ve never forgotten the day I brought home a book called Monsters You’ve Never Heard Of from the library.

I read a lot now and I read even more then.  Most of the books I remember reading in my childhood are probably still in my head either because they’re either classics or I still read them occasionally as an adult.  There is only one story I remember from that book, however.  I think about it at least once a week, and it’s been 20 years.  It had an effect on me that I can’t explain.  

As was my custom, I came home, went into my room, put my feet up, and read as much of the book as possible before I had to go downstairs for dinner.

The Burr Woman

The story is simple and unremarkable.  But there were images in it that gave me fits.  I would not lie down in my bed for weeks without thinking of The Burr Woman.

A group of men on a professional expedition in the southwestern United States–I don’t remember what they were doing–are going about their business when one of them notices movement. Something darts from cactus to cactus.  Suddenly it runs towards one of the men and jumps onto his back.

It is a tiny, furry, grayish woman.  Her hands dig inside of his shoulder.  Her feet pierce his torso and wrap around his ribs.  Of course they can’t pull her off.

Soon she is whispering in the man’s ear and influencing his actions.  The man confides in the narrator and says that he is going crazy, which isn’t surprising.

The story ends with the poor guy running towards a cliff while the narrator watches.  “Run!  She’ll come for you next!” he screams before diving to his death.

The narrator runs to the edge and looks down.  His friend is lying face down on the rocks.  The Burr Woman pulls her hands and feet out of the man and looks up.  She begins to scramble up the cliff towards the narrator.

When the story ends, he is whipping his horse trying to get away just as she drags herself over the edge of the cliff and lopes after him.

Even now, it makes me shiver.  I don’t know what it is about the imagery that affects me so badly.  Maybe I’ve just had too many women with their hooks in me.  I kid!  I kid!

That book is out of print, but variations of The Burr Woman can be found in several Native American myths.  Weird stuff.  Weird enough that I have carried that story in my head for two decades now.

I love Halloween.


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  • Heather October 21, 2009, 6:24 am

    I LOVE HALLOWEEN, TOO! This story may have been used as a basis for an episode of “Freakylinks,” which was a tv show that ran on Fox in the late 90s. I think youc an now catch it once in awhile on ChillerTV. In the episode of Freakylinks, a man had written a novel based on demonic spirits that did the same type of thing The Burr Woman did. The only way to keep these evil beings in check was to buy a copy of this guy’s book. When the man died, the evil spirits of course ran amok, so the Freakylinks team eventually wound up putting his novel on the internet, as a web page and I think also as a free downloadable book. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the names of these nasty little critters. The Burr Woman sounds great! Thanks!

  • Stephanie Smith October 21, 2009, 6:28 am

    Spooky! So what clever costume will you be sporting this Halloween?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 21, 2009, 12:34 pm

      Stephanie, I think I’ll dress up like a butterfly with the head of a t-rex.

  • Jenny October 21, 2009, 7:09 am

    This post made me remember quite a few of the books and stories I loved as a kid and made me think, “Why don’t I ever pull those out of the moving boxes and read them from time to time?!” Might have to read “Matilda” tonight.. for the 568th time.

  • Shane October 21, 2009, 7:44 am

    For some reason, this reminded me of the movie Chucky.

    Doesn’t matter how many times I see the movie, every time when the woman opens Chucky’s batterpack, sees none in there, his face spins around, and he says, “Hi, I’m Chucky…wanna play?” I get chills.

    Too funny.

  • Jessica Marie October 21, 2009, 12:38 pm

    I think the scariest part is that she sinks her hands and feet in to the man. Ick.

  • Jon Owens October 23, 2009, 1:30 pm

    Sorry to revive this thread but I’m just catching up on your blog after a brief hiatus (read: I’ve been swamped) and this one gave me chills. The closing scene brought back the image in the movie “The Ring” of the stringy haired girl climbing out of the well. Creepy stuff.

    P.S. I am tracking down “Song of Kali” as soon as I post this. Halloween is cool.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 23, 2009, 1:37 pm

      Nothing to be sorry about, Jon. Glad things are slowing down for you. How’s your bending going?

  • Jon Owens October 23, 2009, 1:42 pm

    The bending is coming along. Ben and I bent some 40D nails and some grade 2 bolts. The 60Ds however, got the best of both of us. They’ll go down eventually…

    • Josh Hanagarne October 23, 2009, 3:09 pm

      If you can get some of those 40ds with Double underhand, you’ll be getting close to the 60ds.

  • Evan Dicken May 17, 2010, 6:31 am

    This is going to sound strange, but I know exactly what you mean. The “Burr Woman,” story along with one titled “The Wedigo” from a book whose name I cannot remember, have haunted me since I was a child. Sometimes, I still imagine that she’s out there in the woods, stalking me. It’s nice to know that someone else was irrationally freaked out by the tale.
    Actually, the reason I even happened upon your post was that I had a frightening dream about the Burr Woman just last night. It’s always amazed me how frights from childhood often prove the most enduring.


  • Sarah January 15, 2011, 5:45 pm

    I have this book! It was the main collection of scary stories I had as a kid that really scared me. Evan, The Wendigo was also in Monsters You’ve Never Heard Of. I remember The Painted Skin about a monster who wore a woman’s face, and another titled something like The Monster of Craglin Grange about a skeleton that snuck out of a tomb nightly and ran really fast to a nearby cottage, picked away at the window casing, and wanted to eat the girl inside.

    • Josh Hanagarne January 18, 2011, 4:11 pm

      Sarah, if you have any interest in selling it, email me through the contact form. I’d love to see this book again.

  • Brian March 19, 2011, 8:50 pm

    I read that book as a kid and that story had a similar affect on me… it scared the hell out of me. While I don’t think back on it quite so often when I do it sends chills down my spine… reading your description right now brought back a lot of memories of being scared of her as a kid. I just stumbled on this because she was messing with my head so I googled her to see what I could find!

    • Josh Hanagarne March 20, 2011, 3:23 pm

      Glad you made it here safely:)

    • b May 1, 2011, 5:55 pm

      I also read that book. I remember the wendigo story and the burr women in particular. I also think about it from time to time. I’m glad to know that I am not the only person who has been so deeply frightened by this book.

  • french March 29, 2012, 3:59 pm

    i know this concerning a post written well over 4 years ago, but i was doing some digging and by the graces of a higher source, i ended up here! ive been hunting for that book, i was trying to tell my girlfriend about it, how it had frightened me deeply ass a child! Im sure the feeling is mutual here! Poor Tobius, remeber!? The Giant Cannibal Oomah was the most frightening of the stories for me….I would be astounded if you replied back this post, it is rather
    ancient….for an internet post anyway, if you wish to relive the terror, get back to me at my email, I will give you the conclusions of my finding, or if you have any, it would be nice to be informed that my hunting is useless….I NEED THE BOOK!

    • french March 29, 2012, 4:15 pm

      lol….deeply ass a child

  • french March 29, 2012, 4:17 pm

    getting closer….A monster, based on an Iriquois myth, illuminated by Raymond Van Over in his now out-of-print book Monsters You Never Heard Of (1983, Tempo Books, ISBN 0-441-53597-6).
    The Burr Woman appears as an apelike woman dressed in rags who attaches herself to the back of a victim by gripping with elongated fingers and toes so tightly that they begin to meld with the flesh. The pain is horrible, and attempts to dislodge her only cause her to grip harder. After a few days the Burr Woman is so deeply connected to the person mentally and physically that to remove her would kill them. In the story Van Over tells, the desperate, withering man makes a mad dash for the lip of a ravine, hurls himself over the edge, and dies upon impact. The narrator, viewing all this in horror, is then pursued as the Burr Woman dislodges herself from the corpse and begins to scramble up the side of the ravine toward him. The final scene of the story is that of the narrator whipping the cart horses onward furiously as, over his shoulder, he spies the Burr Woman clearing the top of the ravine and loping steadily after him.


    3rd post down

  • french March 29, 2012, 4:21 pm

    found them on sale at amazon as cheap as a buck 25 or less, my hope for finding them as a free downloadable ebook is dwindling….this is probably my last post

    • Josh Hanagarne March 29, 2012, 4:52 pm

      I sent you an email.

      • french April 3, 2012, 8:16 pm

        while i will admit to being somewhat confused by the coordination of interest in you email on this matter, I am now here to inform you that i will be getting the book by mail in about 5 days, and if you wish, i will email you a word for word transcript of the story, so that you may relive a lively moment of your childhood that may perhaps get the old heart pumping as it used to, as i once myself knew it to do, from the story….

  • Fergus June 14, 2012, 7:11 am

    Oh god. I couldn’t sleep for weeks after reading that book. The Burr Woman and the Wendigo story in particular. I slept with my back to the wall. I think both stories had that ambiguous ending, the monster wasn’t vanquished, and the narrator wasn’t safe. Still gives me the creeps thinking about it.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 14, 2012, 8:18 am

      It’s been fun to see how many people have read this and remember it. Still gives me chills.

      • Fergus June 20, 2012, 8:11 am

        You can get the pb pretty cheap on Amazon. Though why you’d want to revisit that particular brand of horror is beyond me 😉