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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.

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.

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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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.


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.


John Haskin on May 07, 2019:

There is a very interesting novella by Jim Harrison, a Michigan writer who died in 2016 called The River Swimmer. Water Babies are very important in this story of a part Native American youth with heritage in the Ottawa and Chippewa. Harrison can be somewhat intellectual but the story is well worth reading. The water babies in this story are kindred spirits of the young man who loves the water and river swimming more than anything.

T.nieto on August 09, 2018:

I live on the tule reservation.when i was two or three i seen a waterbaby sit between my sister an cousin.the water baby looked between one an two,dark brown hair,pretty blue eyes,it looked like a very cute baby boy,it giggled an took off down the river when my uncle swung his shivel at it.

Hunter Bock on June 29, 2018:

In Porterville CA, many years ago, there were sightings of a gnome creature. Similar to a water baby. It is thought to have belonged to the Tule River.

Chelsea Frasure (author) from Idaho on May 27, 2018:

I grew up in Blackfoot. It was similar there, but we called it simply the diversion. The stories always succeeded in scary us all.

Jami morgan on May 27, 2018:

I grew up in Pocatello. It was called the Barons. We would party in our vehicles on the side of the road. None of my friends would get out. I did a few times, but never to the bank . It did scare me. Even just at dusk. Never left the truck when it was dark.

Gaylynn on April 24, 2017:

My grandmother was Choctaw she told me a story of long ago that men (not sure if tribal or what but) men had Been on a boat fishing before red river had been turned into the lake they were coming up the river on boats when they seen a girl or woman setting on a rock brushing her hair an singing when she seen them she hurried n the water but she was half fish so the men threw their nets to get her an caught her pulled her to them an almost out of the water she started to fight them she was so strong they couldn't restrain her she got free ripping threw there nets and almost turning over the boat she grabbed two of the men an took them straight to the bottom never to be seen again it scared the men so bad. They told someone or their tribe people or something like that the hole story when they made it where they were going but they laughed at them thinking they had made it up but none of the men would not go back in or close to the waters edge Oh the rock she had been setting on was actually a huge turtle I don't remember the hole story I was young or if it had been two story's but she told me her grandparent's had told her the story I remember it making me listen to my mother when she would tell me not to get close to the edge of the water and I didn't go past my belly button so I could get away fast if something tried to drag me under. I figured she had made it up I didn't know anything​ of baby's being drowned I wonder why she said red river or even where her grand parents had herd of that to have told it to her

Chelsea Frasure (author) from Idaho on December 27, 2015:

Myth buster, they are strangely hard to find, but I have been doing a bit of research. I might do a follow up on them. There seems to be a bit of ancient mythology lurking around.

Thanks for reading!

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on December 27, 2015:

I've enjoyed this hub, Chelsea Frasure. I liked the video you placed on the hub. I have not heard too much about water-babies but after reading about the topic here, I am interested in finding more water baby legends.

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