When I was a young child growing up in El Paso, Texas, a dusty desert city right up along the Mexican border, I heard many different and fascinating legends, ghost stories, and superstitions. The area is very old and rich with folklore, and a very bloody history that lends itself to all kinds of interesting tales! I have many I can share with you, but this one is probably my favorite…
This is the story I heard as a child that scared me more than anything else could – the story of La Llorona. Just saying the name gives me chills to this day… La Llorona (pronounced LA YO-RO-NA) literally translates into “The Crier,” which is exactly what this spook is said to eternally do. Part sorrowful banshee, part angry spirit, part cursed creature, La Llorona is known to almost every Latin culture; the first story dates back to 1550! There seems to be different version according to region, but the stories are all centered around a woman who murdered her two small children hundreds of years ago. This is the version that is prevalent where I come from.
I was told that long ago, there was a widow with two small children who lived in the poorest section of Juarez, Mexico (the town across the border from El Paso). Somehow, she met a man who was rather wealthy, and began a relationship with him. She was tired of being poor and having to struggle, and wanted to marry the man and live a life of luxury. Problem was, the man did not want to marry her, because she had children. So, the woman took her two young children down to the Rio Grande (the huge river that runs right through El Paso and Juarez, dividing them, and forming the American-Mexican border). In the dead of night, she heartlessly stabbed them both, and threw them into the river, where they drowned. Then, still wearing the bloody nightgown, she slipped through the night to her lover’s house to show him the extent she’d gone to in order to be with him. When the man saw her at his doorstep, in the blood-streaked white gown.
Far from impressed, her wealthy lover was horrified. He immediately rejected her, which drove her mad, as she suddenly realized what an evil thing she had done, all for nothing. She ran back to the river, screaming and tearing at her hair, trying in vain to find her poor children, but it was too late.
The story varies here, as some people say she stabbed/drowned herself in the same river that she used earlier to snuff out her children’s lives. Others insist that she was caught by an angry mob of people, killed for her crimes, and thrown into the river. Either way, the result was the same, the woman died. That’s when the creepiness begins. Not long after her death, people who lived along the river started to report hearing this horrible, wailing, banshee-like crying from the river’s banks in the dead of night. Then, the sightings began- people started to relate tales of seeing a horrible apparition wandering the riverbanks at night.– something with the body of a woman, but the head of a HORSE! And, the creature was said to be wearing a long, white, bloody nightgown as it glided up and down the river, searching the water and wailing horribly! The people of the community said that it was the spirit of the woman, cursed to wander the banks of the Rio Grande for all eternity in her blood-stained garb, looking for her dead children. As punishment for her awful sins she was given the horrifying head of a horse.
Locals are warned against going near the river alone at night, and are told that if she found you there, she would take you in place of one of her children to keep her company in her awful vigil by the water. The apparition was given the name La Llorona, because of her eerie, piercing sobs and wails. To this day, whenever someone is found drowned in the Rio Grande (which happens constantly) people whisper that La Llorona is still lonely and looking for company.
I heard this tale many times as a youngster. Everyone knew about it, it seemed to be common knowledge. When I was a teenager, we used to pile into a car and drive down to the river at night, daring each other to get out and walk the banks looking for La Llorona. There actually were quite a few times when we heard hair-raising, blood-curdling sobbing and what almost sounded like, I don’t know – some weird garbled babbling coming from the banks. Now, it could have been animals, or even pranksters, but of course, when we heard that, we’d all pile into the car and peel outta there in under 5 seconds! I sure didn’t want to come face to face with some bloody nightgowned, horse-headed screaming dead lady!
I did have a very freaky, mysterious experience out there though. This one time when we were down there, we drove over a bridge that went across the river, to the other (darker, scarier!) side. We all got out and looked around a little bit, walking down the banks. One friend went the other way, alone, back up toward the bridge. All of a sudden, we heard him yell out like he was startled. When we looked down where he was we saw him hurl something toward the bridge, and come running back toward the car. He was yelling at us to get in and go! We jumped in and he told us that he saw a horrible monster-woman standing in the middle of the bridge, looking at him. He said that he was so scared that he had thrown his pocketknife at it.
We were all totally thinking he was trying to scare us, so we were laughing and not taking him seriously. As we headed back over the bridge to the other side (which was the ONLY exit out of there) we suddenly stopped laughing as we found our way blocked by a box that was sitting in the very center of the narrow bridge. There was no way it was there before or we wouldn’t have gotten over the bridge! So, needless to say, we were all scared witless, and there was a big debate about who would get out and move the thing. Of course, NOBODY wanted to be the one to do it, but there was no way to get out of there without moving it! So, we decided that half of us would get out and move it together. When we went over to it, we could see dark liquidy stuff dripping down the sides, and when we lifted the lid, we freaked – the box was filled with blood, bloody organs, pieces of bone, hair, and other unidentifiable stuff (I even recall clearly seeing an eyeball)!
My friend shoved the box to the edge of the bridge so we could get by while the rest us ran back to the car, totally scared. We sped out of there as fast as we could, and pulled over at the first place we found – an old bar and ran in asking to use the phone. We were all panicked and freaked. We called the cops, who came out and met us at the bar. Then, they asked us to lead the way to where we’d seen the bloody box. We did, and to our surprise, it was still there (we half expected it be have disappeared). The cops got out and checked it out. As soon as they opened the box and shined their flashlights in, they both un-holstered their guns. One of them called for backup, while the other shined his light on the bushes around the riverbank while holding his gun in the other hand!
Meanwhile, we were all sitting in the car, totally tripping out of all this. The other cop cars got there, more cops came and took statements from us, and then we had to leave. The only explanation they gave us when we left was “well, maybe it was “bait” from a fisherman who left it there by the river after fishing.” That was one of the most bizarre things that has ever happened to me to this day. I would almost think that I imagined it, if it weren’t for the fact that seven other people (including my Mom and my Aunt) were there that night, and there are police statements to prove it. My friend still insists that he saw the La Llorona, and he’s convinced that she left the box there for us. My other friends think we almost stumbled across a murderer who was dumping what was left of his victim. Another friend even has a theory that someone Satanic or evil was leaving an offering for La Llorona. I don’t know what I believe, I personally never saw La Llorona, but that was a creepy experience, and something I’ll never ever forget!
There is some very fascinating info about La Llorona’s legend on the following site: www.lallorona.com, including the different versions of the story from different regions, and a time line relating to the history behind the legend.