Beware of the Hoof Lady: Kanien'kehá:ka legend scares kids, adults alike

Tania Clute dressed up as a woman with hooves this year for Halloween. (Tania Clute - image credit)
Tania Clute dressed up as a woman with hooves this year for Halloween. (Tania Clute - image credit)

If you're from a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community, you've probably heard your grandmother recount scary stories about why you shouldn't stay out late or get into trouble: the Hoof Lady "will getcha."

The legend is one of the most popular around Akwesasne, on the Ontario, Quebec and New York State borders, around spooky season.

In Kanien'kehá:ka folklore, the Hoof Lady is said to be a beautiful woman with large hooves hiding under her long dress. Some say she's a seductress who lures men with bad intentions, while for others, she's a cautionary tale for misbehaving youth.

Either way, Penny Peters, manager of Akwesasne Travel, said the story is meant to teach a much-deserved lesson: "Stay home at night."

Akwesasne Travel partnered with Upper Canada Village, a heritage park near Morrisburg, Ont., this year to pay homage to the Hoof Lady at its annual Pumpkinferno exhibit of 7,000-plus carved pumpkins.

Pumpkinferno at Upper Canada Village
Pumpkinferno at Upper Canada Village

The illuminated display was a part of the event's theme of mythical creatures, but Peters said that, growing up, community members never questioned whether she's real or not.

"I would describe her as a spirit that will come if you need to be put back in place or be reminded," said Peters.

"She's there to scare you."

Clips of the Deer Lady from the FX series Reservation Dogs, a coming-of-age comedy about four Indigenous teenagers in Oklahoma, were sent to the carvers for visual inspiration.

Played by actress Kaniehtiio Horn, the mythical character in the show shares a number of similarities to the Kanien'kehá:ka legend.

WATCH | Kaniehtiio Horn as Deer Lady in Reservation Dogs 

Bringing the Hoof Lady to life

Akwesasne artist Tania Clute took a much scarier interpretation of the Hoof Lady for her Halloween costume this year.

"I was always intrigued by the stories," she said.

"If one could be that creepy, it's going to be me."

Like others in her community, she grew up hearing the story of the Hoof Lady from her grandmother.

Tania Clute
Tania Clute

"This man was always drinking and was walking home from the bar and he saw this woman dressed in a dress. She was real beautiful," she recounted what her grandmother told her.

"He went to light his cigarette and his match fell. When he looked down, he saw that she had hooves and it scared him so bad he started running home."

Stories passed down

Akwesasne resident Steven Thompson-Oakes said there's been many stories of sightings in one area of the community.

"These stories have been passed down from generation to generation," he said.

He interviewed his mother in 2018 for a documentary on Akwesasne TV about her encounter with the Hoof Lady when she and a friend sneaked out of the house to hitchhike to a jukebox as teenagers.

"They never snuck out of the house again," said Thompson-Oakes.

"That's the story I've been told since I was a baby."'

And it worked, as a cautionary tale.

"It kept me home," he said.