The pioneers who moved into the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri in the early years brought a lot of superstitions and strange beliefs with them. Many families lived by these until the late 1930s and early 1940s when the area changed because of so many outsiders moving into the area.
It is a known fact that these outsiders have changed the Ozark hills and the easygoing people who lived here for the past 150 years or so.
Among the many new items they brought in are the hospitals and schooled doctors who stay in their offices. The early doctors tended to colds, appendix operations and set bones right in their homes. Most of the women would be a doctor if they were sick, but for having a baby they wanted a Granny-Woman.
As the hill women started using doctors and going to hospitals, the Granny-Women faded out, along with them went the belief in superstitions about babies and birthing.
Following are just a few of the many superstitions that the Ozark Mountain women believed in.
At one time it was unheard of for a male visitor to leave a cabin by any door except the one he entered by. If he did it might cause an increase in the host family.
Some folk believed that if a husband sat on his roof near the chimney for seven hours his next child would be a boy. Men doing this usually took a hammer up with them. If someone came along they acted as if they were working on the roof. After all, what man wanted someone to think that he believed in superstition as did women?
Another way to get the baby you wanted was sticking a knife in the mattress, this brought a boy, while a woman who wanted a girl could place a skillet under the bed.
In some clans it was believed that death was the penalty for an expectant mother who crossed a running stream. Women went to great lengths to avoid that danger. This meant that some women stayed away from town when they were pregnant. During birth the mother's head should be towards the north. Moonlight should never fall on the bed at the time of birth. It brought bad luck to the new baby.
Some said that placing a sharp ax under the bed at delivery time made a difficult birth easier, some thought it would also cut the pain for the mother. Other used a sharp plow point under the bed in place of an axe.
It was unlucky for a baby to see his reflection in a mirror. It caused them to have bad luck or not reach maturity.
Also, if a baby had long hair they would grow very slowly, since their strength all went into the head. Many old folks said that if a baby walks before he crawls, there was not much chance of him getting very far in life.
For a proper feeding of nursing, mothers ate great quantities of raw onion, others drank sorghum and water by the gallon. This was to enrich the milk for the baby. Some women, while nursing their baby, chewed a large amount of snuff and tobacco to purify their milk.
Everyone was told never to tickle a baby under the chin, as this makes them stammer.
Also, never call a baby "Angel", as babies called by that name did not live long.
All mountain women knew that one had to go by the moon signs when weaning a baby. The best time was Aquarius, when the sign was in the legs, some said either the thighs or the knees were good to.
It was very bad luck to make a cap or any kind of headgear before a baby was born. To do this nearly always made the birthing a difficult one.
Most of the old timers believed that a women should never be bathed all over or her bedding completely changed for nine days after the child was born.
Some said that the palms of a child's hand should not be washed until the child was three days old; to do so washes away the infant luck, particularly in financial matters.
Children born on Friday the thirteenth will always be unlucky, but a part of this may be avoided by falsifying the records. If such a child ever does have a good fortune, it will be after the death of the last person who knows the true date.
One common way to predict a boy child's life is to offer him a bottle, a Bible, and a coin. If he grasps the bottle first he will be a drunkard: if the Bible, a preacher or a religious man, if he takes the coin, he will engage in some mercantile pursuit.
If the wind was in the northeast a mother would know her baby would cry as if in pain, all babies were upset by a northeast wind.
A blister on a boy's tongue is a sure sign that he will be a liar when he grows up.
Some old time healers would quill a women who was having a difficult delivery. They would fill a turkey quill with snuff and blow it in the womens face. The snuff would make a women sneeze and the baby be born faster.
There was a general notion that a women lost a tooth every time she had a child. Some said that went for abortions and miscarriages as well.
Many women believed that if someone laid a young baby on their bed, they would have a baby soon, so it was not unusual for a hostess to ask the mother not to lay their baby on her bed.
Hill folks thought that if a child was born with some defect it was a discredit to the family, so stories were always made up telling how these happened in some accident or sickness after the child was born, or that some neighbor had thrown a spell on the mother.
In recent years granny-women and midwives have returned to the hill country and many women are having their babies at home. One would wonder if they will bring back all of the old superstitions.