Rawhead and Bloody Bones

One of the more curious ghosts, or perhaps more a monster, is Rawhead and Bloody Bones.  The original story comes from Great Britain, but there’s a wholly American twist that is essentially a separate ghostly being.

The original Rawhead and Bloody Bones, also known as Tommy Rawhead or simply Rawhead, is part of an old nursery rhyme from England:

Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Steals naughty children from their homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.

Rawhead is used primarily as a bogeyman to frighten children.  The spirit is said to dwell near ponds, and so is a cautionary tale to keep children from drowning.  However, Rawhead is also said to live in old, dark cupboards, and perhaps most frighteningly, under stairs.  The story goes that if you peek between your ankles into the space between stairs, especially stairs leading into a basement but any open stairs will do, you will see the monster, his head scalped and blood running down, sitting on a pile of bloody bones.  If he sees you, you’re done for.


The concept of Rawhead has been around since at least the late seventeenth century. John Locke mentioned the creature in his writing in 1693.  It was also somewhat mentioned in the Italian Comedy Buggbear as early as 1564.  It’s been a staple bogeyman in Great Britain for centuries.

Where things become stranger is the American version. This particular version is specific to the American Midwest, specifically Missouri, though any of the south central states of the US might be home to the spirit.  In the American version, Rawhead is a razorback boar with an ugly snout and red markings, thus the “rawhead name”.

BloodyBonesFinAccording to the legend, Rawhead was the companion of Old Betty, a “conjure woman” of some repute who lived alone in the woods.  Her only friend was the boar, who had taken a similar liking to the old woman.  One day a hunter came upon Rawhead and, not realizing it was the old woman’s pet, killed it and took it home to eat.  In some versions, the hunter knows Old Betty and Rawhead and is trying to get revenge on her for “crossing” him (cursing the man), and sometimes he is a farmer whose crops have failed due to Old Betty.  In any case, Rawhead is killed and eaten by the man.

Learning her only friend is dead, Old Betty becomes enraged and conjures the spirit of the animal from the dead.  Here, too, there are variations, one involving pictures made from a potion, another with Old Betty or possibly the hunter burying Rawhead in a human cemetery.  In any case, the creature Old Betty summons is not simply the razorback beast that had been her companion.  Instead, Rawhead and Bloody Bones is created, a humanoid body with a boar’s skull atop, bathed in blood.

The creature then stalks its killer and corners him.  What ensues sounds more like a version of Little Red Riding Hood.  The hunter asks why the creature has such foul red eyes, and it tells him “the better to see your grave”.  He asks why it has such sharp fingers, and the creature says, “the better to rip you apart” and so on.  The final line is almost directly from the Brother’s Grimm; when asked why the creature has such large tusks, it says “the better to eat you just like you ate me!”  The hunter then suffers a grisly fate, but the creature, fueled by hate, stalks off into the night and becomes somewhat like the original bogeyman, stealing children away in the night to feed upon their flesh and bones.

Both versions are equally unpleasant and dangerous.  The original was the inspiration for a short story by Clive Barker called Rawhead Rex.  In the story, Rawhead is actually an aspect of an ancient pagan god.  It was made into an awful 80s horror film with a creature that looked more hilarious than horrifying. The original story, however, is still very scary.  Oddly enough, the creature in the movie was made to look a bit like a monstrous, humanoid boar, with a pig-like snout and tusk-like teeth.

Monster or a reject from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Monster or a reject from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

11 thoughts on “Rawhead and Bloody Bones

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  1. I’m researching folklore for a book I’m working on. I have come across the razorback version of Raw Head and Bloody Bones several times. Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine where the story originated. Do you know where this story was first printed, or where it came from? Thanks.

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