Anyone who has grown up in the southwestern United States or Mexico has probably heard of La Llorona. The tale is of a woman ghost who looks for children to take and murder. While La Llorona has fame across the region, the exact story of who she was, how she died, where she dwells and what she does with children changes depending on the area.
I grew up in New Mexico, where in grade school we would listen to scratchy old recordings telling the tale of La Llorona, or the Ditch Witch as she was called in the Land of Enchantment. La Llorona was supposed to have been a woman who lived in or near Santa Fe (if my childhood memories do not fail me). I heard two different versions of what happened to her. One was that she did not want children but her husband did. One day she found out her husband was having an affair, and so in a fit of rage she threw her children into the river so they drowned. After realizing what she had done and crying quite a bit (hence the name La Llorona, which in Spanish translates loosely to "The Crying One") she threw herself into the river and drowned as well.
In another version I heard, she let her children play by the arroyo or ditch in the evening as the sun was setting. One of the children fell in because the child could not see, and the other jumped in to save them. When the woman realized her children had not returned home for bed, she went looking for them and found their bodies floating in the water. Stricken with grief, she jumped into the water to end her own life.
Both versions warned that the ghost of La Llorona did not know she was dead (cue the Sixth Sense theme music) and so she wandered the arroyos and river banks looking for her children still. The tale then went on to tell about kids playing in the arroyos or by the rivers and La Llorona coming up, screaming and whaling, as she tried to take the kids and drag them into the water, etc. Some people claimed she left huge scratches on children's backs and tore their clothing.
Really, La Llorona served a good purpose since we lived in flash flood territory. An arroyo could be dry as a bone one moment, and then have a ten foot wall of water traveling over 30 miles per hour rush down it the next moment. Playing in or near arroyos and rivers was dangerous, without a screaming ghost lady grabbing kids.
If you want to read even more about La Llorona, click here.