When Legend Doesn't Give Us the Whole Story

The family of four doesn’t know why they fall silent on this windy stretch of Highway 26 to Mt. Hood. All they know is they shouldn’t talk until they’ve passed the rocky structure on the side of the road. The mother turns off the radio and one of the children in the back even holds his breath until the rock is behind them.

No one truly knows why Silent Rock on Highway 26 deserves the silence of anyone who passes it. Like most legends, this rock has several stories explaining why it’s called Silent Rock, but none of them have been confirmed as the absolute truth.

One reason to remain silent near the rock is out of respect for the Native Americans who were hurled to their deaths on the other side of it. Legend tells us rocks were forced into their mouths to keep them from screaming as they plummeted to their deaths. Depending on who you’re talking to, however, some may same the settlers were the one who were cast over the rock. Unfortunately these explanations can’t be backed up by historical documents or eye-witnesses.

In more recent decades, tragedies have occurred near Silent Rock, like two semi-trucks bearing train parts spiraling out of control on the road and rolling down the steep barrier. Another story claims a bus full of nuns died near the rock when the driver lost control of the wheel.

While explanations and questions and thrown around, what remains are empty cars as they drive past the rock. If anyone speaks up on this stretch of road, bad fortune may be coming his or her way. No matter the story, they all end with respecting the rock, whether that be respecting those who have lost their lives near it or respecting the rock itself.

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A couple gazes at the only evidence left behind at the deserted Roanoke Colony, “Croatoan.”

A couple gazes at the only evidence left behind at the deserted Roanoke Colony, “Croatoan.”

When concrete answers or a clear storyline isn’t available in folklore or legends, it often leaves us frustrated and confused. When we can’t have all the answers––no matter how hard we try looking for them––that confusion is slowly replaced by excitement and then by fear.

One of the most frustrating yet astounding stories before the founding of the United States is found in the Roanoke Colony. Or better yet, what isn’t found in the Roanoke Colony.

In 1587 English settlers found their new home in what is now Dare County, North Carolina. Imagine families fresh off the dirty ships they had been stuck on for months, awaiting this new, unexplored landscape they expect to have all to themselves. It’s hard to imagine them not feeling somewhat anxious at this new prospect, but even more than that they must have been elated to establish their own colony.

The colony was comprised of 115 people and was lead by John White. Not long after they settled in the area, White decided to go back to England to bring back more supplies for his people. His trip back to England was largely uneventful, perhaps even dreadful, but when he was ready to return to his colony a naval war began between England and Spain. White wasn’t able to return until 1590. The trip across the ocean was torture enough, but White was most anxious to get back to his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, who was the first English settler born in America. He was ready to celebrate their new home together without anymore trips back to England. This was his home now.

When White reached the shores, there was no one to help him unload the ship. He disembarked and made his way to the colony, only to find no one there. The only thing he did find was the word “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post at the settlement.

“Croatoan” was the name of a nearby island inhabited by Native Americans, yet there was no evidence at the settlement of violence. Perhaps the 115 or so people had simply been abducted by the natives with leaving only a cryptic word as evidence. Other theories suggest the colony attempting to sail back to England and may have been lost at sea or captured by Spaniards. Another suggests the colony found a tribe of Native Americans inland that took them in.

Still today we have no concrete answers as to what happened to the Roanoke colony. In 1998 a team of archeologists went to the nearby island and uncovered possible English artifacts like a signet ring and parts from a gun. In 2007 DNA samples were collected by locals in the North Carolina area to see if they may be related to the settlers, but conclusions have been met.

The event may be beyond concrete answers at this point, but instead will forever be lost in legend. Sometimes it’s more interesting when stories are limited in information, because it welcomes speculation and theories. It’s hard to imagine the panic that coursed through John White’s body when he found his colony deserted. It’s easier to imagine him giving way to madness, searching the new land that was supposed to be his new home, where he was supposed to find opportunity, not mystery.