19th Century Bigfoot Accounts in Arkansas
Long before the 1972 film The Legend of Boggy Creek terrorized American movie audiences, Southern newspapers published reports of encounters between early settlers and a strange hair-covered creature called the “Arkansas Wild Man.”
The Boggy Creek Monster – also called the Fouke Monster – is a modern incarnation of the Wild Man. It appeared near the town of Fouke in southwestern Arkansas during the 20th century. The same region, however, was also the local of some of the 19th century sightings.
Stories of mysterious creatures that frontier people called “wild men” were common in the early 1800s. A newspaper writer described a violent encounter with one in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp in 1818 and similar accounts were told across the South in the 1820s and 1830s. The first published reports from Arkansas surfaced in February and March 1846 when an enormous hair-covered “wild man” was spotted at Crowley’s Ridge between Little Rock and the Missouri line.
“His track measures 22 inches, his toes are as long as a common man’s fingers,” reported the Baltimore Sun on March 13, 1846, “and in height and make, he is double the usual size.” Other reports followed.
A second surge of news coverage erupted in 1851 when The Patriot and State Gazette of New Hampshire reported that an expedition was leaving Memphis to hunt for “the wild man.” The newspaper said the creature was “of gigantic size and covered with hair” in an article published on May 29, 1851. The same publication followed with a page one account on June 5, quoting the Memphis Enquirer as the source for a report that the Wild Man had been seen chasing a herd of cattle:
…He was of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair, and the head with long locks that fairly enveloped his neck and shoulders. – The “wild man” after looking at them deliberately for a short time, turned and ran away with great speed, leaping from 12 to 14 feet at a time.
The writer noted that the monster had been seen in St. Francis, Greene and Poinsett Counties for 17 years. The statement indicates that other reports from as early as 1834 may be out there waiting to be found! Col. David C. Cross and Dr. Sullivan of Memphis were organizing an expedition to search for the creature. This may well have been the first Bigfoot hunt in American history. No written details of the results of their search have been found, but future research may uncover them.
The Wild Man returned to the news in 1856, just five years before the Civil War. On January 3rd of that year, the Pittsfield Sun reported:
A wild man, seven feet high, is stated to be roaming through the great Mississippi bottom in Arkansas. Numerous travelers and hunters have asserted that they have seen him, but none have been able to get near enough to give particulars concerning the strange being.
Later in 1856 another report spread across the country, this one detailing sightings in southwestern Arkansas and northern Louisiana of a creature that likely was an ancestor of the Boggy Creek or Fouke Monster. According to an account that appeared in the Wisconsin Patriot on May 10, 1856, the Wild Man was spotted breaking the ice of a frozen lake. He was “covered with hair of a brownish cast” and was “well muscled.”
A party of men from Louisiana went into the wilderness on horseback to find the creature, capture it and prove its existence. One man from this group went ahead of his comrades. He came across the monster and tried to take it on his own. It was a bad decision:
..So soon…as the wild man saw the horse and rider, he rushed frantically toward them, and in an instant dragged the hunter to the ground and tore him in a most dreadful manner, scratching out one of his eyes and injuring the other so much that his comrades despair of the recovery of his sight, and biting large pieces out of his shoulder and various parts of his body.
The hunter’s friends and a party of Choctaw hunters set off in pursuit of the creature. They chased it up into the Ouachita Mountains, which were then covered in snow from an unusually brutal winter. Conditions slowed down the hunters and the Wild Man slipped away from them.
Stories of gigantic, hair-covered, upright creatures are told in Arkansas to this day. The stories can be found in all parts of the Natural State but especially in the Ouachita and Ozark mountains and in the swamps of the Mississippi and Red Rivers. The Boggy Creek Monster is the best known of these cryptids, but believers say it is just one of many.
In an interesting aside to the 19th century reports, the Wild Man came to symbolize the independent and fiery spirit of the frontier settlers who made their way into the Arkansas mountains. This quote was allegedly written down in 1835 when an Arkansas man named John asked his brother-in-law Joe to stand by his side in a quarrel with a third man:
“Joe, you are the high sheriff of this county and my brother-in-law, will you stand by and see me imposed upon in this manner?” “No, brother John, I’ll stand by you till Hell burns down, and darnation is tetotaciously destroyed! I’m roaring Joe the wolf catcher – wild man of the woods – a perfect hyena – tiger’s claws and panther’s teeth – cage me, daddy, cage me.”
Click the play button below to see the original trailer from The Legend of Boggy Creek:
To learn about other mysteries, please visit our Ghosts, Monsters & Mysteries of the South page.