Posted by: Craig Woolheater on March 4th, 2014
From Skeptoid, hosted and produced by Brian Dunning
Is Arkansas’ Fouke Monster a real zoological specimen, or an important part of local folklore?
It was 1971, in Fouke, Arkansas. Fouke is a small hamlet of under a thousand people, in the Boggy Creek area of southwestern Arkansas, tucked in just between Texas and Louisiana. It’s in the middle of a thousand miles of flat country, dense dark woods rippled with rivers and creeks that twist every which way before finally draining into the Louisiana swamps. It was on a hot summer night in May that two newlywed young couples, and a friend or two, were crashing in the house they’d just rented a few days before after a long day of unpacking. But the mellow evening took a shocking turn for the worse when Elizabeth Ford, 22, thought she’d have a nap on the couch when it happened.
You know that moment when you see something unexpected, but it takes a few seconds for your mind to process what it is? That was Elizabeth’s experience. When she realized that what she was looking at was a huge furry hand with claws, reaching through the open window and groping on the couch as if to find her, she screamed — and Fouke would be changed forever.
Even as the two young couples made emergency move-out preparations, giving up on their new home after less than a week, reporter Jim Powell covered the incident for the Texarkana Gazette, calling it like it was a campy 80s slasher pic:
Elizabeth Ford said she was sleeping in the front room of the frame house when, “I saw the curtain moving on the front window and a hand sticking through the window. At first I thought it was a bear’s paw but it didn’t look like that. It had heavy hair all over it and it had claws. I could see its eyes. They looked like coals of fire … real red,” she said. “It didn’t make any noise. Except you could hear it breathing.”
Ford said they spotted the creature in back of the house with the aid of a flashlight. “We shot several times at it then and then called Ernest Walraven, constable of Fouke. He brought us another shotgun and a stronger light. We waited on the porch and then saw the thing closer to the house. We shot again and thought we saw it fall. Bobby, Charles and myself started walking to where we saw it fall,” he said.
About that time, according to Don Ford, they heard the women in the house screaming and Bobby went back. “I was walking the rungs of a ladder to get up on the porch when the thing grabbed me.”
…The “creature” was described by Ford as being about seven feet tall and about three feet wide across the chest. “At first I thought it was a bear but it runs upright and moves real fast. It is covered with hair,” he said.
The episode triggered a rash of sightings that kept the Texarkana Gazette lively for months. And more significantly, it attracted the attention of filmmakers, who quickly shot the 1973 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. The film dramatized dozens of sightings and featured many Fouke and Boggy Creek residents, telling and reenacting their stories. One of the most fantastic involved a boy named Lynn Crabtree who encountered the beast while hunting in 1965, and shot at it repeatedly without effect.
It’s at this point when, during researching such a story, we start to examine the timeline. The Crabtree boy’s experience was in 1965; the Ford family’s fright and Powell’s newspaper article were in 1971; and the movie came out in 1973. But Powell’s newspaper article seems to have been the first published, anywhere, that describes a hairy wildman-type monster in the Fouke and Boggy Creek area. Plenty of articles followed, but young Crabtree’s experience (and those of many other characters in the film) all happened in the 1960s. They just weren’t reported.
So while I was researching this story, a bunch of red flags came jumping out at me. This story bore off the signs of having been created by an imaginative author, who in this case would be Charles B. Pierce, the writer and director and overall creator of The Legend of Boggy Creek. Perhaps inspired by the newspaper article’s sensationalism and notoriety, he may well have rushed to the scene and encouraged, exaggerated, and imagined all sorts of scenarios for which he would have found many happy Fouke residents to portray, eager at a chance on the silver screen; and to lend it a touch of realism, he could have even added the claim that the entire community was reluctant to have anything to do with the film (which is exactly what’s been claimed).
So a thorough review of the historical documentary evidence was in order. A very thorough (if not especially skeptical) book on the subject, The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn, was published in 2012. Blackburn had already done this research, combing through every conceivable Arkansas newspaper archive looking for mentions of the Fouke Monster. But although he collected stories and second- or third-hand reports going back at least through the 1960s, he uncovered not a single mention in print until Powell’s 1971 report of the Ford incident. It was as if the stories had never existed at all, until the 1971 newspaper article either compelled people to remember long-lost incidents, or (perish the thought) to make them up.
One such family was the Crabtrees, who, following the 1971 report, suddenly announced having had numerous experiences with the Fouke Monster over the years. Smokey Crabtree, the father of Lynn who shot at the creature in 1965, eagerly offered his services as a backwater guide for Pierce during the filming of the movie. As a result, Lynn’s story became an important point in the movie, as did Smokey’s other son, Travis, who also got some big scenes and even had a song about him in the film.
After the movie, Smokey Crabtree self-published a book, Smokey and the Fouke Monster. Smokey himself never claimed to have seen the creature, but he spoke of how its many encounters with the Crabtree clan had shaped his life. Smokey wrote of Fred Crabtree and James Crabtree, both of whom had experiences similar to Lynn’s but had never taken a shot. In fact, if it wasn’t for the material provided by Smokey to Pierce, The Legend of Boggy Creek would have been scarcely longer than a TV commercial.
However, when exposed to thorough historical investigation, the Fouke Monster does not dissolve completely into family folklore. Blackburn listed many sightings that occurred prior to Powell’s 1971 article, but so far as I could find, they were never documented until after the article. Blackburn did manage to dig up at least two newspaper reports of hairy man beasts from the 19th century, but both were located all the way across the state of Arkansas, at least 400 kilometers away. In 1851, the Memphis Enquirer reported a creature spotted by hunters in Greene County:
He was of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair and the head with long locks that fairly enveloped his neck and shoulders.
Five years later in 1856, the Caddo Gazette reported the following beast in the Upper Red River region:
…A stout, athletic man, about six feet four inches in height, completely covered with hair of a brownish cast about four to six inches long. He was well muscled, and ran up the bank with the fleetness of a deer.
…In an instant [he] 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 “wild man” then stole the hapless victim’s horse and rode away on it.
The only physical evidence of the Fouke Monster has been in the form of footprint casts. In the scientific method, we tend to assign footprint casts only a limited amount of value in terms of quality of evidence. They are indirect evidence of indirect evidence. We rarely have proof of when or where or by whom the casts were made; and we have no way of knowing what caused the impression the cast reflects. But they still have value as anecdotal evidence. If we can ascertain where and when the cast was actually made, and we can make a reasonable determination that the person who made it didn’t fake the impression it was of, only then do we have a decent suggestion of a direction for further, more provable research.
But the Fouke footprint casts have been a bit improbable anatomically. First of all, the published examples are highly diverse; too diverse, in fact, to represent a single species of animal. Thus the most likely explanation is that many of them are fakes. The first footprints that were photographed and published in the Texarkana Gazette in 1971 (weeks after the Fords’ experience) were long and thin; thirteen and a half inches long and only four and a half inches wide at the widest — significantly longer and thinner than most human feet. This would be a solution for supporting weight that’s unprecedented in the animal kingdom. Heavier animals tend to have wider feet, to distribute the load and maintain stability.
The toes were also unprecedented. The end of the foot terminated in three identical long, thin toes, each two inches long and protruding straight from the end of the foot, not splayed outward. No primates have only three toes, or toes that are all identical.
Casts made in the subsequent years, however, have become more and more realistic; looking like gorilla or orangutan footprints. They’re shorter, wider, have a thumb-like big toe sticking out to the side and four regular toes of various sizes. The history of Fouke monster footprints seems consistent with what hoaxers might produce if they began with little anatomical knowledge and became progressively more accurate.
With “three toed” having been established as the theme for Fouke Monster feet, more recent examples have been presented that look like ostrich feet; others have been described with hypothetical drawings showing a more conventional primate foot, but with pairs of toes grouped together almost indistinguishably to look like a three toed foot.
So in total, every last shred of evidence that the Fouke Monster exists at all is anecdotal. Not a single piece is testable. The Fouke Monster fits very poorly with the model of a living animal, but fits very well with a local legend. The tale of the hairy wild man is a familiar one in nearly every culture, and the Fouke Monster of Boggy Creek fills that role in southwestern Arkansas. It serves us not as mere zoological fact, but as important oral tradition that enriches our culture. So to enjoy the Fouke Monster, don’t search for footprints; instead take a guitar and an old slouch hat, and have a ride in Travis Crabtree’s canoe.
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.