1869’s “Gorillas”

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 30th, 2012

The media stories of an exciting new animal out of Africa were all the rage in the last half of the 1800s. Above is a print of a gorilla, 1866. None were in zoos yet. None were in America.

The reports of “gorillas” (as Bigfoot/Sasquatch were termed in the 19th century) in Kansas in 1869, first noted by researcher and author Mark A. Hall of Minnesota, are well known. I have written about these chronicles often. Here are some more news accounts of the time confirming these reported events.

Barkerville (BC) The Cariboo Sentinel, October 16, 1869, p. 1


Kansas is enjoying a new sensation. A gorilla is at large in Crawford
county in that State. It has at different times been seen by every
inhabitant of the valley. The settlers have christened it Old Sheff.
Whether the strange animal is a gorilla or a wild man is not decided. Sixty
settlers turned out one day to hunt it down but it escaped. It has so near
a resemblance to the human form that the men are unwilling to shoot it down.


Dubuque (IA) Dubuque Daily Herald, September 4, 1869, p.2


A Gorilla or Wild Man in Kansas.

The Arcadia, Kansas, correspondent of the St. Louis Democrat says:

“Aside from the excitement caused by the trouble in regard to the ownership
of these neutral lands, we, of Arcadia valley, in the southern part of
Crawford county, are having a new sensation which may lead to some new
disclosures in natural history, if investigated, as it should be. It is
nothing less then the discovery of a wild man, for a gorilla, or “what is
it?” It has at different times been seen by almost every inhabitant of the
valley, and it has occasionally been seen in the adjoining county in
Missouri, but it seems to make its home in this vicinity. Several times it
has approached the cabins of the settlers, much to the terror of the women
and children, especially if the men happen to be absent working in the
fields. In one instance it approached the house of one of our old citizens,
Wm. Armsworthy, but was driven away with clubs by one of the men. It has so
near a resemblance to the human form that men are unwilling to shoot it. It
is difficult to give a description of this wild man or animal. It has a
stooping gait, very long arms, with immense hands or claws. It has a hairy
face, and those who have been near it describe it as having a most ferocious
expression of countenance; generally walks on its hind legs, but sometimes
on all fours. The beast, or “what is it?” is as cowardly as it is ugly, and
it is next thing to impossible to get near enough to obtain a good view of
it. The settlers, not knowing what to call it, have christened it Old
Sheff. Since its appearance, our fences are often found down, allowing the
stock free range in our cornfields. I suppose Old Sheff is only following
his inclination, as it may be easier for it to pull them down than to climb
over them. However, as it is, curses loud and deep are heaped on its head
by the settlers. The settlers are divided in opinion as to whether it
belongs to the human or not. Probably it will be found to be a gorilla or
large orang outang, that has escaped from some menagerie in the settlements
east of here. At one time over sixty of the citizens turned out to hunt it
down, but it escaped; but, probably, owing to the fright it received, kept
out of sight for several days, and just as the settlers were congratulating
themselves that they were rid of an intolerable nuisance, Old Sheff came
back again, seemingly as savage as ever. If this meets the eye of any
showman who has lost one of his collection of beasts, he may know where to
find it. At present it is the terror of all the women and children in the
valley. It cannot be caught, and nobody is willing to shoot it.”

Thanks to the archival research of Chuck Flood.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

9 Responses to “1869’s “Gorillas””

  1. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Okay, so if we’re going to consider if the animal seen around Dubuque might have been a Bigfoot, then it’s very unexpected that “it has at different times been seen by almost every inhabitant of the valley,” considering BF’s reported reclusive nature. You can’t have it both ways, despite what the apologists might (and will) say. Is there any contemorary rural area where a majority of the residents have seen such an animal? And if so, why doesn’t someone go there with a video camera and wait around a while?

  2. Loren Coleman responds:

    PoeticsOfBigfoot, thank goodness you said “contemporary,” as I was going to point out there were no video cams in 1869. Ha ha.

    There are many series in the last 50 years where overly melodramatic media have estimated 200 cars were lined up to see if they could see the local Bigfoot. Journalistic standards for the 19th century were not about real facts, sometimes, but about selling papers.

  3. Loren Coleman responds:

    BTW, yes, you can have shy Bigfoot, elusive Bigfoot, exploratory juvenile Bigfoot, outgoing Bigfoot, and more behavioral outbursts than you can shake a stick that Matt Moneymaker might hit a tree with. There are all kinds of behaviors exhibited by individual chimps, gorillas, orangs, and humans. Why won’t there also be by Bigfoot?

    Apologists? Apologists? No reason to do any name-calling when logical explanations do exist for multiple behaviors of individual primates in different situations, of different ages, of different genders, you know. 🙂

  4. paul_r responds:

    I would have to agree that Jane Goodall’s work and fame is based in the revolutionary idea that chimps at least have individual personalities. Indeed the uphill battle that waged was disproving that animals are auotmatons driven solely instinct.

    In my reasoning bigfoot would have to be smarter than standard apes and some perhaps more curious than others. There still is the problem where none ever make a mistake; fall off a cliff, drown in a river, or be 1 second too slow when crossing a road.

  5. todreynard responds:

    There appears to be a fundamental question around the definition of “human,” and the ambiguity associated with it is age-old (at least 2500 yrs).

    From the Wikipedia entry for Hanno the Navigator (Carthaginian explorer):

    “In its inmost recess was an island similar to that formerly described, which contained in like manner a lake with another island, inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further.”

  6. DWA responds:


    An animal can be extremely elusive, difficult to see, let alone photograph or shoot…and approach humans, in utterly wild country, like a pet dog. Ask any bighorn sheep.

    You have it “both ways” because there are a whole lot more than two ways. As Loren says: a range of iindividual personalities are a hallmark of the apes we know about. Why not this one?

    A number of modern sighting reports allege “most folks around here have seen one.” It seems to be difficult for skeptics to understand that people seeing something, and science confirming it, are two vastly different things.

    I’ve read a report of a sasquatch crossing a busy Interstate 64 in Virginia. The witness’s report indicates lots of drivers’ reactions made clear that they saw it. Many other driver sightings indicate another driver witnessed the animal. But I’m not surprised at all that only one, in most cases, filed a report. No more reason to disbelieve them than not.

    Much of the “it’s so elusive” stuff you hear from proponents is their naive effort to justify there being no proof. Here’s why there’s no proof (if they’re real, that is):

    Nobody believes anyone who says they saw one.

    (Just waiting around with a video camera for the required time will get you fired from your job if you’re a Bigfooter. Nobody makes money doing this, and until a number of people do: forget proof.)

  7. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Loren, by apologists I mean people who will not accept any skepticism about Bigfoot’s existence, no matter how soundly logical or reasonable that doubt is. We all know they’re out there, folks who will think every sound in the forest is a “Squatch” or that all reports of encounters are valid and authentic. And you made an excellent point about the media, by the way, I we need to take everything written or recorded or blogged about with a grain of salt. As a writer myself, sometimes I am quick to embrace the written word as something approaching sacred.

    However, if we suppose Bigfoot to have individual personalities like known apes, then wouldn’t there be some that wouldn’t mind wandering into a crowded campsite at Yellowstone, or mingle with the bears at a local dump or something?

  8. SquatchDoc83 responds:

    I find the “Old Sheff” accounts very interesting. The descriptions of the creature walking on all fours, its clawed feet, and “orangutang”-like appearance almost sounds more like some of the much later Skunk Ape sightings in Florida. Seems strange that one of these southern creatures may have made it all the way up to Kansas. Also seems a bit different from some of the more traditional “Gorilla” sightings in the Midwest around the same time. It’s interesting that the “is it human?” question came up so prominently especially given that Darwin’s theories were still quite new and not yet widely accepted. This question didn’t seem to emerge so strongly again until some of the early Sasquatch films in the 1950’s. Thanks for sharing!

  9. DWA responds:

    “However, if we suppose Bigfoot to have individual personalities like known apes, then wouldn’t there be some that wouldn’t mind wandering into a crowded campsite at Yellowstone, or mingle with the bears at a local dump or something?”

    Happens. There are reports of chicken, hog and rabbit-stealing sasquatch; cattle-sheep-goat-killing sasquatch; garbage-can/dumpster raiding sasquatch; campsite hi-there! sasquatch; peering-in-bedroom-window sasquatch; …I could keep going. Basically: if one can have the experience with a known animal, one has reported having it with a sasquatch.

    (Yes, that too, although now we’re really talking about having to take their word for it.)

    The problem (I suspect) comes with the difference between:

    1) Ranger, there’s a bear in our campsite (substitute as appropriate for other incident types)


    2) Ranger, there’s a bigfoot in our campsite (substitute etc.) and sure we’d LOVE a psych eval.

    No more reason to disbelieve the reports, when one has read them, than to believe them.

    When people in positions of administrative and scientific authority move away from the official position of another-fruitcake, we might get somewhere. It’s starting to happen with wolves and mountain lions; but it looks like it’s going to take a while with the sasquatch.

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