Wild People to Cal Gorilla: 1823-1870

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 9th, 2007

Are old records of “wild people” and “gorillas” actually accounts of feral humans, fictional journalistic stories, escaped animals, or unknown hairy hominoids? Or a combination of several situations? You be the judge.

The following reports are from Spain, India, Indiana, Missouri, and California.

Of all of these, perhaps the only one that is well-known is the more Sasquatch-type case from 1870 California.


Anon. 1823. “Wild Woman” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England) No. 47 (19/01/1823), p. 373.

Extract of a private letter from Madrid, dated December 28. –“A truce to politics for one day, and let us sympathize with the charming fair ones of Madrid, who are dying to see the wild woman that has lately been found in the Sierra de Montero, a desolate and rude range of mountains in the South. She had been seen occasionally by the goat-herds as they wandered through the mountains. The tale at length reached Cordova, and the Authorities sent Officers in pursuit of her.

They succeeded in apprehending her, and she is now in one of the public hospitals of that city. She is not altogether destitute of understanding, nor ignorant of language, as she can say a few words, such as Pepa (Papa), gato (a cat), campo (the country) and some few others. When she was asked if she would like to return to the country, she nodded her head in the affirmative.

She eats whatever is given to her, but prefers uncooked meats and vegetables. In the beginning cooked victuals did not agree with her, and made her sick; she eats with an extraordinary appetite. Her clothes appear as if they were placed on a stick; here arms were tied, because she was ever tearing her shoes, in spite of every care that was taken to prevent her. Sometimes she has thrown off all her garments, and runs out quite naked into the kitchen garden.

She has been found after an interval of two days coiled up in a place full of mire, and at another time she has been discovered in the dunghill of the stable. She is about 16 years old, of a short stature, a deep brown colour, protruding lips, and so rough as almost in appearance to resemble a wolf.

She sleeps by day as well as by night, without any regularity, and generally coiled up. Sometimes her sleep has continued for 28 hours successively, either in bed or on the ground, with or without covering. She keeps her eyes mostly closed, and when she is alone she cries for three hours together, and the next three hours she laughs.

The Duke of Riva, the Constitutional Alcalde of Cordova, has taken a great deal of trouble to find out the origins of this female, but it has baffled all his inquiries, and he has given them up in despair. It is supposed she belongs to parents not less wild than herself, who are still undiscovered in the mountains.”


Anon. 1837. “A Wild Man.” The Penny Satirist. Vol. 1 No. 1 (22/04/1837)

Amid the numerous sights which the city of Ludlow [Lucknow?] affords, none attracted my attention more strongly than the royal menagerie. To see this collection it is necessary to have a private order from the palace, and a servant of the household usually accompanies the stranger to the keeper.

I mention this place, in preference to several others equally interesting, because I do not recollect, in the numerous recent sketches given to the world of the city of Lucklow, that any account has been given of its menagerie. The building presents a spacious quadrangular pile, the facade being inwards, with a line of pillars forming a piazza. Up and down this covered way the cages and dens of the animals are constructed. Sauntering about, examining the half-starved tigers, and other ferocious beasts and ravenous birds that were here congregated together, judge of my astonishment at discovering confined in a line with these zoological specimens, a being belonging to the human race!

The keeper styled him a wild man, or a junglee ke admee, and told a story of his having been dug out of a cave, with two others, in the depths of the Teryaee forests, which lie between the city of Fyzabad, in Oude and Nipal: that they understood no language, and, consequently, nothing could be discovered about them, more than they were junglee ke admee.

The sight of this poor creature filled me with very melancholy sensations. He had been provided with a low bed frame (I forgot whether he was tied on it) in a line with the tigers, and was duly exhibited as one of the varieties of untamed animals. In height he was about five feet five inches, of a spare habit, and weak frame.

His features partook of the ordinary cast of his civilised brethren, and had nothing of a ferocious aspect about them; neither had the body any superfluous or redundent hair. At the usual hour his food was brought him, with the rest of the caged animals, and, having partaken of it, like them he sunk to repose. On my speaking to him, he uttered an unintelligible sound, between a screech and a yell. He seemed evidently unconcious of his degraded and melancholy condition, and certainly could not be regarded as a responsible being.

I could not arrive at any accurate knowledge of his age. He had been in confinement about three years. To appearance, he seemed about 25 to 26. After a careful survey, I became impressed with the conviction that the miserable wretch was an idiot, and the account which the keepers gave me must be considered as one of those florid amplifications for which the orientals are so much distinguished.

That creatures, however, in “human form divine,” do exist in a state closely approaching to wildness, I have sufficiently shown in the earlier part of this volume. The cannibals, called Kookees, who infest the Blue Mountains, lying between Chittagong and Ava, who live in the branches of trees, and feed on human flesh and roots, can scarcely be considered other than wild and brutish animals, and afford to the philanthropist and philosopher a field for melancholy contemplation. — Modern India.


Anon. 1837. “– no title –” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England) (15/10/1837), p. 4 of issue: Anon. 1837. “Wild Man of the Woods” Cleave’s London Satirist and Gazette of Variety. Vol. 1, No. 3 (28/10/1837).

A regular “Caspar Hauser” has been found in the back woods of Indiana. He is about fifteen years of age, is quite wild, knows no human language, and although domiciliated in the family of a Mr. Clarke, with every comfort around him, he daily endeavours to escape to the forest.

He devours small birds, nuts, and raw deer’s flesh; and the only indication of humanity he has yet given, besides wearing the form of man, and developing a savage kind of reason, is the falling violently in love with a servant girl in the family.

A more perfect Orson, or wild man of the woods, has never been seen either in this or any other country.


Anon. 1858. “Capture of a Wild Man in Missouri.” The Friendly Companion, No. 13, p. 36.

A St. Joseph’s correspondent of the St. Louis Republican tells the following story: “A wild man was caught last week and brought to town. He was surrounded in a sort of lair beneath a dense cluster of undergrowth, like the habitation of a wild beast, and filled with the bones and skins of cats, which seem to have constituted his principal article of food.

For this strange diet he has a particular penchant, and eschewed almost every other. He hunted cats with an avidity prompted by an extreme voracity, and it was in the pursuit and slaughter of these animals that he was first discovered. Frequent attempts were made to capture him, but his agility and speed were such that he appeared to run upon the tops of the bushes, and the fences offered no impediment to his headlong course.

At length a number surrounded and secured him. He attempted battle, but was overcome. When brought to the Court house, he presented the strangest appearance conceivable. His height was about five and a half feet, his hair long, reddish brown, and matted; his eyes large, grey, and restless; his finger nails as long as the claws of a tiger; his deportment crouching, half-timid, half-threatening; and his garments consisted of a thousand tatters of cloths, barks, catskins, &c, bound together by catguts.

He said he was from the state of New York, and had been in the woods thirty-six years. While he was being examined, and was permitted to stand unbound, he made a sudden spring over the heads of those who surrounded him, and darted away with the speed of the reindeer. The crowd pursued him, but in vain. Over the hills he fairly flew, before both footmen and horsemen, until he was quite lost to them. Nothing has since been heard of him.”

He is certainly a strange being, and is literally a wild man. His age can hardly exceed forty, and yet he has lived so much away from the society of men that he has nearly forgotten his language, and has the most vague recollection of things. He remembered New York, but did not know where he was born, or the form of government under which he lived.


Anon. 1870. “The Gorilla in California” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England), Saturday, December 31, 1870; No. 2635, p. 3.


We extract the following strange story from the Antioch Le[d]ger (California). It is vouched for by an “Old Hunter.”

“I positively assure you that this gorilla, or wild man, or whatever you choose to call it, is no myth. I know that it exists, and that there are at least two of them, having seen them both at once not a year ago. Their existence has been reported at times for the past twenty years, and I have heard it said that, in early days, an ourang-outang escaped from a ship on the Southern Coast, but the creature I have seen is not that animal, and if it is, where did he get his mate? Import her, as the Web-toots did their wives?

Last fall I was hunting in the mountains about twenty miles south of here, and camped five or six days in one place, as I have done every season for the past fifteen years. Several times I returned to my camp, after a hunt, and saw that the ashes and charred sticks from the fire-place had been scattered about. An old hunter notices such things, and very soon gets curious to know the cause.

Although my bedding and traps and little stores were not disturbed, that I could see, I was anxious to learn what or who it was that so regularly visited my camp, for clearly the half-burned sticks and cinders could not scatter themselves about. I saw no tracks near the camp, as the hard ground, covered with dry leaves, would show none.

So I started on a circle round the place, and 300 yards off, in deep sand, I struck the track of a man’s feet, as I supposed, bare, and of immense size. Now I was curious, sure, and resolved to lie in wait for this barefooted visitor. I accordingly took a position on a hillside, some 60 or 70 yards from the fire, and securely hid in the brush I waited and watched. Two hours or more I sat there, and wondered if the owner of the bare feet would come again, and whether he imagined what an interest he had created in my inquiring mind, and, finally, what possessed him to be prowling about there with no shoes on.

The fire place was on my right, and the spot where I saw the tracks was on my left, hid by bushes. It was in this direction that my attention was mostly directed, thinking the visitor would appear there, and , besides, it was easier to sit and face that way. Suddenly I was startled by a shrill whistle, such as boys produce with their two fingers under their tongue, and, turning quickly, I ejaculated, “Good God!” as I saw the object of my solicitude standing beside my fire, erect, and looking suspiciously around.

It was in the image of a man, but it could not have been human. I was never so benumbed with astonishment before. The creature, whatever it was, stood fully five feet high, and disproportionately broad and square at the shoulders, with arms of great length. The legs were very short and the body long. The head was very small compared with the rest of the creature, and appeared to be set upon his shoulders with a neck. The whole was covered with dark brown and cinnamon coloured hair, quite long on some parts, that on the head standing in a shock and growing close down to the eyes, like a Digger Indian’s. [This may be one of the earliest uses of this racist comparison in a Bigfoot-type account. – Loren]

As I looked, he threw his head back and whistled again, and then stopped and grasped a stick from the fire. This he swung round and round until the fire on the end had gone out, when he repeated the manoeuvre. I was dumb, almots, and could only look.

Fifteen minutes I sat and watched him, as he whistled and scattered my fire about. I could easily have put a bullet through his head, but why should I kill him? Having amused himself, apparently, all he desired with my fire, he started to go, and having gone a short distance he returned, and was joined by another — a female, unmistakably — when they both turned and walked past me, within twenty yards from where I sat, and disappeared in the brush.

I could not have had a better opportunity for observing them, as they were unconcious of my presence. Their only object in visiting my camp seemed to be to amuse themselves with swinging lighted sticks around. I have told this story many times since then, and it has often raised an incredulous smile; but I have met one person who has seen the mysterious creatures, and a dozen who have come across their tracks at various places between here
and Pacheco Pass.”

Merci to Georges Dodds for the above archival material.

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.

18 Responses to “Wild People to Cal Gorilla: 1823-1870”

  1. loyalfromlondon responds:

    The Gorilla in California article is very interesting indeed.

  2. captiannemo responds:

    That last story was indeed the best.
    Thanks for sharing it with us Loren.

  3. Cryptid Hunt responds:

    This article reminds me of Jacko. That gorilla thing they found in British Columbia in the 1800s I believe.

  4. Cryptonut responds:

    Wow! That California account was a great read, and very detailed. Interesting angle, set up a camp with fire, and then get on the outskirts of it and see what comes in, instead of leaving camp to go find it. I’ve never gone out and looked for the Big Guy, but a friend of mine and I always joke when we retire and have more time that we’re going to figure out a way to draw them into a camp. Thanks Loren!

  5. Mike Smith responds:

    Yes very good story, I have read this one in one of the books I have on the subject, in fact I think it is yours Loren. As always thank you for your vast information.

  6. dogu4 responds:

    The stories of feral children, which is what i suspect the first stories are, are always fascinating to me as they beautifully illustrate the actual plasticity of our human abilities, and often in stark contrast to the presumptions we make about them.
    Keenly interested in the report from California, of course. The teller of the tale recounts that it was 20 miles south of where he was telling the story and the paper is from Antioch, so if the witness were in Antioch, he would be talking about coastal mountains inland from Hayward, much of it still a preserve of sorts with lots of openland, north of the Venana Wilderness.
    I’m very open to the notion of a full range of relic populations with a wide range of variations typical of today’s surviving hominids, hanging on, not yet the target of killing by the locals who had incorporated the creature into their local mythology, and when shot by a settler, they would have just been added to the un-ending list of unbelievable things people came across in California…why not Gorillas, orangutans and hairy devils to add to the already dizzying list of california’s bizzarre features which included giant trees, volcanoes, gold nuggets the size of oranges…all of which were held in equal amounts of amazement and disbelief by the rest of us who would read the accounts as printed in newpapers after having been ‘juiced-up” to increase our appetite to buy the paper in which it was printed…not that different from today’s “crypto-journalism”, present venue excepted, that we still see .

  7. Ceroill responds:

    I’m going to hazard a guess on these: The first three are feral people, the fourth is a journalistic exaggeration, and the last is an early ‘bigfoot’ encounter.

  8. Bob K. responds:

    It seems to me that only the last account was that of a ‘Squatch. The only unusual thing that was recorded about the physical description of the creature was that the legs were “very short”. I’ve never heard that before. Perhaps the legs appeared that way in comparison to the long arms? Or, if the creature was only five feet tall, and a male, perhaps it was a juvenile, and a young ‘Biggies’ proportions are different from an adults. In any case, everything else fit right in with other Bigfoot reports-a fascination with campfires, whistles, and the other physical features. 1870, eh? I guess Ray Wallace didnt invent THIS Bigfoot!

  9. dogu4 responds:

    If we can speculate on the radiation of BF in California during the last several hundred thousand years, I think that we would see that they would enter a habitat where specializaton would result in an advantage in reproduction, which means California has a lot of opportunity for alternative morphs in a supposed BF population to find their particular distinguishing characteristics (short legs, longer hair, skeletal characteristics) advantageous because California has a marked diversity in habitat, all in close proximity to one another…something rarely seen where one single landform and climate typically dominate regionally, as is the case in the east, and much of europe from whence our inner concepts of these qualities originate.

    So, multiple radiations of different species of non h.sapien primate? One single radiation with subsequent diversification and specialization? Lots of questions and the answers defy common sense.

  10. Artist responds:

    Interesting post, Loren, ‘specially with the Date of each up front, allowing one to set one’s brain in a proper historical mode.

    “CA Gorilla” tale originated in a Central California Newspaper, but we submit that Squatch is endemic in ANY wild and mountainous area – archives relate frequent sightings in all US mountain ranges coast to coast, with seasonal “residential” emphasis, and opposite-seasonal “migrational” activities.

    They are still here – let’s get out there!

  11. voodoochild responds:

    Quite interesting indeed. I have often wondered how feral humans become, well…feral. For some reason, to me, the idea of feral humans makes more sense in the context of the time period. It would be more shocking to me, if a feral human were discovered in the current time period.

    The first few stories bring the account of Ishi to my mind. Although, I don’t suppose that he would be considered “feral”….(For those that don’t know, Ishi was a Native American man who was discovered in 1912 in California and was still living a “primitive” lifestyle-or, simply living as his ancestors had).
    As for the last story, it does indeed coincide with the majority of Sasquatch reports. The ‘shorter’ legs in the description of the creature could simply be a perceptual error on the part of the observer. I also feel that this may be the case in the height estimate given. If not, then it could have very well been an adolescent.

    It’s a shame that the observer did not give at least a few more details in the description of the female creature.

    It is enjoyable for me to read these older accounts not simply for some amount of corroboration with more modern accounts, but I enjoy the vocabulary and flair of the language from that time. It is unique. Reports aren’t written in this way nowadays.

  12. fmurphy1970 responds:

    Very interesting article, especially California one. I love reading these historical accounts. Proves bigfooot aint no modern phenomenon.

  13. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great reads, Loren!!!

    The best one is indeed the last one. I’ll agree with CEROILL and BOB K.—

    The last one is a squatch and the rest are feral people.

  14. cryptidsrus responds:

    Bit of meaningless trivia, btw:

    VOODOOCHILD mentioned Ishi. Alfred Kroeber, the anthropologist who befriended and studied Ishi, became the father of Ursula K. LeGuin (EARTHSEA, LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, etc.) some years after Ishi’s death.

    Jon Voight played him in a good tv movie about ISHI some years back.

  15. Starbright responds:

    The detail in the last story was quite entertaining. It reminds me of one of my favorites stories from 1870’s:

    Saturday, October 18, 1879

    A Wild Man of the Mountains: Two Young Vermont Hunters Terribly Scared

    New York Times

    POWNAL, Vt., Oct. 17 – Much excitement prevails among the sportsmen of this vicinity over the story that a wild man was seen on Friday by two young men while hunting in the mountains south of Williamstown. The young men describe the creature as being about five feet high, resembling a man in form and movement, but covered all over with bright red hair, and having a long straggling beard, and with very wild eyes. When first seen, the creature sprang from behind a rocky cliff and started for the woods near by. When mistaking it for a bear or other wild animal, one of the men fired, and, it is thought, wounded it, for with fierce cries of pain and rage, it turned on its assailants, driving them before it at high speed. They lost their guns and ammunition in their flight and dared not return for fear of encountering the strange being.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    These stories are fascinating. One detail that I found particularly odd about the 4th one is the “wildman’s” seemingly exclusive diet of cats. Cats, even housecats, can be amazingly strong, fast, and do a shocking amount of damage when threatened or caught with barehands. In the wild, even a relatively minor injury can cause problems with gathering food or become infected to the point that starvation could ensue. Most animals, and I would guess feral humans too, will do their best to avoid any needless injury and even if this thing was voracious and hungry, there is easier prey out there than a cat. Perhaps it found a novel way of catching them, but it is still a pretty strange food choice unless there was nothing but cats to be had. Considering the cats must have been eating something, I’d say that’s improbable. I know it’s a minor point, but interesting.

    I agree with voodoochild about the language of the time. To me, it was very eloquent and definitely had that “flair” to it. I enjoy reading literature from that time for the same reasons as well. Interesting how our use of the language, even in newspaper reports like these, has changed so dramatically.

  17. Ceroill responds:

    Mystery Man, the point about the all cat diet is largely what suggests to me that item is a journalists exaggeration.

  18. Ceroill responds:

    Mystery man- I hate to say this…the obvious answer is catsup!

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