“I think Bigfoot is blurry. That’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault. Bigfoot is blurry, and that’s extra scary to me, because there’s a large, out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside.” – Mitch Hedberg
A ‘Squatch by Any Other Name
Okay, maybe the Fouke Monster isn’t Bigfoot exactly, but let’s not split hairs when there’re so many to go around with the cryptids in question. Creatures like these have been called many things in many different places throughout the history of the world. Yetis, Almas, or Yeren in Asia, Yowies in Australia, the Skunk Ape in the American Southeast, the Honey Island Swamp Monster in Louisiana, Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. Even the Fouke Monster itself is sometimes called the Swamp Stalker or the Boggy Creek Monster.
The reasons these creatures get grouped together are a set of shared characteristics that are described across various sightings of them. While the sightings of the creatures are mostly anecdotal, witnesses generally describe these creatures as big, hairy, and generally having a strong odor about them. Usually, these creatures are described as being between five and ten feet tall (though some descriptions put them at almost 15 feet), weighing hundreds of pounds, and smelling of rotten meat or heavy musk. Sightings have also included that the creatures are said to hoot, growl, and even knock on trees with sticks or branches to communicate.
While many modern sightings continue to bring attention to the legends surrounding these ape-men, it may surprise some readers to discover that reports of these creatures have existed for centuries. In fact, Yeren legends from China stretch back to about 350 B.C., while belief in a Yeti-like being in the Himalayas has been recorded between the sixth and fourth century B.C. In Australia, the Yowie originated from aboriginal tales of the “Yahoo,” a tall, hairy man-like ape with sharp talons on its long arms and large feet that turned backwards. These tales were first recorded around 1842, when America was still in its infancy.
It’s easy, then, to understand how these legends might have arrived in America via immigrants from around the world, permeating the wild, frontier landscape during the days of men dressed in buckskins and carrying long rifles. Some, however, know that those stories were already here. Among the indigenous tribes met by European settlers in the early days of the country, stories of “The Family” and “The Hairy Man” had existed in tribal legends and petroglyphs for almost 1,000 years.
How is it, then, that stories about similar creatures might be told by people living an entire world apart, having no contact with each other? There’s no easy answer to that question, though one possible explanation involves the Land Bridge theory that posits the arrival of Asiatic travelers into what is now Alaska via a land bridge across the Bering Strait. It’s possible that these nomads might have brought stories with them from Asia about tall, hairy beings who come out at night to steal cattle. The inconsistency of oral tradition is brought into play as well, since there was no written history as we think of it among the tribes living in America at the time. Over the centuries, the little details would have changed slightly from storyteller to storyteller, but the main idea of a tall, hairy man-ape remained into the modern era.
While the Yeti evolved into the Abominable Snowman in 1951 when Sir Edmond Hillary’s Everest Expedition found a footprint in the Himalayas, it wasn’t until seven years later that the term “Bigfoot” even came into common usage to describe these types of creatures. A startlingly recent occurrence, if, like myself, it’s a term you’ve heard all your life. That’s only 63 years, which is comparatively modern when you consider the accounts from before the time of Christ.
1958 brought Bigfoot into the American psyche when bulldozer operator Jerry Crew in Humboldt County, California found a set of large footprints in the mud at Six Rivers National Forest. His coworkers claimed to have discovered similar tracks at other work sites. The story went out in the Humboldt Times and was picked up by papers across the country when a picture of Crew holding a plaster cast of one of the prints sparked public interest. While the family of one of Crew’s late coworkers claimed their deceased relative had used a wooden carving to leave the prints, the claim has never been verified.
While the creatures are called Bigfoot or Sasquatch across the Pacific Northwest and Canada, there have been numerous sightings of similar creatures closer to home. In Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, for instance, sightings of the Skunk Ape have been around since the early 1940s, when a man in Suwanee County claims his vehicle was chased by such a creature while he was driving a backroad. The creature apparently tore out of the bushes and slammed its fist into the door of his car as he careened down half a mile of road before the creature veered off into the night. Sightings persisted into the 1950s, becoming prevalent in the 1970s with rumors of a foul-smelling, ape-like creature were reported in Dade County.
In nearby Louisiana, the Honey Island Swamp Monster was first sighted in 1963 by an amateur wildlife photographer, though he didn’t make it public until the early 1970s. The photographer, Harlan Ford, claimed to have found the body of a boar whose throat, he believed, was slashed by the creature. Following his death, his reel of film showing the alleged creature was released to the public, becoming a source of speculation among cryptozoologists. The creature is said to inhabit the Pearl River area, following a story about a group of chimpanzees who escaped from a circus travelling through the region in the early 1900s.
May 2, 1971
The Fouke Monster came into local fame in 1971 when Bobby and Elizabeth Ford of Fouke claimed that a monster attacked their home. Elizabeth claimed that while she was sleeping in the couple’s living room, she was awakened by a large, hairy arm reaching through a window. Elizabeth screamed, alerting Bobby and his brother, Don, who drove the creature away.
Bobby alleged that the creature had been seen near the property previously, and that he and his friends shot at it when they mistook it for a bear. During the altercation, Bobby alleged, the creature had gotten an arm around him when he went to investigate his wife’s scream. He managed to break free, crashing directly through the front door of his house, not even stopping to open it. The two men shot at the creature again, hitting it, but no blood could be found after the creature left. Bobby was treated at a Texarkana hospital for minor scratches and shock. The only evidence found at the property by authorities were strange claw marks on the Ford’s porch and siding. The couple moved almost immediately, having only been in residence about a week. The incident was reported in the Texarkana Gazette and the Texarkana Daily News by Jim Powell, which went on to be republished by The Associated Press and United Press International, appearing in newspapers across the nation.
Maybe it was Bigfoot Fever. The early part of the 1970s seemed to be silly about the hairy ape-men. People couldn’t get enough of the mysterious giants who lived in secluded woodlands. While interest waxed and waned over the decades since, the air of mystique surrounding what might be out there has kept plenty of would-be Bigfoot seekers heading out to the woods to try to spot the elusive giant.
Numerous writers of both book and screen adapted stories about giant ape-men. Honestly, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Bigfoot mention (or even a cameo) in a book or television series. Stories about Sasquatch have ranged from the friendly (Harry and the Hendersons), to the ferocious (Ted Dekker’s Monster). And as many adaptations of the story as there are, there are at least as many theories about the origins of the creature.
Folklore fictionist Manly Wade Wellman made mention of hairy giants a time or two, drawing from Appalachian folklore in his stories about John the Balladeer, a trouble-shooting troubadour who wandered the eastern part of the country after the Korean War.
However, most of the regional variants never got the silver screen recognition of the Fouke Monster. 1973’s The Legend of Boggy Creek captured the imagination of the nation. Filmed mostly in Fouke and Texarkana, the film is a pseudo-documentary about the events surrounding the Ford attack. The film, which starred Glenn Carruth and Bunny Dees as the Fords, played in theaters and drive-ins across the country, and has retained no small cult following. The follow up Return to Boggy Creek even starred Gilligan’s Island actress Dawn Wells.
‘Squatch Watch 2021
As time has separated folk from the incident that put Fouke on the map, interest in the creature has hardly gone away. Today, people still journey out to the rural town to try to get a glimpse of the monster. Fouke, for their part, have leaned into it. There’s a monster-themed convenience store right on the edge of town, and plenty of locals talk up the creature to curious tourists.
Have you been? Have you seen it? Does a mysterious creature lurk in the woods of southwest Arkansas? While many skeptics say no, plenty of believers agree that something must be out there. As Halloween approaches, plenty of amateur ‘Squatchers may be out and about in Fouke. I may just go join in the fun.