Saturday, August 18, 2018

Shunka Warak'in, or Ringdocus- Montana

Until just a few thousand years ago there was considerably more megafauna diversity in North America than there is today. Most famous of these large Pleistocene mammals, of course, were the mammoths, mastodons and sabertooth cats. But there were many more, as well. Camels and horses. Giant ground sloths. American cheetahs (actually more closely related to pumas than African cheetahs). Hell pigs. A Shovel-tusked elephant called Amebelodon. Beavers as big as black bears. Muscular, bulky amphicyonids or bear-dogs (which were not canids proper, but may have been related to modern dogs). And dozens more. Sadly the majority of North America’s megafauna were killed off in the late Pleistocene by a combination of changing climate and competition with/hunting by humans. 

But what if a few of these ancient beasts survived? Perhaps a small population of animals somewhere in the open prairies and shrublands of the West?

In 1886 Montana rancher Israel Ammon Hutchins shot an unusual wolf-like beast on his land. He gave the body to taxidermist Joseph Sherwood who mounted it and put it on display in his Idaho general store/museum. The animal, eventually dubbed the “Ringdocus”, was similar to a wolf but with a few striking differences. Its coat was tan with patches of black and faint dark stripes along the flanks and haunches. Its head was also narrower and more pointed than a wolf’s. Hutchins also claimed that the beast had humped shoulders like a hyena, though the stuffed body shows no sign of this feature.

Over time the stuffed Ringdocus became associated with a legendary beast of the Ioway people known as the Shunka Warak’in (according to writer and archaeologist Lance Foster, the final “n” is not pronounced, and serves simply to nasalize the “ee” sounds before it) which translates to “Carries Off Dogs” because of its alleged habit of killing and eating a tribe’s canines.

But what exactly was the Ringdocus/Shunka Warak’in that Hutchins shot? Was it an unusual-looking wolf? An unknown canine breed? Poor taxidermy? Or could it have been a representative of a heretofore thought extinct genus of Pleistocene mammals? Some cryptozoologists have speculated that it could have been a surviving dire wolf or Chasmaporthetes, the American hyena. Others have suggested that it may have been a relative of the Borophagus or “Bone-crushing Dog”- another dog-like mammal group unrelated to true canines.

Possession of the Ringdocus has been contested over the years. When Sherwood’s museum/store closed, its collection- including the mystery beast- was given to the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello, where most of it remained in storage. in 2007 the creature mount was tracked down by a man named Jack Kirby (unrelated to the famed comic book artist), who claims he is a direct descendant of Israel Hutchins and brought to the Madison Valley History Museum near Ennis, Montana. This was not without some protest from residents of Pocatello, who wanted the Ringdocus to remain in their city.

The obvious solution to figuring out the identity of the Ringdocus/Shunka Warak’in would be to perform a thorough scientific examination of the mount, including a DNA test. However, Kirby is reluctant to “ruin” his family’s 140-year old mystery by having it analyzed.  So, for now, the true nature of the Ringdocus must remain unknown.

On an interesting additional note, in a story for Paranormal Montana archaeologist Lance M. Foster mentions that while researching the sacred bundle system of the Ioway people, he came across papers from anthropologist Alanson Skinner detailing an item from the “Big Ioway War Bundle” that was referred to as a Hyena or “canka iwarawakya” skin (the latter should more accurately be spelled shunka iwarawakiya, according to Foster) which means “carrying off dogs”. Could this be more evidence of the mystery beasts lurking in the Western wilderness? 

In 2009 Foster was interviewed for a student film project about the Ringdocus/ Shunka Warak'in which you can watch in full here.


Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature 
by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Batsquatch- Washington

On the morning of April 19th, 1994, Brian Canfield was driving near Mt. Ranier in Washington state when his truck suddenly died. As he struggled to get it started, a tall, furry monster landed on the road before him. Canfield described the bipedal creature as having blue-tinted fur, a wolf-like face, clawed bird-like feet, muscular arms and, strangest of all, a pair of massive wings folded against its back. Though Canfield was terrified of the apparition, the creature did not appear particularly aggressive. It watched him for a bit before opening its great wings and flying off into the night.
Canfield returned to the site later that day with his mother and a neighbor to search for evidence of the encounter. None, naturally, could be found. When his story reached the media, the creature was given the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name Batsquatch.

Though no further sightings of Batsquatch have come to light, this is not the only known report of a giant, bat-like flyer in the United States. In his 2008 book "Dr. Shuker’s Casebook", the famous cryptozoologist Dr. Karl Shuker described a close encounter with a similar chiropteran monster in Raymondville, Texas. On January 14th, 1976, Armando Grimaldo was in his mother-in-law’s backyard when he heard an odd whistling and flapping sound. He did not have time to ponder the curious noises long for he was suddenly attacked by a large winged beast with dark, leathery skin and a flattened, monkey-like face. The monster clawed at Grimaldo, but he was able to escape and flee into the house. Later reports described other sightings of the beast earlier in January throughout the Rio Grande Valley, though none were as violent as the encounter Grimaldo had.

Giant bat-creatures have been reported from other parts of the world as well. In a 1966 article naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson wrote of a child-size, gray bat called the Ahool that allegedly inhabited the jungles of the Indonesian island of Java. According to Sanderson the creature’s name was derived from its distinctive cry, a booming “AH-OOOoool”.  A similar creature called the Orang Bati is said to living on Seram, another island in the Indonesian archipelago.

Could Batsquatch, the Raymondville Beast, the Ahool and other large leather-winged beasts simply be giant bats? The currently largest known bat is the Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus)  which has a wingspan of around 5 feet and a body about the size of a small dog’s. Even accounting for exaggeration in some of these eye-witness reports, these unknown chiropterans would exceed that size by several feet, putting them in the same size category as some of the larger extinct pterosaurs.

If these creatures are indeed real what are they eating and where do they live? The Flying Fox consumes primarily fruit, an abundant resource in its jungle home. The Ahool and Orang Bati could perhaps have similar diets. However, the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest that the Batsquatch allegedly calls home are not so well supplied. Perhaps the Batsquatch is a carnivore. Maybe a nocturnal equivalent to Washington’s hawks and eagles. Owls are certainly the top night-time land predator in North America and would be significant competition for a Batsquatch. But perhaps the creature is a piscivore like the Bulldog Bat (Noctillio leporinus) of South America. Maybe it spends its nights skimming the rivers and coasts, snapping up large fish swimming near the surface.

One of the stranger aspects of Canfield’s description of the Batsquatch was the apparent presence of both arms AND wings. This would mean it was a six-limbed animal, a condition which is completely unknown among land vertebrates. Perhaps Canfield simply misinterpreted the claws on the beast’s wings as hands? Or maybe his mind added the arms to his memory after the fact. Or perhaps the Batsquatch wasn’t even a natural creature at all. Maybe it was an extradimensional entity similar to the Mothman or the Van Meter Visitor, and its appearance was merely a temporary form it assumed in this dimension. Anything more tangible than creative speculation will require more direct evidence of this strange Washington beast.


Cryptozoologicon: The Biology, Evolution, and Mythology of Hidden Animals, Volume 1 by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen, and Darren Naish

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Another Crpytid Culture issue!

Here's the latest issue of Cryptid Culture magazine. My submission for this issue took a slightly different turn. Instead of a factual article, I wrote a short bit of fiction about my paranormal investigator character, James Lee. 

I originally created Lee for a series of "found letter" packages- in the vein of the Mysterious Package Company and the RPG De Profundis- which I gave my dad as birthday and Christmas presents. Lee started off as a minor character, just something to flesh out the setting. But I gradually grew more intrigued by him and thought it'd be interesting to see more of his adventures. Lee is mainly a cryptozoologist, but also a ghost-hunter and an overall researcher into the unknown. Because of his many experiences, he is actually very skeptical of the supernatural. He knows that most reports of ghosts, aliens, mysterious animals and other things are usually either misidentifications of natural phenomena or outright hoaxes. I drew inspiration for Lee from a variety of sources, including real-life cryptozoologists like Bernard Heuvelmans and Linda Godfrey and fictional investigators like the Ghostbusters, Thomas Karnacki, and even Hellboy.

In this issue's story "Blockhead", Lee comes into contact with an unusual cryptid from Connecticut folklore and discovers it's strange connection to the Mothman and other bizarre otherworldly flying creatures.

I'm currently working on another James Lee adventure featuring the Mongolian Death Worm which should appear in the next issue

The cover of this issue features a painting done by artist Gail Potocki of Pango, a creature from an upcoming practical effects sci-fi movie called Aurora about, as the Kickstarter pages says: "Nazis vs cowboys and a cryptid in the Wild West".

In addition to my story, this issue also features articles about the Tata Duende of Belize, a "making-of" on the indie cryptid horror film "Sightings" (not to be confused with the 1990s TV show), the Pascagoula aliens and more.

You can get a copy of Cryptid Culture here.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Cryptid Shirts and Stickers!

Hey everyone, I created a couple stylized cryptid designs for T-shirts and stickers!

I had a lot of fun doing these and would love to add more to the collection soon.

You can get stickers at my Redbubble shop here.

And shirts at my Teepublic shop here

Here are some bigger views of the available designs:


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thunderbird Photo- Arizona

In 1886 a most unusual photograph appeared in an issue of the Tombstone Epitaph, the local newspaper of Tombstone, AZ. The photo depicted the carcass of a gigantic, leather-winged, knife-beak monster nailed to the side of a barn. Several men stood in front of it to show just how wide its wingspan was. According to European settler folklore of the Southwest, the creature was a Thunderbird- a being from the mythologies of many Native American nations that was said to create thunder with its wingbeats. Thunderbird or not, the creature also bore a striking resemblance to a prehistoric pterosaur and may, according to some, have been a living example of the group. Supposedly the animal in the photo had been shot by ranchers.

Many people believe they have seen a version of this mysterious picture somewhere, either in a magazine or on TV. But no one can say exactly where and when. And despite diligent searching, no one has yet been able to find the original photograph or even the copy of the issue of Epitaph that it supposedly appeared in. Has the photo been completely lost to history? Or is it possible that it never even existed? Perhaps the Thunderbird photo was just an urban legend. But then how could so many people recall having seen it?

 For one thing, it is quite possible that some people are actually recalling one of the numerous fake Thunderbird photos that have cropped up over the years. Photos produced either for movies, as attempts to recreate the alleged original, or as outright hoaxes.  

It’s also possible that people are hearing the legend and unconsciously attaching vague memories of some other picture they have seen. The image of a gigantic winged monster nailed to a barn is quite striking and evocative, so perhaps human minds have simply filled in their own ideas of what it looks like. In psychology, this is called confabulation, defined as the unconscious creation of distorted, fabricated or misinterpreted memories. In pop culture, this is also referred to as the “Mandela effect”, based on the false memory many people have of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. As another example, many people claimed to recall a kid’s movie from the 1990s starring comedian Sinbad as a genie named Shazam (this confabulation has been made murkier by the creation of a spoof scene from this non-existent movie, which you can see here). Or the fact that people can remember the title of the children’s book series The Berenstain Bears as being spelled “Berenstein”. Memory is malleable and spotty. The brain will often fill in blank spots with its own concoctions. So in the case of the elusive Thunderbird photo, it may be that many people’s brains are simply taking a brief glimpse of a fake Thunderbird photo- or a photo of something else entirely- and welding it to the urban legend that has been built up over the years?

It’s significant that this report of a flying monster is not an isolated incident. Newspapers of the 1800s- particularly papers from the American West- were rife with tales of dragons and other flying beasts. The majority of these tales were outright fabrications designed to drum up sales during a slump. It’s quite possible that the Thunderbird story started off as one of these tall tales and was repeated over the years until it fell into collective memory, creating an air of mystery and authenticity.

As to the picture of the beast on the barn itself, it should be noted that newspapers of the late 1800s did not actually use photographs since the technology of the time could not do photo transfers to cheap paper stock. Instead, newspapers relied on drawings of events to illustrate their stories.  If there ever actually was an original Thunderbird photo, it more than likely did not come from a newspaper.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Another Cryptid Culture article

Hey folks! Sorry it's been a while. I've had a lot going on these past few months. But in the new year I'm focusing on posting state cryptids on a more consistent and timely schedule. 

In the meantime, here's another article I wrote for Cryptid Culture magazine! This time I focused on a somewhat more abstract concept- the Shadow Biosphere. In essence, this idea posits that there may be microbial life on Earth with a completely different chemical and genetic structure from currently known life forms. They could have different enzymes and proteins, different cellular building blocks, even a completely novel way of storing genetic information that isn't based on DNA. Researchers wouldn't be able to detect such strange organisms because our current tools for identifying microbe species relies on analyzing DNA and other molecular structures that are common to all known Earthly life. So a microbe with a different molecular structure wouldn't be picked out by our current technology. It's a fascinating concept.

A Shadow Biosphere might have evolved if life arose multiple times on the early Earth- which isn't really that strange of a concept. There were plenty of places where early organic molecules could have come together and "cooked" into living organisms.  Life could have arisen in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, in sea spray or in warm tidal pools, three places that I've illustrated here and in my article.

Early life forming near a deep-sea hydrothermal vent.

Early life forming in sea spray rich with organic particles

Early life forming in a warm tidepool under a lightning-filled sky.

In addition to my article, Issue 7 also has articles on the Flatwoods Monster, Alaskan cryptids, Native American legends of "red-haired giants", cryptid poetry and more.

You can get the latest issue of Cryptid Culture magazine here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Megalonyx- Tennessee

In the summer of 2016, a group of people were taking an evening walk through the woods behind their property in Jasper, Tennesse when they stumbled across a strange, hairy quadruped. That may not seem remarkable at first- especially in a place where coyotes and bears are not uncommon. But this creature was unusual because it had what appeared to be a human-like face. The report of the encounter is vague on exactly how humanoid the creature’s visage was, nor does it state what happened once the people saw it, but the animal was said to have wandered away into the woods shortly after being seen. A few months later a spelunker claimed to have seen a similar small hairy creature crawling up the wall of a cave. Given the shortness of both encounters, along with the poor lighting in each case, the most likely explanation for both beasts is misidentification of a mundane bear, dog or other animal.

But what if these creatures truly were something unknown? What could they possibly have been? How about a large, cave-dwelling sloth? Little more than 10,000 years ago Tennessee- most of North America, in fact- was home to a variety of large mammals collectively called megafauna. These included mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats and several species of giant ground sloths. The most well known of these latter animals was Megalonyx, an animal originally described and named by Thomas Jefferson, who was as much a naturalist as he was a statesman.  Megalonyx is believed to have died off along with the other megafauna as the glaciers retreated from America and human beings spread across the continent. But what if a small relict population survived?

The majority of Tennessee’s bedrock is made of limestone, which is readily eroded by rainwater. As a result, the state is riddled with sinkholes and caves that would provide ample hiding space for a small group of sloths.

There is evidence that several species of giant sloths did inhabit caves at least part of the time.  For decades local people in Brazil have been aware of massive, deep tunnels running through the jungle. The walls of these tunnels are covered in long, deep rows of four parallel gouges. For many years the source of these odd caves was a mystery. Were these made by human tools? Were they some strange effect of erosion?   Last year researchers finally figured out that the most likely makers were giant sloths.

Exactly why ground sloths inhabited caves or dug burrows is still not known. Their thick hides and intimidating claws would have deterred most predators, so it’s unlikely the burrows were for protection. At least for the adults. Maybe the caves protected the more vulnerable young? Or maybe the sloths wandered into the earth to obtain essential salts and minerals much as elephants today will enter caves and dig at the walls to extract the nutrient-rich clays. Regardless of why prehistoric ground sloths inhabited caves, today,  this troglodytic habit would be an excellent way for a small population of surviving sloths to remain hidden from humans.

But why think that the creatures seen in Tennessee were surviving Megalonyx? Admittedly, the encounters were so brief and in such bad lighting that it is difficult to say exactly what the witnesses saw.  The only real hints are the animal’s odd human-like face. The face of a living tree sloth is blunt and fairly simple and could be said to be somewhat humanoid, at least compared to the prominent muzzle of most mammals. Megalonyx had a much deeper, wider skull than its tree-dwelling cousins, but its face was probably similar. It’s not hard to imagine that such an odd visage glimpsed in the late evening or in the gloom of a cave might create a much more humanoid impression.

The Tennessee beast is not the only potential surviving ground sloth. Legends from Brazil and Bolivia speak of the Mapinguari, a large red-furred jungle beast with thick, bullet-proof skin, massive claws, backward-facing feet, a single eye, and a large mouth in its stomach. While the more fanciful elements are difficult to explain scientifically- and may be nothing more than embellishments- the red fur and tough skin do match up with preserved pieces of ground sloth hide that have been found throughout South America. In addition to possessing reddish-brown hair, these samples also have ossicles- small disks of bone embedded in the dermis- that would have made the animal’s skin difficult to pierce.

Stories of another possible (though admittedly unlikely) population of surviving ground sloths comes from the far North. According to some cryptozoologists, various Indigenous peoples of the Yukon in Canada have legends of the Saytoechin or Beaver-Eater. This beast is described as being larger than a grizzly bear and possessing huge claws that it uses to rip open beaver dams in order to prey on the inhabitants. Admittedly, the connection between the Saytoechin to ground sloths is scanty.  The only reason the two are linked at all is because local people, when shown a book of prehistoric animals, picked out the large sloth Megatherium as resembling the Saytoechin. This cryptid’s carnivorous habits also cast doubt on its xenarthran (the taxonomic group that includes sloths, armadillos, and anteaters) identity. Even so, it is an intriguing bit of speculative mythology.