NONBINARY CRAWFORDSVILLE MONSTER
NONBINARY CRAWFORDSVILLE MONSTER
A strange, unearthly cry echoes across the mirrored surface of the Louisiana bayou, echoing off scattered cypress and tupelo dripping with Spanish moss. Is this merely the call of a wading bird? A lone puma? Or is it the shriek of the man-wolf creature known as the Rougarou?
Rougarou is a Cajun variation on “loup garou”, the French word for werewolf. France has a long history of werewolf folklore. In the 16th century these creatures were often blamed for crimes such as disappearances, animal killings, and particularly violent burglaries. In a parallel to the infamous witch hunts also taking place at the time, scared and panicked villagers would usually accuse someone living outside the societal norms of the time- such as a hermit in the woods, or a person with mental illness- as being the beast. Once accusations had been made, the condemned had little ability to defend themselves in court other than to “confess” to being a werewolf and implicate others in their ddeds.
Many legends existed to explain how one became a loup garou. Some men (medieval werewolves were almost always masculine) could change by putting on a wolf’s skin- a possible link to legends of the Norse berserker warriors who would don bear skins to take on the beast’s power. Some people would become werewolves through cannibalism and other debauchery. Catholic priests claimed that a man who didn’t observe Lent for seven straight years would become a werewolf.
Stories of the loup garou came to North America in the 17th century with French settlers in the Acadia region, located in what is now Eastern Canada. In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the British colonial government took over the region and forcibly deported most of the ethnically French Acadians. Many of these displaced people settled in Louisiana, originally a colony of France that was ceded to Spain in 1762. The Spanish government was fairly tolerant of the settlers, allowing them to continue their cultural practices- which included tales of the loup garou.
In modern times the rougarou has become more of a boogeyman to frighten children. Parents warn their kids not to misbehave or play in the swamp or else the beast will come for them. These stories usually do not make it clear if the creature is a transformed human or if it is always a humanoid beast akin to the Beast of Bray Road and other dogmen of the Midwest.
Despite- or, more likely, because of- its frightening appearance and behavior, the Rougarou has become a popular part of Louisiana culture. Costumes based on the creature frequently appear in Mardi Gras celebrations, and the city of Houma even has an annual festival themed around the creature.
Stepping into the dense rainforest of Southeastern Alaska, one can’t helping feeling a strange sort of presence, as if something unknown and unseen were watching from the trees. Is this sensation merely a construct of the mind? The human tendency to anthropomorphize nature? Or is it possible there are ancient spirits and unknown beasts lurking among the dripping spruces and shadowy hemlocks?
Around 1900 a gold prospector named Harry D. Colp wrote a story of an alleged encounter between one of his companions and a pack of unknown entities in the Alaskan wilderness. Colp had been lodging with the man, Charlie, along with a few other prospectors in a shack near the city of Wrangell. Charlie had heard about a deposit of gold-bearing quartz in the nearby Thomas Bay area. Packing three months of supplies, he set off alone to investigate the site, only to return less than a month later badly shaken and with neither supplies nor gold.
Charlie told Colp that upon arriving in Thomas Bay, he’d gone in search of a half-moon shaped lake where the gold could supposedly be found. After several days of searching, he finally locating the body of water at the foot of a glacier. He had only just gotten his bearings when he was horrified to see a pack of hairy “devils” swarming towards him from the shore.
Charlie described these beings as looking halfway between men and monkeys. They were “entirely sexless, their bodies covered with long, coarse hair, except where the scabs and running sores had replaced it.” The stench of the creatures made Charlie ill, and their screams and cries made him delirious. The beings chased him all the way back to Thomas Bay, where he passed out and woke up hours later floating in his canoe in the middle of the water.
Several decades after Harry Colp’s death, his daughter, Virginia, published the manuscript of the story under the title “The Strangest Story Ever Told”. Over the years this tale has become a popular piece of folklore in Southeastern Alaska.
Some have suggested that the beings Charlie encountered may have been kushtaka- shape-shifting otter-men from the folklore of the Tlingit people. Stories depict these creatures as malevolent tricksters who lure fishermen and hunters into the wilderness, only to drown them or transform them into more otter-men. They are often used as boogeymen to scare children aware from the dangers of the ocean. Yet, like shapeshifters in many cultures, kushtaka can be mercurial in behavior, and may occasionally save lost travelers from dying in the freezing cold (often, again, by turning them into kushtaka themselves). In at least one tale recorded by the Smithsonian Institute, an otter-man is depicted as the reborn spirit of a dead man who returns to aid his impoverished family.
While Harry Colp never refers to the creatures in his story as kushtaka, the otter-men have become closely linked with “The Strangest Story Ever Told” in Alaskan folklore.
Other people have allegedly also seen the hairy devils around Thomas Bay, though Colp’s story is the only one widely known. These sightings have led locals to dub the area “Devil’s Country”. Thomas Bay is also known as the “Bay of Death” by the Tlingit people because of a landslide in the 1700s that wiped out a village.
In every culture, in every era, humans have always been fascinated by monsters. We love to sit around the fire- or listen to the radio, or read a book, or play a video game- immersing ourselves in tales of dragons, gorgons, yokai, trolls, asuras, tokoloshe, and even stranger beings that lurk in the unseen corners of our world. The phenomena of cryptids is just the newest iteration of this fascination, though our modern age has added a scientific veneer onto these hidden monsters.
With that being said, I wanted to expand this list of state cryptids out beyond the European American legends to include mysterious beasts form other cultures of the North American continent.
Thunder beings and their rivals, the horned water serpents, are prominent in the legends of many Native American peoples, and are known under many names. Among the Lakota Sioux and other Native peoples of the American prairies, the Thunder Beings are known as Wakinyan, and the horned serpents called Unktehi. The Wakinyan often manifest as great birds to do battle with the serpents, smiting them with lightning and driving them into the Earth. Some legends say that the bones of both combatants can be found all over the American West, particularly in the prairies of Midwest and in the Badlands of South Dakota.
These bones are said to have great wakan, spiritual power similar to the Algonquian concept of manitou. People sometimes gather bones from Unktehi for medicine bundles. And there are stories of evil sorcerers using shards of horned serpent bones to “sting” or curse others.
In the late 1800s, European-American paleontologists such as Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope came to the West in search of fossils. Guided by Native stories, they collected many of the monstrous bones and identified those of the Wakinyan as pterosaurs. Unktehi bones found on the grasslands were discovered to be from aquatic reptilian mosasaurs, while the bones from in badlands belonged to extinct mammals.
Why, one must wonder though, are the bones of marine animals found in the middle of the prairies? The answer lies in the late Cretaceous period when a long, shallow Interior Sea ran through North America, dividing the continent into the landmasses of Laurentia in the West, and Appalachia in the East. Mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs, and giant carnivorous fish such as Xiphactinus hunted these waters, while pterosaurs soured above the waves, and dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and duck-billed hadrosaurs roamed the shores. Over millions of years, plate tectonics pushed up the floor of the Interior sea, leaving the bones of its prehistoric inhabitants entombed on dry land.
It's important to note that the cryptid commonly called a "Thunderbird" by many European Americans is distinct from the Wakinyan. While the former was definitely inspired by the legends of Native peoples, it tends to be thought of as a natural- if unusual- animal such as a giant bird or even a pterosaur. The Wakinyan, however, is a spiritual being that can take many forms. I've talked about the other type of Thunderbird- and an imfamous phantom photograph of one that everyone remembers, but no one can find- in a previous post.
Fossil Legends of the First Americans by Adrienne Mayor
Lakota Belief and Ritual by James R. Walker, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie and Elain A. Jahner
Among the pines, an apparition looms. Towering twice the height of a man, the beast has the form of a moose, but is far bigger than any ordinary member of Alces alces. Its coat is deathly white. Its antlers spread wide as outstretched arms, pronged with over two dozen sharp points. Is it a ghost? A spirit of the forest? Or perhaps it is merely an ordinary- if impressive- natural mutation.
The first recorded sighting of Maine’s spectral moose occurred in 1891 when hunting guide Clarence Duffy spotted the creature around Lobster Lake. A year later it was seen again by a sportsman from New York who shot at it, only to be chased down and nearly trampled by the vengeful beast.
Regular sightings occurred for several decades. Witnesses described the moose as being white or light gray, with some even claiming that it glowed dimly. It was said to be about 10-15 feet high at the shoulder, much taller than the 8-10 foot shoulder height of an average moose. Its antlers were said to be 10-12 feet wide and festooned with up to 22 prongs- much larger and more complex than the 4-6 foot spread of a regular moose. Some eyewitnesses claimed that the moose would actually vanish into thin air right in front of them.
Some have suggested that the animal was albino. Albino moose have indeed been documented many times, but their eyes are pink or violet, while the eyes of the spectral moose are said to be brown. Albinism would also not explain the creature’s tremendous size and enormous antlers.
Its possible the spectral moose had a condition similar to the Kermode Bears of British Columbia, also known as Spirit Bears or Moksgm’ol in the language of the Indigenous Kitasoo, a tribe of the Tsimshian people. Although these bears have white fur, their eyes and skin do have pigment. The white coloration is due to a recessive gene that stops melanin from being made only in the fur, a condition called leucism (as opposed to albinism, in which all pigmentation is lost in all tissues).
In fact, population of white moose are well-known to inhabit the woods around the town of Foleyet in Ontario. Like the Moksgm’al, these moose are not albino, instead possessing a recessive gene that makes their coats a grayish-white. Its quite possible that Maine’s spectral moose had a similar genetic condition, though again the creature’s alleged great size, and its seeming ability to disappear into thin air have not been fully explained. Perhaps eyewitnesses, startled by the sight of such an otherworldly-looking animal, exaggerated their descriptions.
I’ve read many, many books in the course of my research for this blog, and figured I’d start reviewing and sharing some of them in between regular State Cryptid posts.
For five days in late autumn 1903, the small Iowa town of Van Meter was haunted by a mysterious winged Visitor with a glowing horn on its head. Though the story was big news at the time, it fell into obscurity for decades until paranormal investigators Voss, Lewis, and Nelson turned their flashlights on it.
This book is the culmination of their research. It is as much a character study of historical Van Meter as it is a recounting the Visitor encounters. In my own cryptid research, I often find that the people and circumstances surrounding the sightings are just as fascinating as the creatures themselves.
The majority of evidence is drawn from accounts in local newspapers. This might make the whole Visitor phenomenon seem dubious at first since “monster yarns” were a common feature in papers of the 1800s and early 1900s (see, for example, my entries on the Bear Lake Monster and the Snallygaster). Journalistic integrity hadn’t fully developed yet, and many papers were more like sensationalist tabloids like the old Weekly World News that used to lurk in grocery store check-outs. The details of the Van Meter Visitor, however, feel different from a typical newspaper tall tale. Fantastic as the sightings are, there is a degree of realism in the accounts. It seems that the people of Van Meter definitely experienced something- though whether it was monster, demon, or mass hysteria is still unknown. The authors offer several possibilities as to the being’s identity. Could it have been an alien? A living thoughtform? A demon? A case of mass hysteria? Or something more?
This book was my first introduction to John Keel’s Ultraterrestrial theory, which has become a major theme of my cryptid writings and illustrations. Keel postulated that unexplained, seemingly supernatural phenomena- ghosts, UFOs, bigfoot, fairies, Mothman- are actually manifestations of beings from higher dimensions beyond our own. When they move into our plane of reality, our minds cannot fully perceive or comprehend them, so we translate them into forms that we can handle. The authors speculate that the Visitor may have been one such manifestation.
I’d highly recommend this book as a thorough investigation in a lesser known, but very intriguing, cryptid. You can get a copy here.
And check out my own interpretation of the Van Meter Visitor here.
And check out my own interpretation of the Van Meter Visitor here.
A few years ago I wrote a couple articles for Cryptid Culture magazine. While the publication itself seems to have gone under, you can still order copies of it on their website. Definitely go check it out. There are lots of great articles and illustrations. Here I'd like to share one of the articles I wrote on a most unusual deep-sea cryptid which may have existed since before the dinosaurs.
It’s often said that the deep sea is as mysterious and unexplored as the distant gulfs of space. There is much truth in this, for new and strange species are constantly being discovered in the unlit abyss. Even those scant few creatures which have been seen by surface-dwellers may be little more than ghosts: brief flickers in a submersible’s lights, enigmatic shapes glimpsed for but a second on an ROV camera, strange carcasses damaged almost beyond recognition by the rough journey to the surface in a fisherman’s net. And in some cases, these phantoms may only be known indirectly from the marks of their passage left in the environment.
In 1976 oceanographer Peter A. Rona was using an underwater camera towed behind a research boat to explore the seafloor along the Galapagos Rift, a volcanic hotspot in the Pacific Ocean near the islands made famous by Charles Darwin. Though the Rift is dotted with numerous hydrothermal vents that are abundant with life, the area Dr. Rona was exploring was far away from the hot, black-smoking chimneys. It was little more than an undersea desert- a flat expanse of mud and silt almost devoid of life. So it was a great surprise when the camera came across a hill of sediment about the size of a silver dollar covered with an intricate pattern of holes. The placement of the holes was so geometrically perfect, and the find itself so out of place, that Dr. Rona at first assumed that the other researchers on the exploration team had somehow played a trick on him. But they were just as surprised as he was by the find.
Later excavations of the holes revealed that they led to shafts that connected to a network of honeycomb-like interconnected tunnels about an inch below the surface. A burrow of some sort. A burrow so geometrically perfect as to almost seem made by intelligent beings- though there is no need to invoke an intelligent builder here since many animals can create startlingly precise structures.
The first question Dr. Rona and the others asked, of course, was just what animal had made these remarkable structures. No living organisms were discovered when the burrows were dug up. There weren’t even any telltale food scraps, bits of DNA, or other detritus to provide a clue to the identity of these deep-sea engineers.
The mystery only grew deeper as word of the discovery spread. A few years after Dr. Rona formally described the strange structures, he was contacted by paleontologist Adolf Seilacher, who showed him fossil burrows that were nearly identical to the Galapagos Ridge hills. Seilacher’s fossils, dubbed Paleodictyon (trace fossils such as burrows, footprints, and coprolites are given their own distinct scientific names), dated from the Eocene Epoch, approximately 55 million years ago. Other, simpler but still very similar fossil burrows dated all the way back to the early Cambrian Epoch, when large multicellular animals first appeared in the fossil record. Whatever was making the mystery burrows had apparently existed on Earth with minimal evolutionary change since before the dinosaurs had evolved. Or, at least, with little change in the way it constructed its dwellings. Once this striking continuity was brought to light, the still-unknown maker of the modern tunnels was given the name Paleodictyon nodosum.
Since the initial discovery in 1976, Doctors Rona and Seilacher, along with other researchers, have found thousands of Paleodictyon burrows along volcanic rifts in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Like those first specimens, the other structures were found on the barren seafloor far from the hydrothermal vents and their diverse ecosystems. Perhaps these unknown animals have evolved to survive in this rough environment, adapting to feast on what few nutrients are present in the form of “marine snow”- tiny bits of organic matter formed from bits of dead plankton and other organisms that constantly rain (or rather, snow) down from above.
|A large xenophyophore in its shell.|
But the question still remains: what sort of animals are making these Paleodictyon structures, exactly? One hypothesis is that they are a species of giant amoebae known as xenophyophores. These single-celled organisms can be found in the deepest parts of every ocean. Most species cement sand and other debris together to build complex, rippled shells or “tests” which can resemble brains, sponges, heads of lettuce, or other corrugated objects. Some, however, are known to live buried in the sediment, admittedly in much simpler burrows.
If Paleodictyon nodosum is indeed a xenophyophore, though, why does it excavate such geometrically complex burrows? Laboratory tests have shown that the convex lens-shaped mound over a Paleodictyon burrow draws water down through the vertical shafts, so perhaps the structure is used to pull suspended marine snow from the water column down to the buried amoebae. Alternatively, the tubes could be used for “farming” bacteria on their walls, much like how leafcutter ants in the Amazon will farm fungi on the bits of vegetation, they bring into their nests. The farming hypothesis is suspect, though, since research has shown that the concentration of bacteria in the tubes is no higher than the concentration on the sea floor above, indicating that there is no deliberate cultivation occurring.
Dr. Rona’s favored possibility as to the identity of Paleodictyon is that the “burrows” may actually be the outline casts of sediment-dwelling sponges or other soft, filter-feeding organisms. This idea is not as strange as it may seem. Many sponges will burrow into mud, coral, or even the hard shells of oysters (the latter by using a weak acid secreted by the sponge’s cells) to protect their soft bodies from predators. As to why no remains of the animals themselves have been found, Dr. Rona suggests that they may have died and been completely devoured by bacteria and small deep-sea scavengers, leaving behind the geometric pit structure as the only evidence of their existence.
It is still curious, though, that in all these years of searching not a single burrow has been found that contains a live Paleodictyon nodosum, or even a few small scraps of their remains. Perhaps it is because the structures are actually much older than they appear. Though the burrows seem freshly dug, the seafloor deserts where they are found are still, quiet places lacking any current and only rarely disturbed by other organisms. These unusual conditions may have allowed the burrows to persist intact for hundreds of years, long after their builders had completely rotted away.
The lack of a living builder may also simply be due to the fact that the area where Paleodictyon burrows are found has not been explored that extensively. Investigating the deep sea is an expensive endeavor that requires reserving highly competitive slots of time with a submersible or diving robot. Rona and Seilacher simply haven’t had enough time or money to search for these enigmatic builders. Though they have found thousands of Paleodictyon burrows, perhaps these are only the graveyards of a long-dead colony of the creatures. Perhaps the living animals lie just a few miles beyond the submersible’s light, waiting for someone to finally stumble across them.
Paleodictyon has received some media attention, though. Most notably in the form of “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea”, an IMAX documentary chronicling the researcher’s discovery and search for the animal.
On a final, interesting side note, the first recorded reference to Paleodictyon fossils may have come from Leonardo da Vinci. In the Leicester Codex, Leonardo records extensive notes on fossilized shells and other traces of prehistoric marine organisms. Among his drawings is a small, quick sketch of a honeycomb-like structure. Though the sketch is unlabeled, it is not a huge stretch to postulate that this may have been a representation of Paleodictyon, especially since these striking trace fossils are common around the inventor’s childhood home in the valley of the Arno River.