The Boggy Creek Monster

Is Arkansas' Fouke Monster a real zoological specimen, or an important part of local folklore?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Cryptozoology, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #404
March 4, 2014
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The Legend of Boggy Creek
"The Legend of Boggy Creek" movie poster
Photo: Howco International Pictures

It was 1971, in Fouke, Arkansas. Fouke is a small hamlet of under a thousand people, in the Boggy Creek area of southwestern Arkansas, tucked in just between Texas and Louisiana. It's in the middle of a thousand miles of flat country, dense dark woods rippled with rivers and creeks that twist every which way before finally draining into the Louisiana swamps. It was on a hot summer night in May that two newlywed young couples, and a friend or two, were crashing in the house they'd just rented a few days before after a long day of unpacking. But the mellow evening took a shocking turn for the worse when Elizabeth Ford, 22, thought she'd have a nap on the couch when it happened.

You know that moment when you see something unexpected, but it takes a few seconds for your mind to process what it is? That was Elizabeth's experience. When she realized that what she was looking at was a huge furry hand with claws, reaching through the open window and groping on the couch as if to find her, she screamed — and Fouke would be changed forever.

Even as the two young couples made emergency move-out preparations, giving up on their new home after less than a week, reporter Jim Powell covered the incident for the Texarkana Gazette, calling it like it was a campy 80s slasher pic:

Elizabeth Ford said she was sleeping in the front room of the frame house when, "I saw the curtain moving on the front window and a hand sticking through the window. At first I thought it was a bear's paw but it didn't look like that. It had heavy hair all over it and it had claws. I could see its eyes. They looked like coals of fire ... real red," she said. "It didn't make any noise. Except you could hear it breathing."

Ford said they spotted the creature in back of the house with the aid of a flashlight. "We shot several times at it then and then called Ernest Walraven, constable of Fouke. He brought us another shotgun and a stronger light. We waited on the porch and then saw the thing closer to the house. We shot again and thought we saw it fall. Bobby, Charles and myself started walking to where we saw it fall," he said.

About that time, according to Don Ford, they heard the women in the house screaming and Bobby went back. "I was walking the rungs of a ladder to get up on the porch when the thing grabbed me."

...The "creature" was described by Ford as being about seven feet tall and about three feet wide across the chest. "At first I thought it was a bear but it runs upright and moves real fast. It is covered with hair," he said.

The episode triggered a rash of sightings that kept the Texarkana Gazette lively for months. And more significantly, it attracted the attention of filmmakers, who quickly shot the 1973 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. The film dramatized dozens of sightings and featured many Fouke and Boggy Creek residents, telling and reenacting their stories. One of the most fantastic involved a boy named Lynn Crabtree who encountered the beast while hunting in 1965, and shot at it repeatedly without effect.

It's at this point when, during researching such a story, we start to examine the timeline. The Crabtree boy's experience was in 1965; the Ford family's fright and Powell's newspaper article were in 1971; and the movie came out in 1973. But Powell's newspaper article seems to have been the first published, anywhere, that describes a hairy wildman-type monster in the Fouke and Boggy Creek area. Plenty of articles followed, but young Crabtree's experience (and those of many other characters in the film) all happened in the 1960s. They just weren't reported.

So while I was researching this story, a bunch of red flags came jumping out at me. This story bore off the signs of having been created by an imaginative author, who in this case would be Charles B. Pierce, the writer and director and overall creator of The Legend of Boggy Creek. Perhaps inspired by the newspaper article's sensationalism and notoriety, he may well have rushed to the scene and encouraged, exaggerated, and imagined all sorts of scenarios for which he would have found many happy Fouke residents to portray, eager at a chance on the silver screen; and to lend it a touch of realism, he could have even added the claim that the entire community was reluctant to have anything to do with the film (which is exactly what's been claimed).

So a thorough review of the historical documentary evidence was in order. A very thorough (if not especially skeptical) book on the subject, The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn, was published in 2012. Blackburn had already done this research, combing through every conceivable Arkansas newspaper archive looking for mentions of the Fouke Monster. But although he collected stories and second- or third-hand reports going back at least through the 1960s, he uncovered not a single mention in print until Powell's 1971 report of the Ford incident. It was as if the stories had never existed at all, until the 1971 newspaper article either compelled people to remember long-lost incidents, or (perish the thought) to make them up.

One such family was the Crabtrees, who, following the 1971 report, suddenly announced having had numerous experiences with the Fouke Monster over the years. Smokey Crabtree, the father of Lynn who shot at the creature in 1965, eagerly offered his services as a backwater guide for Pierce during the filming of the movie. As a result, Lynn's story became an important point in the movie, as did Smokey's other son, Travis, who also got some big scenes and even had a song about him in the film.

After the movie, Smokey Crabtree self-published a book, Smokey and the Fouke Monster. Smokey himself never claimed to have seen the creature, but he spoke of how its many encounters with the Crabtree clan had shaped his life. Smokey wrote of Fred Crabtree and James Crabtree, both of whom had experiences similar to Lynn's but had never taken a shot. In fact, if it wasn't for the material provided by Smokey to Pierce, The Legend of Boggy Creek would have been scarcely longer than a TV commercial.

However, when exposed to thorough historical investigation, the Fouke Monster does not dissolve completely into family folklore. Blackburn listed many sightings that occurred prior to Powell's 1971 article, but so far as I could find, they were never documented until after the article. Blackburn did manage to dig up at least two newspaper reports of hairy man beasts from the 19th century, but both were located all the way across the state of Arkansas, at least 400 kilometers away. In 1851, the Memphis Enquirer reported a creature spotted by hunters in Greene County:

He was of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair and the head with long locks that fairly enveloped his neck and shoulders.

Five years later in 1856, the Caddo Gazette reported the following beast in the Upper Red River region:

...A stout, athletic man, about six feet four inches in height, completely covered with hair of a brownish cast about four to six inches long. He was well muscled, and ran up the bank with the fleetness of a deer.

...In an instant [he] dragged the hunter to the ground and tore him in a most dreadful manner, scratching out one of his eyes and injuring the other so much that his comrades despair of the recovery of his sight, and biting large pieces out of his shoulder and various parts of his body.

The "wild man" then stole the hapless victim's horse and rode away on it.

The only physical evidence of the Fouke Monster has been in the form of footprint casts. In the scientific method, we tend to assign footprint casts only a limited amount of value in terms of quality of evidence. They are indirect evidence of indirect evidence. We rarely have proof of when or where or by whom the casts were made; and we have no way of knowing what caused the impression the cast reflects. But they still have value as anecdotal evidence. If we can ascertain where and when the cast was actually made, and we can make a reasonable determination that the person who made it didn't fake the impression it was of, only then do we have a decent suggestion of a direction for further, more provable research.

But the Fouke footprint casts have been a bit improbable anatomically. First of all, the published examples are highly diverse; too diverse, in fact, to represent a single species of animal. Thus the most likely explanation is that many of them are fakes. The first footprints that were photographed and published in the Texarkana Gazette in 1971 (weeks after the Fords' experience) were long and thin; thirteen and a half inches long and only four and a half inches wide at the widest — significantly longer and thinner than most human feet. This would be a solution for supporting weight that's unprecedented in the animal kingdom. Heavier animals tend to have wider feet, to distribute the load and maintain stability.

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The toes were also unprecedented. The end of the foot terminated in three identical long, thin toes, each two inches long and protruding straight from the end of the foot, not splayed outward. No primates have only three toes, or toes that are all identical.

Casts made in the subsequent years, however, have become more and more realistic; looking like gorilla or orangutan footprints. They're shorter, wider, have a thumb-like big toe sticking out to the side and four regular toes of various sizes. The history of Fouke monster footprints seems consistent with what hoaxers might produce if they began with little anatomical knowledge and became progressively more accurate.

With "three toed" having been established as the theme for Fouke Monster feet, more recent examples have been presented that look like ostrich feet; others have been described with hypothetical drawings showing a more conventional primate foot, but with pairs of toes grouped together almost indistinguishably to look like a three toed foot.

So in total, every last shred of evidence that the Fouke Monster exists at all is anecdotal. Not a single piece is testable. The Fouke Monster fits very poorly with the model of a living animal, but fits very well with a local legend. The tale of the hairy wild man is a familiar one in nearly every culture, and the Fouke Monster of Boggy Creek fills that role in southwestern Arkansas. It serves us not as mere zoological fact, but as important oral tradition that enriches our culture. So to enjoy the Fouke Monster, don't search for footprints; instead take a guitar and an old slouch hat, and have a ride in Travis Crabtree's canoe.

Brian Dunning

© 2014 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Blackburn, L. The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster. San Antonio: Anomalist Books, 2012.

Coleman, L. Bigfoot: The True Story of Apes in America. New York: Paraview Pocket Books, 2003.

Crabtree, S. Smokey and the Fouke Monster. Fouke: Day’s Creek Production Corp., 1974.

Francis, S. Monster Spotter's Guide to North America. Cincinnati: HOW Books, 2007. 54-56.

Halpin, M., Ames, M. Manlike Monsters on Trial: Early Records and Modern Evidence. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.

Powell, J. "Fouke Family Terrorized by Hairy Monster." Texarkansas Gazette. 3 May 1971, Newspaper.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Boggy Creek Monster." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 4 Mar 2014. Web. 24 Oct 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4404>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 26 comments

What strong evidence of the Fouke Monster did I omit?

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
March 20, 2014 11:41pm

If my memory serves me correct. The found foot prints at fouke were very inconsistent with the number of toes compared to the tracks of bigfoot of the pacific North west ..which makes hoaxing high on the list ..though of course, that doesnt rule out every alleged sighting in fouke was a hoax. .There was a story of a bow hunter in a tree stand that supposedly was confronted by this creature at a range of a few feet..animal droppings supposedly found at the sight at some time after presumed to be from the creature turned out to be from a bear. Though once again i suppose one could argue that the fouke monster and bear inhabit the same territory..what sways me the most ( pacific northwest bigfoot specifically) there are people, who's stories that seem so credible from individuals with nothing to gain or any interests in bigfoot..though probably im just gullible. .and yes forensic study by leading experts on bigfoot tracks seem to rule out possible hoaxing in many instances. .I find it interesting. Though the tabloid environment and the unfortunate state of affairs,plus all the youtube hoaxing sheds an unfavorable light on true scientific studies of such a species existing..though the fouke monster, I havent seen anything that would leave me to beleive that a continuing study would be warranted ..fouke monster ,probably not!

dave festa, florida
March 21, 2014 11:35am

Hello Brian - I hope my previous post did not seem too grumpy; I am a great fan of skeptoid, which is not only unfailingly entertaining and professionally presented, but also an outstanding advocate for rational thought.

This said, the line between scepticism and debunking is easily crossed, and (in a very subtle way) I think that is what is (subconsciously perhaps) happening here. In answer to your query, no you have not omitted any strong evidence in your excellent rebuttal of the Boggy Creek Monster - If you read my post again you will see that I agreed with you that the evidence for this particular beastie is feeble!

My point is - why attack a weakly-evidenced mystery such as Boggy Creek while apparently ignoring the much stronger body of evidence (volume and history of sightings; number, quality and relative consistency of tracks; native American traditions) for a Bigfoot type animal in the Pacific Northwest? Roundly demolishing Mongolian Death Worms, De Loys Apes and Jersey Devils is all very well, but the volume of anecdotal evidence in support of these mysteries was never great to begin with. But what is the best sceptical, scientific view in the case of a mystery like Pacific North West bigfoots, when the much broader scope of the body of evidence at least gives some pause for thought? I don't actually "believe" in bigfoots, I just think that intellectually, it's a more skeptically challenging subject for discussion.

Congrats again on the fab podcast!

Hemlock, Australia
March 24, 2014 11:44pm

Mr hemlock ,im not Brian's mouth peice.though skeptoid has the Patterson/ Gimlin..debate forum which is what i would beleive to be the holy grail of the pacific northwest bigfoot debate..also the skeptoid debate forum on the topic of bad science and bigfoot...if you havent allready check out these two classic subjects of debate please do. ..boggy creek monster debate compared to the pacific northwest big foot debate...no connection as far as im concerned. .or at least very little..

dave festa, florida
March 26, 2014 8:00am

Hi Dave;

Thanks for your courteous response to my previous! It's good to get some interesting and polite discussion going on these forums. I agree with you that the evidence that the Patterson / Gimlin was hoaxed seems convincing, and Brian did a good job at presenting the grounds for scepticism regarding this particular case. However, it is a logical fallacy to imply that "one famous film of bigfoot was a hoax, therefore there is no such thing as bigfoot". The latter conclusion is not justified by the former argument.

I did enjoy Brian's post about "killing Bigfoot with bad science". However, this post was really an exploration of sound and unsound positions to argue from - an important and worthwhile topic, to be sure, but the post was not really an evaluation of the body of evidence (or lack of it?) for bigfoot, and did not offer a conclusion for or against.

I'm afraid I can't agree with you that there is "no connection" between the mystery of bigfoot in The Pacific northwest and the boggy creek Monster. Surely, the larger question here is; "do bigfoot-type animals exist in north America"? My impression is that the strongest body of evidence that such creatures could exist comes from the Pacific Northwest.

Hemlock, Australia
April 3, 2014 6:38pm

Im missing the part about me claiming the Patterson gimlin film was hoaxed? I dont have the numbers though im thinking that the most in depth studies of the.P/G film have indicated that beyond a reasonable doubt its not a human wearing a costume.I myself thought the film hoax before i did my own in depth study of the film and also and studying the finding of others who have done incredible objective studies of Patty. Quite honestly there are anatomical aspects of Patty that are proving to be very difficult to consider them to part or even plausible to part any kind of costume. Though back to that number i refered to its seems that high percentage of these qualified studies are pointing to the possibilities that such a creature may indeed exist. Though i beleive one needs to move past the.P/G film and find additional evidence that would stand up peer reveiw ..there are people that know wether or not bigfoot exists, though im not one of them!..The only picture ive ever seen that one can even argue that may be authentic is Patty.. though the work that has been done on specific footprint casts by anthropologists and forensic experts in the field of foot prints.and finger prints have been very compelling, I would like to think that these experts know what their talking about...it would seem past the point of reason that a hoaxter would have the means and knowledge to make prints that are so perfect to trick these experts..though then again ..I suppose its possible!

dave festa, florida
April 4, 2014 1:46pm

My apologies Dave! It seems I was in error in misconstruing your stance on the Patterson-Gimlin film. I'd be a lot happier about the Patterson-Gimlin film if the fur wasn't black (the same colour as a commercially available gorilla suit would be). I'm not an expert, but my impression is that black fur is very rarely reported in sightings of these entities - reddish brown being far more typical.

By the way, I agree with you completely that the possibility of dermal ridges on some bigfoot footprint casts (an argument put forward by qualified anthropologists such as Grover Krantz and John Napier) should at least give fair minded skeptics pause for thought.

The thing that troubles me about sightings of "bigfoot"-like animals is - why do people keep reporting so many sightings of the same basic "type"? The most rational explanation would seem that "bigfoot" is some kind of delusion or hallucination - but if this is all they are so, why do we not have a correspondingly large number of sightings of hallucinated dragons, or pink elephants, or whatever?

Hemlock, Australia
April 16, 2014 10:57pm

I think most of the sightings especially when unsuspecting people are involved are tricked theIr set up by individuals dressed up as bigfoot .they may wait on the side of the road near a turn..when a car approaches the run across the road and disappear into the woods...now you have a eyewitness who is telling the truth about what he saw. .bigfoot..and there are so many of these hoaxes designed to trick innocent people.though the point is that the costume are designed to look like the accepted apperance of what bigfoot is suppose to look like. Though im sure some sightings are bears...though is it possible for authentic sightings. .who am i to say its impossible. No i dont think that the majority are dillusions..more like wishfull thinking. Misinterpretation of what is being seen...though with utube..so many videos mostly if not all ..stupid pranks ..

dave festa, florida
April 19, 2014 6:23pm

Hemlock - I have other episodes on Bigfoot. It's still proper to examine other mythical creatures on their own merits outside of the umbrella of the Grandaddy Cryptid. :-)

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
July 18, 2014 10:59am

Hi Brian;

You make a fair point of course, and it's your blog, so you're entitled to argue any position you wish. I too am a sceptic, but I feel like the phenomenon of "man-ape" sightings worldwide is perhaps more interesting than most people realise. Read collectively, the body of eye-witness sightings is often surprisingly compelling, by which I mean the reports have a remarkable consistency between many hundreds of reported observers, and this consistency has been maintained over many decades. It's also worthy of note that sensationalism is generally absent from these reports - despite the clichéd tabloid newspaper headlines, the vast majority of reported sightings are rather mundane - a large, strange animal briefly glimpsed before it moved swiftly away. If hoaxers and self-deluded attention-seekers are at the core of the phenomena, as sceptics often imply, we might reasonably expect a spiral into ever more elaborate and spectacular stories over the years (such as accounts of bigfoot aggression towards humans, for example) but statistically, this does not seem to be have been the case when you consider the body of anecdotal evidence. I'd very much enjoy a skeptoid episode that took on this collective body of evidence head on, instead of just deconstructing one or two individual cases like Boggy Creek or the Patterson-Gimlin footage, as useful and revealing as such analyses might be.

Hemlock, Australia
September 14, 2014 2:09am

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