Saturday, February 6, 2016

Black Panther Reports from the Lone Star State

Reports of anomalous black cats, large in size with long tails, continue to pour in to me via email, comments to posts, Twitter and Facebook. I need to catch all of you up on these reports and thought I would work backwards to do so. What I mean by that is that I will be presenting the latest reports to you first and, over the next several weeks, get you caught up on the backlog.

Before we begin, let me repeat a few things that I have said before. I know that there is no such animal as a “black panther.” The known big cats that have been given this moniker are either African leopards or New World jaguars exhibiting melanism. So, when I use the term “black panther,” realize it is a colloquialism, a catchall phrase, if you will, that is commonly used in Texas and the Deep South to describe any large, black or very dark, long-tailed cat.

Now, on to the reports



2/5/16

“I do realize this post was intended to debunk a lot of story of "black panthers," but I have to share something that happened to me, my boyfriend and my husky last night. We were at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in West Plano and it was dark out (bad idea) - about 7:30 pm. We were only on the trail about a quarter mile before we saw a LARGE black cat walking towards us, about 200 ft. ahead of us. It was about the size of a German shepherd and had this incredibly slow, sauntering walk. It didn't have a care in the world that we had seen it or that we were right in front of it. It halted for a moment when it first saw us, then slowly walked towards us. We could definitely make out what it was because the parking lot lights behind us were still nearby and illuminating the trail. We turned around after being frozen for a solid 10 seconds and I never ran so fast, probably a bad idea in retrospect to run. I know it doesn't make sense that a black panther/jaguar lives in Plano, but it could've possibly been someone's exotic pet that they released in the Preserve. I don't know, but I'm ABSOLUTELY positive of what we saw.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: An interesting account to be sure. I would be interested to hear how the husky reacted to the presence of the large cat. Surprisingly, the Plano area is a hotbed for sightings of large, black cats. The Arbor Hills Nature Preserve mentioned in this report is very close to other reported sightings. I would like to make clear that I am not trying to debunk reports of black panthers. I am simply following the evidence trail where it leads me. If anything, as time goes by, I am more and more convinced there is a legitimate mystery here regarding these cryptid cats that needs to be solved.




2/4/16

“This is the first time I have seen this sight. I live in Wills Point,Texas. (Van Zandt County). Was at home by my cabin on a small lake (4 1/2 acre lake) in late spring or early summer of 2012. Around 2:30 pm as I was fishing from the dock I saw from the corner of my eye what I thought, at first to be a large brown dog. It walked behind some tall grass at a slow but steady gate. I looked away for a second until it emerged from the grass. I turned to look at it and realized it was a large cat. At first I told myself, "That's a really big bobcat. But, no it was way too large and didn't have spots. It was medium to dark brown. It was unmistakable as a cougar. The long large tail that hung down and curled back up at the end and the round head with a short muzzle was enough to be certain. I had never seen a cougar that dark. And the time of day seemed unlikely. My landlord/friend has six young grand kids running around the lake. His and his son's houses are on the lake as well. So I made sure I told him. Even though I was afraid he would think my cheese had slipped off my cracker. I was cocerned for his grandkids. Turns out the cougar had been seen around his Son in laws & daughters house too. About three miles from the lake. The Van Zandt county sheriff department has 20 to 30 reports of livestock losses from big cats per month, according to our newspaper. I was surprised.”

- Johnny Marchand


TCH Comment: I find Johnny’s sighting very intriguing. He seems absolutely sure that the animal he saw was a cougar but stresses that it was an unusually dark brown. I feel strongly that at least some “black panther” reports can be attributed to sightings of cougars sporting unusually dark coats.

1/24/16

“I live about 45 minutes south of Brazos Bend. I've seen a large cat three times in the past couple of years crossing the road. It's not much larger than a bobcat, more lean and longer, with a very long tail. It appears black until the light shines on it and then I saw that it was actually spotted. I've also heard what sounds like a woman screaming at night.

We have a lot of wildlife in this area so I'm not sure if the numerous goat deaths are from that cat or coyotes. And I'm not sure if I've seen the same cat several times or if it was more than one cat. It looks like the photos I've seen of the jaguarundi.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: Brazos Bend State Park is located in SE Texas in Fort Bend County. Mainly, it is known for an abundant alligator population but it is a rich habitat that supports all manner of wildlife, including possible prey species for a large cat like white-tail deer, raccoons, otters, beavers, opossums, rabbits, etc. The witness mentions that the animal he saw looked like photos of jaguarundis he has seen online; however, his description does not seem to fit that species. His report of a lean and long cat fit the jaguarundi bill but the spotted coat and size reported (larger than a bobcat) do not. I’m not sure what this gentleman saw but I am pretty sure it was not a jaguarundi. Due to my doubts on this one, I will be leaving it off my black panther distribution map.

1/23/16

“4445 Rock Quarry drive. 1/16/16 15:50 gray coat, short tail with black tip, full beard, looked right at me, 30 yards. Right to left. Saw entire left side. Looked female. Very healthy looking.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: No cryptid cat here, this is a classic description of a bobcat. These wildcats are not an uncommon sight even in urban neighborhoods. Sounds like this bob was a very pretty and healthy specimen.


1/21/16

“I Live in Eustace,Tx. about 18 years ago I was walking from my sisters house next door to my house about 3 am and out if the corner of my eye say what I thought at first was a large house cat. Turned instinctively to look and realized is was bigger then a normal cat. And then the mom stepped off the grass onto the white rocked part of the road. She had been there the whole time and I never saw her till she got on the road. She was only about 10 feet away. I was scared to death I continued to walk sideways to my house, keeping my eyes on her and not turning my back to her. All she did was follow me. I assume just to make sure I was not a threat to what I now know was her cub. She was so gracful had I not been so scared I would have been in awe. I Contacted everyone I could and finally found a tracker. He said she was a black jaguar,and had been interbreed because her first two claws did not retract and she had a cub. There was also a mountain lion that had made a den about 150 ft from my back door. Our area is heavily wooded. We spot her or her cub just for a secound every few years. only heard one once last year for a few seconds and have never seen the mountain lion yet. They said she travels about a twenty mile radius and when food depleted she goes to the next area and returns every few years. She only takes down small animals, chickens, turkeys,goats and maybe cats. Small price to pay for such a beautiful creature. In my opinion.”

- Kristi ********



TCH Comment: Eustace sits in Henderson County roughly 40-50 miles SE of Dallas. Cedar Creek Reservoir and Purtis Creek State Park are in the immediate vicinity as are numerous private lakes and stock ponds which provide plenty of water for a number of wildlife species. The county is rural and there is plenty of room for a predator of the size described to live and thrive. This account is interesting as a cub was involved. Kristi never mentions the color of either cat directly but does say a “tracker” felt she had seen a black jaguar. Based on that statement, I am going to assume the animal was very large and black. The rest of this “tracker’s” statement about the big cat having been some kind of hybrid between a jaguar and a cougar is nonsense, in my opinion. The basis of this theory being based on claw marks being found in a print is false logic. It is true that cats can and do have retractable claws but they do leave claw marks in tracks from time to time. While I find the tracker’s comments less than credible, I have no reason to doubt Kristi’s sighting report.

12/2/15

“About 5 years ago, maybe 2010-11, saw medium size black cat that looked like small panther run up from the east Bosque riverback. The cat was chasing a bird that was flying just few feet above the ground. The cat ran across my lane of traffic on Lakeshore Dr.(Waco,TX). The cat was a very dark black color, about 2.5' to 3' long, guess about 25 to 35 lbs, long black tail. The cat's head was rounded shape about size of typical cantaloupe. Later saw picture of a jaguarundi cat on internet, the cat looked like that species.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: The description of the witness sounds a lot like a large domestic cat to me except for the estimate of the cat weighing 25-36 lbs. If he is accurate in that estimate, this was no feral/domestic. A jaguarundi certainly needs to be considered as a suspect here. The area described is on the E-NE side of Waco and gets rural and wild pretty quickly. There is a lot of brush, wooded areas, green belts and water sources along the Brazos River, Bosque River and Lake Waco shoreline. Certainly, there is enough suitable habitat to support a cat the size of a jaguarundi.

11/24/15

“I moved out by Churchill bridge in Brazoria, by the San Bernard River, I was looking out my kitchen window and saw a Black Cat, I was thinking, Wow he is Big, then it turned and started slowing walking and I saw how big, and a long tail, really cool looking too, He moved so slow like a wild cat would, I could not get my camera fast enough to snap a photo, Also saw a big bobcat on this property, My Dad working for the Refuge here and said he has heard of the Jaguar siting.”

- Dianne Harwood


TCH Comment: If there is ever an area where a cat the size of a jaguar could survive it is likely in the area of this sighting. Brazoria sits in Brazoria County and the spot of this visual is sandwiched between the Brazos River to the north, the San Bernard River to the south and the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area to the east. The area has ample water and potential prey species, including the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken, a type of ground-dwelling grouse. Rumors of large, black cats, like the one described by Dianne, are common in SE Texas.

10/18/15

“I can tell you for sure there are large cats roaming all parts of Texas. In fact I saw a Black Panther about 7 years ago right out side of Alto, Texas. It was about 10:30 pm on a very dark night. I was driving out of Alto about 3 miles on hwy 21 headed East. As a large truck passed me I turned on my high beams. Less than a foot off of the road on my side it looked like two large black garbage bags. When I spotted it I was about 150 yards away. That cat didn't move accept for it's head turned towards me. I saw it's yellow eyes and I was totally shocked. We have owned property in that area for 25+ years. I have seen small cats every once in a while. If you go to the feed stores in the area the ranchers will tell you they see cats all the time. That night I saw the Black Panther I called Texas Parks and Wild Life and reported it. I was told these large black cats are reported every once in a while.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: Alto is a small town in Cherokee County in east Texas. The Davy Crockett, Angelina and Sabine National Forests are all nearby as are numerous wildlife management areas. While Alto does not sit directly in any of these forests, it is in the heart of the Piney Woods region of Texas. The entire area is heavily wooded and rural. Tales of screaming black panthers from this area go back decades and locals will tell you in no uncertain terms that they are real. The description of yellow eyes is interesting. I have had a number of people use this description when talking about the eyes of a black cat. Since this sighting took place at night, it is possible this was some kind of eye shine and not the actual color of the cat’s eyes; still, the yellow eyes description pops up often enough to make me wonder.


9/30/15

“A few months ago I had a large dark brown Cougar/Mountain Lion walk across the highway in front of me at 10:30 AM on a Saturday. The big cat was only 20 feet away when it went into the ditch and under the fence into dense underbrush. This sighting was about 2 miles south of FM 1093 on FM 723 south of Katy, Texas. The animal was heading in a westerly direction. I estimate it to weigh 75-100+ lbs.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: This would be news as the Katy area is heavily populated and continues to boom. Do not let that fact fool you, the Brazos River cuts through the area only a mile or so south of this location and the landscape gets pretty lonesome pretty fast in that direction. A big cat could easily have been using the river as a travel corridor and ventured off course to explore or look for food. If the witness really was only 20 feet away they obviously got a good look at this animal. The estimated weight of 75-100 lbs. rules out any domestic/feral cat or jaguarundi. The cat being described as “dark brown” is interesting. Most people know the golden, tawny hue of a typical mountain lion. This description tells me that this cat did not look like that. A cougar with a significantly darker than usual coat could easily be mistaken for a black animal in low light conditions. This could certainly explain at least some black panther reports.

9/29/15

“I have most certainly seen a large black cat in Dayton, TX. It was night time and my friend and I were in a field. We heard something so I shined the light over, and there it was just a couple of feet away from us. It turned and bolted extremely fast, but I’ll never forget how big it was or how long its tail was. Sighting was around September of 2010.

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: This is a pretty typical account that comes from an area of SE Texas with a long history of black panther reports. These anomalous cats are not considered anything unusual in this part of Texas. The description of a long tail would rule out most other types of wildlife and the witness clearly seemed rattled by the size of the animal. One has to wonder what that cat was doing creeping up so close to this witness and his friend. He might be very fortunate that he turned the light on the cat when he did.

Please continue to report sightings of these phantom cats to me. I continue to work hard on my black panther distribution map and look forward to being able to share it with you all soon. It is a labor of love but a labor, nonetheless and, like most all of you, I have a lot of irons in the fire daily and time to work on it is hard to come by. Throw in the fact that about the time I get it up to date, another half doze reports comes in and it is almost a never ending cycle of updates. Still, it shouldn't be long.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Latest Black Panther Reports (continued)

Following are a few more of the reports I have received over the last several months detailing sightings of anomalous big cats in Texas. Some of the reports involve sightings of normal tawny-colored mountain lions that are far outside of their accepted range. Other reports come in from witnesses who claim to have seen large, long-tailed, black cats, typically referred to as black panthers in my part of the world. I am attempting to get readers caught up on the backlog of reports that have accumulated while I was on a bit of a hiatus from the blog. As mentioned in a previous post, I will work backwards and report the latest sightings and work my way back to the older sightings. I do this on the off chance that interested parties might visit the areas of the sightings and possibly capture a photo or video footage of one of these animals should it still be prowling the area where it was initially reported.


1/6/16

“I also saw a cat that matches your description. It was autumn of 2005, I was driving on CR 532 approx. 2-3 miles from Gonzales toward Moulton, it was after work so approx. 5:15 - 5:30 pm, it crossed in front of me toward some old chicken houses on left. I was totally amazed he leapt from the side of road on right of me to middle of road and another jump he was on the side of the road so graceful and had a very large body it seemed to drop down from belly low toward ground.The size reminded me of adult german shepherd, But it in no way a dog.It was so beautiful the cat also had a bit of black stripey like marks of side of body. I was so graceful.and I told people and of course they did not believe. A year or so later I ran into the game warden that covers Gonzales area and told him about the cat. I dont know if it is his demeanor, but he seemed not to believe me.”

- Carole


TCH Comment: The sighting location would be considered the area where Central Texas gives way to South Texas. The area between Gonzalez and Moulton is lightly populated and dotted with stock ponds and small riparian greenbelts that run parallel to small creeks. The Guadalupe River winds its way through the area just a few miles back to the south-southwest. I have visited the area and have no problem believing a large cat could successfully make a home there. The description of the cat puzzles me a bit. The witness does not say specifically what color the cat was, only that it had “black stripey marks on the side of its body.” Since darker stripes were visible, I am assuming the cat was mainly light in color. That being the case, I must conclude this was a mountain lion. I really do not have a great explanation for the stripes described but everything else the witness mentions points to a cougar being the culprit here. The smooth graceful movement, size of a German shepherd and the way it dropped its belly close to the ground are all fit the classic description of a mountain lion. I can only posit that since the cat was seen during the winter months, perhaps its coat was a bit thicker in spots and this difference in the density of the fur caused some areas to be darker than others. Since this cat was not black or completely dark, I will not add it to my black panther distribution map. One more thing, I am not surprised at all by the reaction this witness received from the local game warden when she shared her experience.



12/30/15

“Just had a black cat sighting about four miles north west of Decatur Tx, between Decatur and Alvord. Cat was watching us from a neighbor's pasture and when we approached closed it turned away and walked out of sight. He was about 100 yards away or a bit less.”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: Decatur sits roughly 30-40 miles northwest of Fort Worth on Highway 287. The area up and down 287 has been a regular source of sightings of large, black, long-tailed cats fitting the description of the classic “black panther.” I have no reason to doubt the account of the witness but the report is pretty light on details. That being the case, I will leave this report off my black panther distribution map.


12/7/15

“I saw a huge brown cat with big paws and a long thick tail cross the road in front of me a couple of weeks ago on FM 1509 near Brookston & Roxton Texas. I had to hit the brakes. I stopped to watch it run through the field but I couldn't find it. I backed up & searched again & still couldn't find it. I assumed it was crouched down in the grass somewhere near watching me. Another car approached so I had to move along. It was in the afternoon between 3:00 and 4:00. Such an odd time of day to see something like that. I have been searching the web looking at wild cat pictures and I can't find anything that color that is that huge.”

- Linda T*******


TCH Comment: The Roxton/Brookston area sits roughly 50-60 miles to the northeast of Dallas and only about 30 miles south of the Red River. It is rural, lightly populated and could easily support a large cougar-sized predator. The witness did not go to great lengths to describe the overall size of the cat but her assertion that it was “huge” with “big paws and a long thick tail” certainly gets my attention. I would have liked to hear a bit more about the color, however; she describes the cat as brown, which leads me to believe this was not a typically colored mountain lion. Why? First, the witness reports it was between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The light would have been good enough that there should have been no mistaking a normal honey blonde-colored cougar for something much darker. Second, almost everyone is familiar with what a mountain lion looks like. Even if folks who have never seen a cougar in person have seen them countless times in movies, wildlife shows or magazines. She never once uses the term mountain lion or cougar to describe what she saw. I think that is telling. The report also takes on a bit more credibility in my eyes due to the fact that the witness included her full name (I redacted the last name myself). This is always a good sign. I will be adding this sighting to my black panther distribution map.


That will have to do for now. I will continue to update the blog with the sightings that have come in to me until I get caught up. In the meantime, keep sending the reports in to me. I will be updating the distribution map soon and creating a new map/list of sightings by county as well.

Also, I have received several reports from readers that included photos. I am in the process of examining them and will be showcasing them on the blog soon. Keep your eyes open for those.

Until then, my best to you and yours.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fresh Reports of Black Panthers in Texas

I have been on something of a hiatus over the last couple of months. There are a lot of reasons for this but have found myself in a slightly better position as far as actually having time to write of late and am itching to get back to it. Please understand, my lack of activity of late does not signal a lack of interest on my part. Now, having said all of that, let’s get to it.

Reports of anomalous black cats, large in size with long tails, continue to pour in to me via email, comments to posts, Twitter and Facebook. I need to catch all of you up on these reports and thought I would work backwards to do so. What I mean by that is that I will be presenting the latest reports to you first and, over the next several weeks, get you caught up on the backlog.

Before we begin, let me repeat a few things that I have said before. I know that there is no such animal as a “black panther.” The known big cats that have been given this moniker are either African leopards or New World jaguars exhibiting melanism. So, when I use the term “black panther,” realize it is a colloquialism, a catchall phrase, if you will, that is commonly used in Texas and the Deep South to describe any large, black or very dark, long-tailed cat.

Now, on to the reports.

12/22/15

“I live near Danbury,Tx near a bayou, while on my tractor recently I thought I saw a black Labrador retriever, but when it moved I thought it was a river otter which I've seen on occasion. The animal crossed in front of me and was definitely a large cat with a long tail, now I know it was a Jaguarondi.I have talked with several old timers here and many have seen as kids and called them simply the big black cats with long tails. Several lived near Liverpool,Tx and spotted the cats near rice fields. Hopefully they are making a come back."

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: I really like this kind of report. This witness saw something unusual and did his own research to find out what it was he had seen. From his description of the appearance of the animal and the otter-like movement described, I have little doubt that he is correct in his conclusion and did, in fact, see a jaguarundi.

Danbury sits in Brazoria County along the Texas Gulf Coast and on the edge of Flores Bayou (I assume this is the bayou the witness mentioned in his report). This area is farther north than the generally accepted range of the jaguarundi but not so far as to be out of the question. Certainly, the habitat is adequate to support a small population of these cats. Personally, I feel the jaguarundi roams much farther north and away from the coast than officials believe. This report seems credible and I will add it to my black panther distribution map.


12/17/15

“So, I live in Shepherd Tx and come home from work every night between 3:30 & 4:30 am. I live literally right next to Sam Houston National Forest. On my way home tonight, I had just turned off of hwy 2025 onto fm 2666 and saw a large black cat in the grass between the road and the forest. It was clearly a black cat but I could not see its face. It did have a long tail. Could this have been what I would call a panther? Do they live in the national forest here?”

- Anonymous


TCH Comment: I am a bit dubious about this report, not because I do not believe the witness, but because, in my opinion, the possibility of mistaken identity is strong in this case. The witness states it was clearly a large black cat but admits to not having seen the face of the animal. This makes a positive identification of the animal all but impossible. I assume the witness is basing his belief that what he saw was a cat based on other factors such as the way it moved and the long tail described. Certainly, many people can detect the difference between the way a feline moves and the way a canid moves but the fact that the head and face of the animal was not clearly seen clouds the identification.

Having said all of that, the Sam Houston National Forest, and east and southeast Texas in general, have a long history of black panther sightings. To the locals, these cryptid cats are not mysterious at all and are just a part of the region’s fauna. This witness may very well have spotted one of these phantom cats but, due to the factors mentioned above, there remains a large enough possibility for misidentification that I will leave this sighting off of my black panther distribution map.



12/9/15

“I was walking with my daughter on a walking trail (inside the city limits) of Jacksboro Tx,January 2015, we had wandered off of the trail for about 45 min when we returned to the trail something caught my eye about 75 yards up the trail, I watched it as it was moving away from us up the trail, it was not running but it was walking fast, I yelled at it and it turned sideways looked at us, took about 6 steps toward us and ducked into the bushes, we both got a good look at it it was black as coal and has no fear of humans, I assume that we had disturbed it in the woods and we're lucky enough to see it when we were leaving, as with most people who have had a similar sighting I was blown away by what I saw and didn't get a chance to take a picture, it was not a miss identification, it was in broad daylight, with plenty of time to watch it as it moved, anyone who says that these animals are not real are wrong, and most people in my situation probably wouldn't take the time to try to take pictures, these are powerful animals that can easily kill you.”

- Anonymous



TCH Comment: Jacksboro is the county seat of Jack County and sits roughly 60-70 miles NW of Fort Worth. U.S. Highway 281 bisects the small town that was established between the Lost Creek and the west fork of Keechi Creek. Jack County is sparsely populated with an average of only 10 people per square mile according to the 2000 census. In addition to the two creeks mentioned above, the West Fork of the Trinity River cuts across Jack County diagonally from northwest to southeast and provides the main drainage for the county. Many other creeks cut through the county, which is also home to Lake Bridgeport and Lake Jacksboro. So, despite the county sitting in a relatively arid part of the state, there is ample water in the county to support a wide variety of wildlife. There is also much more forest than one might expect, especially along the various waterways. Dominant trees are mesquite, live oak, blackjack oak, post oak, elm, pecan and walnut. These hardwoods provide a rich environment that supports a healthy white-tail deer and feral hog population which a large predator could prey upon.

This witness failed to give a lot of detail about the animal he saw but seemed impressed enough with its size to make a determination that it was no domestic cat and it was possibly a threat to him and his child. I have had several interesting accounts concerning cryptid cats come out of Jack County in the past and this one is fairly typical of the experiences of the other witnesses. What was it? The witness stresses it was black as coal and that it was broad daylight. Certainly, that would seem to take a mountain lion out of the equation. Jaguarundi? Possibly, but the witness seemed rattled by the size of the animal. While he doesn’t say so explicitly, this would likely indicate something larger than the typical jaguarondi. That being the case, I will add this sighting to my black panther distribution map.


I will continue to update the blog with the backlog of reports at least weekly until I get all of you caught up. In the meantime, please keep me informed of any sightings out there. I really would like to get to the bottom of this black panther mystery in 2016.

Let’s make that happen.

*ADDENDUM* - I will be updating my black panther sightings distribution map shortly. Once it is ready, I will post it here online. In addition, I plan on going back and making a separate map showing sightings by county. This will dial in the areas of sightings a bit more and, hopefully, allow some patterns to emerge.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Thanksgiving Message

As many of you have noted, it has been quite a while since I posted anything new on the blog. I have tried to remain active on the Facebook and Twitter pages, posting anything I find interesting or unusual, but have not done much writing. There are numerous reasons for this and, initially, this post was going to be an explanation, almost an apology, for my lack of activity.

I have changed my mind.

I started this post while my wife, daughters and son-in-law were putting our Christmas tree together (yes, shamefully, we have an artificial tree, lol). I found myself just watching and listening to them as they laughed, sang and generally enjoyed being together here, all in one place, safe and warm inside on a gloomy and rainy Saturday in Central Texas. A fire was burning in the fireplace, hot chocolate was on the stove and Christmas carols were playing via Pandora. It was all so cliché that it made me pause. My wife was beaming, happy to have all of her little chickens here together, and this made me happy. It was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life and it was wonderful. I immediately closed the laptop in order to join them. Yes, I was derailed from writing a piece for the blog yet again, but it was ok.

I have been amazingly busy this year, and not all of my distractions have been as pleasant as today's, leaving me precious little time to write but I am blessed. I am working my tail off at work, teaching two courses while coaching the basketball team but I get to work with young people every day. I have endured skin cancer and surgery to remove it this year but have, for the moment anyway, beaten it and have a clean bill of health. Finances were tight this year as I had to give up football coaching, and the stipend that came with it (due to the aforementioned skin cancer), and pay for the wedding of my oldest daughter but have gained a son-in-law that I truly enjoy being around and, best of all, who deeply loves my daughter. I could go on but you get the idea.

I guess I could look at things with a more negative eye, and, if I am being completely honest, I have done so on more occasions than I like to admit, but I choose not to do that today. I am blessed and every single crazy busy day brings more blessings my way. With age comes perspective, I suppose. Could it be after forty-nine years I have grown up? Maybe.

I do hope to spend more time on the blog and in the field this year. That is the goal. I have not lost my passion for it or the subject matter discussed on it. I am quite optimistic that I will have more time for it soon. I have a year’s worth of topics lined up and just waiting to be written about. Somebody has to do it, right? I also hope to finish up my second book, this one a novel, this year. I’m actually quite excited about it and, if it comes along the way I hope it does, will share more about it soon.

In the meantime, I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. Do not forget to be thankful for what you have. The poorest among us has far more than most on this little blue planet. Try to remember that when times are tough. I have found the most grateful people to be the happiest people. Choose to be thankful. Choose to be happy.

More soon and my best to you all.

Mike

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sasquatch Classics: Murder and Mayhem in Portlock, Alaska

Scattered across the North American continent are many ghost towns, places that were once vibrant and alive but are now long dead and abandoned. Remnants of what once was can often still be found; old schools, churches or other buildings, usually in a ramshackle state of decay, stand, albeit perilously, serving as the only reminder that a community once thrived on the spot. The reasons a town can die are many and varied. In some cases, the town was bypassed by a railroad or highway. Other communities disappear simply because they have exhausted the natural resources which drew people to the area in the first place, mining towns come to mind. Wars, natural disasters, political wrangling and the like can all be reasons one community might be abandoned in favor of another. Perhaps, T. Lindsey Baker, author of Ghost Towns of Texas, said it best when he defined a ghost town as “a town for which the reason for being no longer exists.” Sometimes, though, you come across the story of a town that was abandoned for reasons other than those already mentioned. In a few cases, towns were deserted for reasons so unique and terrifying that they almost defy belief. One such case is that of Portlock, Alaska.


The remains of what was once Portlock/Port Chatham (technically, two communities but so close together I will simply use the singular Portlock for this article) sit on the far southwest edge of the Kenai Peninsula, not too far to the northeast of the more well known Kodiak Island. The settlement was named after Captain Nathaniel Portlock of the Royal Navy who landed on the peninsula in 1787. Some Alaska publications say travel to Portlock is possible via ATV but most locals would dispute it. The only real way to see Portlock is to travel there by boat or bush plane. If you were able to actually get to the abandoned town you would still be able to see the remains of what was once a healthy village. At one time there was a cannery, a chromite mine and a territorial boarding school for the children of the Kenai Peninsula. The town bustled enough that the government deemed a U.S. Post Office necessary and opened up a branch there in 1921. Everything changed, however, when every resident of Portlock picked up stakes and left en masse in 1949. Unlike most doomed communities, which die agonizingly slow deaths, Portlock ceased to exist almost overnight. What could have caused such a sudden and total mass exodus? A story from the Anchorage Daily News, April 15, 1973 may sum up the tale best.

Portlock began its existence sometime after the turn of the century, as a cannery town. In 1921 a post office was established there, and for a time the residents, mostly natives of Russian-Aleut extraction, lived in peace with their picturesque mountain-and-sea setting.

Then, sometime in the beginning years of World War II, rumors began to seep along the Kenai Peninsula that things were not right in Portlock. Men from the cannery town would go up into the hills to hunt the Dall sheep and bear, and never return. Worse yet, the stories ran, sometimes their mutilated bodies would be swept down in to the lagoon, torn and dismembered in a way that bears could not, or would not, do.

Tales were told of villagers tracking moose over soft ground. They would find giant, man-like tracks over 18 inches in length closing upon those of the moose, the signs of a short struggle where the grass had been matted down, then only the deep tracks of the manlike animal departing toward the high, fog-shrouded mountains with their deep valleys and hidden glaciers.



The newspaper story gives but a glimpse into the terror felt by the citizens of Portlock during this time. Finally, after numerous murders and unexplained disappearances, the town folk could stand no more. Enough was enough and they all agreed it was time to go, and that is exactly what they did, all at the same time. The villagers packed up and walked away from Portlock, never to return. Even decades later, former residents refused to return to the former cannery town for fear of the nantiinaq (Nan-te-nuk), or big hairy man.

Former Portlock resident Malania Helen Kehl was interviewed by Naomi Klouda of the Homer Tribune back in October of 2009 and said things in Portlock started out well enough but degenerated to such a point that the family left their home and fled to Nanwalek. The family had endured the murder of Malania’s godfather, Andrew Kamluck in 1931. Kamluck was a logger who was killed when someone, or something, hit him over the head with a piece of heavy log moving equipment. It was generally agreed that Kamluck was killed instantly and that the murderer would have had to been a true brute to wield the piece of equipment in question as a lethal weapon. The family stuck it out in Portlock for more than a decade after the murder of Kamluck but after being terrorized for “a long period of time,” along with all the other villagers, they finally picked up and left.

“We left our houses and the school and started all new here (Nanwalek),” said Kehl.

Tales of murder and mayhem rolled out of Portlock on a regular basis in the 1930’s and 1940’s, gaining steam during the World War II years. Port Graham elder, Simeon Kvasnikoff told of the unexplained disappearance of a gold miner near the village during this time.

“He went up there one time and never came back,” said Kvasnikoff. “No one found any sign of him.”

Another interesting aspect of the Portlock story was relayed to Klouda by an Anchorage paramedic who preferred to remain anonymous.

“In 1990, while I was working as a paramedic in Anchorage, we got called out on an alarm for a man having a heart attack at the state jail in Eagle River. He was a Native man in his 70s, and after I got him stabilized with IVs, O2 and cardiac drugs, my partner and I began to transport him to the Native Hospital in Anchorage.”
En route to the hospital, the paramedic and the Native man, an “Aleut” from Port Graham, talked about hunting. The paramedic had been to Dog Fish Bay and was once weathered in there.

“This old man sat up on the gurney and grabbed me by the front of my shirt. He got right up to my face and said, ‘Did it bother you?’ Well, with that question, the hair just stood up on the back of my head. I said, ‘Yes.’ “Did you see it?” was his next question. I said, “No, did you see it?” He said “No, but my brother seen it. It chased him.”

Many dismiss the tales that have come out of Portlock due to the aggressive nature of the sasquatch – for that is surely what the nantiinaq is, if it is real at all – allegedly involved. While it is true that most wood ape/sasquatch encounters end peacefully enough, that is not always the case. The Alaskan version of the species, if reports are to be believed, seems to be especially cantankerous, murderous even.

In 1900, a group of hair-covered creatures ran at a prospector who had climbed a tree in an attempt to get his bearings near Thomas Bay. The prospector said they were, “the most hideous creatures. I couldn’t call them anything but devils…” The prospector, upon seeing the creatures advancing on him, was able to drop down out of the tree, get to his canoe and make his escape in the nick of time. He had no doubt in his mind that, had he not seen the creatures in time, they would have made short work of him.

In 1920, one Albert Petka, who lived on his boat near Nulato, Alaska was attacked by a “bushman” (another regional name for a sasquatch-like creature). His dogs were able to eventually drive off the attacker but the damage was done and Petka’s injuries proved fatal. He was able to tell the story of his attack before dying.

In 1943, during the height of the siege of Portlock, a violent attack took place at Dewilde’s camp near Ruby, Alaska. The victim, John Mire (some reports say McQuire), or “The Dutchman” as he was called by the local Native Americans, was killed by an assailant thought to be “the bushman.” He was badly beaten but his dogs eventually were able to run the killer off. Mire was able to get to his boat and travel to the nearest village to seek help but, unfortunately, he died of internal injuries shortly after arriving. He was, however, able to relate his story before passing.

These are just a few of the reports of harrowing encounters with large, hair-covered bipeds that have come out of our northernmost state. There are more. The point here is that to dismiss the story of Portlock out of hand due to the murderous behavior of the alleged sasquatch involved would be a mistake. Tales of violent encounters/abductions attributed to wood apes have been told by native Alaskans for hundreds of years. There is precedence for this sort of behavior by these animals in Alaska.


You may not believe that an entire town could be terrorized by a rampaging wood ape to the point that residents would abandon it. You may feel the strange story of Portlock, Alaska is, at best, greatly exaggerated and, at worst, completely fictional. What cannot be denied, however, is that Portlock was once a thriving community and that in 1949 residents left abruptly for no apparent reason. They left their houses, tanks, wharfs, pilings and their livelihoods and fled to nearby villages like English Bay and Port Graham. Also true is that residents of these two communities refuse to visit the ruins of Portlock to this very day. These two facts alone give the story the ring of truth. Something happened on the Kenai Peninsula back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, something bad.

I am greatly intrigued by the story of Portlock and wish to visit the ruins of the old cannery town one day. Would I see only the dilapidated ruins of an old village? Would anything be apparent to me other than the sight of some old homes and buildings collapsing in upon themselves and slowly being reabsorbed by nature? Would I, by chance, get a better idea of what haunted Portlock? Would I find out if it haunts it still? In pondering these things, I am reminded of an old adage…

Be careful what you wish for.

Sources:

Klouda, N. (2009, October 21). Port Chatham Left to Spirits. Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://homertribune.com/2009/10/port-chatham-left-to-spirits/

Green, J. (1978). Gentle Giants. In Sasquatch: The apes among us. Saanichton, B.C.: Hancock House.

Bord, J., & Bord, C. (2006). Bigfoot casebook updated: Sightings and encounters from 1818 to 2004. Enumclaw, Wash.: Pine Winds Press.

Clark, A. (1998, January 5). Portlock. Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/ak/portlock.html

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Week in the Field

I have just returned from a week in the field. I was participating in the NAWAC’s long-term field study in the Ouachita Mountains. After a rather hectic last year in which I dealt with job changes, health issues and the preparation for my oldest daughter’s wedding, it was a much needed respite from the every day world. While I did not come away with definitive proof that a large, hirsute, bipedal ape inhabits the area, I, and my team, did experience some interesting things. I will share some of these things below. Please understand that I cannot, and will not, share sensitive details regarding the operation. The synopsis below is just an overview of some of what took place and my opinions regarding the events of last week.

To start, it was brutally hot during the week. Heat advisories were issued for each of the seven days I was present. The heat seemed to put a bit of a damper on wildlife activity during the bulk of the day. Not much was moving until the sun finally began weakening late in the afternoon/evening. That is not to say, however, that there was no activity during the week, not at all.

My team arrived on Saturday the 19th. We spent the remainder of the day setting up camp and getting organized. Once all of that was done, we walked out to inspect several string traps that had been set up in strategic choke points along game trails. String traps are a means to discern the direction wildlife is traveling and what trails/routes they are using to do so. The idea is simple, black thread is tied to a tree, post or other object at the desired height. The thread is then pulled taut and wrapped, not tied, to another tree or object. The height at which the thread is set depends on the animal you are attempting to get a read upon. Our string traps were set at six feet in height. We feel this height allows deer, black bear and other conventional wildlife to pass underneath the thread without disturbing it (While it is possible a deer could choose just that spot to leap or bound or a bear could choose to rear up on its hind legs, the chances of that are slim). When an animal walks into the thread, the wrapped end slides free and the thread is pulled forward with the animal (the tied end remains in place). The thread will cling to the animal until its length is exhausted. It will then lay on the ground or brush and allow you to discern which direction the animal was traveling when it came through. We found several of the string traps that had been placed last week had been walked through. We reset the thread on these traps and returned to camp. We heard a few odd noises and movement from time to time but nothing we could readily attribute to ape activity.


The second day was highlighted by several wood knocks and some possible rock on rock and rock on metal banging. I will be the first to admit to having been skeptical about the wood-knocking phenomenon when I first began seriously looking into the sasquatch mystery years ago. I am skeptical about it no longer. I have never seen an ape actually hit a tree with a branch or piece of wood but these knocks and bangs do take place. The reality of this phenomenon really struck home several years ago when NAWAC members located a piece of cut firewood at the base of a tree about ¼ mile from the area where we camp while in the study area. The tree had obvious damage from being struck and the piece of firewood showed telltale signs of having taken a beating as well. It seemed pretty clear that this piece of firewood had been used to strike this tree on multiple occasions. Members struck the tree with the firewood and it replicated perfectly the sounds several groups had heard from the area over the previous few weeks. Simply put, this firewood had to have been carried to this spot by someone/something. Once there, someone/something with hands had to pick it up and pound it against the tree. Bears cannot do this. Mountain lions cannot do this. No known wildlife native to the region can do this. This leaves only two possibilities, people or apes. I will not try to convince anyone as to how remote this location actually is, believe me or not. I will say only that the idea that some person would swipe a piece of firewood from our camp, carry it ¼ mile away and use it to periodically beat the crap out of a tree in order to get a group of armed men to race to the location is pretty outlandish.

The bulk of day three was spent still-hunting without any luck. I camouflaged up and took up a concealed position in an area we believe these animals travel through on a regular basis. I did not see anything, however, and returned to camp after several hours. I had not seen so much as a squirrel during the hunt. Again, I am sure the heat played into this and the wildlife was hunkered down in shady spots in the area. About 11:00 p.m. that night, shortly after our final team member arrived, a foul odor briefly filled our camp. It was the “sweaty horse smell” we have encountered so many times in the area before that, we believe, indicates an ape is in close proximity. The smell dissipated quickly, however, and no activity ensued.

Day four was fairly quiet. Several hours of hunting revealed nothing. We heard what might have been a faint wood knock around midday and something I can only describe as a “tok” sound coming from the woods near our camp. That evening we broadcast some ape and chimp sounds in the hopes of getting a reaction from the locals. One of our team members believed a large animal of some kind approached camp later that night but fled immediately when he rose to try and get a look at it.


The next day was spent placing some cameras in strategic spots around the area. The NAWAC has attempted to gain photographic evidence via game cameras in the past (See Operation Forest Vigil) without any luck; however, cameras have continued to get smaller and less obtrusive over the years. Since these cameras were not going to be in the field for months/years at a time, no bulky protective bear boxes were necessary. The combination of the small size of the cameras and the lack of bear boxes gave us hope that we might get lucky and they would go unnoticed. Several of the cameras were placed overlooking string traps that had been disturbed the week before. About 8:00 p.m. we heard the most interesting wood knock I have ever heard. I will not try to describe the cadence/rhythm here but will say that it was rhythmic, clear and unique. I have never heard anything like it and have no idea what could explain it (other than our quarry). One of the other members present immediately answered the knock using the same cadence but we heard nothing else. That night we played some more primate vocalizations but did not receive any discernible reply. After turning in, our nighttime visitor returned. Again, the animal fled the second we moved in an attempt to get a look at it.

Day six was fairly quiet with two notable exceptions. We had started by examining the area where the animal had approached the camp the last two nights. It was clear that something had been in the area as we found trampled vegetation and a faint game trail. No distinct prints, hair or other evidence was located. About 8:30 p.m. we heard what I can only describe as a very big noise. It sounded like a Volkswagen had been dropped off a three-story building. I have no idea what it could have been. Pondering what could be powerful enough to create such a noise sent a shiver up and down my spine. Later, we all heard another loud noise. This sounded much like a large tree falling. It was a loud, prolonged, bang and crash. We were unable to locate any fresh tree falls in the vicinity.

The next day was spent scouting out areas where the team following us will be attempting something new. To my knowledge, the experiment is something no bigfoot group has ever attempted before. I am very excited about this experiment and the possibilities it represents. It is not for me to discuss in any more detail than that here, however, as the details of the effort will be revealed by the NAWAC when the time is right.


The rest of my time in the study area was fairly peaceful but occasionally interrupted by wood knocks and rock on rock sounds. We also located what might be a nut crushing station similar to one located a couple of years ago in the area. Basically, hickory nut and/or black walnut shells are found smashed on top of a large boulder. Also on the boulder is what we have termed a hammer rock. The remnants of shells and pulp are stuck to the underside of the hammer rock, seemingly, indicating it was used to smash open the nuts. This is a behavior that has been observed in known primate species. What could be indulging in this behavior in North America, particularly our main area of study, is anyone’s guess.

That is about it. It was a great week spent in true wilderness, the type of place most people think does not exist anymore, at least in our region. I remain confident that wood apes inhabit this and other areas in the Tex-Ok-Ark-La area. I also remain confident that, eventually, we will get the evidence we seek proving, once and for all, these animals are not myths and are, indeed, flesh and blood creatures in need of our protection.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ancient Chinese Wisdom

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

- Chinese Proverb