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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sometimes, Life Intervenes

I have been pretty quiet lately and thought you all deserved an explanation. While I have been a bit inactive as far as cryptozoological matters over the last few months, I have been anything but inactive. There are several reasons for this, which I will touch on below.

I was diagnosed with skin cancer toward the end of 2014. I had a large knot/tumor in my eyebrow above my left eye. I underwent surgery to have it removed in the spring of this year. The surgery turned out to be more extensive than was originally anticipated and ended up including a skin grafting procedure. The graft failed to fully take and I may yet have some procedures ahead of me to minimize the scarring. The good news is the cancer is gone.

The health issue also led to some career changes. I am a teacher and a coach (football/basketball). The doctors strongly recommended I not be in the sun for hours on end starting in July and August like I have for 15 previous seasons. After wrestling with it for several months, I have retired from football coaching. I will continue to coach basketball but getting all these changes lined out took some time and has kept me busy.

By far the biggest reason I have been preoccupied has nothing to do with health or job issues; rather, it had everything to do with my oldest daughter’s wedding. She was married just last week. It was truly a joyful occasion for me, and the entire family, but I can tell you the last few months have been very hectic (not to mention expensive, lol). Never would I have imagined the amount of work putting on a wedding actually is, never. It has been quite exhausting. I can only imagine how my poor wife feels.

So, all of those things put together, plus the historic amount of rain Texas received earlier this spring, which forced me to limit my activities, have kept me away from all things cryptid. I will be getting back in the swing of things, though. I will be leaving tomorrow morning for a week in the Ouachita Mountains where I will be attempting to find evidence supporting the existence of everyone’s favorite bipedal ape. I’ll be providing an update on how the week went upon my return.

My best to you all.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Haunts Belle Plain?

The Texas landscape is littered with the remains of towns and communities that almost made it. Some bustled and boomed for a while and grew quite large based on some regional quirk. For example, towns like Marlin and Mineral Wells grew to be quite well known in the early 1900’s because of mineral water. Saratoga boomed briefly based on the timber and oil industries. Never heard of these places? Well, they are not exactly what they used to be. The advent of penicillin spelled the end of the mineral water craze and times got hard in the oil patch of southeast Texas which put an abrupt end to the growth of these Texas towns. While Marlin, Mineral Wells and Saratoga have fallen on some lean times, at least they still exist. Other communities disappeared altogether. The ghost town of Belle Plain is one such community.

Established in 1875 by Nelson M. Smith, Belle Plain got off to a great start. Nelson platted the town site and started Belle Plain College. Within in a year, the town had several businesses and 65 residents. Belle Plain College was already making a name for itself as well due to its exemplary music program. When Callahan County was organized in 1877, residents voted Belle Plain the county seat. Two years later, the town got its own newspaper and good times seemed all but assured. Prosperity, however, lasted about as long as a mirage on the west Texas horizon. The Texas and Pacific Railroad chose to build in Baird, bypassing Belle Plain, essentially dooming the town. In an amazingly short period of time Belle Plain was gone. The newspaper relocated to Baird, the stone jailhouse was dismantled and rebuilt there as well. In 1883, Baird became the new county seat of Callahan County. The college hung on until 1892, the last store until 1897 and the post office until 1909 and, just like that, Belle Plain was gone. Today, only the ruins of Belle Plain College and an old cemetery remain to show that the town was ever really there. This is where our story begins.


The Belle Plain cemetery has been the source of many odd reports for well over a century. The most enduring legend tells of a young boy and girl who fell madly in love with each other during Belle Plain’s heyday. The young lady’s father did not approve of the relationship and told his daughter to end it. Many things have changed since the mid to late 1870’s but the behavior of teenagers is not really one of them. The pair continued to see each other on the sly until one night they were caught. Enraged, the man sent his daughter home to her mother and told her to wait for him. Begrudgingly, the girl obeyed, leaving her young lover to face her father. Exactly, what happened next is something that will never be known. All that is known is that the boy was found dead the next day. The young girl was understandably devastated and believed her father had murdered the boy in a fit of rage. Filled with grief, and determined to defy her father and be with her lover forever, she hanged herself in a tree adjacent to the boy’s grave. To this day, people who visit the cemetery claim to have odd, and sometimes terrifying experiences. Some have reported spotting a young boy in out of date clothing watching them only to disappear when addressed. Others claim to have heard the terrible weeping and wailing of a female in awful distress, presumably the young girl still mourning her young lover. Odd lights are also occasionally seen floating and bobbing among the headstones of the old cemetery. To be sure, the area projects a creepy aura. Between the ancient cemetery and the ruins of Belle Plain College, one’s imagination can truly venture to some spooky places.

As interested as I am in Texas folklore and good tall tales, this blog is not about ghosts or the paranormal, it is about animals and creatures that may or may not exist or that are seen far from their normal ranges. There is another aspect to the legends surrounding the Belle Plain Cemetery that may better fit the cryptozoological mission of this site. In addition to the strange goings on previously mentioned, there are some other weird reports that sound suspiciously like wood ape, or sasquatch, sightings and behavior. There have been several reported sightings of huge, hulking creatures that are covered in hair and approaching eight feet in height roaming the rear portion of the cemetery. Witnesses have described the creatures to be twice the size of a large, athletic male in colors ranging from dark brown to white with glowing green eyes. Long powerful howls, much deeper in tone than those of coyotes, growls and mumbling have been reported along with the sound of an unseen bipedal walker that shadows visitors while remaining out of sight. Some believe these creatures are the guardians of the souls interred here. I do not know about that but can tell you that there have been more than a few wood ape sightings originating from cemeteries in the Lone Star State. Why this might be I cannot say, but it has been reported often enough to be noticeable to those who pay attention to such things.


I realize some will criticize this post as being more of a ghost story than a cryptid story. I suppose they might even be right to feel that way; yet, there does seem to be a biological entity responsible for some of the more bigfoot-like sightings in the Belle Plain Cemetery. Regardless, I have once again found myself fascinated by a small piece of Texas history of which few are aware and wanted to share it.

After all, who doesn’t love a good story?

*If there are readers up in Callahan County who have had any odd experiences in the Belle Plain area, I would enjoy hearing about them. You can leave a comment below or email me at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com.

**Special thanks to my fellow NAWAC member Jerry Hestand for making me aware of the history of Belle Plain.

Sources:

"Belle Plains Cemetery." RealHaunts. 21 Oct. 2005. Web. 30 June 2015. .

"Belle Plain, Texas AKA Phantom U." Texasescapes.com. 1 June 2005. Web. 30 July 2015. .






Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jaguar Photographed in New Mexico, A New/Old Suspect in the Black Panther Mystery

Earlier this month, well-known mountain lion hunter Warner Glenn was out on a hunt in southern New Mexico. It was not long before Mr. Glenn’s dogs were on the scent of a big cat. Once they had scented their target, the dogs were off like a shot. Glenn gave his dogs space to work and followed their barks from a distance. It was not long before the barking of the dogs ceased and was replaced by long, baying howls indicating that their quarry had been treed. Upon hearing these telltale howls, Glenn accelerated his pace to catch up to his hounds and dispatch the treed mountain lion.

Then a funny thing happened. When Warner Glenn arrived at the scene he did not find a mountain lion. Instead, his dogs had bayed a full-grown jaguar. Glenn did not reach for his rifle, however; he grabbed his camera. After snapping a few pictures, Glenn pulled his dogs off the big cat and allowed it to go on its way. One of the images captured by Mr. Glenn is below. It is simply spectacular.


It turns out that Warner Glenn is no stranger to jaguars. He photographed another jaguar in the Animas Mountains of New Mexico back in February of 2006, also while out on a lion hunt. The photos he captured are thought to be the first pictures ever taken of a live jaguar in the United States (all other photos were of jaguars that had already been killed). Since then, game cameras have captured images of other jaguars, most notably the cat that was dubbed Macho B in Arizona a few years back, but these cats remain extremely rare north of the border and are incredibly elusive. The latest sighting by Mr. Glenn would seem to be a sign that efforts to protect the jaguar, a cat that used to roam a huge part of the American South and Southwest, are having some effect. Hopefully, this latest sighting will spur further efforts to set aside and protect habitat for this magnificent animal.


As is my habit, my mind began to decipher what, if anything, increased jaguar sightings in Arizona and New Mexico might mean for those of us in Texas. I simply see no reason why these big cats would not or could not cross into the Lone Star State if they are able to do so in Arizona and New Mexico. It is likely only a matter of time before a jaguar is photographed on Texas soil. My guess for the most likely area would be the Trans-Pecos Region, maybe the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend country or the Davis Mountains a bit farther north and west.

I also pondered what this could mean for the black panther conundrum I have been investigating for years. As I am sure most of you know, there is no such animal as a black panther. The term is a sort of catch-all for any large, black, long-tailed cat in the American South and Southwest. The animals most commonly referred to as black panthers are really leopards or jaguars exhibiting melanism. While jaguars are native to Texas and do exhibit melanism in about 10% of individuals (this may be a high estimate), I have never really never considered them as the answer to the black panther conundrum. I always reasoned that if melanistic jaguars were being seen and reported, then the much more commonly colored/marked individuals would be showing up as well. That has just not been the case. I have received very few reports of anomalous spotted cats. Where are the golden jaguars with the normal rosettes that make up at least 90% of the population of the species? Should more encounters like that of Warner Glenn come to light, I might have to reconsider the jaguar as the prime suspect in the black panther mystery. I am not there yet but would like nothing better than to get there.

It would mean the jaguar is back where it belongs.

Sources:

Blakeslee, Sandra. "Gone for Decades, Jaguars Steal Back to the Southwest." The New York Times 10 Oct. 2006, Science/Environment sec. The New York Times Company. Web. 13 June 2015. .


Facebook. California Outdoor TV, 3 June 2015. Web. 13 June 2015. .

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Teachable Moment

A couple of days ago, I was on my way home when I spotted something of interest. I thought the experience could serve as a sort of learning moment for everyone, myself included.

I was at a stop sign at a “T” intersection in a rural area when I spotted a large, black animal with a long tail moving about in some high grass in a field directly in front of me. I was immediately very excited. I have been taking reports from people who claim to have seen black panthers for years but have never seen one myself. Could my time have finally arrived?

Fortunately, I was practicing what I preach about having a camera/video recorder ready at all times and was able to get a video of the animal. That video is below.



As you can see, video does not always do justice to what a witness is seeing. The animal I was viewing was much closer than what it appears in the video. I would estimate the animal was not quite 100 yards away. The creature appears like a tiny speck in the video despite my best effort to zoom in on it.

The animal was easily as large as a Labrador retriever and clearly had a long tail. Was this the elusive black panther I have sought?

No.

Sometimes, a Labrador retriever-sized animal is actually a Labrador retriever. I believe that is what I was looking at as I sat at that intersection. Even if I have the breed wrong, I was clearly seeing a dog of some kind. The way the animal moved, the way it held its tail up, etc. all clearly said “dog” to me. I will admit to being excited upon catching my first glimpse of the animal and had the dog stayed low and retreated into the taller grass I would have been left to wonder what I had seen. Fortunately, it stayed long enough for me to make a clear identification.

So, what is the lesson here? First, keep a camera, phone or some kind of video recorder handy at all times. You just never know when you might come upon something of interest. Even if you are unsure of what your own eyes are seeing, you might be able to figure it out later by examining the video. Second, when you see something of interest, stop. Look at it for as long as you can. Had I simply taken a quick look and then proceeded on my trip home, I would have been left to wonder what that animal might have been. By pausing, the animal eventually revealed its identity. Next, understand that the most common answer is usually the correct one. We have discussed Occam’s Razor here before and I believe it holds true most of the time. Last, be skeptical but open-minded. Imagine if this video had been presented to you. Clearly, there is a large, black, long-tailed animal in the shown. Would you have taken a quick peak and decided “black panther” or would you have said it has to be a dog because there is no such thing as a black panther? Either assumption, jumped to prematurely, is a bad thing. Let it all play out and know that saying, “I don’t know” is not a bad thing. If the dog in this video had not cooperated and stayed in my field of view for as long as it did, I might be saying that to you now.

Keep those eyes open and cameras ready.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Movie Review: Minerva Monster

Small town.

The term conjures up certain mental images and clichés in all of us. For some, it might be Andy Griffith’s Mayberry that comes to mind, a place where everyone knows everyone else. Maybe a vision of a one- or two-chair barber shop, where all the men gather on Saturday mornings to solve the world’s problems and talk about the high school football game the night before, would occur to some. Still others might think of a quaint corner café on a town square, likely across the street from a courthouse, where the one waitress working calls everyone “Honey” but, somehow, still manages to make you feel special.

Life is not a Norman Rockwell painting, however, no matter how much it may appear to be so, and there is often more going on in a small town than first meets the eye. It is hard to keep a secret when everyone knows everyone else. Gossip and unusual goings-on are discussed voraciously, just not with outsiders. Folks are friendly but will circle the wagons quickly and look at you with a suspicious eye should you ask too many questions about one of their own. It is often difficult to penetrate this wall of suspicion, especially when the subject is something as unusual as a monster; yet, executive producer Nathan Newcomer, director Seth Breedlove and their team have managed to do just that in their new film, Minerva Monster.


The film documents the goings-on in and near the small town of Minerva, Ohio, back in the summer of 1978. Specifically, the film centers around the experiences of the Cayton family whose home seemed to be at the epicenter of the odd events. Howe Cayton convincingly and effectively relates the events that both terrified and perplexed his family during that summer: the killing of the family dog (broken neck); rocks bombarding the roof of their home from the slope above on an almost nightly basis; something raiding the family’s chicken coop and leaving behind only some brownish hair and a strong stink; and the huge creature that peeked in their kitchen window. Cayton’s story is backed up by James Shannon, Stark County Sheriff’s Deputy and Barbara Galloway, reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal, both of whom spent quite a bit of time at the Cayton home that summer in an attempt to get to the bottom of what was going on. Deputy Shannon’s recounting is especially effective as he states clearly that he believed the family and smelled the powerful ammonia-like stench left behind by the animal himself.

While the film centers around the events of August, 1978, other Minerva residents share tales and make it clear that odd things were happening in the area as far back as 1956 and continue to this very day. Locals share stories of sightings of hairy figures darting across roads, huge creatures peeking in windows, being chased by hair-covered beings, having rocks thrown at them, finding large human-like footprints in the woods, hearing odd wood knocks and catching glimpses of a huge brown animal rummaging around in the town dump. One account comes from a hunter who spotted a tall, hirsute creature while out hunting with his son in September of 2011.

A unique aspect of the film is that only the voices of the people involved are heard. You never hear the interviewer ask a question. Not once is anyone on camera other than those telling their stories. I found this refreshing as most bigfoot-related programs these days are little more than star vehicles for the hosts or guest “experts” who weigh in with their opinions. The approach is also quite effective. Everyone featured comes across as very normal, sane, and most of all, believable. The matter-of-fact way these people relate their experiences makes them all the more intriguing. The filmmakers do not try to convince anyone of the existence of the Minerva monster, they simply allow the local residents to relate their tales. It is up to individual viewers to ponder for themselves the possibility that such creatures could exist.

The film was very well done from start to finish. The atmosphere created by Breedlove’s cinematography and the music written by Brandon Dalo sets the tone perfectly. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this as shots of everyday items and landscapes are made just slightly ominous by the combination of music and witness testimony looped over them. The sequence was beautiful in its subtlety and reels you in quickly.

If I have a criticism, and I am really picking nits here, it is that a bit too much time is spent after that beautiful opening sequence with local historians and the Mayor of Minerva discussing how the town came to be. I understand why this background is necessary, but it could have been abbreviated just a bit in order to capitalize more on the spectacular opening.

I would highly recommend the film. If you are interested in the bigfoot enigma at all, you need to see it. These are the types of stories investigators hear all the time. What these folks went through back in the summer of 1978 is at the heart of the entire phenomenon: ordinary people who experience something extraordinary and who do not really care if you believe them or not. I would warn you, though, if you are looking for dramatic recreations, over-the-top narration, or a plethora of special effects, Minerva Monster is not for you. If you are, instead, interested in what it is really like to talk to people who have seen and experienced things they cannot explain, give it a look. You will be glad you did.

After seeing Minerva Monster, you might find yourself slowing down a bit as you drive through the rural areas and small towns of our great country, realizing that there is no telling what you might see if you just take the time to look. Too, you will understand there is more to most small towns than meets the eye.

Sometimes, much more.

Minerva Monster will debut May 16 at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference. You can order a DVD here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus

The mid to late 1970’s were a time when the general public was fascinated with dangerous marine life. Steven Spielberg’ Jaws was a mega hit in the summer of 1975 and studios scrambled to make similar films about the horrors that lurked beneath the surface of rivers, lakes and oceans. Films like The Great Alligator (1979), Piranha (1978), Barracuda (1978) and The Deep (1977) capitalized on Jaws mania and moviegoers flocked to the theaters. We just could not get enough. One such film that I remember well was Tentacles (1975). It seemed promising as it featured a giant man- eating octopus and starred actors that I had actually heard of like John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda. While the movie was a disappointment, it did make an impression. It led me to look into the question of whether or not the giant squid or a giant octopus might not be the real animal behind the kraken myth and to read all I could about sea monsters in general. I wondered, could a beast like the man-eating octopus depicted possibly be real?


I was reminded of this movie recently when I received an email from a reader asking for my opinion regarding the Oklahoma octopus. I will admit to not knowing much about the story surrounding the alleged octopus-like creature said by some to be prowling several Oklahoma lakes. I had heard a bit about the alleged creature but had not invested any time in looking into the matter. After receiving the email and reminiscing about the summers of my youth filled with movies about aquatic beasts of all kinds, I decided to learn more. I am a sucker for a good story, after all, and this tale fit the bill.

Allegedly, Native American legends going back over 200 years tell of a strange aquatic creature with a taste for human flesh. The beast is described as being the size of a horse, with reddish skin and long arms or tentacles. Today, the creature(s) is said to inhabit both Lake Thunderbird and Lake Ten Killer. According to the myth, both of these lakes have unusually high numbers of drownings and unexplained disappearances of swimmers. The legend was given credibility in the eyes of many when it was featured on an episode of the Animal Planet program Lost Tapes. Is there any truth to any of this? Is there any hard evidence to suggest that an octopus-like creature inhabits these Oklahoma lakes?


I was not able to find much in the way of evidence. As a matter of fact, I really only came up with one intriguing incident where there is physical evidence of an octopus being pulled from a freshwater reservoir and it occurred in Arkansas, Oklahoma’s neighbor to the east. On December 1, 2003, Illinois resident John Mazurek caught a fair-sized octopus that was clinging to one of the gates of the dam at Lake Conway. Mazurek was out fishing when he spotted the octopus and grabbed it. The catch was confirmed by Arkansas Fish and Game officials who said they had no idea how the octopus found its way into the reservoir. They theorized that someone had kept the octopus as a pet but dumped it in the lake once it grew too large. This certainly makes sense but the dumping would have to have taken place not too long before Mr. Mazurek came along, as the octopus was still alive when he caught it. Just how long a marine octopus could survive in a freshwater reservoir is up for debate but most would agree that it would not be very long. Regardless, the capture of a living octopus in a freshwater impoundment, even if it was in Arkansas and not Oklahoma, lends credence to the legends.

Or does it?

There are numerous problems with the idea of a population of octopus, or any other cephalopod, maintaining a breeding population in an inland freshwater lake or reservoir in Oklahoma. The first, and maybe most damning, fact is that there are no natural lakes in Oklahoma. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Every lake of any size at all in the Sooner State is a man-made reservoir. No lake in Oklahoma goes back long enough to make the alleged 200 year-old Native American legends possible. Lake Thunderbird was impounded between 1962-1965 and Lake Ten Killer, though older, was built between 1947-1952. I suspect strongly that there are no Native American legends about such a beast and that these alleged tales were added by some yarn-spinner in order to make the monster sound more plausible. Supporters of the existence of the Oklahoma octopus would likely defend the myths by stating that the creatures lived in the rivers of the state prior to the impoundment of the reservoirs but this is a tough one to swallow, in my opinion, as I have found zero evidence that suggests Native Americans believed such an animal existed. I have found no documentation of these legends and been unable to find anyone who can tell me what tribe(s) is affiliated with the myths (If I am incorrect on this and there are credible sources documenting tribal legends regarding these creatures, please email me and let me know).

Many will argue that other marine animals can survive just fine in freshwater environments. Certainly, there are some such cases. The bull shark, stingray and, on rare occasions, jellyfish are the poster children for this argument. I would simply counter by asking, is there even one species of cephalopod that has demonstrated this ability anywhere in the world? To my knowledge, the answer is no. I do not feel the bull shark/stingray argument is valid in this case.


I might be more open-minded to the possibility of a freshwater octopus if the bodies of water they allegedly inhabit were closer to the coast. For example, if a beast like this were being described in the brackish waters of Sabine Lake in southeast Texas, Lake Pontchartrain in southwest Louisiana or even a river or reservoir a bit more inland like Toledo Bend in east Texas, it would be more plausible. Oklahoma is just too far away from a marine environment to be the home of a large breeding population of cephalopods.

Still other hardcore believers in the octopus legend point to the episode of the Animal Planet series Lost Tapes that featured the creature. The episode centers around a rather unconvincing bit of video where a splash is heard and the videographer wheels to his left in time to catch a glimpse of what might be a tentacle sinking back into the water. To be blunt, the Lost Tapes series is a complete farce that falls into the same category of other mockumentaries produced by Animal Planet’s parent, The Discovery Channel, that featured megalodon and mermaids. It is simply a travesty that these programs are produced at all on allegedly educational networks much less that said networks bill them as being factual. Anyone putting their faith in the existence of the Oklahoma octopus based solely on the fact that it was featured on an episode of Lost Tapes is building their argument on a foundation of sand and setting themselves up for embarrassment.

There are other points to be made that make the existence of the Oklahoma octopus unlikely, at best. Most of these points are addressed quite nicely by Elizabeth Bergey, Ph. D of the Oklahoma Biological Survey in the video below. This presentation was created by Matt Korstjens and posted on Caleb Lack’s Great Plains Skeptic website. The video takes a couple of detours regarding other exotic invasive species in North America and the unreliability of eye-witness testimony that are a bit distracting but the interview with Dr. Bergey is solid. Take a look.



Some may think it odd that a guy that believes bigfoot and black panthers are real flesh and blood animals would doubt the existence of another alleged cryptid. That is okay. The truth is that I simply do not believe everything I hear. Even someone as open-minded to the possible existence of undocumented animals as I am needs more to go on that what is available regarding the Oklahoma octopus. Based on what I have been able to find, and it is not much, I do not feel there is anything to the legend. It is too bad really. What a great story it would be. In the end, however, it is almost certainly just that alone, a good story.


Sources:

Lack, Caleb. "Behold, the Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus." Great Plains Skeptic. 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

"Fisherman Catches Octopus in Lake Conway." THV11.com. Associated Press, 4 Dec. 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

Bergey, Ph. D., Elizabeth. "Liz Bergey's Page." Bergey Lab. University of Oklahoma, 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. .



Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Wisdom of Rene Dahinden


"Something is making those damned tracks."

- Rene Dahinden


Enough said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Didn't I Shoot?

I apologize for being absent for so long. As I mentioned on the Facebook page a little over a week ago, I had to have some minor surgery. The procedure was supposed to be pretty simple and take only 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Things turned out to be more complicated than the doctors anticipated, however, and the procedure that was supposed to take less than an hour turned into 4 hours on the table for me. Naturally, this lengthened the planned recovery time as well. I am now pretty much back to normal and will be trying to get back into the swing of things. This post, while not the topic I had intended for my first article back, is an attempt to do that.

Recently, I was interviewed by Jim Harold for his Paranormal Podcast program. You can download/stream the interview here. During the course of the interview, Jim asked me about the visual I had of what I believe to have been a wood ape in the Sam Houston National Forest in May of 2005 (you can read my account of this sighting here). During this portion of the interview, I mentioned several reasons why I felt it was highly unlikely what I witnessed was a person perpetrating a hoax. Toward the end of my relating of the account, I mentioned, somewhat in jest, that one of the reasons I believe a hoax to have been unlikely was that, “This is Texas. Everybody has a gun. This guy would have been taking his life in his hands running around in an ape suit” (paraphrase). I say “somewhat in jest” because, obviously, not every Texan owns a gun and of those that do, not everyone carries one everywhere they go. The comment was an attempt to inject a bit of levity into the interview while still making a valid point. That point being, while not every Texan carries a gun, a LOT of them do, making a hoax along these lines a very dangerous undertaking.

I received a comment from someone called “Bobodean” regarding the interview and that comment in particular. His (I am assuming the commenter is a male) comment is below:

“Regarding your siting (sic)... if everyone in Texas carries a gun...why didnt (sic) you shoot?”

I cannot be sure whether this commenter is asking a serious question or if he is taking a dig of some kind at me. I suspect it is the latter. Even if that is the case, at the heart of the comment lays a legitimate question, actually more than one. Was I carrying a gun that night as I claim so many Texans do? If so, why did I not attempt to collect the specimen I feel is necessary in order to prove the existence of the wood ape/sasquatch? These questions are fair enough so, here goes.


Was I carrying a gun that night? Yes, I was. I hold a CHL (concealed handgun license) here in the state of Texas and was legally carrying a sidearm that night. According to the latest data I could find, and I am very open to being corrected if there is more current data out there, there are in excess of 500,000 CHL holders in Texas. While this is a significant number, many might find it surprisingly low for a state with a population of approximately 26,528,398 as of 2013. Part of the reason more Texans do not obtain a CHL is that it is legal to carry a firearm in your vehicle here without a license. One only needs a CHL if they wish to carry a concealed weapon after they leave their vehicle. How many unlicensed Texans carry a weapon in their vehicle? Your guess is as good as mine on that, but I will say that the number increases every day. I also think it is safe to assume more Texans living in rural areas carry a weapon in their vehicle than those living in urban areas. So, you see, while I was attempting to bring a bit of levity to the interview when I mentioned the risk any would be hoaxers would be taking by donning an ape suit and traipsing about a lonely forest service road in rural Texas, the point is valid. A lot of Texans, including me, carry a weapon on their person or in their vehicle. To attempt to perpetrate such a hoax is almost suicidal in nature. I was not being hypocritical, as “Bobodean” seems to be implying, by making the statement I did. I was carrying that night. I know many, many other fellow Texans do the same on a daily basis and anyone attempting to perpetrate some kind of bigfoot hoax in this part of the world is taking a huge risk because of it.

Fine, you may think. Point taken. It still does not explain why you did not shoot that night. That is true enough. So, why did I not take the shot?

There are many reasons.

The sighting was fleeting. As detailed in my report, I was sitting in the front passenger seat looking out to the right of the vehicle when my friend brought the car to a stop and asked, “What is that?” I turned, leaned forward to get a better look and watched the subject turn and walk from the road into the woods to our left. The entire incident lasted only a few seconds. There is simply no way I could have unstrapped my seat belt, exited the vehicle, drawn my weapon and fired before the subject disappeared into the forest.

Having said that, and I feel this is very important, I would not have done so even if there had been more time. The first rule taught in any hunting safety course is that you must absolutely, positively identify your target before drawing a bead and pulling the trigger. You get no “do overs” once you take a shot. You have to be sure.
I was not sure what I was looking at that night, not initially. Even though I was out looking and hoping for this exact scenario, it took several seconds for my mind to work out exactly what was standing in that road. By the time I realized what I was likely seeing, it was gone. It is only in hindsight that I have become absolutely convinced what I saw that night was a living, breathing wood ape and not a man in a costume of some kind. Re-enactments, comparative measurements, etc. confirm that what I thought was “man-sized” was actually much larger. I did not have the luxury of all that data that night in 2005. I had only a few fleeting seconds in which to decide what to do. As has been established, I would not have had the time to fire a shot anyway but, even if I had been walking down that road, instead of riding shotgun in a vehicle, and able to draw my weapon quickly, I would still not have taken the shot. I simply could not be sure of what was in front of me in that moment. I do not feel this diminishes the truth behind my statement about a hoaxer taking his life in his hands by pulling a stunt along these lines, however, as there are a lot of folks out there who are less disciplined when it comes to what they are willing to shoot at and under what circumstances.

There are other reasons. I am sure most of you have read accounts where hunters claiming to have had a wood ape in their sights did not pull the trigger because they felt they “didn’t have enough gun.” I certainly fell into that category that night. I was carrying a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that is meant more for self-defense “fight in a phone booth” situations than for taking down big game at 40 yards. I could go on but I am sure you get the idea by now.

Again, while I get the feeling that “Bobodean” was taking a dig at me, he did touch on an aspect of my sighting that I have never explained in detail before. I think this post should serve to explain why I made the statement I did in the interview with Jim Harold and why, despite being armed that night, I did not take the shot.

Any more questions?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast Interview

I was interviewed recently by Jim Harold of The Paranormal Podcast on the topic of wood apes/bigfoot. The interview is now up and ready for listening/download.

I was a little nervous at first but I think, overall, it went well. Jim was gracious, professional and respectful of the topic. Give it a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

You can listen to/download the podcast here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The NAWAC Releases the Ouachita Project Monograph

The mission of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy is to facilitate official recognition and conservation of what it believes is a rare unlisted North American anthropoid species. Pursuant to those objectives, the organization has focused its time and resources in the Ouachita Mountain Ecoregion, dispatching teams to conduct prolonged searches and document all pertinent observations in a location with a history of reported sightings of large ape-like creatures.


The investigations, conducted over the course of four years, ranged from sixty to one hundred twenty days in duration, and produced experiences, evidence, and information thought to be significant, though not definitive to the point of validating the existence of a native North American anthropoid species. Some of the more notable thoughts and impressions recorded by scores of NAWAC team members are described and discussed in the Ouachita Project monograph.

If you entertain the possibility that the North American wood ape might exist, then this is something you are going to want to read. Visit the NAWAC website to download your copy and gain access to more than a dozen of the most intriguing audio clips recorded by the NAWAC in the place we call X.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mountain Lion Sighted, and Photographed, in Bremond, Texas

I received an email last week from a reader in Bremond, Texas detailing experiences with a mountain lion there over the last several days. The lady who wrote the email described losing multiple chickens to the predator. She also claimed to have had a pig injured by the cat. Her email is below. Please note, I have redacted the reader’s last name. I do not know if she would want that revealed. I can tell you that the last name was provided in the original email.


“We live in Bremond, Texas. This cat was on our back porch last night and killed 14 chickens and one of our mini pot bellied pigs from 4:30pm to 6:00pm... we left at 4:30, pig and chickens were fine, came back home about 6:00 and chickens were dead everywhere and pig was tore up in the flank. Then this cat was on our back porch.

Bridget *****”



I get a lot of emails along these lines. Most of the time, the readers who are reporting the incidents never see the predator responsible and can only speculate as to what the culprit might have been. This time is different. Bridget provided not only photos of tracks, but a shot of the cat itself as it sat on her porch. There is no doubt that the cat in the photo is a cougar.

I have replied to Bridget asking for some additional information and permission to visit the property, as it is not far from where I live. I have yet to hear back from her. I have been holding the photo for about a week in the hopes that I would have some more details on the incident but decided to move forward, rather than waiting any longer. I still hope to hear back from Bridget and get some additional details.


Critics will, no doubt, consider the fact that this reader has yet to respond to my queries as a sign something fishy is going on with this report. Certainly, that is possible; however, I feel like this report is likely genuine. The email I received was a matter of fact run down of what happened with no embellishment. Generally, this is a good sign. Could this be a hoax? I suppose so. I really do not get that feeling, however.


Bremond is located in central Texas and is considered to be outside of the normally accepted range of mountain lions in the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife, “The Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country.” TPWD does concede, however that, “Sighting and kill reports indicate that mountain lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.” My experiences, along with the many anecdotal reports I have received would seem to confirm this last statement.

As stated above, I do hope to hear back from Bridget and, possibly, visit the property. Whether that happens or not, mountain lions seem to be making a nice comeback in Texas and are beginning to refill a niche that has long been vacant in most of the Lone Star State. As they do so, there are bound to be some clashes between these predators and rural property owners. Hopefully, lions and people will be able to learn to coexist. I would hate to lose these majestic cats again from all but the westernmost and southernmost parts of Texas.

If that occurs, these magnificent cats might not get another chance.


References:

"Mountain Lion (Puma Concolor)." Texas Parks & Wildlife. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/mlion/>.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Bobcat, a Lynx and Occam's Razor

As I mentioned in a previous post, I captured an image of a large cat on one of my game cameras recently. The cat is larger than a typical bobcat and a golden color. It is also very muscular and robust. When I first came across the image I was initially very excited and thought I might have captured an image of one of the two big cats the property owners claim to have seen over the last two years (one tawny-colored cougar and one large, black, long-tailed cat of unknown species). I thought, “I got him!”


My enthusiasm dampened when I was able to get home and look at the photo on a larger monitor. The cat was, indeed, large and bulky and a tawny color but other characteristics seemed to clearly point to this being a bobcat. The backs of the ears are black and, though it is hard to tell due to increased pixellation in the enlarged image, appear more pointed than the ears of a mountain lion. Too, the coat, while golden in color, appears to have spots and markings typically seen on a bobcat. The markings are not as bold and distinct as those seen on a typical bobcat but they do appear to be there, nonetheless. The clincher is the lack of a long tail. While viewing the original image, I could not tell if the tail was absent or merely curled around the body of the cat or hidden behind foliage. I think it is clear in the enlargement that the tail is present but short and typical of that seen in a bobcat. The case seemed closed.


Still, this was an exceptionally robust specimen. The shoulder area is thickly and massively muscled, much more so than I am used to seeing in a bobcat. The bobcats I have photographed over the years, even the bigger ones, are all pretty lean. This guy looks like he is on steroids. The head shape did not seem quite bobcat-like to me, though I admit this could be due to the angle at which the cat was photographed. I decided to show it to some of my fellow NAWAC members and get their opinions. These are men and women who know the woods and the creatures therein. Several are wildlife biologists by trade. They know their stuff. The majority of them felt this was a bobcat, an unusually bulky and robust bobcat, but a bobcat nonetheless. There were a few, though, who felt the bobcat identification was most likely correct but the possibility that this was a mountain lion with its tail obscured by brush, down between its back legs or wrapped around on the opposite side of the body could not be absolutely dismissed due to the musculature exhibited. They were in the minority, however, so I had pretty much settled on this being nothing more than a big bobcat. As is often the case, however, something occurred next that got me rethinking things.


One NAWAC member, with whom I had shared the photos, visited a big cat rescue sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. He showed the photos (he had them on his phone) to several staff members. In all, six staff members were present and viewed the photos. Two of them said this was a bobcat right away but four, the majority, said that this cat looked far more like a lynx to them. One went so far as to say that if they had not known the photo had been taken in Texas they would absolutely say this was a lynx. It should be noted here that this facility houses a lynx as well as several bobcats and the staff is well versed in the differences between the two animals. It brought to mind a story the property owners told me when I first made their acquaintance. They had told me that the previous owner had related to them stories about the wildlife that they occasionally caught glimpses of on the property. They related to me that the previous owner specifically told them to keep an eye out for a lynx. When asked if he meant bobcat, the man said he had those on the property as well but there was a lynx occasionally seen there too. I did not really think much about that story until my friend related the opinion of the staff at the big cat sanctuary.


Is it possible? Could a lynx be roaming this part of north-central Texas?

Let’s start with the fact that the word lynx is often used universally to describe any one of two medium-sized wildcats in North America. One, as we have already established is the bobcat (Lynx rufus), the other is the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). The bobcat is basically found everywhere. They range from southern Canada, the continental U.S. and northern Mexico. The Canada lynx inhabits forests and tundras across Canada, into Alaska and some northern states. At one time these cats roamed much farther south but were extirpated by human hunting and trapping. Bobcats and Canada lynx are similar in appearance (pointed black-tipped, tufted ears and short “bobbed” tails. The coats of both species vary quite a bit with cats from more forested areas generally being darker while desert dwelling or tundra dwelling specimens are generally lighter. Both species exhibit a wide range of dark spots, bars and markings though the markings on lynx are usually less pronounced. The average lynx is larger than the average bobcat and has much larger and broader feet than its southern cousin. The larger feet help the lynx support its weight on snow. Since the two species look so much alike, it is easy to see why some people use the term lynx interchangeably with both animals.

But could a true Canada lynx be present in Texas?

The answer to that question should be, and probably is, no. There is no population of Canada lynx in Texas; however, they may be closer than many think. In 2010 the Canada lynx was reintroduced in the remote San Juan Mountains of Colorado where they had been absent since the 1970’s. Recovery has been slow. It is estimated that only 141 lynx litters were born between 2003-2010. Even so, wildlife officials have stated that the survival rates of these cats are outpacing the mortality rate. Possible evidence of this is a recent lynx sighting in southwest Colorado. A passing motorist snapped the photo below of what are clearly two Canada lynx. The San Juans are roughly 800 miles from the property where I have my cameras but only 300 miles from the Texas Panhandle border. Could a lynx have made its way into the panhandle and then meandered all the way to north-central Texas? Unlikely but, I suppose it is possible, if just barely so.


What about the old standby for anomalous cat sightings? The “it is an escaped or released exotic pet” explanation? Normally, I loathe this reasoning, as it is the most common line heard from wildlife officials when a mountain lion or black panther is reported. In the case of a possible lynx sighting, however, I must entertain it as a possibility. Both lynx and bobcat kittens are not hard to come by or acquire. They are also relatively cheap and cost less than some domestic cat and/or dog breeds. The average price I found was in the $1500-$1700 range. These are medium-sized animals and do not necessarily have to have the large enclosures of exotic big cats. They are billed by these kitten brokers as being “loving, loyal and, when tamed properly, extremely tolerant of other animals.” Personally, I do not approve of owning any sort of wild animal as a pet; however, many others do not share this opinion and the trade has thrived. Ownership of bobcats and lynx is much more common than ownership of larger cats like leopards or cougars. I suspect some of these owners have found their pets to be less “loving and loyal” than they expected and have turned them loose. It would be easier to justify dumping a bobcat or lynx than releasing a true exotic cat like a leopard or tiger. They are, after all, native to North America and far less dangerous to people. It is not implausible, to me at least, to think a pet lynx was released in or near my study site. Again, maybe not likely, but not completely out of the question.


All of that being said, I will paraphrase Occam’s razor and say that the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation. The theory that a wild Canada lynx found its way to Texas requires a whole lot of faith. The escaped pet theory, while more plausible in my mind, still is a bit of a stretch. No, the most likely answer, requiring the fewest assumptions and least amount of speculation, is that I photographed a bobcat. It is one heck of a bobcat, bigger and more muscular than most but, still, a bobcat. There is plenty to eat out there and this cat is in his prime and reaping the benefits of a healthy environment.

My cameras remain in place, documenting the wildlife of this remarkable piece of land. Until, and unless, I get another photo of this cat that changes my mind, a bobcat it is. I just cannot go out on that lynx limb right now no matter how exciting it would be to document the species here in Texas. It is just too big a leap.

Darn that Occam and his razor.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ellis County Camera Project: The Texas Zoo

This past weekend, I was able to get up to Ellis County and check on my game cameras. The property on which the cameras are placed is a very rich environment where all manner of wildlife is thriving. The property sits on the banks of Waxahachie Creek and is a combination of hardwood forest and pasture land. The property owners have had a couple of encounters with large cats, which is what led me to the property originally. I have had cameras on site on and off for the better part of two years now. I have captured all manner of wildlife in photos here. The property is almost like a zoo featuring animals native to Texas. I think this will be made clear with the photos featured in this post.

Before I get to the photos, however, I want to let it be known that I am holding one photo back for the time being. Do not get too excited as I do not have a photo of a wood ape or a black panther. The animal in question is, no doubt, a cat but the identity of this feline is something that is being debated. I had pretty much settled on the species of this animal when I received a phone call yesterday from a friend of mine who had visited a big cat rescue facility on business. I had shared the photo of this cat with him, along with others with backgrounds in wildlife biology, and he showed it to the staff of this facility. What they told him was surprising. I am hoping to get in touch with the staff of this facility personally to get their full opinion on what sort of cat might be roaming this section of Waxahachie Creek. Once I do, I will post the information and the photo.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos below.