Monday, August 6, 2018

Sasquatch Classics: The "Caddo Critter" and the "Hawley Him"

Not many think of Texas when the subject of bigfoot is mentioned. Places like Oregon, northern California, or Washington are far more likely to come up in any discussion of where wood apes might be located. Few realize that the Lone Star State actually has a rich and long history of encounters with large, bipedal, ape-like creatures. The few who are aware of this fact are drawn to the eastern half of the state; places like the Big Thicket National Preserve or the Piney Woods region that spills over into western Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas are most often the areas of interest for would-be monster hunters, and rightfully so. The woods, river bottoms, and swamps of this part of Texas have long been associated with “boogers,” “wild men,” and “bush apes.” Not many, however, bother to consider visiting west Texas to look for these creatures; after all, bigfoot – if it exists at all – lives in heavily wooded areas and not the arid scrublands of the west. However, if history is any indication, this assumption might be completely wrong.

Caddo, Texas is all but a ghost town these days. It is an unincorporated community in Stephens County that, as of the 2000 census, is only home to 40 residents. The entire county is sparsely populated with only 9,630 people calling it home. More than half of these souls – 5,780 of them - live within the city limits of the county seat of Breckenridge. The remaining 3,850 people are spread throughout the county’s 921 square miles. This quiet west Texas community briefly became the epicenter of all things bigfoot in the summer of 1964 when an unidentified animal, soon dubbed the “Caddo Critter” by the local media, made several appearances in the area. The animal was first seen by a Caddo resident named Charlie Gantt about 11:30 on two consecutive nights in July. Gantt “unloaded his gun at the critter, but apparently missed,” according to an article in the July 20 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News. The animal was seen subsequently by other Caddo area residents and a full-scale furor erupted. Jo Roberts, a correspondent for the Abilene paper who was covering the story said, “Everyone has said the same thing; it is about seven-feet-tall, four-feet-wide, and covered with hair.” After the first incident, Stephens County Sheriff Chase Booth and the Texas Highway Patrol (DPS), along with a dozen or so area residents searched for the animal with no luck.

It would come to light after the Gantt encounter that residents of the area around Caddo had been seeing the creature for at least two weeks prior. The media that covered the story were convinced the people had seen something and were “genuinely concerned, if not scared.” Roberts wrote that every yard was lit up by outside lights and that the populace was armed. “They were sitting up last night to shoot whatever it was,” she said in the July 21 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News. “If it’s a prank, it’s a highly dangerous one; someone could get killed.” Deputy Sheriff Edgar Martin, too, did not doubt that the people of Caddo had seen something real. “No doubt they’ve seen something, but we don’t know what it is,” he said. As the days went by, more Caddoans claimed to have seen the “critter.” 9-year-old Gene Couch said he saw the creature only 200 yards from his house as he was walking to a fishing spot. His mother could not confirm her son’s account, but did add, “Something has been fighting the dogs at night.” Another mother and son claimed to have seen the beast while walking near a stock pond. According to an article in the July 23 edition of the Amarillo Globe-Times, the boy saw the creature first and pointed it out to his mother. The animal turned around to face them, growled, and then began throwing rocks at them. After a minute or so, it fled. “My boy turned white as a sheet,” the mother said.

The sightings soon stopped and many locals and members of the media began to question the veracity of the dozen or so people who steadfastly insisted they had seen the creature. Some expressed their doubts to local newspapers. One John Luttrell is quoted in the Abilene Reporter-News as saying, “Mr. Gantt probably saw a buck deer.” The 72-year-old Gantt – a lifelong Caddo resident – was understandably insulted and annoyed by such talk. Having lived in the area his entire life, Gantt certainly knew what a deer looked like and was adamant that what he saw, and fired upon, “looked like a gorilla.” Soon, others chimed in on what Caddo residents had likely seen. Everything from black bears to wayward yaks were bandied about as suspects, but no resolution was ever reached. 

While most soon put the whole “critter craze” behind them, residents of Haskell, about 70 miles to the northwest, began to suspect that the creature terrorizing Caddo residents might be the same animal that had been seen many times in and around their small town. While the “Haskell Rascal” was rumored to be much larger than the “Caddo Critter,” the parallels did not go unnoticed. The Haskell County Sheriff at the time – last name of Garrett – said, “If the critter was an even four-foot taller, it just could be our varmint walking on his hind legs.” According to locals, the “rascal” had been spotted, off and on, for the previous 80 years. Rascal mania had hit a high-water mark just the summer before (1963) when a series of livestock attacks were blamed on the creature. Residents swore the “rascal” did its dirty work within a 60-mile radius, which could put it very close to the community of Caddo. Noted bigfoot researcher, John Green, wrote in his classic Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us, “The residents here (Haskell) claim that the ‘Haskell Rascal’ and the ‘Caddo Critter’ are one and the same. Although the Haskell creature has been reported for 80 years, I have had difficulty finding descriptions of it. Residents claim that it spends summers in the Kiowa Peak area, west of Haskell, and that it prowls in the lowlands during the winter, killing and feeding on livestock." While official documentation of encounters with the “Haskell Rascal” were hard to come by, it would not be too very long before the similar experiences of the residents of another small town in the region would be very well chronicled.


Roughly 82 miles west of Caddo and 42 miles south of Haskell, tucked in the southeastern corner of Jones County, sits the small town of Hawley. Even smaller than Haskell – as of the 2010 census there were only 634 people living in the town – Hawley seems a most unlikely place for a flap of ape-man sightings, yet that is exactly what took place in the summer of 1977. It all started in early July when two boys – Larry Suggs (15) and Tom Roberts (14) – were clearing brush from the property of the Abilene Boys Ranch where they lived at the behest of ranch owner Bob Scott. At approximately 10:00 a.m. the two boys sat down to take a break. They were soon startled by the sounds of branches breaking and a rain of rocks, seemingly hurled in their direction from the brush. Suggs was hit in the leg by one of the flying rocks. The boys then got a glimpse of their attacker. “Whatever it was, he looked like kind of an ape, but still a man,” said Suggs. “He had huge arms. They hung down to his knees. You’d have to see him to believe it.” Seeing their attacker was enough to convince the boys to flee to the nearby home of Mr. Ed McFarland. The McFarland’s daughter, Renee (15), grabbed a deer rifle and headed back out to the sighting location with the boys (news articles are not clear on whether or not Renee’s parents were home at the time). The trio of teens investigated the area where the sighting had taken place and soon encountered the creature again. The sight of the beast rattled Renee who handed the rifle to Suggs and said, “You shoot it.” Suggs took aim and fired at the ape-like animal from a distance of only about 40 yards. The teen missed and the recoil of the gun knocked him to the ground. Fortunately for the frightened youths, the shot was enough to send the animal running. It crashed through brush that would have been impenetrable to a normal man and made its escape. Footprints were later found at the spot where the teens watched “Him” dive into the brush. When interviewed by the media, Bob Scott said that he had never seen anything like the animal described by the three youngsters, but recently lost 21 goats from a pen. The goats had disappeared without a trace. No blood, no broken fence, no nothing. A few goat carcasses were later found in the brush, not too far from the sighting location, but the rest were just gone. Jones County Sheriff’s officers felt that coyotes had likely killed the goats found in the brush but could offer no explanation for the 18, or so, others that had vanished.

The incident hit Texas newspapers on July 7 and it wasn’t long before monster hunters descended upon Bob Scott’s ranch. One such hunter was Ed Nash, who along with his step-son, David Woods, and a reporter armed with a 35mm camera, decided to hunt for “Him” in a tangle of stunted oak trees dubbed the “chinry” by locals. The chinry forms the  dense jungle of entangled brush that runs through most of southern Jones County and often rises to heights of five-feet or more. Traveling through the chinry is all but impossible on foot except on established game trails. Nash expressed optimism that the rain that had fallen over the previous two days would make it more likely that the creature they sought would leave tracks. He would be disappointed, however, to find that he and his step-son were far from the first hunters to search the area. Nash cursed the carelessness of previous monster hunters, and himself for not getting to the ranch sooner, as he found mostly boot prints on the game trails. Finally, while searching an overgrown and long abandoned dirt road deep in the chinry, Woods discovered fresh footprints left by a creature with toes. An article in the July 11 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News said, “The prints clearly showed the impression of four toes and the ball of a foot as if whatever made the tracks walked upright on its toes. The prints were approximately five-inches wide and from their distance from each other looked as if their creator had a four-foot stride.” Frustratingly, no photographs of these prints were included with the article. After examining the prints, Nash said, “There is something out there and he is running around barefoot. Whether it is a monster or a man in a bigfoot disguise I can’t say.” When asked about the likelihood of the tracks being made by a human, Nash added that anyone running around in the thorn-infested chinry barefoot would have to be “kind of a lunatic.”


It was not long before the skeptics came out of the woodwork. Some people simply said the teenagers had made the entire incident up; others believed that they had been frightened by something, but certainly it was no monster. Papers began printing insulting hack pieces that insinuated the whole thing had been one big hoax. One piece that appeared in the July 15 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News in the “Page One” column of writer Katharyn Duff is a good example. In the piece, Duff had little to say about the “Him.” Instead she harkened back to a flap of sightings of a creature back in the 1960s she called the “Haskell Thang,” which was likely just another term for the aforementioned “Haskell Rascal.” In the column, Duff recognizes that encounters with 7-foot tall ape-like creatures had been reported in the Haskell/Hawley area for at least the last 15-20 years; however, she quickly threw cold water on the entire phenomenon by propagating the theory of a Texas Tech geologist named Dr. Frank Conselman who felt the “Thang” had been nothing but an ocelot. Dr. Conselman’s response when asked how people could mistake a huge, hair-covered biped for a small, spotted wild cat? “Why not an ocelot?” he said. The absurdity of this position is so apparent no more time need be spent on it; however, many similar explanations from various skeptics – none quite as insulting as that of Dr. Conselman – continued to roll in from all corners of the country.

The “Hawley Him” remained on the minds of local residents despite the tongue-in-cheek explanations offered by skeptics. Some even attempted to capitalize on “Him” mania. One notable example was when the Hawley First Baptist Church provided a space on their VBS invitations - mailed out to local children - to draw and color their idea of what the “Hawley Him” looked like. The “Him” gimmick proved effective as a then record 109 children attended VBS at the church that summer.


Some outsiders did take the “Him” sightings more seriously. Oil man Jack Grimm – who was sort of a poor man’s Tom Slick – offered a $5,000 reward for the capture of “Him.” The stipulations were simple: the creature had to be captured unharmed and had to be a previously unidentified species. “I don’t want to pay a reward for a bear or a gorilla that escaped from the zoo,” Grimm said. Interestingly, Grimm had the same reward posted for the capture of a “red-eyed monster” said to be roaming southeast Oklahoma. Alas, no one was able to claim the bounty and sightings of the “Him” became fewer and farther between.

There has not been a rash of monster sightings from this area of west Texas that can approach the mania caused by the “Caddo Critter,” “Hawley Him,” or “Haskell Rascal” back in the 1960s through the late 1970s. To say that there have been no sightings, however, would not be accurate. A quick search of the databases of three bigfoot research groups active in Texas revealed a handful of interesting accounts from the nine-county region (see graphic below for the counties). The North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC) has one report in its database from Callahan County. The sighting took place only 41 miles southwest of Caddo in 2005. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) has two sightings from the region: a 1977 sighting that took place outside of Ranger in Eastland County only 19 miles south of Caddo and a 1988 sighting that occurred near Throckmorton, in the county of the same name, just 32 miles east of Haskell. Finally, the database of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Researchers Organization (GCBRO) includes one 2001 Jones County sighting that took place near historic Fort Phantom Hill, a mere 11 miles from Hawley. Certainly, this handful of sightings – spread out over a 28-year period, with none more recent than 2005 – do not grab the attention or the imagination like the flap of sightings in in the 1960s and 1970s. They should, however, make us wonder if, at least occasionally, wood apes do not wander up the riparian areas paralleling the Leon, Colorado, and Brazos Rivers into west Texas. Texas still contains thousands of acres of uninhabited, lonesome country, especially west of the I-35 corridor. Though most of it is privately owned these days, few humans lay eyes on vast tracts of property for weeks or months at a time. It is the domain of domesticated cattle, the coyote, rattlesnake, and red-tailed hawk. There remains, even now, plenty of room for a large animal to, if not live permanently, pass through the region with very little risk of detection by human beings.


 I believe that the rich deciduous forests of the eastern half of the Lone Star State are a more ideal environment for a large ape; however, the more I study primates, the more I learn just how amazingly resilient and adaptable they really are. That being the case, maybe having the perfect forest habitat is not the most important aspect for their survival. Maybe the most important factor as to whether or not wood apes can survive in Texas is isolation. If there is one thing west Texas has, it is vast tracts of lonesome country where humans do not spend much time.

I find the stories of the “Hawley Him” and the “Caddo Critter” more credible than I thought I would when I started researching for this post (there is very little documentation on the “Haskell Rascal,” but it fits the narrative of what was going on in the area during the 1960s and 1970s). Rumors persist of sightings in the area, but nobody seems to want to talk about it. Perhaps they learned their lesson about media attention back in the 1960s-70s. I personally heard a couple of old-timers discussing some kind of large creature that was harassing their livestock near Cross Plains in Callahan County just a couple of years ago. I am a bit embarrassed to say I was eavesdropping on their private conversation while I was in line at a convenience store/gas station in Cross Plains. I think they noticed me listening in as they clammed up and gave me the stink-eye pretty good until I left the store; chastened. I have also heard tales of some very intriguing incidents at the cemetery near the old ghost town of Belle Plain in Callahan County (I actually did a post on these events in 2015; you can access that post here). Visitors to the old cemetery have reported hulking, hair-covered creatures “twice the size of an athletic man” roaming the back portion of the property. More common than visuals are the reports of long, powerful howls, deep growls, and “mumbling” made by something that remains in the shadows and just out of sight. 

It all begs the question, could the “Hawley Him” or “Caddo Critter” still haunt the region? I am afraid I cannot give you the answer. The residents of the nine county area discussed in this post probably know, you might be thinking. That is likely true, but trust must be earned before west Texans open up, especially when it comes to something as strange as monsters roaming the countryside. Earning such trust takes time. Maybe one day a reader of this site or others like it will decide to share what they know. For now, though, nobody is talking.

Sources:

“Gorilla-Type Animal Hunted In Caddo Area.” Abilene Reporter-News, 20 July 1964, p. 14.

“Caddo Residents Take Up Arms, Watch For 'Critter'.” Abilene Reporter-News, 21 July 1964, p. 48.


Bruce, Bob. “Caddo's 'Critter Jitters' Aren't Total.” Abilene Reporter-News, 22 July 1964, p. 1.


Bruce, Bob. “'Critter Talk' Takes Heat Off Caddo Conversations.” Abilene Reporter-News, 22 July 1964, p. 51.


“Yak Suspected Of 'Crittering'.” Abilene Reporter-News, 24 July 1964, p. 16.


“Opinion Divided in Caddo On Existence of Critter.” Amarillo Globe-Times, 23 July 1964, p. 41.


“'That' Yak Still Free.” Abilene Reporter-News, 12 Aug. 1964, p. 8.


“Blue Planet Project - 03.” Cattle Mutilations, www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vida_alien/blueplanetproject/blueplanetproject03.htm.


Green, John. Sasquatch: the Apes among Us. Hancock House, 2006. Page 184


“'The Hawley WHAT?' Asks Jones Sheriff.” Abilene Reporter-News, 7 July 1977.


“'Hawley Him' on the Loose.” Corsicana Daily Sun, 7 July 1977, p. 13.


Downing, Roger. “Abilenians Go to Hawley to Hunt 'Him'.” Abilene Reporter-News, 11 July 1977.


Duff, Katharyn. “Page One.” Abilene Reporter-News, 15 July 1977, p. 1.


“Incident Report Locator.” North American Wood Ape Conservancy, woodape.org/reports/report/state?state=TX#allRegions=screen.


“Reports for Texas.” Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, bfro.net/GDB/state_listing.asp?state=tx.


Hamilton, Bobby. “Sightings Encounters Texas.” Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization, gcbro.com/txdb1.htm.

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