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Exploring American Monsters: Nebraska

The state of Nebraska sits in the center of North America and is part of the Great Plains. The population of the state is nearly 2 million people, and is scattered with small towns. Fewer than 3,000 people live in 89 per cent of the towns in Nebraska, which gives the state the feel of a Norman Rockwell painting. Nebraska is one of the biggest producers of beef and corn in the country. Famous Nebraskans include such diverse personalities as religious leader Malcolm X, comedian Larry the Cable Guy, the fourth richest man in the world Warren Buffett, Oscar-winning actor (and Superman’s dad) Marlon Brando, and U.S. President Gerald Ford. Although Nebraska is mostly prairie land, it is dotted with a number of lakes, such as the former Alkali Lake (now Walgren Lake), home of the Alkali Lake Monster.

A depiction of the Alkali Lake Monster.

A depiction of the Alkali Lake Monster.

Alkali Lake Monster

Lurking in the depths of this 50-acre lake in northwest Nebraska is a monster, sightings of which stretch back into Native American legend. The forty- to 100-foot-long creature resembles a giant brown alligator with a rhinoceros horn on its nose – and it smells awful.

According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, the earliest newspaper account of the creature was in a 1922 edition of the Hay Springs News. An article the next year in the Omaha (Nebraska) World Herald brought more attention to the lake. The World Herald article states J.A. Johnson and two friends were camping on the shores of the lake when the creature interrupted their relaxing campout. Johnson said the monster saw the three men, and thrashed its tail, roared, and dropped under the water. Local residents blamed the monster for animal disappearances in the area.

Although in later years the monster was thought to be a hoax created by newspaperman John G. Maher, the nearby town of Hay Springs isn’t giving up on it quite yet. They sell too many T-shirts.

A Neanderthal in Nebraska?

A Neanderthal in Nebraska?

The Loess Man

In 1894, men digging for Native American remains ten miles north of Omaha, Nebraska, uncovered a skull they couldn’t readily identify, so they packed it up and forgot about it. Twelve years later, after a similar skull was also found in the state by Robert Fletcher Gilder from the University of Nebraska, they sent the skull to Gilder for comparison. Gilder was certain they had uncovered remains of Neanderthal man.

In the 16 November 1906 issue of “Science Magazine,” Gilder claimed exactly that. “The skulls are of the Neanderthal type,” he wrote. “With thick protruding brows, low forehead devoid of frontal eminences, large parietal eminences, narrow temples, thick skull walls, and small brain capacity.”

Neanderthal in the center of North America would have shattered the accepted theory that only modern man migrated to that continent across the Bering Strait land bridge 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Neanderthals – which only lived in Africa and Eurasia – went extinct 40,000 years ago.

Anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka in his book, “Skeletal remains suggesting or attributed to early man in North America” (1907), set out to discredit the Loess Man, claiming since the skulls were discovered only four feet in the loess earth (loosely compacted windblown sediment), they were modern skulls, and couldn’t be Neanderthal. However he couldn’t explain the protruding brows, or the low forehead.

Neanderthals in Nebraska? Who knows?

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Phantom Kangaroos

In 1958, Grand Island, Nebraska, businessman Charles V. Wetzel was fishing on the Platte River about eight miles outside of town when he saw something that shouldn’t be. According to a 28 July 1958 Associated Press story, Wetzel thought he saw a deer, until it moved, bounding away on enormous back legs in 10-foot leaps. He’d seen a kangaroo about 8,700 miles away from its home in Australia.

Kangaroos have been seen worldwide in areas without native populations since the 1830s, and since the only native population of kangaroo is in Australia, these encounters are largely a mystery. Sightings stretch across North America, France, the U.K., Japan, and Poland. Although in some countries, like Poland, escaped kangaroos have formed colonies, that can’t account for all of the sightings of these bounding marsupials that are so far away from home.

The late, great Christopher Lee, who may have been alive (or at least undead) in 1895.

The late, great Christopher Lee, who may have been alive (or at least undead) in 1895.

Vampire

An article by Dale Bacon, the assistant curator of the Nebraska State Historical Society, claims Nebraska cowboys encountered a vampire in the late 1890s. And with a name like Bacon, I trust him.

In 1895 around Pine Ridge, Nebraska, ranch hands, cattle, and wildlife were reportedly attacked by a madman. Ranch hands witnessed this man chase down cattle, wrestle them to the ground, and rip at the bovine throat with his hands and teeth. The man would then lap “the blood of his victim the way a dog laps water.”

A cowboy named Jack Lewis ran into this man people now called a vampire. Alone in the darkness one night, the vampire attacked Lewis. However, Lewis was able to pull his gun and fire two shots. The vampire ran into the night, and Lewis and other ranch hands chased him on horseback. They never found the vampire. Back at camp, the hands tended Lewis’ wounds, which were teeth and claw marks on his face and neck.

If there's a Bigfoot in Nebraska, Nebraska's ready.

If there’s a Bigfoot in Nebraska, Nebraska’s ready.

Bigfoot

When the discussion of Bigfoot comes around the first place in mind usually isn’t Nebraska. However, there have been plenty of Big Hairy sightings in the Cornhusker State, more than two-dozen during a spate in 1977 alone. One sighting north of Lincoln, Nebraska, was as recent as July 2014.

According to an article in the Lincoln Journal Star, a fifteen-year-old boy driving a vehicle on a gravel road near the Platte River at about 5:30 a.m. saw a hairy, seven-foot-tall creature walk into the road in front of his vehicle. The beast went on two legs, like a man. When it crossed the road it disappeared into the trees. Later, the boy and a friend returned to the spot and found strange hair stuck to a broken cornstalk.

“It certainly generated a lot of coffee shop conversation,” Saunders County Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz told the Journal Star. Although Stukenholtz told the Omaha World Herald he doesn’t think the boy saw a Bigfoot, he also doesn’t think the boy is pulling a hoax. He also didn’t know if the hair had been submitted for testing.

Apart from this new sighting, Nebraska Game and Parks conservation agent Mike Luben said he’s received three calls about Bigfoot in the past 24 years. “To be honest with you,” he told the Journal Star. “It’s kind of like a mountain lion call. Most don’t turn out to be mountain lions, but you never know.”

Up next: Nevada.