Julius E. “Smokey” Crabtree was, in addition to being one of the most colorful characters ever to reside in the Jonesville, Arkansas area, also one of the few in his community who garnered fame. Though, as he might have said in due modesty, it was “to an objectionable degree,” resulting from his involvement with the cult classic film, The Legend of Boggy Creek.
The movie, which became a classic among drive-in thrillers of the era, was directed by Charles B. Pierce, a salesman from Texarkana who borrowed a sum of around $100,000 from a trucking company in the area, and hired area high school students and other locals to star in the film. In many cases, the “actors” on screen were those who claimed to have their own experiences with a strange monster that supposedly stalked the swampy stretches of Boggy Creek.
Their stories, reenacted before an old 35-millimeter camera that Pierce used to make the film, were forever immortalized in a cinematic statement on cryptozoology that no one probably ever guessed would garner the kind of success that it did.
Of the late Smokey Crabtree’s involvement, the outdoorsman claimed he and his family endured constant turmoil following the film’s release, ranging from trespassing by curious “monster hunters” on his family property, to personal disputes he had with Pierce after the film was completed. Crabtree maintained that Pierce had wrongly taken advantage of the area locals in a number of cases while making the film.
Such claims of duress would eventually lead Crabtree to take legal action against Pierce, in addition to authoring a book about his experiences with the filmmaker and, of course, its controversial subject/ Smokey and the Fouke Monster was published by Crabtree in 1974, a self-published offering that related a number of stories and facets about Crabtree’s upbringing and lifestyle in the remote Boggy Creek. It also detailed encounters his family had with the regions famous “beast” over the years.
In particular, a very frightening incident is recounted which involved his son, James Lynn Crabtree, which had also been dramatized for Pierce’s film. The story involved young James encountering a manlike creature while hunting one day, which purportedly attempted to follow him home. Although he acknowledges how badly frightened his son had been after coming into close proximity with the beast during the hunting trip, Crabtree expressed that the creature people had been seeing around Fouke was very shy, and seldom seemed to display aggression or pursue confrontation of any kind. The animal his family and others had dealt with, in Crabtree’s opinion, had generally maintained a wary attitude, and a healthy distance, whenever people were nearby.
In his book, Crabtree also managed to present some rather compelling information about the alleged Fouke Monster itself, which hadn’t seemed to be widely reported elsewhere at the time the encounters with the beast were making headlines. Of particular interest had been Crabtree’s interpretation of one of the most famous incidents involving the Fouke Monster, which became known as the “Ford incident.” This scenario, dramatized throughout the climax and conclusion of The Legend of Boggy Creek, detailed a supposed “attack” the beast launched against a young family, which led to a nighttime standoff between the creature and the armed inhabitants of the rural residence.
When newspapers in the community began reporting that a family was attacked and terrorized by this animal for the duration of an entire evening, Crabtree was skeptical; in fact, he suspected an entirely different series of events, none of which involved any kind of monster.
According to Crabtree, it was well known that an old horse had lived in the area where the Ford’s rental property had been, which used to go from house to house in the evenings, stomping through flower beds and making a general nuisance. “He had been seen around the old abandoned house that the Fords moved into,” Crabtree wrote. “The morning after the Fords shot the monster away from their house, the poor old horse was found shot to death by a shotgun, only a short distance from the Ford house.”
Crabtree recounts another incident that was later recreated for The Legend of Boggy Creek, where a set of footprints believed to have been left by the monster are being examined in a farmer’s field. It was popularly reported around the time of the Ford encounter, as this film sequence suggests, that the creature left large, bare-footed tracks, similar to other cases of supposed manlike monsters that are reported elsewhere in America. However, one rather peculiar detail, apart from their size, had marked the prints as being nearly implausible: the impressions only showed evidence of three toes on the foot that made them.
This detail had been the death nail in the entire affair, according to one local college archaeologist named Frank Schambach, who said that the incredible three-toed appearance of the prints indicated “a 99 percent chance the tracks are a hoax." He argued that all primates and hominids have five toes, and that the region would likely have been inhospitable to any variety of wild ape, particularly in the winter. “I don’t think a monkey could survive a winter here,” he told the Associated Press. “There are, and have never been, monkeys native to North America, so that rules out anything that could have been left over from times past.”
While Schambach had argued, specifically, that all known primates have five toes, the descriptions of the Fouke Monster footprints having been three-toed may not be entirely correct. In his book, Crabtree also recounted his detailed observations of a series of footprints his brother-in-law, Willie Smith, found in one of the soybean fields on his property; it was the discovery of this set of prints that purportedly inspired Pierce’s dramatization of the path of three-toed impressions in a farmer’s field in The Legend of Boggy Creek. Crabtree claimed there had been incredible detail apparent in the best prints from the lot, including “lines in the bottom of its bare feet.” Based on the instep and the structure of the foot, as well as its size, Crabtree believed that the animal which left the prints had been female, and that the meandering path evident in the creature’s spoor indicated that it had turned at one point, perhaps to signal to a mate that had been lingering past the edge of the forest nearby.
Of these determinations, it should be noted that Crabtree had been an avid hunter and trapper his entire life, and was, by all accounts, known to be an expert at tracking and identifying animals based on their spoor. Thus, it was his ability to hunt creatures indigenous to Boggy Creek, as well as navigate the dense backcountry of rural Arkansas, that prompted Charles Pierce to hire Crabtree in the first place, serving as a guide while Pierce filmed wildlife for his upcoming “documentary.”
For these reasons, it may be important to consider what is, arguably, the most curious detail Crabtree relates about the footprints left in Willie Smith’s field, which contrasts considerably with other reports of supposed three-toed prints from around the same time:
There was a small toe, or thumb like imprint back about five inches from the big toe on the inside of the foot. Apparently, this had no bone in it. It gave way under pressure like a dew claw on a dog’s leg. No matter whether the track was deep in the sand or shallow the imprint from the thumb or side toe, was the same depth in the sand.
The addition of a fourth, apelike “side toe” certainly does cause the otherwise freakish three-toed foot of our presumed Fouke Monster to appear more recognizable, for in primates what would be called a hallux, or big toe, is often positioned laterally relative to the other toes—the exception to this rule, of course, would be humans, in addition to many of our upright walking ancestors.
Why a creature that evolved to have a bipedal gait, and yet still possesses this peculiar feature, is indeed strange. Hence, while the presence of a fourth toe does not garner enough digits to account for any known primate species, the otherwise very alien-looking footprints of this creature, if Smokey Crabtree is to be believed, do end up sounding a bit more like some variety of ape; and based on the woodsman’s other observations, perhaps “she” had been a wary one, too.
Such observations may not quite redeem our Fouke monster in the face of evolutionary plausibility, but there are at least more pieces to the puzzle here that surface, which previously had been nearly overlooked, had it not been for Crabtree’s eye for detail. Hence, Crabtree’s contributions to the strange affair of Arkansas’s “Fouke Monster”, esoteric though they may have been in his self-published works, were perhaps among the most important, in that they offered a more introspective and detailed look at the alleged creature, which so many over the years have been all-too-quick to label a “monster”.