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Strange Tales of Apes in Appalachia: Mystery Beasts in Carolina Folklore

Throughout the Southeastern United States, there are countless renditions on the common legend of Boogers, Bogey Men, and nocturnal manlike beasts said to roam the hills.

As a child, I was always fascinated by one such story told by a family friend who, always with a bit of hesitation, described an odd looking, man-like animal that he and his cousin startled one night while it was invading a chicken coop on the hill behind his aunt’s home in Madison County, North Carolina.

“I don’t know what it was,” he would tell my brother and me. “For all I know, maybe it was some kind of crazy old man.” Of course, this assertion seemed strange, since the old man was said to have been covered in black hair, except for the areas around the face and the hands, which our friend described as “odd, and crooked” in appearance.

Even at that young age, I had found the prospects of a creature like this existing in North Carolina—presuming it existed at all—increasingly unlikely. Even if it had a readily available food supply, where would such an animal seek shelter, and more importantly, how could a breeding population of them remain so well hidden?

Surprisingly, there appears to be a bit of a history of such things in the Old North State. One of the earliest stories of such an animal appeared in the Statesville Landmark on Thursday, January 3, 1878. The incident in question reportedly occurred in Caldwell County, North Carolina, and tells of a group of prospectors who encountered an unusual creature near the area of Globe Valley.

Described as a “peculiar specimen of humanity,” the prospectors initially debated whether they should move toward the creature, when suddenly one of them called to it, after which the following ensued:

“[The wild man] started toward the party a few steps, stopped still and began to pound himself in the breast with his ponderous fists. There he stood for two minutes, evincing no power of speech. Suddenly he turned and bounded off with the speed of a deer. The party then repaired to the house of one of the men, secured a gun, pistol, and other articles of warfare, and went in pursuit of the strange being. They searched the balance of the day, but nothing could be seen of the object of their pursuit. During the search, they ascended the crags of Blowing Rock and discovered a small cave, in which was found a bed of leaves and many bones resembling those of the opossum. It is supposed this cave has afforded this wild man a home for many years.”

Of particular interest was the description given of the creature. “Our correspondent describes the wild man as being about six feet five inches tall, with broad shoulders and long apeish arms; smooth face and funnel-shaped head. His body is covered with dark brown hair, near two inches long. His head and a great portion of his forehead is covered with long luxuriant, dark red tresses.”

Whether or not the report is authentic is irrelevant. Even if the story is merely a tall tale, there is still a very unique aspect to it which is often overlooked in the “modern” debate over the existence of creatures like Sasquatch. Many writers who have tried to make heads or tails of the modern Sasquatch phenomenon assert that contemporary descriptions of the creature as being apelike didn’t appear until the 1950s, most notably with reports like that of the well known and often rehashed William Roe encounter of 1957.

Of course, anyone who has taken time to look carefully (and deeply) at literature pertaining to stories about the North American Sasquatch knows that this simply isn’t true; descriptions that provide a distinctively ape or gorilla-like appearance for such alleged “wild men” date back much further than this. Also, as the report above illustrates, features that include a height at least slightly above that of the average man (here, it is given as roughly “six feet five inches tall”), along with unusually long arms (“broad shoulders and long apeish arms”), and even the conical shape of the skull or sagittal crest (here described as a “funnel-shaped head”), all seem to have appeared in print by at least the latter part of the nineteenth century.

So I would argue that, even if one takes an antiquated newspaper account like this with a grain of salt (as we certainly should), it nonetheless provides us with a description that is very well in keeping with the modern idea of a Sasquatch. If nothing else, this does show that such descriptions were appearing in print well in advance of the “modern” era of Bigfoot, which many will assert didn’t begin until the 1950s at best. 

Interestingly, nearly one century after this fantastic account, and in the same general region, such stories would continue. In the video below, a country pastor named Johnny Tomlin shares his own recollection about something he observed in 1975 with his wife and her uncle near Lenoir, North Carolina, that appears to be very similar in appearance to the animal from the newspaper account from nearly a century earlier:

As I’ve already suggested, it would be much easier to concede that the newspaper account featured earlier presents us with cause for doubt. However, can we say the same of similar stories that continue in the modern era, the likes of Johnny Tomlin’s account from the video above?

At times, stories like these from the rural southeast—often chalked up to being merely legends and folklore—seem to raise more questions than answers. Returning to the questions I asked about such things even in my youth, we are left to account for where such an animal would seek shelter, and more importantly, how a breeding population of them could remain so well hidden. It seems impossible, and yet stories like those of Johnny Tomlin, seldom though they occur, do persist.

I would be interested in hearing from any of our readers that have had similar experiences where family members, or they themselves, have seen what they believe to be an animal similar to this, otherwise known as “Sasquatch” or Bigfoot. If you would like to share your story, you can email me here, or reach out via the social media accounts linked in my bio below.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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