Chatawa Monster: the TRUE History Behind Mississippi’s Circus Man-Ape

Up until just a few years ago, performers and creatures alike would hop aboard their private coaches and wind their way across the country to perform spectacles for audiences young and old. The circus was designed to bring the extraordinary into our ordinary lives. One minute we are tending to our daily grind, and the next, oddities and athletes alike arrive and show us that our bubble is not as small as we once thought. Sword swallowers, fire jugglers, and contortionists wow us with their superhuman feats. Lions, tigers, and elephants dazzled us with their exotic showmanship. But as the circus became more mainstream, they began looking for new acts to fill their onlookers with wonder – and, of course, their wallets with cash. 

That brings us to Chatawa, a small town on the Mississippi-Louisiana border where one fate-filled evening, a circus train on its way from Chicago to New Orleans hopped the tracks and inadvertently released a ferocious, unknown monster from its cage that’s said to still terrorize the Mississippi swamps to this day. 



SpotifyApple PodcastsAmazon MusicGoogle PodcastsOvercastCastBoxPocketCastsRadio PublicStitcher


Historic Circus Acts

When you think of classic Americana, a few things might come to mind: For me, it’s apple pie, Kentucky bluegrass, denim jeans, and of course, the railroad. Now sure, locomotives were invented in England, but when you conjure up images of classic United States culture, trains feel right at home. Hollywood loves to reenact a good ole wild west train robbery. We tell campfire stories of phantom lights that hover about on those desolate tracks. Trains took us places, and they brought other places back to us. 

A great example of this is the circus. Up until just a few years ago, performers and creatures alike would hop aboard their private coaches and wind their way across the country to perform spectacles for audiences young and old. The circus was designed to bring the extraordinary into our ordinary lives. One minute we are tending to our daily grind, and the next, oddities and athletes alike arrive and show us that our bubble is not as small as we once thought. Sword swallowers, fire jugglers, and contortionists wow us with their superhuman feats. Lions, tigers, and elephants dazzled us with their exotic showmanship. But as the circus became more mainstream, they began looking for new acts to fill their onlookers with wonder – and, of course, their wallets with cash. 

That brings us to Chatawa, a small town on the Mississippi-Louisiana border where one fate-filled evening, a circus train on its way from Chicago to New Orleans hopped the tracks and inadvertently released a ferocious, unknown monster from its cage that’s said to still terrorize the Mississippi swamps to this day. 

I’m Cody, and you’re touring cryptids across the atlas. 

The Legend of the Chatawa Monster

The tale goes that a circus train hauling an assortment of creatures was winding its way down the Illinois Central Rail Road from Chicago on its way to wow spectators in New Orleans. The circus operators were excited to unveil their newest cast member they had ‘acquired’, something they were sure no one had seen before. Now sure, they had the usual assortment of monkeys, tigers, and such, but they had also managed to find a few ‘other’ creatures, unlike anything the world had thus far witnessed. And among these fantastic beasts was their new shining star, a half-man, half-ape hybrid with a flaming hot, ferocious temper. The stories claim that this man-ape would thrash and bite at anything that so much as walked close to its iron-clad cage. 

The locomotive steamed along, unaware that the tracks ahead had become warped. By the time they noticed, it was too late. The train hopped the rails, plowed through the forest, and came to a rest in the murk of Tangipahoa swamp. The conductor, I’m sure quite shaken, gathered his bearings and rushed to check on his cargo but, to his dismay, found that the animals had been crushed under the wreckage. Well, most of the animals, that is… Because when he went to check on their most prized possession, their ape-man, they found the impact had knocked its cage open, and it was nowhere to be found. 

Just a few short weeks later, a group of students were minding their business as usual. School was back in session at St. Mary of the Pines, which at the time was a catholic nunnery dedicated to girls’ education. When one of the students looked out the window, she was petrified by what she saw. She called to her classmates, and soon everyone was looking out, transfixed on the monkey-like ape man swinging from the trees on the edge of the forest. Local authorities were called, and a town-wide hunt took place through the swamp to no avail. The creature, it seems had no intent on getting caught again. 

Over the years, sightings of monkey-like creatures swinging from the trees continued at St. Mary of the Pines. Families in New Orleans often sent their girls up to the school for a good education, only to have them come home over the summer with tales of bipedal monsters lurking around the campus. Stories passed down from upperclassmen told tall tales of first-years being snatched from the edge of the forest, never to be seen again. Of course, what upperclassman doesn’t love frightening a few freshmen once in a while? 

Most of these sightings around St Mary’s can be chalked up to the thrill of a good monster story. Some have even hypothesized that the sightings could be actual monkeys that might have broken free from Kramer Lodge, the local wildlife sanctuary. But there’s a couple of problems with that: First, It’s not just school girls who caught a glimpse of this beast. And second, St. Mary of the Pines has since traded tutoring children to homing retired nuns, but the sitings have yet to stop to this day. 

An Introduction to Chatawa MS

People from all over the deep south seemed to find their way to Chatawa for one reason or another. Some came for the wildlife sanctuary, many for the school, and some for the artisan well that pours a constant stream of fresh, clean spring water that locals and travelers alike visit to fill their glass. According to one local, “there’s no other water like it on earth.” 

Chatawa is a small town, even by old-time America’s standards. If you blink, you’d miss it. In its prime, it saw on the high end of around 500 residents who called it home during the operation of its two lumber mills. Now, it’s just the post office. If you stand on the porch of the little white one-room mail house and look out, you’ll see those notorious train tracks and, well, a lot of trees. But for such a small town, it has a plethora of huge stories. 

While Chatawa may be small, the forest that surrounds it is anything but. If you head just an hour’s drive northwest, you’ll reach the Homochitto National Forest, with its almost 192,000 acres of woodlands. But you don’t have to drive an hour to find woods. This entire region is blanketed with loblolly pines, a variety of mighty oaks, and beautiful southern magnolias. It wouldn’t take much to just disappear out into these forested lowlands. So maybe it’s not so farfetched to believe a bipedal man-ape turned ex-circus star could call this place home. And if the continual flow of stories are any indicator, there might be a grain of truth to this legend after all. 

Chatawa Monster Historic Sightings

He thought his hunt was over, but he thought wrong. Obie Milton had set course into the forest around Chatawa to bag a couple of squirrels. The weather was perfect this fall day in 1977. The morning was beautiful, but the small game, like usual, was mostly in hiding. This was a bit of the norm in these woods. An eery quietness, the feeling that something was watching you, or that prickle on the back of your neck to say something isn’t quite right were all too common in these woods. But after some time, the forest seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and he noticed a squirrel hopping along an upper branch of its canopy. Obie raised his firearm, took aim, waited on the creature to pause for a moment, and then took his shot. The squirrel tumbled from its lofted perch to the earth. Obie set course to go retrieve his woodland game but wound up finding a bit more than just a squirrel. As he approached the squirrel’s location, he noticed something large, hairy, and menacing in the distance. It stood square-framed over the squirrel as if to challenge Obie’s claim on the prize. Shaken to the core, Obie turned tail and ran home, leaving the squirrel to the creatures bidding. 

A few years later, in the Fall of 1980, Jack Hays, a resident Chatawa local, awoke to find his chickens had started coming up short. And not just one or two at a time. Night after night, he was losing a dozen chickens or more. Jack stated, “In one night, in one night I had 18 chickens (left), now I only have 3”. Jack made mention of how he knew the local predators that stalked the woods, and normally, things didn’t take more than they can eat. So what was big enough to need 15 chickens to fill its stomach in one sitting? If the footprints Jack found in the sand a few yards away were any indication, it was something HUGE. 

Jack is a big man. Wearing a size 14 shoe, he towers over most folks, but next to this print, Jack looked scrawny in comparison. At 14 ½ inches long, 7 inches wide at the ball, and sunk deep into the earth, whatever made this track was sizable compared to you or I. Jack took a casting of the footprint, and to be quite honest if this is, in fact real, it’s one of the better footprints I have seen. The details in the shape, the toe indentations, and even the lines, and markings are preserved wonderfully thanks in part to the sand in which it was found. But the most interesting part of this casting isn’t its size or the amount of detail it preserved but rather the deep scar-like gash on the sole of the foot. And why is this interesting? Well, let me tell you because it makes for a heck of a story. 

A few months before his encounter, Jack was down at the aforementioned artesian spring filling up on water for the week when he stumbled into a fascinating conversation with an older gentleman who stopped by to do the same. The 83-year-old local mentioned how he and his son were down in the woods chopping firewood for the winter with their double-bitted ax – that is, an ax with two heads. Planning to return later that week to finish the job, they stuck the ax in a log and went home for the evening. Late that night, they heard a gut-wrenching scream from the forest. The kind of yell that sends shivers down your spine and makes you lock your doors. Reluctantly, the next day, they went back down to their woodpile to see if they found anything out of place, and sure enough, the ax was drenched in blood and a trail of crimson led off into the forest. 

Jack chalked this story up to water cooler….er… artesian spring chit-chat and put the story from his mind. That is, until he cast that footprint he found in the sand by his chicken coup and noticed in the heel what looked to be the scar from a deep, penetrating gash. The kind of gash you get from stepping on something exceedingly sharp. The kind of gash an ax would make if you misplaced your footing without shoes. 

Later that year, a local farmer, Ralph Bacot, reported similar events. Ralph had noticed he had a calf not survive the night as he went to check his livestock for their morning feed. He set off to grab the appropriate equipment to haul it off, but upon returning just a short time later, it was gone. He began to search the area and soon discovered the 150-pound calf had been dragged off into the surrounding woods and was half consumed. Ralph said he’d never seen anything like it. The entire hind quarters of the calf were gone. It takes some serious muscle to drag a 150-pound animal that far, that quick. And it takes a ferocious appetite to consume 75 pounds worth of meat in a handful of hours. Things were getting weird in Chatawa, that little pike county town nestled on the Southwestern border of Mississippi. But things were only about to get weirder. 

Other Chatawa MS Cryptids

The Chatawa monster is by far the most infamous creature in this quaint little township, but it’s not the only creature that’s been sited in these woods. In 1979, Ernest Herndon, a writer for the Enterprise Journal, a local southern Mississippi paper, was told a story that was as wild as it was, quite frankly, unbelievable. Ernest was interviewing a group of seasoned hunters when one leaned over to him and mentioned how a dozen or so years back, he witnessed a creature roaming the woods he called the Taney-Frate. 

The seasoned hunter, whose name was not mentioned, recited the tale of how he was hunting along the Amite river, just a few miles west of Chatawa. He turned his pack of coon dogs loose to begin their tracking when all of the sudden, the forest went quiet. Pushing onward, he continued his trek along the river when he spotted a creature in the distance. It was about 5-foot-long and covered in spotted fur. Its jaws were enormous and covered in razor-sharp teeth. When it breathed, smoke poured from its nostrils. Its stomach was round, and its tail was like a rattlesnake’s. When it noticed the coon dogs, it opened its mouth and swallowed them all whole. 

In 1980, Ernest was interviewing Noel Spencer, who shared tales of a creature his grandfather used to tell him about as they sat together on his porch. Noel stated that his grandpa was once riding a mule along the Tangipahoa river, next to one of the old sawmills that had since closed, when something spooked his mule, causing it to buck, throw him off, turn tail, and run the other way. Grandpa got up, dusted himself off, and found himself face-to-face with something that was unlike anything he’d ever seen. It was described as having a long, snake-like body with two heads, one on each end. Both heads resembled those of a gorilla. They both turned and faced each other while growling and snarling. He recounted that it was as if both heads each had their own brain as if they were independent. It also was said to have 2 legs on each end and 4 smaller legs in the middle. I can’t help but conjure up images of a freaky, mutant cat-dog-like creature. 

And then there were the Gnomes. But that’s a story for another time. 

Could these bizarre creatures be a handful of other escaped circus oddities that now call the swampy forest of southern Mississippi home? Or, are these another handful of backwoods folktales conjured up by bored locals? Well, the answers, as usual, are somewhere in between.

Stories of wrecked circus trains aren’t specific to Chatawa. As a matter of fact, tales of an overturned train with crazy creatures aboard can be found all along the old Illinois Central Rail Road. From deep Louisiana all the way up to Chicago, these stories have been circulated through local communities, but in all fairness, the stories are different in Chatawa because they have the sitings to back them up. But what are people there actually seeing? Is there a cousin of Bigfoot living in their forests, swinging from trees and terrorizing the locals, or is it something else entirely? 

According to Westley East, another long-time resident of Chatawa, the monster is a little more identifiable but no less terrifying. East recounts how a circus truck, not a train, mind you, lost control along Highway 51 just at the edge of town, releasing two panthers into the forest. Circus officials ‘claim’ they were able to recapture both of the loose cats, but East believed differently. After moving to the area with his wife in 1959, he became intrigued with the local lore. 

East has fought local forest fires, rescued people from car wrecks, and supposedly witnessed the Chatawa monster firsthand. But to East, the monster is nonother than a panther that never actually got caught like they claimed. When his neighbor’s calf turned up with its back side half-eaten in the woods and with large slash marks down both sides of its body, and when another neighbor’s goats started coming up missing, East started to have his suspicions. One day, East’s suspicions seemed to be answered when he stumbled across a track spanning 5-inches across with huge claw indents. He cast the large cat’s track and kept it on display in his home along with other local artifacts he had stumbled across through the years. 

Bill Brumfield, a neighboring local from the town of McComb claims to have spotted large scratches high in the trees in the surrounding woods; scratches like those a large cat would make, giving even more validity to East’s belief that the Chatawa monster is nothing more than a loose panther. But then again, panthers roaming the deep south of the United States might just be just as farfetched a tale as the idea that there’s a large ape-man terrorizing the locals.

Others say this menace of a monster is much less a mystery and more of a pastime. Sister Patrick Powers seemed to think this was a more accurate truth. Powers, a previous student at St. Mary of the Pine’s and who later lived at the retirement center the school was converted into, stated that every year at their summer camp, students would go hang signs and write on the roads ‘beware of the Chatawa Monster’. It seems drumming up a scare was an exciting recreational sport in this slow-paced town. 

John Speed, another long-time resident enjoyed a hearty laugh when he was interviewed for the Enterprise-Journal in September of 1985. Speed stated he knew the monster firsthand. And I quote: “Yea, I knew the monster. We had two or three different ones.” – He then named off a few local men in the community who otherwise were on the up-and-up. Speed went on to tell stories of how they would get together to frighten folks with a monster howl they called a “Go-Devil” – A Go-Devil is made by stretching cowhide over both ends of a hollowed log, almost like a drum. You then punch a small hole in both ends and run a rosined string through the middle. When you pull the string back and forth, it lets out a hair-raising, howling sound. 

When asking Jack Hays whether he thought someone was hoaxing him by leaving monstrous Bigfoot prints around his chicken coup, he simply stated that “it’s a pretty serious sort of joke to try and impress me.” To be fair, stealing 28 chickens is a bit serious for a practical joke. 

For such a small little blip on the map, Chatawa has garnered a good amount of attention from their ferocious form of the apelike giant many of us call Bigfoot. Locals have since reported catching what they believe to be the Chatawa monster on trail cams, having it terrorize their farm animals, beating on their homes, and even slaughtering wild hogs, removing their ribs, and lodging them into nearby trees. Brutal. 

Fears of the Chatawa Monster even drew in the GCBRO (Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization) to come film two episodes of their controversial mini-series, Killing Bigfoot, where they attempted to hunt and kill the ferocious creature. In their words, “ The GCBRO is more interested in protecting citizens from the violent Sasquatch than swaying public opinion.” Of course, this garnered tons of backlash from the cryptozoological community…

No matter if you believe in giant ape-men, angry, two-headed snake gorillas, gnomes, or whatever the thing was that supposedly ate that guy’s coon dogs, one thing is for sure; there are some wild stories that have crawled out of those wooded swamps in rural, southwestern Mississippi. And if I’m being honest, as a southerner myself, it kind of feels like home. Stories of unexplained things that go bump in the night are really quite common once you venture into America’s backroads. Maybe there really are monsters still tucked away in our forgotten corners. Or maybe, humans just have a knack for exaggerating the truth. Or, better yet, maybe it’s a bit of both. 

These tales, like the fables long before them, remind us who we are, where we come from, and that we aren’t as different as we think. Sure, I might make podcasts for a living, and you might be a trucker, nurse, farmer, or CEO, but when faced with perceived dangers, those minor differences that make us unique quickly fade to a more reactive, survival frame of mind. That’s why we love these stories. Skeptics and believers alike can hear these accounts, and while their viewpoints differ greatly, that biological thrill we get from hearing them is the same across all upbringings, cultures, and beliefs. Honestly, it’s why you and I are here together right now. Because a good story, whether true, false, or somewhere in between, it’s just plain fun on a biological level. And since you’re here enjoying these stories with me, I have one more quick siting of the Chatawa Monster that I’d love to share with you. 

The year was 2018. Spring had just arrived. It was time to begin planting season once again. A local Chatawa resident and highway patrol officer hopped aboard his tractor one evening after work to begin plowing for this year’s garden. It was a late start in the day for sure, but that was of no consequence. Evening makes for cooler working weather, and when your tractor has a good set of high beams, plowing a field should be a walk in the park, even as the sun sets. Except on this night, those high beams would do more than just light the way for a plow, they would shed light on a monster most believed to be just a local myth. As he turned the corner to begin his twilight plowing, his tractor headlights spooked it. Up from the edge where the field met the forest rose a massive, hairy, ape-like creature. Startled, it ducked down and began sprinting along the edge of the field before disappearing into the thick, dusk-stained woods. The gentleman plowing the field whipped his tractor around, full throttle, and high-tailed it back home fast enough to consider writing himself a speeding ticket. To this day, the gentleman who wished not to be named has yet to return to that field alone for fear that if he did, something else might choose to return from those mysterious woods and join him. 

If you love cryptids and want to learn even more about the creatures we just talked about, find us on Tiktok or Instagram. By the way, the episode you just witnessed is both a podcast and YouTube video, so whichever format you prefer, we have you covered. Also, check out our interactive cryptid map to browse the globe and learn about cryptids from your favorite areas. Every episode we make adds another pin to our map! You can find our social channels, the map, and more at And when you find us, be sure to tap that follow button and get in on the action by dropping a comment on our recent videos. 

If you enjoy this show, consider sharing it on with a friend. Sharing the spooky love with someone else is the best compliment you could ever give us. And if you listen on Apple or Spotify, consider leaving an honest review to help other listeners know what to expect. 

Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *