Gowrow: Is Arkansas hiding a deep, dark secret among its darkest caves? Or, is this some wild animal that's taken one too many cattle? Whatever the case, this beast is sure to meet the wrath of local farmers who lost their most beloved livestock (and most likely their livelihood) TAP TO GET PODCAST
With its rolling hills, scenic rivers, deep forests, and healing hot springs, it’s no wonder Arkansas is known as The Natural State. However, there’s another natural wonder that this state holds – its marvelous limestone caverns. But no matter how beautiful The Natural State may be, there is no absolutely nothing natural about this small-town hidden secret lurking within her darkest caves.
It was the turn of the new year. The Holiday season had recently come to pass, and the return of Winter had finally settled in. Children were back in school, women were back to their regular house chores, and men were back to working on the farm as usual. No real headlines were buzzing around in small-town Arkansas. But on Sunday, January 31st, 1897, the Arkansas Gazette debuted Elbert Smithee’s wild story about a local monster that had since been killed that would keep residents talking for months.
According to Elbert Smithee, William Read Miller, a Little Rock traveling businessman and Arkansas’ 12th Governor, may have had proof of a beast that had been previously stalking the Ozarks decades before.
When receiving news that he’d be traveling Northwest to Blanco, Arkansas, for a work trip, William Miller packed his bags and headed out the door. To William, he had heard countless stories of a legendary beast terrorizing the town of Blanco in Calf Creek Township, about a 30-minute drive from the Buffalo River. But no matter how many tall tales William heard through the grapevine, he didn’t believe in any of the stories and chalked them up to local folklore. Since he was traveling there for work anyway, he figured there’d be no harm in investigating the area for himself.
However, upon his arrival, locals swarmed in, warning him of the “Green Gowrow” and how it had been thought to slaughter local “cattle, horses, hogs, dogs, and cats.” They also shared that while they had many times caught the monster in the act, they were never able to capture the beast and stop its killings once and for all. Listening to their stories, with a mix of disbelief and curious interest, he asked why they called it the “Gowrow.”
According to the locals, “gowrow” is the sound it makes when it lets out an awful, devilish cry while devouring its prey. Although he didn’t believe their stories to be true, they deeply fascinated him. If this many townsfolk had found remains of nearby mutilated animals, something had to have been stalking the small town. For William Miller, he was about to find out the truth behind this local legend.
During William’s stay, a young boy was out rabbit hunting nearby. As he was walking down the railroad tracks, he noticed some indentions in the mud up ahead. But upon further investigation, the young boy realized that these were not your average deer tracks. Growing up in this area, the young boy was accustomed to the local legend of the “Green Gowrow.” Unsure of what could make these unique footprints, he quickly returned and notified authorities of the strange sight. Wasting zero time, local authorities, farmers, and William Miller himself went on a wild goose chase, or rather, a wild Gowrow chase, to hunt down the creature once and for all.
Upon arrival, the footsteps were precisely how the young boy had described. As the men followed the trail, the footsteps went on for miles and miles until they abruptly stopped next to the river. Nodding their heads in agreement, they all assumed it had jumped into the river to escape from their clutches. But they wouldn’t give up that easily. So, they continued searching down the riverbank, hoping that at some point, it would need to come back up for air. And after they walked a little further, that’s when they discovered an enormous cave that had been previously concealed by large boulders and fallen cedar trees. But that’s not all they found. Upon finding the cave, they also saw indentions in the mud, where it looked like an animal had been slithering in to hide and back out when stalking its next prey.
It had taken the men all day to move the large debris that had fallen against the entry. Finally, about an hour after the sun had set that evening, they had a clearing. Walking through the cave, they lit their torches and stumbled upon an unsightly view. The glowing of their torches had unearthed rows and rows of skeletons and skulls lining the inside of the cave. The bones looked as if they once belonged to cattle, family pets, and, even more disturbing, the bones of humans. Disturbed by their findings, this only increased the desire to rid the Gowrow once and for all. They were convinced that it would return to its hiding grounds if they waited long enough. And after about half an hour after sundown, it did.
The men were slowly growing weary. After spending all afternoon moving heavy trees and standing around waiting for a creature that may or may not be real, they were about to give up all efforts. But just as they started to grab their belongings, they heard water splashing nearby from the river. One by one, the men slowly peeked through the clearing. And that’s when they got a clear view of the dreadful beast. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Staring straight back at them, they were finally face-to-face with the “Green Gowrow.”
According to William Miller’s description, the Gowrow had a head that was “ponderous in size and resembled somewhat of a man, only with two enormous tusks projected over the under lips. Its legs were short and thick and terminated into a web foot, which somewhat resembled ducks, but each toe was capped by a vicious-looking claw. Its body was covered with enormous scales with a sickly green hue. Along its back bristled a series of sharp horns, which came to an abrupt end near the root of its long and thin tail, which had a sharp bone at the end that it could wield as a sickle and, when engaged, could prove a formidable weapon.”
Having a firsthand experience would immediately turn William from a distrusting skeptic to a firm believer in seconds. Wanting to get proof of the monster to share back home, he shakingly pulled out his Kodak camera and snapped a quick shot. Once he got his photograph, he then gave the surrounding men a “go ahead” look to aim fire.
As the men tried shooting the Gowrow down, the creature fought hard to stay alive. After the bullets initially hit its green, scaly skin, its tail began slashing around in agony, taking a few cedar trees down with it. Unfortunately, as it was writhing in pain, taking down a few trees with its sickle tail wasn’t the only thing he clipped. One of the men standing there, Tom Brennan, a former section hand on the Iron Mountain railroad, lost one of his legs in the Gowrow’s final moments. Shocked at what happened and wanting to put the creature out of its misery, William Miller nodded again to the men to pull the trigger. And after firing a few more rounds, the beast had died.
But this still wasn’t enough for the local farmers. Shooting the Gowrow wasn’t justice enough for the farmers who had lost their most prized livestock and family pets. For some of these farmers, killing off their cattle had meant killing off their business and their livelihood. So, of course, simply shooting this creature dead wouldn’t be enough. If you’re familiar with the phrase “an eye for an eye,” you probably can guess what happens next. Plagued by their blind rage, the local men grabbed their axes and began chopping the Gowrow’s body into pieces.
The next day, William Miller had finished his work in Blanco and started returning home to Little Rock. Once he got settled in bed later that night, he got out his photograph, took a good look at the development, and jotted down a few notes. A few of them read, “It has incisor and canine teeth which resemble a pachyderm,” or a very large mammal with thick skin, similar to an elephant, rhino, or hippo. Furthermore, William believed the creature was a hybrid between a rhino and a hyena.
Although he was glad to be able to provide a little bit of justice to the small town of Blanco, he was also filled with great remorse. Believing that it may have been the last of its kind, he regretted its final downfall out in that cave, believing that it could have led to significant insight for scientists to learn more about prehistoric animals. However, he did contact the authorities he met in Blanco and made arrangements to send some of the creature’s bones to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. However, the remains never made their way to Washington, DC.
When this story debuted in 1897, much speculation existed about the creature. Locals from Searcy County, local scientists, and members of the Arkansas General Assembly all shared their own views of this story. Unsurprisingly, this story was met with a mix of curiosity, bewilderment, and even criticism.
Take Ulysses Simpson Bratton, for instance. A prominent Arkansas attorney in the early 20th century, advocate for African-American rights, county judge for Searcy County in 1893, and a representative of the Arkansas General Assembly, shared his own views in the Daily Arkansas Gazette a few days after the initial Gowrow story debuted.
In his words, “It is an unfounded fake and is one which, in addition to being utterly false in every particular, is unjust to the good people of Searcy county. There is no such creature nor anything that in any way resembles it in our county, but on the contrary, Searcy County is settled by as grand a set of people as anywhere in the state, and we have thousands of acres of rich, fertile land together with thousands of acres of would be termed as table lands which are not surpassed for fruit baring anywhere in the state. On the whole, our county is one of the foremost counties in Arkansas, and with transportation facilities, it will take its place as second to none in the state. Such unfounded reports as tend in any way to misrepresent our state or any county in it are unjust to our people as a whole and cannot be too severely condemned. While I will not introduce a bill to make such outrages a crime, yet we ought to have such a law, and I would vote for such a measure.”
It seems like U.S. Bratton was a harsh critic regarding spooky folklore, cryptozoology, or anything that remotely placed Arkansas in a bad light.
But if you asked Ozark researcher and folklore collector Vance Randolph, he would have added to the tall tales and thoroughly enjoyed a good story.
According to Vance, he believed that the Gowrow wasn’t the last of its kind but was a part of an entire species. Adding to the description of the Gowrow, he also shared that the young were “hatched from soft-shelled eggs as large as beer kegs,” and the mother would later “carry newly hatched infants in her pouch.”
As he recounted, Randolph also shared a story he had been told by a Mena resident who claimed to “have captured a Gowrow by inducing the creature to eat so many dried apples that it swelled to a size that prevented it escaping into its burrow. The gowrow’s captor was exhibiting his catch to anyone who would pay a quarter. Once he had a sufficient audience, the man would stagger from behind a curtain with his clothes in rags, announcing that the Gowrow had escaped, sending the crowd into a panic without having further evidence to prove its existence.”
If you ask me whether or not the Gowrow really did exist in the 1800s, I wouldn’t have a firm answer. When it comes to strange and unexplained tales, I’m somewhere between believing that we don’t have all the answers and that some theories are too bizarre to be true.
But that’s the beauty of folklore and tales that have been passed down for centuries. It doesn’t have to be 100% factual to make a good story. Heck, some of the strangest, most blatantly made-up stories have made headlines in the grocery checkout line. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to some of the headline conspiracies from the National Inquirer; that will really get you going down a rabbit hole. All I’m saying is that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with sharing a spooky campfire story every once in a while.
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