Ozark Howler: Arkansas Hoax, Boston Mountain Devil Dog, or Cult Secret? TAP TO GET PODCAST
Ozark Howler: Arkansas Hoax, Boston Mountain Devil Dog, or Cult Secret?
The Ozark Mountains are home to some of Arkansas’s most beautiful springs, waterfalls, lakes, and caverns. In North Western Arkansas, there is an abundance of beauty that gives meaning to its name, the Natural State. But be aware not everything hidden in the hilly forests is as it seems. Legend has it a dog-bear-cat hybrid has been haunting the Ozarks for centuries.
As we start today’s tour, I want to take a look into the early days of a still rather recent invention that is both vital to our understanding of cryptid creatures and to this story. So despite this one starting a bit different, I promise it will all tie together beautifully in the end, And we that, here we go.
The internet might have gone public in 1993, but by 1999, the foundation had been laid, and a growing virtual metropolis was beginning to form. People went from gathering their information from word of mouth and hearsay to libraries full of physical books to Encyclopedias on CD-ROM to the advent of the internet and the brand new online search powerhouse, Google. The world was now connected at the speed of, well, about 35 KBPS… and Heaven forbid your aunt calls to gossip about the latest local scandal while you were busy browsing…
Times were a’changin. No longer did you have to go to a football game to find other fans of your favorite team, there was probably an AOL Instant messenger chat room for that. Looking for info on a 1968 Pontiac Firebird? The now well-established Craigslist was sure to save you hours in your search for original service manuals and stock parts that you used to try and hunt down in the local classifieds or seasonal swap meets. And for those of us who had encountered the unexplained, there were forums: these virtual campfires we could all gather around to recount tales of the unexplainable, both to offer each other a thrill and to realize we weren’t alone in what we believed we had seen.
I, for one, spent countless hours reading Sasquatch encounters, learning about ghostly haunts, hypothesizing what my young eyes might have seen out in the Arkansas backwoods the night before, and researching the meaning behind my neighbor’s occult symbols strategically placed around her property as well as her late night fire pit incantations. (And no, I’m not joking, I had a pretty wild childhood.)
And with this newly gained interconnectedness, something interesting happened. Both folklore and cryptozoology began to shift. In the same way tales from distinct cultures began to take on new life as explorers traversed to corners of the world previously unknown to them and met new civilizations, the World Wide Web had a similar effect, but faster and more extreme. Popular cryptids like Sasquatch and Nessie were shifted and morphed into monsters like Slender Man and Momo… Man, I still can’t believe all the drama and heartache that came out of Momo…
In the blink of an eye, dozens, no hundreds, no wait, thousands of sightings piled into those cozy corner nooks of the internet, and our beliefs in what was possible began to shift. The advent of the television shaped the way we formed our opinions, but now, we had the power. No more middle man. Peer to Peer communication was happening, and everyone could have a voice. But let’s just put this out there; not everyone used that voice for good…
“You’ve got mail!”
Email alerts were piling up as more and more people filed reports of the oddities and unexplainable events they had once witnessed. It was a snowball of sightings, a treasure trove of information for Cryptozoologists and all those who turned a curious eye toward the darker corners of our world. Some things may go bump in the night, but in the blueish glow of a computer monitor, nothing seemed to be left hidden. But in a little forgotten crevice of America, those reports began to shift into something familiar, yet strangely different. Like a word on the tip of your tongue, these sightings felt familiar yet new, like we had possibly heard tales like this before, but they had slipped out of our minds with the passing of time. Well, at least until now.
Lodged halfway between the Rockies and the Appalachians rests a comparatively small but beautifully unique mountain range named the Ozarks. With millions of acres of woodlands, hundreds of waterfalls, mineral-rich springs, and caves large enough to house literal cities, the Ozarks are an often slept-on wonder to take in. And though I’m a bit biased as I grew up and still currently live within an hour’s drive of them, I still have yet to grow tired of all the splendor they hold. And while the Ozarks span across 5 states in total, the Boston Mountain range in the northwestern corner of Arkansas is by far the most ecologically rugged section the Ozarks have to offer.
With all that rugged beauty, it’s no wonder that Arkansas is supposedly home to an abnormally large amount of unique cryptids. In the deep southern corner of the state, we have the Fouke Monster, that swampy Sasquatch turned cult classic film, The Legend of Bogey Creek. As we traverse along our waterways and up into the hills, you might encounter Whitey, the White River monster, the Heber Springs water panther, or even Hogzilla: Woo Pig Sooie! But as interesting as all these possible monsters might be, in 1999, there was another cryptid sweeping the online regional forums and taking over the chat rooms. And while many disagreed on what exactly it was they saw, one thing they all agreed on was that this monster knew how to make itself known.
It started as a trickle, but the dam of reports soon gave way. As summer stretched into fall, the regional cryptid chat rooms, typically flooded with theoretical Bigfoot sightings or the occasional ghost tale, sprung to life with reports of a new, four-legged, horned howling monster that had been spotted and heard across the Ozark Highlands down into the Boston Mountains. “It was like a bear but with horns!” One use commented. Another individual replied, “Yea, but it was much bigger than a bear, with long, black, shaggy fur and glowing eyes!”. Still, yet another witness chimed in, “And did you hear its howl!? It was like a mix of a wolf, an elk, and the sound of metal scraping metal!”
Tales of this new creature, the Ozark Howler as many called it, had sprung up like weeds in an untended garden. Reports of a monstrous creature the size of a small bear with flaming red eyes and large horns that stalked the twilight countryside were all the rage in those southeastern U.S. cryptid forums, and despite the fact that most folks who read about the sightings hadn’t had an encounter themselves, that didn’t sway the interest in this mountainous devil-dog. Before you knew it, the Ozark Howler had become the main topic people wanted to talk about, much like skinwalkers and Wendigos are today. It even hit the local evening news sharing cautious warnings to be on the lookout for any large, dark, and mysterious horned hounds.
But as more sightings trickled in, some people became a bit… suspicious. It seemed like a lot of these “unique sightings” had something off about them. Maybe it was the way the wording was arranged on their user-submitted accounts. Maybe it was the similar events that supposedly took place that almost seemed to “borrow” from the other’s stories. Or maybe it was the modern slang used by these supposed “old and experienced hunters” that were telling these stories. Something just didn’t add up. That’s when an unnamed Bigfoot researcher and active forum moderator began digging around and what he uncovered is exactly what you might be expecting. When the researcher contacted the University of Arkansas, they filled him in on what they heard was really going down.
It seems a few years back in 1994, a group of fraternity members got bored late one evening. Fayetteville might be a decent-sized city, but college life can still get boring, even at an SEC school like the University of Arkansas. That’s when one classmate tossed out a dare: “Hey, you remember that old folk tale about black hounds in England that we heard in class?” “You think we can convince the news that there’s one here?” So that next morning, they mustered up their most authentic, frightened voice and dialed the news station where they gave a fictitious story of a harrowing experience they had with a horned, black hound that had a horrid scream out in the Ozark forest the night before.
The news channel took the bait. That evening, they ran a quick story on the Ozark Howler, and with that, the seed of deception was sown. Over the next few years, people began to see the beast on their property while they were out hunting and even peering in through their windows as they slept. But as the shock wore off and the news moved on, folks took their supposed sightings online to share what they thought they had encountered.
With this new information of how it was all just a hoax, the Bigfoot researcher went back and began informing all of those previous posters that they had nothing to fear. The monster was just a case of mistaken identity and a preconceived bias towards believing their homes were being stalked by this fictitious howling hound. A job well done for someone who had given their life to attempt to prove or disprove creatures unknown.
But trying to change people’s minds about what they saw was a lot harder than changing their opinions on what may or may not be out in those woods. You can convince someone that a bear-sized, horned howler is or is not in the Ozark forests, but once someone believes they witnessed one for themself? There’s no going back. Naturally, some folks didn’t take too kindly to this random researcher, telling them that this was all in their head. That’s when Lisa Leigh, a local journalist, decided to do some digging for herself to see what all this howler stuff was really about.
As she panned through forum posts, she encountered the comments made by the Bigfoot researcher discrediting these stories as overactive imaginations and/or downright hoaxes. But she noticed a discrepancy in his version of this story as well. See, the researcher had claimed the Ozark Howler was a tale these supposed college kids had made up, but she knew differently. She had been told tales of the Howler her whole life. She had read the accounts of the monster dating back all the way to the 1800s. How could it have just been made up when these stories have been around for decades, centuries, even?
She dropped him an email to see if he could explain away her doubts, but the more she pressed, the more his story started to fall apart. Turns out, the researcher didn’t actually have any names for the college students who made the prank calls and later prank posts. He didn’t take down any notes from his supposed conversations with them when he interviewed them about their sightings. He didn’t even know the fraternity they were in despite that being central to the story. And when she called the University of Arkansas to enquire about the alleged hoax, they stated frankly that no Bigfoot researcher had been there to talk with their students at all. That never happened. Lisa found absolutely no proof of what this researcher claimed, but what she did find is a man with a lot of bitterness about his research into how the Wildman of the Arkansas Woods had been overshadowed by reports of some four-legged screaming monster.
That’s when the pieces all clicked together: There never was a group of frat boys pranking Northwestern Arkansas, and at least a good portion of those sightings was, in fact, legit. The real hoax wasn’t the Howler but rather the Bigfoot researcher and his friends, who were upset their forums had been overrun with a new creature they weren’t as interested in. The people who claimed to be in search of the truth were the hoaxers all along.
But if the Ozark Howler isn’t a fictitious internet hoax after all, then what is it? Well, to answer that question, we will need to travel back to the dawn of the 1800s and visit the writings of a man that you might have heard of. An American frontiersman named Daniel Boone.
The promise of new furs drew him back into the hunt. Daniel Boone, now a mere 82 years young, had heard there was an abundance of beaver along the waterways of the Ozark Highlands in Missouri. Not wanting to go alone, I am sure, given his age, he hired an experienced local woodsman by the name of Indian Phillips to assist him in his hunt.
By the time April of 1816 rolled around, they were ready to begin their adventure. They loaded down their canoe and set the course up the Missouri River, branched off at the mouth of the Grand River, and traveled upstream about 10 miles or so to reach camp. But upon arrival, they quickly realized that between the local natives and the French trappers, most of the beaver population had been wiped out. They backtracked to the Missouri River, where they then traveled up about 20 miles to the brand-new Fort Leavenworth. After recovering from a short stent of sickness, Boone reported that he was off to explore the river Platt to see what bounty he could find there. And while the history books tend to gloss over this leg of his exploration as rather uneventful, the letters he wrote to his family back home tell a completely different tale.
His letter reads: I leave you with alarming story of a black creature I found and wounded on the Souter Creek. Black and swarthy with horns on its scalp. Ignorant of its name I am told of the sound it makes with a terrible howling in the night. Warnings of this for settlers should be passed along. Your humble servant, Daniel Boone“.
It seems pretty obvious that Boone encountered what we can only describe as the Ozark Howler. What’s even more interesting to me is that according to this short letter, this wasn’t a new discovery but rather a learned awareness of a creature that locals seemed to have known about for some time, given that he was “told” of the sounds it makes.
Four years later, plagued by the idea of this mysterious monster, Daniel found his way back into the Ozarks to finish what he started. The thought of that dark, shabby-haired, horned beast clung to his thoughts. He knew he had to finish the hunt, and if the tales are true, he did just that. Because in 1820, The story goes that Boone tracked down the Ozark Howler once more, but this time, his shot did more than wound. Boone proudly made his way back to his son’s home in Osage Creek, Missouri, and accomplished his recent kill. But the locals of the Ozark Plateau probably weren’t so positive about this outcome. Because if the stories they had brought over from England and Scotland were true, Daniel Boone had not actually killed the Ozark Howler after all. How so, you might ask? Because It takes a lot more than a rifle to kill an omen of death.
If you’ve seen Harry Potter, you know where this is going. Throughout England and whales, spanning up into the Scottish highlands and across into the Irish countryside, tales of large, black dogs have been told for centuries. Reaching the size of a small bull with piercing red eyes, these dark-coated, shaggy hounds act almost as a folkloric motif, a pattern in which many tales have spun out. Sometimes these hounds take on a more positive role in helping guide lost travelers to safety. Other times they are said to be a dark omen of death; that if you see one it means your time on earth is drawing short. One particular version of the black dog, known as the Cù Sìth, is said to have a howl so piercing and wild that if you hear it 3 times your soul will physically leave your body. Still, others say that these black dogs take on almost guardian angel qualities, gracefully guiding you into the afterlife, not as a harbinger of death but as a loyal companion and friend.
It’s really no surprise that when English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants settled in the New World, they brought these folktales along with them. And when you start comparing these fables to the aforementioned Ozark Howler, it’s pretty easy to connect the dots. Maybe there really is a horned Howler in those forests. Or maybe it’s a bobcat, bear cub, or other woodland creature mixed with a bit of imagination. Either way, folks are seeing something in the Ozarks. Daniel Boone shot… Something. But given how his life has been transformed into folklore, as much as we remember the facts, we might never actually know what it was he saw.
Daniel Boone passed away at his son’s home on September 26th, 1820, just a few short months after returning from that very trip where he supposedly finished off that dark beast. History tells us he passed peacefully in his sleep, most likely from old age. But in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder if what some say about the Ozark Howler is true. That if you see one for yourself, your very life might just soon hang in the balance.
Maybe Boone went back out into those woods to conquer that symbol of death. Maybe the howler was warning him that his long life was drawing to a close and wanted to greet him as a friend to comfort him in his final days. Or if we use our imagination, maybe as he lay there sleeping outside of his window he might just have heard that same howling call that haunted him the previous two hunting trips. A third cry into the night beckoning his soul from one life into the next.
As the 1920s rolled around, stories of the Ozark Howler sprung back to life once again. One sighting recounts the story of Jacob and Abigail, along with their two children, Ben and Ava. This young Fort Smith, Arkansas, the family was out enjoying the evening at a cabin in the Ozark foothills when a large, horned beast emerged from the forest’s edge, letting out a hair-raising howl and charging them. Jacob quickly dropped the firewood he was out gathering, grabbed his son, Ben, and ran inside. He slammed the door and locked it tight where the four of them sat up all night, kitchen knives in hand, waiting for daybreak so they could make their escape.
Ava, their daughter, later recounted seeing a tremendous beast with muscular legs, tangled and wooly, black fur, larger than any bull she had ever seen, and with horns that would put a longhorn to shame. Its howl reminded her of a cross between a pig’s grunt and a train whistle. The dark and shaggy creature stalked the outside of their cabin, occasionally glancing in through the windows before slipping back into the forest at the break of dawn.
Another account details the findings of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, a fraternal organization dedicated to the welfare of forest resources to create a balance between wildlife and lumber needs. A national organization founded in 1892 in Gurdon, Arkansas (which also happens to be home to a haunted railroad track and the Gordon Ghost Light), The Hoo Hoo spent a significant amount of time documenting wildlife in Arkansas’ forests.
Their journal entries make note of how as the colder weather moved in, sightings of this horned, howling creature seemed to migrate from the mountains in the northwestern corner of the state down toward central and southern Arkansas, where the air was a bit warmer. In all, the Hoo Hoo took note of what they believed to be at least 8 different Ozark Howlers, claiming that in one instance, they were even attacked when they got a bit too close for the creature’s comfort.
And then there’s the theory that the Hoo Hoo has a deeper, more sinister involvement with this black beast, given that their logo is a black cat and some of their… well, strange and secretive behaviors. But that’s all just speculation, of course.
And then we have stories where ancestral folklore begins to bleed into reality and mix to create new and wilder tales. In the city of Russellville, tucked in the valley between the Boston and Ouachita mountain ranges, Cumberland Presbyterian Church had just got a new minister. The problem was his philosophy didn’t align with the folk traditions of the town. Because ever since he began ministering here, it always annoyed him to preach in the Ozark Howler’s shadow.
Cumberland Presbyterian church was an old-time work of art. White wooden siding, a large and characteristic steeple, and some of the finest stained glass around, crafted by Robert Turner, a longtime resident of the Ozarks. And in the center back wall of the church house, glowing in the Sunday morning sunrise, was a one-of-a-kind piece of stained glass depicting Jesus walking over the hillside with the Ozark Howler bowing in submission. The townsfolk deemed this work a respectful blend of their faith while acknowledging the folkish roots, but Horace Greenleaf, their new minister was having none of it.
Tired of their superstitious foolery and lack of complete faith, Horace decided that it was time to make a statement. On the eve of Christ’s birth, Christmas of 1907, Horace declared to the congregation that the Howler had become like a golden calf and that he would tolerate the image of this dark spirit no more. He grabbed the brass candlestick from the altar and threw it through the stained glass, busting a hole between the depiction of Christ and deemed demonic Ozark Howler. Miss Miriam Frawney, the church’s choir director looked up at Horace and offered a warning that the Howler wouldn’t approve of his antics, before turning and leading over half the congregation out of the service.
Not even one week later, on New Years’ day, 1908, Horace arrived at the church to find it completely engulfed in flames. When the church members rebuilt under a new name, Central Presbyterian Church, they made sure to hold prayer sessions and place offerings to the Howler to atone for their sins against it. Oh, and they found a new preacher too.
Tales of the Ozark Howler are interesting. For decades, information on this creature seemed to slip into obscurity. Other than a few tall tales told by locals, nothing was available that contained any information on what the Ozark Howler actually was. But just because it wasn’t available didn’t mean that it didn’t exist. In the 1920s-30’s man by the name of Saul Ashton took up an interest in the Howler and began assembling stories of the creature out of spite. See, Saul was born Paul but changed his name in 1928 as a gesture against his hyper-religious upbringing. The opposite of the Saul-turned-Paul of the Bible, who wrote a large part of the new testament. Think of it as an anti-Damascus road experience.
Saul Ashton had fallen in love with a beautiful woman named Caroline Pearl. But his family did not approve of their relationship. You see, Caroline was the granddaughter of a slave. She was an activist for the rights of African Americans and people of color. And Saul’s family, devout racists despite the fact that Saul’s own grandmother was a woman of color herself, deemed their relationship to be “against God.” So Paul abandoned his family and faith, changed his name, and started a new life that he could shape into the image he imagined. And the Ozark Howler, this folkloric fiend, was the perfect idea to put his mind towards to stick it to his family, whether he believed in it or not.
But when Saul died, his writings were kept hidden by his family for fear of tainting their name. Despite a handful of copies of his book, Tales of the Ozark Howler, being in circulation, any further rights of publication were revoked, and his text all but faded into obscurity. That is, until 2017, when the last remaining direct ancestor of Saul passed away, and rights were transferred to a woman by the name of Sophia. When Sophia found a copy of Saul Ashton’s works tucked away in the midst of her deceased Aunt’s financial records and read through them, she instantly knew they needed to be released again. So she passed it off to an editor by the name of Hawthorne Cornus, and Saul’s work went back on the market in 2017.
These stories are wildly captivating, like something you’d see in a Netflix 8-part series. Racial discrimination, religious turmoil, occult fascination with mystical creatures; heck, I’d eat a social commentary like this up. But there’s probably a good reason as to why this sounds so thematic and outlandish, and it’s simple because it probably is. See, Central Presbyterian Church might exist and did burn down, according to their website, but I can’t find mention of this oddly specific piece of stained glass ever existing. Heck, despite the church roster mentioning a member named C. R. Turner, I can’t find a glassmaker named Robert Turner anywhere.
And while we are at it, from everything I can find, there never was a Saul Ashton. The whole thing seems to be fictionalized. And who wrote it? Well, not Hawthorn Cornus, that’s for sure, because despite publishing this supposed long-lost text in 2017, there are no records he ever existed, either. It seems to all be an intricate web of stories and a lot of imagination. But at least we have those forum posts back in the 90s, right? Well…. It seems even that might not all be as honest as it seems.
It turns out the rumors that those college hoaxers who turned out to be Sasquatch hunters that were actually hoaxing the idea of a hoax might all just be a hoax too! As pointed out by Researcher Loren Coleman, many of those original posts were, in fact, from the same IP address. But this wasn’t the computer of a college kid or Bigfoot hunter but rather of a skeptic who was bitter about another new cryptid hitting the scene, the El Chupacabra (Which we will be covering in a couple of weeks). They were intent on proving how easy it is to make people believe in outlandish claims. And as much as we might hate to admit it, if this is true, then they were right.
So the hoax that was hoaxed might just be a hoax that spurred a hoax written by an author who was a hoax based on an old-fashioned hoax. If you can wrap your head around all that. And yet in there somewhere are echoes of folklore that have existed since humans began to understand the passing of time, like a lamp in the distance, we find ourselves drawn deeper in search for truth. But the only truth that remains is this: The journey of discovery is the greatest discovery one could ever hope to find.
The Ozark howler is an interesting concept. An eclectic mix of possible sightings, mistaken identification of bears and bobcats, as well as a good blend of tall tales that trickle back all the way to our oldest roots. It’s just about the best representation of true U.S. folklore that I could hope to give you. And since you’ve followed us this far down the rabbit…er… I mean, Howler hole, I have one more piece of evidence that I’d love to show. Oh, and good news! This one is just a few years old and comes with actual photos!
From around 2005 – 2011, sightings of the supposed Ozark Howler started to trickle in once more. Many of these sightings this go around were quickly dismissed as mountain lions, some of which even went on to be captured on trail cams driving the point home. But one man out for a hike in Devil’s Den State Park (of all places) soon would shake up those typical misidentifications and offer a new piece of evidence for folklorists to chew on.
Devils Den State Park is a beautiful outdoor destination. Nestled in Lee Creek Valley, about 25 miles south of Fayetteville in the climbing mountains of the Ozarks, Devil’s Den is a perfect place to do some hiking away from the hustle, cavern exploring, or even a bit of canoe fishing in Lake Devil. I have personally spent many an evening exploring the corners of this Northwestern Arkansas beauty. But for John Meyers, his hike would turn up more than just a pretty view.
John recounts, “We were up near Yellow Rock trailhead this morning and saw this thing chase a squirrel up a tree, and I have never seen anything like it. It had short black fur, a broad nose, and horns like a young deer, but it moved like a cat and had a long tail. Don’t know what else it could be but the Howler. It was yelping and scratching at the tree, and I got this pretty good photo when it stopped and turned to look at me.”
The story made the local news, and when one reporter, Wes Johnson, mentioned how to him, it looked photoshopped, John quickly jumped to his own defense, “I take exception that you’re saying the photos were Photoshopped. I swear on the Lord these are not Photoshopped.” John proclaimed. ”I believe two things in this world to be true, that Jesus Christ is my savior and that the Ozark Howler is real and living in the Arkansas mountains.”
John recounted, however since he was a kid, his grandpa would take him camping and tell him stories of the Ozark Howler. Now, he was finally able to see one for himself, and with the advent of the camera phone, we get to share in what he saw. And while this little guy looks more like an adorable German Shepherd jackalope puppy than a bear-sized, shaggy-haired monster, it still offers us a modern and tangible glimpse into the tale that is the Ozark Howler.
The Double Hoax – Ozark Howler Network
Daniel Boone and the Ozark Howler – Ozark Howler Network
Journey To The Other Side With The Ozark Howler – Ozark Howler Information
The Ozark Howler – Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma
Unlock The Ozarks – Stories – Folklore, Legends, & Myths – Ozark Howler
‘Ozark Howler’ sighting at Devils Den? Game & Fish say photos are a ‘hoax’
Johnson: Do you believe in the Ozark Howler?
Cù Sìth | Myths and Folklore Wiki | Fandom
Central Presbyterian Church Russellville Arkansas
History Central Presbyterian Church Russellville Arkansas
Tales of the Ozark Howler: Ashton, Saul, Cornus, Hawthorne: 9781097616473: Amazon.com: Books
Ozark howler photo 2015 – Google Search
Devil’s Den State Park | Arkansas State Parks
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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.