Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

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Monday, 20 April 2009

OTTER KINGS TO EARTH HOUNDS - IN SEARCH OF BRITAIN'S LESSER-KNOWN MYSTERY BEASTS

Grace Connolly was a recently-married young woman who lived in the townland of Creevelea, at the northwestern corner of Glenade Lake, just inside County Leitrim's border with County Sligo, in Ireland. One bright morning in September 1722, Grace went down to the lake, to bathe and perhaps also to wash clothes. Tragically, however, she did neither, for while there she was attacked and killed by a water monster that rose up out of the lake's depths.


Carving of the dobhar-chú on Grace Connolly's tombstone (Dave Walsh)

When her husband, Terence McGloughlan (in keeping with Gaelic custom, Grace had retained her maiden name after marrying him), discovered Grace's body lying at the lake's edge later that day, he was half-crazed with grief. However, his grief turned to fury when he saw that his wife's assassin was actually lying asleep across her prone form. It was a dobhar-chú - a mysterious, elusive beast of Irish folk tradition, also known as a king otter or master otter, because it superficially resembled a normal otter but was much bigger, with powerful hound-like limbs.

Terence lost no time in slaying the monster, but its death cries alerted its equally formidable mate, which emerged from the lake and pursued Terence, who fled on horseback. Eventually, however, he ambushed the avenging dobhar-chú and slew it.

Needless to say, this could be readily discounted as just another traditional Irish folk story - were it not for the stark fact that Grace Connolly's grave exists. And carved upon her tombstone is a detailed depiction of her cryptozoological nemesis - the dobhar-chú.

This still-unidentified mystery beast is just one of many strange, enigmatic beasts reported over the years - and centuries - from the British Isles, thereby demonstrating that Nessie and various pantheresque or puma-resembling big cats are not the only mystery creatures associated with our green and pleasant lands.

MASTERING THE MASTER OTTER

The mystery of the dobhar-chú or master otter is particularly intriguing, thanks to the existence of Grace Connolly's tombstone and the portrait depicted upon it. As revealed in my books Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999) and The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), both of which contain a detailed account of this remarkable case, Grace's grave can be found in Conwall Cemetery, in the town of Drummans, forming part of the approach to the Valley of Glenade from the coastal plain of north County Leitrim and south County Donegal, and not far from Bundoran.

Grace's name, and that of her husband, together with the year of her death, are still legible, as is the remarkable carved image of the dobhar-chú. The creature is depicted lying down with its head and neck flung backwards so as to lie flat along its back, thus representing it in its death throes, because a spear-like weapon (gripped at its upper end by a human fist) is piercing the base of its neck and re-emerging below its body. The creature itself curiously combines the short head and tiny ears, large paws, and long heavy neck of an otter with the long limbs and powerful thighs, deep-chested body, and lengthy curved tuft-tipped tail of a hound-like dog.

As true otters are very familiar beasts in Ireland, it would seem unlikely that this is merely a badly-executed portrayal of a normal otter. Yet if it is an accurate depiction, then the creature that it illustrates would appear to be unknown to science. Even more intriguing is that whereas this carving represents a creature killed back in 1722, a very similar beast has also been reported from this same area of Ireland in much more recent times.

Immediately to the west of County Sligo is County Mayo, off whose western coast is a small isle called Achill Island, containing a lake known as Sraheens Lough. During May 1968, several observers independently reported seeing a strange creature either running on land near to the lake or emerging directly from it. The mystery beast was said to be 8-10 ft long, roughly 2.5 ft high, and shiny black or very dark brown in colour, with a small head but a long neck and tail, and four powerful legs on which it rocked from side to side as it ran. A modern-day dobhar-chú? Perhaps - but until a specimen is (if ever) obtained, this mystifying mammal will continue to linger with leprechaun-like evanescence amid the twilight limbo between Celtic folklore and contemporary fact.

WHEN A SEA MONSTER SET FORTH FROM THE FIRTH OF TAY?

It's not every day that you see a sea serpent - and certainly not one that is actually making its way laboriously on land, along a major road, in full view of passing traffic. Yet that is what at least two eyewitnesses may well have seen, judging from their independent yet closely corroborating statements. The first of these was Maureen Ford, driving with some friends along the A85 towards Perth at 11.30 pm on 30 September 1965. Suddenly, as she neared Perth, she saw what she subsequently described as "a long grey shape [which] had no legs but I'm sure I saw long pointed ears", by the roadside yet only a few yards from the banks of the River Tay, which enters close by into a North Sea inlet - the Firth of Tay.

At 1.00 am the very next morning, this bizarre beast was seen again, but on the opposite side of the road, to which it had apparently crossed meanwhile. Its eyewitness this time was Robert Swankie, driving along the same road but in the opposite direction from Ford, i.e. away from Perth and on towards Dundee. As he drove along, however, his vehicle's headlights abruptly exposed an extraordinary sight - a weird creature with a 20-ft-long body that was "...humped like that of a giant caterpillar" (i.e. undulating vertically), and a head over 2 ft long, bearing a pair of pointed ear-like appendages. The creature was moving very slowly, making "...a noise like someone dragging a heavy weight through the grass".

Swankie wanted to stop, in order to obtain an even closer look at this scientifically-unidentified animal, but there was a car close behind him, so he deemed it best to carry on driving; however, he did subsequently report his sighting to the police. Suggestions that perhaps it had all simply been a trick of the light have since been discounted by cryptozoological investigators, pointing out that if this had indeed been true, why then had Swankie not seen monsters elsewhere on his journey?

After all, there was nothing special, optically speaking, about the particular stretch of road along which he and Ford had independently, and on opposite sides, spied an elongate mystery beast - one which, moreover, closely recalls many sightings of comparably serpentiform sea serpents and also lake monsters, including the equally inexplicable horse-eels of Lough Nahooin and elsewhere in Ireland. And optical illusions in any event do not normally feature an accompanying soundtrack of dragging noises.

Perhaps therefore, some highly elusive, still-unrecognised water beast did indeed emerge from the sea that evening under the cover of darkness, to make a rare, short foray overland, but by sheer chance had been spotted separately by two late-night travellers.

TEGGIE OF BALA LAKE

Also called Llyn Tegid, Bala Lake is Wales's largest lake, and, thanks to Teggie, its resident monster, it has also lately become its most famous, cryptozoologically speaking. In recent times, a number of sightings have been claimed here, featuring a reclusive creature variously likened to a crocodile or to the long-necked Nessie-type beasts more famously reported from Scotland. For example, while fishing from a small boat on the lake in March 1995, Paul and Andrew Delaney, visiting from London and unaware of Teggie reports, peered in great surprise at a small head that appeared at the lake's surface only 80 yards or so away, then proceeded to raise itself on a long slender neck until it was about 10 ft above the surface. This and other reports prompted an investigation of the lake later that same year by a Japanese TV crew, who obtained a sonar trace of a very large, unidentified object moving swiftly under the water, but failed to film Teggie, who remains steadfastly aloof.

THE EARTH HOUND OF BANFFSHIRE


The earth hound (William Rebsamen)


One of Britain's most macabre mystery beasts must surely be the earth hound or yard pig of Banffshire, northern Scotland, which allegedly lives in or near graveyards and digs inside coffins to feed upon corpses. Alexander Fenton and veteran Scottish cryptozoological chronicler David Heppell have uncovered a number of fascinating accounts regarding this creature.

One such account, written in 1917 by a Mr A. Smith, documents the description of an earth hound by a gardener who had dug up and killed it about half a century earlier, while ploughing some haughs (alluvial flats) close to a churchyard. According to the gardener, it was brown in colour rather like a rat, but had a long hound-like head, and a tail bushier than a rat's. This same specimen was later seen by a second eyewitness, who stated that it was:

"...something between a rat and a weasel, and about the size of a ferret, head very like that of a dog...the tail was not very long. At a casual glance it would be mistaken for a rat, but was quite unlike on close examination."

An earth hound killed in c.1915 near Mastrick, again near a churchyard, was said to have mole-like feet, white tusks, and prominent pig-like nostrils. Even as recently as spring 1990, Fenton was soberly informed of the earth hound by a Banffshire friend. Yet surely, if such a creature truly existed on Scotland, there would be specimens of it in museums by now - unless the very unsavoury nature of its lifestyle has effectively warded off attempts to seek out and preserve specimens of this weird animal?

CENAPRUGWIRION

Among the least-known yet most mystifying of British cryptozoological beasts is a curious 1-ft-long lizard-like reptile supposedly inhabiting burrows in and around Abersoch in North Wales. Known as the cenaprugwirion or genaprugwirion (sometimes translated as 'daft flycatcher'), it is readily distinguished from all species of native lizards not only by its length but also by its combination of an orange-sized head, dewlap (skin flap) beneath its chin, large mobile eyes, long fly-catching tongue, and mud-brown colour. Apparently once common here, it is rarely reported nowadays, which is a great tragedy, because this tantalising creature bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the world's most remarkable reptiles - the tuatara Sphenodon punctatus of New Zealand.

Tuatara (Dr Karl Shuker)

A veritable 'living fossil', the tuatara is the only modern-day representative of an otherwise long-extinct reptilian lineage known as the sphenodontids, and is found nowhere else in the world - officially. During the 19th Century, however, tuataras were commonly imported into Britain, and as they are not only well-suited to surviving Britain's climate but also have an extremely long lifespan (several decades), it has been suggested that perhaps some tuataras escaped into the Welsh countryside a century ago and established a viable colony, whose members were ultimately dubbed cenaprugwirions by the local people.

THE BEAST OF SOAY

Soay is a small unassuming island just south of Skye, largest of the Inner Hebridean isles. On 13 September 1959, however, the waters surrounding it witnessed an extraordinary incident - a decidedly close encounter between two fishermen and an incredible reptilian sea monster. Swimming to within 20 yards of the dinghy containing angler Tex Geddes and engineer James Gavin came a huge sea creature with a blunt tortoise-like head and gaping toothless mouth (through which they could plainly hear it breathing), red mouth lining, cylindrical neck, rounded face, and two large protruding eyes. Its body was scaly, burly, and the expanse visible above the sea surface was estimated by the two men to be 8-10 ft long. Overall, therefore, Soay's unwonted visitor may well have recalled a giant marine turtle - had it not been for the row of distinctive triangular spines running along the midline of its back, which bestowed upon it a disturbingly prehistoric appearance. Some zoologists sought to identify it as an escapee iguana, but there is even less resemblance between this lizard and the Soay beast than between the latter and a turtle. Happily, the bizarre creature posed no threat to its eyewitnesses, and was last spied by them swimming away towards the island of Barra.

EYEWITNESS REPORT - HOOKING THE HORNED MONSTER OF LOUGH DUBH

One of the most terrifying mystery beasts ever recorded within the chronicles of British cryptozoology was encountered by schoolteacher Alphonsus Mullaney and his young son, also called Alphonsus, while fishing one day after school in mid-March 1962 at Lough Dubh in County Galway, Ireland. As the shocked teacher later recalled to a Sunday Review reporter:


“Suddenly there was a tugging on the line. I thought it might be caught on a root, so I took it gently. It did not give. I hauled it slowly ashore, and the line snapped. I was examining the line when the lad screamed.

"Then I saw the animal. It was not a seal or anything I had ever seen. It had for instance short thick legs, and a hippo face. It was as big as a cow or an ass, square faced, with small ears and a white pointed horn on its snout. It was dark grey in colour, and covered with bristles or short hair, like a pig.”

After the two Mullaneys promptly fled, a party of brave locals with guns later returned, but no trace of the monster was found. However, as noted by lake monster author Peter Costello, far from basking in the resulting publicity of their amazing sighting the Mullaneys actively shunned all television interviews, and the father did everything to assist his son in blotting their very frightening experience from his young mind. Accordingly, Costello considers a hoax to be out of the question. As for the creature itself, of which no further sightings have been reported: it bears no resemblance to any other lake monster on file - or indeed, to any other beast of any kind - and therefore remains a total enigma.

UNSOLVED HISTORICAL CASES - THE WINGED SNAKE OF HYDE PARK AND HAMMERSMITH

Perusing old back issues of long-vanished British journals can be a surprisingly successful means of uncovering baffling yet fascinating cryptozoological reports - as evinced by the following still-unexplained account, which appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine on 20 April 1798. Penned by a correspondent identified only as 'SB', it concerned a surrealistic snake(?) allegedly sighted a few miles west of London at the beginning of August 1776:

“The strange object was of the serpent kind: its size that of the largest common snake; and as well as it could be discovered from so transient a view of it, resembled it by a kind of grey mottled skin. The head of this extraordinary animal appeared about the size of a small woman's hand. It had a pair of short wings very forward on the body, near its head; and the length of the whole body was about two feet. Its flight was very gentle; it seemed too heavy to fly either fast or high; and its manner of flying was not in an horizontal attitude, but with its head considerably higher than the tail; so that it seemed continually labouring to ascend without ever being able to raise itself much higher than seven or eight feet from the ground.”

Not long afterwards, the same magazine published a second account, by a pseudonymous correspondent identified only as 'JR', describing a supposed sighting by a friend of a similar (or even the same?) creature, this time encountered on the road between Hammersmith and Hyde Park Corner on the evening of 15 July 1797. Dark in colour, roughly 2 ft long, and "about the thickness of the lower part of a man's arm", it had very short wings placed near the head, and flew less than 7-8 ft above the ground, with its head raised above its body.

With no details supplied concerning the correspondents' identities, an outright hoax or a somewhat abstruse example of 18th Century satire cannot be discounted. Certainly, to the best of my knowledge Hyde Park and Hammersmith are not renowned nowadays for visitations from serpents of the winged variety, which is probably no bad thing!

THE WALKING FIR CONE OF DUMPTON PARK

It was on 16 April 1954 when Police Constable S. Bishop, while walking through Dumpton Park in Ramsgate, Kent, encountered a bizarre-sounding beast that he likened to "a walking fir-cone". Since then, nothing more has been heard of this novel creature, but PC Bishop's evocative description of it continues to tease and torment. What could it have been?

When I first read it, Bishop's description immediately conjured up images of pangolins. Also known as scaly anteaters, these extraordinary beasts, covered in huge brown scales, really do resemble animated pine or fir cones. However, they are wholly confined to tropical Asia and Africa, and due to their insectivorous diet are very difficult to maintain in captivity. Accordingly, they are rarely exhibited in zoos, and are seldom if ever kept as pets in the western world. Thus, despite being fir cone lookalikes, pangolins surely cannot be considered seriously as candidates for the Dumpton Park beast's identity.

More recently, however, a second identity was suggested to me that offers a greater degree of plausibility, yet does not compromise the fir cone similarity factor. John Mitchell from San Francisco had read my account of the Dumpton Park beast in my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), and offered a most intriguing identity for consideration. Namely, the Australian stumpytail or shingleback skink Trachydosaurus rugosus - also called the pine-cone skink, because its large brown overlapping scales make this lizard look uncannily like a pine or fir cone on legs, as discovered by Mitchell when introduced to a pet specimen owned by a friend. Around 14 in long when adult, with a tail so closely resembling its head that it is difficult to distinguish one end of the creature from the other, the stumpytail is possibly the best-known lizard in Australia, due to its abundance and presence in or around a number of Australian suburbs. Moreover, its placid temperament and tough survival ability make this lizard a popular pet, frequently maintained by herpetological enthusiasts worldwide. Hence there is rather more potential for the Dumpton Park beast being an escapee stumpytail skink than an absconded pangolin.

As with all of the cryptic beasts documented here, however, in the absence of a specimen or even a good photo of one, any attempt at identification is fraught with difficulty - and especially so with those that seemingly bear little if any resemblance to animals currently known to science. Far too much hot air is generated within cryptozoological circles arguing vehemently but vainly about what a given mystery beast is and is not, instead of sensibly accepting that without a physical specimen to examine, all that we can have are theories and opinions, not facts. In the case of the animals surveyed here, although they are less famous than Nessie and Britain's mystery cats, they are no less fascinating, and certainly are no less deserving of further investigation, in the hope that one day theories and opinions regarding them can indeed be replaced by hard facts - the true goal of any serious cryptozoologist.




Sunday, 12 April 2009

NORTH AMERICA'S ELUSIVE BABYFEET – Part 2.

Reward poster for the missing Wyoming mini-mummy


Herewith the second part of my survey of North America’s mysterious babyfeet and other littlefeet. If anyone out there has details of further examples, or additional information regarding any of those documented here (especially news regarding the Wyoming mini-mummy’s current whereabouts), I’d be very interested in receiving them.

THE GEOW-LUD-MO-SIS-EG OF NEW BRUNSWICK

Proving that Little People are not a Northwest idiosyncrasy, however, Amerindian traditions regarding such entities are also on file from the Northeast, notably New York State. Here, as revealed in Edmond Wilson's book Apologies to the Iroquois, at least two tribes of dwarves supposedly lived among the Tuscaroras. One of these tribes possessed extraordinary powers of healing and would sometimes treat injured or ailing Iroquois in exchange for gifts of tobacco, but the other tribe preferred to play tricks instead, unless appeased with tobacco.

Much further south, within Louisiana's Mississippi Delta, reports have periodically emerged concerning a race of 'little red men', according to Peter Haining, writing in Ancient Mysteries (1977). About the size of ten-year-old children, they allegedly inhabit the secluded depths of the bayous, where they are as adept at climbing trees as monkeys.

And even further south, in New Mexico, there is an ancient Cochiti legend telling of how the Pueblo tribe of the Stone Lions was attacked by a fierce race of pygmies. Full details are preserved in the 29th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1907-1908).

Nor are mystery mini-humanoids confined exclusively to the United States within the North American continent. Moving northwards across the 49th Parallel, southeastern Canada can also lay claim to a version - the Geow-lud-mo-sis-eg. These entities are commonly met with in the vicinity of water, such as marshy ground, riverbanks, brooksides, or lake shores. Fond of playing tricks on humans, they display a particular delight in finely braiding (with consummate skill) strands of hair on the tails of horses, cows, and other domestic animals.

Their lore has been extensively researched by writer Pat Paul, of the Maliseet Nation, who lives on the Tobique Indian Reserve in New Brunswick. Once frequently spied, nowadays the Geow-lud-mo-sis-eg are rarely reported, but they do not appear to have entirely vanished.

Several years ago, one of the Tobique elders and his wife looked out of their home's window one night during a heavy downpour of rain and saw three of these dwarves sitting around an outdoor fireplace. In keeping with the ancient lore concerning these strange beings, the fire burning in this open-air fireplace remained fully lit and blazing, in spite of the torrential rain pouring down upon it. Moreover, minute stone beads supposedly manufactured by the Geow-lud-mo-sis-eg have been found at the Passammaquoddy Nation (Sebayik) Reservation in Maine. Measuring 0.04-1 inch long, each of these beads is composed of a shale-like material, and contains a hole enabling the thread to pass through.

Far more remarkable, however, but tragically lost (or at least mislaid) are the pygmy coffins and corpses found on an unidentified island by Captain Luke Foxe during the early 1630s while exploring the Hudson Bay/Baffin Island region of northeastern Canada. In 1635, Foxe recorded his extraordinary find in his journal as follows:

"The newes from the land was that this Iland was a Sepulchre, for that the Salvages [sic] had laid their dead (I cannot say interred), for it is all stone, as they cannot dig therein, but lay the Corpes upon the stones, and well them about with the same, coffining them also by laying the sides of old sleddes above, which have been artificially made. The boards are some 9 or 10 ft long, 4 inches thicke. In what manner the tree they have bin made out of was cloven or sawen, it was so smooth as we could not discerne, the burials had been so old. And, as in other places of those countries, they bury all their Vtensels [utensils], as bowes, arrowes, strings, darts, lances, and other implements carved in bone. The longest Corpes was not above 4 foot long, with their heads laid to the West...their Corpes were wrapped in Deare [deer] skinnes...They seem to be people of small stature."

Although Foxe's sailors took away the wooden boards to be used as firewood, they did not disturb the pygmy corpses, but the island in question has never been satisfactorily identified, thereby ruling out the possibility of launching any modern search for further relics here.

WYOMING'S MINI-MUMMY

In contrast, there is at least one corpse of an incredible North America mini-humanoid on record that has been formally examined by scientists - but all to no avail, as it turned out.

Its extraordinary history began one day in October 1932, when gold-prospectors Cecil Main and Frank Carr blasted a hole through the wall of a ravine in the San Pedro Mountains, about 65 miles southwest of Casper, Wyoming - and made a momentous discovery. The wall had been hiding a cavern, which contained a small ledge. And sitting on the ledge, in cross-legged pixie-like pose, with its arms folded across its chest, was the mummy of a diminutive humanoid figure, with a sitting height of less than 7 in and a total height of only 14 in.

Sporting a tanned if wrinkled bronze-coloured skin, barrel-shaped body, large hands, long fingers, low brow, very wide mouth with large lips, and broad flat nose, this strange figure resembled a smirking old man, who seemed almost to be winking at its two amazed discoverers, as one of its large eyes was half-closed. Nevertheless, it was evident that it had been dead for a very long time, and its death did not appear to have been a pleasant one. Its head was abnormally flat, and was covered with a dark gelatinous substance - later examinations by scientists revealed that its skull had been smashed by an extremely heavy blow, and the gelatinous substance was congealed blood and exposed brain tissue.

The most detailed examination, including x-ray analysis, was conducted by anthropologist Dr Henry Shapiro from the American Museum of Natural History, which confirmed that the mummy (subsequently dubbed Pedro, after its provenance) was not a fake but did indeed contain a complete if minuscule skeleton, a fully-fused skull (verifying that it was an adult humanoid, and not an infant - not even an anencephalous one), and also a full set of teeth.

The Casper midget mummy's current whereabouts are unknown (it was last seen publicly in 1955, and even a $10,000 reward for its discovery offered in February 2005 by Bibleland Studios founder John Adolfi failed to uncover it), but its x-ray plates are still on file. Moreover, not long after its initial discovery by the two prospectors, a Mexican shepherd called Jos‚ Martinez reputedly found another mummy and six separate skulls on a ranch in the same vicinity. After soon suffering a number of mishaps, however, he considered them to be jinxed, so he swiftly replaced them where he had found them.

Other mini-mummies have also been reported over the years from elsewhere in the U.S.A. One of the most noteworthy of these was a 3-ft-tall, red-haired specimen discovered during the 1920s on a ledge in Kentucky's famous Mammoth Cave, and which seemed to be only a few centuries old. During 1922, sheep-herder Bill Street claimed to have found several small skulls and whole mummies in Montana's Beartooth Mountains, but their present whereabouts are unclear. Two young men on a day off from the Civilian Conservation Corps came upon a dead pygmy with sharp teeth in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains during 1933 (was it a Ninnimbe?); both died soon afterwards, and others who saw it died from severe illnesses.

In 1969, author John 'Ace' Bonar visited orthopaedic specialist Richard Phelps in Casper to see the preserved head of a mysterious tiny humanoid that he was displaying at that time in his shop. Bonar learnt that the head had originally been taken from a cliff near Wyoming's Muddy Gap. After Phelps's death in 1980, his daughter donated the preserved pygmy head to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where it is still said to be today.

According to Bonar, the husband of Winnie Cardell from Alcova, Wyoming, also owned a mini-mummy - until he loaned it to a college professor, who never returned it. A specimen closely resembling the famous Casper mini-mummy attracted media attention in January 1979 when it was loaned to Californian antique appraiser Kent Diehl of San Anselmo for examination. Just under 1 ft long, with an indentation at the back of the head indicating brain injury as the cause of death, the mummy was supposedly found in Central America during 1919, but Diehl would not publicly identify the Marin family that presently owns it.

Attempts have been made by some researchers to dismiss the Casper specimen as a grossly-malformed human child or foetus, but its adult characteristics conflict with this identity. Also, there are many Amerindian traditions of mysterious races of dwarves or pygmies, as we have seen, and some of these allegedly kill their own kind when they become old or infirm by beheading them or smashing their skulls - in precisely the way that Casper's mummified midget and its Central American lookalike met their deaths. Just a coincidence?

DOVER DEMON

Sceptics claim that North American mystery dwarves, pygmies, and other littlefeet exist only in native American folklore and legends, and that white Westerners never report such beings. In reality, however, this is far from true, as exemplified by the Dover demon.

At around 10.30 pm on 21 April 1977, 17-year-old Bill Bartlett was driving home with two friends through Dover in Massachusetts when his headlights illuminated a bizarre entity picking its way along a stone wall at the side of the road. Standing 3-4 ft high with hairless but rough-textured, peach-coloured skin, the creature had a disproportionately large melon-shaped head whose face was wholly featureless except for a big pair of protruding eyes that glowed orange. Its body was slight, but its arms and legs were very long and thin, terminating in slender, supple fingers and toes. Bill Bartlett later produced a sketch of this entity, which became known as the Dover demon - a sketch that was almost identical to the drawing prepared independently by a separate eyewitness, 15-year-old John Baxter, who had seen the being less than two hours after Bartlett's encounter.

Baxter had been walking home close to the location of Bartlett's sighting when he spied the 'demon', and chased it down a gully. Two other sightings were made within the next 24 hours, after which it was never reported again. On account of its truly unearthly appearance, wholly unlike any type of creature known to science, some researchers have deemed the Dover demon to be an extraterrestrial, or, at the very least, an interdimensional, visitor. All of which makes it all the more intriguing that like so many other littlefeet on record, this mystifying entity does have a traditional, terrestrial precedent.

The Cree Nation of eastern Canada speak of a mysterious, elusive race of pygmies known to them as the Mannegishi, which live between rocks in the rapids. Their morphological description corresponds almost exactly with that of the Dover demon.

So what are we to make of North America's littlefeet? Quite evidently, they are more than just a myth, and have been in existence here for a very long time. But what are they, and where did they originally come from?

Are they native New Worlders that have retreated in historic times to remote localities away from modern humanity's conquering reach? Interestingly, in his absorbing book on the huge extinct ape Gigantopithecus, entitled Other Origins: The Search For the Giant Ape in Human Prehistory (1990), American anthropologist Dr Russell Ciochon briefly referred to a native American tradition concerning a tiny human entity referred to as the ‘little cat man’, and he speculated that this may refer to an extinct North American prosimian.

Or could the littlefeet actually constitute beings from a very different, parallel world that can and do enter ours at will, in the best traditions of Little People everywhere? And where, in the infinitely subtle continuum of reports, do Little People end and extraterrestrials begin, anyway? After all, entities like the Dover demon and other littlefeet documented here effortlessly if confusingly embrace both ends of this vast spectrum of sightings instantaneously.

Documenting the Wyoming mini-mummy in his book Stranger Than Science (1959), veteran mysteries investigator Frank Edwards made the following pertinent comment:

"Scientists from far and near have examined this tiny fellow and have gone away amazed. He is unlike anything they ever saw before. Sitting there on the shelf in Casper, visible, disturbing evidence that science may have overlooked him and his kind much too long."

This is certainly true. However, just as there are two sides to every coin, in his own book The Monster Trap (1976), Peter Haining offered an equally disturbing, obverse view:

"For as some of the more serious-minded of the old people of Casper who were alive at the time of the discovery will tell you, they believe the little man was one of a whole race of barbaric dwarf people who once lived in the region in ancient times. And they get the distinct impression from looking at him that he had been sitting there behind the stone wall for thousands of years waiting for someone - or something - to return.

"Now just suppose, they go on with the merest hesitation, that the long-awaited return of what-ever-it-might-be has taken place - and it has found nothing there..."

A chilling little vignette, if true. And who knows - perhaps it really would have been best in this instance to have let sleeping dogs lie, or dormant dwarves dream on?

Monday, 6 April 2009

NORTH AMERICA'S ELUSIVE BABYFEET – Part 1.

A North American littlefoot or babyfoot (Tim Morris)


Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;

William Allingham – The Fairies

Most people will know of North America's giant mystery man-beast, the bigfoot, but far fewer will be familiar with this continent's diverse array of mysterious mini-humanoids, colloquially labelled ‘littlefeet’ or 'babyfeet'. This is a great tragedy, because these diminutive denizens, which appear to have been particularly abundant in the Pacific Northwest, may conceivably be something more than primitive pygmies or physiological dwarves, as they sometimes exhibit characteristics variously associated with the Little People and extraterrestrial visitors.

THE BABYFEET OF OREGON

Take, for instance, the still-unexplained events featuring Bud Darcor and his younger brother that occurred during a weekend in 1944 while they were deer hunting near the Bly Mountain Lookout in Oregon. They had been gazing out over the surrounding forest from the lofty lookout tower when a bright ball of light suddenly appeared in the sky and flew towards a tableland close by, apparently descending upon a mountain about two miles away. Very curious to learn more about this unheralded skyborne visitor, during the following day the two brothers trekked to the location where the object seemed to have landed, and there in a clearing they discovered a burnt patch of ground measuring roughly 30 ft in diameter.

After examining this patch, they began to journey back to the lookout tower, but during their trek they were very surprised to espy some extraordinary footprints in the pumice dust of the road. These tracks crossed the road, progressed up the roadcut bank, and then paused, at which point the unmistakeable impression left by someone sitting down in the dust could be readily discerned. What made these tracks so unusual, however, was their size, each measuring no more than 4.5 in long, with the 'buttocks' impression about 6 in across.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this curious case, however, was still to come. After they had preserved the tracks for future inspection by placing a wooden board over them, the Darcor brothers sought the opinion of a local Forest Service officer and also a government representative. Yet according to the Darcors, the forestry officer preferred to pretend that nothing had been found, whereas the government representative suggested that the tracks' unseen creator may have been a monkey that had fallen out of an aeroplane!

In fact, these tracks were merely another series in a long list of similar discoveries made over many years in Oregon, and which, in the firm belief of this U.S. State's native American tribes, are left behind by an ancient race of dwarf-like beings with supernatural powers. Needless to say, this all sounds like just another version of the worldwide legends appertaining to the existence of fairies or Little People - were it not for the undeniable if inexplicable reality of what are popularly referred to in Oregon as 'babyfoot' tracks.

Indeed, these mysterious entities have even inspired the naming of Baby Rock in Oregon's Lane County, as well as Babyfoot Creek and Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Curry County, Oregon. As recently as 12 February 1992, The Track Record published an account documenting Thomas C. Pitka's discovery of many babyfoot tracks, each a mere 6 in long and bare-footed, around the Green Point Upper Reservoir, southwest of Oregon's Hood River, and others will no doubt continue to be recorded in the future.

Different native tribes in Oregon have different names for the elusive babyfeet, but it is evident that they are referring to the same entities - and often associate them with lights in the sky (including, in some instances, the northern lights). One of the most significant sources of information concerning them is Henry James Franzoni's fascinating book Legends Beyond Psychology, which documents the babyfoot lore of several tribes in this State.

The Tenino (Warm Springs Sahaptin) Indians, for instance, who inhabited part of the Columbia River's south bank in northern central Oregon, have longstanding traditions regarding the mountain-inhabiting 'ground people' or Pah-ho-ho-klah. The Tenino claim that these beings are themselves Indians, wearing buckskin clothes and braided hair, but are much smaller in size, hunt at night with bow and arrows, and call to one other using birdsong. They also possess the formidable power to drive any human crazy who answers or pursues them, and humans who encounter them often discover afterwards that they have unaccountably 'lost' several days.

Sounds familiar?

Diminutive, nocturnal dwarves communicating via birdsong, inducing madness in those who behold them, and linked with lost periods of time also feature in the lore of the Yakama Indians from Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Here they are termed the Te-chum' mah, and are said to inhabit these mountains' more heavily-timbered summits and peaks - particularly in the region bordering Lake Keechelas, about 35 miles north-northeast of Mount Rainier in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. They are also claimed to live around Fish Lake, which lies roughly 4 miles southwest of the Goat Rocks Wilderness's southeast boundary, in the Wenatchee National Forest, and is contained within the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Among Oregon's most intriguing iconographical enigmas are the rock-paintings known to the Yakama Indians as Schop-tash and Puh-tuh num (this latter is now destroyed), depicted on high cliff faces in the Naches Gap near Yakama itself, and which this region's eponymous native tribe claim were there long before they themselves first arrived here. According to the Yakama, these pictographs are the work of a mysterious, cliff-inhabiting race of dwarf-like beings, only 2 ft high and wearing rabbit-skin robes, which they call the Wah'-tee-tas (translated as 'animal people' or 'ancient people'), and are seen only at twilight or dawn.

Oregon's Klamath Indians, who formerly occupied the Klamath Lake and River region speak of several different types of mini-humanoid, which, like so many accounts of Little People, seem to inhabit an intermediate reality that periodically impinges upon our own. The Teakiak'k resemble young boys but are no bigger than babies, with long hair that hangs down their back to waist level. They do not wear clothes, but wooden images of these entities carved by Klamath shamans are decorated with red feathers (from the red-shafted flicker woodpecker) around their neck. There are also the Goga'ne, which are male dwarves with baby-sized footprints, and are allegedly most common amid the Cascade Mountains. These snow-clad slopes are home too to the Na'hnias, once again leaving tiny footprints.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN DWARVES

Another valuable source of data concerning New World pygmies is Ella E. Clark's Indian Legends From the Rockies (1977), documenting lore from several Rocky Mountain tribes.

According to the Flathead Indians, the first inhabitants of their territory in northern Montana were a race of 3-ft-tall dwarves, with very dark skin, and a well-developed civilisation. After the Flatheads' arrival, however, the dwarves retreated ever further into the mountains, where they largely died out. Those few that survived became primarily nocturnal, sleeping in old mountain craters during the day. Eventually they became somewhat mythicised by the Flatheads, who began to attribute supernatural powers to these diminutive beings.

The Coeur d'Alenes and the Spokane Indians of Washington State share traditions of dwarf-like entities, many of whom reputedly once lived in the extremely dense forests and undergrowth that formerly encircled Rosebud Lake. Dressed in brown or red apparel with pointed caps, they were very adept at clambering up and down trees, always climbing head first. At night, their wailing cries would sometimes awaken their Indian neighbours, and like Little People everywhere they delighted in playing mischievous tricks upon unwary humans. A different race of dwarves indigenous to this region once lived in great numbers in cliffs and rocky mountainous retreats, and dressed in squirrel skins. The size of small boys, they hunted with bows and arrows, and enjoyed luring Indian hunters onto the wrong paths.

The Nez Percé‚ Indians of the North West still speak of a race of dwarves known to them as the Its'te-ya-ha or Stick Indians. Dressed in deerskin, with long hair, small eyes, and wrinkled skin, these gnome-like entities inhabited the deep woodlands. They were said to be disproportionately strong relative to their small stature, and were reputedly fond of abducting calves and other livestock of Indians and white settlers alike. According to Lucy Armstrong Isaac, one of Ella Clark's sources of information regarding these beings, her great grandfather once found a dead Stick Indian, resembling a tiny boy, lying on a flat rock.

SHOSHONE TRADITIONS

The Shoshone Indians formerly frequenting western Wyoming, central and southern Idaho, northeastern Nevada, and western Utah have many traditions of dwarf-like humanoids.

The strong, fearless Ninnimbe or Nimerigar of Wyoming, for instance, were claimed to be 2-3 ft tall, garbed in goatskin clothes, and very adroit hunters. They always carried a large quiver of poisoned arrows on their back, which claimed the lives of many Shoshones when they first entered these dwarves' territory. However, the Ninnimbe were themselves vulnerable, as they were frequently preyed upon by eagles, which could easily snatch up these small beings off the ground and carry them away. Like the Wah'-tee-tas in Oregon, the Ninnimbe were deemed responsible for the pictographs on the rocks in Wind River County. Similar beings were also believed in by the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and the Dakota Sioux.

According to the Shoshone, the cave-inhabiting dwarves that supposedly existed at one time in the mountains of Salmon River County and parts of the Owyhee Range in Idaho were cannibals, who thought nothing of abducting and devouring the babies of unwary Indian mothers, then substituting themselves in best changeling tradition. Despite standing a mere 2 ft high, these dwarves were said to be very strong, and wore no clothes, even in the winter; their women, conversely, dressed themselves in skins obtained from deer or mountain sheep killed by the male dwarves using their bows and arrows. Primarily nocturnal, these beings could often be heard singing loudly at night, on cliffs and rocky peaks.

White buffaloes - i.e. albino bison - are held in very high esteem by many Amerindian tribes throughout North America, who venerate them as the sacred property of the sun, and value their creamy pelts as exceedingly potent symbols of power. Having said that, although white buffaloes are therefore linked intimately with the magical and mystical facets of humanity, there is one little-known incident on record that even by these animals' standards is decidedly mystifying. As publicised in Coral E. Lorenzen's book The Shadow of the Unknown (1970), it features a party of Shoshone braves who encountered a herd of buffaloes and killed four of them - one of which was a pure-white calf.

Suddenly, without any prior warning, a troupe of extraordinary little men appeared, surrounding the astonished braves and screaming loudly at them. Unnerved by their antagonists' unexpected appearance (in every sense of the word!), the braves decided to flee to a nearby rocky promontory to use as cover, but their plan was not necessary. One of the braves picked up the carcase of the young white buffalo, swinging it around his head as he did so - at which point the tiny men screamed with fear and raced away.

Recognising its potential, the braves skinned the carcase and stuffed its skin to make it look as if it were still a living calf. Ever afterwards, they took this strange artefact with them on their hunting trips, and although they sometimes saw these mysterious little people, they were never attacked again. For as soon as they appeared, one of the braves would swing the stuffed skin over his head, and the pygmies would flee in terror.

To be continued...