Sunday, September 7, 2008

LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK MONSTER QUIETLY FADES - Expert, Arkansas town officials say swamp creature was a hoax
The Dallas Morning News - August 12, 1986
Author: Scott Charton, Associated Press: The Dallas Morning News (DAL) + _____

Fifteen summers have drifted by since giant footprints generated international publicity about a hairy, pigpen-smelling critter with eyes of fire.

Despite the offer of a $10,000 reward, the Fouke Monster was neither trapped nor photographed. The reported sightings captured the imaginations of students, who had monster-drawing contests, and one teacher who said the creature should be protected as an endangered species.

Descriptions were imprecise. Depending on the source, the red-eyed monster was a howling ape, a swamp man or a country cousin of the Abominable Snowman.

Frank Schambagh, an archaeologist at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, has been debunking the monster since the three-toed tracks were found in June 1971 on the edge of a soybean field. "There's never been any question in my mind that it was always a hoax,' he said in a recent interview.

The reported encounters were fleeting in the town, which is about 10 miles from Texas and about 20 miles from Louisiana. A carload of Texarkana residents said the monster dashed across U.S. 71 one late spring evening. A deer hunter said she spotted the creature in heavy timber. One man moved his family to another town after what he described as a terrifying encounter with the monster that sent him screaming through a closed door.

Supposedly, a town wit pointed to a liquor bottle when asked where he had spotted the monster.

When size 14EE tracks were found by a farmer among the sprouting beans, Fouke Monster fever became an epidemic.

Virgil Roberts, mayor of the town of 509, says the monster was a hyped hoax. "I'm convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that was a man-made track,' Roberts said as he sipped a soda at City Hall.

The monster-generated dollars were real.

Roberts' wife made a plaster cast of the footprint and turned out more than 5,000 miniatures, complete with handpainted "Greetings From Boggy Creek.' Roberts says she sold them to a distributor for 50 cents each.

A low-budget movie titled The Legend Of Boggy Creek made a tidy profit and launched the career of director Charles B. Pierce . The movie starred Fouke residents. Recent efforts to contact Pierce were unsuccessful. The Arkansas Motion Picture office and the Directors Guild of America had no current address or telephone number for Pierce.

A resident who became disgruntled with the production company, J.E. "Smokey' Crabtree, filed suit against Pierce and the movie's financial backers. Crabtree published a book about his experiences in 1974. It's still sold at a hamburger stand in town. Crabtree, asked recently by telephone about the monster, said his book would answer questions and declined further comment. The book says Crabtree's son fired at the monster in 1965 but the creature kept coming, and the youth retreated.

The paperback book and the Boggy Creek Legend pizza on the menu of the Fouke Family restaurant are about the only monster references to be found in the Miller County community these days.

Roberts says the tracks were a publicity stunt. "I feel like somebody walked out in there with stilts on. When I was a boy, we called them tomwalkers. I think they were trying to get attention here. Maybe they thought they could make a little money on it, I don't know. I suspect there was several involved. I won't call their names because some people have passed on,' he said.

Roberts said it's natural for a prankster to boast, but that hasn't happened in Fouke. "I'm kind of puzzled about it,' Roberts said. "I try to downplay it everywhere I go. It's kind of embarassing, a little bit, when I go off to a meeting like the Arkansas Municipal League and they'll ask about the monster.'

There have been no sightings in at least three years, Roberts said. "I won't say all was intoxicated when they saw it, but some did see something that, well, they saw more than actually was there,' he said. "I never did believe it from the day I heard it. I've lived here 65 years and traveled just about every spot in south Miller County. I've never seen anything.'

Chief Deputy H.L. Phillips of the Miller County Sheriff's Department said he hasn't taken a monster call in years. "I don't even recall the last one I got,' he said. "We don't even keep a file anymore. A few years ago, someone called and said they'd found a cave along the Sulphur River where the monster was supposedly living. Nothing there. I don't believe in it. But I'd say you don't argue with people who say they've seen it. Many were respectable and responsible folks.'

"There are no higher primates, other than man, in the Americas,' Schambagh said. "Scientific evidence is totally against it. It's just mass hysteria. I don't think that many people actually believed in it. People see things when their imaginations are excited. They see things, coincidences come together. People see flying saucers.'

Former Fouke Mayor James D. Larey was one of three townspeople named to verify the capture of any monster by a reward-seeker. "There's always joking about it from time to time, you know. Somebody will mention it and somebody will laugh. I don't think the people believed there was a monster as such, but there's always a few people who believe. For a while, there was lots of people talking. I had a bundle of 700 or 800 letters at one time, they were wanting to bring dogs and guns and everything t o find it.'

Most people who have said they have seen the monster, Larey said, "have quieted down, some have passed away, faded out. There's no advertising or anything anymore.'

Former Miller County Sheriff Leslie Greer, who led expeditions of lawmen through the steamy swamps, said he thinks the tracks were faked. "I don't think it did any harm. It created a lot of interest in Fouke, and nobody got hurt, but a lot got excited,' Greer said. "It was just, I think, a rigged deal all the way through. I don't know why anybody would want to do it, unless it was to put Fouke on the map.'

No comments: