A quick-reference guide to identifying Okie cryptids
Halloween is upon us, and things are already bumping in the night—earlier this fall, a “creature” was ripping apart cars in a Vinita dealership. I didn’t decide it was a “creature”—more than an average animal—Fox23 and the dealership did.
The creature left hair, claw marks and blood on the many cars it literally ripped apart. A trap was set for the beast, and owners eagerly awaited the capture of “Big Foot, a wolf, or a Chupacabra.” We’re a little far north to snag a Mexican goat-sucker, but there’s plenty of other mythic game in our hunting grounds. Because there’s no rest for the wicked, good, or just dimensionally attached entities in our great state, here’s a quick guide to Okie cryptid identification.
A Chupacabra catch is unlikely for the owners of Green Country Ford, but baggin’ and taggin’ Bigfoot might not be too far-fetched. One of the most famous cryptids apart from the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot is described as an elusive giant ape that walks on two feet like a human. The hairy humanoid has different iterations with unique powers, depending on the region (the Yeti is said to inhabit the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet).
Last year, USA Today featured southeastern Oklahoma’s Kiamichi Mountains as a place you’d find Bigfoot “If it exists.” (“A word of caution: The creatures in this area are said to be especially aggressive.”) The area is known for frequent Bigfoot hunts and sightings and the annual Honobia Bigfoot Festival. Earlier this year, a researcher recorded the cries of what he believed to be Bigfoot in central Oklahoma. Bigfeet, Skunk Apes, Wood Apes, or whatever you wanna call ‘em—Oklahoma’s got ‘em by the bushel.
Crosbie Heights Prairie Dog
Years ago, residents of Crosbie Heights and Owen Park began reporting sightings of a strange creature: a beaver without its characteristic tail, but as large as a bulldog, had been seen near the creek running through New Block Park. The nutria/river rat exists in Oklahoma, and prairie dogs had been a nuisance in Bixby. But the large size and solitary nature of this creature cast it in a mysterious light.
One night, I was riding my bike home from Riverside along the creek when a large, prairie dog like animal began running alongside me. It was extremely dark—seemingly made of shadows—and outpaced my already quick clip. I watched as it ran in front of me, dove toward the creek and disappeared in the water without a splash. The next day, I rode by and was amazed to see that the water was so low that the creature must have disappeared into concrete.
Every Okie knows the tale. Divers at the Keystone Dam—whether building the dam, rescuing a person from a sunken car or just perusing the abyss—came face to face with a massive monstrosity. That monstrosity was a catfish large enough to swallow a VW Beetle. Or a Buick. Or it was as big as a Beetle or Buick. Or the man the divers were trying to rescue was in the VW or Buick, and the fish swallowed the car! Either way, that’s a hell of a fish tale.
Naysayers have plenty of reasons to dismiss these reports of freshwater gigantism. I’ve seen a giant Italian catfish though, and don’t mind swimming in my parents’ pool.
Another aquatic antagonist, the Oklahoma Octopus of Lake Thunderbird, has grown in popularity in recent years. In 2009, Animal Planet’s “Lost Tapes” ran an episode over the eight-armed mythical beast, which some have attributed to several unsolved drownings in the area. Versions of it (or maybe the same murderously mobile creature) have also been reported in Lakes Oologah and Tenkiller.
Could there be a sadistic cephalopod lurking in our manmade freshwater reservoirs? Well, probably not. But do I want to get in the lake, and do I want to believe? Hell no and yes, respectively.
Speaking of thunderbirds, an article published in an 1890 issue of The Tombstone Epitaph, an Arizona newspaper, told of two cowboys shooting down a 92-foot-long, immensely winged reptilian creature with an 8-foot beak and sharp teeth. By some accounts, the men took the creature to town, pinned it to a barn and took a picture, but the “thunderbird photograph” has never been found.
Early settlers in Southeastern Oklahoma reportedly sighted these creatures as well, and there are tales of the thunderbirds carrying off children. A different Thunderbird appears in Native American mythologies and is the namesake for the Oklahoma Octopus’ favorite haunt.
When I attended school in Tahlequah, all the students knew about Sparrow Hawk Village, a mysterious community where animals were uncommonly friendly and the residents worshipped peacocks and turned into deer at night. A professor memorably told us: “The only thing you need to be afraid of up there is running off a cliff at night looking for those damn deerpeople.”
Specifics vary by tribe and region, but the belief in “deer people” is a longstanding aspect of Native American mythologies and, by extension, Okie folklore. A shape-shifter, Deer Woman sometimes appears in the body of a beautiful woman, luring men into the woods only to reveal herself as half deer before sealing their fate. The idea of human/animal sirens isn’t specific to our state (or country, for that matter), but Deer Woman occupies a very real space in our statewide psyche.
For more from Mitch, read his article on Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's new comic book, The Battle for Earth.