The Black Hodag and Other Back Country Creatures

by George Dasher

The Black Hodag:

Artist rendering of a Hodag

Contrary to contemporary opinions, the Hodag is neither indigenous to West Virginia or to caves. The first known hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) was captured near the end of the 19th century near Rhinelander, Wisconsin by one Eugene S. Sheppard and two companions.

Evidently Sheppard, a former forester, was attracted by the hodag’s odor at the headwaters of Rice Creek in Oneida County, where he was able to trail a Black Hodag to the cave in which it lived. The cave entrance was then blocked with large blocks, leaving only a small hole through which was passed a sponge soaked in chloroform on one end of a long pole. The hodag was rendered unconscious, captured, and transported to Rhinelander, where it was subjected to public viewing for a small nominal fee.

The Black Hodag had “the head of a bull, the grinning face of a giant man, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with a spear at the end.” It lived in the dense regions of nearby swamps, feasting mostly on mud turtles, water snakes, and muskrats, although it did partake in an occasional human. The beast had the transmigrated soul of one of Paul Bunyan’s oxen and a very obnoxious odor. This odor was so rank that the residents of Oneida County burned their woods for seven years in an effort to be rid of the beast.

Mr. Sheppard was also able to catch a female hodag after noticing that hodags only slept by leaning against trees. He simply cut down the tree, capturing the hodag. The two were successfully bred, and the result was thirteen eggs, all of which hatched. Sheppard taught these hodags a number of tricks, which he hoped to show for a profit.

It should be noted that although the Rhinelander Daily News “advanced the theory that the hodag was a missing link between ‘the ichthyosaurus and the mylodoan’ of the ice age,” some disbelievers proclaimed that the hodag was simply a large dog that had been covered with a horse hide and displayed in poor lighting. These people further claimed that the word hodag was a combination of the words “horse” and “dog.” However, as any student of Latin knows, Bovinus spiritualis means drunken ox, which can certainly not be confused with any dog in a horse hide.

There are postcards of the hodag available in Rhinelander. It is the author’s belief that the hodag may have migrated to West Virginia with the extensive logging in the 1900’s and, after finding a lack of swamps, which are usually found only on flat land, the hodag had to resort to living in caves. There are no early reports of a hodag with one leg longer than the other, so this may be a recent adaptation to living underground. One can only speculate if the hodag sleeps only by leaning against a speleothem.

The Other Creatures:

There are some other creatures that lived with the hodag that are not so well known, but of which the average caver should be aware. The first is the Gumberoo, which lives in burned-over forest areas and has a round leathery body that is impervious to everything, including rifle fire. The only way to kill a gumberoo is with fire, which causes the animal to explode. Care should also be exercised when taking pictures of the animal, because these too explode.

Flittericks are a variety of flying squirrel, which because of their great speed are very dangerous. they are impossible to dodge but a blow between the eyes easily kills them. Camp chipmunks have been reported to be so large that they kill catamounts and bears. Paul Bunyan’s logging crews often killed them for tigers.

They Cyascutus grazes on the side of hills, eating only rocks. It is about the size of a white-tailed deer, having ears like a rabbit, teeth like a mountain lion, and telescopic legs, which allow it to graze on uneven ground. It is never seen except after snake bite.

The Luferland has a dark blue stripe down the center of its back and triple-jointed legs so that it can run in any direction. It attacks without provocation and its bite is certain death; however, it can bite only once a year. A person is perfectly safe if he meets a Luferland that has already bitten someone.

A Rumptifusel is a very ferocious animal of large size and great strength. It wraps itself around a tree, deceiving its human prey into thinking that it is a fur robe. The Teakettler is a small animal which walks only backwards, emits steam from its nose, ane makes a sound like a teakettle. Because they are extremely shy, you will be very lucky to see one while in the woods.

The Squonk (Lacrimacorpus dissolves) prefers the hemlock forests of Pennsylvania; only a few have ever been spotted elsewhere. The squonk travels between twilight and dusk because it is embarrassed by its misfitting skin, warts, and moles. For this reason it is always unhappy and can in fact be trailed by its tears. Squonks are most easily caught on frosty moonlit nights when they can be heard weeping under the hemlock trees. Care should be taken when capturing a squonk because it will dissolve into tears when cornered. Typical is the story of a Mr. J. P. Wently, who cleverly caught a squonk in a sack after mimicking the animal. On the way home, Mr. Wently’s load suddenly became lighter. Upon investigation, the sack was found to contain nothing but tears and bubbles.

There is also the Tripodero, which has tripod legs and secures its prey by spitting a pellet of clay that it carries in its cheeks. Although this clay stings, it is not dangerous to the human. The Tote-Road Shagmaw has the hind hoofs of a moose and the forelegs of a bear. When it tires one set of legs, it merely switches to the other, making it very hard to track. This animal too is not dangerous to humans, although it will eat any clothing hung on trees or left on the ground. The Sidehill Dodge is also not very dangerous – it has short legs on the uphill side and long legs on the downhill side. It is always dodging in and out of its many burrows and has frightened a large number of cavers.

On the other hand, the Silver Cat is very dangerous, having vertical fiery red eyes and a very long tail with a ball-shaped knob at one and sharp spikes at the other end. the cat sits on a limb and waits for the victim to walk beneath the limb’ then the cat stuns the person with the knob side an picks him up with the spike end. Paul Bunyan lost large numbers of lumberjacks to these cats.

The Billbab (Saltipiscator falcorostratus) is orginally from Maine. It is mentioned only because of the antics one assumes after eating the creature. The billbab has “long kangaroo-like hind legs, short front legs, webbed feet, and a long hawk-like bill.” It fishes by crouching on a grassy knoll overlooking the water. When a trout comes to the surface “the billbab leaps with amazing swiftness just past the fish, bringing its heavy flat tail down with a resounding smack on the fish.” This smack sounds much like a canoe paddle striking the surface of the water. The average jump of the adult billbab is about sixty yards.

Opinion used to be that the billbab was extremely good eating, but since the animals were so shy no one could remember what they tasted like. The first and only man to eat one only took one mouthful, at which time “his body stiffened, his eyes glazed, and his hands clutched the table edge. He then rushed down to the lake, leaped clean out 50 yards, coming down in a sitting position – exactly like a billbab catching a fish – and sank like a stone.” No one has tried to eat a billbab since.

Animals are not the only critters which one has to watch for while in the woods. There are also two species of snakes. One, a hoop snake, rolls itself into the shape of a hoop to pursue its prey. The other, the snow snake, is pure white and more abundant in winter. As most skiers know, the only remedy for this snake’s poisonous and savage bite is Tanglefoot Oil.

The Goofus Bird flies backwards instead of forward, wishing only to know where it’s been and not caring where it is going. It’s nests are always built upside down. The Gillygoo nest only on the sides of hills, laying square eggs so that they will not roll down the hill. These eggs make great dice when they are hard-boiled.

The Pinnacle Goose only has one wing and can fly only in one direction. It’s plumage changes with both the season and the condition of the observer. The Phillyloo Bird has a long beak and long legs and no feathers to spare. It is easily identified because it lays only Grade D eggs and flies upside down to avoid rheumatism in its long legs.

The last are the Mosskittos, which are in reality a species of mosquito. Paul Bunyan drove some Texas bumblebees north to combat thewse mosquitos; however they instead interbred, making the situation worse – the result was offspring with stingers at both ends.

One should also take care to note all fish. The Cougar Fish is very savage and has sharp claws with which it pulls people under the water. Paul Bunyan reportedly offered a huge reward for these fish, but they heard of it and stayed away. The Giddy Fish is very elastic and can be bounced up and down. In fact, if one bounces a giddy fish on a hard surface near the water, the giddy fish remaining in the water will also bounce up and down and can be easily caught. Goofang are a type of fish easily identified because they swim backward to keep the water out of their eyes.

Most notable of all the fish is the Upland Trout. These are so delicious and such a fine pan fish that tenderfeet are often sent into the woods to catch them. However, because they build their nests in trees, Upland trout are very difficult to catch.

Bibliography

Botkin, B. A., A Treasury of American Folklore, Crown Publishers; New York, New York,
1944, pages 644 to 650

MacDougall, Curtis D., Hoaxes, Dover Publications, Inc.;New York, New York,
1940, pages 17, 18, and 24.

Reprinted with permission from George Dasher.