White River Monster
This legend can be traced to Native American folklore, according to
some news features about the Newport-area creature. The first recorded
sighting was in 1915, followed by another report in 1924. The first
national publicity about "Whitey" appeared in 1937 when farmer Bramblett
Bateman reported to the media that he had watched a gigantic sea
serpent-like beast frolic in the river near his home.
Newsreel cameramen, reporters and curiosity seekers lined the river
downstream from Newport for weeks hoping to get a glimpse of the gray,
slimy beast. In addition to Bateman, three other local residents signed
affidavits stating they also had seen the creature. Reports of and
interest in the river monster eventually subsided, and the incident was
Then, in 1972, several people along the White -- between Jacksonport
and Newport -- reported sighting strange objects in the river. "As big
as a boxcar and 30 feet long...gray all over, with fins," one excited
witness reported. At least seven sightings were recorded, and one
witness offered a blurred Polaroid snapshot he'd taken of the elusive
Once again, the national media focused on the small community of
8,000. A Japanese filmmaker arrived with the intentions of making a
movie and hundreds of media interviews were staged. Local merchants
cashed in on the hype by staging "Monster Sidewalk Sales," and a local
restaurant placed "Monsterburgers" on the menu. Folksinger Jimmy
Driftwood debuted a tune about the White River serpent during a Newport
Is this what the Fouke Monster looks like?
To ensure nothing tragic would happen to the seemingly friendly
creature, the 1973 Arkansas Legislature passed a resolution declaring a
section of the White River a "refuge" for the creature and banned anyone
from "molesting, killing, trampling, or harming" Arkansas's proclaimed
cousin to Scotland's Loch Ness monster.
A Chicago biologist and creature investigator, Dr. Roy Mackal,
believes the creature is a known aquatic animal outside its normal
habitat. After studies of eyewitness accounts, Mackal believes "Whitey"
is actually a northern elephant seal that somehow found its way into the
Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi and eventually up Arkansas's White
River. Elephant seals may attain a length of 22 feet.
Occasional sightings were reported until the late 1970s, then the
river legend faded from the news. But it has not become completely
forgotten among locals. The "magic dragon" sometimes reappears on
souvenir T-shirts sold in Newport shops and at local festivals.
Fouke Arkansas Monster
The most famous of monster legends in The Natural State is that of the Fouke Monster.
Its fame was assured by three movies about a hairy, ape-like creature
that supposedly haunts the swampy Sulphur River bottoms of Miller
County. The first reported sightings of the "Boggy Creek" monster were
in 1946, and it was seen again in 1965. But it was an alleged attack on a
farmhouse near the Fouke community in 1971 that brought state and
national attention to the region south of Texarkana.
Shaggy-haired, stinky and well over six-feet tall, the creature
allegedly clawed its way through a screened window before the men of the
house chased the creature back into the woods. Law enforcement officers
were called and investigated the scene, taking casts of some strange
footprints. Soon after the lawmen departed, the beast returned and was
met with gunfire from the homeowners, according to reports.
In 1972, Texarkana native Charles B. Pierce produced a low-budget
movie called "The Legend of Boggy Creek," which assured a place in
folklore history for the Fouke Arkansas Monster. The pseudo-documentary film became a cult hit and reportedly grossed $22 million in ticket sales, mostly at drive-in theaters.
The hairy humanoid, with arms extending almost to the ground, was
accused of stealing hogs, chickens and a calf as its fame expanded. The
Fouke Monster also grew in stature, as did Sasquatch sightings in Arkansas,
after the movie appeared. By the late 1970s, some eyewitnesses reported
the creature to be about 10 feet tall and weigh some 800 pounds. They
also noted that it left an odor worse than that of a skunk.
Two sequel films have been made about Arkansas's version of Sasquatch
-- also known as Bigfoot -- but it has been several years since a
Heber Springs Water Panther
Perhaps the most overlooked monster legend in The Natural State is
the Heber Springs Water Panther. A weird cross between the Bigfoot and a
puma, the creature reportedly can breathe both on land and underwater.
It is man-like with a covering of fur, and gives off a "hellish scream"
when roaming the deep forests around Greers Ferry Lake and the Little
Red River. Like the others, the Water Panther has not been seen in
Perhaps fewer people are venturing through the woods and swamps at
midnight in the 21st century, accounting for fewer sightings. And maybe
high-tech video games and movies have obscured the legends and folktales
of a few decades ago.
But if monster and Sasquatch sightings come in 30-year cycles -- as
crytozoologists maintain -- the beastly season may be just ahead.