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The Mogollon Monster

The Sasquatch has for decades served as frontman for the peculiar field of cryptozoology. He has trudged his way, enormous step by enormous step, into popular folklore, with sightings of the beast surfacing with notable regularity.

The creature has made his presence known in various, widely separated spots around the globe. The Yeti pops up among the Himalayas, the ever-popular Bigfoot emerges frequently in the Pacific Northwest and Texas has reported numerous encounters with its aptly named Big Thicket Wild Man. Yet, few know that a member of this brotherhood of hairy hominids makes a home here in Arizona. He's known as the Mogollon Monster.

The reclusive creature is described as being at least seven feet tall, hairless in the face, but otherwise covered with a long, thick coat of either dark or

reddish brown hair. He travels with a wide, inhuman stride, sometimes leaving footprints measuring 22 inches in length. Often, reports of the elusive beast involve a piercing, sometimes deafening scream or howl unlike that produced by any known wildlife.

Those who say they've crossed paths with the beast regularly describe an eerie silence prior to their encounter, an appreciable stillness in the woods that commonly surrounds predatory animals. Even more common are reports of a strong, very foul stench, which has been described as that of dead fish, a skunk with bad body odor, decaying peat moss and—by someone with an exceptionally keen sense of smell, apparently—the musk of a snapping turtle.

Most sightings of the Mogollon Monster, as suggested by the name, occur in and around the Rim country. The lumbering giant reportedly covers territory stretching from Prescott up to Williams, east over to Winslow and down to the Heber area, but most agree he generally sticks to the vicinity of Payson, near the Rim's edge.

It was near Payson where the creature was spotted by cryptozoologist Don Davis, whose run-in is generally accepted as the first known encounter with the Mogollon Monster. Davis said he witnessed the tall, hairy beast during a Boy Scout trip in the mid-1940s, when he was about 13 years old. As he and his fellow Scouts were camping near Tonto Creek, something in the night woke him while rummaging through the boys' belongings. When Davis called out to the noisemaker, who he thought to be a fellow Scout, the figure approached him and stood over his sleeping bag. Davis later described what he saw:

There, standing still less than four feet in front of me was a monster-like man. …The creature was huge. Its eyes were deep set and hard to see, but they seemed expressionless. …His chest, shoulders, and arms were massive, especially the upper arms—easily upwards of 6 inches in diameter, perhaps much, much more.

Davis also reported being overwhelmed by the Monster's incredible odor, although he believed at first he had simply messed his sleeping bag.

An even earlier report has surfaced from a 1903 edition of "The Arizona Republican." In it, a visitor to Arizona by the name of I.W. Stevens recounts his confrontation with what he referred to as the "wild man of the rocks." Though his encounter occurred further north, within the Grand Canyon, the story may be one of the earliest written records of such a sighting.

Stevens described the wild man as having "long white hair and matted beard that reached to his knees." When he approached for a closer look, Stevens saw that the creature "wore no clothing, and upon his talon-like fingers were claws at least two inches long." He also noted that "a coat of gray hair nearly covered his body, with here and there a spot of dirty skin showing." While this is not a traditional description of the beast we've come to know in recent years, we could perhaps infer that Stevens had run across an elderly Sasquatch, possibly suffering from a touch of the mange.

Stevens went on to tell how the canyon dweller threatened him with a large club and "screamed the wildest, most unearthly screech" he had ever heard, after Stevens discovered the beast drinking the blood of two young cougars that he had just beaten to death.

Another tale, regularly told secondhand at Boy Scout summer camp, involves an Arizona pioneer named Bill Spade. Spade supposedly built a log cabin on land adjacent to what is now Camp Geronimo, a Scout facility. Spade was attacked one night by the monster, who left no trace of his victim, save for Spade's face, which was torn off and left hanging from a tree. The cabin remained for decades afterward and the Mogollon Monster could often be spotted loitering nearby, waiting for a new inhabitant to deface.

Other stories making the rounds attempt to explain the origins of the Mogollon Monster. They vary in detail, but for the most part implicate a tormented Indian bent on revenge. One variant tells of a prehistoric tribe who, for untold reasons, exiled their own chief. The chief called upon the spirits and was transformed into a hirsute bogeyman, which enabled him to scare away his former clan. He lives on today, continuing to defend his territory.

In other versions, it was the tribe's medicine man who performed the transformation, enabling the chief to seek revenge on a rival who had stolen his wife. Further variations identify the Mogollon Monster as a pioneer who was the victim of an Indian attack; he escaped into the woods, but was cursed by the spirits and went insane. In a strange amalgamation of stories, the monster is the phantom of a white man who, as punishment for murdering an Indian woman, was hung from a tree by his hands, stretched to a height of eight feet, then skinned alive and left to die. Damned by the spirits, his ghost continues to roam the woods as the tragically misnamed "Skinwalker."

More modern incarnations of the Mogollon Monster's story include a novel and a low-budget movie, both of which put the legendary beast at the center of a series of deaths and disappearances. Dolan Ellis, Arizona's Official State Balladeer, portrays the monster in song as a somewhat environmentally conscious being that only eats children who litter.

In comparison with his kin, however, the Mogollon Monster enjoys scant notoriety. In truth, he's regarded by most as little more than a campfire story. He's sort of Bigfoot's loser cousin. Unable to hack it as a legitimate cryptocritter, he ekes out a living performing at conferences and children's parties, hoping one day to get some consulting work.

Besides, he really isn't seen that often. Sightings that approach legitimacy are few and far between. Then again, he may not be around that much. It's possible he treks down here from the Northwest only for the winters…the Abominable Snowbird.

Weird Arizona

 

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