If you've rented "The Legend of Boggy Creek" from your local video store, or if you saw it during its first run at your local drive-in a quarter-century back, you know the story of the Fouke monster. Fouke is a little town a few miles southeast of Texarkana. Back in May of 1971, 25 year-old Bobby Ford reported to the Fouke constable that he had heard screams of fright from the womenfolk at his place. When he went to investigate he was attacked by a seven-foot-tall, red-eyed ape-man. In 1971, the constable said that there had been a sighting of an ape-man back in 1963 and that several shots had been fired at it.
I found no report of any such monster attack in the Arkansas Gazette 1962, 1963, or 1964 index, but a local story in Texarkana might not get reprinted in the Little Rock paper.
At top left is an advertiser's conception of the Fouke Monster riding on the animal totem of the state of Arkansas, the wild red boar. If you come to Arkansas, be prepared to see that ferocious red hog with the snaggletoothed underbite on just about everything.
Three weeks after the attack, three Texarkana residents reported seeing the monster cross highway 71. They described it as being seven feet tall, over two-hundred pounds, stooped and running on two legs faster than a man can run.
A month later (around mid-June) Frank Schambach, an archaeologist at Southern State College, was called to Fouke to investigate a set of three-toed footprints, size 14EE, that were found in a stand of trees. The latest sightings reported the monster as being four feet tall. Searches by Miller County deputies turned up nothing, and Schambach said that he was ninety-nine percent sure the footprints were a hoax.
On June 28th, three men (L.H. Harvin, Floyd Thomas and Robert B. Williams) were fined $59 each for reporting a fraudulent monster attack. The sheriff became suspicious of their claw marks when he noticed blood under their fingernails. Miller County sheriff Leslie Greer threatened to arrest monster hunters. Local farmers had been complaining that trespassers had been damaging crops.
That pretty much put an end to the reporting of sightings to law enforcement. The spate lasted less than sixty days and ended abruptly with the levying of $177 worth of fines on three hoaxers.
Six months later, January 1972, it was announced that the Fouke monster would be the subject of an independent film called "Tracking the Fouke Monster." In September of the same year the film, now called "The Legend of Boggy Creek," opened, starring Keith Crabtree as the monster. Texarkana resident Charles Pierce, the producer, told the local papers he wouldn't be surprised if the film, budgeted at $160,000, earned some Oscar nominations. Three-quarters of the cast consists of local residents, many of whom reenact their encounters with the monster for the cameras. Many of the locations are authentic, with the notable exception of the Ford house. Pierce offered the Simmons family $2000 for the right to film on the property. The Simmons' held out for more money, so Pierce engaged a similar house in Texarkana.
In July of 1973, two years and seven weeks after the Ford encounter, Fouke mayor J. D. Larey said he still got three-to-twelve letters a day about the monster; and he lamented in the Gazette that the locals had not made the most of the monster phenomenon. Nobody had thought to open a souvenir shop. The only people to trade on the monster at the time were the owners of the Boggy Creek Diner and twelve-year-old Perry Parker, who lived next door to the Ford house and who took in as much as $20 a week giving guided tours to visitors from as far away as Montana and Ohio. The monster is now (in 1973, that is) said to run 45mph and to sound like a peacock, except when he "roars and cuts up."
As of this writing (1997), the only remaining evidence of the Fouke Monster phenomenon is the Monster Mart on highway 71 in Fouke, where you can still get a souvenir T-shirt and hear a couple of monster stories from the folks tending the register.
That's pretty much it for the Fouke monster. In 1973, Orville Scoggins and his son and grandson saw a black-haired, four-foot tall creature in a field four miles east of Fouke. Footprints 5 1/2 inches across were found (sounds like a black bear to me). In 1974, a seven-foot "gorilla-like" creature was sighted a handful of times near Holly Springs, about ninety miles east of Fouke. Local authorities dismissed the sightings as probably a large black bear.
I recently got a note from Smokey Crabtree in Fouke, announcing his webpage concerning his own personal experiences with the Fouke Monster and the ensuing hooplah. If you're interested in Fouke Monster T-shirts and coffee mugs, he'll sell you that, too. Here's a link to the "Smokey and the Fouke Monster" website.
Curiosity got the best of me. I drove to Fouke, visited Smokey Crabtree in his home, and bought his book. You can see something new has been added in Fouke since my last trip through. Here's a sheet steel cutout of the monster waiting for a new paint job. Once the details are sketched in, you can get yourself a novelty photo with your face on the Fouke Monster's body. There's even a handy step stool so the kids can reach the necessary height.
Back to the book, though. The first half of the book (written in 1974, now in its second printing) covers Smokey growing up, his military service, his career as a welder, and some hunting stories, all of which establish the character of Fouke and the protagonist and introduce wildlife metaphors which are used throughout the second half of the book.
The second half of the book deals with the monster and the filmmakers that came to Fouke to film the "true" story.
Smokey's monster account covers material I didn't find in the papers. It seems that people who had genuine monster sightings didn't report them to the papers for fear of attracting amateur monster hunters who trespassed, tore down fences and signs, stole, mooched and vandalized and generally caused trouble and cost money. Smokey's personal experiences are mostly secondhand. He's seen tracks, he's heard the monster howl and thrash around; but mostly he relates the sightings of other people.
The real monsters of Smokey's book are the movie makers who came to Fouke, and with Smokey's unwitting help, got the townsfolk to reenact their encounters, filmed all over the place, lied, cheated and stole, got rich on the movie, and paid the townsfolk of Fouke in pocketchange and broken promises. They were such weasels, according to Smokey, they even made the children of the local actors pay for their tickets to the premier. Smokey personally recounts that he lost a fortune in cattle, lost wages, timber he had to sell below market value, damage from monster hunters and lawsuits trying to get the moviemakers to pay what they owed.
To top it all off, he says, The Legend of Boggy Creek is pretty much BS from top to bottom. He writes, "The only legend Boggy Creek ever had was the one [the filmmakers] gave it." The Monster never killed anybody's livestock or housepets, and so on.
Smokey's book might make a better movie than The Legend of Boggy Creek, but the people who make movies wouldn't make one that depicts filmmakers as being this nasty. Oh, sure, they'd make Bowfinger or The Player, but those filmmakers are crooked in a cute way. The filmmakers in Smokey's book are just plain despicable, stealing from the poor and desperate and using political connections to crush any attempt to seek legal recourse. Adding insult to injury, the voices of the local actors were overdubbed with thick, phony hillbilly accents and abandoned shacks were filmed as if they were the actual homes of the Fouke residents.
Smokey's literary style is a little unschooled, but if it wasn't it wouldn't sound authentic. It's just Smokey telling you what happend from his point of view. It's easy to read and it's entertaining throughout.
In the neighborhood: Texarkana's Siamese Post Office