Those Forgotten Critters
by Joshua Heston
Night falls and the campfire flares up. The guitars and mandolins come out and maybe a jug or two — of moonshine?
The stories begin.
These old, old Ozarks. A place at times both remote and ancient, populated by a people with folk histories so rich — the Irish, the German, the Cherokee, the Osage.
Stories combine, resulting in tales, growing taller in the moonlight.
In the dark. In the wilds. The old hills can be a scary place. A place where a sudden eddy, strange bones, or just shadows on the ground could be the beginning of a whole new species — the fancy word is cryptid, or imaginary animal.
’Round here? They’re just critters, all too often forgotten.
Some have gone to considerable effort, cataloging their names and their strange ways. Will Townsend, in his 1979 book Ozark Tall Tales mentions several.
There’s Bingbuffer lizards, looking so much like a giant mountain boomer and frightening folks by jumping at them.
The Kingdoodle (another lizard, apparently) hates progress and tears down rail fences.
I hate to think how Kingdoodles feel these days.
The Jimplicute hunts only at night. The Wowser is a huge panther — closely related to the revered Wampus Cat (which they say is black).
The Sidehill Hoofer looks a tad like an antelope, except that their legs are short on one side, allowing them to flee across Ozark mountains (Get them on flat land and they fall over, which explains the scarcity of Sidehill Hoofers, I reckon).
In today’s enlightened age, Sidehill Hoofer hunting is frowned upon by the conservation department. Even so, you might still spot a Hoofer trophy hanging on a wall in an old restaurant. Amazin’ how much Hoofers look like antelope when you just have the head and neck mounted on a wall.
They say the amphibious Gollywampus still prowls portions of the now-tamed White River, looking for canoes to overturn. At least one old fisherman swears there must be a mating pair in Bull Shoals.
Are two Gollywampuses also called Gollywampi?
Where is the line drawn between storytelling and critter identification? It’s hard to tell.
But you city folk, sitting safe in front of your computers, laughing at the gullibility of hillbillies whilst the Discovery Channel plays in the background, remember this:
Go out in the wilds away from electric lights and cellphones and iPods and such.
Listen to the winds in the pines and stare into the fire. What’s that fluttering above you? A bat? An owl? Or something larger.
Before you know it, those hillbilly stories won’t seem silly at all.
November 14, 2009
Plate 1. Missouri Mool (artist’s rendition). Artwork by Deana Davis. May 15, 2009.
Missouri Mool (Equus bovinus lactospigot)
Height: usually 15 hands. What to look for: a mule-like creature lavishly splashed in black and white and sporting a very large udder and cow-like hooves. Habitat: the most fortunate of barnyards.
— page 2112, Woolsley, Arnott J., et al. The Great Ozark Archive. Prather Publishing, Tightwad, MO, 1896.
Plate 2. Shannon County Sky. A high pressure front settled over the Mid-Missouri Ozarks, bringing frosty temperatures and night skies clear as a bell. Perfect for sitting around the fire... and telling stories. November 7, 2009.
Plate 3. Shannon County Sundown. Dry leaves form a shadow silhouette against daylight’s final, fitful glow. November 11, 2009.