Amhuluk

Variations: Amhúluk; Atunkai, Atúnkai (associated)

amhuluk

Amhuluk is a creature associated with drowning, disease, and the malarial fog that rises from the water’s surface. The Kalapuya of the Willamette River locate the Amhuluk in a lake near Forked Mountain, fifteen miles west of Forest Grove in northwestern Oregon. He originally wanted to inhabit the Atfalati plains but eventually went into the more comfortable lake. There he settled and indulged his passion – drowning others.

Amhuluk is terrible to see. He is spotted, with long spotted horns on his head, and his four legs are hairless. Various items are tied to his body so they can be carried around. He keeps several spotted dogs. Wherever he steps, the ground sinks and softens.

Everything Amhuluk sees is captured and drowned in his lake. Even the trees around the lake have their crowns upside-down around the lake, and the sky itself is drowned in the muddy water. The banks of the lake are slimy and boggy, trapping all manner of animals. Grizzly bears instinctively enter the lake when they grow old, and are changed into other beasts. The Atúnkai, an otter or seal-like water creature, is the usual product of this metamorphosis.

Three children once went out in search of adsadsh-root. There, at Forked Mountain, they met Amhuluk rising out of the ground, and marveled at his beautiful spotted horns. “Let’s take the horns”, they said, “and make digging tools out of them”. But Amhuluk impaled and lifted up two of the children on his horns while the eldest boy escaped. The child returned home in terror. “Something horrible has taken my brother and sister”, he told his father. Then he slept, and his parents could see that his body was covered in blotches. The father went out, retracing his children’s steps to the Forked Mountain. There the bodies of his children appeared out of the fog rising on the water. They were still impaled on Amhuluk’s horns, and they cried “Didei, didei, didei” (“we have changed bodies”). Five times they rose and spoke, and five times their father wailed mournfully. For five days he waited, camping near the lake and mourning his children, and each of those days they appeared, repeating their sad litany – “Didei, didei, didei”. Then they sank under the surface and were never seen again. Amhuluk had claimed them for his own.

References

Gatschet, A. S. (1888) A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, v. II. R. P. Studley & Co., St. Louis.

Gatschet, A. S. (1891) Oregonian Folklore. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. IV, pp. 139-143.

Gatschet, A. S. (1899) Water-monsters of American Aborigines. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. 12, pp. 255-260.

Skinner, C. M. (1896) Myths and Legends of our Own Lands, v. II. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Hugag

Variations: Rythmopes inarticulatus (Cox), Reclinor rigidus (Tryon)

hugag

The Animal That Cannot Lie Down is a near-universal tale arrived at independently by multiple cultures and commonly attached to accounts of the moose. The Hugag is another permutation of this theme repackaged for the whimsical world of backwoods tall tales. Whether it came spontaneously into existence, was derived from native tales of the Stiff-Legged Bear, or is a bit of Classical jokery from Cox, none can say for certain.

Hugags are found in lumberwoods territory, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada, and are the largest beasts of the lumberwoods. Cox describes them as looking like enormous moose, with the chief difference being jointless legs and overdeveloped upper lips. The head and neck are hairless, covered by a leathery skin. The ears are corrugated and floppy. The feet have four toes, and the coat and long tail are shaggy. Tryon adds more detail, giving it a warty snout, a bald, lumpy head, and pine needles for hair. It stands 13 feet tall and weighs up to 6,000 pounds. Pitch oozes from its pores.

A hugag is completely incapable of lying down. It is constantly on the move, browsing from trees by wrapping its upper lip around branches, and occasionally stripping bark. Pine knots are its favorite food. It sleeps by leaning against a tree. Bent trees, posts, and cabins are signs of a hugag’s passing. Hugag hunters can easily bag their quarry by sawing almost completely through a tree, so that when a hugag leans against it the tree collapses, leaving the animal helpless on the ground. Most of the time it is difficult to find hugags, mainly because they disguise themselves as piles of pine slash. Fortunately hugags are quite harmless, barring cases when they lean on houses.

Mike Flynn is the current record-holder hugag hunter, having killed a massive 1,800-pounder on the Turtle River, Minnesota. It was a juvenile.

References

Beck, H. P. (1949) The animal that cannot lie down. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 39(9), pp. 294-301.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Dorson, R. M. (1982) Man and Beast in American Comic Legend. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Devil-jack Diamond-fish

Variations: Diamond fish, Devil fish, Jack fish, Garjack, Litholepe, Litholepe adamantin, Litholepis adamantinus

Devil-jack Diamond-fish

John James Audubon is remembered today as an artist and ornithologist of considerable import. His practical jokes are less well known, and began with the unexpected arrival of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque at Hendersonville, Kentucky.

Rafinesque was a brilliant, enthusiastic, “exceedingly remarkable”, and very eccentric young naturalist who tested Audubon’s hospitality. After they had retired to bed, Audubon was roused by a commotion coming from Rafinesque’s room. As he describes it, “I saw my guest running naked, holding the handle of my favorite violin, the body of which he had battered to pieces in attempting to kill the bats which had entered the open window!” Rafinesque was convinced the bats were new species. Audubon was not amused.

Perhaps to avenge his smashed violin, Audubon decided to take advantage of Rafinesque’s credulity and eagerness to describe new species. He solemnly supplied Rafinesque with 10 drawings of completely fictitious fish, which were duly named and described in detail. The likes of the bigmouth sturgeon and the flatnose doublefin caused headaches for ichthyologists and tarnished Rafinesque’s reputation beyond repair.

The Devil-jack Diamond-fish (Litholepis adamantinus) is surely the most remarkable of those faux fishes, as evidenced by Rafinesque’s breathless description. This “wonder of the Ohio” is found only as far up as the falls and probably in the Mississippi as well. Rafinesque claimed to have seen it from a distance, and seen some of its scales, but otherwise he “principally relied upon the description and figure given [him] by Mr. Audubon”.

We are fortunate enough to have a complete and detailed description of the devil-jack. It is classified among the garfish but is quite unique. The body is blackish and fusiform, 4 to 10 feet long and up to 400 pounds in weight. The head takes up a fourth of the total length. The snout alone is large (as long as the head), convex above, and obtuse. The eyes are small and black, with the nostrils in front of them. The mouth is transverse and has large angular teeth. Dorsal and anal fins are of equal length, the tail is obtusely bilobed, and there is no lateral line. The body is covered in oblique rows of conical pentagonal brown scales, half an inch to one inch in diameter; they become the color of turtle shell when dried.

The scales are the devil-jack’s main claim to fame, as they are hard as flint, completely bulletproof, and repel hooks. They produce sparks when struck against steel. Only nets or the strongest hooks can take a devil-jack. It is inedible and a voracious hunter, usually seen lying motionless at the surface like a log. The scales are a miracle of nature, for “they strike fire with steel! and are ball proof!” [sic]

References

Jordan, D. S. (1886) Rafinesque. The Popular Science Monthly, June 1886.

Rafinesque, C. S. (1820) Ichthyologia Ohiensis. W. G. Hunt, Lexington, Kentucky.

Roperite

Variations: Rhynchoropus flagelliformis (Cox), Pseudoequus nasiretinaculi (Tryon)

Roperite

The Roperite is one of the few Fearsome Critters found outside the northern lumberwoods. Its home is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where the digger pine grows, and it tends to live in herds. An active and gregarious animal, it has not been seen in a while, and there is concern that it may already be extinct.

Roperite biology is a mystery. We know that it is the size of a small pony, and that it has a a remarkable rope-like beak which it uses to lasso its prey. Its skin is leathery and impervious to the thorn and rock of its chaparral habitat. Its legs are well-developed and flipper-like. A. B. Patterson of Hot Springs, CA,  reported a tail with a large set of rattles. It is unknown whether roperites are bipedal or quadrupedal, whether they are fish, fowl, or beast, and whether they lay eggs, give birth to live young, or emerge fully-formed from mountain caves. Local legend has it that they are the reincarnated ghosts of Spanish ranchers.

Roperites run at blistering speed. Their legs give them a gait halfway between bounding and flying. Nothing can outrun them, and no obstacle can slow them down. Even roadrunners are trampled or kicked aside. Roperites are predators that chase down their prey and lasso them with incredible dexterity, then proceed to drag their through thornbushes until they die. The rattles on the tail are used to impressive effect during the chase, intimidating quarry with a whirring din worthy of a giant rattlesnake. Jackrabbits and the occasional lumberjack are taken.

References

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Fearsome Critters

Variations: Fearsome Creatures, Paul Bunyan Creatures, Lumberjack Tall Tales, and so on

“Fearsome Critter” is a catchall term used for a mixed and problematic grouping of creatures. They are all said to hail from lumberjack tall tales, primarily from the American northern lumberwoods but including a few representatives from southern states. They share the same folkloric origin that gave us the likes of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, but instead of folk heroes, they are said to be pranks, bogeys, stories told to frighten greenhorns and tenderfoots. Experienced lumberjacks can sit back and get a good laugh after sending someout out on a futile snipe hunt, or snicker to themselves as the newcomer starts checking behind him for a stalking hidebehind. The Australian drop bear is a non-American example of this sort of creature.

The term “fearsome critter” was used by Tryon as a title for his lumberwoods menagerie. “Fearsome creatures” is used by Cox, and predates Tryon’s “fearsome critters”, but the engagingly vernacular “critter” designation has proven more popular.

Almost all fearsome critters can be traced back to a handful of references. The oldest and most venerable is Cox’s Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts from 1910. Borges’ excerpt of the Squonk entry ensured its fame among modern readers. Kearney collected several tales in his 1928 book The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps, which takes a more narrative approach to the subject. The “Fauna of the United States” section in Borges’ book is traceable to Brown’s 1935 pamphlet Paul Bunyan Natural History. Finally, the spiritual successor of Fearsome Creatures was Tryon’s 1939 Fearsome Critters; both of these books illustrate each individual entry, and provide a mock Latin name for their critters. The Cox and Tryon books are the touchstones of fearsome critterology.

Fearsome critters as a group are not well unified or verified. Some have entered the public consciousness and cemented their folkloric status beyond any reasonable doubt (Rhinelander’s own Hodag, the dreaded Hoop Snake, the elusive Snipe). Others have become cryptids (the possibly-feline Santer), or were the subject of elaborate hoaxes (the Hodag again). Some may have more ancient roots in Native American folklore. And then some may be complete fabrications by Cox and Tryon.

With no references to speak of, Cox and Tryon’s accounts are hard to verify, unless corroborated by themselves and others. Cox’s description of the Hugag is almost entirely different from Tryon’s; in addition, it seems to be an Americanized retelling of Pliny’s Achlis. Cox gives a description of the Hodag that is completely at odds with the well-known one – was this an attempt at personalizing and “claiming” it, or a bona fide regional variation? Was Cox’s Snoligoster a completely reupholstered Snallygaster, with added casual racism? And, of course, it is unlikely that lumberjacks devised intricate Latin names for their critters.

Keeping all this in mind, it is hard to separate genuine lumberjack folklore and literary jokes. Inasmuch as they don’t exist either way, and that popular encyclopedias of teratology such as Rose’s works have brought them to a larger audience, they are covered in ABC, with doubts and reservations added where necessary. In cases where Latin names are given, the author will be specified unless they are single-referenced.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Kearney, L. S. (1928) The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps. Democrat Printing Company, Madison.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Hidebehind

Variations: Hide-behind, Hide Behind, Ursus dissimulans (Tryon)

hidebehind

Hidebehinds are very dangerous animals, found throughout American logging country. It gets its name from always hiding behind something, and nobody has ever seen one – to be more specific, no greenhorn has ever seen one.

Experienced lumberjacks know that the hidebehind looks a lot like a bear, walking upright, standing about 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall. Its slender body is covered in long black fur, thick enough that its front and back are interchangeable and its face (if it has one) is unknown. The forelegs are short, powerful, and armed with bear-like claws. The tail is like that of a French sheepdog and is held curled upwards.

A hidebehind is so narrow that it can conceal itself behind a ten-inch tree. No matter how fast you move, the hidebehind moves faster; you can whirl around to catch a glimpse of it, but it will always be out of sight behind a tree. They are extremely patient stalkers, capable of fasting for seven years before finding suitable prey.

Human and grebe intestines are the mainstay of a hidebehind’s diet. It uses its hooked claws to disembowel unwary loggers, pouncing from its hiding place with a terrifying laugh. Sometimes the hidebehind’s peal of laughter is enough to scare prey to death before they are ripped open.

Fortunately hidebehinds loathe the smell of alcohol, and just one bottle of beer is a guarantee of total safety in hidebehind country. Kearney warns that a hidebehind might disembowel a logger before noticing intestinal alcohol, so ideally a good state of inebriation is required.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Kearney, L. S. (1928) The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps. Democrat Printing Company, Madison.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Dungavenhooter

Variations: Crocodilus hauriens

dungavenhooter

The Dungavenhooter is a Fearsome Critter found lurking in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, although it once ranged as far as Maine. This cunning and dangerous swamp-dweller resembles an alligator with short legs and a thick, powerful tail. Notably, a dungavenhooter lacks a mouth, instead sporting enormous nostrils. The call is a loud snort.

Dungavenhooters ambush prey by hiding in whiffle bushes. They are especially attracted to inebriated loggers, presumably avoiding competition with the teetotal hidebehinds. Anyone passing within range is clubbed with the creature’s tail, then pounded into a gas which the dungavenhooter inhales.

References

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.