Cactus Cat

Variations: Cactifelinus inebrius (Cox), Felis spinobiblulosus (Tryon)

Cactus Cat

Cactus Cats once lived in the wide-open Southwestern deserts. They were once found in saguaro country between Prescott and Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert as far south as the cholla hills of Yucatan. Nowadays the species is practically extinct following the exploitation and destruction of its desert home.

A cactus cat has thorny hair, with especially long, rigid spines on its ears and tail. The tail is branched like a cactus with scattered thorny hair. There are sharp bony blades on the forearms above the forefeet.

Cactus cats use their forearm-blades to cut deep slanting slashes at the base of giant cacti. One of those cats will travel in a wide circular path, 80 chains long, slashing every cactus it sees. By the time it returns to the first cactus, the sap oozing from the cuts has fermented into mescal. The cactus cat laps this alcoholic brew up hungrily. By the end of the second circuit the cat is thoroughly drunk and waltzes off in a drunken stupor. It yowls and rasps its bone blades together, a sound which carries through the desert night.

It is this fondness for liquor that was the downfall of the species. By following a cactus cat around, one could collect the mescal and deprive the cat of its sustenance. This was not an activity without risk, however. Thieves caught in the act were flogged to death with the cat’s spiny tail, leaving red welts deceptively similar to the effects of heat rash.

References

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.

Agropelter

Variations: Anthrocephalus craniofractens (Cox), Brachiipotentes craniofractans (Tryon), Argopelter (erroneously), Widow-maker

Agropelters are violent and aggressive critters found in lumberwoods from Maine to Oregon. Injury and death blamed on freak falling branches are always the work of an agropelter, who hates lumberjacks for their invasion of its territory.

Our only description of an agropelter comes from Big Ole Kittleson, who survived an agropelter attack long enough to see the creature escape. An agropelter has the villainous face of an ape on a sinewy little body, with incredibly powerful arms like organic whips.

Agropelters use the prodigious strength of their arms to break off and fling branches. They always pelt with pinpoint accuracy, smashing or impaling their victims. Big Ole Kittleson was fortunate enough to be pelted with a rotten branch that crumbled upon impact.

Apart from their murderous activities, agropelters are highly agile climbers and brachiators, and make their home in trees by eating and hollowing out the center of a dead tree. Pups are born on February 29 and always in odd numbers. Agropelters subsist on a diet of owls and woodpeckers. As these birds are sadly being exterminated, the agropelters are getting scarce.

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.

Wapaloosie

Variations: Geometrigradus cilioretractus (Cox)

Wapaloosie

Wapaloosies are found in Pacific Coast forests, and appear to be the mammalian answer to the inchworm. A wapaloosie is as big as a dachshund, with velvety fur, woodpecker-like feet, and a spike-tipped tail that aids in its caterpillarish climbing. And climb a wapaloosie does, moving effortlessly up the tallest of trees to feed on bracket fungus.

The wapaloosie drive to climb continues long after death. One lumberjack in Washington shot a wapaloosie and made a pair of fur mittens out of it. When he grabbed an axe, the mittens immediately shimmied up the handle to the top. They proceeded to do so with everything the lumberjack tried to hold, so he was forced to discard them. The mittens were last seen clambering over lumber slash.

References

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

Rumptifusel

Variations: Villosus sumptuosus (Tryon), Rumtifusel (Tryon)

Rumtifusel

There is a common misconception that “owl pellets” are left behind by owls. This belief, spread by highfalutin scientists, is a load of hooey. Any lumberjack can tell you that those pellets are wadded-up clumps of clothing, the only remains of unfortunate greenhorns who approached a Rumptifusel.

Rumptifusels are big, vicious animals covered in a fine pelt not unlike mink. They are flat and very flexible and not too fast. Much like the anglerfish and the alligator snapping turtle, the rumptifusel lures prey within reach by appealing to greed. A rumptifusel catches its prey by draping its thin body over a stump or log in plain sight, looking for all the world like an abandoned expensive fur coat. When a greedy tenderfoot approaches for a better look, the rumptifusel – moving with deceptive speed – engulfs its victim. The underside of the critter is lined with tiny sucking pores, and its prey is thoroughly drained off its bones.

References

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

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

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.

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.