The Strange Beast of Southern Illinois has returned after almost 80 years of peace. Until recently, when the small community of Carterville awoke to reports of a wild cat stalking the neighborhood, abducting livestock and attacking large animals.
As I stubled around one recent morning, barely getting up and out of bed to gimp walk into the kitchen for coffee, my wife alerted me of a strange beast being on the loose, some type of wild cat. Being less than half awake, I thought it was a hoax at first. Sure enough, there were even more reports of a cougar sighting. And no, I’m not talking about the 40 plus year old woman with good looks and sass, but an actual wild cat that was roaming the small rural community of Carterville, chewing on horses and ducks.
I resumed my day, thinking about this possibility and how strange of an occurence it was. But not all that strange when you have read quite a few books on the supernatural histories of the area. A few days later, I was reading an article originally published in 1946, written by Jesse W. Harris, titled, “Myths and Legends from Southern Illinois.” In section six of this article, Jesse shares some knowledge about this wild cat, and apparently, it has a history of stalking this area. Below, I share the original story:
“Another type of story that is of much more concern to us here in Southern Illinois nowadays is te “strange beast” legend. These stories possibly illustrate the foltale in actual process of being made. Every few years some community reports the presence of a mysterious beast over in the local creek bottom. As time passes, this story grows, and very often spreads to other communities. Quite often the excitement aroused by oe of these stories increases all throught the Winter months and reaches a climax early in the Spring. The most recent of these episodes occured about five years ago.
If you are enjoying this Strange Beast article, check out some of our other esoteric content at The Ritual blog thread here.
Although it is difficult to determine just where a story of this sort has its beginning, this one seems to have originated in the Gum Creek bottom near Mt. Vernon. During the Summer of 1941, a preacher was hunting squirrels in the woods along the creek when a large animal that looked something like a baboon jumped out of a tree near him. The preacher struck at the beast with his gun barrel when it walked toward him in an upright position. He finally frightened it away by firing a couple of shots into the air.
Later the beast began to alarm rural people by uttering terrorizing screams mostly at night in the wooded bottom lands along the creeks. School children in the rural districts sometimes heard it, too, and hunters saw its tracks. Some old timers, who probably remembered the ‘painter’ scares of long ago, thought it might be a panther, for panthers used to scream like that in the woods at night. By early Spring of 1942, the animal had local people aroused to a fighting pitch. About that time, a farmer near Bonnie reported that the beast had killed his dog. A call went out for volunteers to join a mass hunt to round up the animal.
The beast must have got news of the big hunt, for reports started coming in of its appearance in other creek bottoms, some as much as forty or fifty miles from the original site. A man driving near the Big Muddy River, in Jackson County, one night saw the beast bound across the road. Some hunters saw evidence of its presence away over on the Okaw. Its rapid changing from place to place must have been aided considerably by its ability to jump, for, by this time, reports had it jumping along at from twenty to forty feet per leap. This ability led some people to conclude that it was probably a kangaroo at large.
If you are enjoying this Strange Beast article, check out some of our other supernatural content at The Ritual blog thread here.
It is impossible to say how many hunters and parties of hunters, armed with everything from shotguns to ropes and nets, went out to look for the strange beast in the various creek bottoms where it had been seen, or its tracks had been seen, or its piercing screams had been heard. Those taking nets and ropes were intent on bringing the creature back alive.
Usually this strange beast can’t be found, and interest in it dies as mysteriously as it arose in the beginning. In the instance cited above, some men finally captured a wild steer that had been roaming the bottom lands; and, some people concluded that this was the strange beast. But nobody could be certain. About twenty-five years ago, a ‘coon hunter from Hecker one night heard a strange beast screaming up ahead on Prairie du Long Creek.
Hunters chased this phantom from time to time all one Winter. Their dogs would get the trail, then lose it, and they would hear it screaming down the creek in the opposite direction. It was that kind of creature: you’d hear it up creek, but when you set out in that direction you’d hear it a mile down creek. The most noted hunter in that community says it was some kind of bird; some of the others who tried to find it don’t think it was any kind of bird you can draw a bead on.”
And who knows, maybe the wild cat or strange beast sighting of Carterville in early October marks the return of the mysterious beast sightings that will continue through out the Winter. Should we prepare for screams and stories of creatures doing supernatural things in the coming months? Only time will tell, but at least we have a reference point, or some history we can relate to.