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Media Article # 259

Sunday, June 24, 2001

The Fouke Monster 30 Years Later: Ex-journalists recall sifting fact from Fouke fiction after sighting

By Sunni Thibodeau
Texarkana Gazette

More often than not, a reporter's life is anything but glamorous.

Instead of unraveling mysteries a la some paperback novel hero, most days are spent pecking out bits of hard news-meetings, traffic accidents, fires.

Then, for the very lucky, along comes a gem of a story.

Jim Powell was a reporter for the Texarkana Gazette and Daily News when he came across such a story in May 1971. He is now building manager of the Bi-State Justice Building.

"Dave Hall called me and said something strange was going on down in Fouke," Powell recalls. "So we went down there."

At the time, Hall was the news director of Texarkana radio station KTFS. He is now emergency management coordinator for Texarkana and Bowie County.

What Powell saw was every reporter's dream. It became an ongoing story that would eventually become a legend.

The story was the sighting of the Fouke Monster.

"When we got to the house, the people were moving out," Powell said. "They had a U-Haul and were packing their things and leaving the area."

Powell and Hall didn't see any tracks that day, but they did see a family that was literally scared out of their wits.

"We checked with the hospital and they said this guy was in shock," Powell

said. "He was really afraid of something."

In fact, Powell's story is the basis for much of what is known about the incident.

The Bobby Ford family had moved into the house less than a week before. The men had been out hunting when they heard a woman scream at the house. Returning back to the house, Ford saw a creature that stood 7 feet tall and was 3 feet wide across the chest.

When he felt a hairy arm around his neck it scared him so badly that he ran through a glass and wood front door.

The men said they shot at the creature seven times and thought that they had at least wounded it. They told Powell they had used all their ammunition. But when investigators later combed the scene, no blood was found.

But their fear was so real that night that Fouke Constable Ernest Walraven loaned them a gun and ammunition in case the creature came back before morning.

Powell said he researched the story thoroughly, finding printed sources for earlier sightings in the 1960s.

It is possible that the story might have stayed a local legend, buried on some back page and thrown out with the garbage at the end of the day. But something in the story sparked the public's imagination.

The Associated Press and United Press International both picked up the story and transmitted it to member newspapers across the nation.

Maybe the story struck a cord because Powell let the words of the people who had seen the creature tell the story. Maybe it was because he gave it an identity when he gave it a name.

"I was sitting at my typewriter on the second story, and I realized that I had to call it something," he said. "The woman had said it reached a hairy arm through the window. It was breathing hard, and had eyes that were as big as half-dollars and red as coal."

Powell dubbed the creature the Fouke Monster.

The name stuck.

Hall recalled arriving at the scene early the morning after the attack to find a frightened family moving their belongings into a U-Haul.

"We went into the area behind the house and saw unusual footprints, and small saplings broken off, heading into a wooded area," he said.

"We never saw any blood, although the people said they fired several shots and thought they hit it."

There was a lot of speculation at the time about whether the sighting was an elaborate hoax.

Rumors circulated that a circus train had derailed along the Sulphur River bottoms years before and the sightings were merely animals that had escaped and gone wild.

This and other monster stories had a snowballing effect.

Soon teams of monster hunters descended on the city, and calls and letters from interested parties flooded local officials' phone lines and desks.

"My desk, too," Powell said. "It got to be quite a show down there."

The local sheriff's office stopped people to check for guns and liquor and asked them to not cut fence lines.

Monster hunters, fueled by rewards, swarmed across the countryside.

The Little Rock radio station, KAAY, offered a reward of $1,090 to anyone who could find the monster. A local man by the name of Scoggins offered a $200 reward.

"It was chaos," Rickie Roberts, owner of the Monster Mart in Fouke, remembers. "There were a lot of people out there looking who weren't local."

People showed up with everything from guns to tape recorders, hoping to catch a sight or sound of the creature.

Giant footprints appeared in Willie E. Smith's soybean field.

"They were strange," Powell said. "They were all in a line and didn't step on any plants. I got pictures of them."

But although the hunters didn't capture the monster, the sightings continued.

Three weeks after the Ford sighting, three people heading back to Texarkana from Shreveport saw something large and hairy run across the highway in front of them.

"I know those people, and they were very reliable and very truthful," former sheriff Leslie Greer recalled. "I don't know what they saw, but I do believe they saw something."

An Oats Street resident sitting on her front porch said she saw the monster in a field across from her home.

"We had several here in town," Powell said.

Then, the sightings slacked off after the arrest of three hoaxsters who claimed they were attacked by the monster.

"I think they were drinking and got into a scuffle and skinned one another up," Greer said.

They were fined $59 each for filing a fraudulent monster report.

Greer, who was the Miller County Sheriff from 1967 to 1974, said he first heard of the monster as early as 1946.

"I was campaigning for tax assessor and stopped to talk to a lady sitting on her front porch," he said. "She lived about halfway between Fouke and the Below Bridge. She told me that she saw some kind of animal go down in the field in a low, bushy place. She said it looked kind of like a man, and walked like a man, but she didn't think it was a man."

Greer never gave much consideration to the report until the 1971 sightings.

"Then I got to thinking about it," he said.

There were other reported monster attacks, but most turned out to be hoaxes. More worrisome was the fear that would-be monster hunters would harm some innocent person.

"There was a group who were going to get together a hunting party, and I told them it would be all right to come and look, but they couldn't trespass and they weren't allowed to carry any guns," Greer said. "It hadn't hurt anything and they didn't need to be carrying guns."

Trespassing did create some hurt feelings, though.

Word soon got out that Willie E. Smith, a local service station owner, found three-toed tracks in his soybean field and made a mold of the prints.

He made souvenirs from the mold and sold them to monster enthusiasts. The original mold of the print stayed in the service station until it was destroyed by fire.

Greer said he took the local game warden to the bean field, but neither he nor the game warden, Carl Galyon, had ever seen animal tracks like those in the field and couldn't say the tracks were authentic.

Interest eventually began to wane, but the coming of the movie "The Legend of Boggy Creek" three years later refueled the story, bringing all the activity back to town. Powell covered that story, too.

Whether or not the Fouke monster exists-or ever existed- is the million-dollar question everyone in this small town ponder.

"I haven't seen it, but a lot of people have and some of them are very credible," Roberts said. "I believe them."

Fouke Mayor Cecil Smith also has ambivalent feelings about the monster, and although he has seen the movie that scared millions, his only comment was that he thought the scenery was pretty.

"I used to coon hunt down there," he said. "People would ask me if I was scared. But I never felt like anything that big could maneuver around. Some believe it strong, and some don't."

But for Powell, the veracity of the story is no longer as significant as its longevity. His primary satisfaction comes from the lasting interest in the story itself-a living tale that endures, like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

"At the time, it was a good story," he said. "I've had a lot of fun with it through the years. I've gotten to talk to people from all over North America, and get their views on the story. We don't have a lot of legends here, and it is interesting to be a part of that legend."

And every time Powell logs onto a Bigfoot site on the Internet, he is reminded of his contribution to the lore and legends that are kept alive there.

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