hodag statue in entrance of the Rhinelander Space Chamber of Commerce (© Gourami
Watcher/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Again within the pioneering days of North
America, when European settlers have been making an attempt to tame the huge wildernesses
stuffed with unfamiliar creatures in what to them was the brand new and really unusual, even
considerably horrifying continent of North America, rural employees corresponding to
lumberjacks and loggers would typically spend considerable durations of time away from
their households and homesteads.

Consequently, for firm and to maintain
protected, they might bond collectively by gathering round fires of their campsites at
evening, deep throughout the darkish, forbidding forests, and whereas away the hours by
telling tall tales to amuse and play-scare one another, seeing who may spin
probably the most outlandish, spine-chilling yarns, stuffed with daring feats and terrifying
monsters – the latter typically being impressed by sightings and sounds of what to
them have been nonetheless very mysterious, doubtlessly harmful native creatures inhabiting
this immense New World.


1932 hodag-depicting commemorative medallion from Rhinelander (public area)

These largely made-up monstrosities
turned identified collectively as ‘Fierce Critters’, and took many alternative types.
Some have been fantastical mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians, others have been
colossal fishes, creepy-crawlies, or completely weird unclassifiables. As we speak (which
simply so occurs to be ShukerNature’s 15th anniversary!), I’m
documenting probably probably the most well-known one in every of all, Wisconsin’s really horrific,
horrible and unequivocally hideous hodag – an allegedly ferocious terror beast
that has lengthy fascinated folklorists and even just a few cryptozoologists.

With many Fierce Critters, their origins
have been misplaced within the mists of time, which makes the hodag’s historical past notably
memorable, in each sense, as a result of that is one whose origin in its modern-day
type is understood very particularly, because of a sure Eugene Simeon Shepard.


Shepard as a younger man (public area)

Born on 22 March 1854 in Previous Fort Howard
(later renamed Inexperienced Bay), Wisconsin, Shepard moved together with his household shortly
afterwards to this US state’s New London space, the place he labored on his father’s
farm for a time after leaving college earlier than transferring additional afield when his
father died to work on different, bigger farms in wilder, extra distant areas. At
16, he turned an apprentice timber cruiser, in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, the place he
learnt how you can assess tracts of forested land for his or her lumber worth.

And it was right here, working for years
alongside the lumberjacks and loggers who did the bodily toiling required to
convert the tracts assessed by him into timber, and listening at evening to their
humorous, extremely imaginative tales of Fierce Critters, that embryonic visions
of what would turn out to be the fearsome hodag within the type by which it’s so effectively
identified at present started to stir inside Shepard’s singularly ingenious thoughts – a thoughts
that proved greater than able to outdoing even the lumberjacks and loggers for
weaving yarns. In brief, Shepard had a critical expertise for tall tales, and
sensible jokes too, so he determined to place this expertise to good, financially-sound


the showman, Eugene Shepard in a cart pulled by a moose (public area)

For though timber cruising had made him
wealthy over time, Shepard may see that the timber and logging trade,
for such a very long time a extremely worthwhile one, was now starting, slowly but
absolutely, to die, due in no small option to the wholesale denuding by unceasing
logging of nice swathes of land as soon as profusely coated in bushes. So if he
needed to remain rich, he wanted to look elsewhere to earn cash.

Since 1882, Shepard had lived within the
Northwoods city (now small metropolis) of Rhinelander, inside northern Wisconsin’s
Oneida County, the place along with timber cruising he had made good cash
shopping for and promoting property, together with areas of tree-cleared land to be used in
farming. Consequently, that is what he noticed as his – and Rhinelander’s – future,
turning the city right into a famend, well-known centre for land hypothesis, property
improvement, and farming. However to ensure that this to succeed, Rhinelander wanted
to be positioned pretty and squarely on the map – the media map, that’s. In different
phrases, it wanted an attraction, one that will serve to attract in from far and
extensive as many potential land consumers and farmers interested by settling right here as


hodag illustration by Margaret R. Tryon (public area)

And this was when the enterprising
Shepard remembered these folksy fireplace lumberjack tales of monsters, in
specific the then solely vaguely-defined hodag, and determined to place them to
good, sensible use – by bringing the hodag to life, actually!

Shepard recalled that the lumberjacks had
claimed the hodag to be the demonic, vengeful spawn engendered by all of the tortured
souls of useless cremated oxen that when alive had been cruelly abused as beasts
of burden by these selfsame loggers. But other than stating that like its
bovine progenitors it possessed a fearsome pair of lengthy curved horns, they gave
little constant indications of what this malevolent monster truly seemed


T. Barnum (public area)

Consequently, if he needed to make use of the
hodag as his media magnet, Shepard wanted to offer it with a well-defined
type, which is one thing that his inordinately inventive creativeness had little
downside in conjuring forth. He then wanted to remodel this newly-rendered
manifestation from a bogey beast of tall tales and yarns right into a bona fide
bodily, tangible actuality – and as soon as once more, his entrepreneurial abilities quickly
confirmed him the best way to realize this. Not for nothing has Shepard been popularly
in comparison with that the majority well-known of all 19th-Century American showmen
and shysters, the nice Phineas T. Barnum himself!

So it was that through a sensational article written
by himself and printed in an October 1893 challenge of a Rhinelander newspaper
entitled the Close to North, Shepard
claimed in his well-honed aptitude for melodramatic monologues that he and a few
fellow employees had currently encountered – and killed – an precise hodag in
Rhinelander’s very personal forests. He described it as “a horrible brute
[that] assumes the energy of an ox, the ferocity of a bear, the crafty of a
fox and the sagacity of a hindoo [Hindu] snake, and is really probably the most feared
animal the lumbermen are available in contact with”.


illustration of the hodag (© Richard Svensson)

As for its bodily look: Shepard
claimed that the hodag sported the scaly physique of a dragon (and breathed fireplace
like one too), plus the top of an enormous bull-horned frog, a terrifying elephantine
face that snarled with a fanged grin-like grimace, a row of thick curved spines
working alongside its again, 4 quick however sturdy legs with razor-sharp claws on
their ft, and a prolonged tail that bore spear-like spines at its tip.

In brief, this hodag sounded greater than a
little harking back to sure non-avian dinosaurs (and was subsequently likened
to such by some chroniclers), specifically sure spine-bearing stegosaurs armed
with thrashing thagomizers, like Kentrosaurus and Huayangosaurus, as an illustration
overlooking after all its carnivore-consistent fangs, which have been conspicuously lacked
by these strictly herbivorous prehistoric reptiles!


Talking of the hodag’s meat-eating
proclivities: maybe probably the most shocking, offbeat attribute attributed to
it by Shepard was its supposed fondness for devouring a particularly singular,
extremely particular merchandise of prey – pure-white bulldogs, however solely on Sundays! Throughout
the rest of the week, it satiated its starvation pangs by consuming cattle,
mud turtles, water snakes, and enormous freshwater fishes.

Shepard additionally added considerably histrionically
that this revolting hodag stank of “buzzard meat and skunk fragrance”
(a particular attribute that he would return to in a subsequent
hodag-themed escapade – see later), and that regardless of taking pictures it with “heavy
rifles and large-bore squirt weapons loaded with toxic water”, the
creature withstood all of their efforts to dispatch it. As well as, it had already
torn aside the searching canine that he and his companions had used to nook it
after having encountered this monster within the forests.


Reconstruction of the hodag based mostly straight upon the specimen in Shepard’s 1893 hodag {photograph} – see under for particulars re this
latter photograph (public area)

Persevering with his febrile fable, Shepard
asserted that lastly, after hours of fruitless, futile battle in opposition to it, in
desperation he and the opposite males resorted to a really excessive measure – blowing
up the hodag utilizing dynamite! Not surprisingly, this definitely labored, decreasing
it to a mass of charred, unidentifiable stays.

Thankfully (or conveniently, relying
upon your perspective!), nonetheless, previous to annihilating their aggressor they
had been capable of {photograph} it alive – the ensuing image revealing the
hodag in all its savage (albeit unexpectedly diminutive) splendour (and regardless of
its pose being decidedly picket, in each sense!). This photograph was reproduced
alongside Shepard’s account inside his printed article, and right here it’s now in


1893 hodag {photograph} (public area)

Though this hair-raising story definitely
achieved Shepard’s purpose of attracting some much-needed publicity for, and
curiosity in, Rhinelander, he was not content material to place apart his prankster
predilection simply but. Three years later, the hodag reappeared in Rhinelander,
courtesy as soon as once more of Shepard, who went one stage higher this second time spherical
than he’d beforehand performed. For as an alternative of a mere {photograph} and a few charred
cinders, he now selected to current the real merchandise – a dwelling, respiration hodag!

The 12 months 1896 noticed the very first Oneida
County Honest, organized to advertise Rhinelander as a potential location for
future enterprise and farming developments, and only a few days earlier than it opened
one other hodag-themed article by Shepard appeared within the Close to North newspaper. As soon as once more it associated in stirring vogue how
he and a few companions had supposedly encountered a hodag in Rhinelander’s
neighbouring forests – however this time they did not kill it. As an alternative, after
trapping it inside its den with stones in order that it could not escape, they
efficiently chloroformed the creature, enabling them to seize it alive – and
now, on the forthcoming Oneida County Honest, it could be on show, nonetheless very
a lot dwelling and respiration, for the truthful’s guests to see for themselves!


Shepard’s Rhinelander residence, with its hodag-holding shed on the suitable (public

And positive sufficient, held captive inside a shanty
but sturdily-built shed hooked up to Shepard’s personal home in Rhinelander, was a
real-life hodag – or, to be exact, one thing that its nervous observers believed to be a real-life hodag.
Partially hid by shadows and a curtain, and held a long way again from
its fee-paying public (who have been solely permitted to look upon it by means of a
small knot-hole), one thing seemingly resembling Shepard’s well-known 1893
description did certainly lurk, measuring 7.5 ft lengthy, 2.5 ft tall, pitch black in
color and bristly, armed with 12 prolonged spines alongside its again, transferring jerkily
on its quick however formidably clawed limbs, and growling. Additionally, of specific
be aware, it gave off a putrid stink, identical to Shepard had described for it in his
unique 1893 article.

Confronted by such a menacing entity, its
guests didn’t keep lengthy sufficient or strategy shut sufficient to acquire a very good
view of it, which was simply as effectively, at the least so far as Shepard was involved.
For, for sure, the hodag was a hoax – a big mannequin sculpted from picket
logs with effective wires hooked up to make it transfer. It had been skilfully constructed
by Luke Kearney, one in every of Shepard’s pals (who, years later, went on to jot down
the very informative guide The Hodag and
Different Tales of the Logging Camps
), and was deftly manipulated by Shepard’s
sons Claude and Layton, appearing like puppeteers (with a hidden canine giving voice
to the supposed hodag’s belligerent moans, groans, and growls when prodded by a
small boy). As for its stench, this derived from rank, discarded animal hides
obtained from the native tannery that have been used to cowl the hodag mannequin’s
picket framework.


reconstruction of Shepard’s captive hodag of 1896, in Huge World Journal, Could 1915 (public area)

Whether or not Shepard would have ever owned up
of his personal volition to committing this fraud, or whether or not he would have
continued with it, won’t ever be identified, as a result of within the occasion he had no possibility
however to admit. For he discovered that some scientists from the Smithsonian
Establishment have been so intrigued by media stories of this astonishing animal that
they have been planning to go to Rhinelander and observe it straight. The sport was
positively over, and so was the hodag marionette, which carried out no extra.

However, Shepard’s promotion-serving
pranks had achieved all that he had hoped for, and extra. Rhinelander was certainly
on the map now, and the hodag duly entered native folklore on a everlasting foundation.
But paradoxically, Shepard’s success truly labored in opposition to him on a private
stage, as a result of his hodag hoaxes turned him into an notorious, despised determine
domestically, who turned shunned each inside and even past his Rhinelander
homeland. Tragically, on 26 March 1923 aged 69, Shepard died alone, of kidney
failure, nonetheless estranged from his household and former pals. In trendy instances,
conversely, his status has been largely regained and his contributions to
Rhinelander’s thriving success repatriated, due in no small option to the hodag’s
fame and lasting legacy in Rhinelander, and Wisconsin on the whole, for that


Shepard in c.1915 (public area)

Certainly, like all the perfect native legends,
down by means of the a long time since Shepard’s time the hodag’s mythology has
continued to evolve and increase. These days, for instance, a number of differing kinds
of hodag are acknowledged.

These embrace the self-explanatory
shovel-nosed hodag, which additionally has longer limbs than the usual selection, and
the highly-specialised cave-dwelling hodag, distinguished by its complement of
three eyes, enabling it to see clearly inside its realm’s stygian darkness.


hodag (prime) and cave hodag (backside) (© Richard Svensson)

Additionally, a few of the extra free-thinking
members of at present’s cryptozoological neighborhood truly harbor suspicions that
the hodag could also be greater than a fantastic fabrication.

Such hypothesis posits that there may in
reality be an actual, still-undiscovered animal species evading scientific detection
amid the extra distant areas of Wisconsin that impressed Shepard’s morphology musings
when creating his hoax specimens.

Native American pictograph of Mishibeshu at Lake Superior Provincial Park (© D
Gordon E Robertson/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

It has even been tentatively linked to a
superficially similar-looking legendary entity often called Mishipeshu (‘nice
lynx’), additionally dubbed the water panther, and historically claimed by a lot of
completely different indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands and Nice Lakes area
to inhabit Lake Superior.

Oral descriptions in addition to petroglyphs of
Mishipeshu that date again so far as 400 years in the past painting a prolonged reptilian
water monster coated with scales however sporting a pair of huge cow-like horns
on its head, plus a snarling feline face with outstanding fangs, 4 stout
clawed limbs, and a sequence of lengthy spines working down its again and prolonged tail.
Would possibly Shepard have conceivably been impressed by folk-stories of this legendary
aquatic beast when fleshing out his hodag specimens?


of water panther, from the Nationwide Museum of the American Indian, George
Gustav Heye Heart library (public area)

However any such hypothetical real-life
or legendary water-dwelling hodag precursors, what is definitely a reality is
that at present Wisconsin’s most distinctive, sudden consultant is
commemorated in all method of various cultural methods right here. A number of Rhinelander
organizations and companies incorporate the hodag of their formal names, for
occasion, plus this metropolis’s annual music competition is understood formally because the
Hodag County Competition, its highschool embraces the hodag as its official
mascot, and plenty of retailers right here promote a variety of hodag souvenirs, together with
pleasant hodag cuddly toys.

In autumn 1959, the then-Senator John F.
Kennedy was even introduced with a miniature hodag figurine when he visited
Rhinelander throughout a political marketing campaign, this uncommon present impressing and delighting
him a lot that he positioned it on show at his residence afterwards for visitors to
discuss. He additionally particularly referred to it himself in a subsequent press
interview (Rhinelander Each day Information, 16
July 1960).

hodag statue in entrance of the Rhinelander Space Chamber of Commerce (© redlegsfan21/Wikipedia
CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Most spectacular of all, nonetheless, are a
variety of spectacular hodag statues dotted round this metropolis. Maybe probably the most
well-known one is the bigger than life-size, shiny inexperienced, fibre-glass instance
created by native artist Tracy Goberville that stands proudly within the grounds of the
Rhinelander Space Chamber of Commerce, with one other two on show at
Rhinelander’s Ice Area (one in every of which even blows out smoke from its nostrils as
its pink eyes mild up!).

These and different eyecatching duplicate
hodags appeal to numerous vacationers visiting Rhinelander yearly. Had been he right here
to see them himself, I really feel sure that Eugene Shepard would have authorised!

Eyes on the Hodag’ statue by artist Linda Gilbert-Ferzatta in Rhinelander (© Corey
Coyle/Wikipedia –
CC BY 3.0 licence)

Final, however not at all least: from the place
is the identify ‘hodag’ derived? It definitely did not originate with Shepard,
as a result of this time period existed lengthy earlier than his hoax specimens did. In actual fact, there may be
no frequent consensus as to its etymological origin.

Nevertheless, the preferred rationalization on
provide, and favoured by main hodag historian Kurt Kortenhof (writer of the definitive
2006 guide Lengthy Reside the Hodag: The Life
and Legacy of Eugene Simeon Shepard
is that ‘hodag’ derives from
lumberjack slang for one of many implements that they used of their work. The
two likeliest potentialities are a sort of industrial quality hoe identified technically as a
grub hoe, or a sort of flat-faced pickaxe identified technically as a maddox. So now
we all know…kind of!


{Photograph} of a re-creation of Shepard’s 1893 hodag seize scene for a 1950 Rhinelander
pageant (public area); Backside: Classic image postcard presenting Shepard’s 1893
hodag {photograph} in close-up (public area)


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