Do you believe in the Ozark Howler?
The Ozark Howler is a mysterious creature living deep in the woods of the Ozarks. Its territory extends from southern Missouri to northern Arkansas and sightings have even been recorded in Oklahoma and Texas. Of course it’s just a local legend… or is it?
Red Oak, Oklahoma
“It seems that a good number of soldiers were coming back home to try to make a living after the war, and had built some new houses outside of town in order to start their new families. Apparently, something was disturbed where some of the new houses were made, and let residents know how upset it was.
The description was classic Ozark howler. Tall (at least 4 foot at the shoulder), thick and shaggy fur, sort of like a thick cat in its build, or perhaps like a thin bear, with glowing red eyes – not like the yellow or orange reflection you’ll get from a cat’s eyes at night, and making a creepy kind of howling noise, very deep and guttural. Some of the old hunters said it reminded them of an elk bugling, but at a lower pitch.”
Residents report seeing a “black, goat-shaped creature” roaming the Ozarks forests.
“A truck driver who had pulled off the side of the road for the night saw what he described as a black “cat-like” creature with a long tail, shaggy fur, a stocky build, a beard, and red eyes.”
Fort Smith, Arkansas
“I first heard reasonable eyewitnesses talk about the Arkansas Howler in 2004 when I was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Several people that I talked to who had seen or heard it or found its prints did not believe it to be a real “monster,” but instead thought that a mountain lion or cougar was loose in the Boston Mountains that stretch between Fort Smith and Van Buren on the south and the booming Northwest Arkansas corridor.
Wildlife authorities maintained at that time that there were no native cougars left in Arkansas. Nevertheless, residents who lived in and along the fringes of the Boston Mountains, which are part of the Ozarks, were serious in their claims that a large animal was roaming their neighborhoods.”
Oregon County, Missouri
“A friend of mine got up very early in the morning, about 4:30 am, and when he went outside he noticed his livestock were very frightened and had huddled in a cluster in the corner of the fence by his house. He had some binoculars, so he took a look in the direction from which they had run. He said what he saw looked like a big, black panther. He quickly changed his mind when he began walking down to his field and saw the thing running along his fence line. He said it had very long ears, or horns, and was black with thick fur. It had a long tail like a cat, but looked like a mix between a cat and a dog. It was broad and about as big as a great Dane, and it had eerie reddish eyes that gave him chills. There is no reason for him to make up such a story, and he was very shaken up after the sighting. This was in Oregon County, MO.”
"A ranger on duty at a remote Arkansas station told a reporter recently that she believed Ozark Howlers were real. In fact, she’d recently seen one. “It was late at night and something big and black darted out in front of my vehicle,” she said. “I stopped to get a closer look and couldn’t believe what I saw—a huge black panther. It snarled at me before it disappeared into the woods.” Although the ranger reported the incident to her superiors, she said that Arkansas Fish and Game Department refused to acknowledge the existence of the creatures because no one had ever caught one or recovered a carcass. Despite reportedly hundreds of sightings, the Arkansas Fish and Game Department state that the legendary Ozark Howlers were “pet panthers” that had escaped captivity."
Hot Springs, Arkansas
“Last year, around New Year’s, I was driving home after a party, and I was going around this curve which is really tight, especially at night after a party, if you know what I mean, and I saw this big thing run across the road right in front of me, caught in the headlights.
I didn’t see a whole lot, but the one thing I did notice was that it had a big, long, thick tail. At first I though it was a bear, but then I thought, do bears have big tails? I couldn’t remember for a while, but then I remembered that they don’t.
I was pretty confused, and a little scared, so I just started my car right back up and went home.”
Johnson county, Arkansas
“An animal spotted walking along a dry stream bed in Johnson County, Arkansas about 5 miles to the east of Catalpa, Arkansas. About 7 feet long and almost 4 feet tall at the shoulder, it was observed walking out of a thicket on the far side of the small valley, took a drink from a puddle, and then disappeared.”
“I have seen this creature very close to Jasper, Arkansas. I have lived in the Arkansas Ozarks for over 20 years. I never knew what it was until recently doing research. And I do believe I know where they are. I first had visual sight of one was off HWY 65 on HWY 256, heading towards Welcome Home. When I saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had never seen anything like it, what shocked me the most and what was most memorable was the horns coming out of it’s forehead, very much cat like, but it was it’s face with it’s horns that really shocked me. I drove as if in shock from a car crash not believing what I saw, until I started doing research on the subject. For over 10 years, in a remote region close to Mountain View, Arkansas, you can hear the howl every single night, usually after midnight. I never knew it was until I did the research, it is very elk like, almost like a horn, but definitely a howl. If anyone is brave enough I can show you where exactly to go to hear this, and where I made visual contact.”
“I should preface with two things. Number one. My father is one of the most rock solid people I know, and does not often show fear. His voice was trembling when he told me his account of the encounter.
Number two. I have traveled extensively through United States. 44 states, with the exclusion of Wisconsin, Hawaii, Michigan, N. Carolina and S. Carolina. I lived in Alaska, and was a trek guide in the Rockies. I know wild animals, and have had encounters with mountain lions, bears, moose, and every kind of small game. But nothing has left me in the terror I had when I encountered something in the woods of my home state Missouri.
I know the Ozark Howler was pronounced fake. An elaborate hoax by a college kid if I remember correctly. I don’t know what to call the thing my father described, so it is the Howler to me. Missouri, the Ozarks in particular is a historically rich and beautiful place. Mountains in the south east give way to river valleys in the south west where I lived. Our farm was 120 acres of woods and rolling fields. A large creek that would flood in the spring but run quietly the rest of the year bisected it. Being relatively poor we lived in a 100+ year old farm house that had it’s own list of strange occurrences but creaks and groans were expected from something that old so most of it was written off as old wood. And since we were poor we subsisted off of venison. Deer meat that is. So I spent a lot of time in the woods tracking and preparing game stands and watching for poachers. However the woods took on an odd atmosphere the Summer before my 16th birthday.
Most people avoid the woods in Missouri through the Spring and Summer due to ticks, chiggers, and snakes. I love the woods. I would purposefully look for snakes, and for some reason ticks and chiggers seemed to leave me alone. I still remember that Summer, it was rainier than most. Usually we’d get a deluge in the Spring and then maybe a rainstorm once or twice a month in the Summer. But that season it seemed to rain every day. The woods were darker and cooler in the day due to this. Beautiful too. Thick carpets of moss covered the hills, and long thin fingers of grass would shoot up through it. In the southern portion of the woods there was an old pickup truck that had been burned up in the 50’s, it was normally rusty and bare but this year it too had grown a covering of moss. A couple trees had grown up through it over the years and the story goes that moonshiners had been brewing out there when a bad batch blew and killed a few of them. This is the hill country so it’s not hard to believe.
I used the pickup as a marker while I was tracking. One day after starting at the Northern end, which was a large thicket of cedar trees, and then working my way south to the pickup truck I began getting the hunters instinct of being watched. This is normal for me. It’s a good indicator that something is out there that either A, is trying to avoid you, or B, is trying to stalk you. It’s a time to stop, take account of the situation, and begin counter stalking. This was later in the day and after a rain storm so fog was moving in. I ducked behind the truck slowly to avoid spooking what I had hoped was a nice buck. There had been so few deer on our land that year. I looked through the rusty window towards the direction that I thought my future kill was.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But still I had the feeling of being watched. More intense than I had ever felt it. The only thing I could liken it to was when I doing mountain treks in Wyoming. I felt the hair on my neck stand on end while I was going around a glacial lake and my mind said ‘there it is, turn around’. When I did there was the tail of a mountain lion slinking into the bushes. I trusted my senses then and now here I was on home ground feeling like ten lions were around me.
I stayed put until I felt there was nothing there and then chalked it up to jitters. The woods felt different because of the extra rain. As I left the woods and crossed through the fog near the creek I felt it again. Not as intense but again my mind called out, ‘there it is, turn around’. At the edge of the woods was a man, dressed in dark mechanics pants and red and green flannel jacket. Poachers were a problem for a poor family. We hunted to support not only ourselves but others that couldn’t afford to by meat regularly so I began walking up to confront him. He turned and made for the woods. He made it to the fog bank at the forest edge and I yelled out for him to stop. He kept walking and just seemed to dissipate in the fog the further he got into it. By the time I caught up to where I last saw him there was nothing. No tracks, no disturbed foliage, nothing. I always thought it was odd that someone would wear flannel in the summer.
When I returned home my mother told me that she had received calls from the neighbors. One, to the north of us, reported a wounded horse and a mutilated goat. The other, to the south, reported two calves and cow dead and mutilated. I went to see the neighbor with the horse. It had 4 long claw marks on either side of it’s rear haunches, like something had stalked up and tried to drag it down from behind. It reminded me of watching lions take down zebras on discovery.
The summer continued and odd occurrences continued to happen in the woods. Neighbors all around us reporting dead dogs, cats, small farm animals and the occasional cow. All mutilated and chewed up. That constant feeling of being watched. I usually only carry a rifle in hunting season but I started carrying one constantly later that Summer. When fall hit I turned 16 and things just got worse. Tracks started showing up on our neighbors land that representatives from Fish and Game swore were grizzly bear. The only bears in Missouri are Black bears and all in the south east side near the mountains and swamps. Tracks showed up on our land to. Two big sets, front and back. The front seemed to be long like a dogs but wide near the front like a cats, and no claw marks told me that if it did have claw then they retracted. The rear paw marks were wider, like the animal had massive rear legs for pouncing, and the paws to support it.
Still I kept stalking, kept tracking, kept watching. About 3 weeks before hunting season I went out early one morning to drop some apples for the deer and check for fresh tracks. Like the day where I ran into the man in flannel I started at the north end in the cedar thicket and moved south. The cedar thicket has always set me on nerve, but since that day I’ve avoided it altogether. Tall dark cedar trees close enough if you stand up straight you can’t see through lower boughs. So you have to bend at the waist and walk through crouched. The lowest boughs are dead from not receiving sunlight and smack you in the face if you’re not careful.
I am tearing up as I remember this.
I bent over and began walking through the cedars and my mind said, ‘there it is, turn around’. I looked left, to the east and near a thick patch cedars was a freshly killed deer. The thing behind it was huge and black. Crouched on all fours like some kind of big cat, but with big yellow eyes, bigger than I’ve ever seen, and a thick shaggy mane that flowed from just behind its head to the middle of its back. It wasn’t lion, or cougar, or bear. I’ve never seen it’s like since.
I began walking sideways, determined not to take my eyes off of it. With each of my steps a guttural purr came from it. The purr would start low like a growl and then end on a high note. I slowly moved my rifle from the sling to my shoulder so I could pull up quick and shoot if I needed to. It was so big I don’t know if I would have done any damage. It didn’t move though. I kept moving side ways until I was at an angle from it and then backed up and out of the cedar thicket. I stayed bent so i could eyes on it until I moved out of site. It just laid there and turned it’s massive head.
As I got out of eyesight I began to hear movement from the direction I had just come, and the intense feeling of being watched. It was stalking me now. Here I was, 16 years old, probably going to die. They’d find me later, or part of me. Gnawed on with giant claw marks through my body.
I’m 25 now and in all my encounters with dangerous animals I have never run. I ran then and if it happened again today I would run. I never run. Never you understand? Bears, mountain lions, moose. Never. But that thing was not all natural. So I ran. I continued South to get into clear space. Two thoughts were in my head. Get a clear shot, get into open space so your body is easier to find.
I made it to the old truck. The moss had dried up and was falling off. As I ran up to it the man in flannel stepped out from behind one of the trees that was growing through it and pointed towards the trail out of the woods. I turned immediately and sprinted as hard as I could. Whether it was in my mind or actually happening I felt like hot breath was hitting my back, and then when i broke the edge of the woods the most unearthly scream sounded out from behind me. Half human almost. I kept running until I felt I was clear and then turned.
Nothing. Nothing had followed me out. A shadow on all fours stalked about 100 feet deep through the woods. I made for the house as quickly as I could. When I got back my Dad was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. He had been out chopping wood that morning while I was running from the Howler. He had heard the scream. He told me he had only heard it one other time. About 20 years before he was out chopping a tree down near the edge of the woods. On the north side, near the cedar grove. When he walked back to the truck to refill the chainsaw he heard the same scream. He turned and the black thing had jumped up on the tree he had just chopped down and stood there looking at him. Dad left the chainsaw in the truck bed, got in and drove away. That tree is still on the ground today.
I don’t expect you to believe this, but a few things struck me while I was writing this. One, I feel the fear even today, and had to wipe away tears more than few times to get through this. Two, The Man in Flannel was wearing the same thing the second time I saw him, when he was guiding me out the woods. Moonshiners, even the dead ones, know the woods better than anyone.
Third and lastly is this. Predatory big cats will mark their territory in a number of ways. One is to not hunt directly in the territory, but in the surrounding area. Much like the area surrounding our land. Needless to say I did not hunt that year.”
The Ozark Howler, or the Ozark Black Howler, legend has been passed down for generations by locals who have heard things they could not describe, and have seen things that couldn’t be described as an animal that you would expect to find in the heart of the Ozark wilderness. Its frightening sound and eerie appearance has been seen in the more remote parts of the Missourian and Arkansan Ozarks and even farther west in Oklahoma and south in Texas.
It is typically described as being around the size of a bear, with a thick body, stocky legs, black shaggy hair, and having prominent horns. Most agree that it is either black or dark in color. Its cry is often described as being a combination of a wolf’s howl and an elk’s bugle. Skeptics claim that it’s an eastern cougar, a black bear, or some kind of wolf or feral hound. Sightings have been officially recorded since the 1950’s, though many Ozark families can pass on stories of their parents and grandparents experiencing the chill of seeing the Ozark Howler well before that time.
Between 2005 and 2010, the Howler (also called the Black Howler and the Devil Cat) was spotted several times. A family living north of Van Buren in the Boston Mountains of Crawford County set out trail cams after spotting what they believed was a cougar. The images they supplied to a Fort Smith television station appeared to show a big cat similar to a cougar (mountain lion).
The problem is that wildlife officials maintain there is not a breeding population of cougars left in Arkansas. They do concede that it is possible there might be individual big cats living in the mountains, pointing out they likely were once held as pets but escaped or were turned loose by their owners. (From Explore Southern History)
Clip from Travel Channel show “Legends of the Ozarks: A Search for the Ozark Howler”The Howl
The howl, as you might expect, is the hallmark of the Ozark Howler. Its sound has been described as “very deep and guttural” as well as a “high-pitched howl.” Others have said that it’s “the most unearthly scream” and “half-human.” One of the most common descriptions of the sound is “like the screams of a woman.” Those who have heard the screams pierce the night never forget the chill that ran up their spine and the feeling of dread that washed over them.
Some claim that the sounds are made by animals commonly found in the region. They point to the screams and howls of animals like the Red Fox, Fisher Cat, and even fighting raccoons.
Listen to the scream of the Red Fox:
Listen to the sound of fighting Raccoons:
Listen to the sound of the Fisher Cat:
Listen to the sound of a Bull Elk bugle:
Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English settlers homesteaded the Ozarks plateau in the mid to late 1800’s, and they brought with them their ancestral stories and mythologies. One such story was of the Cù Sìth, a mythological hound that is feared as a harbinger of death. The settlers believed the hound would come to bear away the soul of a person to the afterlife, similar to the Grim Reaper. The hounds of death went by other names, such as Bean Sidhe (Irish), Cú Sídhe (Irish), and Cŵn Annwn (Welsh).
According to Scottish folklore, the Cù-Sìth is said to be the size of a young bull with the appearance of a wolf. Its fur is shaggy, and usually cited as being dark green though sometimes white. Its tail is described as being long and either coiled up or plaited (braided). Its paws are described as being the width of a man’s hand.
The Cù-Sìth is thought to make its home in the clefts of rocks in the Highlands, and also to roam the moors and highlands.
According to legend, the creature was capable of hunting silently, but would occasionally let out three terrifying bays, and only three, that could be heard for miles by those listening for it, even far out at sea. Those who hear the baying of the Cù-Sìth must reach safety by the third bark or be overcome with terror to the point of death.
It was also said the baying was a warning to lock up nursing women lest the beast abduct them and take them to a fairy mound (Scottish Gaelic: sìthean, pl. sìtheanan) to supply milk for the children of the fae (daoine sìth).
In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs.
Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of Cadair Idris, where it is believed “the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them”.
According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. Their coming is generally seen as a death portent.
Some people see a connection between the mythologies that came here with the settlers and the ancient stories of the Native Americans who inhabited the region. Natives told stories of saber tooth tigers that used the roam the land, though they have been gone for thousands of years. Combining the stories of the tigers and the settler’s tales of otherworldly creatures that scream and carry off the souls of the dead may have resulted in the Ozark Howler.Activities - For children, parents, and educators:
Does the Ozark Howler resemble a large cat like a panther or mountain lion? Or is it more goat-like with horns and shaggy fur? Do its eyes glow red or yellow? You’ve read the witness accounts and you know the legends, now it’s your turn to show us what you think the Ozark Howler looks like.
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