Cryptid Profile: The Beast Of Busco (AKA: Oscar the Turtle)
Churubusco, often shortened to Busco, is a town in Indiana that (as stated on their website) offers “everything you come to expect from small town living”. The town has a population of around 2,000+ residents, boasts a 60-acre park, and puts on a yearly town-wide ‘Turtle Days’ festival. It is because of that last fact that Churubusco is well known in the world of cryptozoology, not for the festival itself, but rather the reason the festival is celebrated in the first place. That reason, is a giant “monster” snapping turtle known as the Beast Of Busco.
The giant crypto legend first made its appearance in 1898 when a farmer by the name of Oscar Fulk noticed what appeared to be a giant turtle hanging out in a seven-acre lake on his farm. Fulk quickly told other farmers in the area about the unusually large turtle but a majority of them simply laughed him away and didn’t give a second thought to what he was telling them. Realizing that nobody was going to take him seriously and sensing that the turtle was not dangerous and just wanted to live its life, Fulk let it be and ignored it for the remainder of the time he owned his farm.
Fast forward 50yrs to 1948 and the farm that Oscar Fulk used to own has now been sold to Gale Harris. Realizing that the lake on his property would allow for good fishing, Harris opens Fulk Lake (named after previous owner Oscar) to locals in the area. This is when the second “official” sighting of the turtle would take place. One day in July, two men by the names of Ora Blue and Charley Wilson were out fishing on the lake. While in their boat, the two men happened to spot a giant turtle just hanging out on the surface of the water. The monster sized turtle completely ignored the boat in its lake and went about its business before sinking back down below the water. Amazed by what they had witnessed, Blue and Wilson returned to shore and quickly told Harris about what they had seen. The two men described the creature as looking like a normal snapping turtle, but having a spiked shell the size of a large dining room table, being nearly 6ft wide, and appearing to weigh nearly 500+lbs.
Completely blown away by what the fishermen had described, Harris began to watch the lake almost daily for signs of the turtle. As time passed, hours quickly turned to days, days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months but Harris finally saw his proof that the giant was in the lake in March of 1949.
Filled to the brim with excitement, Harris started to tell anyone and everyone in town about the giant living in his lake, some townspeople were so amazed that they even persuaded Harris to try and capture the creature. Believing that he could indeed catch the turtle, Harris built a trap consisting of multiple wooden stakes, rolls of chicken wire, and raw bait. Creating a funnel type of effect, the trap would force the turtle into a small designated area and keep it in contained in a little more than 10ft of water. The curious townsfolk arrived at Harris’ farm days later when the trap was ready and anxiously waited for the turtle to arrive, some even held video and still photo cameras at the ready in hopes of catching the creature on film.
After a few hours passed, the turtle finally arrived at the trap and began to venture inside. The witnesses on shore gasped and the cameras began to roll and snap away as the creature swam towards the easy bait waiting for it at the end of the trap. Eventually the giant turtle reached the end and appeared to have nowhere else to go, but the choice of chicken wire proved to be the weak link in this plan and the creature was able to bust out and return to the deep part of the lake.
Almost instantly the news of a giant turtle living and almost being captured in Fulk Lake began to spread. The three men (Harris, Blue, and Wilson) started talking to local reporters and soon the story was known nation wide. Newspapers around the country quickly started referring to the large, docile turtle as “The Beast Of Busco” despite never having a dangerous encounter with people and some even started jokingly referring to it as Oscar (named after original witness Oscar Fulk). Because of all the stories in various newspapers, curious onlookers started to flock to Harris’ farm in order to see the “The Beast” for themselves, others showed up just to publicly ridicule Harris for claiming that such an unbelievable creature was actually living in his lake. Not one to let his name and reputation be tarnished, Harris started devoting all of his available time to capturing the turtle known as Oscar and proving he wasn’t crazy.
Crowds of nearly 200 people showed up to watch Harris and others attempt to catch Oscar by all sorts of various means. One day a homemade periscope was created in order to see down into the lake and catch sight of Oscar hanging out on the bottom, but the water proved to be too murky to see anything and the tube that was used even damaged Harris’ eye. Another day, Harris got a fully functional diving suit and talked Woodrow Rigsby into putting it on and going into the lake to search, Rigsby agreed but had to abandon the search after the helmet began to leak.
A few days later, after the repair of the helmet, Harris talked another man by the name of Walter Johnson into putting on the suit in an attempt to search. Even though during the second search the helmet didn’t leak, the search had to be abandoned after nearly 2 hours due to Johnson getting stuck in mud up to his chest at the bottom of Fulk Lake. Not one to just give up on his hunt, Harris started to think of new ways to catch the Beast and at one point even managed to take possession of a live female sea turtle. The plan was to put the sea turtle in the lake in hopes of attracting Oscar close enough to shore in order to be pulled out, but once again, the Beast of Busco managed to avoid capture.
After nearly 7 months of constant searching - and after beginning to grow more and more desperate in his attempts to prove Oscar’s existence - Harris began to use dynamite in order to produce a body. The overall tone of the hunts changed and It no longer mattered if Oscar was alive or dead, all that mattered was that he was real. The once large curious crowds of onlookers began to dwindle to almost nothing and Harris’ reputation started to suffer.
Finally in October, after trying nearly everything else, Harris announced his final plan to capture The Beast Of Busco, he was going to drain the entire lake. Almost immediately the crowds returned to Harris’ farm in overwhelming numbers, but this time, they had to pay an entrance fee to see the show. Using the money from the crowds, Harris attached a large pump to his tractor and started to drain the lake. After just a few days of pumping, he had managed to drain the once seven-acre lake to an astonishing one-acre with a depth of five feet, and it was during this time that Oscar finally decided to show up.
While the still loyal crowd watched the surface of the water with focused eyes, a single duck landed upon it and started to swim around. Suddenly, a large reptilian head shot up from under the duck and devoured it whole. The crowd was amazed and started yelling for Harris to work faster and empty the lake as soon as possible, but just as before, Harris’ luck was about to change. The pump started sucking up the thick muck at the bottom of the lake and eventually clogged itself so badly that it broke Harris’ tractor and was unable to be used again. Still determined to prove Oscar was real once and for all, Harris used the last of his money to rent a crane and drag the lake, but just as before, The Beast was able to avoid capture.
Not long after the dragging of the lake proved useless, a patch of bad weather descended upon Churubusco and the town fell victim to countless rain storms. In no time at all the one-acre lake filled back up to its original seven-acres and Oscar was free to swim freely again. Finally in December, plagued by health problems and debt, Gale Harris called off all remaining attempts to capture The Beast Of Busco. Unable to rebound after going nearly bankrupt in his attempt to prove Oscar was real, Harris was forced to sell his farm at auction on August 23rd, 1950. After selling the very farm which hosted nearly 3,000+ curious onlookers during the turtle hunts, the Beast Of Busco was never seen again.
So what happened to The Beast Of Busco? Where did the giant turtle known as Oscar go after driving Gale Harris into financial ruin? Did the large reptile even exist at all? If you were ask anybody from Churubusco, they would tell you yes, Oscar was completely real. They will also tell you that the reason Oscar was never captured and was no longer seen in Fulk Lake is because of the underground channels that connect Fulk Lake to other lakes in the area.
Whenever things got too chaotic in his lake, Oscar would simply escape through one of the channels into a calm lake away from all the nosy sightseers, loud equipment, and dynamite. Plus after the draining and dragging of the lake ruined the overall balance of his home, Oscar decided to move out for good and never returned.
There are a few locals though who feel that Oscar actually died during the draining of the lake. Those that adhere to the death theory feel that the large turtle fell victim to the churning water and ultimately became stuck and buried within the mud and muck at the bottom of his home. Supporters of this theory feel this is the reason why The Beast was never seen again after the lake filled back up during the rainy season. But again, these theories are spoken from the point of view of the residents of Churubusco and the celebrators of the annual ‘Turtle Days’. But what about to outside observers, could Oscar have been real? Some researchers say yes.
The case for the existence of The Beast is not a hard one to sell due to the fact that this is not some horrible monster or a humanoid creature. It is not a hybrid animal and it is not supernatural or paranormal in any way, it is simply an extremely large snapping turtle. Some argue that it wasn’t even a normal snapping turtle that was being seen, but rather an alligator snapping turtle. The reason for this theory is that AST’s can be found throughout the southeastern United States (Indiana is in this area) and they all possess a large thick shell with three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates, much like the ones Blue and Wilson reported seeing in Fulk Lake.
Another fact that helps point to an alligator snapping turtle being the culprit is that AST’s continue to grow throughout their entire life and specimens in captivity have even been recorded as reaching weights of 249lbs (at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago), 236lbs (at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago), and 298lbs (at a Zoo whose name had not been recorded). There are also unverified reports that a specimen weighing 403lbs was captured in Kansas in 1937. It is most frequently seen that the largest specimens are generally males, although the occasional female can reach record weights as well. The AST is also thought to be able to live to an age of nearly 120yrs old, but there is some thought among herpetologists that AST’s can live to be almost 200+yrs old if all the conditions are right.
So, now that we know an AST will never stop growing throughout its lifetime, can live to be over 100yrs old, and can grow to weigh well over 200lbs, it is not hard to believe that given the right environmental conditions, a lone specimen could be able to reach the same gigantic proportions Oscar was said to have. Plus, since there have been no recorded deaths due to AST’s in the United States, this can explain why Oscar seemed to pay no attention to those on or in his lake, and why he just chose to do his own thing.
Now that we have heard the story and also the true facts about what species The Beast more than likely was, we are left with one question, was Oscar real? Sadly, that question is unable to be answered with either a definite yes or no. And because of this, what it ultimately comes down to is, do you believe Oscar was real? Or do you believe he was nothing more than a story that turned into a legend?
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google