Cryptid Profile: The White River Monster
The White River Monster is a legendary large creature reportedly first spotted off the banks of the White River near Newport in northeastern Arkansas.
Since 1915, along the White River near Newport (Jackson County), the monster has appeared numerous times, been witness by hundreds of people, and has become a local legend. During the early days of sightings in the 20′s, the monster appeared to be exhibiting a predictable pattern of behavior, surfacing late in the afternoons and staying up five to fifteen minutes at a stretch before submerging again. Eventually these predictable “appearances” ended and the monster become sporadic.
In 1924, the monster showed up further downstream in Arkansas. A woman reported seeing the monster surface and emit a loud “blowing noise.” She described the animal as gray in color with a “strange kind of hide.”
On July 1st 1937, Bramlett Bateman, owner of a plantation near the river, saw the monster. He reported that he had seen “something appear on the surface of the water.” He continued, “From the best I could tell, from the distance, it would be twelve feet long and four or five feet wide. I did not see the head nor tail, but it slowly rose to the surface and stayed in this position for some five minutes. It did not move up or down the river at this particular time, but afterward on different occasions I have seen it move up and down the river, but I never have, at any time, been able to determine the full length or size of said monster.”
A County Deputy, Z. B. Reid, was with Bateman during one of these sightings and reported, “a lot of foam and bubbles coming up in a circle about 30 feet in diameter.” When the creature emerged, Reid said, “It looked like a large sturgeon or cat fish.” The animal was visible for about two minutes.
As news spread, construction of a huge rope net to capture the monster began. The net was 40-feet long and 15-feet wide and the plan was for a small armada of boats to sweep the eddy area with it in the hopes of catching the monster. A local diver was also brought in to search for it. However, the monster was never captured, and construction on more nets stopped because of the lack of money and materials.
In June and July of 1971, sightings began again. Newport resident David Jenks told of a creature thrashing in the water that was “the size of a car and the length of three pickup trucks.” He estimated the creature had to be over 1,000lbs. Others reported that ”It looked as if the things skin was peeling all over, but it was a smooth type of skin or flesh.“ Another person, who saw the creature’s face briefly, said the animal had a bone like object protruding from its forehead. Witness reported hearing strange noises emanate from the creature. It sounded like a combination of a ”cow’s moo and a horse’s neigh.“ Someone managed to take a photo (shown below) of the animal, but sadly, it came out blurry and unrecognizable.
Also that year, a local county sheriff reported the discovery of strange, huge tracks found on nearby Towhead Island just north of Bateman Eddy. The three-toed tracks, some fourteen inches in length, lead to and from the river and in between there was evidence that a creature of enormous size and weight had moved across the land, bending small trees, moving logs and crushing bushes. The prints also appeared to show a spur of some sort that projected from the heel. Periodic sightings continued over the summer of 1971. Foremost among them was a report filed by a fisherman and his grandson who claimed something had come up from the depths of the river and bumped their boat from below.
In 1973, the Arkansas State Legislature signed into law a bill by state Senator Robert Harvey, creating the White River Monster Refuge along the White River. The area is located between “the southern point on the river known as Old Grand Glaize and a northern point on White River known as Rosie.” It is illegal to harm the monster inside the refuge.
So what is (or was) the White River Monster? Many people believe the monster to be an overgrown alligator snapping turtle. These turtles can grow to the enormous size that the White River Monster is reported to be. The largest ever caught was in excess of 400lbs and they do inhabit the rivers, swamps, lakes, and reservoirs of the south. Also, these turtles can live an excess of 150yrs, which could account for the sightings spread over the years. But this theory seems unlikely due to reports of the creature possibly weighing over 1,000lbs and being the size of an automobile.
Cryptozoologist and biologist Roy P. Mackal has suggested that the creature is ”a clear-cut instance of a known aquatic animal outside its normal habitat or range and therefore unidentified by the observers unfamiliar with the type.“ Mackal believes that the creature is in fact a large male elephant seal that wandered up the Mississippi River into White River. Measuring an average of 5,000 pounds and 14 feet in length, a male elephant seal shares many of the characteristics described by those who’ve encountered the “monster”: gray skin, three-toed tracks, summer molting and a farm animal’s call.
Male elephant seals have an enormous range, migrating every year some 7,000 miles. It is certainly not impossible that one found its way to Newport, but why?Given that elephant seals only live about 15 years, the same creature could not account for the sightings in 1915, 1937 and 1971. Is there some special reason that several of these animals got lost and wound up in the White River over time? Nobody knows. Could an actual “monster” be located in the White River and people are just looking for any creature that closely resembles what they saw so as to help make sense of the situation? Possibly. But until the creature is seen again and we are able to snap a clear picture, shoot a stable video, or examine a body, we will never know.
Is this male elephant seal the face of the legendary White River Monster?
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google