Cryptid Profile: The Kidrick Swamp Whatsit
What comes to mind when you think of a swamp? It’s probably safe to assume that an image consisting of dark water filled with alligators and old, somewhat eerie looking trees with their trunks almost entirely submerged and their branches overflowing with hanging moss pops into your head. Perhaps there are even a few decrepit shacks and long abandoned, overturned and broken boats rising menacingly just above the surface in this mental image you currently have going on. This location you are envisioning is also probably located somewhere down south where the air is consistently humid and the mosquitoes are swarming. Truth be told, that seems to be the kind of image that pops into nearly everyone’s head when they think of swamps. And that’s completely fine, we as people have been fed a pop culture image of what a swamp is always supposed to look like.
Along with this classic image that we typically all see, there is often times another stereotype associated with swamps, and I can guarantee you already know where I am going with this. That’s right dear readers, as you more than likely already knew, we are talking about the classic swamp monster. These denizens of dark water have long been associated with swamps with stories and legends of their dangerous nature going all the way back to when people first started putting pens to paper. And if I were to ask what kind of image pops into your head when we bring up a swamp monster, I bet a majority of you are seeing a large hulking figure either covered in hair or scales trudging steadily through the disgusting water and making its way towards the swamp edge to loom creepily over those close by. Basically, what more than likely popped into your head is a shot from the ever classic, ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’.
Now, if I were to ask you the same question, but add in Wisconsin as the location of this swamp, what sort of image would appear in your head? This just got slightly harder, didn’t it? Alright, let’s build upon that challenge and ask what sort of monstrous creature would dwell within a northern Dairyland swamp? Did the creature stay the same as before, or did it change because the location changed? By chance did your mind go wild with possibilities when trying to visualize this thing? Any answer is perfectly acceptable, but if you leaned more towards the third answer, well then, you would fit in just fine with all those who have caught a glimpse of what is known as the Kidrick Swamp Whatsit.
Now before we begin, we need to partake in what is the standard here at The PBI and need to first give some much needed “background” information prior to getting into the monster talk. It is our personal belief that the more information you have before hearing about a monster, the richer and more intriguing the follow-up story becomes. Sure, you can just skip this entire part and read only about the Whatsit below, but honestly, why wouldn’t you want to know about the home this creature is said to live in? Remember, the more information you have now means you will sound just that much cooler when you share this story later on at an upcoming social gathering or large scale event! Because as far as we know, nothing makes people want to move closer to you more than by showing up at an event and talking about monsters without even being prompted to do so. So stick around, your future social circle may depend on it!
Anyway, we are beginning to ramble and the last few sentences up above were beginning to hit too close to home. So, to get back on track, who here wants to learn about Kidrick Swamp? Excellent! Let’s begin.
So, as we sort of mentioned above in a sort of roundabout way, Kidrick Swamp is located in Wisconsin, but to be specific it is found within Taylor County. To be even more specific, it is located 225 miles north of Madison, WI and 255 miles north of Janesville, WI (the home of The PBI). The swamp, which is officially known as Kidrick Swamp State Natural Area, is recorded as being 4,000 acres (or 6.25 square miles) and is part of the much larger Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. This national forest is spread out over the northern part of Wisconsin and covers more than 1.5 million acres of the states Northwoods. Since the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is so spread out, Kidrick Swamp falls within the Chequamegon side of the forest which covers around 858,400+ acres and includes Ashland, Bayfield, Sawyer, Price, Taylor and Vilas counties.
Okay, now that we have the general location out of the way, lets quickly talk about what specific type of swamp Kidrick is. As you more than likely know, depending on where you are from, the term swamp can mean many different things. What may be a swamp to Group A might come across more like a bog to Group B, and that bog might register as more of a marsh to Group C. Think of it as the “pop vs. soda” conflict, it’s pretty much the same thing in this situation. But whereas every day people can interchange the terms as they please, science does have set guidelines on what registers as what. And just to be clear, we are back to talking about the swamps, I don’t think mainstream science much cares if its called pop or soda.
According to the Wisconsin DNR, there are five recognized categories of wetlands/swamps in the state. These categories were created to help classify areas based on the vegetation found within the set border, the type of soil collected there, and the amount of water which covers the area. After collecting the required data, it is either classified as an Aquatic Bed, a Marsh, a Sedge or Wet Meadow, a Scrub/Shrub area, or a Forested Wetland. We at one point were debating on whether or not we should break each category down for further clarification, but this is supposed to be some relatively quick information so we will leave it to you to dive into each of these categories if you wish.
Alright, we are almost done, just a little bit more swamp information before we get to the monster info. Officially, Kidrick Swamp appears to be a blend of a Scrub/Shrub wetland and a Forested Wetland. In the middle of the swamp, there are fairly large bogs which cover the ground and smaller trees, woody shrubs, and dogwood shrubs which are sprinkled throughout the area. Around the perimeter, these bogs begin to creep into and mingle with areas of raised ground and much larger trees such as sugar maple, basswood, white ash, black ash, and red oak. So basically, in the most simple of terms, you have a somewhat flooded area with smaller greenery in the middle that grows larger as the area dries out when moving away from the center. Swamp talk now done!
For those of you who made it through the swamp talk, I thank you for humoring me and taking the time to read it. For those of you who jumped ahead to get to the monster talk, your wait is over, it is about to begin. But before we fully dive into this mysterious “thing”, I have to give you all a disclaimer regarding this creature. This is a very difficult “cryptid” to research, in fact almost all the information surrounding it comes from only one source, the 1997 book written by Dennis Boyer entitled, ‘Giants in the Land: Folktales and Legends of Wisconsin.’ Because of the difficulty and scarceness of recorded information regarding the Whatsit’s existence, it actually seems to almost slide away from being classified as a true cryptid and settles more within the realm of being a pure creature of folklore. But, there is still a possibility that the Whatsit may travel between the two classifications, and we will explain why in a minute.
As many who read the articles written here at the PBI know, it goes without saying that Wisconsin residents have a long and storied history of seeing strange creatures within the many wetland areas of the state. Sure, we have the classic Sasquatch-like encounters and seem to have an overabundance of Dogman sightings, but we also have locations said to be inhabited by Lizardmen, Pterosaurs, Trolls, a giant Man-Bat, a “Yeti”, and even creatures that are nearly indescribable (just to name a few). So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a creature could have been spotted a few times in Kidrick Swamp that was never fully investigated and just sort of got lumped together within the sightings and encounters of the more recognizable beasts above. And to tell you the truth, that happens a lot in this field.
A prime, purely manufactured example of this would be as follows; something weird starts happening in location A, and miles away in location B something weird also starts happening, rather than take the time to thoroughly investigate each occurrence with the same amount of time and energy, it’s easier for the media and amateur researchers/investigators to jump on the bandwagon of A and claim the same thing is happening all over the state. Did you or someone in your city spot some weird hairy thing in the woods? Well it’s got to be a Bigfoot, doesn’t matter if you saw it walking around on all fours and it looked nothing like a Bigfoot, it’s easier for the general public to accept a Bigfoot in their area than say a Beaver-Eater or Devil Monkey.
Basically, what I am trying to get at is that even though there is not much info on the Whatsit, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or didn’t exist at one point. It may have just been wrongly categorized and nobody every addressed the error. Heck, even the name of the creature is not consistent, the witness in Boyer’s book (noted as being a U.S. Forest Service Employee) referred to it by a name he made up but also states that others were more than likely calling it something different each time. We ourselves have taken to calling it the Whatsit because as you will soon see, nobody can agree on what it is! So this means that if someone down the road possibly attempts to go looking for information on this supposed creature, they may come across absolutely nothing because they are unaware of what name the encounters were recorded under. This may then lead to one believing that there is absolutely no basis in truth to this beast and cause them to write the entire thing off as either a hoax or wrongfully categorized Fortean event.
What adds to this confusion and difficulty in research is that in classic monster fashion, the Kidrick Swamp Whatsit appears to look different to anyone and everyone who sees it within the swampy wetland. Some woodsmen who have claimed to see the thing report that it looked somewhat like a llama or an alpaca, but with much more reddish colored fur and a head that just looks odd. It moves around quickly on four legs, stopping to stand tall in the spongy wet dirt below and long grass surrounding it before taking off into the tall trees that make up the border of the swamp. Other witnesses to the Whatsit claim it appears to resemble a creature that is a cross between a possum and an alligator. It moves around on for small feet close to the ground and slinks between the shrubbery and fallen trees dotting the swamp. It is yet again said to be covered in red fur but this time, it appears to possesses some horns on its head. Finally, there is the most bizarre description of the Whatsit yet, and that says a lot about a creature that has already been described in two bizarre ways.
Imagine a full sized hippo slowly lumbering along through a forest, now imagine a large musk ox walking along in the opposite direction towards the hippo. When the two giants meet head to head in the middle of the swamp, merge them together into one large abomination. What you have just created in your mind is what one witness of the Whatsit claimed it looked like. Now, I can typically jump on board many cryptid creature descriptions to a point, but even I have a difficult time accepting that a giant hippo-ox is lumbering around a 4,000-acre swamp in northern Wisconsin. But then again, if the witness truly did see something, who am I to say that he didn’t see a hippo-ox, I wasn’t there. Although it must be noted that a full grown musk ox weighs around 630+lbs, and a full grown hippo can weigh anywhere from 2,000+ to 3,000+lbs for females and between 3,000+ to 4,000+lbs for males. So if this woodsmen truly did see what he thought he saw, the creature had to have been absolutely massive and utterly terrifying.
Alright, so those are what some individuals believe they saw when encountering the Whatsit while in Kidrick Swamp. Basically this thing was created by reaching into a grab bag of random creature parts, pulling out the weirdest looking ones, and smashing them together in whatever order you want. But what about the witness who was interviewed for the book, what did he see? Well, the description he gave is pretty much in line with what everyone else said, he saw something weird. But the difference between what the witness said to Boyer and all the other individuals who have claimed to see this thing, is that his encounter is the only one fully recorded in written form (that we have been able to find).
Payton (no last name is given), the U.S. Forest Service employee who spoke with Dennis Boyer for his book, stated that he had been personally collecting stories about this strange creature for upwards of twenty plus years. He had been able to come across various newspaper articles regarding the creature and even found a few accounts from lumbermen speaking of the beast back when Wisconsin was still in its logging prime. He spoke of how when he first heard about it, he believed that it was probably nothing more than an “escaped exotic animal” from a nearby circus or carnival. But after looking into that possibility more, he started to believe that the stories involving this strange creature went back much farther than what he originally thought, roughly to a time before travelling circuses even started coming to Wisconsin. So he continued to do his own research, speaking with members of local Native American tribes and hunters who had caught glimpses of the thing running through the woods. But after each talk with these individuals, he felt he was no closer to figuring out what the Whatsit actually was. Then one day while out in the swamp, he finally had his own sighting.
While walking through the wetland as part of his Forest Service duties, Payton caught sight of something moving quickly among the shadowy areas of the swamp. Intrigued by the odd shape of the thing, the forest employee turned his attention to the general location in which the thing moved and focused hard hoping to catch a glimpse of it again, and surprisingly after a few minutes, he did. The man watched as a creature that was about the size of a large dog quickly moved into his line of sight out from behind some shrubbery and into the wall of trees bordering the swamp. The strange animal he states was covered in a good amount of reddish-brown fur that was hanging so low in some places that it was dragging on the wet ground underneath it. He saw what appeared to be some sort of horn growing on its head, and what looked like patches of rhinoceros skin below the fur. The thing had a long, completely hairless tail that dragged behind it, and possessed noticeably large yellow eyes. The creatures large mouth he claims, appeared to be held in a round, almost puckered state.
After only a quick few minutes, the Whatsit turned and was gone, fleeing back towards its hidden home and away from the gaze of man. Finally, after all the years of searching, Payton had seen the creature for himself. He could without doubt state that yes, people were truly seeing something odd in Kidrick Swamp, but what he was still unable to do was figure out exactly what the thing was. But at that moment, he said he didn’t really care anymore. He finally knew it was real and realized that it wasn’t hurting anyone, so there wasn’t really any reason to bother it anymore. He was just going to move on and let it be, leaving it alone in the swamp to live its life doing whatever it does. His search for the Whatsit was complete.
An interesting story for sure regarding a creature that may or may not exist, and that is why we have such a hard time settling on a classification for this one. Is it more of a cryptid, or is it more folklore? Payton stated right away that he had been collecting stories of this mystery creature for over twenty plus years, even collecting some of them from old newspapers in the area, but we here at the PBI have been able to find very little regarding this strange creature from Kidrick Swamp. We have pretty much exhausted all our avenues of search locations and have hit the proverbial wall. Perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places and all the answers lie under the one rock we haven’t flipped yet, or perhaps this solidifies it as truly unique and obscure folklore surviving solely by word of mouth.
Another intriguing piece of information that the forest employee said was that some stories of this creature he found went all the way back to the days of the lumber camps during Wisconsin’s premier logging stretch in the late 19th century. Hearing this instantly brings up thoughts of lumberjacks sitting around a fire telling their favorite type of stories while eating a hot meal. For frequent readers of this site, you more than likely already know what kind of tales these rugged woodsmen were fond of telling, but for those of you who are new here, I will tell you. These burly lumbermen were quite fond of telling tales involving creatures that are today known as ‘Fearsome Critters’, a type of tall tale beast that existed for the sole purpose of hazing greenhorns and explaining everything in the woods that could not easily be explained. The beasts in these stories were completely fabricated by lumberjacks and became quite popular in the Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to books by William Thomas Cox, Luke Sylvester Kearney, and Henry H. Tryon.
So, does this give a clear answer that the Whatsit is nothing more than a Fearsome Critter and was created entirely by lumberjacks who enjoyed a good story? Honestly, while we would love to be able to say yes, we have been unable to find any recorded story or mention of a creature within Fearsome Critter lore that resembles the Whatsit in any way shape or form. So if this thing truly is a critter, it has been able to fly under the radar for a better part of a century and a half, which would be absolutely amazing if true. But this possibility, just like so many others, seems to be just another piece in a frustrating puzzle that we are having problems with putting together. So in a way, just like Payton, we are no closer to figuring out what this thing is or how to explain it.
So whether the Kidrick Swamp Whatsit exists in real life or survives purely in story form is up for continued debate and that is fine, but if you ever happen to find yourself hiking within Kidrick Swamp, remember to keep an extra watchful eye open and focused on the shrubbery around you. Because you never know when a creature may decide to leap out of the realm of fiction, and right into your reality.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: The Wisconsin DNR