Cryptid Profile: The Monster of '76
The year was 1976 and Fall had made its way to Cashton, WI, a little village community located inside Monroe County and situated within the geological Driftless Area of the state. Located 114 miles northwest of Madison, and an even further 147 miles northwest of Janesville (the home of the PBI), Cashton proudly boasts itself as a premier location for rural living in the heart of natural beauty. And it's been that way since the village was first founded in 1879 by William Henry Harrison Cash.
William Cash brought the railroad to the area and as per usual, people naturally came with it. Families began to settle down and homes in the area began to dot the landscape. Along with this, many small businesses, taverns, recreational areas, and schools also began to spread out among the village. But one of the major areas of growth among the village borders that we have not yet mentioned were, of course, the family farms. And it is on one of these family farms, albeit a hundred years later, that the following story takes place.
The Arnold Family Farm was located nearly seven miles east from the border of Cashton, alongside the water's edge of Brush Creek near route 33. The farm, officially a dairy farm, was overseen by Allen Arnold, a 28yr old who enjoyed the homegrown and fruitful life he had created for himself and his family in the Badger State. A life comprised of not only hard work and long days, but also one filled with the rewards of that labor and down to earth work ethic. The young man had a set schedule and routine that was followed each day to keep the farm working in optimal condition. One that required late nights, early mornings, and hours spent outside in the ever-changing Wisconsin seasons. One thing that wasn't part of the routine though, and one that Allen never could have imagined, was a monster.
The September morning started like any other. Allen woke before the sun even started to think of doing the same. He had a quick breakfast, put on his appropriate attire to help combat the chill of the crisp Wisconsin morning, and made his way outside to start the day. While the entire farm had its daily chores that needed to be completed, the main focus that day, as with all days, was the milking of the cows. They were free to roam the many acres the Arnold farm possessed and were typically quite a ways away during the early hours of the new day. This morning they happened to be in the ravine that ran not far from the barn. Allen breathed in deep the chilled air, let out a puff of visible breath and began to make his way towards the ravine. After only a few steps though, Allen stopped and noticed he was missing something. With bundled arm, Allen raised his cold fingers to his lips and blew. A long and loud whistle echoed out from around his fingers and immediately, as if as fast as a bolt of lightning, his loyal dog was at his side. He continued on.
The duo made their way away from the house, around the equipment lined up in the yard, and towards the ravine to herd the cows back up towards the barn. While they leisurely walked, Allen began to take notice of a faint, yet peculiar stench within the air. It wasn't anything that could be considered rotten, but it was definitely unpleasant to the nostrils. Almost like a mix of wet dog, skunk, and dirty pond water. And Allen wasn't the only one to notice it either, his dogs head was up high, nose going crazy at the sent surrounding it. Not giving it much thought the pair continued on.
As Allen and his four-legged companion neared closer to the ravine edge, he noticed that the smell had grown considerably stronger. So much so that he believed whatever the cause of it was, it had to be close by. Suddenly, his furry friend stopped and stood at attention; tail up, ears perked, legs firmly planted, a low growl began to emanate from clenched teeth. Before Allen could lower a hand to calm his companion, the dog at his side darted into the ravine, barking loudly the entire way down. The farmer ran towards the path leading down into the ravine and scanned the area in hopes of finding the cause of his dog's sudden charge.
The sun was starting to rise and scant traces of light were beginning to fill the area. Allen's eyes darted across the area with focused determination, hoping to quickly lock on to the culprit. The dog raced through and around the large cows moving across the path upwards. Finally, the canine stopped and the barks grew louder. Allen's eyes focused on his companion within the ravine and moved them along the invisible path in which the barks were directed. There within his gaze, he had finally found the cause of the dog's anger.
Standing on two legs near a section of weathered fence was a creature roughly 7 feet tall and of massive build. With every lunge and snap of the barking dog, the giant creature swatted at it with gigantic arms. Cows continued to filter out of the ravine due to the altercation currently taking place. Not far from where the two hairy creatures stood their ground, a young calf which had somehow been separated from the herd made a quick break for it between the loud barking and the powerful swatting. Appearing to use this brief interference as a means of escape, the creature ran off towards the woods on the other side of the ravine. The dog continued to stand its ground, barking wildly, until the monster was out of sight. Not long after, the brave pooch ran full speed back towards the top of the path and took its rightful place alongside an understandably shocked Allen.
After the strange sighting, Allen made his way back home and related the experience to his wife, who then related it to her brother. Realizing that whatever was witnessed in the ravine could still be around, the two in-laws decided to investigate the surrounding woods in which the bizarre creature fled into. With multiple forms of protection -dogs and other- the men entered the tree-filled home of the beast. After searching for a few hours, the men were no closer to discovering what the creature was than when they first started. No sightings of the strange humanoid thing were made, but that didn't mean it wasn't present, not by a long shot. The men returned home and stated that all though they never saw the creature, the same smell that was present the day Allen had his sighting was thick within the area. They also heard numerous strange sounds of what only could have come from a large animal. When asked to describe what they heard, the men said that the only thing they could even think to compare it to was the sound made by a large bellowing bull.
Concerned by the fact that the creature was unable to be located, Allen and his wife made the conscious decision to essentially place the farm on lockdown. The family stuck close to the home and only Allen and the dog ventured out passed the barn in order to herd the cows. When darkness fell, the couple's children were kept in constant sight for it was a very real fear that the creature may grow brave enough to venture close to the house after dark. The reason for this belief was because after the first initial sighting by Allen, the strange bellowing noises heard by the farmer and his brother-in-law began to echo around the family farm every night prior. The sounds, although faint at first, began to grow louder with each night that passed. Because of this, the family feared the creature may soon lurk up to the house.
Regardless of the fear though, the daily chores and routine had to still be maintained as the farm was the family's source of income and their livelihood. Allen still woke each morning and proceeded out into the darkness to herd the cows back to the barn. Although after the first sighting, he always made sure to have protection with him. As usual, every time the cows would return to the barn, both Allen and his dog would take notice of the same smell emanating off of each passing bovine. The same smell that the creature appeared to give off whenever it was around. This led the farmer to believe that the creature must be spending its time around the cows in the ravine each night. But what exactly it was doing while there, he was unable to say.
As with most things of this nature, word eventually got out that the farmer and his family were dealing with something out of the ordinary. Because of this, a reporter for the Cashton Record, a man by the name of Bud Cavadini, arrived at the farm to speak with Allen and see if he might be able to figure out what was going on. Well, long story short, he wasn't able to. But, one thing the men did discover was that whatever this thing was that they believed was coming up from the ravine at night, was doing just that. What they weren't prepared to know though was just how close the creature was actually getting to their home.
During one of Bud's investigations of the property, an area of in-depth focus was the barn. The reason for this was because of the smell. The skunky, dirty water smell that Allen had grown to recognize as belonging to the creature was quite noticeable while inside the barn. Originally thought to just be attached to the cows due to overnight interactions with the creature while down in the ravine, the men were alarmed to find out that the while the cows did bring an additional dose of the smell around the area of the barn, a good majority of it was wafting out of the barn itself, even when the cows were absent. This insight resulted in the men thoroughly searching the structure and eventually finding the cause of the smell.
As with most barns, Allen's structure had within it a large loft area. Primarily used to store stock items the farm used whenever necessary, the area was typically packed full most of the time. But unknown to the farmer, it appeared that something else had taken up residence within this space as well. During their search of the upper area, Bud and Allen came across what they believe were large, scattered piles of feces of an unknown origin, as well as what appeared to be either saliva or urine stains soaked into the rafters. General disorder along the edges of the loft also made it look as if something large was moving along the floor, possibly in a sleeping position or walking back and forth. The sight of this was enough to crank the nightly watch to the next level, from there on out, after the sun went down, Allen and his wife became hyper-vigilant.
But it appeared that whatever was stalking the farm had decided to move on. The loud bellowing ceased and eventually, the smell dissipated altogether. It was as if the mysterious creature no longer cared about the Arnold family or even the cows. Whether this was due to the family's constant night watching, or if venturing into the beasts makeshift barn home had something to do it with, nobody really knows. Whatever the cause, the beast was gone, and the Arnold family could sleep soundly once again. But just because the creature was gone from the farm, that didn't mean it was gone for good, not by a long shot. Nearly 200 miles northwest of the Arnold farm in Cashton County, an unknown creature was about to make its appearance.
Polk County, located right along the edge of the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, has a total area of around 956 square miles. Within this area, more specifically along the state border cut by the St. Croix River, is the Sterling Barrens State Natural Area, a nature preserve located within a section of the Governor Knowles State Forest. Known as a scenic location and premier spot to view wildlife along the river, Sterling Barrens became a popular gathering place for locals from around the area. After the sun went down though, the area became known as the go-to spot for bored teens from the surround communities looking to have a night of fun.
One such particular night, Friday, October 8th, 1976 to be exact, twelve teens from the areas of Cushing and St. Croix Falls, met up to wander through the woods, shine some deer, and get into general mischief. For those who don't know, the act of shining deer is, in simple terms, going out at night and looking for active herds with a high powered light source of some kind. Since deer are most active at night, the light allows the shiner to spot the deer via the reflection of the eyeshine looking back at them. So, this group of 12 youth went out into the woods to spot the reflective eyes of a herd of deer. Not that big of a deal, and more than likely not something they would have feared. But as with most of our stories, this one is about to take a turn.
After traveling in a large group for some time, the teens decided to split up into smaller groups to try and circle any deer that might be in the area. Some went towards the river, others went into the field, and some hopped back into their cars to travel further into the Barrens. While the group in the car made their way down the road and passed the property of a Mr. Sam Burton, one of the teens noticed something odd-looking walking through the tall field. Urging the driver to stop, the teenagers spilled out the vehicle and shined their light at the large, unknown thing that was now standing motionless within the tall grass. As soon as the light hit the beast, it turned and ran into the woods lining the opposite side of the property. The teens, following suit, jumped back into their vehicle and took off after it hoping to cut it off around the next turn of the road.
As the vehicle came speeding around the corner, another break off of the larger group came spilling out of the woods urging them to stop and shouting about how a large hairy creature took off through the woods by them and continued on across the road. They tried to give chase but the mystery creature proved too fast and they were unable to keep pace. It appeared though as if it were heading toward the river, so thinking as one collective unit, the teens decide to hurry that way as well in hopes of spotting it once again. Luckily for them, the other group which already over near the river was about to do just that.
Two of the teens, one by the name of John Hanson and the other by Rodney Bystrom, took notice of a commotion in the area and hurried towards the source. When they arrived, they spotted what appeared to be a huge creature, nearly seven feet tall and covered with hair, standing alongside another portion of the scenic roadway. The beast was standing on a raised sandbank and quickly turned to look in the direction of the approaching teens. There it stood frozen, staring at them with a hairless man-like face for nearly ten seconds before it ran into the trees once more and finally disappeared from view. The two boys, not sure if the thing would try and come back or not, fled the opposite direction until they met back up with their group and made the unanimous decision to leave the area.
Just like with what happened to the Arnold family, word began to spread around Polk County about what was witnessed that night in the Sterling Barrens. While some immediately wrote off the story as some sort of prank the teens were playing, others took the sighting much more seriously. In fact, that following Saturday (the 9th), a large group of people set out into the Barrens in hopes of finding some proof that something did actually take place. And wouldn't you know, they found just that. Large tracks measuring 19in long and 9in wide were discovered covering a distance of a 1/4 of a mile. A distinct left foot and right foot were each seen, as well as clear definition of toes and an unsettling resemblance to a normal human foot, although much larger.
The discovery of the tracks led to the calling of a naturalist in the area to come out and verify what had been found. Al Seidenkranz, a college graduate from Northern California with a degree in wildlife management, studied the prints and determined that they were genuine, but that they weren't made by any creature he recognized. He believed that the teens did see something, and if he were to take a guess, it was something extremely similar to the ongoing Bigfoot sightings taking place in California at that time. Seidenkranz later went on to say that, while he could not be a 100% certain that what the group saw was truly the same thing, he did find it extremely interesting that the creatures described in California so closely resembled the creature witnessed in the Barrens the previous night. Whatever it was though, it was officially the first recorded incident regarding a creature of this type seen in Polk County.
Eventually, theories began to spread around the areas of both Cashton County and Polk County in the hope of figuring out what exactly was seen in each location. The classic theory of an escaped circus primate of some sort was of course thrown around, but many did not take stock in this overused and oftentimes laughable attempt at solving the mystery. One theory tried explaining away the sightings as nothing more than pranks carried out by local youth, but this was met with the argument that no local teenager would have been foolish enough to invade the properties of armed residents who would have no issue defending their livelihoods. Finally, one theory that actually gained quite a lot of traction, was the bear theory.
The bear theory claims that what was seen was actually a bear that had been injured during one of the many forest fires that took place in Wisconsin during that summer. Believers of this theory state that a bear with burns on its front paws would have no choice but to walk on its hind legs. Also because of the burns, there is a good chance the animal was plagued by open and infected wounds. This infection would cause awful smells that would account for the terrible odor Allen Arnold kept smelling on his property. Finally, the believers state that the reason the injured bear was no longer spotted after the incidents was because some unknown hunters managed to kill the bear in secret, thus stopping all future sightings.
Problems with this theory though are that if the Arnold sighting was the result of an injured bear, how would that bear have managed to walk nearly 200 miles to Polk County and move so quickly as to avoid multiple groups of teenagers giving chase? The DNR publicly stated that no injured bear had been taken during the season and if one was taken illegally, the responsible party would be privy to a fine. Finally, it was noted that an injured black bear's tracks would still be recognizable as coming from a bear, and would not be so easily confused for a large human-like print, especially by a well-studied naturalist.
So as with a majority of sightings of this nature, the theories came and went, the stories made the rounds in the local papers, and eventually the whole things faded from public consciousness without ever being solved. And that brings us to the here and now. What was responsible for the sightings in Wisconsin in the fall of 1976? Was it truly a bear, or was something along the lines of a Bigfoot more likely the culprit? Was this even the work of strictly one creature? Is it crazy to believe that this one mystery beast managed to travel nearly 200 miles from its original sighted location, or could this be two completely separate sightings that just so happened to take place within roughly two weeks of one another? What the crazier option of the two scenarios? So many questions, so few answers. A standard conclusion for a case such as this.
It’s now been over 43 years since the Monster of '76 was first encountered, and we are nowhere closer to solving the mystery than the investigators were back in that day. Sure, there are those who are convinced that they know without a doubt what was encountered during those quick two weeks, but as with almost everything else we cover here, the answer will never be finalized. But if you ask us, that's the best possible outcome, because as long as the case isn't closed, the story stays alive, and honestly, there's no better way of ending a story than by letting everyone know that the creature, whatever it is, could still be out there. Still roaming through the woods. Still creeping around houses after dark. Still waiting to be seen once again. Just waiting.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/genista/45519453/
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