Forty-one years ago, the following, my first feature-length article was published. You’ve, no doubt, heard some of these cases before, or parts of them, rehashed in paperbacks and on reality television. I thought you might like to read the original.
Mystery Animals In Illinois
by Loren Coleman ©1971, 2012.
Fate Magazine, March 1971 p. 48-54
Reports from all over the state tell the story of an “invasion” by weird creatures whose activities defy explanation.
Since early in the century large “animals,” usually resembling mountain lions and frequently described as black, have been reported throughout the state of Illinois.
In 1917, a “puma” jumped and scratched a Monticello butler. Near Decatur a similar creature attacked an automobile on the night of July 29 that same year.
Other incidents have occurred more recently. A “black panther” was seen near Coulter’s Mill in northern Macon County. Game Warden Paul G. Myers shot it in the flank but its body was never found. A state trooper fired at a similar beast during the summer of 1963 in Saline County. An “elusive mountain lion” spooked cattle and killed a calf in southeastern Lawrence County in May 1963 and in late June 1965 a “large black cat-like animal” came out of the woods near Decatur to gobble up the sack lunch dropped by one of a group of fleeing children.
Accounts like these create a problem for the State of Illinois Department of Conservation. After all, the mountain lion/puma/panther (Felis concolor) has been officially extinct in Illinois since 1850. The Department’s reaction is typical and classic: “The ‘black panther’ of Illinois is a black Persian cat, a Labrador retriever or a black Angus calf that some person’s over-imaginative brain has conjured into a black panther.”
Unfortunately this tidy irrelevancy hardly explains the rash of reports mystery cats that filled the Illinois press early in 1970.
The “invasion” began in January 1970 in Macon County. West of Decatur an employee of the Macon Seed Company, Inc., saw a large black animal he described as a ‘cougar.” William F. Beatty, president of the firm, told me he himself had found tracks left by the animal. He also claimed the thing twice tore down his electric fence. But not until two days after Beatty made his report did Game Warden James Atkins bother to investigate. Atkins concluded somewhat imaginatively that the animal was beaver. A most unusual beaver to be sure, since the footprints Beatty discovered were “very large” and had claw marks.
Cougars, which possess retractable claws, generally do not leave claw marks and the ripping down of electric fences seems rather out-of-character behavior for the average puma (and the average beaver).
A month later and 75 miles away to the southeast in Jasper County Mrs. Donald Miller saw what she later described to me as an all-black cat as large as her German shepherd. Although not as tall as her dog, the “cat” was longer and had a tail at least as long as its body. The cat came within less than 150 yards of her house and she was surprised that the dog continued to lie near the house and watch without even barking!
During February and March similar incidents took place in other widely separated Illinois counties.
In Jersey County State Trooper James Warford watched a large cat-like animal cross the River Road in front of his car. Farmers around the county’s Pere Parquette Park (location of a former Nike missile site and presently housing radar equipment allegedly for “tracking storms”) encountered a large animal and found tracks the size of a man’s palm. One of the leading sportmen of the county tentatively identified the tracks as those of a puma. Other identifying details included heavy tail marks which suggest the animal had a long tail.
Farther south near the Jackson-Union County line at least two unknown animals left thousands of footprints as large as cow tracks. The families of Holly Craig, Lowell Newbold and Don Shadowens – each on different occasions – sighted a large black animal at least five feet in length with a long tail. One hunter came upon a large animal eating a deer and on three occasions raccoon hunters in those southern Illinois counties saw their dogs chased out of the woods by a screaming animal.
Perhaps one of the weirdest in incidents occurred at the extreme southern tip of the state in Alexander County. On Friday, April 10, 1970, Mike Busby of Cairo was driving on Route 3 to Olive Branch, Ill., to pick up his wife. At about 8:30 P.M., a mile south of Olive Branch, on this dark mostly deserted road that parallels the edge of the vast Shawnee National Forest, Busby’s automobile quit running. He got out of his car and had begun to release the hood latch when he heard a noise on his left. He was startled to see two quarter-sized, almond-shaped, greenish glowing eyes staring at him.
Before he had a chance to move the strange form, six feet tall, black and upright, advanced on him. Without warning it hit him hard in the face with two large padded front feet and they rolled over together to the left side of the road. “It” remained on top of Busby as the two tumbled together. Shredding his shirt to pieces it inflicted wounds on his left arm, chest and abdomen with dull two-inch claws. Busby desperately held its mouth open at arm’s length. Certain that it was trying for his throat he tried to keep clear of its long yellow canines.
While unable to see its features very well he did feel something “fuzzy” around the mouth which he took to be whiskers. Its general body hair or fur was short and wiry (“like steel wool,” he told me) to the touch and although it was dry it smelled like we hair. The creature emitted deep, soft growls unlike anything Busby ever had heard before.
Soon a diesel truck passed. Busby saw clearly now that the thing’s color was a slick shiny black. He also could see the “shadow of its tail.”. The truck’s headlights apparently scared the creature and with “heavy footfalls,” Busby said, it loped off across the road.
Dizzy, his body aching, Busby crawled back to his car. It started without trouble.
The truck driver, John Hartsworth, was waiting for Busby in Olive Branch. Hartsworth explained that he had been unable to brake the truck and stop to help. From what he saw in his headlights, however, he said the thing looked like a big cat.
Mike Busby was treated in St. Mary’s Hospital in Cairo by a Dr. Robinson who gave him two inoculations, one for tetanus, another for the relief of pain. Busby’s brother Don told me that in the days following the encounter Mike required aid in walking, was often dizzy and fainted once.
Such details as the creature’s unprovoked attack and the possible electro-magnetic effect on Busby’s automobile – although the latter could be coincidence – seem to take this account outside the realm of the normal.
But many things have happened lately in Illinois. From eastern Winnebago County in the northern part of the state in late May 1970 astounded residents reported what one state trooper described as “a male African lion about eight feet long with hair growth at the end of its tail and a mane.” One group of young men said it ran alongside their Volkswagen. All this prompted a small “safari” of law enforcement officers; complete with a state p0lice airplane, in the area of the sightings near Interstate 90. The usual teletype inquiries requesting information on escapees from circuses and animal shows elicited negative replies. But a week later something caused two ponies, a horse and four calves on the Lyle Imig farm near Rockford to bolt through a barbed wire fence. The prowling beast left enormous tracks like those of a “huge dog,” Larry Black of the county’s Animal Welfare League said. Black admitted, though, that he was baffled.
As reports continued they grew increasingly sinister. In Marion County during the last three weeks of May 1970, 24 hogs disappeared. In the three preceding months “hognappings” had been numerous from Salem, Ill., area farms. In central Illinois near Farmer City three sheep turned up dead in the early spring. Officials assumed – until July 9 anyway – that it was the work of “wild dogs.”
Farmer City is in DeWitt County, Illinois.
On that date Don Ennis, Beecher Lamb, Larry Faircloth, and Bob Hardwick, all 18, decided to camp out on a wild 10 – acre buffalo grass-covered piece of land a mile south of Farmer City near Salt Creek. Their campsite, often used as a lovers’ lane, was very isolated. before the night was over they would realize just how isolated.
About 10:30 P.M. as they sat around the campfire they heard something moving in the tall grass. When ‘it” moved between them and their tent Lamb decided to turn his car lights on. The thing, whose widely-separated eyes gleamed at them, was squatting by the tent. then it ran off – on two legs. The young men left in a considerable hurry themselves – in such a hurrying in fact that Ennis, who had one foot in a cast because of a broken ankle, left his crutches behind.
Soon word about the Farmer City “monster” spread. On Friday, July 10, more than 10 persons said they had seen a pair of glowing eyes near the site of the first sighting. And on the 12th and 14th at least 15 persons swore they had seen a furry creature in the same area. Witnesses told me how “it” seemed to be attracted by the sound of loud radio music and campfires.
Police Officer Robert Hayslip of Farmer City decided to check the stories of the monster. He went out to the campsite/lovers’ lane area early Wednesday morning, July 15, between two and three o’clock. Hayslip heard something running through the grass. Then, “out of the corner of my eye I could see these two extremely bright eyes,” he told me soon after his sighting, “just like it was standing there watching me.” As he turned toward it, he said, it disappeared.
About 6 A.M. Hayslip again visited the site. He found that the heavy steel grommets in a tent that had been intact at 3:00 A.M. now were ripped out. A quilt lying nearby was torn to shreds.
The police chief of Farmer City, who had expressed the personal opinion that the so-called monster was nothing more than a Shetland pony, now decided to lock the gate that led to the 10 acre area.
The monster apparently moved on.
A couple driving near the Weldon Springs State Park on the afternoon of July 24 spotted a “bear” near the Willis Bridge on Salt Creek. Stopping at a farmhouse they asked the residents to notify the Dewitt County Sheriff’s office. The sheriff and State Conservation Officer Warren Wilson found several tracks with definite claw marks around the water’s edge and on a sandbar in the middle of the creek. Wilson said the tracks were more like a large cat’s but definitely not a bear’s.
Soon after the Willis Bridge incident, during the first week in August, Vicki Otto of rural Bloomington, saw something near the Ireland Grove Road three miles southeast of Bloomington. She saw a pair of eyes reflecting her automobile headlights as she approached what she first thought was a dog. Then, she writes, “I saw this ape running in the ditch. The thing I saw as the size of a baboon.”
About the same time three Rantoul youths on an early morning fishing trip to Kickapoo Creek picked up in their headlights an upright creature as big as a cow. It seemed unbothered by the lights and continued ambling along the edge of the creek.
That same week another person saw it near the Heyworth-Kickapoo Creek area, followed it and foun a string of opened mussel shells and half-eaten minnows.
On Tuesday night, August 11, Steve Rich, 18, George Taylor, 17, and Monti Shafer, 20, were hiking on the land of Farrell Finger about two miles northeast of Waynesville half a mile from Kickapoo Creek. At 9:15 P.M. Steve called the others’ attention to the ‘thing’ standing atop a cliff. They said it was between seven and eight feet tall, slightly hunched over, but not like an ape. Its arms were proportionately as long as a man’s. One of the youths fired an arrow at it but when they returned to the cliff the next day, they found only the undamaged arrow – no footprints. However, they too discovered piles of broken shells.
The night of a lunar eclipse marks the most recent [Note: This was written in 1970] monster report that has come to me.
On Sunday, August 16, Dan Lindsey and Mike Anderson, construction workers with the Arcole Midwest Corp., were driving on Route 136 approaching the Kickapoo Creek bridge north of Waynesville. Around 9:00 P.M. they encountered it: My first thought was a tall man or maybe a bear or a gorilla,” said Anderson. The creature stood six feet five inches tall, was all brown and had stooped shoulders. walking on two legs and illuminated by the car lights it more or less trotted across the the west side and along the creek’s edge. Then it was gone.
The Illinois creature (both puma and Sasquatch types) display the familiar “monster” preoccupation with automobiles, desolate lovers’ lanes and backwoods creek bottom-lands….It should be noted, also, that they seem to act as a diversion. For while the Kickapoo Creek-Salt Creek monster was creating a furor over $2000 worth of cattle and swine were being easily “rustled” from Maroa and Argenta area farms just a few miles outh of the area of the monster reports.
The Illinois incidents parallel the reports of Mothman in West Virginia as well as other monster flaps of recent years. But 1970 marked a sharp increase – almost to “invasion” proportions – in the activity of weird unexplained creatures in Illinois.