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The Arkansas Gowrow (Verdisquamata cruribrevis) is a fearsome critter, said to live in the caves of Arkansas (Mainly in Searcy County). It has two tusks on its head and is 20 feet in length. It gets its name because of the horrible "gowrow" noise it makes when it kills its prey.

The Sightings[]

The gowrow, one of several fabulous monsters reported in Arkansas popular lore, may owe its origins more to journalism than to traditional narrative and folk belief. The principal documentation of the creature’s existence is a story that appeared in the Arkansas Gazette on January 31, 1897, apparently written by Elbert Smithee. Elmer Burrus provided an illustration, allegedly based on a photograph, to accompany the piece.

Fred W. Allsopp, who edited the Gazette at the time, recounted the circumstances that led to Smithee’s story. William Miller, a Little Rock businessman who had been traveling in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas, told Smithee of a “horrible monster” known as the gowrow. Its name came from the noise it made during its nocturnal depredations. The creature had been slaughtering livestock and pets near Blanco (Searcy County) in Calf Creek Township. Miller formed a posse that tracked the gowrow to its lair, a cave littered with animal skeletons and even some human remains. As they waited to ambush the monster, they heard it emerge from a nearby lake, causing the earth to tremble as it made its way toward them. The gowrow perished after several volleys from the posse. Before its death, it ripped up several trees and tore off the leg of one of the posse members.

An examination of the remains revealed a creature twenty feet in length with two tusks, large webbed feet ending in claws, a row of short horns along its back, and a long thin tail with a blade on the end. Williams claimed to have sent the body to the Smithsonian Institution, but it never arrived at the Washington DC museum. Allsopp dismissed the account: “It was a great fake, probably without foundation in fact.”

Another sighting occurred sometime before 1935. E. J. Rhodes heard a commotion in a deep cavern called Devil’s Hole, 3 miles northwest of Myrtle, Arkansas. He crawled down 200 feet to investigate, but couldn’t see anything. Later, when he lowered a flatiron on a rope into the cavern, the gowrow bit through the rope.

The Ozark research of folklore collector Vance Randolph revealed additional details about the gowrow, which he believed had been reported as early as the 1880s. Randolph’s sources suggested that the gowrow was a species of creature rather than an individual monstrosity. The young hatched from soft-shelled eggs as large as beer kegs, and the mother carried newly hatched infants in a pouch. Randolph related a story about an encounter with a gowrow by a spelunker exploring Devil’s Hole in Boone County. He also told of someone from Mena (Polk County) who claimed to have captured a gowrow by inducing the creature to eat so many dried apples that it swelled to a size that prevented its escaping into its burrow. The gowrow’s captor was exhibiting his catch to anyone who would pay a quarter. Once he had a sufficient audience, the man would stagger from behind a curtain with his clothes in rags announcing that the gowrow had escaped. This sent the crowd into a panic without his having to produce an actual gowrow.

Creatures such as the gowrow abound in the folklore of exaggeration that is often associated with the frontier. Though sometimes stories about them may be told as true, more frequently they are tall tales. In fact, Randolph presented his material on the gowrow in his collection of tall tales titled We Always Lie to Strangers.

The Arkansas Gowrow made an official return in Lenwood S. Sharpe's "The Plaid Fairy Book", in the chapter "The Green Gowrow: Killed in Searcy County". The chapter read as follows:

"Mr. William Miller, the well-known business man of this city, returned Friday from Searcy county. Mr. Miller tells a marvelous story of the discovery of a hitherto unknown monster near the town of Blanco in Calf Creek township.

“For some time, I have heard reports, more or less vague, of the presence of this animal in Searcy county,” said Mr. Miller, “but I placed no credence in the tales that were told. About two weeks ago, I was called to Blanco on important business, and I determined to investigate the matter thoroughly while I was there."

“Immediately, upon my arrival at Blanco, I instituted inquiries and I was amazed to find that the people of the whole township, and of St. Joe and Richland townships, were in a fever of excitement over what they called the “gowrow,” which they described as a terrible animal which slaughtered cattle, horses, hogs, dogs and cats. The gowrow had terrorized the community for several months, but though numerous attempts had been made to capture it, all of them had proved unsuccessful. The animal would steal down from the mountains at night and commence his depredations. He would break into cowsheds and kill and devour the cows and calves. Several times, he had been interrupted in his blood-thirsty work, but he always managed to escape, carrying one of his victims with him."

“I inquired why they called it the gowrow, and was told that was the awful cry it uttered when engaged in its devilish work. During the recent snow, a youngster who resides in the neighborhood discovered the tracks of the gowrow while out rabbit-hunting."

"Being alarmed at the ponderous size and peculiar shape, he fled in great consternation to a farm house and notified the inmates of the presence of the tracks. We formed a posse, armed ourselves with shotguns and Winchesters and started in hot pursuit of the gowrow. We followed the tracks without difficulty for several miles through the new fallen snow until they disappeared at the river bank. The monster evidently entered the river and thus escaped pursuers. A diligent search was made of the river bank for a number of miles, which resulted in the discovery of an enormous cave which was so nicely concealed under a shelf of rock, and so completely hid by a thick clump of cedars that it had hitherto escaped the notice of the inhabitants of the country.

"The ground had been worn smooth from the water’s edge to where the cave entered the rock, as though some ponderous body had been repeatedly dragged over it. We soon secured light wood torches and, nothing daunted, entered the cavern where we were confronted by a sight which made each particular hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine."

"As the flickering light of the pine knots illuminated the erstwhile darkness of the cave, casting our distorted shadows against the shaggy rock, there, grinned at us, countless skeletons and skulls of all kinds and sizes, many of them evidently those of unfortunate human beings, while others seemed to have belonged to horses, sheep, hogs, dogs and wild animals that had served a dainty repast for the gowrow at some time."

“We hastened out of the cave and concealed ourselves behind a large boulder to await the monster’s homecoming. We had waited probably a half hour when we heard a ponderous splashing in the river as though a great stern wheel steamer was approaching, and the next moment, a huge body of a sickly green hue dragged itself awkwardly out of the water and began wabbling its way toward the cave. Shall I attempt to describe it?"

"Its head was ponderous in size and resembled somewhat that of a man, only two enormous tusks projected over the under lip. Its legs were short and thick and terminated into a webbed foot that somewhat resembled that of a duck’s, only each toe was capped by a vicious looking claw. Its body was covered with enormous scales, while along its back bristled a series of sharp horns, which came to an abrupt end near the root of the tail. The tail was thin and long, and was provided with a sharp bone at the end, which the gowrow could wield as a sickle, and when enraged, would prove a formidable weapon."

"Just as this point, I got in the snap shot (which is printed with this article) with my Kodak, and then I gave the command to fire. The men fired in a volley, and when the smoke cleared away, we saw the monster writhing in the throes of death, but he died hard. With his ponderous tail, he lashed down a couple of trees as large as my leg, and also cut off the leg of a poor fellow named Tom Brennan, who was formerly a section hand on the Iron Mountain railroad, and last year worked on the section below Benton. Not wishing to see the monster suffer, I again have the command to fire and this volley ended the gowrow’s suffering. The enraged farmers then sprang upon the dead beast with their axes and, more in anger than sorrow, hewed him into pieces. I then immediately returned to Blanco and the next day, having transacted my business, left for Little Rock."

“From a careful examination of the photograph, which I made of the monster, I am convinced it is a pachyderm, and is a combination of the Hyaenidae (hyena) and Rhinocerotidae (rhinoceros). It has incisor and canine teeth which apparently show that it has some relationship to the Ceratorhinus (Sumatran rhinoceros) of the Rhinocerotidae genus. These animals were supposed to have long since disappeared from the earth. Their remains are found in the Miocene formation."

“In all probability, this specimen was the last of its kind, and I regret very much that it was willed, as it would have been of vast interest to scientists, and would have afforded a rare opportunity for gathering trustworthy information as to the characteristics of prehistoric animals. I have, however, made arrangements for gathering its bones and for their shipment to the Smithsonian Institute at Washington.”

In Popular Culture[]

  • The Gowrow is featured in the popular trading card game MetaZoo: Cryptid

Possible explanations[]

  • Classic example of Ozark folk humor.
  • A legend based on the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), which lives in the southern two-thirds of Arkansas and the whole Southeastern United States, and grows to 12 feet long.