In 2000, residents of Sabine reported seeing a gray, ape-like creature in the area's dense forests. The local newspaper dubbed the creature the "Sabine Thing".
A similar beast called the "Caddo Critter" is said to have inhabited the bottoms around scenic Caddo Lake in the 1970's. The Sulphur River along the Texas-Arkansas border has been a source of similar sightings for decades.
As strange as those stories may sound, they are not the only cases of mysterious ape-like animal sightings in Texas, not by a long shot. "Bigfoot" (a.k.a. "Sasquatch") is a term associated with the US Pacific Northwest, but a handful of investigators are searching for the same (or very similar) animal right here in the Lone Star State.
Bobby Hamilton of Warren is founder of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization (GCBRO), a group dedicated to solving these mysteries in Texas and elsewhere. "I know it sounds crazy, but there are Bigfoot creatures right here in Texas," Hamilton said. "That's a lot to swallow, but I've been researching these creatures in the field for quite some time now. They're out there."
Something Hamilton likes to make clear up front is that his organization believes these creatures are real flesh and blood animals, not part of some paranormal government conspiracy. "They're flesh and blood animals. We don't believe they are flying around in UFOs or are shapeshifters or anything like that. In fact, we don't allow anyone into our group who talks about that kind of stuff. We believe these animals to be a primate, a very smart primate that we just haven't yet proven exists."
The GCBRO keeps a log of sightings by county in Texas and other states, and according to Hamilton, reports come in on a weekly basis. "Some of them are recent reports while others may be 30 years old," he said. "But they all tell us something. If an area has a bunch of sightings over a long period of time we know that's a good area to research."
Researching an area consists of looking for sign like footprints and twisted limbs and listening for vocalizations. "We have recorded some noises we just can't place with known animals. Some of these sounds are pretty amazing, even frightening," Hamilton said.
The group has even found some hair samples. Primatologists who examined the samples said they were from "no known animal." One came back as matching alleged Bigfoot hair gathered in the Pacific Northwest.
Beyond gathering physical evidence of the creatures' existence, Hamilton said some in his group have had close encounters. "There are people within our group who have seen these creatures, myself included. Some joined the group because they saw one and others have seen them in the course of research."
Craig Woolheater is a researcher for the Texas Bigfoot Research Center (TBRC), another group studying the Bigfoot phenomenon. "Several of our members have seen these creatures, and that's a big part of the reason we're so passionate about studying them. It's one thing to read about them, but another to see them," he said.
Woolheater's sighting occurred while he and his wife were traveling through Louisiana one night in the early 1990's. "This big, grayish, hairy creature was on the side of the road. It was dark, but we got a good look at it. The beast was kind of slumped over," he said.
TBRC members believe the creatures are a subspecies of the ones in the Pacific Northwest. "The basic reports are the same-a large, hairy animal walking upright," Woolheater said. "But there are some differences, like coloration, hair length and build. Until it's proven they exist, all of that's kind of a moot point. This is certainly cryptozoology's biggest mystery."
Loren Coleman, considered by many to be the world's foremost cryptozoologist, notes that there have been several discoveries of large animals in recent years. "A new species of antelope was found in Vietnam a few years ago. Tales of the mountain gorilla used to be greeted with the same kind of disdain as modern day mystery primate sightings. One day we may find out these creatures are real too."
Coleman, who along with Patrick Hughye wrote A Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide, said there are plenty of historical references of apelike creatures in the South, both from European and Native American culture. "The Louisiana Choctaw Indian had an animal they called the nalusa fayala, which means 'long, evil being," he said.
The most famous Southern Bigfoot sightings came from just across the border on the Arkansas side of the Sulphur River near the tiny community of Fouke. The "Fouke Monster", as the creature was called by locals, achieved celluloid immortality in the 1973 film, The Legend of Boggy Creek. Smokey Crabtree was a wildlife adviser for the film, and his family accounted for several of the sighting reenactments. He has authored two books, Smokey and the Fouke Monster and Too Close to the Mirror, and believes there are such creatures roaming the southern bottomlands. According to him, the filmmakers did not tell the whole story, or at least did not tell it accurately.
"A lot of people got the impression after watching the movie that the creature was mean and aggressive, but in my experience it wasn't," he said. "There were other inaccuracies, which is why I wrote Smokey and the Fouke Monster."
Being a cryptozoology buff, I jumped on the opportunity to drive up to Fouke and visit with Crabtree. I interviewed him at his home and then went for a walk along the banks of Boggy Creek. I felt like a kid watching The Legend of Boggy Creek for the first time.
One thing I always wondered is why the creature in the film was never referred to as a "Bigfoot," as most mysterious North American primates seem to get tagged.
"At the time Bigfoot was something that was known of in the Pacific Northwest and in a lot of ways the area of Fouke was sheltered from that part of the world," Crabtree said. "We never heard of Bigfoot, but we knew something strange was going on around our little community."
How did Crabtree, a lifelong hunter, fisherman and trapper, react when he first heard of the creature? "My son came home one day saying he saw this big, hairy creature in the woods behind where we lived," he said. "I could tell he was dead serious too, and this bothered me. I had never known my son to lie, but I just couldn't believe there might be something like that out in the woods I had hunted and trapped in my whole life.
"After awhile, older members of my family started coming to me and saying my son wasn't lying. They had seen such a creature in the area in years past but swore to never tell. However, they felt they had to let me know my son was telling the truth."
After that, even common incidents in the woods took on new significance for Crabtree. "I started looking back to things that happened to me out in the woods and in the bottoms in the past, and wondered if something strange had really occurred," he said.
One thing most cryptozoologists agree on is that if such a creature existed in the Fouke area, there must have been more than one of them. The natural question, therefore, regards recent sightings.
"We get reports from time to time," Crabtree said. "In fact, a few years ago I got a report from several different people who reported seeing a large hairy creature off of Highway 71. Three motorists saw this thing on the side of the road at the same time, and on the same night a lady who had no knowledge of the other sightings reported seeing the same thing in the same general area."
Do a handful of these creatures roam the vast woodlands of the Lone Star State? Well, no one has proven it. Then again, no one has dis-proven it either.
Think about that the next time you are in the woods alone and that creepy feeling comes over you.