Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 16th, 2006
During the last decade, several attempts have occurred to promote the "Ozark Howler" as a real cryptid. After the first round of efforts, I gathered the specifics of the story, discovered the identity of the original hoaxer, and submitted the overview of what happened in a draft manuscript written with Jerome Clark in 1998. The draft would eventually become a published book.
A photograph of a real howler, the black howler monkey (Alouatta caraya) of South America. Photographer Jessie Cohen, Smithsonian.
The editors at Simon and Schuster, deciding to delete about 25% of the content of the draft mostly due to their wish to keep the book affordable, dropped several entries, including mine on the "Ozark Howler." The entry was deemed "out" since part of the objective of the hoaxster was to fashion a story, so compelling, so seeded with "old" cases that he could trick a guy like Loren Coleman into putting it into his new book. The editors made an overall judgement to expunge stories linked to hoaxes (as well as various people’s biographies, including in a strange coincidence, Chad Arment’s – see below). Simon and Schuster’s Fireside editors decided to not include my cautionary tale about the "Ozark Howler" in the 1999 handbook.
Unfortunately, the "Ozark Howler" is today "believed" to be real by many people, and mentioned on some 4660 sites online, with only about 260 of those mentioning this created cryptid’s link to hoaxing.
These Internet tales are still being spun as "facts," so that now anything unknown seen in the Ozarks is often called the "Ozark Howler," similar to how cryptids in New Jersey are frequently labeled "Jersey Devils," or ones in Colorado, simply termed "The Howler." (Howler the Yeti was the mascot of the Colorado Avalanche hockey team for a few years. That legacy is remembered in the Snowman footprint on their uniforms.)
The Ozark situation is in large part promoted by an incomplete entry at Wikipedia that is driven by the old planted history and repeated stories. Other than Chad Arment’s mention in his 2004 book, Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation, of the truth behind the faked story of the "Ozark Howler," which the Wikipedia entry tries to dismiss, the specifics of the fakery’s 1998 discovery are little remembered today.
Currently, nevertheless, skilled Internet investigators can find that the supposed links of the contemporary "Ozark Howler" online appearances track back through some newer non-Howler sites posted by a group called "Memphis Atheists." Interestingly, a clear Internet footprint (people.memphis.edu/~7E7Ejccook.mematheist.html) still leads to the same door, as you will see, which is the same one that I found in 1998. I guess some things do live seemingly "forever," on the Internet.
Therefore, I share my original entry (required to be written in third person, of course) from the manuscript (© Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark) of Cryptozoology A to Z, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999). It has never been published before, even online, but an updated version will be in a future book of mine.
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Howler, Black or Ozark
When tales of the Ozark Howler began to appear on the Internet, early in 1998, they seemed to be born in the long history of folklore from the hills of Arkansas . As one website proclaimed: "The Black Howler, or Howler for short, has been sighted a number of times in Arkansas, Missouri and surrounding states during the last century. These sightings indicate a clear range for the Howler which seems to be based in the Ozark Mountains."
As one webmaster identified as "David Gauner" put it: "One of the strangest cat-like beasts to be seen in the Americas since the age of the sabre-toothed tiger is the Black Howler. Described as a creature with strong shoulders, shaggy black fur, blazing eyes and large horns, it has captivated those who have encountered it."
Before any of the regular online cryptozoologists knew it, Ozark Howler websites began popping up all over. A group calling itself the Ozark Howler Researcher Group materialized. Some of the URLs (website addresses) serving as sites in 1998 for these "stories" were:
Soon Bigfoot researchers were getting reports from alleged witnesses to the heretofore-unheard-of Ozark Howler. On April 24, 1998, "Fred Sprout" informed longtime Ohio cryptozoologist Ron Schaffner: "I was told by some of the folks at the Howler Research Group that you might be a good person to report a sighting of the ozark howler to. I am near Branson, Missouri, and think that I saw it last weekend when I was out hunting with my buddy. It was late in the evening but was still light and we were coming down a hill to a streambed and there it was, a big shaggy thing. I think it was taking a drink, standing in the water. It really smelled, kind of like, I don’t know, burnt onions. Me and my buddy just froze, and it went up the other side. I don’t think it knew that we were there. Well, I can tell you that we took the long way back to the car."
"George O. Choangle" posted this description of his encounter: "I became interested in what people around here (I live near Hot Springs, Arkansas) call the Howler (Ozark Howler or Black Howler) after I had my own sort of experience with it. Last year, around New Year’s, I was driving home after a party, and I was going around this curve which is really tight, especially at night after a party, if you know what I mean, and I saw this big thing run across the road right in front of me, caught in the headlights. I didn’t see a whole lot, but the one thing I did notice was that it had a big, long, thick tail. At first I though it was a bear, but then I thought, do bears have big tails? I couldn’t remember for a while, but then I remembered that they don’t. I was pretty confused, and a little scared, so I just started my car right back up and went home."
Apparently witnesses were describing two different kinds of animals, one Bigfoot-like, the other like a giant panther.
According to one website in 1998, Ozark Howler investigators were already feuding. It stated, "The Ozark Howler Research Council was recently established after several members of the Howler Research Group found that they had serious disagreements with the core Group organization over the interpretation of Ozark Howler evidence. The Ozark Howler Research Council, OHRC for short, is dedicated to the comprehensive evaluation of existing evidence and explor
ation for new evidence of the Howler."
Veteran cryptozoologists who had never heard of this alleged creature were suspicious. At a website called "Researching the Ozark Howler," investigators found a statement that there is a "Cryptozoology WebRing" owned by "The Howler Research Group." The site described the alleged cryptid pretty much as the other sites had: "The creature that locals call the Ozark Howler is a cat-like beast with black, shaggy fur and a distinctive call that is heard at dusk. The howler has been sighted numerous times over the last eight years in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Some reports claim that it also has horns and a thick beard like a goat’s."
This website named an investigator: "The primary researcher of the howler is Itzakh Joach, distinguished professor of Biology at Buffalo River University in eastern Oklahoma." The site carries photographs supposedly of the Howler "taken by a Mr. Leigh Hardaman from St. Louis as he was driving home from a weekend in Branson, Missouri."
A creature with red eyes and horns? A professor named “Itzakh Joach” — (get it? "It’s a Joke") — from a nonexistent university? The fake names continued: "P. T. Fuelle," "D. Gaunner," and "R. Nixon" – all of the so-called "Ozark Howler Research Group."
"Fred Sprout" popped forth on the eastern cougar e-mail list in May, 1998, about this time, spewing a variety of implausible and even absurd claims.
If the joke was clear to many, it wasn’t so to others. Some took the story seriously. To the skeptics, however, the only questions of interest concerned who and why.
A few individuals or one person using a series of different false names conjured up bogus sighting reports, then placed them on mystery cat, Bigfoot, and cryptozoology researchers’ websites throughout the world.
Having done so, the hoaxers then asked questions of e-mail list providers and researchers, meantime citing the accounts on other websites as verification for the existent of an Ozark howler. The hoaxers were trying to bait the researchers, and some of the researchers bit. A few even created new website mentions or sidebars on the Howler.
One of the very early e-mailers was "Jonathan C. Cook" who said he was with the University of Memphis (which may or may not be true). Claiming to be writing an article on the Howler for Strange Magazine, he urged readers to go to the site locations for further information on the creature. When he learned of "Cook’s" assertion about the Strange assignment, the magazine’s editor, Mark Chorvinsky, denied any association when asked for verification from cryptozoologist Loren Coleman.
"Cook" seemed especially interested in seeing to it that Loren Coleman put an entry on the Ozark Howler in the cryptozoology book he was writing with Jerome Clark. Unfortunately for him, "Cook" had made the mistake of picking the real name of a prominent doctor in Memphis and using it as the name on one of the Howler e-mail inquiries. Coleman called the doctor’s office and confirmed that the physician had nothing to do with the message or with the Howler story. Allegedly.
Coleman confronted "Cook," who agreed to confess fully if Coleman did not use the real doctor’s name. Scratching backwards into the websites, Coleman soon found that numerous aliases had been employed. The deception was deep and complicated, even including a multiple month online design to fool investigators.
Late in May 1998 "Cook" told Coleman why he had done what he did. He said, "Visiting a skeptics’ chat room on the internet one night a few months ago… I started talking about how ridiculous the whole Chupacabras mythology is."
He wondered what would happen if he created a "new cryptid." If "many people would fall for it," it would "kind of [be fun to] undermine the credibility of monster tales like Bigfoot and the Chupa."
"Cook" fashioned a chain of false fronts of free web pages and e-mail accounts, and the rest is an episode in the history of faux-cryptozoology.