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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Beasts of the North

When the market for Wisconsin lumber exploded during the 1880s, many naive city boys flocked to logging camps in pursuit of wages. Spending their first winters in the remote wilderness, they were frightened by the tales of grizzled old veterans about the ferocious beasts that lurked in the depths of the forest.

One such creature was the Sidehill Dodger. Experienced loggers said that this animal lived only on the sides of hills, because one pair of its legs was shorter than the other. It could only travel in one direction around the hilltop, since it had to keep the short legs on the uphill side. Although this sounds ridiculous, the dodger was actually quite vicious. It was known to burrow into hillsides and jump out unexpectedly, scaring "many a lumberjack into fits." The Sidehill Dodger went extinct when the last female laid her eggs backwards. As they hatched, all the babies emerged with their short legs on the downhill side. They promptly rolled into the river below where they drowned.

Another ferocious enemy of lumberjacks was the Hide-Behind. This predator was never observed closely enough to be described, since "it was always hiding behind something, generally a tree trunk. Whichever way a man turned it was always behind him. From this position it sprang upon its human prey, dragged or carried the body to its lair, and there feasted on it in solid comfort."

The city boys also learned that every spring giant mosquitoes came out just as lumberjacks began floating the winter's harvest downriver. These were so large that some scientists classed them in the bird family. The veteran loggers claimed they were so big they could "straddle a stream and pick the passing lumberjacks off" as they rode logs downstream.

Probably no northwoods predator struck as much fear into the hearts of novice loggers as the Hodag. Charles Brown, a collector of northwoods folklore, described it this way:

"The Black Hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) was discovered by E. S. "Gene" Shepard, a former well-known timber cruiser of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Its haunts were in the dense swamps of that region. According to its discoverer, this fearful beast fed on mud turtles, water snakes and musk-rats, but it did not disdain human flesh... This ferocious beast had horns on its head, large bulging eyes, terrible horns and claws. A line of large sharp spikes ran down the ridge of its back and long tail." Shepard supposedly caught one live and exhibited at the Oneida County Fair in 1896.

To learn about other mythical beasts of the forest, see Brown's collection, "Paul Bunyan Natural History." And if you're reading this in your vacation cottage in Wisconsin's north country, be sure to lock your door tonight.

:: Posted in Curiosities on August 4, 2011
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