Monster tales of the southern swamps (Book Review)

Beyond Boggy Creek: In Search of the Southern Sasquatch, by Lyle Blackburn (2017)

This is Blackburn’s third book in a semi-series of volumes on southern bipedal creatures. I reviewed the other two books as well:

Chronicle of the Lizard Man (Book Review)

Definitive guide to the Fouke monster – Beast of Boggy Creek (Book review)

This volume is not a rehash of Beast of Boggy Creek but an expansion of the area with reports of mysterious man-apes. The narrative pulls in both the Fouke monster and Lizard Man. True to form, Blackburn leaves out the most (but not all) of sciencey-sounding speculation that irks me tremendously in cryptozoology volumes and instead provides an entertaining and comprehensive account of the subject matter. This book is a chronicle of many colorfully-named Boogers stomping around the swamps and backwater ways of the southern US. They have characteristics somewhat unique from the traditional Northwest Bigfoot/Sasquatch in that the seem to be meaner, more apt to attack people, and reported to be sometimes smaller (orangutan-like) and move on all fours as well as bipedally. Assuming truth to such reports requires a conclusion that not only is there one unknown primate in the US, but two or more variants or species. That’s simply too difficult to accept on the basis of no solid evidence.

The evidence that does exist are the dozens of stories Blackburn relates from interviews he has done himself, retrieved from local papers, or received from colleagues. Some of these stories are so obviously faked they should probably be excluded but where to draw that line is a difficult decision. In one report said to be from 1865 but printed in 1915, a hunter reported he saw a stereotypical caveman, complete with an over the shoulder covering, breech cloth and wooden club (p. 98). Sorry, no. Alley Oop was not in the funny pages yet but the wrongheaded image of prehistoric man was available. Here is the front piece from Paris Before Man, a novel by Pierre Boitard in 1861.

Other problems with witnesses include one account of a monster that screams before attacking wild hogs, hurtling them through the air with one arm like bionic Bigfoot (p. 2-3) Screaming or roaring as part of the encounter is commonly reported which most often sounds like theatrical embellishments rather than something a living animal would regularly do.

A core theme is that the creatures “follow the creeks” where the stories can be traced along connecting water ways. I think this is a false pattern. People are more likely to be along the creeks too rather than traversing difficult land conditions. A map of the reports would have been really helpful to describe this connection better. Cryptozoologists might to well to learn GPS software applications and do something with all these sighting reports.

I appreciated the solid descriptions of famous accounts like Honobia, Area X and the Myakka ape account. I’ve not seen these done in a popular book. Therefore, this book serves, as the author’s others, as a useful comprehensive source for the subject and a must-have reference for anyone interested in cryptozoology. Blackburn admits some stuff sounds too outrageous to believe but his goal is to document the stories. When people tell you this really happened to them, what is an objective interviewer to do? Some additional skepticism would be refreshing though he hints at it in places, such as suggesting that skunk ape serial promoter Dave Shealy might be jerking our chain (p 250-251) (a widely-accepted notion).

That these animals may actually exist, is the narrative that drives the book. Unfortunately, this means making huge leaps in logic and holding up the flimsy evidence. Puzzling aspect go unquestioned. For example, how do we make biological sense of a large, hair-covered animal in a hot, humid climate? How can we account for the dozens of local names for the creatures but a complete lack of physical, reliable evidence to examine? There are several accounts that involve abduction attempts of adults or children. Yet we have no instances of survivors (insert obligatory and absurd David Paulides Missing 411 reference here) obtaining blood or hair samples. Reaching for historical report means invoking the flawed Gigantopithecus concept, rumors of giant skeletons ( p. 64) that never materialized, bogus “dermal ridges” in print casts, and Native legends of “lost giants” which is highly problematic. Those things were cringeworthy. Cryptozoologists who try to make a credible case need to be clear that there are strong arguments against such claims. They deserve to be addressed but they hardly ever are except by skeptics. I get the feeling Blackburn is closer than others to doing this but his pro-cryptic audience appeal does not allow him to truly go there. I understand the conundrum that leads to “taking sides”. That is something that continually frustrates me – the audience who wishes to believe more than they want to understand the whole story.

The original drawings in the book are excellent. I loved them just as I did in the previous volumes. I wish the author’s photographs of the swamp environments and forests were in their full green splendor. I also noticed and commend the author’s use of more sophisticated descriptive terms such as “karst”,”Piedmont”, and common tree species by name. Those little touches signal high-quality writing.

Unfortunately, I think the narrative naturally leads to the weak and unsupported conclusion of “just because we don’t yet have proof doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” We’ve been at that point for decades and it just falls flat. I’m all for documenting these stories but it’s a mistake to take them at face value and leave undiscussed all the potential pitfalls. However, to the average reader, this collection of anecdotes will sound compelling. I’m afraid stories without additional support simply do not hold up a conclusion of anything except that belief is alive and well.

In conclusion, add this book to your collection. Enjoy it for what it is – a fascinating collection of mysterious monster stories set in the swampy, spooky South.

About idoubtit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *