CLOSE

10 Legendary Monsters of North America: Part Two

Legendary monsters live wherever there are people to tell the tales to -including North America, where there are many more than will fit into one post. This is part two of a list that began last week. And there are plenty more scary tales to tell!

1. Ogopogo

Ogopogo lives in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia. Several of Canada's deep lakes have monsters, but Ogopogo is the best known. Native legends of N'ha-a-itk, meaning the lake monster, go way back. First Nations accounts pinpoint the home of the monster at a cave under Squally Point near Rattlesnake Island. A sighting by Mrs. John Allison in 1872 brought the legend into the modern era, and many people have reported sightings of "something" in the water since then. Ogopogo is described as 20-50 feet long, with a horse-shaped head and a serpentine body. Mysterious photographs have been taken of unidentified lake creatures. Whatever is down there, it is a protected species. Illustration by Crypto-Researcher at en.wikipedia.

2. Mothman

Mothman is the name given to a creature first seen in West Virginia in November of 1966. Several sightings were reported, in Clendenin, Point Pleasant, and Salem, of a flying creature that was six or seven feet tall and had eyes that glowed red in the dark. The press called the creature Mothman after a character on the Batman TV show. Within a year, over 100 sightings were reported in the area, and even more reports of just the red lights. Witnesses said the creature glided like a bat, but could elevate itself effortlessly. It could not talk, but screamed like an eagle. After 1967, the sightings grew less frequent and gradually died off. There are many possible explanations for the sightings, but nothing has been confirmed. Point Pleasant, West Virginia has a Mothman Festival every year. Illustration by Cathy Wilkins.

3. The Proctor Valley Monster

The Proctor Valley Monster seems like a tale told around a campfire, just right for a Hollywood B-movie. A teenage couple go parking in the woods off Proctor Valley Road, in the southeast corner of San Diego County in California. The car won't restart, or maybe they had a flat tire, and the boy gets out to investigate -but he doesn't come back. The girl stays inside, terrified because she hears scratching on the outside of the car. Police find her the next day, still hiding in the car. The boyfriend? He's dead, torn and bloody, dangling from a tree, while his hands brush the car, producing scratching noises. The story sometimes has mysterious huge footprints found nearby. The legend of the Proctor Valley Monster grew, and it is described as a 7-foot hairy humanoid a la Bigfoot, or sometimes a cow-like animal with its body parts in the wrong place. The Proctor Valley Monster is assumed to be responsible for livestock mutilation that occurs every now and then. The Bonita Museum in Chula Vista has a casting of a strange footprint alleged to be that of the monster. Photograph by Uma Sanghvi/Unon-Tribune.

4. Momo

Momo is short for Missouri Monster. The giant ape-like creature was reportedly seen in the area around Louisiana, Missouri since the 1940s, but sightings in the 1970s brought serious attention.

On the afternoon of July 11, 1972, 8-year-old Terry Harrison and his 5-year-old brother, Wally, were playing in their backyard at the foot of Marzolf Hill on the outskirts of Louisiana. Their older sister, Doris, was inside the house. Doris heard her brothers scream. She looked out the bathroom window and saw a black, hairy manlike creature, standing by a tree.

The thing appeared to be six or seven feet tall. Its head sat directly atop its shoulders, with no visible neck. The face was likewise invisible, completely covered by a mass of hair.

And the creature had a dead dog in its arms. Several local residents had also seen the creature, and footprints were found, which led to a search of the woods by a couple of dozen hunters. Most assumed the creature was a bear, but no bear was found. However, the searchers found dog bones, a bed of leaves that may have been used as a nest (which smelled horrible), and more footprints. Other sightings were reported, further and further away from the Missouri town of Louisiana. Along the way, the creature was associated with the Bigfoot legend. However, Momo is described as having a peculiarly big head, no neck, and a horrible smell that sickens people who encounter it. A low-budget film about Momo is in production (and has been for several years).

5. Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil (also called the Leeds Devil) has a history going back 300 years in the Pine Barrens area of New Jersey. The legend says that in 1735, Mrs. Leeds cursed her 13th pregnancy, consigning her unwanted child to the devil. Then she forgot her actions, and gave birth to a boy who immediately after birth changed into a roaring demon! He grew quickly, sprouted wing, horns, and claws, and attacked and killed his mother and other family members. The demon escaped up the chimney and to the forest, where it was seen sporadically over the next couple of hundred years. Mostly, the reports told of horrible screams heard in the dark. When strange footprints were spotted in 1909, a panic ensued and schools were even closed due to low attendance. Many sightings were reported over the next week, including a woman who beat the creature with a broomstick as it attacked her dog. The Jersey Devil flies or runs away from these encounters. Sightings continue to this day, from people who find themselves in the spooky, mist-filled Pine Barrens at night. The creature is described as kangaroo-shaped, about four feet tall, with horns or antlers, claws on its forearms and hoofs on its back legs, and huge bat wings.

6. La Lechuza

Look Into My Eyes, I Will Turn You To Stone

Stories are told in Texas and Mexico of La Lechuza, which means "owl," but in this case refers to the "Witch Bird." She was once a woman, albeit one who practiced black magic. After her witchcraft was discovered, she was killed by angry neighbors. But she came back in the form of an human-size owl -with a woman's face! Her usual screams in the dark woods terrify people, but when she wants to lure someone to their doom, she will coo and cry like a baby. Then she'll carry the victim off in her claws to her nest, where she will eat them at her leisure. In other versions of the story, La Lechuza is a woman during the day, but by witchcraft turns into an owl at night. Photograph by Flickr user Stuart Richards.

7. Wendigo

Alternately spelled Windigo, as well as other variants, this monster comes to us from Algonquin folklore of Canada and the northern part of the U.S. The Wendigo is a large furry beast that eats people, but it has a more supernatural story than, say, Sasquatch. Described as a bipedal creature with big eyes and a very skinny body, it is said to be forever hungry. The spirit of the Wendigo can possess people and induce them to cannibalism. Some tales say that the creatures were once humans that became possessed and turned into the monsters. And if a human were to ever practice cannibalism, the act itself invites possession by a Wendigo. Wendigo psychosis was a term used to explain some rare cases of cannibalism long ago among the Algonquin people, possibly stemming from the belief that one is possessed by a Wendigo.

8. The Donkey Lady

The Donkey Lady is a legend in San Antonio, Texas. As the story goes, in the 1950s a woman was badly burned in a house fire. Her features were horribly disfigured and her fingers and toes burned off, leaving her hands and feet looking like hooves. Two of her children were killed in the fire, which drove the woman insane. She was banished from the town for her crazy rantings and went to live under a bridge, where she occasionally attacks and terrorizes passers-by. The old stone bridge where she lives (or haunts) is off Applewhite Road in south San Antonio.

9. Wampus Cat

Wild

The legend of the Wampus Cat is still told in the mountains of East Tennessee and western North Carolina. A long time ago, it is said, a Cherokee woman spied on her husband and the men of the tribe as they were away on a hunting trip and told sacred tales around the campfire that women weren't supposed to hear. She hid by wearing the skin of a wildcat, but was found by the tribesmen. The tribe's medicine man cursed her to always wear the skin of the cat, essentially turning her into a cat monster. She was doomed to roam the mountains, wailing for her lost humanity. Those who wander the mountains at night are very likely to hear those screams. A few sightings of the Wampus Cat claim the animal resembles a cougar but walks upright, with red glowing eyes and fangs that put other cougars to shame. Photograph by Flickr user Natalie Manuel.

10. Sasquatch

Undoubtedly the most familiar North American cryptid is Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot. The Sasquatch Information Society keeps track of reported sightings, which come in constantly from all over Canada and the United States, but center mainly in the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot is described as having the face of a gorilla, but the posture of a human. It is seven to nine feet tall and covered with long hair. Like some other cryptid apes, Sasquatch has an awful odor. Native Americans have legends of local apelike creatures going back many generations. The name Bigfoot was coined after huge footprints were found in 1958. Although many claims of evidence have been exposed as hoaxes, many people believe that it’s possible for a species of giant ape or hominid to reside in the wilderness areas.

There will be more monsters in this series, as I have a list of requested monsters to add. If there is one not yet covered you'd like to see, please let me know in the comments.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
crime
The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
iStock
iStock

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
arrow
holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios