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.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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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.

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