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Hodag: the outlandish story of Wisconsin’s mythical beast

4 min read

The Hodag is a cryptid creature of folklore that originated in the state of Wisconsin in late 1800’s. The location of origin comes from the city of Rhinelander, located in the upper north of the state.
It was said to be born from the ashes of cremated oxen, as the incarnation of the accumulation of abuse the animals had suffered at the hands of their masters.
The story goes that a creature was discovered that had a reputation for disrupting the work of the lumberjacks in the area.
It was extremely vicious and enjoyed snatching up and eating the white bulldogs in the area.
Reports describe it as having the “head of a frog, the grin of a giant elephant, short and thick legs that were adorned with huge claws, the back belonging to a dinosaur, and a long tail covered with spears at the end,” and the reports to the newspapers and people of the area were instigated by a well-known local by the name of Eugene Shepard.

It was 1893 and Gene Shepard, who was a respected timber cruiser, stumbled into a logging camp, where he has encountered a vicious beast: the great black hodag.
Spikes all the way down its entire length of its body with a fistful of needle-sharp pointed spears at the end of his tail, and fangs that would rival a saber tooth tiger that could rip out the belly also of the biggest bear.
Gene led a group of lumbermen into the woods to capture the beast with dynamite, and returned with charred remains.
A photograph of the reenacted kill was published widely.
It was literally “the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth. It became extinct after its main food source, all white bulldogs, became scarce in the area.

The man was a prankster.
In one side business, he sold perfumed moss through the mail and, when he had a creditor knock on his door, he’d stuff a bar of soap in his mouth, he’d lather it up, and then he’d turn around snarling at people, that would just run because they didn’t know whether he was rabid or not.
But the hodag story was different, and Gene kept it up for years. He claimed to have captured another hodag in 1896, and this one was captured alive.
He kept it in his barn, and people came from all over to see it.
Instead, this was a hoax – he created the body with wood and got hides straight from a tannery to create a beastly smell.
Gene would have on a nice suit of clothes and disappear from sight.
The commotion would then become horrendous: growling and snarling, snapping and breaking, ripping and tearing. After a minute or two or three, he would come running back up the stairs with his clothes in tatters, and he would tell the people,
I’m really sorry, I can’t show you the hodag today, he’s just not viewable today, he’s angry.

Soon he was making the county fair circuit.
His sons worked behind the scenes, making the monster move, and Gene earned to up $500 in a weekend, which means up to 5000 viewers were paying a dime to see the creature.

He kept it up until someone sent a reporter to investigate, refused to be duped.
When a small group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. wanted to see the evidence Gene Shephard had to admit the truth.
But the joke still stands, and Rhinelander still has the hodag as its mascot for the city and the Rhinelander High School, and lends its name to numerous Rhinelander area businesses and organizations, including the annual music festival, Hodag Country Festival.
And Its statues line downtown like a cow parade with fangs.
Interestingly enough, though Gene Shepard claimed it was a hoax, there are many who have seen a creature similar or even the same as the hodag around…

Images from web – Google Research