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Hodag Monster: Urban Legend Or Real-Life Cryptid?

Updated on July 30, 2016
 Eugene Shepard's legendary hodag monster
Eugene Shepard's legendary hodag monster | Source

The Legend Is Born

The year was 1893 when the first official sighting of the Hodag monster was reported in the community of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Local real-estate broker and timber cruiser Eugene Shepard came across the foul-smelling beast while hiking through the woods near his home. Shepard was known to spend a large amount of his time in these woods, but this would certainly be the first time he ever encountered anything as strange as this.

The Hodag had been a popular topic around the campfires of lumber jacks for as long as anyone could remember. The lumber jacks claimed the Hodag monster was the living embodiment of deceased lumber oxen, filled with rage and hatred towards mankind for forcing upon them an enslaved existence during their previous life.

So, there was Shepard taking his usual hike, when he's suddenly confronted by the Hodag. At nearly 200 pounds and seven feet in length, the creature looked like a giant lizard with razor-sharp teeth and deadly spikes cascading down from the top of its back to the tip of its tail. At first sight there wasn't a doubt in Shepard's mind that he had just encountered the legendary Hodag monster.

Out of obvious fear for his life Shepard immediately retreated back to town to share his tale and gather a posse to track down and capture the creature. After gathering a crowd Shepard went on to give a full description of the beast as being a large lizard-like creature with short black hair covering its body, strong stout legs, long horns attached to a disproportionately large head, sharp fangs, and a spiked torso and tail. Immediately upon hearing the story and description the citizens and lumber jacks of the community began to murmur and chant in response to the sighting of the Hodag monster.

Postcard picture of the second legendary Hodag
Postcard picture of the second legendary Hodag | Source

Hunting The Hodag

It didn't take long for the crowd to gather their weapons and begin their hunt for the beast. The posse headed off into the woods with Shepard leading the way. In a short time the posse came to the spot of Shepard's encounter, and lol and behold there was the Hodag, angry and irritated. Though the men were armed with large rifles and dynamite, they chose to first send in their dogs to attempt to wear the beast down for capture, which proved to be a huge mistake.

The Hodag made short work of the trained canines, quickly tearing them apart and spreading their remains around him like some sort of grotesque confetti. The posse's guns proved to be of little help either ,as shot after shot was fired into the beast with apparently little effect. At this point the men resorted to using the dynamite. Having the beast cornered they blocked all exits and began hurling the sticks of dynamite which eventually caused the beast and surrounding area to catch fire.

According to reports the fire was effective in killing the beast but obviously left them without the living proof they had aimed to acquire that day. Despite that fact, the men were still very excited at their victory, and loaded up the burnt carcass of the Hodag and headed back to town to put the beast on display for all to see: for a small fee, of course.

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Capturing A Hodag

By 1899, three years after the killing of the Hodag monster, Shepard's fame had begun to fade. Not wanting to leave the limelight, Shepard gathered up another team hunt down and capture a Hodag. Shepard told the posse how he had come across the den of a Hodag and had a new plan to capture the deadly monster.

Once the men arrived at the cave, said to be the Hodag den, they proceeded to put a chloroform-soaked rag onto a stick and push it into the cave to asphyxiate the beast. Once they were sure the creature was out cold, Shepard went into the den to retrieve the sleeping Hodag. The men, led by Shepard, then took the beast back into Rhinelander and placed it in a large pit, similar to the den it was accustomed to, so as to not agitate the deadly beast any further.

Eugene Shepard's Hodag has memorial statues and signs located all over Rhinelander.
Eugene Shepard's Hodag has memorial statues and signs located all over Rhinelander. | Source

The capturing of the beast just happened to coincide with the Oneida County Fair where Shepard would be proudly exhibiting his captured Hodag Monster. After its initial display at the small county fair very few nay-sayers remained to dispute the authenticity of Shepard's captured Hodag, after all they had seen the beast move and heard its vicious growl.

Due to the Hodag's success, Shepard decided to take his show on the road to all the local fairs. It was even a major attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair that year. Eventually the beast was put on display at Shepard's home in a small shed, where it could be viewed daily for a dime. The attraction brought literally thousands of people to a small town that otherwise would never have been heard of and would most likely have gone bankrupt.

Another Hodag monument.
Another Hodag monument. | Source

Unveiling the Hoax

Eventually Shepard's living Hodag was discovered to be an elaborate hoax, but even then it continued to be a successful attraction. The creature was nothing more than a carved stump, cattle horns, and a few attached wires to create movement.

It's unknown if the original Hodag, burnt by the posse hunting it, was real or not, but it doesn't seem to matter. The Hodag managed to capture the curiosities and imaginations of everyone that heard the story as if it really had a life of its own.

By the 1920s Shepard and his Hodag were known throughout the entire region and had postcards of the beast circulating the entire country. The town of Rhinelander would eventually become known as the Hodag City, a nickname that the citizens were very proud of and still treasure to this day.

Though the Hodag may not have ever existed, it was due, in part, to Shepard's crazy hoax that Rhinelander became the booming city that it is today. His concoction brought a mass of people to a community striving for growth in a time of economic decline, and for that Rhinelander will forever be in debt to Eugene Shepard and his legendary Hodag.

DS Duby


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      scorpionman 4 years ago

      This explains why the snowmobile originated in the wnorthwoods of northern wi. by Carl Eliason. He developed and patented his invention to track down the Hodag in winter.

    • profile image

      scorpionman 4 years ago

      The Hodag does exist. Through my many snowmobile rides in and out of the woods of Oneida and Vilas co., the vicious looking but tame creature has been spotted.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      good and fun report. thank you

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Lol you're so right! It does look like a dressed up Pit bull! The Hodag was actually one of the greatest hoaxes in history it not only contributed to helping a city develop but it also help to expand the style of sideshows at carnivals and fairs which of course have almost completely died out now.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      That is funny! Scott I loved how you asked early if I believed it or not...and I thought it wouldn't be revealed! I'm glad to know it was a hoax though. I hate Unsolved mysteries! Lol

      The first photo looks like a pit bull dressed up for Halloween!

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you for reading and commenting moonlake it's nice to hear from someone who actually knows of the Hodag.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Your right the Hodag is very popular here. Everyone loves the Hodag. It's all over the place especially now with the big hodags on every corner just about.