The Ozark Howler: Actual Cryptid or Elaborate Hoax?
The Ozark Howler, also known as the Ozark Black Howler or just the Howler, is a cryptid that supposedly resides in remote areas of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
There are varying descriptions of the Ozark Howler, as witnesses often give conflicting accounts of the creature they claim to have seen. The most general description that can be pieced together is of a creature the size of a bear, with a thick, stocky body, shaggy hair, a beard like that of a goat, glowing red eyes, and sometimes even having horns protruding out of its head. The creature also has a tail, but one of the many things witnesses can't agree on is whether it has a short tail or a long tail.
Some witnesses have claimed it resembles a giant cat, much bigger than a cougar. Others have described it as a cat-like monster along with the aforementioned horns and glowing eyes, making them doubt the idea that they might have seen a cat. Most sightings agree that it is black or at least dark in color.
The most distinctive feature of the Ozark Howler is its unusual cry. Far more people have claimed to have heard the Ozark Howler than to have seen it. It's agreed upon by all witnesses that the creature has a terrifying howl, but what this howl sounds like varies wildly, perhaps even more so than its physical description.
The Wikipedia entry describes the Ozark Howler's cry as being a combination of a wolf's howl and an elk's bugle. However, witnesses have also described it as being similar to a hyena's laugh.
Origins and Theories
The origins of the Ozark Howler legend aren't very clear. Some sources claim that there have been sightings as far back as the early 1800s. In the 1950s, there was a supposed sighting where a black, goat-like creature was described as being the Ozark Howler, despite not matching the current common descriptions at all.
The idea that the Ozark Howler is a cat-like creature supposedly originates from a sighting in the early 1980s when a truck driver who had pulled off the road for the night described seeing a black, cat-like creature that had a long tail, shaggy fur, a stocky build, a beard, and red eyes.
There has been speculation that the Ozark Howler might merely be a misidentified big cat. The Arkansas Fish and Game Department does not recognize its existence as a previously unknown animal because no one has ever caught one or recovered a body. Instead, the agency says that these sightings are actually of pet panthers that have somehow escaped captivity.
Another theory on the identity of the Ozark Howler links it to the extinct saber-toothed cats, the idea here being that it may be a modern descendant of these animals.
In the cryptozoological community, it has been suggested that the Ozark Howler is related to the Black Dog of Death from British folklore, creatures often said to be associated with hellhounds or the devil. Some sources have claimed that the first sightings of the creature originated with settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and England, who would have brought the legend of the Black Dog of Death with them, and over time the legend evolved into its modern iteration.
It's All a Hoax
Others in the cryptozoological community believe the entirety of the Ozark Howler myth is a hoax. In his book Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation, Chad Arment writes of how he and other cryptozoologists received emails with outrageous claims of a creature called the Ozark Howler. The messages were traced back to a university student. It was revealed that this student, after mocking how myths of the Chupacabra had spread across the Internet in the 1990s, made a bet he could fool the cryptozoological community.
Prominent cryptozoologist Loren Coleman is very adamant about the Ozark Howler being a hoax, as he is the person who originally tracked down the originator of the emails he, Arment, and others received, eventually even obtaining a full confession from the student of how the elaborate hoax, including creating multiple websites in an attempt to plant the idea that sightings went back far earlier than they actually did, was pulled off.
In his article "Ozark Howler: Faux Cryptozoologie," Coleman tells of how he tracked down the hoaxer and wrote up the full story in a draft originally written in 1998, co-authored with Jerome Clark, with the draft eventually being published in 1999 as Cryptozoology A to Z. However, his editors decided to drop all entries in the book related to hoaxes, ultimately leaving out Coleman's story of the true origins of the Ozark Howler legend. Today, when searching online for information about the Ozark Howler, there is little mention of it even possibly being a hoax, let alone saying that it is conclusively one.
If Coleman is correct in saying that the legend truly originated with this proven hoax, then he is also correct in saying that his debunking has remained far more obscure than the legend itself. Many modern bloggers writing profiles of the Ozark Howler will still claim sightings go back decades or even hundreds of years, usually with no source or citation to back it up.
So is the Ozark Howler real in the sense that something like Bigfoot is real, or was it all just part of an elaborate hoax by a bored university student? I'll leave it up to you to decide.