White River Monster

15 Feb

The City of Newport is located in Northeast Arkansas it’s a sleepy little river community of about 8,000 where industry, education and community leaders are working together to create a great town. Newport has been involved in numerous programs that are aimed at keeping our community the kind of place everyone would be proud to call home. From being a Keep America Beautiful Affiliate to being and Arkansas Community of Excellence, they do what it takes to live up to their motto, “Proud Past, Bright Future.” But in it’s early days sometime during the civil war things changed the town forever.

The White River Monster is a legendary large creature reportedly first spotted off the banks of the White River near Newport in northeastern Arkansas.

Some believe the White river monster may have had an impact on the Civil War. The river was used for transportation, and the monster was supposedly responsible for overturning a boat. Sightings of the monster began in 1915. On July 1 of that year, an owner of a plantation near the river saw the monster. He reported it having gray skin and “as wide as a car and three cars long.” As the news spread construction of a rope net began, but ended due to lack of money and materials.

The White River Monster was sighted again in the summer of 1971. That year, eyewitnesses who encountered the creature described it as “the size of a boxcar” with a bone protruding from its forehead. “It looked as if the thing was peeling all over, but it was a smooth type of skin or flesh,” said one, and it made strange noises that sounded like a combination of a “cow’s moo and a horse’s neigh.” Other accounts of the White River Monster described three-toed tracks, 14 inches (360 mm) in length, on Towhead Island leading down to the river through a path of bent trees and crushed bushes

The monster gets national attention.

From season 2 of The “Lost Tapes” episode. Lost Tapes depicts fictional, traumatic scenarios in which cryptids, aliens or supernatural creatures attack people. Although the series is shot in a documentary style, it is a fictional work. The series never states that its footage is real, only that it has been “inspired by the possibility that hidden creatures exist.” Normally, the episode with a quick fact introduction with conducted interviews by experts explaining the science and folklore behind the creature; however, by season 3, the factoid introduction is omitted in favor of a violent prologue committed by the episode’s creature, which set up the events in the episode.

Time Magazine in 1937 reported…
One hot morning early in July the wife of Dee Wyatt, Negro sharecropper living on the banks of White River near Newport, Ark. shuffled out to her backyard pump, drew a bucket of water, groaned a mite as she paused to rest her back. Casually she glanced across the turgid river, then shrieked and scurried into the ramshackle house after her husband. Dee Wyatt popped his head out, took one look, and straightway headed for the home of Bramlett Bateman, nearest white farmer. He and his wife, he informed Farmer Bateman, had seen a monster. Neither of them had been drinking. Farmer Bateman skeptically stepped over to the river, then let out a whoop. Sure enough, there was a monster, “as big as a box car and as slick as a slimy elephant without legs.” Farmer Bateman rushed off to Newport, six miles away.

This White River story was warmly welcomed by the nation’s press, for 1937 has been a dull year for monsters. Preliminary indications were that Newport’s might be the monster-of-the-year. Twelve reputable citizens bore out Discoverers Bateman and Wyatt. Farmer Bateman and the Newport chamber of commerce built a fence around the viewing spot, charged 25¢ admission. Signs were tacked up on all roads—”This Way to the White River Monster.” The story skyrocketed when the chamber of commerce announced that Charles B. Brown, a diver from Memphis, had been hired to investigate at the spot the monster was seen.

After talking to the discoverers, Diver Brown said, “In my opinion it’s nothing more than a large fish—maybe a catfish.” He had a razor-edged, eight-foot harpoon prepared. In Washington, the Bureau of Fisheries said it might be an alligator gar, which reputedly grows, sometimes, to be 20 ft. long. Other guesses: water-logged tree trunk, sunken barge, eruption of subterranean gases throwing up leaf accumulation, devil fish, sturgeon, or Old Blue, the legendary giant catfish of the Mississippi who every so often gets stuck in a canal lock or nudges in the bottom of a barge. As Diver Brown prepared for his first descent, Newport called an unofficial holiday. Lining the shore were hundreds of out-of-towners munching Farmer Bateman’s barbecued goat sandwiches and sipping his cold drinks. A loudspeaker was erected and after much ado on the great morning, Diver Brown went down into the swirling river, rendered muddier than usual by recent rains. He reported that visibility was only three inches, came up after 75 minutes of fumbling around. In the afternoon he descended again, returned with no report. Far into the night spectators amused themselves at a “Monster Dance” beneath flickering lamps. Next day attendance fell off, but Diver Brown descended again. When an air valve jammed in the helmet of his diving suit, he popped unexpectedly to the surface, still having seen nothing. By this time the crowds had melted completely away and so, presently, did Diver Brown.

A River Monster in Arkansas?
by Dale Cox

In a deep eddy of the White River near the town of Newport, Arkansas, believers say that the South’s version of the Loch Ness Monster resides. The White River Monster has been reported since at least the early 1900s, although some monster fans have vaguely suggested that it might have been involved in the sinking of a boat on the river during the Civil War. Boats were sunk in the White River during the war, but nothing in the official records of the Civil War armies and navies suggests a monster was involved.

The first documented case of something strange in the river actually dates from about 50 years later. In December of 1912, an Arkansas newspaper reported that timber workers floating rafts of cedar on the White River below Branson, Missouri, had seen something large and strange on the bottom. At first they thought it was a boulder, but then they became convinced it was a gigantic turtle: They estimated its weight at 300 pounds. The report of the big river monster created quite a sensation among the sportsmen of Branson, and Tom Brainard, one of the local anglers, organized a party to go and capture it. As it will be impossible to gig the turtle they took a number of strong ropes which they will endeavor to loop over it and land it in that manner.

The White River Monster? This aerial photo appears to show a large mass moving across the White River, trailed by a barely visible serpentine wake.

One thing is certain, the nation’s newspaper editors were looking for an exotic story to splash across their pages and the White River Monster fit the bill. The story spread across the United States and by July 13, 1937, even the Trenton, New Jersey, carried the story of a state bridge toll collector’s effort to snag the beast: Newport residents fashioned a big rope net today in the hope of being able to snare a mysterious “monster” whose presence in a 60-foot deep White River eddy six miles south of here has frightened Negro plantation workers. W.E. Penix, State toll bridge collector, directing the net making activities, ordered it be constructed 40 feet long and 15 feet wide with meshes of six or eight inches. He estimated it would require a week or 10 days to complete the net and said a convoy of motorboats would sweep the eddy with it. Six days later news went out over the Associated Press that a “river bottom walker” was going after the monster. Hired by the local Chamber of Commerce, Charles B. Brown of the U.S. Engineer’s Office in Memphis reported that he did not expect to encounter anything dangerous in the White River, but would carry along a giant harpoon just in case. He was convinced the monster was a fish of some sort, most likely a giant catfish.

 

When will the next sighting take place? Could the monster have moved up river before the dams on the White River were built? Could the monster be in the stretches of James River below Hootentown? Only time will tell.

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