So l have now returned to the northern hemisphere and summer has brought fruition to the greening of spring. Swimming pools are filled with the exuberance of youth, anglers are hitching their boats, and the Illinois River is once again the primary destination for the canoe enthusiast.
They come from all across the state, and the country, and all over the world to experience the delight of a slow, cool “float” down the Green Country Highway. They come to camp and float, they come to picnic and float, they come to fish and float. They come in cars, they come in campers, and they come – and I’m not kidding – on motorcycles. They come to see the clear waters, they come to see old friends, and they come to see the monster. Monster? Yeah, that’s right, the monster. “Soppy,” the now legendary Illinois River Monster.
In summer 1982, a number of my aunts and uncles had come from Kansas and set up camp at one of the larger establishments on the upper Illinois on State Highway 10. I was awash in kith, kin, and cousins, to the tune of 20 or more. So, I put them all in canoes, as was their wish, and sent them down the river. Several hours later, they all returned happy and hungry, with a wish, to repeat the experience on the ‘morrow.
I told them I would be happy to send them down again and suggested to the cousins a night float. They were all agreed, and the next day I sent the aunts and uncles, along with the younger cousins, downstream. That evening as the sun was sinking below the tree line, I put three boats of older cousins in the water and off we went. The moon was near full and the effect was that of an old black-and-white silent film. The trees shook silver in the breeze and the naked gravel banks shone white against the dark river. The only sound was the rippling of the passing water and the occasional thump of a paddle on the side of a boat.
All was serene until we heard what sounded like footsteps. Something was creeping down the right bank. Just out of sight, in the darkness of the tree lined shore. I told the cousins that it was in all probability a farmer’s cow, but I wasn’t so sure. I had seen cows come to the water, but there were fences, and this was an unlikely time to see a thirsty bovine. Whatever it was continued to follow us, and after 30 minutes I was convinced, by the wet hair standing on the back of my neck, that we were being tracked.
I did my best not to alarm the cousins and discouraged an attempt to beach the boats and investigate. We were only going four miles, About a quarter of a mile from our landing, the mysterious footfalls and rustling foliage faded into the forest. We loaded our boats, I accepted the thanks of my family and we motored up old No. 10 to the campsite.
I am not the only Okie with a tale on Soppy. On Aug. 1, 1990, a woman living in a mobile home near Eldon reported to Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department she heard noises, noticed a bad smell, and saw a creature about 10 feet tall and about 400 pounds. A deputy investigated and found impressions big enough to place both his feet in. Just two days later, an 8-year-old girl and her mother described a creature 8 feet tall with dark brown, frizzy hair and standing on two feet rummaging through a trash pile near their house. There have been several reports in this area since the early ‘70s.
On Feb. 5, 1996, a man living in the Vian Bottoms, about two to three miles north of the Arkansas River, saw a black figure moving in and out of the trees. He said it looked to be about 8 feet tall, huge, muscular build, with very long stringy hair, and walked upright on two legs.
In April of 2000, two friends canoeing the Illinois River had stopped at a designated camp point and something approximately 8 feet tall, dark brown in color, and covered in hair except for areas of the face and hands walked out of the woods. It began to cross the river, turning while in the stream to look at them, and then walked into the woods on the other side of the river. They investigated the area where the animal crossed and found tracks that were deeply imprinted in the soil.
A woman driving near Green Leaf Lake on Nov. 18, 2001, saw something cross the road in front of her. She said it was about 6-1/2 feet tall, with long, dark hair except for the face area, and had a thick build. She described the creature further as looking “like a person with hair.”
In October of 2005, Tahlequah 911 received a call at about 6 a.m. one morning from a man near the Welling bridge who said he had just seen what he believed to be Bigfoot. It was 7 feet tall and hairy, and from the anatomy it appeared to be female.
There is a woman who lives in the Pumpkin Hollow area who says she and her relatives have been “spotlighting” similar creatures for years. She says the animals smell of berries and urine. A woman living in Lost City has reported that three generations of her family has seen the hairy, smelly creature, and that it seems to be fond of children.
One of the most popular areas for Bigfoot sightings is the southeastern Oklahoma community of Honobia. In October 2006, a documentary film crew from Kansas visited Cherokee and Adair counties to interview the local citizenry about sightings and engage in a Bigfoot hunt with the Green Country Bigfoot Research Center. Afterward, they traveled to Honobia, near Talahina, for that community’s annual Bigfoot festival.
In July 2008, a woman living in an area known as Murphy’s Hill, near 14-Mile Creek, said she was receiving a curious and regular visitor that was “getting bolder” and “coming out in the daytime.” She said one “Sunday afternoon the wind shifted, and we smelled it.” She said she went into the yard and found the door to her dogs’ pen broken almost in half. And, that the dogs get really quiet when this thing is around. The previous February, a friend had moved into the trailer next to hers and soon after, he said he heard a deep, low growl and something shook his trailer. One evening the two of them were outside when they saw something tall and furry run between the trailers. They went inside and shortly heard a bang on the door and the sound of heavy footsteps running away.
This creature has lived in Oklahoma for generations. There are old stories among the Cheyenne of seeing the wild man traveling with the herds of buffalo. The old Cherokee called it Tsul ‘Kalu – the slant-eyed or sloping giant.
The Chickasaw chief Tishomingo hinted at the humanity of the Sasquatch: “Why do you want to hunt the wild men? My children, they are a tribe even as are we. They have families, hunt, fish, and procreate. Leave them alone and they will leave us alone.” The Comanche chief War Shield agreed, but added a dire warning: “Nothing that is said, or accused toward the hairy brothers of the forests, will cause them to leave their homes; they deal with the round eyes the same as we, they will kill the round eyes to protect their home.”
So, here we are again at the birth of another summer and the search begins anew. In May, a couple of dozen researchers again descended on Oklahoma, hoping to catch a glimpse of Soppy and his “cousins.” Equipped with night-vision goggles, long-range lenses, sensitive audio recorders, and an unshakeable belief in the existence of the yet unproven Bigfoot, they come. They come in cars, they come in campers. …