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In The Big Thicket
On The Trail of the Wild ManPoint here for more book info

by Rob Riggs

Paraview Press, 2001
ISBN 1-93104-26-0
Controversial Knowledge, 185 pp
Trade paperback: $13.95  

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From Chapter 1
The Lair of the Mysterious


Bill thought we’d better take along some serious self-defense. The stories I had been telling him about the “wild man” sightings in the Big Thicket finally piqued his curiosity enough for him to join me on an exploratory hike. He drove in from the Central Texas Hill Country to rural Hardin County in deep Southeast Texas and brought an M-14 semi-automatic assault rifle and a .38 special police revolver with him.

We entered the Big Thicket National Preserve at the Little Pine Island Bayou Corridor Unit with the intention of following the bayou upstream to the Kountze-Sour Lake Highway. This would cover a distance of some 10 to 12 miles through swampy woods, vine-entangled palmetto flats and heavy underbrush. There had been a number of wild man sightings in that general area over a considerable length of time, enough to suggest that the drainage area of the bayou might be part of its territory or range.

Bill brought the guns and I didn’t object. The Constable in Sour Lake had already questioned my sanity a number of times for going into the woods alone, especially alone and unarmed–not so much for my lack of protection from snakes and razorback hogs and the like as from some of the two-legged denizens of those woods who are legendary for their bad attitudes. 

The Big Thicket was famous as a refuge for outlaws and reprobates for over a hundred years. There are still plenty of citizens of its deeper reaches who believe that hunting laws are Communist-inspired and that game wardens make excellent trotline bait. The “Dog People,” as they are called for their custom of illegally poaching deer by running them down with packs of hounds, are never far from their shotguns. They are also highly suspicious, and are prone to assume that any stranger they might encounter in their woods is likely to be some kind of Yankee federal agent up to no good.

The Constable recommended two essential pieces of equipment if I was fool enough to disregard his advice—a good pistol of at least 9mm caliber that would take down an adversary even if only nicked in the shoulder, and a pair of “Big Thicket house shoes.” He noticed approvingly that I already had a pair of knee-high rubber boots, and he just happened to have an extra 9mm pistol that he would sell me, even if somewhat illicitly at the time, for a good price.

What the Constable didn’t suspect was that I had considerable reason to believe that there is more than one two-legged species native to the Thicket. What I didn’t even attempt to explain to him was that I felt somehow that this other species would sense it if I were armed and is intelligent enough to keep itself hidden even if it were keenly and stealthily observing me. I had good intentions toward the wild man and, naively perhaps, had faith that it would understand that. As foolish as it might seem, I was willing to give it the jump on me just for the chance of seeing it and satisfying my curiosity. I did wonder, though, if I could outrun that old Booger, particularly with those damn rubber boots on.

Thus, I decided not to buy a gun for myself. I was frankly glad to have a willing companion in Bill for this particular trip, though, and after advising him of the risks involved, acceded to his judgment that we should not go unarmed. About a half hour into the woods we paused for awhile and practiced firing the guns. The rifle had a strong kick and was so loud it left our ears ringing. We shot at pine cones and dead branches of trees that had long ago jammed the slow-moving currents of the tea-colored water. All the while I wondered what kind of protection these guns would afford us if we were to actually encounter the elusive man/creature. If the sightings stories were as reputable as they seemed, it could be something formidable to deal with. And it wasn’t just a matter of whether our arms were of sufficient caliber to bring it down, should we have a hostile encounter.

There was something strange about the sightings stories, something that suggested that the creature has an intelligence, maybe even a psychic nature, that gives an other-worldly quality to it, as if it were a nightmare somehow materialized into the real world. But it was this weird aspect of the stories and of my own experience that I found so compelling.

We trudged through some of the thickest woods in North America, staying as close to the bayou as possible. In the vast green sea of trees, whose dense canopy prevented us from even using the sun for guidance, the bayou provided the only landmark to avoid getting lost without having to constantly refer to a compass. The woods were also more open and the going easier in the flood plain.

The passing hours slowly accumulated into the better part of a day without anything happening of much consequence. But the water in several stretches of the bayou was remarkable; where it was normally muddy or clear-brown, today it was clear and blue. Then we came to a tributary near the confluence of Black Creek, where swamp water as black as crude oil protrudes into one of the blue holes. This meant we were nearing the end of our hike, and that we were no more than an hour or so from the highway. Then we heard it.

Bill noticed it first. From my days of birding and many hours spent in the woods I recognized it as the cry of a hawk. There was something peculiar about it, though. As we stood silent and listened, we realized that these were distress calls. Something was causing that hawk considerable grief. Then its cries were abruptly cut off.

It’s hard to judge the direction and distance of sound in the deep woods, but we began to suspect that the hawk had been just upstream from where we were when we first heard it. It occurred to us that the hawk had been shot or otherwise had met some dreadful end, but we had not heard any gun shots or any sounds other than the hawk’s distressed cries. Even if the hawk had met its demise, the odds of our actually finding it were very remote in woods that thick. That’s what made it so remarkable that we soon did find the hawk—or what was left of it.

It was directly in our path where a dim game trail, traced probably by deer and feral hogs, crossed a small clearing by the bayou. At the base of a huge pine tree we found the wings, tail feathers, legs, and talons of an extremely unlucky Cooper’s Hawk. There is little question it was the same hawk. The talons were still limp, and the tendons, ragged and exposed where the legs had been ripped from the hawk’s body, were still moist.

It was as if something had taken this poor bird by the feet, spread its legs, chomped down on it, and swallowed it whole after spitting out the less digestible parts. You may know something that can do this to a hawk, but I don’t.

There were no obvious clues in the clearing, no tracks or signs of a struggle. I could think of no natural predators that would even be inclined to attack a fairly good sized hawk, which is itself a predator. There are only a few animals native to the Thicket that would even be large enough, and most of these such as coyotes, foxes, bobcats, cougars, or maybe a Great Horned owl are nocturnal and wouldn’t be likely to hunt in broad daylight. We had neither seen nor heard any signs of dogs during the entire hike.

It would be very unlikely that any of these animals could catch a hawk on the ground. Even if the hawk had been wounded and was disabled and already on the ground, it is unlikely that any of these animals could do what was done to this poor bird without leaving any tracks in the muddy clearing.

You may think that there is an entirely reasonable explanation for this event and that it was merely coincidental that we just happened to be there, no matter how unusual it was. Bill and I were equally sure, with the kind of uncanny feeling you get when you’re in an unfamiliar place and sense that you are being watched by unseen and sinister eyes, that someone or something intended for us to understand that it could tear us apart limb from limb just as easily as it had that unfortunate hawk.

I couldn’t help but wonder if whoever or whatever had done this would have revealed itself if we hadn’t implied hostile intent by having the guns with us. Bill, ever more vigilant than me, wondered what that someone or something would have done to us if we hadn’t had the guns. We got the message. We were on unfamiliar ground. We had blundered, even if intentionally, into someone else’s territory, and we were lucky. Like a good-natured policeman will sometimes do with a first time traffic offender—this time we were just given a warning.

Copyright 2001 A. Rob


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