We found this story purely by happenstance while searching for something else.
It just wandered across our path.
Some of the best stories just do that.
Early in the summer of 1902, around 11 o’clock in the evening, two men were walking down the road near Center Furnace (in what is now the Land Between the Lakes) when they encountered a strange animal, a fierce-looking beast, lurking in the darkness. William Littlejohn and William McWaters, both of Trigg County, didn’t tell their story to the papers until weeks later, but they relayed their sighting in vivid detail. The beast was six feet tall and covered in hair. It reared and growled upon seeing the pair of Williams. The men swore it was ape-like, even stating they thought it was a gorilla.
Littlejohn raised his gun and fired three times…
Perhaps we in the Local and Family History Department are a little too eager to even suggest that this story smacks of a Sasquatch sighting. After all, we are a department which strives toward and prides itself on hard, accurate research.
But we do like our mysteries and oddball stories, too. And really, just how likely is it that the two men saw a gorilla in Western Kentucky in 1902? There are no proximal stories of zoo escapes or overturned circus trains.
While the Bigfoot-sighting craze didn’t truly hit its stride until the 1950′s, culminating with the release of the notorious Patterson Bigfoot video in the late 1960′s, legends abound in oral traditions of ape-like creatures wandering the woods, mountains, and countryside, and not just in the United States, but on every continent except Antarctica: the Yeti from the Himalayas, Yowie from Australia, and the Yeren from China. Native American history is rich with stories of giant man-beasts, dozens of them, across the nation and into Canada. In fact, a British Columbian tribe gave us the now common term “Sasquatch.”
Western Kentucky has its own Bigfootian legacy. The Chickasaw, who first settled our region, had a legend about Lofa, a long-haired, bipedal creature who roamed the woods at night and overpowered foes with its body odor. Claims of Sasquatch-sightings in the LBL area have been made as recently as 2011, and other claims throughout Kentucky are cataloged by the Kentucky Bigfoot Research Organization.
We even found a story in the Paducah Sun from October of 1897 which claimed a “wild man” was roaming the Lovelaceville Section of Paducah. This man-beast was later discovered merely to be a large sow with missing ears.
However, no such porcine claim was ever made about the creature that Littlejohn and McWaters stumbled across on that summer evening in 1902. Littlejohn raised his gun and fired three times. The beast fell to the ground, “and after struggling for a few seconds, dragged itself off through the woods, growling fiercely, and could be heard for quite a distance” (Paducah Sun, August 1, 1902). Neither man chose to follow the creature that night, but McWaters went back the next morning and witnessed the trail the creature left by dragging its hindquarters through the brush. Curiously, McWaters found no trace of blood.
Littlejohn and McWaters stated they had seen a gorilla that night, and perhaps, by some accident of circus or miracle of migration, they actually had. The theory of Occam’s Razor would suggest the creature was a black bear, though you’d think country boys like those would have known a bear if they saw one. Besides, black bears, which were never very common in Western Kentucky anyway, were essentially eliminated from the whole state of Kentucky by the early 1900’s.
So maybe, just maybe, there’s an inkling of truth to the old Chickasaw legend of the Lofa. Maybe, just maybe, Littlejohn and McWaters can be listed as the two men who made Western Kentucky’s first, recorded Sasquatch sighting.
Of course, we in the Local and Family History Department can’t offer any proof that it was the first sighting.
By the same token, we can’t offer any proof that it wasn’t.
For more information about regional cryptozoology, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.