The White River Monster

The following in an excerpt from my book:

The White River Monster

The Natural State, Arkansas, boasts its own claim to a legendary and elusive aquatic beast. The White River is home to a cryptid which is known as the White River Monster, also affectionately referred to as Whitey.

The White River is a tributary of the Mississippi River, over 700 miles long, flowing through Arkansas and southern Missouri. The river starts in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas and flows north into Missouri. The river then heads eastward and turns southeast crossing back into Arkansas. It eventually dumps into the Mississippi River near the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, lying on the White River floodplain, holds one of the largest bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi River Valley and contains over 300 lakes and various streams.1

The first documented sighting of Whitey, the White River Monster, occurred in 1915 near the town of Newport, in Jackson County.2 Between the years of 1915 and 1937 reported sightings of the beast were sporadic at best. However, in 1937, Whitey would become a legend.

On July 1, 1937, a local plantation owner named Bramlett Bateman, reported seeing a gray-skinned creature in the river which was “wide as a car and three cars long.” Bateman also described the creature as having “the skin of an elephant, four or five feet wide by twelve feet long, with the face of a catfish…”3

As rumors of the monster spread, locals began constructing a large rope net to capture it. News of the attempt to capture a monster with a homemade net garnered nationwide attention. A newspaper in New Jersey reported on the attempt and pointed out that the plantation workers were frightened by the beast.4 The net project would eventually be canceled due to a lack of money and materials. It is doubtful that this attempt would have been successful even if the project had been able to go forward.

As the local chamber of commerce began smelling possible river monster tourist dollars, they got themselves involved in the fracas as well. The chamber of commerce went as far as to hire a professional diver to search for the creature.5 The diver, Charles B. Brown from the Memphis office of the U.S. Engineers office, dove into an eddy where the monster had been spotted but failed to locate it. Brown made a couple more attempts diving into the deep water and mud, but those attempts were as unsuccessful as the first.6

Eventually, the sightings tapered off and the excitement and hysteria waned. Bateman was accused by many of creating a hoax; a hoax that local officials willingly participated in that brought attention and an infusion of cash into the economically depressed area. However, even though attempts to capture the beast were unsuccessful, there were over 100 reported sightings in a brief period of time.7 Whether there was a “water monster” in Newport, or if there was just an incredible case of mistaken identity, one thing is clear—locals were seeing something!

A New Round of Sightings

As quickly as the White River Monster rose to fame in the 1930s, it disappeared even faster. Whitey did not resurface, at least not enough to draw significant attention, until decades later. A major resurgence of Whitey sightings began to occur once more in the 1970s, but this time, he left evidence behind, including photographic and physical evidence.

In 1971, a large gray creature, the “size of a boxcar” with a bone protruding from its forehead was reported by several eyewitnesses.8 Local resident David Jenks reported seeing a gray creature with a bone coming from its head. Jenks estimated that the creature weighed 1,000 pounds.9 Some witnesses described the creature as having skin that looked as though it was peeling all over.10 One witness reported hearing the creature make strange sounds. The sounds were described as something in between a “horse’s neigh” and a “cow’s moo.”11 Whitey was once again causing a stir on the White River, and it was only beginning.

In June of 1971, a local lumber company employee, Cloyce Warren, photographed the monster and sold the picture to the Newport Daily Independent. Warren claimed that while fishing with two others, they noticed an eruption of water and a 20-foot long creature with a spiny backbone swimming away. Before the monster disappeared, Warren was able to snap a photograph. The Polaroid photo that was taken is said to be fuzzy, giving no real proof of the monster. Some say that you can make out hump, while others claim that nothing definitive can be made out. At best, the photo is inconclusive, and unfortunately, the Newport Daily Independent lost the original photo making it impossible for researchers to perform scientific analysis on it.12 It might sound like a cop-out, but the Warren sighting lends itself to a large sturgeon explanation…

On July 5, 1971, the White River Monster upped the ante. Decades of eyewitness reports, which are inherently flawed, and a fuzzy Polaroid gave way to actual physical evidence. On Towhead Island, north of the eddy where Bramlett Bateman first saw the monster back in the 1930s, tracks in the sand were discovered by a county deputy. The tracks left deep impressions in the sand and were 14 inches long, 8 inches wide and had three long toes or claws with a spur coming from the heel. Crushed vegetation and broken trees were also observed on the island,13 sure evidence that something extremely large had passed through.

The Aftermath

The recurrence of activity and sightings of the White River Monster in the early 1970s left a deep and lasting impression on the community. So much so, that the Arkansas legislature passed a resolution giving Whitey official protection. In 1973, state senator Robert Harvey introduced a bill that was passed into law creating the White River Monster Refuge. A portion of the White River was legally designated as a safe haven for the beast. The resolution states that it shall be illegal to “molest, kill, trample, or harm the White River Monster while he is in the retreat.”14


Other Notable Reports

As strange and incredible as it may sound, it is believed by some that the White River Monster may have played a role, albeit a small one, in the War Between the States. Like other waterways, the White River was used for the transportation of people and goods during the war. Legend holds that Whitey is responsible for the sinking a Confederate gunship.15 Details about the alleged sinking are scarce. It must be pointed out that there is little if any information to validate the claim of the sinking, and nothing in the historical record indicates that a strange creature of any sort had acted aggressively toward a gun boat. Although it cannot be substantiated, and is probably a tall tale, it is an interesting story; it is further proof that rivers and lakes, and what lurks beneath them, have always fascinated mankind.

According to legend, taking sides during the Civil War wasn’t the only time that Whitey has been held responsible for capsizing a boat. The original inhabitants of the area, the Quapaw tribe, have handed down a legend for many generations of a brave’s canoe being flipped over by the monster. The monster is said to have flipped the unsuspecting young man’s canoe, and then slipped back into the water.16

It is possible that Whitey has even traveled as far as Branson, Missouri. In 1912, an Arkansas newspaper reported that a group of timber workers saw what they believed to be a 300-pound turtle on the bottom of the river. After news of the report, local fisherman organized efforts to try and capture the enormous turtle.17 Little is known about the results of their attempts. It would appear that the fishermen were unsuccessful; the capture of a 300-pound turtle would have surely generated news that would have quickly spread throughout the area.

What Could the Monster Be?

Like any crytpid, speculation abounds as to the identification of the White River Monster. Are we dealing with an uncategorized, previously undiscovered species? Or, is this quite simply a century or more of eyewitness reports in which the misidentification of a known animal has taken place? One thing is certain— people are seeing something, but what are they seeing?

If Whitey is not an undiscovered species, something new and exciting— but rather, a case of mistaken identity, then what could he be?

Check out my book to find out more…

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