Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bigfoot Hunters and Hoaxes

Stranger than Sasquatch 
by Robert A. Waters 

At around midnight, Gawain MacGregor, dressed head-to-toe in raccoon skins, wandered into a dense North Carolina forest to "connect" with Sasquatch.  At the same time, in the same locale, a group of Sasquatch hunters who call themselves Bigfoot 911 gathered with cameras and film to record proof that the creature exists. 

According to MacGregor, it was there that he and the group stumbled on each other. 

MacGregor seeks to become one with nature by worshipping a figure called Enkidu.  This part-human, part-animal, as recorded in the "Epic of Gilgamesh," pre-dates the Bible.  On his blog, MacGregor writes: "Enkidu was created by the Goddess Aruru in response to the prayers of the citizens of Uruk, to act as a counterbalance to their king, Gilgamesh, who had lost his connection with nature[Enkidu] is described as extremely powerful, being two-thirds beast, one-third man and having a body covered in thick hair.  He drank from the rivers, grazed from the fields and galloped through the forests, sharing a union with nature long lost to humans."  MacGregor believes Bigfoot is Enkidu. 

After a brief encounter with the team from Bigfoot 911, MacGregor says he escaped deeper into the forest and never saw them again.   

Wandering around in the forest wearing a full regalia of raccoon skins isn't a smart thing to do.   

A great debate rages among the thousands of Sasquatch hunters.  Should we capture Bigfoot, film him (or her), or shoot him dead?  Many claim the only way to definitively prove the existence of Sasquatch is to kill him.  After all, films have been faked, and capturing a creature the size of Bigfoot has thus far proven implausible. 

While many groups, such as North Carolina's Bigfoot 911, only wish to verify the existence of Sasquatch, others want to put a bullet in its brainMany teams of Bigfoot searchers wander the forests at night carrying high-powered deer rifles and having itchy trigger fingers.  The raccoon skin-clad MacGregor would be wise to stay away from forests where people believe Sasquatch may exist. 

In Flathead County, Montana, Randy Lee Tenley donned a camouflaged Ghillie suit that resembles heavy foliage.  Generally used by military snipers or hunters, the head-to-toe attire could easily be mistaken for Sasquatch.  Tenley took off into the night, hoping to spark a "Bigfoot sighting." 

Unfortunately, on Highway 93, Tenley stepped into traffic and was killed. 

Montana State Trooper Jim Schneider explained: "He was trying to make people think he was Sasquatch so people would call in a Sasquatch sightingYou can't make it up.  I haven't seen or heard of anything like this before.  Obviously, his suit made it difficult for people to see him.  He probably would not have been very easy to see at all." 

This story is tragic indeed. 

Yet it might have been worse.  What if some hunter had mistaken Tinley for a Sasquatch and shot him dead? 

It goes back to the question of whether it's moral to kill Bigfoot. 

Skeptical Inquirer magazine editor Benjamin Radford frames the question this way:  “Would it be ethical to shoot and kill a Bigfoot?  Some say yes, because that’s the only way to prove they exist, and once proof is found, funds could be made available to protect them as an endangered species.  Others say no, that because Bigfoot sightings are so rare, they must have very small populations and killing one might drive the animals to extinction.  Ecological ethics aside, aiming a gun at a Bigfoot could be a bad idea.  You simply can’t know for sure if the mysterious, burly figure you have lined up in your sights is the real beast, or a bear, or a hoaxer in a costume.” 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Forgotten Legend of the Wild West

Hugh Whitney's Ride into Darkness
by Robert A. Waters

A murderous thug was Hugh Whitney, and a desperate fugitive, too. A legend perhaps, or just another outlaw following a dark trail to oblivion.

On June 17, 1911, Whitney and an accomplice named Sesler, both armed with revolvers, robbed a saloon-keeper in Monia, Montana. Pearl M. Oberg of the Idaho State Journal wrote that "they were not masked. The two helped themselves to everything in sight and talked freely with the bartender until a few minutes before train time. Then they walked toward the water tank and the train depot."

The saloon-keeper, figuring they planned to escape by train, called the sheriff in Spencer, the next town on the line. The saloon-keeper then boarded the Oregon Short Line train to keep an eye on the fugitives.

Sheriff Sam Milton (sometimes spelled Melton) met up with the victim in Spencer. They began walking down the aisles, searching for the robbers. The lawman found them sitting in the smoking compartment of the day coach. Conductor William Kidd stood a few feet from the fugitives.

Oberg wrote: "Sheriff Milton took their guns and put them on a seat out of the way. With his gun in one hand and handcuffs in the other, he approached the larger of the two men and told him to hold out his hands. At that moment, the smallest man (e.g., Whitney) leaped forward, grabbed Milton, and at the same time grabbed the revolvers from the seat where Milton had placed them."

Suddenly, gunfire filled the coach. Milton went down with bullets in his chest and shoulder. Conductor Kidd charged toward the robbers in a vain attempt to help. He was shot just below the heart. As the smoke cleared, the robbers set off after the saloon-keeper, firing as he ran and darted through the train.

Kidd would die from his wounds, while Milton survived. The saloon-keeper was not hit.

Sesler pulled the signal cord, and the train ground to a halt near High Bridge, about 60 miles northwest of Idaho Falls. The outlaws leaped from the train and began running. They got lucky. The area was known for its heavy sagebrush and deep gorges. Whitney and Sesler, with a headstart, threaded their way into the high mountains.

A posse from the Woods Livestock Company in Spencer, assisted by armed guards and bloodhounds from nearby Deer Lodge Prison, joined the hunt for the fugitives. But a heavy, all-day downpour slowed the pursuers and rendered the dogs useless. However, runners went to many of the ranches in the area, spreading the word about the murderous thieves .

Whitney was described as being five feet, seven inches tall, and weighing about 140 pounds. He had a dark complexion and a heavy growth of beard. The fugitive wore blue trousers, a blue flannel shirt, and a white hat studded with nickel tacks on a leather hatband.

Soon a stranger showed up at Magill Ranch, 30 miles from Idaho Falls. After being fed a hearty meal, the man left on foot. The rancher later heard the fugitive's description and realized the stranger was Whitney. Evidently, the outlaw and his partner had split up. The rancher rounded up some cowhands, including his son, Edgar Magill, to chase down the fugitive.

Oberg described what happened next. "Before he realized it, Edgar Magill was on top of the outlaw who shot him off his horse. Standing over the fallen man, Whitney said, 'I'm going to send you on a long journey.' He took deliberate aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Edgar's rib, glancing around his body. Young Magill feigned death as the outlaw mounted his horse and rode away, once more to make his escape."

In addition to Magill's horse, he stole the young man's Winchester rifle and revolver.

By now, news had reached the posse that conductor Kidd had died. The pursuers, consisting of more than 200 men, posted guards on several bridges that crossed the Snake River, thinking Whitney might try to escape via that route. After midnight, a river guard was shot by someone thought to be Whitney. The guard survived with only a superificial wound.

Whitney ate breakfast at the Cal Peiot ranch 16 miles from Idaho Falls. That night, he met a group of sheepherders near Long Valley. Whitney told the men he was also a sheepherder, and traded horses with them.

The fugitive visited at least one other ranch before disappearing.

Oberg writes: "Whitney was last seen on September 12, 1911, when he and his brother robbed the Cokeville [Wyoming] bank of $600. They had stolen horses at the Taylor ranch at Thomas Fork, Wyoming, and stationed them at different places along the route to Jackson Hole. Once they reached the Jackson Hole area, no one could find [Hugh Whitney or his brother]."

Through the years, with each new bank heist, train robbery, and unsolved murder in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, or even California, newspapers blared the news that Whitney had struck again. These stories were all bogus. Rumor had it that he had fled to South America, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but that was never proven. Another tall tale even had him joining the military during World War I.

The truth is that in 1911, Whitney vanished from sight, and never resurfaced. What happened to him is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Drunk Driver Kills Popular Singer 

The Last Ride of Johnny Horton 
by Robert A. Waters 

It was 1960.  Hank was long-dead and old-time country music was dying.  Elvis, a country boy from Mississippi, had inadvertently started the trend.  Suddenly, teens weren't listening to sad songs like "Fraulein" and "Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On" anymore.  A new, driving energy was taking over the airways as electric guitars and rock 'n' roll created new heroes. 

For years, Johnny Horton, a sharecropper's son and singer from East Texas, had struggled to find a niche in the country music industry.  He'd been signed by several record companies, but his star had flamed out with each unsuccessful record he made. 

Then, in 1956, Horton recorded an up-tempo song called "Honky Tonk Man."  Traditional country music lyrics about a rake who loved barflies melded with hot electric guitar licks in just the right blend, and suddenly, Horton hit the jackpot.  Later, that song and others recorded by Horton would be called "rockabilly."  Songs like "Cherokee Boogie," "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor," and "Sleepy-eyed John" fused rock and country at just the right speed.

By 1959, Horton had again changed his style.  He recorded his biggest hit, "The Battle of New Orleans."  This historically-based frolicking song soared to the top of the charts in both country music and pop music.  It was followed by smash hits such as "Sink the Bismarck," "Johnny Reb," and "North to Alaska." 

Horton had come a long way from the sharecropper life led by his mother and fatherHe'd married a Louisiana beauty, Billie Jean Jones Williams, Hank's second wife.  He'd bought a new home in Shreveport, and was at the very pinnacle of his career.  Money, once a scarce commodity around the Horton home, was now rolling in.   

But for years, Horton had told friends of a premonition he couldn't shake.  He believed he would die at the hands of a drunk driver.  Horton even practiced scenarios in which he would drive his car into a ditch to escape an oncoming driver.  He hoped to outwit death by being prepared.  A teetotaler, Horton would soon discover that even a drunken grim reaper would not be denied.    

Close to midnight, on November 4, 1960, Johnny Horton climbed into the driver's seat of his shiny-new white Cadillac sedan.  He and his band had just played a packed session at the famous Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.  Horton had been skittish about the gig, thinking he might be killed by a drunk in a barroom fight.  So, between sessions, he hung out in the dressing room, away from the crowds.   

After loading their gear into the trunk of the Caddie, Horton, bass player and manager Tillman Franks, and guitarist Gerald Tomlinson headed home to Shreveport.  Horton planned to go duck hunting with future country music star Claude "Wolverton Mountain" King later that morning 

At about one-thirty, in Milano, Texas, Horton's Cadillac "approached a bridge over a train trestle."  Coming the opposite way, 19-year-old college student James Evans Davis drove a 1958 Ford Ranchero pickup.  Davis, who had been drinking, lost control of the truck and slammed into a guard rail.  He bounced off, weaved across the road, hit the opposite guard rail, then smashed head-on into Horton's Caddie. 

Photos show the car crushed like a tin can.     

The carnage on the bridge left Horton dead, and Franks and Tomlinson severely injured.  As happens often, Davis walked away with only minor injuries. 

At Horton's funeral, his long-time friend Johnny Cash read from the Biblical book of John.  Horton was interred at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bossier City, Louisiana. 

In March, 1961, the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis had been convicted of "murder without malice" and "given a 2-year probated sentence in a no-jury trial." 

Horton had told his friends that if he died, he would contact them from the grave.  Franks believed Horton, and later recounted an eerie story that he thought proved contact had occurred. 

Clay Coppedge, in "Letters from Central Texas," published the tale: 

"As for Horton's promise of coming back from the grave, Franks believed Horton made good on his promise.  It happened when Franks was driving to Nashville with singer David Houston.  The radio was out and the CB radio was out.  It was a quiet drive.  Then, according to Franks, the CB kicked in with the opening riffs from Horton's 'One Woman Man.' 'It sounded like a juke box, real full, much louder than a CB would be,' Franks told music writer Colin Escott. 'The whole song played, and then the CB cut out again.  I just froze.  David did too . . . I told Merle Kilgore, and he said, 'Johnny's telling you that the song's gonna be a hit all over again.''' 

It was.  In 1989, George Jones recorded the song and it hit the charts, stopping at number 5. 

Today, Johnny Horton is remembered for his rockabilly influence and the historical songs he loved.  He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.  For some reason, he's never been elected to the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame.