Friday, February 22, 2008
Bears and Bigfoot and snakes, oh my! Be
By Charlotte Stetson
A bear in Bethalto? Bigfoot in Edwardsville? Monster snakes in East Alton? A variety of wild animals have made the news in The Telegraph over the years. But one of the best tales is that of the Gooseville bear.
A recent Our Past item mentioned Gooseville, and I thought it was in Macoupin County. Much to my surprise Gooseville is in Madison County, near Bethalto.
When Illinois was the last frontier, so to speak, early writers described the lush forests and prairies in the Illinois territory. Brink’s History of Madison County, published in 1882, listed the elk, bear, buffalo, wild cat, deer and other small fauna that resided in Illinois before the white man came. Now we see plenty of deer, raccoons are taking over our neighborhoods, possums are frequently road kill and the suburbs are overrun by rabbits and squirrels. They are not as interesting, however, as the tale of the Gooseville bear.
The Gooseville bear caused a great uproar back in August, 1949 when it “appeared” in the Bethalto area around Indian Creek. The discovery of a mangled calf prompted Bethalto Mayor Henry Gerdes, a district supervisor for the Illinois Conservation Department, to decide a bear had done the damage, since the calf’s liver was missing, and “bears always eat a victim’s liver first.”
A meeting was held in Bethalto to decide what to do about the varmint that was terrorizing the area about nine miles east of Bethalto. A posse of 150 men was put together, and divided into teams to track down the beast. Indian Creek intersected Gooseville, and the search would extend about three miles north and south of Route 140. It was all set. Seven posses of men who were “armed to the teeth” with shotguns and rifles, would converge at the Moro bridge and spread out from there.
On Aug. 10, 1949, The Alton Evening Telegraph reported, “Fear of the bear has held the Gooseville residents in the grip of night terror for three weeks and children and livestock are guarded with extra precautions.” Many residents said they heard frightening screams and growls in the night. One resident claimed to have seen the “wicked eyes of a beast of prey staring from the darkness near a garage.” A state trooper claimed to have found the corpse of a creature that had the body of a hound and the head of a bear, and offered to show it to interested people, but nobody took him up on it.
Many people didn’t take the tales too seriously. A Bethalto grocer had a sign in his window saying, “Leave orders for bear steaks here.” The Canadian Fur Corp. of New York offered $250 for the pelt.
The hunts extended over several nights before the posse disbanded without the bear (or $250 pelt). An Alton farmer later claimed to have confronted a furry beast and fired at it then hustled back to his home to call up reinforcements from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and Alton Police. The uproar calmed down, but the tale was resurrected occasionally through the years.
About the same time, some elderly residents in the River Bend also recalled the story of a “great snake” that lived in a pasture in East Alton. One man claimed to have seen the snake swallow an entire calf. That story spread, as did the Gooseville bear tale, and was carried by newspapers all over the country. The Telegraph speculated that the farmer who owned the pasture came up with the snaky tale to keep pawpaw pickers off his property.
In 1976, two young men camping in an abandoned strip mine pit near Moro claimed they had been startled when a four foot tall “ape or monkey” came within 15 feet of them. Ron Barton, 19, and Bo Hester, 19, said they saw the ape by the light of their lantern. Sheriff’s Department deputies searched the area but found no evidence of footprints or fur. They speculated that a pet Asian rock monkey owned by a nearby resident could have escaped. That Moro monster, along with the East Alton snake and the Gooseville bear, remain a mystery today.
Wildlife biologists also doubt any claims of the frequent cougar sightings in the River Bend, although bobcats have been reported as well, a much more likely possibility.
The Telegraph area also has had its own “Bigfoot,” the giant hairy creatures reported in the Himalayas, the Northwest United States, Texas, and, more recently, in Michigan. The local beast was described as seven feet tall with long shaggy white hair, suggesting a senior citizen Bigfoot. It was seen in the Marine and Edwardsville area.
And you thought the Piasa Bird was our only monster.