Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
Dear reader, I’m lucky if I can watch one or two “scary movies” each year, but even I know enough to know that the horror genre is oft times a rural one. From the slasher films of the 70s and 80s to the “found footage” of the 90s and 00s, more remote settings have long provided a strong foundation for terror and dread.
In honor of that tradition, we have something special for you this Halloween season. Daily Yonder correspondent Liz Carey recently released an eBook digging into the monsters and myths of rural America, building off her Daily Yonder reporting on the same subject.
In the book’s introductory chapter, presented for your enjoyment below, Liz takes a look at a cult classic film that played an instrumental role in embedding these rural legends into her young mind, as well as the popular imagination.
– Adam B. Giorgi
The Legend (and Legacy) of Boggy Creek
Back in the summer of 1975, I watched a movie that would change my life.
It wasn’t an Oscar winner. It wasn’t an inspirational tale about a horse or a dog or an orphan going on to overcome incredible odds. It wasn’t even an action-adventure film set in a galaxy far, far away.
What it was was a low-budget docu-drama and it scared the bejeebees out of me – “The Legend of Boggy Creek.”
Back then, I was a tow-headed 10-year-old with pony tails called Mary Beth. A tomboy at heart, I was all tennis, and shorts, and swimming, and riding horses bareback through the woods behind my friend’s house way out in the sticks of Woodford County in Central Kentucky. I wasn’t scared of anything, even if I didn’t know anything about anything yet.
That summer, as I remember it, my cousins, Gene and Roger, were visiting our house and we all went to the drive-in to see a movie — “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” My aunt says it was probably my Dad piling everyone into the station wagon so we could save money and take our own popcorn and drinks. How they managed to talk my always protective mom into letting me see it, I’ll never know.
What I do know is that the movie not only scared me silly, it ignited a lifelong obsession with rural legends that lives on to this day.
“The Legend of Boggy Creek” centers around the real story of a monster terrorizing townspeople in Fouke, Arkansas. Mixing staged interviews with re-enactments of their encounters with a Bigfoot-like swamp creature, the film recounts stories that have circulated about the Fouke Monster for decades
The Fouke Monster, also known as the Boggy Creek Monster and the Swamp Stalker, was first reported in the news in 1971. Residents in the Fouke area of Arkansas said the monster was at least 7 feet tall, if not 10 feet tall, weighing anywhere between 300 and 800 pounds. It ran with a swift, galloping gait, swinging its arms like an orangutang and smelling like “a combination of skunk and wet dog,” witnesses said. Footprints in the area said to belong to the creature measured some 17 inches long and featured only three toes.
The creature first made the news when Bobby and Elizabeth Ford told the Texarkana Gazette they’d spotted something in the fields outside of their house. According to Elizabeth Ford, the creature reached through a screen window while she was sleeping on a couch. Bobby and his brother Don said they chased the creature away, shooting at it from the porch. Later, the group found three-toed footprints close to the house, as well as damage to the house’s porch, window and siding.
A few days later, the creature was sighted again. This time D.C. Woods, Jr., Wilma Woods and Mrs. R.H. Sedgass said they saw it crossing U.S. Highway 71. Over the next few months, more sightings followed, with both locals and tourists spotting the creature and finding more footprints. Scott Keith, the owner of a local filling station, reported finding Fouke Monster tracks in his soybean field.
As news of the Fords’ encounter spread, radio station KAAY posted a $1,090 bounty on the monster, drawing hunters and their dogs to Fouke. The dogs weren’t able to track the creature, but the proliferation of guns in the area led Miller County Sheriff Leslie Greer to put a temporary “no guns” policy in place for safety purposes. The sheriff fined three people $59 each for “filing a fraudulent monster report.”
After a while, interest in the monster faded out and sightings dwindled off. One local man, however, never stopped wondering about it.
Local resident Charles B. Pierce started asking questions about the Fouke Monster. His investigation would be the beginning of “The Legend of Boggy Creek.”
To the Silver Screen
Born in 1938, Pierce grew up in Hampton, Arkansas, just a few miles away from Fouke in the southwestern part of the state near Texarkana. As a child, he was a friend and neighbor to Harry Thomason. As children, Thomason and Pierce would make movies together in their backyards using an old 8mm camera. Pierce went on to be art director for KTAL-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana, and later serve as a weatherman and host a children’s cartoon show for the same channel. Thomason went on to be a film and television producer and director. He’s most known for his work with his wife, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, on the television series “Designing Women.”
In 1969, Pierce moved to Texarkana and bought a 16mm camera to start an advertising agency. One of his first gigs was with Ledwell & Son Enterprises, a company that built 18-wheel trailers and farm equipment. The commercials he shot for them went on to solidify his reputation for his creative abilities locally.
After interviewing several of Fouke residents about their encounters with the monster, Pierce decided their authenticity and down-to-earth qualities would make a great movie. While he didn’t necessary believe in the tales of the Fouke Monster, he said he was fascinated by tales of encounters with it. Working with Earl E. Smith, an acquaintance from advertising, he adapted the interviews into a screenplay.
Then Pierce turned to his client, L.W. Ledwell, owner of Ledwell & Sons. With his script and movie idea in hand, Pierce asked if he’d finance his movie. Although he was skeptical of the idea, Ledwell agreed to loan Pierce $100,00 to make his movie.
Pierce’s total budget was only $160,000, the equivalent of about $1.13 million in today’s dollars. To put that in context, “The Godfather,” which was also released in 1972 cost $6 million to make, the equivalent of about $42 million today. “The Godfather” would go on to gross $135 million in 1972. Pierce’s low-budget production would go on to make $20 million — a 12,400% return on his meager investment.
It was an extremely local production. Shooting the film in Fouke, Texarkana and Shreveport, Pierce used the interviews with Fouke residents and mixed them with dramatizations of their encounters with the monster. He hired high school students to be crew members and found his actors at the local gas station, where he would approach those who looked like someone that he wanted in his movie. He wrote and sang the theme song himself. Once shooting for the movie was done, he packed it in his trunk and headed to Hollywood for help with post-production services.
Unfortunately, while he could get back-end services done for a small upfront fee and a percentage of the box office receipts, the rest of Hollywood wasn’t as interested in the film. No one wanted to distribute it. So, like he did with everything else, he decided to figure out how to show it by himself. Renting a local movie theater in Texarkana, later called the Perot Theater, Pierce premiered the film on August 23, 1972.
Here’s the thing — when it opened, there were lines stretched around the block to see it. In its first three weeks it made more than $55,000. Pierce never expected it to become a financial success. Within months though, he was in a distribution deal with Howco, an independent distribution company, for $1.29 million and a 50 percent interest in the film. Later, Pierce and Howco signed a deal with American International Pictures for foreign and television distribution. The film would go on a few years later to become a hit at drive-in movies across the country and gain a cult status.
Which is where my nightmare fuel comes in.
In the movie, residents talk about how the creature has killed several large animals over the years, with one farmer saying the beast had carried off two of his 100-pound hogs. One scene implies that the creature scares a kitten to death. Later, the monster terrorizes a family with a daughter named… wait for it… Mary Beth.
It was a pivotal scene for me. The on-screen Mary Beth is scared by noises she hears outside that’s she’s sure is the monster. She retreats inside the house and hides. As she’s looking out the window, the monster breaks through the window and reaches out for her.
Yeah. Scared the hell out of me. In my 10-year-old mind, that was me! It was coming after ME!
That night, I remember Roger and Gene making fun of me as we drove home, but also telling me that everything was going to be okay. I had a trundle bed in my room at the time — like a bunk bed, but the bottom bunk rolled out from under the bed to sit on its own. Roger and Gene, there to keep me safe, slept on the beds and I slept under the upper bunk – surrounded by my cousins protecting me.
I still remember dreaming that night that the monster was outside of my window, sitting on the garage roof, waiting to break through the window and come in and get me.
As dusk broke into dawn though, my feelings changed. That morning, all I could talk about was the movie. Was it real? There’s no way another animal could scare a kitten to death, was there? Did they really see what they thought they saw? Is it still out there? And if it is real, why hasn’t anyone captured it yet?
And most importantly, how could something like that happen in a small town?
The First of Many Monsters
At the time, we lived in Versailles, Kentucky, a rural town about a half an hour from Lexington. The landscape is dotted with horse farms and for the most part, all 21,000 of us knew each other. The idea that something like that could happen in a small town thrilled me. Nothing ever happened in Versailles. The most exciting thing to do was drive from the Dairy Queen (where all the cool kids worked) to the Circle K near the old elementary school and back again. Why couldn’t something exciting like a monster happen in MY hometown?
It was the beginning of my fascination with cryptids, monsters, myths and rural legends.
In high school, my friends and I would hunt for the ghost who lived in our local library. We tracked down an abandoned house that somehow still had lights on and dared each other to climb the front steps and knock on the door. And we’d go to the edge of the county to find “Scaly Man,” a boy who was born with no epidermis.
According to the legend, after driving down Scaly Man’s long driveway out in the middle of nowhere, you were supposed to park your car in front of his house, turn out the car lights, honk three times and wait for him to appear… Of course we did it all to the letter. And we thought for sure he came out… My friend tried to start her car, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. Fear turned to panic and we were all sure we were going to die. There was a lot of screaming until the car finally turned on. Once we’d peeled out of Scaly Man’s driveway, the screams turned to breathless babbling about what we’d just seen and giggling over our adventures.
Since then I’ve gone to Point Pleasant to visit Mothman, and found out as much as I can about all sorts of legends — from South Carolina’s Lizard Man to the Minnesota Hodag. The television series “Monsters, Myths and Legends,” as well as “Fact or Faked” and “The UnXplained” with William Shatner are some of my go-to shows. The old 90s series “Unsolved Mysteries” is on almost every morning as background noise while I write.
But more than just a fascination with the stories, I was fascinated with whether or not they were real. The older I got, the more I looked at witness statements with a skeptical eye. In 2012, I visited the Georgia Guidestones about an hour away from my house in Anderson, S.C. and used my investigative reporter skills to dig into how the project was funded, who bought and sold the land and who the Guidestones mysterious benefactor was.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the midst of the pandemic. At the time, I was one of the rural health reporters for the Daily Yonder, a national news outlet covering rural issues out of the Center for Rural Strategies. I had spent a year writing about Covid-19, the lack of medical resources, overwhelmed hospitals, mental health struggles, drug overdoses and death. I needed a break from the bad news. So, I asked my editor if I could write about how one of the Bigfoot shows was hunting for him in rural Kentucky.
That story led to others — Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster; Little Green Men in Kelly, Kentucky; Diana of the Dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Park; winged creatures who terrorized small towns and even cattle mutilations in the American West. They were a hit, drawing attention from all over the globe. One of our stories — about a $50,000 reward for proof of Pepie the Lake Pepin Sea Monster — even got reprinted in Scotland.
Back in 1973, I had no idea of the impact that one movie would have on me. But it certainly started a lifelong fascination with the unexplained that I’m sure will continue to draw me into investigating all sorts of rural myths, legends and monsters.
– Liz Carey
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.