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15 Summers After Tracks Found, Fouke Monster Called Hoax

July 21, 1986

FOUKE, Ark. (AP) _ Fifteen summers after giant footprints and tales of a creature called the Fouke Monster generated an avalanche of publicity and money in local tills, town officials are convinced it was a hoax.

The excitement began when a farmer found three-toed tracks, size 14EE, on the edge of a soybean field in June 1971.

A carload of Texarkana residents said the monster dashed across U.S. 71 one late spring evening. A deer hunter said she spotted the creature in heavy timber. One man moved his family to another town after what he described as a terrifying encounter with the monster that sent him screaming through a closed door.

Depending on the source, the red-eyed monster was a howling ape, a swamp man or a country cousin of the Abominable Snowman.

The reports captured the imaginations of students, who had monster drawing contests, and one teacher who said the creature should be protected as an endangered species.

But despite the offer of a $10,000 reward, the Fouke Monster was neither trapped nor photographed.

Virgil Roberts, the mayor of this town of 509 residents 10 miles from Texas and 20 miles from Louisiana, says he believes the monster was 100 percent hype. ″I’m convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that was a man-made track,″ Roberts said. ″I feel like somebody walked out in there with stilts on. ... I think they were trying to get attention here. Maybe they thought they could make a little money on it, I don’t know,″ he said.

″I won’t say all was intoxicated when they saw it, but some did see something that, well, they saw more than actually was there,″ he said.

But the monster-generated dollars were real.

Roberts’ wife made a plaster cast of the footprint and turned out more than 5,000 miniatures, complete with hand-painted ″Greetings From Boggy Creek,″ and sold them to a distributor for 50 cents each, Roberts said. A low-budget movie starring Fouke residents, ″The Legend Of Boggy Creek,″ made a tidy profit. A book describing an encounter with the monster is still for sale at a hamburger stand in town.

Chief Deputy H.L. Phillips of the Miller County Sheriff’s Department said he hasn’t taken a monster call in years.

″We don’t even keep a file anymore,″ he said. ″A few years ago, someone called and said they’d found a cave along the Sulphur River where the monster was supposedly living. Nothing there. I don’t believe in it. But I’d say you don’t argue with people who say they’ve seen it. Many were respectable and responsible folks.″

Frank Schambagh, an archaeologist at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, has been debunking the monster since the talk began.

″There’s never been any question in my mind that it was always a hoax,″ he said.

″There are no higher primates, other than man, in the Americas,″ Schambagh said. ″Scientific evidence is totally against it. It’s just mass hysteria. ... People see things when their imaginations are excited.″

Former Fouke Mayor James D. Larey was one of three townspeople named to verify the capture of any monster by a reward-seeker.

″I don’t think the people believed there was a monster as such, but there’s always a few people who believe,″ he said. ″For a while, there was lots of people talking. I had a bundle of 700 or 800 letters at one time, they were wanting to bring dogs and guns and everything to find it.″

Former Miller County Sheriff Leslie Greer, who led expeditions of law officers through the steamy swamps, said he thinks the tracks were faked.

″I don’t think it did any harm. It created a lot of interest in Fouke, and nobody got hurt, but a lot got excited,″ Greer said. ″It was just, I think, a rigged deal all the way through. I don’t know why anybody would want to do it, unless it was to put Fouke on the map.″

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