The AHC is going to be kicking off a new monthly blog series called Mystery of the Month. Each month, our own Brian Irby will be researching and writing about some of Arkansas's little known mysteries and presenting them here. To kick off Mystery of the Month, Brian has written an intro for our new series.
Many of us have come to history from the oddest of angles. For instance, when I was a kid, my grandmother had a lot of books on the bookshelves in the living room. My grandparents had a habit of leaving money, usually a dollar or two, or even a ten dollar bill, in the books and then forgetting the hidden treasure. So, I discovered that one could easily find cash by exploring the bookshelves. But, aside from the obvious joy of treasure hunting, there were some interesting books. Among them was a book called Ozark Tales and Superstitions. I read that book cover to cover, absorbing its tales of buried treasure, ghosts, and folklore. I read them so many times that I could probably recite the stories from memory. If I try hard enough, I can even recall the illustrations that went with the stories. Did I believe the stories? You bet I did. I was quite certain that Jesse James faked his death and lived out his days as J. Frank Dalton in Oklahoma. It was in a book, after all. They couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true, right?
Now that I am much older I am less inclined to accept those folktales as being true. I had forgotten about the book until I was here at work at the Arkansas History Commission and found the volume on the shelves next to other books on Ozark folklore. Instantly, I remembered the story that, above all other stories in the book, so gripped my imagination at the age of eight. The story goes that a man was on the run from the law near War Eagle, Arkansas, when he stumbled into a cave called Peter Bottom Cave. What he saw so horrified him that he fled from the area and got caught by law enforcement. He said there was a monster in Peter Bottom Cave. Not much more was said on the matter, the fugitive was sent to prison, and his monster tale was quickly forgotten. Years later, a couple of young men also claimed to have seen the monster. According to the men, it was a tall humanoid figure with white fur and a musty smell. To top it off, the monster also emitted a beeping noise. Supposedly people still see this monster from time to time, but like Big Foot, he is incredibly camera shy, so no photographic evidence is available.
So, upon becoming reacquainted with the book on folklore, I was propelled back into the world of the strange, the mysterious, and the downright odd. It occurred to me that we have a number of resources that can be used to research these mysteries. So, in the next few months I will be sifting through our newspapers, books, and manuscripts to bring you a fresh perspective on some of Arkansas’s most enduring mysteries.