Day 86: Monsters of the Ozarks: The Side-Hill Hoofer



One of the more unusual Ozark monsters is the side-hill hoofer, a creature that is supposedly built to be able to run sideways along the hills and hollers. Vance Randolph gives a lengthy description of the creature:

“Most of the backwoods yarn-spinners have something to say about the side-hill hoofer. According to one common version of the tale, the hoofer is similar to a beaver in appearance, but much larger, about the size of a yearling calf. It lives in a burrow on some steep hillside. This animal always runs around the hill in the same direction, since the legs on one side of its body are longer than those on the other side. If by any accident the hoofer falls down into the flat country it is easily captured, since on level ground it cannot walk or run at all. The female lays eggs as big as water-buckets, and one egg will furnish breakfast for twenty-five men. ‘But they taste kind of strong,’ an old man said soberly.

“My old friend Hawk Gentry, veteran White River guide, remarked that the side-hill hoofer is ‘kind of like a kangaroo, only built sideways,’ Gentry says that some of them run around the hill clockwise, the others anti-clockwise, and there’s an awful fight when the two varieties meet; they can’t easily dodge one another, for the hoofer can only move around the hill, and goes up or down by means of long gradual curves. In other words, a hoofer can run rapidly on one level, but it’s difficult for him to gain or lose altitude. These creatures sometimes attack men, although they feed only upon vegetable matter. It is easy for a man to avoid the hoofer’s attack, since he need only walk straight uphill or straight downhill for a few steps. They say that when a hoofer falls over on its side it is unable to get up, and just lies there and screams until it starves to death. Many are killed by falling off hillsides, and I have heard of a hollow in Marion County, Arkansas, which is half full of hoofer bones.

“There are old tales also of the side-hill slicker and the side-hill walloper, but I have been unable to learn much about these creatures. It may be that they are identical with the side-hill hoofer.”

Henry H. Tryon mentions a similar creature in his “Fearsome Critters”:

“We’ve had a good bit of perceptibly acrimonious discussion as to the correct vulgate name of this engaging little animal. Some Easterners say ‘Side-hill Badger,’ some Californians insist that ‘Side-hill Winder’ is correct, there are some vigorous proponents of ‘Godaphro,’ ‘Prock,’ and ‘Side-hill Wowser,’ while a few technical parties claim that ‘Gyascutus’ is the one and only. The majority, of the pleadings are in favor of the ‘Gouger,’ so We’ll stand on that.

“Always a dweller in hilly county. He has to be, since his nigh legs are shorter than the off pair. There are six to eight pups in a litter, and once in a great while some of them arrive with the relationship reversed. After being weaned, these sports are rarely seen again by their orthodox-legged, brothers and sisters. Normal Gougers must obviously, travel around the hillside, and in making their daily rounds for food they wear the characteristic, partly gouged-out paths so familiar to woodsmen. These paths were once very common in New England, but to-day they are thought to be most frequently seen in the partly forested regions of the West.

“I am indebted to Mr. Bill Ericsson of North Haven, Maine, (and various other points) for the following account of how the Gouger population migrated from New England, ‘It Seems,’ said Bill, ‘that the Gouger population was getting too thick. There warn’t enough food to go around and somebody just had to move out. A pair of these ambitious little varmints, one orthodox, one abnormal-legged, got together and decided to strike out for a new location. Of Course they could navigate on the hillsides and slopes all right; but they knew mighty well they’d bog down, on the flats, so when they struck level going they just leaned against each other with the longer legs outermost, sort of like a pair of of drunks going home from town.’ This mighty smart adaptation of a natural deformity took them well across the Central States and made it possible for them to found the Gouger Colonies now existing in the West.

“The well-known Chinese ecologist, Dr. He Hop Hi, has piled together much interesting data, on the now extinct Gouger colonies in northwestern Nebraska. There is ample evidence that many years ago the chalk bluffs in this area were populated by numerous such colonies. Careful excavations have revealed successive superposed Gouger civilizations whose arrangement closely resembles those uncovered in the ancient Greek Cities by Drs. Tsountas and Manatt. Following centuries of existence here, these animals became geared to travel solely on the south slopes where food was plentiful. But a great climafic shift took place, with the Virginian element pushing northward and limiting the accustomed food supply to the northern slopes. The Gougers migrated thence, but, while food was plentiful travel was impossible. Fossil remains prove clearly that they rolled to the bottoms of the slopes and starved.

“M. decl. var. semihirsutus
This sub-species is found only in the extremely steep hills in West Virginia and to some extent southward in the southern Appalachians. He is similar in most respects to M. declivitatis save that constant brushing of the nigh side against the steep slopes has worn the fur entirely away, leaving the hide so beautifully tanned and polished that it fetches an unbelievably high price for alligator suitcase stock. The off, or downhill side wears a thick thatch of shaggy, curly brown hair much like buffalo pelt Col. Harry S. Knight of Camp Wood, Arizona is authority for the statement that ‘a Sidehill Gouger is jest a burrowin’ buffalo, sized down and growed crooked.”

“M. decl. var. robustissimus
Another variant species, the Yamhill Lunkus, is not uncommon in Oregon. This is a far larger and more powerful animal than either of the foregoing species. It has now and then been domesticated for farm work. Mr. G. C. L. Snyder gives an interesting account of a visit to Ab Eades’ farm on Peavine Ridge where a pair had been broken to draft work, ‘The Lunki,’ says Mr. Snyder, ‘were the size of a nine months old calf, with a neck about as long as a piece of rope. The sturdy legs were normally arranged, but they could be turned about so the animals could travel just like anything in reverse.’

“Mr. Eades was clearing up a piece of land. He had four big owls (Bubo eruditus) trained to carry a rope around the top of a tree to be removed. The Lunki were yoked to this rope, and with one easy heave out would come the tree, roots and all.”

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