Day 87: Monsters of the Ozarks: The Baldknob Buzzard and the Giasticutus


Vance Randolph also has recorded tales of giant birds in the Ozarks. One in particular is the Baldknob Buzzard:

“Another of these side-hill stories concerns the baldknob buzzard, an enormous vulture which they say was formerly common in White County, Arkansas. The man who told me about this is a resident of St. Louis, but he had heard the tale from his grandfather who lived near Bald Knob, Arkansas. The bird was much larger than the turkey-buzzard or the black vulture, and must have been something like the condor of the California mountains. But the outstanding peculiarity of the baldknob buzzard is that it had only one functioning wing, the other being rudimentary. Because of this disability, the bird was always a little out of balance, and could fly in one direction only. It always circled the hilltops from left to right. ‘Do you suppose your grandfather really believed all that about the baldknob buzzard?’ I asked. My informant looked a bit shocked. ‘Believe that stuff? Of course not! It was just one of those old stories. But he always acted as if he believed it. That was part of the joke, you see.’”

There’s a well-known spot out near Bald Knob that’s still called Buzzard Roost Mountain because supposedly there are hundreds of buzzards that roost in that spot throughout the year. I’m not sure if this is related to the creation of the tale of the baldknob buzzard but it would make sense that there’s a connection.

Another monstrous bird is the famed Giasticutus of Missouri:

“Over at West Plains, Missouri, there used to be a story about a very large bird, known as the giasticutus. Some of the old settlers said it was the invention of a parcel of jokers in St. Louis, others thought that Mark Twain had something to do with it. One man told me that it all began in an ancedote related by Eugene Field, when he was very drunk one night in the Planters’ Hotel. Whatever its origin, there is no doubt that some country folk believed the tale. A few years ago there were men and women still alive who claimed to have seen the monster, which had a wingspread of about fifty feet. It was a bird of prey, like a prodigious chicken-hawk, with a great boat-like beak and a habit of carrying off full-grown cattle.

“A man in Chicago wrote me at length about his experience with the giasticutusin Christian County, Missouri. He says he used to be a college professor in Missouri, and repeats the story of a man named Moorhouse who lived at Windy City, somewhere near Sparta, Missouri. Walking in his pasture one Sunday, Moorhouse found a black feather fourteen feet long, with a quill as thick as a man’s leg. The professor declares that he has ‘seen and hefted’ this feather, which is now fastened with baling-wire to the rafters of a certain hay-barn near Highlandville, Missouri. I used to know some people in that neighborhood, and I asked several farmers about the tale. But not one of them had ever heard of the giasticutus, or the man named Moorhouse, or the fourteen-foot feather.

“A few giasticuti have been reported from Greene County, Missouri, but they were comparatively small. Floyd A. Yates, in a pamphlet called Chimney Corner Chats, published at Springfield in 1944, tells of a hawk twenty-four feet from tip to tip, which carried off a yearling calf. A pretty big bird, all right, but less than half the size of the giasticutus of Howell County. A yearling calf is quite a load, but a 1600-pound Harlan bull is something else again.

“I have not heard the giasticutus story from the windy spinners in Carroll County, Arkansas, but have reason to believe that such tales are still current here. In 1946 a newspaperman from New Jersey came to see me in Eureka Springs, and asked if it were true that some chicken-hawks in this vicinity have a wingspread of sixteen feet. He said he had heard two farmers discussing such a bird, at a wagon yard near his hotel. I suggested that the story was probably told for his benefit, but the poor fellow didn’t think so. ‘Those chaps never even glanced at me,’ he said earnestly. ‘They were talking among themselves, all about crops and the like.’ Finally I said flatly that there are no sixteen-foot hawks anywhere in the world, and let it go at that. The man thanked me and went his way, but I’m afraid he was still inclined to believe the whopper he had ‘overheard’ in the wagon-yard.”

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