Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Felt like you weren’t alone while walking in the woods? Heard a sound unlike anything beast or man?
Cryptids are animals or creatures caught somewhere between folklore and fact. Secretive and mysterious beings whose existence hasn’t been proven, but whose continued sightings and devoted believers make it impossible to completely count them out.
Bigfoot, the Mothman, the Loch Ness Monster: Tales of unexplainable creatures have permeated into every patch of soil humanity has ever stood on. Hidden in the woods and swamps of Indiana live a host of Hoosier tales about creatures both bizarre… and frightening.
Here are but a few of the cryptids said to be haunting the shadowy corners of the Hoosier state, watching and hiding, waiting to be discovered. Will it be by you?
On Sept. 5, 1891, at 2 a.m. in the morning, two ice men looked into the dark sky above Crawfordsville and saw a horrible apparition that filled them with dread.
Flying across the sky, moving in a way that defied all logic, was a white, shapeless specter said to be 18 feet long and eight feet wide which resembled a great white shroud with no body or head — just a great flaming eye.
Witnesses said the strange, awe-inspiring creature flapped like a flag in the wind and swept slowly and majestically in the sky. The ice men watched the specter hover hundreds of feet up in the sky until nearly 3 a.m. when they at last retreated.
The men later told the newspaper that come tomorrow they’d be carrying a Springfield rifle to the ice barn and “if the apparition again comes flapping around they will drill a hole in him with an ounce of cold lead.”
A pastor of the First Methodist Church also claimed to have seen the specter while retrieving water from the well. The pastor told a newspaper that he woke his wife and together they gawk as the apparition “swam through the air in a writhing, twisting manner similar to the glide of some serpents.”
Lake Manitou Serpent
Legend says that the Potawatomi dared not go on the still waters of Lake Manitou, located near Rochester. The natives called it “Lake Man-i-toe,” or the Devil’s Lake, and believed an evil spirit lived within the crystal waters and dared not fish, bathe or even canoe upon the water’s surface.
Stories told in the 1830s claimed the lake to be near bottomless. That lines 40 fathoms long were sunk into the lake in attempts to measure the murky depths, but no end was found.
But deep though the lake was fabled to be, it was not empty. In 1838, the Logansport Telegraph reported that two men claimed to have spotted a monster “sixty feet long, and looked like a huge snake.” A blacksmith also spotted the great serpent that lived beneath the mirrored surface of the lake. He said the beast had a head like that of a horse and said there were large yellow spots on the creature’s gray-black skin.
The monster was given the name Meshekenabek by the natives, which translates to “Great Serpent.” Local legends over the decades also gave the lake monster another name — “the Devil’s Lake Monster.”
Have you ever hiked through the forest, unable to shake the feeling that something was watching you? That no matter how hard you looked, something was there, hiding just out of sight?
Indigenous people told tales of small creatures called Pukwudgies — or Puk-Wud-Jie — who lived in the forests of Indiana. These mischievous, secretive and diminutive people are said to be goblin-like and stand no taller than three feet.
At Mound State Park, in Anderson, some claim to have encountered these curious, yet mostly harmless folk. In 1927, an amateur archeologist claimed to have spotted a “little man” with dull blonde hair that covered his head like a helmet.
Another Anderson woman also told tale of her own encounter with the Pukwudgies, saying she recalled playing along in the park as a child when a group of little, curious people approached her. She said the creatures spoke in high-pitched voices in a language she could not understand.
Most native legends say Pukwudgies are good-natured, but do enjoy playing tricks on people. So next time you’re in the forest and an acorn drops on your head…. listen closely to hear if there is any laughter.
Pike County Monster
“I never actually saw the thing myself. But I heard it scream. Sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Kind o’ like a woman screaming; And later when I went out fer water I seen where it had been, out at the pond drinking, left big prints in the mud.”
In the early 1970s, several reports were made about a figure said to be 12 feet tall and half-man, half-ape who left footprints twice the size of any living human.
A 93-year-old Petersburg resident shared his encounter with the creature to an Indiana University student in 1973. The student reported speaking to several folks in Pike County who shared similar stories of a large, hairy creature who came and went over the years. Some said the creature had glowing eyes and would send hounds into barking fits.
Courier & Press reported a group of armed teenagers who went in search of the monster, but even had they found it, it likely would have eluded them. According to an official report made by Indiana State Police in 1970, locals claimed the 10-foot tall, hair-covered creature could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Beast of Busco
The small town of Churubusco, Indiana, made national headlines in 1949 after reports spread far and wide of a monstrous 500-pound snapping turtle living in the waters of Lake Fulk. A turtle as big as a car.
Reporters and lookie-loos descended on Churubusco in search of the legendary turtle, cars jamming up city streets and planes flying overhead. Divers dredged through the muck of Lake Fulk and lines, hooks, and nets tried in vain to snare the beast.
Gale Harris, who owned Lake Fulk, is said to have become so obsessed with catching the beast that he even went as far as attempting to drain the lake.
While the fabled beast was bestowed the name “the Beast of Busco,” the townfolk christened the creature with another, more friendly monicker, “Oscar.” Take a trip to Churubusco now and Oscar isn’t hard to find. He’s on signs that greet visitors who drive into town and is the star of the annual Turtle Days summer festival.
Churubusco even calls itself “Turtle Town U.S.A.”
Cable Line Monster
There once was a tree south of Elkhart that had a face like that a of man. Only whatever dwelled in that tree was not beast nor man. Whether it be a monster or a ghost, the locals cannot say. But the tale they do tell is one of an unsettling entity that shakes and rattles passing cars. Of a sight so frightful it causes passing drivers to crash.
In “More Haunted Hoosier Trails: Folklore from Indiana’s Spookiest Places,” author Wanda Lou Willis spins the spine-chilling tale of a tree haunted by a spirit. Willis says the tree once sat near Jamestown (Jimtown) just southwest of Elkhart but was cut down after the tree became diseased.
In one version of the tale, drivers traveling down Cable Line Road (County Road 26) would sometimes see a dismembered head floating above the road in search of its body, which was captured by the tree after a deadly crash.
In another version, the monster on Cable Line Road would pop out and spook passing drivers so bad they’d crash. Legend tells of one driver flying into the tree where his face was forever imprinted into the bark of the tree, sometimes visible in the passing headlights of future travelers who dared drive down Cable Line Road on moonless nights.
Mill Race Monster
Imagine the terror of seeing a large, green, hairy beast leap onto the hood of your car late at night, its claws leaving scratches in the paint and the very air left smelling foul and putrid long after the beast is gone.
This might sound like a horror story told around a campfire, but it was in fact a story told to Columbus police by several young women in November of 1971. The Mill Race Monster, also referred to in newspapers during this time as the “Green Monster,” was spotted by several different folks in Mill Race Park, including two men who claimed it chased them out of the park.
As late as 2015, one of the monster’s near victims continued to stand by the story of her frightening encounter.
“We thought we were going to die,” Tyra Cataline recounted 41 years after the attack. “It was the most horrible thing you ever looked at. Its face was all slimy and everything.”
The hysteria caused by the monster sighting in 1971 led to officials closing Mill Race Park after throngs of would-be monster hunters descended upon the park armed with knives and clubs. Officials said the closure was for safety reasons, fearing potential pranksters could be hurt by the mob. Though perhaps the closure was really to keep the monster from claiming any new victims…
Want even more Hoosier cryptids?
These are but some of the numerous local legends and tales that are seeped into the history of Indiana. Dig deep enough and one can uncover that hidden in the dark corners of even the smallest towns, there is always a story without explanation.
To read even more tales about Indiana’s most secretive residents, grab a copy of “Indiana Cryptids: Mysterious Monsters in the Hoosier State” by Les O’Dell and Mark Randall. “Indiana Cryptids” features unique artwork by Fishers artist Mark Randall, some of which was showcased in this article. In “Indiana Cryptids,” Randall created 20 illustrations of some of the different cryptids who might be found sulking about the Hoosier state.
Those who want to represent their love of Hoosier cryptids can do so in style with this Indiana monsters shirt from Black Dog Printing of Richmond, featuring several Hoosier cryptids.
Rather listen to a few spooky tales while out on a walk or a moonlit drive? Try out the Hoosier Myths and Legends podcast on Apple Podcasts.
Whether you believe or want to believe, all it takes is a little imagination and an open mind to see that there is more than corn waiting under the Hoosier moonlight.