In the time before the beginning, pre-antediluvian and long before the winter of blue snow. Before the time of agropelters and splintercats. A creature roamed the ancient forests of the Missouri Ozarks. Its name – The Karkhagne.
In a deep valley north of Bee Fork and Grasshopper Hollow, an ancient cave was discovered in the late 1600s. Filled with bone fragments, spearpoints, and a firepit, the cavern was used as a shelter by ancient peoples. Deep within and one-half mile down, a massive pictograph was found upon a wall. The primeval drawing depicted a creature of great size with a long, whip-like tail, vestigial wings protruding from a carapace, and short, powerful legs. Its mandible was long and filled with bone-crushing teeth.
Unfortunately, the cave and drawing were lost to time and inundation. But the old stories, deciphered from generations of mythology and monosyllabic sonnets, suggest the cave once served as a hibernacula and nest for the shadowy Karkhagne.
Three centuries later, another mysterious picture was reportedly discovered scratched into the wall of an outhouse at the remains of an old Ozark lumber camp. The graffiti image was eerily similar to written descriptions in the lost journal of H. R. Schoolcraft. An analogous drawing was reportedly found on a pine board at an old sawmill decades later. Buried under twenty feet of saw dust beneath and among a few empty Old Forester bottles, this story correlates with the only known modern day account of the beast, documented in 1964 by Mr. Ed Woods, professional woodsman. Evidence suggests the illustrations described were one and the same.
So little is known about the creature, biologists have yet to assign it a proper Latin name. Perhaps a paleontologist will someday fill in the blanks from yet-to-be discovered fossilized remains dredged from the depths of a Missouri fen. Until then, all we have are ancient stories promoting embellished, exaggerated, and absurd descriptions of behavior compressed and misrepresented with other historical facts.
Evidence does strongly suggest the creature was stealthy or even shy, yet aggressive when startled. And if confronted by another carnivorous creature of equal or greater dimensions, it would retreat within its armored, shell-like exterior. It was likely one of the last oviparous creatures of great size.
In recent years, an interesting theory has arisen regarding Karkhagnes and a forest creature of the northern biomes, the Hodag. The written record of the Hodag is much more complete but not without confusion and some exceedingly minor overstatement of facts. What we know precisely is as follows.
As the preferred beast of burden for the great logging camps of the Northwoods, oxen worked tirelessly through all conditions and under all nature of teamsters. Their life was brutal and short. And when their time had passed, they were cremated, and “…seven years of continuous fire was necessary to exterminate the profanity which had accumulated in the body of the ox during his life.”
As the story goes, the Hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) was born from “the ashes…as the incarnation of the accumulation of abuse the animals had suffered at the hands of their masters.” The literature verifies the Hodag, like the Karkhagne, was also oviparous. The literature also suggests another name, Nasobatilus hystrivoratus; we cannot determine if this is a misidentification or simply another similar but different creature.
Hodag stories associated with a Mr. Eugene Shepard, naturalist and well-known prankster, have been mostly debunked, but as is often the case, grains of truth can be found in even the most ridiculous yarns. We know the creature was carnivorous but its preferred food is debatable. Some say it was beef on the hoof and others say pure white bull dogs. Most believably, its preferred food was porcupines.
By all accounts, ancient, historic, or hallucinogenic, the creature was terrifyingly ugly. A menacing horned head with bulging greenish-red eyes, massive flesh-ripping teeth, powerful claws, and dorsal spines.
Dr. Gustav Zickuhr, an evolutionary ecologist and retired braumeister from Wisconsin, postulates a genetic intermingling of the species occurred after habitat loss of a massive scale forced the last female Karkhagne to migrate north and one of the last male Hodags south, meeting somewhere near present-day Burlington, Iowa. The mating rituals of the two creatures was apparently similar enough to facilitate, but so frightening to the Karkhagne that she immediately returned to the Ozarks and laid eggs for the next 100 years. Unhatched, petrified eggs can still occasionally be found in Missouri creeks. You know them as geodes.
Various evolutionary events subsequently ensued in the following months, and a new, adaptable, albeit smaller genetically modified organism was the result – the twelve banded armadillo. Precocial at birth this new species immediately spread throughout the southern United States, and gradually, over many centuries, morphed into the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus).
Today, warming temperatures due to global climate change is now causing a manifestation of latent genetic memory passed on from the Hodag lineage. Subsequently, armadillos have begun their trek north, and using available tracking data, it is projected they will arrive in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin on Friday, April 26, 2047.
Some members of the scientific community remain skeptical of this theory, choosing to believe both the Karkhagne and Hodag simply fell off the edge of the earth. But Dr. Zickuhr, hoping to prove his revolutionary, evolutionary hypothesis, continues research in his basement laboratory at the brewery in Potosi, Wisconsin. Most recently, the esteemed doctor analyzed genetic material from the charred remains of an immature Hodag, captured and killed after goring a freshman forestry student to death in 1905. To date the results are inconclusive, but the Cave Ale Amber is highly recommended. Further research is needed, however.
Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. 1910. William T. Cox. Press of Judd & Detweiler, Inc.
The Hodag and Other Tales of the Logging Camps. 1928. Lake Shore Kearney. Democrat Printing Company. Madison, Wisconsin.
Fearsome Critters. 1939. Henry H. Tryon. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.
Missouri Log. 1964. Volume XVII. School of Forestry, University of Missouri. The Karkhagne by Ed Woods, Forester, Pioneer Forests, Inc.
Originally Published, CFM, July 1, 2022