Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
This is the last in a series of excerpts from the new on-line Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, by senior editor Nathania Sawyer.
Tucked between entries on Arkansas’s governors, Civil War Battles, counties and towns, artists and entertainers, and so on, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture also includes entries on some pretty amazing animals — both real and imagined. Some belong in the science category and others in science fiction. For example:
• Big Arkie: A 13-foot alligator found near Hope in 1952, he was a major attraction at the Little Rock Zoo. At the time of his death in 1970, he was believed to be the largest captive alligator in the western hemisphere. Today, his preserved body resides on top of a set of bookcases at Arkansas State University
• Fouke Monster: This Bigfoot-style monster allegedly resides in Miller County and sightings have been reported since the 1940s. The Legend of Boggy Creek and two subsequent Fouke monster movies made him a pop-culture icon. One of the movies was bad enough to be featured on the satirical series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
• White River Monster: In 1973, the Arkansas legislature created the White River Monster Refuge along the White River to “protect” the area’s pet monster. First sighted in 1915, this monster had a spate of sightings in the early 1970s when someone reported seeing a gray creature with a horn protruding from its forehead. Subsequent witnesses described a spiny-backed creature that was 20 feet long. When a trail of three-toed, 14-inch prints was found in the White River area, it was assumed that the tracks were Whitey’s, as the creature is affectionately known.
• Rufus and Casey: These two were among the many trained animals at the I.Q. Zoo in Hot Springs. Rufus was a basketball-playing raccoon who would “shoot” baskets and wait until he completed four shots to seek his treat. Casey the chicken would peck at a small baseball bat to “hit a home run” in a small controlled baseball field. After getting a hit, Casey would round the bases in the correct order and receive an edible reward. The highly entertaining animals were the public demonstration of the training techniques used by owners Marian and Keller Breland, two pioneers of animal behavioral training.
• Ivory-billed woodpecker: The jury’s still out on whether this bird belongs in the fact or fiction category. All we know for sure is that the alleged sighting of this bird brought national attention to the state, and that one ornithologist likened the sighting to finding Elvis alive.
On the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture website (www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net), you can learn more about these creatures, as well as things like Arkansaurus fridayi (our own dinosaur), the distribution of tarantulas in our state, and our state’s endangered, threatened, and rare species.
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