Have you ever seen a creature you can’t explain — something that shouldn’t exist but made your blood run cold and every hair on your body stand straight up?
You’re not alone.
Long before and ever since the first European settlers set foot in Indiana, there have been reports of strange encounters with beasties in the state’s lakes and forests. These creatures are known as cryptids, or animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.
Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, the Monster of Scotland’s Loch Ness and the Chupacabra of the southern United States and Central America are among the globe’s most famous cryptids.
The Hoosier State’s cryptid creatures may not be as well-known as their headline-grabbing cousins, but the stories surrounding them are just as terrifying.
Here’s a spine-tingling look at the cryptids of Indiana:
While most Bigfoot reports come out of the country’s northwest corner, Indiana isn’t immune from stories of encounters with large, hairy humanoid creatures.
A Dec. 30, 1839, article in a Pennsylvania newspaper tells of a 4-foot-tall “wild child” covered in light brown hair running among the hills in Michigan City, Indiana. Another wild child was sought by a posse of 300 in June of 1860 in Carroll County. And, in 1937, an animal described as a “monster hairy ape,” “giant sloth” and “cross between a sloth and ape” was believed to be stalking the Booneville area.
Modern-day reports persist, especially in the areas near Crosley State Fish and Wildlife Area, where visitors to the woods report seeing the “Crosley Monster,” an 8-foot-tall, hairy bipedal creature whose hideous howls will stop you in your tracks.
Indiana is without an oceanic coastline, making it quite a stretch that Hoosiers would see a mermaid, the beautiful (or hideous, depending on the teller of the tale) half-human, half-fish cryptids of the sea.
But in 1894, two Ohio newspapers reported sightings of the creature on the Ohio River near Vevay, Indiana. These “mud mermaids” had apparently taken up residence on a sand bar in the river. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the creatures were purported to be “about five feet in length” with a “yellowish” color and “the extremities resemble hands and are webbed and furnished with sharp claws.” The mermaid was devoid of hair but had ears that were “sharp-pointed and stand up like those of a dog.”
Apparently, Indiana has a Loch Ness monster of its own, with reports dating far back in the traditions of the Native Americans that inhabited the lands near Rochester. An August 1838 article in the Logansport Telegraph describes a monster, known to the Potawatomi as the Meshekenabek, in Lake Manitou, that was estimated to be 60 feet long with a noggin shaped like a cow’s head about 3 feet across and a “dingy” color with bright yellow spots. There was apparently a “well-known tradition of the Indians respecting the Monster in ‘Devil’s Lake.’”
Beast of Busco
Oscar is definitely the most famous of Indiana’s cryptids. The “Beast of Busco” is said to be a giant turtle with a shell as big as a dining room table that inhabits a lake near Churubusco, Indiana. First spotted by the owner in 1898, Oscar’s popularity really picked up steam when it was spotted by two fishermen in 1948. His “discovery” led to an all-out effort to capture the monster, but several attempts, including draining most of the lake, came up empty-handed. The town, however, has turned the story into tourism, dubbing itself “Turtle Town USA” and celebrating its cryptid each year with the Turtle Days festival.
In 1955, two women swimming in the Ohio River near Evansville reported a terrifying incident involving an unknown creature. One of them was floating on a raft when a green, hairy clawed hand grabbed her leg, pulling her underwater. She escaped but a green handprint reportedly remained on her leg for days. The fact this incident occurred shortly after the release of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is surely pure coincidence.
Mill Race Monster
Two reports of this cryptid came in on the same day — Nov. 1, 1974. Four women said they encountered a green, hairy and large monster in the park about 3 p.m. At 11:45 p.m., two other women reported a similar beast jumped on the hood of their car, leaving “scratch marks in the paint.”
Don’t go near the graveyard west of Oxford, Indiana. A monstrous snake 15 feet long and “as large in circumference as a good-sized stovepipe, with eyes of fire, adorned with horns underneath fully 10 inches long,” lurks among the graves, according to a September 1889 report in the Lafayette Courier. The snake was said to feed on the corpses in the cemetery.
No Hoosier cryptid list would be complete without Madison County’s own mysterious critters. Tales of these tiny troll-like creatures date far back into Native American folklore. The local variety, standing 2 to 3 feet tall with rounded white faces and dull blond hair, are said to inhabit Mounds State Park in the areas near the White River. With magical powers and a penchant for playing tricks, the “little wild men of the forest” were believed to be mostly peaceful and even participated in trade with the local indigenous communities. On Sunday at 10 a.m., the park will host a Puk-Wud-Jie exploration. Just remember to bring peanut butter cookies to lure the creatures out.