Monday, March 10, 2014

#94 The Wild Man of Ocheesee Pond (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Who or what was the Wild Man?
The mysterious Ocheesee Pond Wild Man is #94 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida. Click here to see previous items on the list.

If you aren't familiar with the story, the "Wild Man" was a mysterious creature captured at Ocheesee Pond south of Sneads and Grand Ridge in 1884. Some believe the incident may be one of the best documented cases ever of the capture of a Bigfoot or Sasquatch (often called the Skunk Ape in Florida).

The story of a strange hair-covered creature being captured in the swamps of Ocheesee Pond has long been part of the folklore of southeastern Jackson County, but while researching a different topic a few years ago I was surprised to find that the incident was documented at the time it took place.

Ocheesee Pond in Jackson County, Florida
The Wild Man had been causing trouble around Ocheesee Pond by making off with chickens, garden vegetables and other items from the farms that lined the borders of the vast swamp. Reconstruction had ended only eight years before and times were still hard for families in the area, so the men gathered together and decided to go after the creature. They cornered and captured him in the swamp.

Stories of the Wild Man's capture appeared in newspapers including The New York Times:
Steamboat Amos Hays at Chattahoochee in 1884.

News brought by the steamer Amos Hays from Lower River is to the effect that the wild man captured in Ocheecee Swamp, near Chattahoochee, and carried to Tallahassee, did not belong to a Florida asylum, and that all inquiry proved unavailing to identify him. He had been swimming in Ocheecee Lake, from island to island, and when taken was entirely destitute of clothing, emaciated, and covered with a phenomenal growth of hair. - The New York Times, August 1884.

The Amos Hays was a paddlewheel steamboat that carried passengers and commerce up and down the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. It was at the Chattahoochee wharf when the Wild Man was brought up by the men who had captured him.

Administration Building at Florida State Hospital
Today's Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee was then the State Asylum and it was thought by his captors that the raving creature was an escaped patient. He was not. In fact, he had not escaped from any mental institution in the country!

All that could ever be determined about him was that he was covered with hair, could not speak in any known language and had survived by "living on berries, &c."

The Wild Man was taken to Tallahassee where efforts to identify him continued through telegrams sent to state capitals throughout the nation. No information on his background could be found.  Baffled, state officials sent him back to the State Asylum in Chattahoochee.

Swamps of Ocheesee Pond
There, for now at least, he disappears from the record. The big question remains as to whether he was a man or something else. Perhaps somewhere deep in the records of the Florida State Hospital will be found the answer to that mystery. Was he just an unfortunate man suffering from a severe mental illness who had lived so long in the woods in a state of nakedness that he grew his "phenomenal growth of hair"? Was he an escaped ape, something that most of the people in Florida would have never seen at that time? Or was he a Bigfoot?

And then of course, there is the question of what finally happened to him?  If he was a man, did he recover enough to eventually go to his home? Or does the Wild Man rest in a grave in one of the State Hospital cemeteries in Chattahoochee? And if so, does that grave contain evidence that would answer the mystery of Bigfoot once and for all?

It is a true mystery and a fascinating part of Jackson County history and folklore.  To read more about the Ocheesee Pond Wild Man, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ocheeseewildman.

2 comments:

Drew Peacock said...

Reminds me of the antagonist from one of Carl Hiasen's novels. He went by the Governor.

Anonymous said...

Could be a stump jumper