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Fearsome critters was a collective term coined in early American lumberjack folklore for a variety of strange or frightening imaginary beasts which were said to inhabit the timberwoods of the United States and Canada.


Most of the fearsome critter were invented as explanations for the difficulties and dangers that were a part of the desolate environment of the 19th-century lumberjack community. Some were, of course, invented as sheer entertainment in "tall tales" and were used for teasing newcomers and gullible cityfolk. The creatures ranged from humorous animals, birds, reptiles, and insects to bizarre chimeras of terrifying description. Frequently the creature's name indicates some aspect of its behavior, such as the Come-At-A-Body or the Hidebehind; in other instances the name is derived from an older word such as the Fibbertigibbet (a witch's familiar's name) or Harpy-Hag (a monster of English folklore). Fearsome critter stories have been collected by history, folklore and backwoods enthusiasts.

Some of the fearsome critters, such as the Hidebehind, were derived from Algonquian legends. A few turned out to be based on descriptions of actual creatures: the Glutton, for example, is now recognized as a description of the wolverine, while the Fisher-Cat was a description of a type of marten. (In some rural areas the term, now often shortened to "fisher", is still used in reference to martens.)

List of fearsome critters



  • Argopelter - A beast which amuses itself by hurling twigs and tree branches at passers by.
  • Leprocaun - North American variety of the Irish creature, since become extinct in its native land.


  • Axehandle hound- reputedly subsisted on axe handles left unattended; mentioned in Jorge Luis Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings.
  • Cactus cat - A feline of the American southwest with hair like thorns that intoxicates itself by the consumption of cactus water.
  • Glawackus - A fierce brute resembling either a panther, lion, or bear.
  • Hodag - A favorite varmint of the Wisconsin swamps affixed with horns and spikes complimented by a maniacal grin.
  • Jackalope - A rabbit with the horns of an antelope.
  • Sidehill Gouger - A beast legged for hillsides having legs on one side longer than the other thus always traveling in a circular path. Comparable beasts included the Rackabore, Gyascutus, Sidewinder, Hunkus, Rickaboo Racker, Prock Gwinter, Cutter Cuss.
  • Splintercat - A legendary cat that uses its incredible speed and rigid forehead to demolishes the whole lot of which comes in its way.
  • Squonk - The most melancholy of creatures which because of its deformed countenance refuses contact with all life and will dissolve in tears if ever gazed upon.
  • Teakettler - A small varmint which makes a noise like the sound of a tea kettle.
  • Wampus cat - A half-woman, half-cat, who supposedly haunts the forests of East Tennessee.
  • Whangdoodle


  • Hidebehind - A brute which it would seize unwary lumberjacks and devour them, it was said to be so fast that it could hide behind the nearest tree before a man turned around. May be related to the wendigo
  • Snipe - A famous ruse of many a camp comprising of a wild goose chase for the false beast.



  • Hoop snake - A serpent which bites its tail to enable it to roll like a wheel.
  • Joint snake- A serpent that can reassemble itself after being cut to pieces.


  • Cox, William T. with Latin Classifications by George B. Sudworth. Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods. (Washington, D.C.: Judd & Detweiler Inc., 1910
  • Boatright, Mody C. Tall Tales from Texas Cow Camps. (Dallas: The Southwest Press, 1934)
  • Botkin, B.A. (Ed.) A Treasury of American Folklore. (New York: Crown Publishers, 1955), The American People: Stories, Legends, Tales, Traditions and Songs. (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1977)
  • Davidson, Levette Jay & Forrester Blake (eds.). Rocky Mountain Tales. (Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947)
  • Leach, Maria (ed.) Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)
  • MacDougall, Curtis D. Hoaxes. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1958)
  • Tryon, Henry Harrington. Fearsome Critters. (Idlewild Press, 1939)
  • Cohen, Daniel. Monsters, Giants, and Little Men from Mars: An Unnatural History of the Americas. (New York: Doubleday, 1975)

See also