Goatman (see Part 1) was not Texas’s first wild man. Not by a long shot. Encounters with “wild” men enlivened the pages of many a newspaper in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here is a roundup of Texas wild men long before Goatman’s summer of celebrity.
This sampling of news reports of encounters with wild men reveals that your typical wild man of a century ago had long, shaggy hair and beard, a lot of body hair, was naked or dressed in tattered clothing, prone to screaming or yelling, and more inclined to flee than to fight. (Sound like your ex?) Some of these reports no doubt were hoaxes. And of the bona fide encounters, no doubt beneath the hair and hysterics, most of these “wild men” were fugitives from the law or from society or had mental health problems or were intoxicated or wanted just to scare the pantaloons off folks.
An example of a fugitive from society was Jack, the hermit of Elm Hollow. In 1899 the Dallas Morning News printed a feature about Jack.
Elm Hollow, southwest of Cleburne on the Brazos River, is located between Opossum Hollow and Owl Hollow.
Jack, Elm Hollow’s resident hermit, was described as being “quite tall, of angular build, his hair perfectly white and matted, while his beard came down almost to his knees. His clothing was old and ragged, and he wore a pair of old leather leggings such as cowboys are wont to wear.”
The newspaper quoted a man who had talked with Jack before Jack became monosyllabic. Jack was born “in the morning” of the nineteenth century in Norway. Wounded by love as a young man, Jack had come to America. He claimed to have been wounded at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and to have accompanied John C. Fremont on the latter’s exploratory expeditions in the American West in the 1840s and 1850s.
“After the war was over,” Jack was reported to have recalled, “I came here and in these caverns and caves I’ve lived all these years, never willingly looking on the face of a woman and seldom on that of man.”
It should come as no surprise that the area that gave us Hippie Hollow had given us sixty years earlier a hirsute wild man: an “eight-foot, hair-covered human monster.” In 1902 the Fort Worth Register reported that the wild man “showed fight, and flourished a large club, and uttering a series of yells, started to attack” a party of young people near Mount Bonnell and Bee Cave in the hills west of Austin. The “terrifying monstrosity” was said to walk about on feet measuring twenty-two by seven inches.
But, alas, after the 1920s wild men seemed to fall out of the news. Perhaps they had seen their entire savings of nuts and berries wiped out in the Great Depression and had to take jobs as baggage handlers or valet parking attendants.
Ah, but then came the summer of 1969 . . .