The Ozarks is home to a large, mysterious, creature that is said by some to resemble a shaggy, grotesque panther.
The Ozark Howler is usually described as being black, having stout legs, thick body, powerful shoulders, and sleek, muscular body. It is said to have a short tail, sometimes described as having rings like a raccoon’s tail, but fainter. It is sometimes said to have long, pointy ears resembling a lynx. Skeptics believe it has many lynx-like features including a split-beard that may be mistaken for teeth, but some witnesses insist that they saw thick, saber-teeth or “tusks.” Because of these features, some believe the Ozark howler to be a lynx, a very large bobcat, or perhaps a mountain lion – sometimes referred to a catamount (short for “cat of the mountains”).
However, full-grown Ozark Howlers are said to be several times larger than a typical mountain lion and are nearly always referred to as panthers. The Ozark Howler is known for making a variety of strange sounds resembling the full repertoire of a typical panther. It is apparently migratory, but at certain times of the year it will settle in an area and is territorial. It leaves territory marking signs such as claw raking on trees, prey remains, large catlike teeth marks, and, rarely, tracks. The remains of its prey can be found hidden high in trees, under brambles, between rocks, or in caves.
Because of its description, signs, and behavior resemble a panther, many believe that the Ozark Howler is simply a huge, unidentified panther, or perhaps a living, ancient relic American cat from the fossil records. But unlike a panther, its screams and howls can be heard from miles away. There are reports of it being able to walk bipedally over a short distance, and because it naturally carries its head low to the ground, there are some reports of them being “headless.” It is sometimes said to have bushy fur and a slight snout. Because of their very stealthy nature, stout form with large muscles, and their build roughly resembling a canine, it is believed by some that they are mistaken for mythical Cù Sìth. This may be the origin of some headless ghost dog sightings or hellhounds in the Missouri Ozarks.
It seems irrational to try to explain a mystery with fairytale stories of ghosts and phantoms from across the ocean, but in the same areas that the Ozark Howlers are sighted, there were stories of large, black, shaggy, headless, phantom dogs, some the size of bulls. Yet their behavior was more like a stalking large cat or panther.
Because of its terrible screams, and the fact that Howler is rarely seen outside the Ozarks forest regions, the creature was dubbed the “Ozark Howler” or the “Ozark Black Howler.” Other names might include: Wowzer, Wampus Cat, Booger Dog, Booger Cat, Bearcat, Catamount (not referring to cougars or mountain lions), Whatisit, Phantom Cat, and of course, black panther (sometimes, rarely, referring to legendary panthers). Other similar legendary creatures might include: Hidebehind, True Tiger/Real Lynx, Underwater Panther. Interestingly enough the hoax sightings often describe a creature with horns or antlers that resembles the Underwater Panther of Native American Indian myths and legends.
It is also interesting to note that historical accounts mention feral cats, wildcats, lynxes, bobcats, mountain lions (cougars, pumas), as being separate from panthers. Many stories confuse panthers with regular panthers, melanistic mountain lions, or jaguars. More than one story includes a panther being killed and being put on display because no one had seen one before, yet they all knew what a mountain lion was.
Laura Ingalls Wilder of the Little House on the Prairie books (specifically Little House in the Big Woods) tells a story of her grandfather, riding a horse as fast as he could, being chased by a large, black panther which “leaped from treetop to treetop, almost overhead.”
Hoaxes and Frauds
The Ozark Howler was labeled a fraud by some researchers based on one modern-day hoaxer. But these same researchers believe that Bigfoot is real, even though Bigfoot/Sasquatch has a great many hoaxers.
Loren Coleman, a famous and respected cryptid researcher, said, “Specifically I’ve never seen a cryptid when I’ve gone looking for a cryptid, even though I’ve been on expeditions for 50 years. I’ve found many tracks, I’ve heard many screeches and unknown sounds, I’ve interviewed hundreds of witnesses. In 1972, I saw a black panther in southern Illinois when I was in a car coming from work (unrelated to cryptozoology) and none of the people in the car would turn the car around. So I was put in the situation of being an eyewitness where I could not go and further investigate the black panther report.” The Ozarks region does extend into southern Illinois. So is it possible the only cryptid Loren Coleman ever saw might have been the Ozark Howler?