Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (November 2006, No. 4)

Wahhoo, it's a Whoahaw!

Craig Heinselman

“…He rose from his bed and, putting on an additional garment, he stepped forth into the rheumy and unpurged air of midnight. The moon was shining from a cloudless sky, and by its bright beams he saw what at first sight seemed a large bull dog. The animal stopped in its walk, and turned two brilliant, fiery eyes upon Mr. Adams. They glowed with an unnatural brightness; looking more like hot coals than visual organs. He noticed too, that its 'snoot' was very long, like a pig’s; and its tail if surprising length, stuck straight out behind. Mr. Adams clearly saw that, whatever his strange visitor might be, it was no bulldog. After looking at him steadily for over a minute, the beast slowly retreated to the fence, which it climbed by means of its claws, after the manner of a cat. Perched upon the top of the fence, the creature sat, and resumed its survey of the astonished German…” (Reno Evening Gazette, September 2, 1879)

 

In August and September of 1879 a series of events occurred in Nevada, around the Deeth and Halleck areas. These events, reported in the Reno paper’s Reno Evening Gazette and The Weekly Reno Gazette, surrounded the strange reports of an animal, or creature, called the Whoahaw or more commonly the Wahhoo.

Perhaps the first to bring forth the story of the Wahhoo was Richard and H.R. Smith. During August of 1879 the two brothers were hunting in the Deeth and Halleck areas of Nevada, when they were told stories by local ranchmen of an animal that was supposed to be “…a cross between the grizzly bear and the coyote… this hybrid display the courage and ferocity of the grizzly joined to the cunning and treachery of the coyote…” While the brothers did not see this animal, as “... he has never been distinctly seen, but some of the ranchers, have caught glimpses of him prowling about the darkness…”.  While the brothers did not see this animal, they did report hearing a cry one night:

“… they heard far off an echoing sound like “whoa—haw,” which the ranchmen said was the cry of the monster, and from which they gave him his name…”

A classic story of the west, one that has bee reported previously and in connection to Bigfoot and other “Wildman” type reports (see Scott Maruna's BioFort blog). But, this is not the only report from that area, and the saga of the Whoahaw continues with further descriptions and reports into 1879.

The chronicle continues, with the manicure of WHOAHAW changing to WAHHOO, with the account of a German named A.A. Adams. Mr. Adams, reported to be “… not superstitious, and never clouds his mind with ardent spirits. His temperament us if the phlegmatic rather than the nervous kind...," recounted his sighting of a Wahhoo in the opening of this article herein. Mr. Adams does have some additional observations that are important, and later create some unusual complications—these include hearing a four-footed animal, as well as it claws on the boards outside his residence and the animal also having a long slender neck. A later article from September if the same year though claims that what Mr. Adams saw was actually a skunk!

Wahhoo fever was spreading it seems. An odd animal was seen by two gentlemen near Penvine in September. It was reported to be “… not unlike a coyote but larger, yet too small for a bear. It was running on the side of a hill with wonderful speed…” As the fever spreads so do the stories and extrapolations of unusual attributes of superstitions, from a sudden cold arising to loading of guns to shoot “spectres” (this is the loading of shot into a gun, followed by powder, the inverse of the standard loading methods).

But, what is the Wahhoo? Is it a misidentification, a spectre of the night, an unusual animal, or something else? We know, the following information from the Smith brothers, Mr. Adams (assuming what Mr. Adams reported was not a skunk), and the two men near Penvine:

“… the beast has been known to carry off a horse. Cattle and sheep are often borne away by the monster. Mules he never attacks…” – Smith brothers account

“… they heard far off an echoing sound like “whoa—haw,” which the ranchmen said was the cry of the monster, and from which they gave him his name…” – Smith brothers account

“… its eyes glaring at him like the red lights of a railway train…” – A.A. Adams account

“…it had a long, slender neck…” – A.A. Adams account

“… its “snoot” was very long, like a pig’s; and its tail of surprising length, stuck straight out behind…” – A.A. Adams account

“… the beast slowly retreated to the fence, which it climbed by means of its claws, after the manner of a cat…” – A.A. Adams account

“…The creature was not unlike a coyote but larger, yet too small for a bear…”  – Penvine account

These accounts and descriptions do not give a lot of detail, nor do they definitively correlate to any one animal. Red eyes can be an indication of “eye shine,” common in many nocturnal animals. The size of the animal is also unclear. We know from the Penvine account it is larger than a coyote, smaller than a bear, but we also have it (if it is the same animal) sitting on Mr. Adam’s fence. The length of the tail Mr. Adams recounts cannot be correlated either, as the body size is unknown. We are left then to speculate, as it appears that the animal or animals seen are different, but assigned the same monikers. What happens next further complicates the scenario of an unusual animal.

According to an entry in the September 12, 1879, issue of the Reno Evening Gazette, the animal known as the Wahhoo, Wahoo or Whoahaw, is described by those around the town of Deeth as follows, based on examination of killed specimens:

“… The legs are short, and the paws very large proportionally, furnished with strong projecting claws of great length. This formation enables the creature to dig with ease and rapidity. The body is long and slender, the tail of medium length and usually curved over the back, the neck short, the head broad, and the jaws provided with formidable teeth. The skin is covered with long, fine hair. Its prevailing color is black, spotted with white. In weight it varies from fifty to seventy five pounds. The creature is larger than a coyote, and in appearance, when seen at a distance, not unlike a large dog… found that the left legs of each were some what shorter than the right legs…for the inequality in the length of the creature’s legs, that the Wahhoo was found only upon the hills, along the sides of which it was constantly traveling. The unequal length of its legs would be advantageous to the animal in traversing the hill-side…”

And therein are the characteristics ascribed to the Wahhoo. While the beginning description is more reminiscent of known wildlife of Nevada, though not in 100% correlation, the ascribing of the off-set legs is more associated to another creature known commonly in folklore as the Side-Hill Gouger, Side-Hill Dodger, Hoofer or other variations (Gwinter, Guyiscutus, Side-Hill Toggler, etc.).

What could the Wahhoo be then? Nevada does have some native animals that could perhaps account for some sightings—these include (or would have included in the 1800s):

Coyote, Canis latrans
Gray wolf, Canis lupus
Mountain lion, Felis concolor
North American lynx, Lynx canadensis
Bobcat, Lynx rufus
Gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Black bear, Ursus americanus
Grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis
Kit fox, Vulpes macrotis
Sierra Nevada red fox, Vulpes vulpes necator

The description seems to rule out a bear, as their tails are not long. Similarly the bobcat, lynx, coyote, wolf, and fox are not associated with the longer tails. This leaves then the mountain lion, which has a tail inline with the description. But, the totality of the Wahhoo descriptions does not account for the characteristics of any one animal. This leaves the possibility therefore that what was seen were known animals that were misconstrued due to the interest in the Wahhoo at the time, further connected when the off-set leg association is coupled in. If we add in the spectre and extra-sensory associations, we have the potential for the appearance of the Wahhoo. A mystery creature of the night that will take livestock, dig up graves, make an unearthly call and posses glowing eyes that cause shivers to run down the backs of hardened westerners.

Then again, some of the correlation does seem to be inline with reports of other odd beasts around the country, from the Dwayyo to the “Bearwolf” in Wisconsin. So was there a mystery animal in Nevada in the 1870s? Was it just a Nevada mystery, as the accounts from the time attribute the Wahhoo to being in Idaho and Montana as well? Or should we simply say “Wahhoo, it’s a Whoahaw, the Whatzit from the West.”

The Side-Hill Gouger, Guyiscutus from the western USA
The Dwayyo from Maryland

Sources:

  • Daily Nevada State Journal, January 12, 1880
  • Reno Evening Gazette, October 14, 1879
  • Weekly Reno Gazette, September 25, 1879
  • Reno Evening Gazette, September 20, 1879
  • Reno Weekly Gazette, September 18, 1879
  • Reno Evening Gazette, September 12, 1879
  • Weekly Reno Gazette, September 11, 1879
  • Reno Evening Gazette, September 2, 1879
  • Reno Evening Gazette, August 26, 1879
  • Frederick Post (Maryland), December 2, 1965
  • Big Piney Examiner (Wyoming), November 14, 1929
  • Maruna, Scott. BioFort (blog). http://swampgasbooks.com/blog1/2006/11/12/the-whoahaw-in-wisconsin/
  • Godfrey, Linda, Hunting the American Werewolf, Trails Media Group, 2006

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