Wailing in the woods, Cherry Grove edition

The following is an excerpt from Creek With No Name: How the West was Won (and Lost) in Gaston, Oregon, Copyright 2011 Ken Bilderback.

People doubted the Bigfoot rumors from the start, but over time as evidence mounted, more and more people became concerned there really might be a monster in their midst. A story in the Forest Grove News-Times recounts an eerie, fog-shrouded night in March 1964. “Unnervingly,” the News-Times recounts, “came a hideous scream that knifed the heavy night air. It could have been a prank or even just a dream, residents told themselves, and went back to sleep.”

Creek With No NameThe next night was equally shrouded, equally eerie and equally shrill as once again the screams startled residents from their slumber. After four or five nights of this, Cherry Grove residents demanded action from the sheriff’s office, either out of fear or annoyance. But without a body, without a missing person, without a known victim of any kind, deputies told the sleepless citizenry there was nothing they could do.

Then, about a week into the drama, the situation took a new turn. A group of teenagers out investigating the screams came across gigantic footprints in the March mud. The prints measured 18 inches by eight inches, and the stride of the monster placed the prints a full eight feet apart. The tracks suggested the monster had walked out of a field and into the woods … and right through a sturdy wooden cattle fence, now reduced to a pile of splinters in the dewy grass.

The deputies now had a victim, if only a victim of a property crime, and they sent a detective out to investigate. Not surprisingly, police did not believe the scene was evidence of a monster stalking the good folks of Cherry Grove, but neither did they have enough evidence to file charges against any of Cherry Grove’s more-human inhabitants. The entire drama remained shrouded in mystery and the fog of the late Oregon winter. The perpetrators of the hoax, assuming it was a hoax, had eluded detection. At least for the time being. It turns out they had made one critical mistake: They had destroyed a fence belonging to the wrong person.

The owner of the fence was Birgetta Nixon, a rugged backcountry woman unafraid of anyone or anything. The teenage boys might have stymied the detective, but Birgetta didn’t have to play by the rules of the American judicial system and it didn’t take her long to elicit a confession, which she recounted in her 1976 book, Cherry Grove, including the names of the lads, each of whom she knew well and suspected of mischief. No more fences were crushed, and the monstrous screams of the night were silenced, along with the rumors in a small town.