Friday 1 March 2019

In a Dark Hut With a Mystery Monster

     Crytozoological references can turn up in all sorts of odd places, and since these publications are likely to have vanished from public memory, it is important that the stories be filed in a central registry - like this one. Readers of this blog with long memories may recall that one such story appeared in the august pages of the National Geographic. Now I have just discovered another one in the May 1915 issue of my favourite magazine, The Wide World which, if you are interested, can be read or downloaded here.
          The journal, it is important to explain, was designed as a forum for people to relate their true life adventures. Each story submitted was required to be accompanied by a written statement that it was original and strictly true in all particulars, and I suspect that this was generally the case. Most of them do not have the beginning, middle, and end typical of fiction. Nevertheless, hoaxes and stories strongly suspected of being hoaxes (like this one) were known to have crept in. For what it is worth, it appears that, at least up to the 1930s, payment at an unspecified level was made for stories. That certainly wasn't the case from the 1940s onwards, when the editor got his material gratis.
     Be that as it may, for the sake of this article, the exact reference is: "The Gold-Seekers", told by Edward J. Hoyt, and set down by Dr. Vance Hoyt, The Wide World Magazine, vol. 34, no. 205 (May 1915), pp 3 -16.
     The plot of the story - if that's the right word - was straightforward. The author was one of a group of Americans who, in 1898, decided to seek their fortune looking for gold in Honduras. Accompanied by a guide and a caravan of pack animals, they departed Trujillo for the mountains and dense jungles of the interior. After about a month, at a place called Viajo, they sold their pack animals and hired carriers for a journey of about fifty miles to the region of the Julan River, where they prospected for gold for several years, until driven out by political chicanery and a gun fight. It is important to note that the cryptozoological incident was only one of several adventures they experienced on the way, and not the focus of the story. I would a have been seriously suspicious of any story entitled (say) "I fought the monster of Honduras" or "In a dark hut with a mystery monster."
     Shortly before their arrival at Viajo they made the mistake, as can be judged in hindsight, of camping on a wildlife trail in the jungle. In the middle of the night a couple of wild beasts blundered into their camp, resulting in pandemonium, which ended with their guide being trampled to death, and one of the animals being shot.
It was about the size of a donkey - a pig-like mammal, having a short proboscis, and a most peculiar and ferocious-looking head. Its hide was thick and tough, its feet three-toed, its ears like those of a burro, and its tail like that of a mule.
     He said they were dreaded by all those who travel in the interior because of their attacks on wayfarers. They often demolish the fields of corn planted in clearings in the forest, and they travel at night along special trails.
     It is perfectly clear that this was a danta, or Baird's  tapir, Tapirus bairdii, and was correctly illustrated as such by the magazine artist. The only error in the description was the tail like a mule's. It has three toes on the hind foot, and four on the forefoot. The interesting thing is that neither the author, nor the relative who ghost-wrote his account, knew that.
I do not know the scientific name for this creature, if there is one, but the natives call it the "Danto".
     This is important because, if a writer can be shown to have accurately described something unknown to him, we can be more confident of his accuracy when describing something unknown to all of us. So let us now proceed to the crucial encounter with cryptid which, as far as I can establish, occurred about half way between the start of the journey and the adventure with the tapir.
     Just before sunset, in a wooded valley, Mr. Hoyt discovered a deserted cabin and suggested they shelter in it for the night. At that, the guide became agitated. The place, he declared, was the abode of a "devil". As far as he knew, it had been abandoned for sixty years, and any stray visitor who spent the night inside found himself roughly handled by said devil, and usually fearfully mutilated. That did it! Hoyt was determined to sleep there, a decision which made the guide get down on his knees and pray, and to encourage his employer to tie a special talisman around his neck.
     Opening the door, Hoyt lit a candle, and found himself in a musty room, the floor and walls of which were constructed of split logs - a single room log cabin, in other words. In the north wall a large niche served as a window. Just under it lay an old bunk which, to a traveler used to camping rough, seemed a good place to sleep. Having blown out the candle, he gazed out of the niche to see the guide building a large fire as a deterrent to wildlife. Wrapping his blanket around him, he quickly fell asleep.
   About midnight he was awakened by something walking on the floor. Carefully, he drew his revolver. The creature now appeared to be moving around the sides of the room, and it sounded bipedal rather than four-footed. He stared and stared. Then, he heard the sound of heavy breathing just above him, and he looked up to see two red eyes.
I was levelling my revolver, when, without warning, my blanket began to slowly slide from my grasp. Something was climbing up over the foot of my bunk! I turned my head quickly. Two red eyes stared at me - directly in front.
    He blasted away with his firearm, and then the action became so confused he could not take it all in. There were hideous screams and shrieks, a rush and a scramble, and something leaped over his head and out the "window".  He could hear it crashing through the undergrowth. He looked out the window, and saw his companions springing to action with their guns, while the guide lit a pitch-pine knot at the fire as make a torch. Hoyt opened the door, and by the light of the torch they saw something furry lying dead at the foot of his bunk.
     I had never seen such a creature before. It stood about five feet high, evidently belonged to the ape family, and resembled a man more than anything else. These animals are of a brownish colour except their faces, which are white. They walk erect on their hind feet, and the males possess a long white beard, which gives them a very peculiar appearance. The female carries her young in her arms, the same as a woman. The interior of Central America is their habitat; I do not know of any other jungles in which they are found. They are seldom seen in the day-time, are very ferocious when cornered, and have enough muscular strength to outmatch a dozen men. The natives call this remarkable man-monkey the "Halingo," and regard it as an evil spirit.
     Remember: he is writing almost 17 years after the events, so his recall of the exact sequence of events may be defective. However, if it is accurate, then it would appear that two of the creatures entered via the "window", the first without wakening him until it was inside. For what it is worth, he provided a photograph of the hut, but not the carcass. Be that as it may, it is clear that he received most of the information on their habits from the local inhabitants. He appears to regard the "halingo" in the same light as the "danto": as a representative of the local fauna known to the inhabitants, but not to him. But what was it?
     My first guess was some sort of large monkey. The white-fronted spider monkey, Ateles belzebuth was almost certainly the species behind the Loy's ape hoax. Stretched out, a big specimen may well reach four feet from heel to crown. Unfortunately, it lives in South America, not Central America. Also, it does not fit the description. There are only three (official) species of monkeys in Honduras: a spider monkey, a howler, and a capuchin, and none of them is anywhere as large or looks anything like the "halingo". Admittedly, I am not completely converse with all the New World monkeys, but I can't think of any of them - at least no large one - which possesses a long white beard. Also, although the author did not actually say it was tailless, he implied it. I doubt that, even illuminated only with a flaming torch, the long, thick, prehensile tail of these primates would have been overlooked.
      Not only that, but I doubt if any of the locals would have described any New World primate as bipedal. There is another thing: American primates are arboreal, diurnal, and predominantly gregarious. You really don't expect a couple of any known species to be lurking around a deserted cabin at night. It is noteworthy, however, that just about all the mystery apes around the world are alleged to be predominantly nocturnal and solitary. Students of bigfootery, furthermore, will be aware that these creatures are reported almost everywhere, and in Central America they are called sisimite and xipe. Perhaps we can now add halingo to the list of synonyms.

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