For Walter McLelland, Tuesday, April 28 will live in his memory forever. That’s because on that date he saw something he cannot explain but he knows was real.
As he was heading home from his construction job in Garland, going through Bradley and traveling east toward the Lake Erling Store on Arkansas 160, he topped a hill going about 60 miles per hour because he was late getting home. That’s when he saw it.
“I saw something on the side of the road where the fog line is and all of a sudden it turned and it went walking real fast and went down into the ditch where it stepped up and I could see the hair on its neck and it was kind of like a flop.
“The sun was shining and from the side of its neck it looked real red. I let off the accelerator and this thing was eight or nine feet tall. I never got a look at his face but it had long arms and I could see where the hair was growing on his arms. That’s all I saw, but that’s all I wanted to see.”
McLelland said he got a mile or two down the road before he could really think about what he saw. He was in a daze. But he knows he saw something many people would call “Big Foot.”
When he got home, he was obviously stressed and his wife, Sharon Ann McLelland, was worried. She said that when her husband got home, he put down his lunch box and told her to sit down because he had to tell her something. His hands were trembling.
McLelland admits he was close to tears as he told his wife the story and he was shook up for about a week after. Whenever he retells the story, he gets chill bumps thinking about what the creature looked like. It was a brownish color but the creature’s hair up around the shoulders and head had a red color as the sun shined down on it.
He said he didn’t care who believes him -- he just knows what he saw. He said the day after the experience he called his brother in Magnolia and said his brother knows his character and knows he would not make up a story.
On the following day, April 29, Sharon McLelland posted about her husband’s experience on the Friends of Lake Erling Facebook page.
The post on the Lake Erling page revealed there was a lot of interest in the topic, even if some people scoffed at the idea. The comments on Facebook were about people who had their own Big Foot story or those disputing the existence of the animal. Since the post sparked conversation, McLelland has heard there have been several Big Foot sightings in the same stretch of highway where he saw one.
Since the post on Lake Erling Facebook, McLelland has heard of three or four sightings of an unidentified creature on the same section of Arkansas 160 where he saw it.
McLelland said he is convinced the only reason he saw the animal is because he topped the hill so fast that he came upon it before the creature had time to react.
Arkansas 160 between Bradley and Lake Erling includes both pastures and heavily-wooded land, south of the Lafayette Wildlife Management Area.
Since seeing the creature, McLelland said it has brought back memories he had of hunting in the WMA and having an eerie sensation that he was not alone.
“You would have this feeling something is looking at you, but I’ve never been scared,” he said.
McLelland, who is 62, said he has never been afraid of going out in the woods and hunting and fishing by himself. He said when he was six years old, he would grab a blanket and sleep out in the back of his daddy’s pickup truck. So, he has always been an outdoorsy man without fear of what he would encounter.
McLelland has thought before what he would do if he saw a “Big Foot” in the wild.
“I used to think if there is one, I would shoot it but I have no desire to do that now because I know it is real,” he said.
Judging by what the animal he saw would eat, McLelland guesses it would most likely be hogs because of its great size.
“I guarantee you that big old guy wasn’t eating berries,” he said.
William Lunsford of TexARKana became interested in McLelland’s story after seeing it on Facebook. He has been researching Big Foot for more than 40 years and says he has seen the creature and evidence of it on many occasions and has even had intelligent interactions with it.
The first time he had an encounter was in 1977 when he was 17 years old and fishing in gravel pits near Fouke. He said he had heard of the Fouke monster, but was not a believer. The evening he saw something changed his beliefs forever.
“I hear one scream and on the side of the road I saw something hunkered down. It was teetering from one foot to the other,” he said. “I froze and I kind of wanted to run. I was scared to no end but when I first saw him he had a limb pulled in front of his face eating leaves. It was twilight anyway and when he stood up, he kept on standing. He ended up walking in the middle of the road posturing on me. I thought it was a bear, but there was no disbelieving when I saw him. I remember hyperventilating and there were and tears in my eyes. I said ‘Lord help me mom’ and everything, I was a praying kid.”
Lunsford said he believed he would die but made a run for it and considered diving down into one of the gravel pits to escape, but made it to his vehicle, tossed in his fishing poles and took off. When he got home, he told his mother she was not going to believe it but he had seen the Fouke Monster. He told her the creature was at least 7 and a half feet tall and looked to be the size of professional wrestler Andre the Giant.
His mother told him it was best not to tell anyone what he had seen for fear of being ridiculed, but he told his best friend anyway. His friend laughed and said he must have seen a bear.
But that first encounter with the Fouke Monster, Big Foot, Sasquatch -- whatever it was -- has led to a lifetime of interest in knowing more about the creature and where they live. Lunsford said creatures similar to what McLelland described have been seen at Day’s Creek on the way to Fouke from Texarkana, on Mercer Bayou which breaks off from the Sulphur River, and Dorcheat Bayou. Other sightings are from Lewisville, Spring Hill, Bluff City, Cale, and Fulton, AR, and Simms, DeKalb and Douglasville, TX.
Lunsford has interviewed 100 people about sightings and is authoring a book that will detail this information. Before retiring, he spent 35 years as a UPS driver which allowed him to drive many areas to see where sightings have been reported.
He said he has personally seen 30 of them and more on the cameras he places in the woods where they are known to live. He said they come in multiple colors and can be black, brown, chocolate brown or salt and pepper. He said many look like giant gorillas but some have more of a snout. They also have a specific odor that is unlike anything else you have smelled before, he said.
“Imagine a skunk that has been rolling in raw eggs and rolling in sewage with a little bit of chicken fertilizer,” Lunsford said.
Although some people think the sighting of this type animal started out in Washington state or Oregon, sightings in Arkansas predate all those according to his research, he said. From what he has studied, sightings of Big Foot in Arkansas date before the Civil War.
The animals also have a particular scream they let out which may sound like a panther, but isn’t, Lunsford said. He has taken pictures of them on his cameras in the woods and tracked their foot prints, laying down other objects for scale. He has also been almost hit by one after it threw an eight-foot log toward him, but not all of them are aggressive, and he has seen a mother and a baby Big Foot, he said.
Lunsford tells people who doesn’t believe the story is about a man he once knew who had a large acreage behind his house and was deer hunting. Lunsford saw a 14-point buck at the home and told the man, but he denied it and said it was only a 7-point. The man almost missed the 14-point because he didn’t believe it existed, Lunsford said.
“Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not so,” he said.