The Black Hodag


Contrary to contemporary opinions, the Hodag is neither indigenous to West Virginia or to caves. The first known hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) was captured near the end of the 19th century near Rhinelander, Wisconsin by one Eugene S. Sheppard and two companions.

Evidently Sheppard, a former forester, was attracted by the hodag's odor at the headwaters of Rice Creek in Oneida County, where he was able to trail a Black Hodag to the cave in which it lived. The cave entrance was then blocked with large blocks, leaving only a small hole through which was passed a sponge soaked in chloroform on one end of a long pole. The hodag was rendered unconscious, captured, and transported to Rhinelander, where it was subjected to public viewing for a small nominal fee.

The Black Hodag had "the head of a bull, the grinning face of a giant man, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with a spear at the end." It lived in the dense regions of nearby swamps, feasting mostly on mud turtles, water snakes, and muskrats, although it did partake in an occasional human. The beast had the transmigrated soul of one of Paul Bunyan's oxen and a very obnoxious odor. This odor was so rank that the residents of Oneida County burned their woods for seven years in an effort to be rid of the beast.

Mr. Sheppard was also able to catch a female hodag after noticing that hodags only slept by leaning against trees. He simply cut down the tree, capturing the hodag. The two were successfully bred, and the result was thirteen eggs, all of which hatched. Sheppard taught these hodags a number of tricks, which he hoped to show for a profit.

It should be noted that although the Rhinelander Daily News "advanced the theory that the hodag was a missing link between 'the ichthyosaurus and the mylodoan' of the ice age," some disbelievers proclaimed that the hodag was simply a large dog that had been covered with a horse hide and displayed in poor lighting. These people further claimed that the word hodag was a combination of the words "horse" and "dog." However, as any student of Latin knows, Bovinus spiritualis means drunken ox, which can certainly not be confused with any dog in a horse hide.

There are postcards of the hodag available in Rhinelander. It is the author's belief that the hodag may have migrated to West Virginia with the extensive logging in the 1900's and, after finding a lack of swamps, which are usually found only on flat land, the hodag had to resort to living in caves. There are no early reports of a hodag with one leg longer than the other, so this may be a recent adaptation to living underground. One can only speculate if the hodag sleeps only by leaning against a speleothem.