Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Hodag Fact or Fiction?

Earlier this year when Rick Saenz came up to Wisconsin and interviewed me for his Plain Talk series he caught me a little off guard when he asked me to tell him about Rhinelander’s Hodag. The Hodag is everywhere in Rhinelander and after you've been here awhile it just becomes part of the fixture of the place and you actually kind of forget about it.

Well, on the recording I didn't think I represented Rhinelander’s mascot very well. I had myself all psyched up to talk about all the agrarian subjects that we all love so much and right away I had to shift gears and try to remember the Hodag legend.

Even though we don't live in Rhinelander our mailing address does carry it's zip code. And we do most of our major shopping there and visit friends in the area regularly. So with this post I'll try to set the record strait for the sake of all those hodag fans out there and to better represent this interesting creature.

Below is a portion about the Hodag from the Rhinelander area chamber of commerce website. For the full story click the sites link at the bottom.

"The Rhinelander area has a rich and unique history. From its logging start to its mysterious hodag, Rhinelander's history is both educational and entertaining for the entire family."

The Living Legend of Rhinelander’s Hodag
by Kurt Daniel Kortenhof

The following is derived from LONG LIVE THE HODAG! THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF EUGENE SIMEON SHEPARD: 1854-1923 by Kurt D. Kortenhof (ISBN: 0-9653745-0-5). To obtain copies of the second edition of this publication published in 2006 please visit Hodag Press online at:
All text within quotation marks is original source material mostly from late nineteenth-century newspapers. For complete citations and bibliography, please refer to LONG LIVE THE HODAG!
The Hodag first made its appearance in the autumn of 1893 near the lumbering frontier community of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Eugene Simeon Shepard (1854-1923), timber cruiser, real-estate broker, and community jester stumbled across the beast while hiking near his Rhinelander home. Although a seasoned woodsmen, Shepard had never before encountered a Hodag, the beast so often spoke of in the lumber-camp bunkhouses. The sighting, however, was unmistakable. Shepard stood face to face with a 185 pound, seven-foot-long, lizard-like beast. Its head was disproportionately large for its body with two horns growing from its temples, large fangs and green eyes. Covered with short black hair, the body appeared stout and muscular; its back was covered with spikes which led to a powerful tail. The four legs were short and sturdy with three claws facing forward and one pointing in the opposite direction. As the beast turned to greet his uninvited guest, its nostrils spouted flame and smoke, and a horrible odor, which Shepard described as a "combination of buzzard meat and skunk perfume," filled the air. Wisely, Shepard retreated in a hurry. Back in Rhinelander he described his encounter to townspeople and lumberjacks. Clearly, Shepard had witnessed the monster that lumberjacks believed embodied the restless spirits of dead lumber oxen--he had seen a Hodag.

Gathering brave townsmen and willing lumberjacks, Shepard assembled a hunting party to capture the strange beast. Armed with "heavy rifles and large bore squirt guns loaded with poison water," the hunting party set out to confront the monstrosity. Discovering the Hodag near where Shepard had first sighted it, the hunting party dispatched a number of dogs to corner the beast. This proved unsuccessful as the Hodag "scattered about the place" small fragments of the hunting dogs. Like the dogs, the hunting party’s weaponry proved of little value in subduing the now irate Hodag. Luckily, the hunters had brought along a large supply of dynamite. After piling birch bark around the cornered beast, the lumberjacks lobbed sticks of dynamite at their prey. The explosions ignited a fire that engulfed the monster and eventually took the Hodag’s life. Although the charred remains of this first Hodag were transported to Rhinelander and displayed, Shepard’s hunters were unable to capture the beast alive.

It was not until three years later that a determined Eugene Shepard captured a live Hodag. In the autumn of 1896, Shepard and a group of lumberjacks surprised a Hodag in its den and asphyxiated the monster with a heavy dose of chloroform. Shepard then transported the Hodag to the Rhinelander fairgrounds and confined it to a pit resembling its den "in order that the animal would not discover the deception being practiced upon him." Days before the opening of Oneida County’s first fair, Shepard announced that he would proudly exhibit his recently captured beast.........
Well, now that your full of all kinds of suspense and anticipation you'll just have to find out the rest of the story by clicking here.
Until Next Time


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. It's always neat to hear where towns get names from. Thanks PJ

12:35 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Russ, have you seen the movie "The Village"? The Hodag's description reminds me of that story. I won't give away the plot just in case you haven't seen it. If the Hodag story intrigued you, you may enjoy the film.

4:29 PM  
Blogger RL said...

I figured I should make a post about the Hodag since so many folks ask about it. They come into town and see the creature all over and there isn't any explanation out about it.
Thanks for the comment.

Yes I did see that movie. What a surprising twist. I'll refrain from giving away the plot as well in case anyone reading this hasn't seen it yet. And yes, I did enjoy it.


6:00 PM  
Blogger Kurt Kortenhof said...

Hello RL - I saw you all were talking about the Hodag and thought I would say HI. I spent a lot of years researching Rhinelander's favorite beast (and ended up publishing 2 editions of a book about it - LONG LIVE THE HODAG) and am always amused when I see people talking about it online. Anyway - I see you quoted my overview article and wanted to say thanks for the plug (a lot of people fail to attribute it). Anyway - Happy Hodag Hunting!

11:35 PM  

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