Louisiana boasts an impressive three million acres of marshes, swamps, bottomland hardwoods, and barrier island habitats. Over 40% of the wetlands in the United States are found there in the Pelican State. One could argue that, outside of the Pacific Northwest’s Arboreal Rainforests or the deepest reaches of the ocean, there is no setting on earth more suited for the sheltering of all manner of unidentified species. In these murky swamplands, shrouded by a heavy treetop canopy that serves not to relieve the area of heat, but to leave the air fat with viscid humidity, legends abound. The culture of the American South, but Louisiana specifically, has always been one of storytellers. From tales of the lost treasures of Pierre Remaux and Jean Lafitte to prowling native spirits and mysterious green lights that lead wayward travelers deep into the swamps never to be seen again, the people of Louisiana and their culture are as intertwined with myth and mystery as any on Earth.
It is within these mystical marshlands, north of Lake Pontchartrain along the banks of the Old Pearl River, where you’ll find Honey Island Swamp. Known for its flourishing population of honeybees, Honey Island Swamp constitutes over 70 thousand uninterrupted acres of Louisiana wetlands. This massive piece of land that serves as a habitat for 100 species of fish, 160 species of bird, 40 species of mammal, and over 1,100 species of insect is now protected as part of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. But in days past, the area was thoroughly explored and hunted by locals and outdoorsmen from all over the country. Many of those men left the swamps with stories that have become legends.
But of all the folklore permeating the bayous, none have been embraced and feared like tales of the Honey Island Swamp Monster. The creature was first officially sighted on August 6th, 1963. A retired air traffic controller name Harlan Ford spent the day hunting with close friend Billy Mills. They returned without having bagged any dinner but brought with them instead, a story that would ignite a powder keg of fear and curiosity throughout the state. While tracking a boar after a poorly placed shot, the pair of veteran hunters began to notice a strange set of footprints accompanying those of their prey. 10-12 inches long with four clawed toe prints, the impressions were at least twice the depth of their own. It soon became apparent that they were not the only ones tracking this wounded boar.
Carefully, they followed the tracks through narrow corridors next to the mangroves, and as they came upon a small clearing next to bigger water they were hit with a wall of unbelievable stench. They spotted their boar immediately, but it was no longer the object of their attention. Crouched over it, holding a large section of the boar’s neck was a creature the likes of which neither had ever seen before. They would later describe the thick dingy gray hair covering the creature’s body and hanging long from its head. Terrified by what was before them, the two men instinctively drew their guns. Alerted by the commotion it caused, the massive creature immediately stood to reveal just how formidable it was. They estimated that it stood at over seven feet tall and had to have weighed over 400 pounds. As intimidated as the two men were by the creature’s immense stature and untamed hair, what would haunt Harlan’s dreams for the rest of his life was the amber glow in the beast’s eyes when it looked up and locked eyes with him.
The gaze was so arresting that he dropped his firearm and fell to his knees. The creature reached down, picked up the board by a back leg, and turned to walk into the water. This incredible sighting is something that Harland Ford would never shake. It became a preoccupation of his for the next decade. Then in his retirement, he had nothing but time to devote to this newfound obsession and that is exactly what he did. He spent over ten years stalking game trails and backwaters, armed with a 9mm sidearm and his 8mm camera, Harland spent nearly every day searching for the Honey Island Swamp Monster. As far as his friends and family knew, his efforts were fruitless. For reasons unknown, he allowed them all to believe that he never saw it again. Sometime after his passing, when his granddaughter Dana Holyfield took up the mantel, several footprint castings, and a roll of 8mm film were discovered on a back shelf in Harlan’s workroom. On the metal case was a single strip of masking tape with the words Honey Island Swamp Monster scrawled in a ballpoint pen.
On the tape, you’ll see that Harlan had set himself up in a blind looking out over a classic Louisiana swamp scene; tall grass, gnarled trees, algae-covered low-lying water. A mere eight minutes into the footage, we see something stirring at around the 80-yard mark. Soon after, the cause of the commotion rises from the water and stands at what must be eight feet tall. Covered in a thick coat of dark grey hair, it turns toward Harlan’s position, stands still for a moment, then raises its hands to its face and turns to walk out of the left side of the frame. This discovery, along with a childhood filled with trips into the swamp with her grandfather, inspired Dana to begin pursuing the beast as her grandfather before her.
Taking a slightly different tack, she began interviewing those who had experiences with the Swamp Monster. She compiled the experiences of 15 encounters in a documentary titled “Encounters with the Honey Island Swamp Monster” in 2005 and an additional 40 eyewitnesses in a book titled “Honey Island Swamp Monster Documentations” in 2012. The wealth of encounters gathered through her tireless efforts has taken the creature out of the realm of flood land fantasy and into the world of legitimate cryptozoological interest. Could a four-toed bipedal amphibious creature be lurking in the swamplands of Louisiana? Could this real-life Swamp Thing be menacing wayward explorers to this day? The one undeniable fact here is that there is more work to be done. Dana Holyfield’s collection of encounters is a strong starting point for the quest for classification, but it is just that: a starting point. Exploration of swamplands is a daunting task, but it is what must be done if we’re ever going to truly understand the truth behind the Honey Island Swamp Monster.