Wood County wild man root of Bigfoot legend?
By Rhonda Whetstone Neibauer
October 12, 2010 -- Forget about the wild man of Borneo -- back in the early 1900s, we had our own wild man right here in Wood County, Wisconsin.
In August 1910, the local papers were full of stories of encounters with the Wood County Wild Man. Marshfield, Stevens Point, Oshkosh and Grand Rapids newspapers all had stories with various details about the strange man near Auburndale.
It was first reported that Marshfield was in terror over the wild man who was living in the forests surrounding Auburndale on Aug. 15. It said he occasionally appeared in the open, wearing only a shirt, "more abbreviated than a Scottish kilt."
Reporters were quick to point out the man had been seen in broad daylight and the story was neither a hoax nor a hallucination.
Thought to inhabit a wooded spot near the old George Zollinger place, the unkempt man was called "wild as a hawk" in his actions.
The Echwells, who resided there, had seen him many times but with any attempt to approach him, he made off to his lair with the speed of a deer.
"He puts one hand on a fence post and vaults a five-wire fence as easily as a college athlete, and his speed defies pursuit," according to one story.
A group of men and boys once tried to surround and apprehend him, but he leaped a fence and went to ground in deep thickets.
Local berry pickers were giving his domain a wide berth as authorities tried to capture him.
Officers Schmidt and Thompson from Marshfield and Sheriff Griffin of Grand Rapids had been searching, but he managed to elude them -- never allowing them a glimpse. A subsequent story joked they were especially anxious to catch him so he could be the star attraction at the street fair the following week.
The wild man became such a hot topic that Griffin and Schmidt actually perpetrated a joke on a saloon keeper with the aid of "Curly Babcock," who impersonated the wild man in realistic style, giving rise to the story he had been apprehended.
Another time, Officer Thompson and D.A. Andrews made a fruitless trip to the area where he was often seen. Unlike Griffin and Schmidt though, they extended sympathy toward the man, stating it was likely the nude man was deranged, but since no one had reported anyone missing, it was difficult to say who the man was or where he came from.
Meanwhile, in Plover, 29-year-old William Annes who was living in the woods of Plover, milking cows and stealing food in the nighttime, was captured, examined, found insane and committed to the Northern Asylum.
Likewise, in the woods of Colby, wild man Herman Schneider, who was living on game and roots, eventually was captured and hospitalized.
In Wood County, however, no reports ever were made of the wild man's capture. Who was he? What was his story? Who knows, but perhaps the legend is true that Wood County has its very own Bigfoot -- a throwback to this early wild man.
Rhonda Whetstone Neibauer is a correspondent and columnist for the Daily Tribune. Rhonda's ID is TribRendezvous on Twitter if you wish to follow her musings there. You also can get previews to upcoming columns by joining Mostly Rhonda's Rendezvous on Facebook. If you have story ideas of a historical nature, e-mail her at Rhonda.Whetstone@gmail.com.
Portions of this website are reprinted and sometimes edited to fit the standards