Arkansas has its share of weird creatures lurking in forests and lakes. Our cryptozoological journey takes us up north on Highway 67 to the small town of Newport, Arkansas. Newport has a version of the Loch Ness Monster that is widely accepted as a real phenomenon. The White River Monster even has his own game preserve.
From about 1915 to around 1924, residents of Newport reported seeing a monster in the White River. This monster, nicknamed “Whitey”, was described as being snake-like and at least thirty feet long. Whitey actually was pretty predictable. Residents said he would surface in the afternoon and stay up for 10 or 15 minutes before disappearing again. Hundreds of people claimed to see him.
Witnesses in the 20s reported that it made a loud bellowing noise and had a spiny backbone. Many reports were made by fisherman and campers along the river.
Whitey disappeared for a bit, with only random sightings, but he came back in 1937 when a plantation owner claimed to see the monster. He claimed he saw something surface that was twelve feet long and four or five feet wide. He claimed to see the monster several times after that, but he could never determine the size or what exactly it was.
With these new sightings, locals constructed nets to catch Whitey. Divers have even searched for him. They’ve never found anything and Whitey disappeared again for decades.
In 1971, two men reported that they saw three-toed tracks along the muddy river banks and places where the trees and vegetation had been broken because of the monster’s size. The creature was even photographed in 1971 by Cloyce Warren of the White River Lumber Company. This is the only photo we have Whitey. Was the photograph really of a monster? Arkansas legislators seemed to think so.
The most interesting part of this legend happened in 1973. The Arkansas State Legislator, specifically Arkansas State Senator Robert Harvey, created the White River Monster Refuge along the area of the White River that runs adjacent to the Jacksonport State Park. They enacted a resolution which made it illegal to “molest, kill, trample, or harm the White River Monster while he is in the retreat.” Is this proof of his existence or just an attempt to draw tourists? Whitey is one of the few protected urban legends.
Since Whitey was seen so regularly at first, most scholars think there is actually some truth to this legend. Early sightings were probably some known animal that is not commonly found in Arkansas. Later sightings were probably alligator snapping turtles (they can get quite large) that were exaggerated in the minds of the observer due to the legends.
Biologists believe Whitey was actually a lost elephant seal that somehow migrated incorrectly and ended up in Newport. Some townspeople believe that it was an elaborate plot to gain attention by farmers in the area. No one knows for sure.
The monster hasn’t been seen much in recent years but many of the people living around the White River still believe he is there. Some think that he has died because the river has gotten shallower. You’ll have to find out for yourself. There is a lot of monster memorabilia around White River (T-shirts, etc.) so even if you don’t see the real monster, you can get a T-shirt that says you’re brave enough to look for him.