The first person to spot the Hodag was likely a lumberjack. In the 1800s, Rhinelander was a pioneer lumber town, and loggers who worked the Northwoods told stories of a monster roaming the forests. Legend had it that this “Hodag” was the reincarnated spirit of the sturdy, hardworking oxen that dragged logs from the forest.
However, the Hodag story might even predate the Northwoods logging days. Some historians have suggested that the Hodag strongly resembles pictographs found near Lake Superior that depict Mishipeshu, the Ojibwe water panther.
The Hodag story went viral in 1893 thanks to a Northwoods lumberman and resort owner named Eugene “Gene” Shepard. Shepard was the first to circulate reports of the Hodag, including photographic evidence of the beast. As the story goes, a group of local men used hunting dogs, rifles and squirt guns loaded with “poison water” to attack the Hodag without success before using dynamite to successfully kill the fearsome creature.
Three years later, Shepard came back with an even bigger claim—he said had captured a live Hodag (with the help of some bear wrestlers and a healthy dose of chloroform). He took the captured beast on tour throughout the state, including a stop at the Oneida County Fair, where attendees paid to see the Hodag in person. In darkened tents, amazed onlookers heard the Hodag growl and even saw the creature move.
The story of the Hodag spread quickly into national newspapers. As word spread, a group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution planned an expedition to Rhinelander to investigate. It was only then that Shepard admitted the Hodag—or at least his version—was a hoax, a creature made of wood and oxen leather that only moved with the help of wires.
So, is that the end of the story?
Maybe not. For decades, golfers around Rhinelander have blamed the Hodag for disappearing golf balls, and anglers have claimed the beast often snatches trophy catches right off their lines.
Plan your trip to Rhinelander today, and you might have a Hodag encounter of your own!More hodag info