Art by Fearsome Wilderness
The #Sidehill Gouger is also known as the Gyascutus (not to be confused with the genus of beetle). During the late 19th and early 20th century, tall tales greatly enriched American folklore. Lumberjacks, hunters, ranchers, and others who made their living in the wild often returned home or to camp with incredible tales of animals they encountered.
Frontiersmen enjoyed these "frightful critters" as a pastime and perhaps even as a means of attracting naïve audiences unfamiliar with the area. It was their bizarre characteristics that made these beasts so fascinating. For example, #Gumberoos appeared as hairless bears with rubbery hides that bullets simply bounced off, but if they came into contact with fire, they exploded. Jackalopes looked like normal rabbits, except that they had antlers growing from their heads. Cactus cats were large, spine-covered cats that would pierce cacti and drink the juice, which ultimately led to intoxication. Some argue the #Guyascutus is among the most mysterious of these creatures.
A very difficult monster to identify because of its varying descriptions, the Guyascutus lived in forests in the Midwest, particularly along the Mississippi River and in the Ozark Mountains. The alligator-like creature had an armor-plated back and a line of sharp spines on its dorsal side. But it was described by others as having rabbit ears and sharp fangs, like that of a deer. Depending on who you ask, it was either a vicious man-eater or a peaceful herbivore. Additionally, regional differences in the name given to the beast added to the confusion. The Sidehill Gouger was also known as #Guyanoosa, #Sidewinder, #Rickaboo Racker, and #Hunkus-Lunkus.
In all accounts of the #Guyascutus, one feature remained constant; their legs were shorter on one side than the other. As a result of this, they could navigate steep hills and mountainside slopes. However, turning around with mismatched legs caused them to lose their balance and fall. In the case of a fall, Guysacutus could protect itself with its tail, assuming it really had one, by wrapping it around a sturdy stone and maintaining balance.
As far back as the 1860s, crooked carnival barkers ran traveling shows in communities in the Midwest that advertised that they had captured Guyscutus. The curious public bought tickets hoping to see the mysterious beast. For attention, he would emphasize the creature's unbridled bloodlust, emphasizing its ferocity. Suddenly, a man, badly wounded, rushed into the tent screaming that a Guyascutus had escaped. Fearing injury, the crowd would flee. Once they left, the con artist and his accomplice pocketed the money, halted the show, and left town.
Eventually, Guyascutus tales spread to New England, but remained mostly regional folklore. #Wampahoofus-like creatures have been spotted in Vermont and New Hampshire. These creatures were bred with livestock to make them more adaptable to mountain pastures. As a result, the animals were often unable to travel on flat ground or turn around on hills due to the short legs on one side of their bodies.
Several mythical creatures of European folklore have been cited as influences for Guyascutus, including the Haggis of Scotland and the French #Dahu, both of which have varying leg lengths to help them traverse uneven terrain. It has been described in many different ways, so it is unclear what creature inspired it in North America. Despite its prominent appearance in some tall tales, such as an encounter with Paul Bunyan, the Guyascutus is all but forgotten today.
In an era when fanciful works continually use the same tired clichés and overused monsters, it is disheartening to see the fascinating creatures of the past, full of originality and ripe with reinterpretation potential, be forgotten. The legend of these creatures may never be resurrected, but there is still some hope.