Capture of the “Oakland Creature”: Half a century ago, confusion of observations and mass theory terrified a small town in Nebraska.
OAKLAND, Nebraska (Flatwater Free Press) –
A bizarre scream in the wee hours of July 4, 1974 woke Dale and Linda Jones from their deep sleep. They thought one of their pigs had its head stuck in the slats of the pen. Shep, their German Shepherd, barked from the porch. Dale grabbed a flashlight and headed for the pig pen on his farm, a few miles south of a small town in Nebraska. Oakland, just off US Route 77. Finding nothing wrong, he turned back toward the house. Then he heard it again. “It was like something I had never heard before,” Jones said. “It’s indescribable. People were asking me and I was trying to tell them, but if you haven’t heard this…” Running back to the house, Jones reached for a baseball bat to use while he was checking out his farm. Then Linda, who was standing on the porch, trying to calm Shep down, saw it. The silhouette of a figure standing several hundred feet away. “He ran on two legs between the corn beds towards the cornfield,” Linda Jones said. That Independence Day, the couple went back inside, locked the doors and locked the windows. . The old farmhouse had no air conditioning, and the heat and fear made it impossible to sleep.
Together, Dale and Linda lay in bed with their eyes open and wondered: what did we see? What…exactly…was it?
The Joneses, who were in their early 20s at the time, were likely the first to witness the unidentified figure that became known as “The Oakland Creature”. As soon as their story became public, sightings – and talk of what it was and what wasn’t – spread like wildfire through the city of 1,300 people known as the Swedish capital of Nebraska.
Dale and Linda Jones were likely the first to see the figure that became known as the Oakland Creature on July 4, 1974 (photo by Tim Trudell for Flatwater Free Press).
Almost 50 years ago, many locals believed that some kind of creature was roaming the area. Many believed the giant monster had infiltrated a normally quiet community, old newspaper reports say, as well as new interviews with the Flatwater Free Press.
Experts say it might seem like an outrageous theory to outsiders, just like any supernatural phenomenon or conspiracy theory might.
But for the people involved, something that seems outrageous—something like Bigfoot roaming your hometown—may start to make sense.
“Knowing what I know about science, I know that bears don’t mate with monkeys,” said Andy Norman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who studies such phenomena as Bigfoot sightings, conspiracy theories and QAnon beliefs.
But “a normal cougar call might actually sound more like Bigfoot, if that’s what you thought,” he said, explaining how one sighting can lead to many. “Everyone was talking about it, right? Our brains are cunning and often find patterns that aren’t really there.”
To some locals in Oakland in the summer of 1974, this certainly did not seem like a trick of the mind. It seemed utterly, undeniably, real.
A few days after the first incident, Nick Wikstrom recalls a strange scene one morning when he was delivering the Omaha World-Herald newspaper outside of town. Wikstrom, 13, and his brother and father saw something big running along the gravel road. “It was like nothing I have ever seen before or since. There was no tail. His legs were like ours. But as far as I know, it could have been a possum… a very large possum.
“But I couldn’t identify him. You know, we were country kids. We could identify almost all the creatures there. But this one was different.”
Some witnesses claimed that the creature was over 6 feet tall, with the body of a bear and the face of a monkey. Government zoologists dispute that any known animal matches the description.
Late one night, several teenagers hanging out in the cemetery allegedly saw the creature walking right along the tree line. They threw firecrackers at the figure, watching it run away into the woods.
After being alerted, Oakland Police Chief Greg Webb sought help from the North Bend Police Chief, who had been trained to track the coyote. The police searched the area late at night, but found nothing. “We had a drought that year, so it was almost impossible to find any traces,” said Leonard Canarski, an officer with the Oakland Police Department before he was elected Burt County Sheriff in 1974. The Joneses, who first encountered this phenomenon, believe that the Oakland Creature used the pasture on their farm as their base. “We heard it every night,” Dale said. “We had 22 acres of land … so it was impossible to find it.” That didn’t stop people from trying. According to him, local residents organized hunting parties, but they always turned out to be empty.
At the height of the sightings, three Omaha television stations sent out newsgroups to interview local residents. Newspapers, including The World-Herald, published reports of these sightings. Around the same time, reports of cattle mutilations were widespread in northeastern Nebraska. well-executed” should be made by animals.
“It was more like a sacrifice.” Observations ceased when cooler weather settled in the area in September. Linda Jones gave birth to the couple’s first child that same month, and neither she nor Dale remember hearing any sounds afterward. As soon as the Oakland Creature disappeared, talk of him died down. But now a distant memory remains. And the question is: What was it?
Canary, the sheriff, suggests that the creature was a mountain lion. “Probably the drought brought them along Logan Creek in search of food,” he said.
The lack of evidence suggests there is a logical reason for this story, Professor Norman said. But he wouldn’t necessarily have believed it if he had been an Oaklander in 1974.
“I love good riddles as much as anyone else,” he said. “If I had been there at the time, I’m sure I would have been very curious to know.”
During an interview, Norman noted that in the late 1970s, reports of alien visitations skyrocketed when millions of Americans reported a close encounter with a third species.
It’s impossible to say exactly what has changed, he said, except for one thing:
1977 Steven Spielberg hit film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“The science of why people believe in something has a lot to teach us. One of the findings is that people often see…what they expect or hope to see,” he said. “Reports of sightings skyrocketed because more people were either hoping or expecting to experience strange phenomena.”
However, Norman said that people in Oakland who saw something and then tried to make sense of it shouldn’t be ridiculed by the rest of us.
Sometimes people believe in things like “The Oakland Creature” because it satisfies a deep need. Sometimes people believe in “The Oakland Creature” because the human mind craves an explanation, even if there isn’t one.
“There are many species on the planet that we haven’t documented or cataloged yet,” Norman said. “But the chances that something the size of Bigfoot has escaped all scientific evidence is vanishingly small.”
He pointed out that the lack of evidence is proof, like fossils.
But never say never, right?
To this day, Linda and Dale Jones say they don’t know what they heard and saw in the early hours of July 4, 1974. They don’t know if it was a psychological phenomenon, a physical being, a wild animal, or a mountain lion.
They know that everything they saw was not normal.
And whatever it is, they have no desire to meet him up close.
“If someone asked me to go look for him, I would not want to see him,” said Dale Jones. “It was just terrible.”
Flatwater Free Press is Nebraska’s first independent, non-profit news service specializing in investigative and feature articles.
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