Capturing the ‘Oakland Creature’: Half a century ago, confusing sightings and a mass theory terrorized a small Nebraska town

OAKLAND, Neb. (Flatwater Free Press) –

A strange scream in the early hours of July 4, 1974 woke Dale and Linda Jones from a sound sleep. They thought one of their pigs had got 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 the Nebraska town of Oakland off US Highway 77. Finding nothing wrong, he turned toward the house. Then he heard it again. “It was like something I’ve never heard before,” Jones said. “It is indescribable. People would ask me and I would try to tell them, but unless you’d heard it…’ Rushing home, Jones grabbed a baseball bat to use while she checked out her farm. Then Linda, standing on the porch trying to calm Shep down, saw him. The silhouette of a figure standing several hundred feet away. “He just took off running on two legs, between the corn stalls towards the cornfield,” said Linda Jones. The couple went back inside that Independence Day, locked the doors and closed the windows. They didn’t have air conditioning in the old farmhouse and, thanks to the heat and fear, sleeping proved impossible.

Together, Dale and Linda lay in bed, eyes open, wondering: what the hell did we see? What… exactly… was that?

The Joneses, in their early twenties at the time, were probably the first to witness an unidentified figure who came to be known as the “Oakland Creature.” Once their story went public, the sightings — and talk of what was or wasn’t — spread like wildfire in the town of 1,300 people known as the Swedish capital of Nebraska.

Dale and Linda Jones were probably 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)

Nearly 50 years ago, many area residents believed that some kind of creature roamed the area. Many believed a giant monster had infiltrated the normally quiet community, old newspaper accounts and new Flatwater Free Press interviews say.

To outsiders this may seem like an outrageous theory, experts say, just as any supposedly supernatural event or conspiracy theory can seem like.

But, for those involved, something seemingly outrageous — something like Bigfoot roaming your hometown — can start to make perfect sense.

“Knowing what I know about science, I know that bears don’t mate with monkeys,” to create Bigfoot, said Andy Norman, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University who studies phenomena such as Bigfoot sightings, conspiracy theories and QAnon beliefs. .

But “a regular cougar call can actually sound more like Bigfoot if that’s what you had in mind,” she said, explaining how one sighting can lead to many. “Everyone talked about it, didn’t they? Our brains are tricky and often detect patterns that don’t actually exist.

To some local Oakland residents in the summer of 1974, this definitely didn’t seem like a mind trick. It felt totally, undeniably, real.

Within days of the initial incident, Nick Wickstrom recalls a strange scene one morning while delivering the Omaha World-Herald newspaper outside the city. Thirteen-year-old Wickstrom and both his brother and father saw something large racing down the dirt road. “It looked like he was running on his front knuckles,” said Wickstrom, now retired from the US Navy. “He was like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. There was no queue. His legs felt like ours. But, for all I know, it could have been a possum… a really big possum.

“But I couldn’t identify it. You know, we were country kids. We could identify just about every creature out there. But this was different.

Some witnesses claimed the creature was over 6 feet tall, with the body of a bear and the face of an ape. State zoologists disputed that any known animals fit the description.

One night, some teenagers who frequented the cemetery reportedly saw the creature walking upright along a line of trees. They threw firecrackers at the figure, watching it run through the woods.

Once alerted, Oakland Police Chief Greg Webb requested the assistance of the North Bend Police Chief, who had trained a coyote for tracking. Police searched the area at night, arriving empty. “We had a drought that year, so it was nearly impossible to find any traces,” said Leonard Canarsky, an Oakland Police Department officer before being elected Burt County sheriff later in 1974. The Joneses, who were the first to experience the phenomenon, believe the Oakland Creature used a pasture on their farm as a home base. “We heard it every night,” Dale said. “We had 22 acres of land… so there was no way we could find it.” That hasn’t stopped people from trying. Locals organized hunting trips, but they always came out empty, he said.

At the height of the sightings, three Omaha television stations dispatched camera crews to interview locals. Newspapers, including The World-Herald, ran articles about the sightings. Around the same time, reports of cattle mutilations were rife throughout northeastern Nebraska. Law enforcement did not believe the two were related, Carnasky said, because the mutilations were “too well performed” to have been performed by animals.

“It was more like sacrifices.” The sightings stopped when cooler weather moved to the area in September. Linda Jones delivered the couple’s first child that month, and neither she nor Dale recall hearing any noises afterward. Once the Oakland Creature disappeared, the talk faded. But the now distant memory remains. And a question: what was it?

Canarsky, the sheriff, guesses the creature was a mountain lion. “The drought probably would have driven them along Logan Creek, looking for food,” he said.

The lack of evidence suggests there is a logical reason behind the story, said Norman, the professor. But he wouldn’t necessarily have believed it if he had been a resident of Oakland in 1974.

“I love a good mystery as much as the next person,” she said. “Had I been there at the time, I’m sure I would have been really curious to find out.”

During an interview, Norman pointed out that reports of extraterrestrial visitation increased in the late 1970s as millions of Americans reported having a close encounter with a third kind.

It’s impossible to say for sure what has changed, he said, except for one thing:

The film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Steven Spielberg’s 1977 hit.

“The science of why people believe things has a lot to teach us. One benefit is that people are often seeing… what they expect or hope to see,” he said. “Reported sightings have increased because more people were hoping or expecting to experience strange phenomena.”

Still, Norman said, 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 “Oakland Creature” because it fills a deep need. Sometimes, people believe in the “Oakland creature” because the human mind craves an explanation, even when there isn’t one.

“There are a lot of species on the planet that we haven’t documented or cataloged yet,” Norman said. “But the chances that something the size of Bigfoot has managed to escape all scientific corroboration are incredibly small.”

He pointed out that the lack of evidence of evidence such as fossil remains.

“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 morning hours of July 4, 1974. They don’t know whether it was a psychological phenomenon, a physical creature, a wild animal or a mountain lion.

They know that everything they saw was not normal.

And whatever it was, they have no desire to meet him up close.

“If someone asked me to go look for him, I didn’t want to see him,” said Dale Jones. “It was just terrifying.”

The Flatwater Free Press is Nebraska’s first independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on investigations and stories that matter.

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