Lore and Legends
Mysteries of the Wood River Valley
ILLUSTRATIONS Michael Wertz
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WILD MAN OF CAMAS PRAIRIE—YOU MAY BE NEXT!
For years, the rarely timorous denizens of the Wood River Valley and the Camas Prairie lived in mortal dread of a being so large, so loathsome, so cruel, that adult men slept with their lanterns blazing and fierce watchdogs cowered behind iron stoves. No one was safe. The Camas Wild Man was afoot!
Newspapers, including those as far away as Chicago and New York, quoted witnesses who said the Wild Man wore a beard two-and-a-half-feet long. His muscular body was covered with a two-inch-thick mat of hair. His finger and toe nails were long, at least two inches, and resembled claws. Whispered conversation reported he lived primarily on snakes and over the years had abducted a couple of innocent maidens, ensuring a fate worse than death. These horrific stories, whispered in the finest drawing rooms of the Valley, sent delicate women lurching for their swoon couches. All piety and decency and life itself were vulnerable to this demented feral beast.
Finally, justice prevailed. The Bellevue Sun reported in 1883 that a traveler named Mickelhenny was hunting in the prairie for ducks with a double-barreled shotgun. Suddenly, the Camas Wild Man leapt from behind some greenery.
Mickelhenny, no whimpering fool, dropped the Wild Man with both barrels. Mickelhenny’s colleagues came running. But the Wild Man was NOT dead. He rose and started to flee. Just as the Wild Man turned to look back at his tormentors, one of the men hurled a hatchet at him. The hatchet cleaved his forehead, and, this time, the Wild Man fell dead.
“Thus ends the life of a mysterious being,” reported The Bellevue Sun.
T. E. Picotte, editor of the Hailey Times, was aghast at the Sun’s revelation. Outraged, Picotte detailed in his paper—admitted to the world—that he, personally, had conceived and brought forth the Camas Wild Man. And this fictitious creation, he fumed, had well served the circulation needs of all three valley newspapers (The Ketchum Keystone rounded out the literary triumvirate). The Sun, he harangued, had no legal or moral right to callously kill off the circulation-enhancing Wild Man, and even then it did so with “ways that are dark and tricks that are vain.”
Presumably, newspaper readers in those days paid no more attention to editorial-page rants and front-page tomfoolery than they do today. And, thus, Valley readers quickly moved from the Wild Man to the more pressing revelations of Mrs. Kate Dougray, who reported that during the winter two of her fine hogs fell into a pond . . . mind you, it was 30 below zero . . . and were quickly encased in ice. However, when the thaw came, the two pigs, brace yourself, promptly broke free of their ice overcoats and returned to normal life . . . rooting for garbage behind the local restaurants. Why not?