“Ages ago an Indian Town on Lake Wailes lake was plagued with raids by a huge gator. The town’s great warrior Chief and the gator were killed in a final battle that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later pioneer haulers coming from the old army trail atop the ridge above found their horses laboring here… at the foot of the ridge… and called it Spook hill. Is it the gator seeking revenge, or the chief protecting his land?”
Long before Orlando’s infamous amusement parks, Winter Haven was a popular destination for vacationers. Eager tourists would flock to Cypress Gardens, a botanical wonderland for floral enthusiasts. Unfortunately, like many beloved relics from forgotten eras, modern-day capitalism has turned over these former treasures to the highest bidder. Merlin Entertainments purchased the property several years ago. What was once a majestic natural conservatory is now “Legoland”— a sprawling city of monstrous plastic cubes. However, one quirky roadside attraction remains in a nearby town. Best of all: the admission is completely free!
Covering nearly 2,000 square miles of southern Florida is a freshwater marsh known as the Everglades. There are tales that this area is home to a number of mysterious cryptids. Supposed inhabitants include Skunk Apes and anacondas so large that they can swallow alligators whole. Indigenous tribes speak of some lesser-known creatures. According to the Seminole, ominous owl-witches and werewolves roam the swampy land.
Stigini, also called Ishtikini or Stikini, are sinister shape-shifters which usually resemble a massive great horned owl with dark menacing eyes. During the day they appear as ordinary people but once the sun sets they transform into a nine-foot tall feathered being. The metamorphosis occurs through vomiting their souls and internal organs each evening. By night they hunt for victims so that they can eat mortal’s hearts to take on their appearance. These entities are essentially zombies whose sole existence is the consumption of human flesh.
Although the translation of Stigini means horned owl, they can also take on the appearance of other animals. On rare occasions they resemble bear, wolves or coyotes. Certain Seminole groups warn that speaking their name aloud puts you at risk for turning into one. In certain cases only revered tribal elders are permitted to tell these stories. Other communities treat the mysterious lore more casually and even use the fable to frighten children into behaving.
Similar myths are shared by various cultures around the world. In Mexican folklore the Lechuza is a large and magical bird who seeks revenge on those that have wronged her. West Virginia has legends of Mothman, a mysterious winged humanoid who is said to be an omen of impending doom. Greek mythology spoke of Strige, a wicked vampiric screech owl forced to live in an upside-down world. Other Native Americans believed that Thunderbirds had supernatural strength and powers.
Hatcko-tcapko, also referred to as Long Ears, is a werewolf-like beast. They wander the desolate marshlands by moonlight. Eyewitnesses accounts state that these beings are donkey to ox-sized and has a fusion of both deer and wolf features. As the name may imply, its ears are enormous and pointed. Long thin legs support their oversized hooked paws. At the end of Long Ear’s grey fur covered body is a bushy horse tail.
Those who encounter this creature describe smelling a foul odor when they are within close proximity. Similar to many reported Bigfoot encounters, this putrid scent is a frequent sign of its presence. Seminole were cautious to never get too close to Long Ears because of his ability to infect people with deadly diseases. Despite Hatcko-tcapko’s horrifying appearance and dangerous nature, he is not believed to be malicious.
Florida’s monsters of yesterday have been replaced with viral modern day alternatives: cannibals, zombies and living dinosaurs. Indigenous people could have merely been describing their own bizarre encounters in an era before the internet or cable TV. Roughly 200 species are going extinct each day on Earth. It’s entirely plausible that unknown animals lived in the Everglades centuries ago. What’s even more intriguing is the possibility that some may have survived.
If you’re ever had any strange encounters in rural Southern Florida feel free to share your experiences. I’d love to hear your thoughts!