Fire No. 21 crackled and popped through the darkness of the Northwoods. As we gathered ’round its glow, we knew it could be out there watching. Maybe it was just steps away.
St. Croix Rods Director of Sales Jeff Crockett logs every fire out here, at his home in the heart of nowhere. It’s late May, and tonight’s is the 21st blaze of 2016. Crockett scratches the number on a nearby post then etches three names beside it: Jeff, Julie, Joe, the keepers of this flame.
About 20 miles away, the St. Croix rods factory in Park Falls sits idle for the night. In the morning, Crockett will make the drive through rural Wisconsin’s dense pine forests to his desk at the plant. Tonight, he’ll try to explain a series of unexplained events that have haunted he and his wife Julie since they moved here four years ago.
Four years of weird
The Crockett homestead sits in the middle of the towering woods that line Jeff’s drive to work. Finding it isn’t easy … even if you know where to look. But somewhere ’round the bend in a long, dirt lane, off a narrow, overgrown county highway, you’ll find it—a cabin, a few sheds and a campfire.
“We wanted to live rural, real rural,” starts Jeff. “When Julie and I found this place, the only fear from the realtor was that it was too far out. We’re a mile to the nearest living human, a mile from the nearest blacktop road and seven miles to the nearest actual highway.”
Out here, there’s room to raise animals, grow vegetables and hunt in the nearby fields and swamps. In other words, it’s a sportsman’s haven. “I like to say we’re a thousand miles from nowhere,” Crockett adds.
Just maybe, they’re a thousand miles from normal.
Crockett throws another log on the fire, before delving into the meat-and-potatoes of his tale.
“The house is so remote that you don’t hear anything out here but the wildlife. You get used to the normal woods stuff,” he says. “The coyote calls, the owls, even the wolves. Julie and I both grew up in the woods. We grew up camping. We’ve been in the woods our entire lives, but there’s something out here that can’t be explained.”
That something has manifested itself most often in a howling call that’s, more than once, rattled the Crocketts to their core. They’ve heard it in the middle of the day, in the late afternoon twilight and in the deep of the night.
“Neither of us have ever been big believers in the physical being of a sasquatch, but what we heard, what we continue to hear—and what seven people who have visited us here have heard—is unexplainable. No one can tell us what it is and no one can verify that it’s anything they’ve ever heard before.”
It sounds something like this (wait for it):
That recording came from North Carolina, but the Crocketts say it’s nearly identical to the noise that’s repeatedly echoed around their home. When it happens, Jeff and Julie say, it sounds impossibly close. It’s sent their dogs scurrying for shelter. Deer will run from it. And when Jeff imitates the call to a pack of howling coyotes in a nearby field, they immediately go silent.
Whatever the sound is, the local wildlife seem to know something about it.
The tree stand incident
More than a half-dozen witnesses have heard the strange call at the Crockett home, and as we wait around Fire 21, hoping to hear it tonight, Jeff recounts his most chilling encounter with its shriek. It happened on a snowy evening while he and his late father were hunting on the property.
“I was in a tree stand near the road. Dad was in a blind on the ground overlooking a game trail on the edge of the swamp. As the crow flies, we’re maybe 100 yards apart, but to walk it through the woods, you’ve got to go around quite a ways. So we were close enough to hear but not get to each other quickly. It’s getting close to dark, when all of a sudden I hear it! It sounded real close, and it sounded like it was coming from Dad’s direction. So, I get on the radio and I try to reach him. ‘Dad, dad, are you okay?’
“I didn’t get an answer. But it was getting close to dark, so I decided to head back to our rendezvous point at my bar and meet up with him. I figured he’d beat me to it, since his blind was actually a lot closer to the building than the tree stand, but I was first. After a while, he comes storming in, and he’s white as a ghost. He looked dead at me and said, ‘Son, tell me you know what the hell that was!?’
Of course, I didn’t know. I still don’t know, but apparently it was right outside of his window.”
The next day, the younger Crockett walked out towards the blind where his dad had been petrified the night before. No fresh snow had fallen, but there were no tracks outside of the blind.
“I started tracking in circles around it,” he adds. “But I never found anything.”
The far right window of that blind still bears a reminder of the night: two words, scribed in black Sharpie, “Be Vigilant.” A cartoon sasquatch walks beside them.
An elusive intruder
The Crocketts have tried to document their mysterious visitor. Jeff has placed trail cameras throughout the property. On one instance, a camera positioned over eight feet off the ground was inexplicably blacked out. Upon investigation, Jeff found a series of nearby tree branches snapped in two—all well above the height of a human or bear on its hind legs.
The couple say it’s not unusual for does to bring their fawns in close to the house in the evening, as a safeguard from coyotes, bears and wolves. However, despite this protection, a fawn was taken from their porch one night. Left in its wake was a trail of destruction and an unusual, unidentifiable brown hair.
And still, the sound persists. From time-to-time, the Crocketts still hear a shrill wail racing through their valley.
As the fire in the Northwoods dies down, I’m left with more questions than answers. In three hours by the fire, we didn’t hear the shrieking call. We did hear a large creature blundering through the woods, and though Jeff and I took off through the brush in pursuit, we decided that it was probably just a bear.
But bears don’t make ape-like calls. They don’t cleanly snap tree branches or block out trail cameras. And they’re unlikely to startle a couple whose been living in the woods for decades.
“This isn’t like someone playing a trick,” Jeff says. “All of our neighbors are older. And nobody’s coming out here through the woods. Even the GPS takes you to the end of the road and drops you off. It doesn’t take you all the way back here.”
In the forest near Park Falls, Wisconsin, a lurking mystery remains. But as I turn the wheels towards home, one last clue pops up. Back at the St. Croix plant, someone else spotted something. Darting across the road on his way to work, straight out of the pine forest, St. Croix employee John Schey saw a tall black figure covered in hair.
He swore it was a sasquatch.