A listener writes “I grew up in a small town in western Ohio and my grandparents owned a small horse farm. I was the oldest grandchild and I idolized my grandpa, so I started going camping with my grandparents at around 4 years old, and I began trail riding at age 6. We would camp in Hocking Hills, Salt Fork, and Tar Hollow State Park.
My grandpa had an RV, but the campsites are primitive: no electric, no water, no sewer, only pit toilets, baths in the creek that ran next to campground, and my grandpa refused to run the generator to run the AC. My bed was the one above the front seats, so in the summer, it would get unbearably hot up there, so if it wasn’t supposed to rain overnight, I would sweep out the horse trailer, line up bales of hay, cover them with at tarp, and I would sleep in there where it was cooler.
All these experiences take place from roughly 1986 to about 1994 and I can’t be exactly sure in which order they happened because at the time, I just passed them off as weird but probably explainable occurrences.
The thing that changed my view was the first time I heard you play the Ohio howl, and I realized I had heard that before, in real life.
The horse camp at Tar Hollow is on the opposite side of the State Park from the main camping and lake, in a valley between two decent sized ridges. At the time there was only one local radio station we could get to come in regularly, so before bed I would listen to it to get the overnight weather report. They said no rain, so I did my normal routine and made up a bed in the trailer.
I would say about 1 a.m., I woke up hearing what sounded like a weird tornado siren. The weird part was it didn’t have the usual pattern of a tornado siren. It would go off by starting low then end at high pitch, then silent for a few minutes. I heard it maybe four times offer a period of 10 minutes, but the direction it seemed to be coming from wasn’t where the closest town was. I thought maybe they had one at the fire tower in the middle of the park, so I decided to wake my grandparents up to get the radio. There was no mention of storms, and my grandpa being the no nonsense man the was said I probably dreamt it and go back to sleep.
At the time, the campground was set up with three circles of campsites. We were in the largest circle. It was in the middle and had bigger campsites for larger rigs, to the south there was a decent sized circle, but the sites weren’t as easy to pull in and out of, and then there was a small circle on the north end. The small circle was in heavier tree cover, but the sites were really only suitable for small rigs like truck campers with a one or two horse trailer.
So one night I was awakened by what I thought was mule. If you have ever heard a mule bray, they can make some odd noises, and there was one guy who rode a mule who would camp there on occasion. I hadn’t seen him in camp, but it wasn’t uncommon for people to pull into camp at night especially if they had a long drive and were coming after work. The sound that woke me up lasted maybe 2 to 3 seconds and sounded like a mixture of a scream and a mule. It was coming from the direction of the small circle. The next morning, I told my grandpa that that guy must have come in during the night. My grandpa and I had a routine every morning, while grandma cooked breakfast, we would feed and water the horses at the creek, eat breakfast, then take our coffee and walk through camp to say good morning to everyone. We walked back to the small circle and there wasn’t anyone back there. We walked the rest of the camp and there were no mules in camp.
There was a guy who rode with us on occasion who said he and his dog had an encounter in the park. He lived closer and would come to the camp even more frequent than we did. He would come on the non holiday weekends and on those days, it wasn’t uncommon for only a handful of campers to be in the park. He told us that he was riding alone with his dog. He was on a trail that we would ride on at least 50% of our rides. It followed a valley for about a mile and a half and there is small valley that branches off from the valley that the trail is on, but there is no trail down that off shoot because it ends up on private property and is kind of swampy. He said he smelled the worst smell he had ever smelled, his dog took off towards the swamp area, and he heard something crashing through the brush. His dog yelped and then came back covered in a slimy substance that smelled like what he said the creature smelled like. Back then, bigfoot was a joke, so he took a lot of ribbing from everyone, but he never rode by himself after that, and if we took that trail, he would go at basically a full gallup, and wait for us at the top of the ridge.
There was a trail we used to ride and on one side of the ridge, they had done some logging. The loggers had left a pile of logs and brush beside the trail at the top of the ridge and that area was a nice wide and flat area, so we would usually give the horses a breather there. The problem with the spot is that the pile of logs and brush was a great area for timber rattlesnakes, hence why we called the area rattlesnake ridge. We would just tie up the horses away from the log pile and leave the snakes alone. This one time we stopped at the wide spot and began to dismount, but the horses were acting weird and skittish. Then we noticed a weird rotting garbage smell. This happened after the guy told us the bigfoot story, and someone joked that it was probably bigfoot. The horses just wouldn’t calm down and the smell was horrible, so we only stayed maybe 5 minutes before getting back on the horses. All of them were in a hurry to get out of there, which was odd because it was a really hot day, so the horses usually wouldn’t be so ready to go after such a short rest.
The group that we rode with liked to indulge in adult beverages as we rode. On this particular day, someone had brought a bottle of I believe Wild Turkey, and by about 1pm, of the women in the group had become so drunk she could barely get on her horse. Although we had been out of camp for about 4 hours, we had only really ridden for about 90 minutes of that, so we weren’t very far from camp. The route we had planned to take that day at this rate would have been another 4 hours of we rode at our regular pace, so she wasn’t going to be able to continue. Me being the only person under the age of 30 and still underage for alcohol for that matter, I volunteered to take her back to camp. It didn’t really bother me because hour long breaks to drink weren’t very fun for me. I had been riding these trails for 10 years at this point and knew the park like the back of my hand, so we headed back to camp, and the rest of the group continued their ride. I had to kinda take the ride slow as she could barely stay in her saddle and I kept encouraging her to drink water to try to sober up a little. Even though we were basically just riding at a waking pace, there were two decent hills we would have to climb to get back to camp and we would have to rest the horses at the top of each climb. As we were making our second hill climb, she says “what the f*** is that smell?” About that time, it was like a wall of rotting trash smell hit me. The horses began rushing up the hill. Normally I would reign my horse in on a climb to keep it from climbing too fast, but there was no stopping them. We got to the top of the hill, the horses are both breathing hard and sweat was dripping from them. We had just went down that hill about two hours prior and we didn’t smell anything. I knew after that fast climb, we had to rest the horses, so I got off my horse and helped her off hers. Again, the horses were antsy and nervous, and they both just kept looking back down the trail nickering. After about 5 or 10 minutes they finally calmed down. We eventually mounted up and made it back to camp without any thing else happening.
Looking back knowing what I know now, the scariest thing that happened was another night in the trailer. It started off with hearing something walking in the creek that was about 30 yards behind the trailer at about 2 am. The creek is full of flat sand stone, great for skipping, but horrible to walk on. I heard what sounded like a person walking slowly in the creek, like step pause step pause. That went on for just a minute or two. Then I started hearing rocks being clacked together in groups of three. Clack-clack-clack, two or three minute pause, then three more. This happened maybe 5 or 6 times. All I could think was someone was messing around in the creek but I couldn’t see any flashlights or anything. The rock clacking stopped, so I tried going back to sleep. A few minutes later, our horses, which are tied to hitching rails between the trailer and the creek, began getting restless and nickering. By itself, that isn’t abnormal, but add in the sounds in the creek, I starting thinking either the person or animal that had been making the sounds in the creek was now near our horses, so I sit up and look out but I don’t see anything, but the horses are looking off to my right. I look over that direction but I could only see the tree line. I start thinking maybe a deer was over there and I tried to lay back down. At this time this had been going on for maybe a half hour to 45 minutes. Not sure how much time passed but I was just starting to fall back asleep and I hear heavy thumps on the ground outside the trailer. I thought maybe it was a horse that had gotten loose. Sometimes when they are getting bitten by flies on their legs, they will stomp the ground, or when they are tied up and thirsty, they will paw at the ground. Either way, it meant I had to get up and either catch the horse, or take the horses for a drink or I wouldn’t get any sleep. I sat up, slipped on my boots, and grabbed my flash light. As soon as I turned on the light, something took off through the woods, splashed once in the creek, and continued out towards the road. I got up, thinking it must have been a huge deer that I scared. I decided to go ahead and take the horses to get a drink, but none of them would go towards the creek.”
Wow very interesting! Thank you!
Even though you never saw one(s) it would seem they were around you back then, and maybe even came in to possibly food search at night. The Hocking Hills area of Ohio is notorious for them. I read one report in 2021 where 4 folks that had rented a cabin saw one, although not at Tar Hollow. I remember going through Laurelville this past July (state hwy 56 ) on a long weekend motorcycle getaway vacation for myself and seeing signs for Tar Hollow to the south. Looking at a map it seems rather secluded, thus a perfect place for them.
Funny you should mention food. There was a time when someone (probably me) left the tack compartment open on the trailer. We kept the bags of horse feed in there. We had one get taken out and ripped open. The bags weighed 50 pounds, so we never could figure out who/what did it.
Interesting, I would not think they would like horse food, but certainly may have inspected the feed. I have heard of folks saying they like dog food though. I also would not be surprised be surprised of a crow imitation. I once heard one imitate an owl and 2 seconds later another one 100 yards away imitated a loon. Both two loud and a bit off key, but better than I could do.
One thing I forgot to mention: the crows.
Every morning the crows would wake me up, but sometimes they would start early and they didn’t sound quite right. They were louder and deeper sounding.
I live in central Ohio and they are definitely in this area. Don’t know if they stay all year round but I know time to time they are. Southern Ohio is even thicker than Central and I could see a big population living down there. A friend I know while on a hunting Excursion in Southern Ohio in the Wayne National Forest, we came lost and ended up walking all night until morning until he finally found a road. Couldn’t get no cell phone coverage. There’s still a lot of land out there!