Lake Conway Monster

aka: Skunk Ape

The Lake Conway Monster was a creature reputed to haunt the waters of an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission lake in Faulkner County, with the first reported sighting taking place in 1952.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission constructed the 6,700-acre Lake Conway by damming Palarm Creek about three miles south of Conway (Faulkner County), with the lake formally opening on July 4, 1951. Less than a year later, Conway’s Log Cabin Democrat ran an article reporting a fisherman’s encounter with a strange creature in the lake, with the reporter noting that people in the area “whispered about mysterious goings on in the Palarm Creek brakes for 30 years—before the lake was even a dream.”

In the article, fisherman George Dillon of Mayflower (Faulkner County) stated that he was running trotlines near the Narrows Bridge when he thought his line had become entangled in a snag. When pulling on the line, Dillon said a creature emerged from the water with one trotline hook in its mouth and two stuck in its face. “He described the animal as weighing about 75 or 80 pounds,” the article reported. “It had green spotted skin similar to a frog’s and a head which resembled a monkey’s, with its temples pinched in, and a monkey-like mouth with blue lips and no teeth….It had fairly broad shoulders, more stooped than a man’s, and its back was humped. The chest was concave.”

Dillon told the reporter that the creature struck his boat and then swam away after one hook broke loose and the others were pulled straight. The fisherman noted that he had stopped fishing in the area where the reputed encounter took place, saying “as for me, seeing is believing and I wasn’t drinking good whiskey nor bad whiskey when I saw it.”

The Log Cabin Democrat ran other stories about the Lake Conway Monster in 1953, including one claiming a fisherman had shot at the creature and another saying the monster took a boy’s rod and reel, and when a wire service picked up one of the stories and it received national attention, a later researcher said “there were traffic jams leading up to the spillway.” In early 1954, Frank Robins Jr., the newspaper’s publisher, declared that no further Lake Conway Monster stories would be run unless accompanied by a photograph of the beast.

A 2012 book stated that sightings of the Lake Conway Monster, “accompanied by an incredible stench coming from the creature,” continued in the 1970s, and reported an August 1985 incident in which a fisherman named Lee Allen was thrown from his flat-bottomed boat by the monster, leading to Allen’s harrowing swim to shore to escape the beast.

A 2007 book claims that the last sighting of the Lake Conway Monster was by “a well known and influential citizen of the nearby town of Conway” who was checking his trotlines when his boat was pulled forty yards toward the middle of the lake. After feeling something bumping against the bottom of the boat, he said a creature emerged and looked at him: “a monster, the most frightening thing I have ever seen or could ever imagine, a face and head straight from the depths of hell.” The creature submerged and the unnamed fisherman paddled quickly to shore, according to the account.

No photos of the Lake Conway Monster exist, and former Arkansas tourism director Joe David Rice has concluded “since the lake’s average depth is only six feet, one would assume it couldn’t be a very large brute.”

It is possible the stories have racist roots. University of Central Arkansas (UCA) professor Mark Spitzer, who composed verse regarding several reputed Arkansas monsters, wrote, “I visited with two long-time Conwegians who confessed to me they made up the story in an attempt to frighten a certain population away,” concluding that the Lake Conway Monster was fabricated to deter African Americans from fishing in the lake.

For additional information:
Garner, Betty Sanders. Monster! Monster! A Survey of the North American Monster Scene. Blaine, WA: Hancock House Publishing, 1995.

Jameson, W. C. Ozark Tales of Ghosts, Spirits, Hauntings, and Monsters. Baxter Springs, KS: Goldsmith Publishing, 2007.

Lowe, Alan, and Jason Hall. Supernatural Arkansas: Ghosts, Monsters, and the Unexplained. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2012.

Mosby, Joe. “Huge Turtle Resurrects Monster Tale.” Arkansas Gazette, May 24, 1991, p. 7D.

Rice, Joe David. “Conway Has It All.” AY Magazine, October 28, 2018. https://www.aymag.com/conway-has-all/ (accessed October 22, 2021).

Rolf, Carol. “Conway Couple Seeks ‘Curiosities’ for Book.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 5, 2008, River Valley Ozark Section, p. 65.

Scales, Walter Ed. “Does a ‘Monster’ Lurk in Lake Conway’s Waters?” Log Cabin Democrat, March 13, 1952, p. 3.

Spitzer, Mark. Crypto-Arkansas. N.p.: 2013.

Wolfe, Ron. “It Came from Arkansas!” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 15, 2013, pp. 1E, 6E.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 10/22/2021