I grew up in the mountains and hills of East, TN. The area is rural yet it is not like the isolated backwoods towns of upper West Virginia. The town where I grew up specifically is called Piney Flats and before we begin, I’d like to go over a bit of the history on the town itself. The town was born in the late 1760’s as Henry Massengill Sr. built his plantation on the Watauga River. While he was not the first settler in the area, he was one of the earliest, one of many who traveled through the area. Before it was settled, the area that would become Piney Flats was mostly hunting grounds. Daniel Boone explored the area and made his now famous Daniel Boone Trail down what is now Austin Springs Road in 1769. He spent a large amount of time in this area and the sub-area of Johnson City and Piney Flats called Boones Creek is named after him.
William Cobb was the other most prominent settler at the same time as Massengill and Cobb built his plantation just across from the Massengill property and named it Rocky Mount. Rocky Mount would go on to become the capital of the Southwest Territory in 1790. Governor William Blount (founder of Blountville) chose Rocky Mount as the location of the capital until the permanent one was built in Knoxville. Today, Rocky Mount is perfectly preserved as a living history museum. I went on a tour there a child, and marveled at the in-character costumed men and women, living as they did hundreds of years ago. I even learned how to make candles by hand. It was an eye opening experience and one that is not easily forgotten.
The home where I grew up is in the less developed portion of Piney Flats on a road called Pickens Bridge. Surrounded by cattle pastures, hay fields and woods that stretch for miles, it is a calm peaceful area. Green and lush in the summer, starkly beautiful in winter. Boone Lake is also practically in my childhood backyard, full of fish and boaters, though now, sadly, it is almost gone due to a dam leak and the Tennessee Valley Authority taking drastic steps to prevent a dam rupture further down the water system. It is possible to go out at night and look up and see countless stars. If you will, picture a mobile home park. The home I grew up in is the first mobile home in the park with the largest front yard with two huge maple trees growing in the front yard and away towards the back were fields and woods.
My bedroom was on the end of the mobile home facing the woods as you can see in this Google Maps image from 2008. You can see the woods in the back as well
The experiences began in 2001 as something moving around outside our home at night, snuffling and seeming to be nosing around the house. We did have a few stray dogs and I thought nothing of it.
Then the screams began. They woke up me up one hot summer night. The sounds were so unusual, high pitched whooping screams and cackles that echoed off of the mountains. The crickets had stopped their screeking and every other animal sound went silent. Then the sounds changed, going from whooping hollers and yells to a deep long drawn out moaning scream that seemed to go on forever. I felt a fear seep over me that I had never known and my skin broke out in goose bumps. My blood turned to ice and I couldn’t even yell at my sister who was just down the hall to come and listen to it with me. All I could think of was the big window on the wall facing the woods had no glass at the time due to it being broken. We had, at the time, hung up a piece of plastic until the window could be repaired. Whatever it was sounded so alien, so unusual, that I could imagine it stalking down out of the woods, screaming and moaning as it reached into my window, tore that plastic aside, grabbed my ankles and dragged me out through my own window.
Finally, the long drawn out scream stopped and the whoops and yells began again. At last, over an hour later (it felt like it was forever) the sounds died down and the other animals began to make their nightly noises. The next day, after school, I came home to look around for any evidence of what I had heard only to find nothing but there was a feeling now coming from the dark woods behind the house, a feeling of being watched.
The summer continued and my birthday was coming up. I was turning sixteen and in the excitement of getting my driver’s license, I got brave and maybe even foolhardy. My sister was two years younger than I and was a rough and tumble tom boy (she had to be; my aunt had twin sons and I was the oldest of all four but she was raised around boys and grew up learning how to fight and get into trouble). I talked her into going into the woods with me to see if we could find what made those sounds. She’s a heavy sleeper and did not hear them. We packed up our BB guns and a walking stick and went into the woods on a trek worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (or so we thought in our young minds). Trekking through the woods that were deceptively small while were really quite large, we came upon a trail and followed it up to the crest of a hill overlooking Pickens Bridge Road. We saw a black shape that was large, bigger than a dog, lying on its side on the crest of the hill.
Coming closer the smell hit us.It was the smell of death and decay, of hot humid rot.
There before us was the carcass of a calf. It wasn’t just laying on the ground however. It had been mutilated almost beyond recognition. Its cause of death was obvious; its head and neck had been snapped and turned all the way around until its vertebrae were poking out of its flesh in a compound fracture. Its eyes, black and dry, looked up at us swarming with flies. Its legs had been ripped up and around in their sockets, twisted far beyond anything natural motion would allow. Its back it had been broken in three places. Its internal organs were lying on the ground but not yet eaten. The grass around the body was trampled but there was no blood. The fields around the house were owned by cattle farmers. They raised the cattle for meat and dairy but never killed their cows in this manner. No predator I know would do the damage that had been done to that calf. Mountain lions suffocate their prey. Dogs eat their prey on the spot, they don’t move it. Coyotes taking a perfectly healthy calf from a mother was highly unlikely.
The air changed and felt like we didn’t belong there and my sister and I quickly made for the house, opting to walk on the road instead of risk going back through the woods. Later that night, the screams came again.
Below is a map of the experiences.
The blue dot is my childhood home and is placed over where my bedroom was in relation to the woods behind the house. The yellow dot is approximately where it seemed like the whoops and screams and moans were coming from. The red dot is where my sister and I found the calf’s corpse. It was tossed into the tree line nearest the road on top of the hill.
I have long thought about those screams. After that summer in 2001, they never occurred again to my knowledge. I moved away from this home in late 2010. I moved back to my childhood home in 2015 while my partner Ben and I searched for a new home. I’ve looked at those woods and wondered, would I hear the screams again? What were they?
I was raised in the south. I know what dogs sound like. I know what coyotes sound like. I know what mountain lions sound like and bears. It was none of these. What it sounded like, the first part, the whoops and yells, was the whooping and yelling that chimpanzees get into when they are excited. The long drawn out moan however, I did not find a comparison for until recently when I discovered a recording made in 1994 in Ohio, courtesy of the Bigfoot Research Organization. The recording was made by Matt Moneymaker and Jamie Watson in late autumn of that year in Columbiana County, near the Ohio River (remember Boone Lake is right down the road from the house).
Here is a link to that recording: Unknown Howl
Here is a link to a video of chimpanzee’s playing and the sounds they are making are what I would here before the deep moaning howl: Chimp Sounds
A year before I left to come back home to TN in 2014, I visited Bay’s Mountain State Park and if you are not familiar with them, I highly recommend a visit. Not only is it an animal sanctuary, it is a fantastically beautiful location, nestled deep in the mountains of East Tennessee (the planetarium is well worth it alone!). On that visit, I was taking in John Serrie’s space music concert and before the show, I walked the trails, visiting the animal enclosures. The owls were friendly, especially one called Yoda. He was a tiny little fellow with big yellow eyes and an even bigger personality. He loved to be talked to. The white deer enjoyed being hand fed and the bob cats were curious. My goal however, was the wolf sanctuary. Bay’s Mountain had been hit with a run of bad luck and unfortunately a large number of their older wolves had passed away but they had also been blessed with a new litter of wolf pups.
When I was much younger, maybe five or six, my family had taken me to Bay’s Mountain on a camping trip and on the trip, we had visited that same wolf enclosure. There, when I was alone, I was standing next to the fence, I saw a massive black wolf come out of his den and come right up to the fence and stare at me. He was gigantic, stoic, majestically terrifying and sad with his large green eyes and soulful gaze.
I wanted to try and recapture that feeling on my visit to the park for the concert but sadly that wolf was nowhere to be seen. I wondered what had happened to him. On the night of the concert, there was one wolf, an alpha female. She, like the previous wolf in the past, was black. Unlike the wolf of the past, she was skittish and walked close but did not come to the fence. Around the time of the concert, I began to walk back on the paved trails to the planetarium and as the sun began to fall, the wolves began to sing.
It was a beautiful mournful song, not in the slightest scary. It was the call of nature.
The sounds I heard in the woods were not wolves. The song of the wolves did not raise my hair on my head, did not make me shiver or send waves of cold sticky fear down my spine. Something was in the woods that night and many nights after, something that screamed and moaned, howling into the night sky, something that tore apart calves like they were made of paper. I never found any tracks or scat but it was something primal and beyond anything I have ever experienced.
Was it a Sasquatch? I can’t say it was. I have no evidence beyond sounds to say it was. All I know is that it was an unknown thing, screaming in the night in the woods behind my house. Does it still roam?
Time will tell.
—Anthony Justus, August, 2015.
Rocky Mount Historic Site. (2015, August 18). Retrieved August 18, 2015.
Moneymaker, M., & Watson, J. (2002). 1994 Ohio – Moaning Howl. Bigfoot Research Organization. Retrieved August 19, 2015. http://www.bfro.net/avevid/mjm/Howl.mp3
Chimpanzees making a lot of noise. (2007, February 27). Retrieved August 18, 2015.
*Satellite Maps provided courtesy of Google Maps and Google Earth.