For decades, the hills around Douglas County were said to be inhabited by the Blue Man. (Illustration by Aaron J Scott)
Once upon a time, a wild, man-like creature roamed the remote, wooded hills around Douglas County. He was infrequently seen, but his presence felt as far back as the 1860s.
Looking to chase and kill, he carried a wooden club in his huge hand, threw large boulders and feasted upon livestock. Periodic appearances sent locals spinning into a tizzy and brave men searching the woods — and enough excitement to last until the next sighting.
He was the Blue Man of Spring Creek.
“It is a genuine Ozark legend, and if the testimony of scores of men during all these years is to be accepted, the legend is absolutely true,” reported the Springfield Leader in 1924.
At first sight
There’s debate over how the Sasquatch-like creature earned his name. He wasn’t literally blue, but some say his jet-black fur shone as such in the sunlight. Another account said he wore skins and feathers dyed blue with berries.
Others claimed the name came from Blue Sol Collins, the first man to see him. That sighting supposedly took place in 1865, and was recounted in the Springfield Republican in 1915:
“In the early spring of 1865, Blue Sol Collins was hunting on the divide between North Fork and Spring creek. A light snow had fallen the night before. The woodland seemed to be covered by a myriad of tracks — turkey tracks, deer tracks, rabbit, fox and coon tracks — big and little tracks — but most conspicuous were the tracks that resembled somewhat those of a bear.
“Blue Sol was a hunter without fear, and believing the bigger the game the better the hunt, he followed the long broad tracks with the claw-like impression in soft snow. After following the trail for several hours over the North Fork, Indian and Spring Creek hills, Sol suddenly came upon the object of his search on the north slope of upper Twin mountain. Sol looked, jumped out of the path of several descending boulders and ran.
He had seen an object unmistakably human, though strongly resembling a vicious animal, hurling huge boulders at him down the steep hillside.”
Newspapers reported periodic encounters in the years that followed. The experiences weren’t only tied to Douglas County: At other times, he was supposedly seen in counties such as Ozark and Howell.
One experience was in 1874, which started a string of sightings through 1890. Another was in 1911, when a posse supposedly raided the Blue Man’s den and found “sheep pelts, hog hides, parts of dog skins, many bones, feathers and other remains from past feasts.”
Then came 1915. That year, several loggers from near Willow Springs believed they saw him near Blue Rock Mountain.
“Jay Taber saw him less than a week ago,” reported the Republican. “His hair, once black, is now gray and his body is not so robust as it was fifty years ago when Blue Sol Collins saw him first, but he is still very active and is probably the best living example of the simple life.”
That year marked the Blue Man’s rise to prominence beyond the Douglas County area. Several local newspapers wrote about the sighting — an act that likely gave the legend a much longer life and legacy.
One mention was in the Stanberry Headlight on July 8, which noted that “Douglas County wood haulers report having seen the strange creature several times lately.”
On Aug. 10, the Moberly Weekly Monitor said that “News comes to this site that after an absence of four years, the mysterious ‘Blue Man of Spring Creek’ has again appeared in his old haunts and is causing great excitement in the wild and hilly country along the Big North Fork, Indian and Spring creeks, in the eastern end of Douglas County.”
According to Mountain Grove Journal 1, there was a “wild man at large.”
It was even picked up as far away as St. Joseph. The newspaper there, however, had a slightly different reaction than awe. They decided to make the news into a stand-up comedic routine.
“St. Joseph has many hued people, but it has nothing that will compare with this Ozark Mountain Freak, and on which the editor of the Howell County Gazette will discourse most entertainingly when he visits St. Joseph at the State Press Meeting the middle of September,” the newspaper reported.
Not everyone was excited about the legend — at least in a good way. That same year, Howell County residents were cited in an article vehemently denying the Blue Man’s existence.
“The ‘Blue Man of the Ozarks’ is a mythical creation and the stories about the wild and woolly personage which have been going the round of the daily papers of the state are wholly fictitious, according to residents of that district described as his haunts,” noted an article in the Leader. “Much objection to the stories is taken by residents of that part of the state who declare that they do much injury to the region by creation the impression that the people have to go armed-to-the-teeth to protect themselves.”
Douglas County, an area where the Blue Man is said to be.
After the 1915 flurry of excitement, the Blue Man went into hiding. His memory was revitalized about 10 years later, when more articles appeared in local papers.
The publicity at that point, it seems, was thanks to Ava’s postmaster. He received a question and newspaper clipping about the legend from a man in California, and portions of his response were printed in the Nevada Daily News in March 1925:
“The clipping you enclosed is stated in facts,” the postmaster wrote. “However, this man is now dead, but many of his children now live in a wild state on the banks of Spring creek, all colored blue, live in nude and subsist on small wild animals such as bear, wild cats and mountain lion, which these people devour raw. Many of them are 7 to 8 feet tall and weigh 300 to 500 pounds and are often seen carrying young horses and cattle on their shoulders to their dens or large caves wear they live.”
“No one in this country ventures out at night in this vicinity as to do so means sure death.”
Despite the postmaster’s fake news, he didn’t convince the Nevada paper that he was serious.
“No one in the Ozarks, as a matter of course, has ever given the old story any credence or little thought, but the outside world swallows it whole ever so often,” the paper printed in the same article.
Life of the legend
While newspaper reports featuring the Blue Man affirm the theory of his existence, they do something else: They prove that he made a good story. It’s a fact that supports the story’s propulsion — and its potential for some serious side-eye. For example:
“Who he is, nobody is sure, but he is said to be a descendent of French traders who visited this territory just before the Revolutionary War. One of the traders was accompanied by a Spanish woman from Florida,” noted the 1915 Republican article. “He cast her aside somewhere in the Ozarks and she is said to have been the great-great-grandmother of the Blue Man of Spring Creek. His other ancestors were Indians.”
The newspaper continued: “At least such as the story of Jerry Hildebrand, who settled in Douglas county in 1820 and died there in 1885.”
Mr. Hildebrand would likely tell folks something else: That Ozarkers have long loved a good story.
“Some people just made up stories to see how far they could go,” says Sharon Sanders, who has lived most of her 73 years in Douglas County and is secretary-treasurer of the Douglas County Historical Society. “They were called ‘kidders’ back then.”
She notes that in the past, legends, stories, rumors and tall tales were simply part of life. One example she gives was about Ava kids, who believed it was “dangerous to go to Mansfield because the kids were so mean,” she says. “Mansfield kids didn’t want to come to Ava because they were so mean. And none of us wanted to go to Seymour because they were worse!”
The role of stories is seconded by local historian Cinita Brown. “There was no entertainment,” she says. “People sat around and told tall tales.”
With their historical work, Brown and Sanders have both heard of the Blue Man. However, if a random sampling of local residents is any indication, the rumor has all but died out.
An 89-year-old woman, who has lived most of her life in the area, looked perplexed when asked about the story. Another man, a store operator whose family have been local since the 1840s, hadn’t heard of him. At least five other folks with deep roots in the area knew very little of the legend, or hadn’t heard of it at all.
However, there are still a few folks well acquainted with the tale.
One Douglas County man, who declined to be named, grew up hearing of it from family members. There’s also Vincent Anderson, an Ozark County native who has done considerable research on the subject. He was Animal Planet’s point-of-contact when they came to do an episode on the Blue Man for reality show “Finding Bigfoot” in 2015.
While the show is considered reality TV, Anderson quickly notes that it should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Let me say: Reality TV is not reality,” says Anderson, who works as a reference librarian at the Donald J. Reynolds Library. “What we filmed and did … and what you saw on the TV show — ah, it’s totally different.”
The show makes it seem like the Blue Man still regularly roams the hills, and includes interviews with people who claim to have encountered him in recent years. However, Anderson suspects that some weren’t telling the truth.
“I’m thinking, ‘Nope, nope, nope, nope.’ I didn’t agree with some of the people they put on,” he says. “They looked at me and I said, ‘I wouldn’t do it,’ but they did it anyway.”
Regardless of the show — and Sasquatch-hunting celebrity Rob Lowe, who also claims to have seen the Blue Man in recent weeks — Anderson says there are “regular” folks who say they’ve had recent encounters.
There’s just one problem: Those folks are said to be so scarred that they don’t want to talk about it.
“The people who have actually had an experience, they will not talk,” he says. “The people who think they’ve seen or experienced, they’re loose with their lips.”
However, after much work, Anderson did manage to get one man to talk to him about his encounter. It was a moment, according to Anderson, that made the man never want to go in the woods again.
“It literally shook him, changed him,” says Anderson. “This thing, by his story, chased him for about a mile. Until he got to his pickup and got his keys out. Keys went in the ignition, and the truck started on him, and he was so happy.
“He was actually going to shoot it, and apparently all he had was a .22 and he thought to himself, ‘What am I doing?’ So he took off running, and he ran back to his pickup. He was almost a mile away.”
Such stories give Anderson pause when asked if he believes the Blue Man exists.
“You know what, that guy really experienced something. I don’t think it was his imagination,” he says. “There’s some things that I’m just not going to say, ‘No, they’re making it up’ because I can’t prove they’re making it up.”
“The Blue Man of Howell County,” The St. Joseph Observer, July 10, 1915
“Challenge stories of Blue Man of the Ozarks,” Springfield Leader, Nov. 12, 1915
“Famous ‘Blue Man’ of Ozarks again harries country,’ Moberly Weekly Monitor, Aug. 8, 1915
“Find a wild man in Ozarks,” Stanberry Headlight, July 8, 1915
“The Good Old Days,” Lucile Morris Upton, Springfield Leader & Press, Oct. 3, 1965
“History of ‘Blue Man of Spring Creek’ strange legend of Ozark hills,” Springfield Leader, Nov. 17, 1924
“Legend of ‘Blue Man’ recalled in the Ozarks,” Sedalia Weekly Democrat, Jan. 30, 1925
“Legend of famous Blue Man revived,” Nevada Daily News, March 25, 1925
“A Squatch in the Ozarks,” “Finding Bigfoot,” Animal Planet, 2015
“Ozark ‘wild man’ again reported in his old haunts,” Springfield Republican, June 25, 1915
“Wild man at large,” Mountain Grove Journal 1, 1915