Bigfoot and King Hal

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In July of 1827, the National Gazette and Literary Register of Philadelphia reported how “a nest of runaway negroes . . . in the fork of the Alabama and Tombeckbe Rivers . . . were attacked and after a severe action they were conquered.” The fugitives had built “two cabins and were about to build a fort,” and though they “fought desperately” they were “broken up entirely.” And according to the report, “three negroes were shot, viz: Bust, Hector and Hal.”
That might have been the end of it. But it was only the beginning.
Soon word spread, whispered in the slave cabins, in the quarters, and in the houses where white folks lived, that one of the wounded had survived and was down there still.
So began the myth of Hal.
During the years that followed, fact and fiction came together to tell of how Hal had escaped from a Mississippi plantation, found refuge between the rivers, and gathered around him other runaways who acknowledged him as their leader.
To this was added the tale of how he returned to his former home, “retrieved” his family, and brought them back to live with him, safe and secure.
Then tellers told of how the word went out to those in bondage that freedom lay in the forks, if they could just get to it.
Whites also heard and on the same story built their own myth, created their own “King Hal” who first stole himself from his owner, then stole his family, then lured others to his lake where he “exacted obedience from those seeking shelter with him.” Some even suggested that Hal kept a harem there – fuel for the sexual fantasies of the masters.
But then the stories came together to tell of how another runaway, a slave of “mixed blood” who (according to conventional wisdom of the time) could not be trusted by either race, challenged Hal’s leadership, lost, returned to his former master and for his thirty-pieces-of-silver handed over the keys to Hal’s kingdom.
The end came quickly, and the victorious invaders reported how “Hal was killed, the others were either killed, captured, or scattered, and the dangerous lurking place was broken up.” But two Hals remained.    One, the Christ-figure, offering freedom to the enslaved, handed over by one of his own to those who would keep his people in bondage.
The other, a renegade, an outlaw, a dictator, whose insatiable lust for power (and sexual gratification) led him to his inevitable, whites would also say just, end. He could have been either, or both, or neither. And which we choose to believe tells us more about ourselves than it does about the man named Hal.
Flash forward to May, 2016, when it was reported in Cryptozoology News (I never heard of it either) that down around Gainestown, Alabama,  near where Hal set up his kingdom, a hairy “creature,” 8-foot tall, was abroad on the land, terrorizing pets, ransacking garbage cans, and making a general nuisance of itself.  According to the person who made the report – he was visiting from Texas, which may or may not be significant – the giant weighed around 800 lbs, had 16 inch feet, 5 foot long arms, and “smelled of cheese gone bad.”
What else could it be but a Bigfoot?
Now this story has some timing issues – why was the sighting in 2015 and not reported in by the press until 2016?  Admittedly, sending a reporter to check out something a Texan claimed to see (and smell) in Gainestown may not be the best allocation of scarce resources.
On the other hand, if a Bigfoot was going to set up shop in Alabama, the swamps south of Gainestown would be the place to go.
Where the rivers join was. and is. a jungle broken only by an occasional lake created and left when the streams changed course. By all accounts, Hal claimed one of these and on it built what those doing the telling called his kingdom. Today, down in the forks, all that remains of Hal is the long, meandering body of water that bears his name – Hal’s Lake — and the stories that are still told.
So, what about Bigfoot? Who knows? But down in the forks, in a land where the earth moves under your feet, where there are still more deer and bear and hogs than humans, where you can catch fish that look Jurassic, and once where, as I sat in a boat waiting for a bite, a bush suddenly erupted with bright birds that, to this day, I cannot identity. In a land like that, anything is possible.
So if you go down there, and smell cheese gone bad, beware.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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