When I was a Kid in WV: The Mystery Monster in the Cave Part I

When I was a Kid in WV: The Mystery Monster in the Cave Part I

This is a true story from my childhood.

Collecting ginseng was a way for us to raise a decent amount of money for what appeared to be very little effort. 

In the mid-80’s it was selling for around $200 per pound, if memory serves me. Whatever the price, it was a way for “the Boys” – Charlie, Bob, Mike, and myself, to tromp through the woods for hours at a time.  Armed with a sewn up blue jean pant leg as a bag (see below) and a home-made mattock for digging,  we were looking for the elusive plant that we believed would pave our road to a rich future.

The Sang Pouch

The best places for ginseng seemed to be the darker, norther side of a hill, particularly if the hill was full of poplar and spice bush with rich, moist soil. After a few weeks of following the other guys’ fathers, I quickly got a feel for what was good territory, and what was bad. And since there was value in the plant, it was never found near houses, so we would always have to walk miles before getting to “Good” territory that was less likely to have already been hunted.

One of the perfect places we loved to hunt year after year was called “Dark Holler”. Using Google Maps, I’ve measure the hike, and found that Dark Holler was about a mile as the crow flies, but closer to two miles by the path we would take to get there, straight up the facing point to the ridge, the out across the adjoining ridge to the other side of the mountain. It was always a long trek, but usually worth it, as it was fairly remote by local standards, and usually turned up some decent ginseng.

Dark Holler was full of rock cliffs, stone overhangs, downed trees, and lots of underbrush. And true to it’s name, it had a very dense canopy cover, making the lower area rather dark, even on the brightest of days. We would take turns trying to scare one another with old tales we’d heard of ghosts and haunts in the area, mostly trying to scare Bob’s younger brother, Mike.

Bob had a Husky named Rex, that was always at odds with my mixed collie, Bandit. We could usually run with them no problems, but from time to time, they’d have to test each other to see who was Boss. I don’t think they ever settled that argument.

Most of the time, at least while we were in the woods, they’d work fairly well as a team. On `sang hunting trips, they were always good to have along, if only to bolster the courage of a teenager still learning what is real and what is not in this world.

One hot autumn day, our dogs had wandered off and started to bark “treed”. This means they’ve got something cornered, typically up a tree, thus the name. However, this time, they seemed to be a long distance away, and were frantic in their barking.

Now a country boy has many obligations. Open doors for the girls. Saying “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, M’am”. And getting whatever his dog treed. The dogs had done their part, so we had no choice but to go see what it was, and help them “git it”.

Heading towards the sounds of the dogs losing their minds, we couldn’t figure out why they sounded so muffled…until we slipped down the hill to within a hundred yards or so of where they were. Both dogs had crawled in under a rock cliff into a small cave, and were side by side trying to get at whatever was in there. Their echoing barks reverberated through the cliff facing and echoed out of the various small opening in the rocks, causing an eerie sound.

From time to time, as we urged the dogs forward, they would get hold of something, and it would fight them off. After several time of getting tangled up with the creature(s?) inside, a offensive gagging odor started to permeate the area.

This really didn’t help us any. Dark Holler was eerie enough without the dogs making odd sounds that echoed through caves and a smell that seemed to originate straight from Hell itself!

Being egged on by the rest of us, Mike grabbed a long stick and moved forward with a swagger we all could tell was faked.  Edging up behind the lunging and barking dogs, and apparently unknown by them, he poked the stick in the hole across their heads, then thrust it forward quickly.

Several things happened at about the same time.  The stick struck something. That something didn’t like it and let out a loud sound that was both growl and hiss combined.  The dogs got scared from the combination of the sound from inside the cave and the sharp movement of the stick behind them, turned tail and ran back away from the cave, running into Mike, who let out a moan and bolted too. This struck fear into the rest of us, and we all scattered, shouting, screaming, or moaning. Fear truly breeds fear.

As we regrouped a distance away, we started trying to figure out what it was. It was in a rock ledge, sort of a cave that went back at least five to ten feet, possible more. The opening was large enough for two 50+ pound dogs to enter side by side. The sound was a combination of hiss and growl, and eerie, unlike anything we’d heard before, and most of us had grown up hunting those woods, so knew them well. And what was that smell? I’d been sprayed by skunks before, but this was a putrid, rotting smell, like death.

So, now my question to you is this, What was it?

Post your thoughts and suggestions below, and I’ll finish the story next Thursday.




  1. Hmm… wildcat? Racoon? Some animal that had been rolling in dead scavenged corpse, or was injured and gangrenous?

  2. Well you did say in the lower part…assuming there was a stream or pond in the area…I am going to say a Mink.
    Great story…i was laughing as I started the “several things” paragraph…just imagining….and kept on laughing, it was great!

  3. I’m not from West Virginia but I’m going to take a stab at this. Well a bear sized cave but I’m guessing it wasn’t a bear. It could have been a wildcat, or lynx, from the hissing clue but I’m guessing it wasn’t a lynx. Each of those animals would have done damage to a couple dogs and you did mention they tangled with the creature(s). I’m pretty sure it was not a snake even though you mentioned hissing but they do not growl and generally speaking there are no cave dwelling snakes in West Virginia. I don’t think it would have been a raccoon, far more likely to get “treed” than “caved”. A mink is a good guess due to the smell, however, I’m not sure of any noises they make. I would like to add opossum as a guess. They like to eat call critters that dwell inside of cavernous areas, they do hiss and growl, and twice a year they are in heat, in which case they give off a really musky scent and I’m sure can smell like death. I could also guess muskrat but I’m not sure of their geological habitat or possible noises they make. Looking forward to the answer tomorrow DB.

    1. Well thought out answer…and not even close. We thought many of the same things as our lives seemed to slow down in front of us….

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