A strange creature is said to lurk within the White River outside Newport, Arkansas. In fact, this legend is so widely accepted that the Arkansas State Legislature created the White River Monster Refuge adjacent to the Jacksonport State Park. Furthermore, the resolution made it illegal to “molest, kill, trample, or harm the White River Monster while he is in the retreat.”
“Whitey” as the locals call him, has been sighted frolicking in the White River for more than a century and a half. The creature was first spied by the Quapaw Indians who once inhabited the area and the tale was passed down from generation to generation. According to this first account, the creature overturned a brave’s canoe before sinking back into the depths of the river. During the days of the Civil War, Whitey was accredited for overturning a loaded Confederate gunship.
The White River Monster is described as snake-like, about 30 feet long with a spiny backbone, and makes a loud bellowing noise. Most of the many reports came from fishermen and campers along the White River. In 1924, a Little Rock resident reported having seen the creature, further describing it as having a dingy gray, crusted hide.
In 1937, a farmer named Bramleltte Bateman who lived south of Newport proclaimed to have seen the animal several times, saying: “The animal rises to the surface in the late afternoons and floats or swims around 5 to 15 minutes with its head underwater.” Intending on capitalizing on the sensation, Bateman soon set up a viewing area where he charged a 25¢ for a chance to see the monster, and also sold sandwiches and soft drinks. Though business was brisk for a short time, no one else ever saw the creature. In 1966, three people fishing also saw Whitey, describing it as having a tail like a mermaid’s, a long body, arm-like flippers. and a head shaped like a monkey’s.
In 1971, two men reported that they saw three-toed tracks along the muddy river banks, as well as in the trees near the river. This same year, the monster was photographed by a man by the name of Cloyce Warren of the White River Lumber Company. Several other people that same year also claimed to have seen the sea monster. These multiple accounts were enough to convince the Arkansas State Legislature, who created the refuge two years later.
Though the furor persisted, at least one biologists believed that the White River Monster was actually a lost elephant seal who had somehow migrated out of its normal ocean habitat up the Mississippi River and into the White River near Newport.
In the last several years the “sea monster” hasn’t been spied but most of the locals believe that it is still there. Others think that the creature died when the river became too shallow.
In the meantime, Whitey has become Newport’s local celebrity as his facsimile leads the Christmas Parade every year and the legend has created a hubbub of souvenir shops, signs, and other promotions in Newport. White River’s version of the Lock Ness monster has also been documented in newspapers and books around the world as well as in several television documentaries.
Newport, Arkansas is located about 90 miles northeast of Little Rock on Highway 67.