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Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Texas Hoaxes

by Clay Coppedge

A good hoax is generally harmless, something along the lines of a harmless April Fool's joke. Scams and swindles usually involve honest people losing money to people who are less than honest. The swindler wants to rip you off. The hoaxer generally just wants to have fun.

Here are three hoaxes with a Texas twist. No one really gets hurt in any of these stories, though there will always be some collateral damage with these kinds of things as every good hoax requires some unwitting dupes to give it credence.

* * *

The Aurora Spaceship. The best-known Texas hoax occurred in April of 1897 when several people reported seeing a strange cigar-shaped airship gliding over North and North Central Texas. The aircraft was big, about 50 feet long, and shaped like a cigar with propellers on each end, large wings and floodlights. One of the people who testified publicly about what he saw was a railroad conductor known as "Truthful Skully," who said he saw a very small man repairing the airship in Wood County.

According to a story written by S.E. Haydon for the Dallas Morning News, the airship crashed into a windmill in Aurora, destroying not only the windmill but a flower garden belonging to a Judge Proctor. The pilot, Haydon reported, was "not of this world." A funeral was to be held for the unfortunate aviator, who was probably from Mars, according to an "authority on Astronomy" that Haydon either found or created.

Haydon was the Morning News' correspondent for Aurora, a town in the midst of a slow but steady decline. Long-time Aurora resident Etta Peques told Time magazine in 1997, after the popular press rediscovered the story, that Haydon made the whole thing up in an effort to bring people to the town before it died.

It's a fine hoax, with a civic-minded motivation behind it, but we have to wonder why the story stopped there. The original story noted that a funeral was going to be held for the Martian the next day. Haydon should have covered it for the paper, or at least claimed a cover-up if the funeral was not held. Somebody must have decided the story was too good to verify. All they had to do was talk to Judge Proctor about his windmill.

Dickie Don and Rickie Ron Yewbet.
This one has an all-star cast of sportswriters behind it. Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright and Dick Hitt, all on the staff of the Dallas Times Herald in the early 1960s, started slipping stories about twin halfbacks Dickie Don and Rickie Ron Yewbet of the Corbet Comets into the paper's coverage of state high school football. It proved to be a welcome diversion from writing about players and teams that actually existed. Free from the tyranny of facts, the writers let their imaginations run as wild as Dickie Don and Rickie Ron on Friday night.

The quartet of ink-stained wretches took turns writing about the gridiron exploits of the Yewbet boys, who ran for hundreds of yards but could never quite make it into the-zone with the ball. The Comets always won 3-0 on a last second-field goal by Rickie Ron Yewbet. And another thing: The Fighting Comet Band featured the world's largest tuba.

The week of the state finals, Rickie Ron passed away from mumps. Dickie Don rallied his grief-stricken teammates and scored eight touchdowns in a 48-0 victory, surely the human interest story of the year. But no one ever caught on. The hoax was never revealed until the writers, one by one, 'fessed up in later years. The scribes were a bit disappointed. As Cartwright wrote, "What's the fun of being irreverent if the reverent take no offense?"

Bigfoot lives - in Texas! Or maybe not. There have been about as many sightings of a Bigfoot, or some kind of Sasquatch-type creature, in Texas as there has anywhere else, including the Northwest, which is generally presented as Bigfoot's home turf.

This is nothing new. Sightings of man-ape creatures in Texas go way back, at least to the Tonkawa and Comanches, who reported having seen such creatures. The "Wild Woman of the Navidad" is an enduring Texas legend that features a gender twist to the old tale. The sightings continue to this day, and the creature goes by a lot of names, some of which sound like high-end fishing lures: Night Screamer, Hawley Him, Haskell Rascal, Wooly Bugger and Caddo Critter.

In 2012, a man named Rick Dyer, who once predicted he would go down in history as the greatest Bigfoot tracker of all time, claimed to have killed a Bigfoot-type creature in Texas. Dyer named him Hank. He claimed that an unspecified university had done a DNA test on Hank and declared it to be of "an unknown species." Dyer planned to Hank on tour and charge people to see him. Or it. Or whatever. The tour never got going. Venues willing to show off Hank to the public were almost as hard find as a verifiable Bigfoot, and Dyer's refusal to release the DNA results didn't help matters. Earlier this year, Dyer admitted - on Facebook - that he concocted the whole story, along with another similar hoax in 2008.

As it turned out, Dyer had his Bigfoot constructed by a company in Washington, which he insisted sign a non-disclosure agreement. For the record, the company got paid for its role as an unwitting dupe in the deception, which technically, I suppose, keeps the hoax from crossing over into fraud.

"Coming clean about everything is necessary for a new start," Dyer wrote in his Facebook confession. "From this moment own (sic), I will speak the truth! No more lies, tall tales or wild goose chases to mess with the haters!"

Aw, c'mon Rick. Where's the fun in that?

Clay Coppedge February 1, 2015 Column
More "Letters from Central Texas"

Related Topics:
Texas legendary creatures, superstitions, UFOs...


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