This is the written version of an episode of Buried Secrets Podcast, which you can also listen to on your favorite podcatcher.
This episode is about the legendary pigman of Denton, Texas. Kinda.
The thing is, I'd never heard of the pigman, so it's really an episode about how urban legends and folklore are spread, what makes one urban legend take off while another lingers in obscurity, and what our urban legends say about us.
Though I do also tell the story of the pigman somewhere in there.
- the "Cowboy Mafia"
- the WPA Folklore Project
Content note: this episode contains a brief mention of sexual assault, stories about violent attacks that lead to disfigurement, quoted language that suggests that facial disfigurement is tied to someone’s moral character, mentions of the war on drugs and corruption in the U.S. legal system.
Last year, I did a whole series about the Goatman’s Bridge in Denton County, Texas. It was nine episodes long, and I could’ve gone on for longer. There was an immense array of online sources with information about the goat man, from YouTube comments and Google reviews of people telling their own stories about the paranormal near the bridge, which is also called the old Alton Bridge. There were videos of people going to the bridge and investigating, including episodes of Ghost Adventures and Buzzfeed Unsolved. There was such a wealth of information about the goat man, and it was so well-known that it’s one of those topics that you can just talk about for hours and hours, and I did.
In the last episode, I talked about how urban legends grow, particularly in the Internet age. I also talked about how it felt like the seeds of some of the urban legends and ghost stories of Denton, Texas, are just starting to germinate. As far as I can tell, in the past, urban legends were spread via word-of-mouth and then were occasionally written down in books of ghost stories, newspaper articles published around Halloween, the work of academic folklorists, and incredible initiatives like the WPA’s Folklore Project.
The WPA Folklore Project
In case you aren’t familiar with it, in the 1930s, during the Great Depression here in the United States, there was a New Deal jobs program that paid more than 300 writers from twenty-four different states to go around and document the folklore of a generation that was dying out. If you read a book about urban legends in the United States, it’s fairly likely that that project will end up being mentioned.
A few examples from my own book collection include:
Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana by Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer, and Robert Tallant explicitly says that it is made up of “material gathered by workers of the Works Progress Administration, Louisiana Writers Project, and sponsored by the Louisiana State Library Commission.” There are a ton of books out there that were written as part of the WPA writers project, so if you live in the US and you’re interested in folklore, it is worth seeing whether your state has one.
’Pon My Honor Hits the Truth: Tall Tales from the Mountains by Hubert J. Davis (who also wrote the more famous book The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories, which also drew from stories collected by the Virginia Writers Project, the WPA program)
The Vanishing Hitchhiker American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand includes stories collected by the WPA program in some of the citations
So there are a ton of amazing sources for folklore, which nowadays I think we would call urban legends, from prior to the 1930s. Those stories have been written down and repeated and cited again and again.
Late 20th century urban legends
But lately, I’ve been really interested in urban legends and folklore that seem to have their roots in the 1950s through the 1970s. There seem to be this other crop of folklore from the mid-twentieth century. So many UFO, alien, and cryptid sightings seem to have occurred between the 1950s and the 1970s. The Loveland frogman was first sighted in the 1950s. The Barney and Betty Hill UFO abduction happened in 1961. The famous Patterson-Gimlin film, which supposedly caught Bigfoot on video, was filmed in 1967.
And again and again, as I research hauntings, I have found that the roots seem to be in urban legends told in the 1970s. I’ve talked about the reasons why think that might be. For example, I found no mention of any of the Fordham University hauntings in print prior to the 1970s, and I know that part of The Exorcist was filmed there in the 1970s, and The Exorcist was a cultural touchstone and made so many people think about the paranormal, so I think there’s something there.
You could probably also argue that the science fiction films of the 1950s and the 1960s may have influenced UFO and cryptid sightings, so for example, The Creature from the Black Lagoon came out in 1954, and the first frogman sighting was also in the 1950s. There was a lot of cultural stuff going on there, and I also wonder if there was a feedback loop happening with the media. People were interested in science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies, so maybe they’re more likely to notice things that are tied into the media that they enjoy. Meanwhile, newspapers are seeing that people are interested in these subjects, so when they get reports of weird things, maybe they were more likely to print those sorts of reports, since there is a demonstrated interest.
Or who knows, maybe the car culture of the mid-twentieth century meant that more teenagers had access to cars, which meant that they hung out in the woods more often and did more things independently further from home in places that were accessible via mass transit, and so then maybe that increase their likelihood of seeing things or thinking that they see things.
I’m really just spitballing here, but it's something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
But it feels like a lot of the urban legends that are still circulating nowadays — which have solidified into stories about cryptids and hauntings that paranormal TV shows go to investigate — have the roots in the decades ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The Goatman's Bridge
When I did my series about the Goatman’s Bridge in Denton County, Texas, I also researched other stories of goatmen from around the United States, and it seems that many of them also originated in the 1970s. I’m not exactly sure of when the legends of the Old Alton Bridge goatman, though I’ve heard claims of it beginning in the 1950s, and I've definitely seen people online and comment sections mention hearing the legend in the 1970s and 1980s.
But here’s the weird thing about the legend of the Denton goatman: the legend as we know it now seems to be partially made up, and mostly based on a YouTube video made by a student at the University of North Texas in July 2008. The YouTube video gives details that I have never seen in any media prior to that video, setting a specific date that the victim in the legend was murdered and giving him a name. Now, I’m not gonna get super into this, because I talk about it in an enormous depth in the series that I did about the old Alton Bridge, but one of the things that’s most interesting to me about it is the fact that this was a story that was circulating via urban legend and through word-of-mouth for very long time. And when I was growing up in Denton County in the 1990s and the early 2000’s, I never heard the story of the Goatman’s Bridge. It seems like the story was circulating at different high schools in the county, but not mine. And despite growing up very close to the bridge, I had no idea that it had all this folklore attached to it.
As far as I can gather, that 2008 YouTube video got traction and then the story as told in that video began to spread online. It crystallized a certain version of the story, which I believe is partially fictional despite being based on real events that happened frequently in the area. And I found posts from a different person online who claims to have done a lot of work to try to spread that version of the legend. Then, because there were more and more blog posts and videos about the bridge, suddenly there were places for people to tell their own stories about strange things happening there. And then two popular ghost hunting shows then featured the bridge, completely solidifying it in the imagination of the paranormal community as one of the most haunted places in the United States. I’m not saying that it’s not haunted, but it is entirely possible that other places could be just as haunted but their stories didn’t spread the same way.
The fact that I had never heard the story of the bridge despite having grown up there tells me that it is possible for a legend to be very well-known in certain circles while people living literally ten minutes away may have never heard the legend.
Also, absent any kind of large, concerted effort to collect folklore and local urban legends the way that the WPA Folklore Project did, what do we have to record more recent pieces of folklore? I know that there still folklorists working out there today, and I don’t mean to denigrate any of their work. There are also amazing people like Timothy Renner of the podcast Strange Familiars who do a lot of work to collect personal stories and folklore from around the world. So I’m not trying to say that no one is recording strange local stories.
But I would argue that a lot of our modern folklore these days gets recorded on places like Reddit. There used to be online forums and blogs where people would share their stories, but as platforms have been consolidated, there are fewer and fewer places where people share their stories. And that also means that they have to be motivated enough to seek out a platform to share the story, and to be comfortable on a platform like Reddit. Which plenty of people aren't.
That being said, I am very curious about the ways in which legends build momentum as people pay attention to them online. Because the more people talk about an urban legend, the more people learn about it and then the more it spreads. They almost have the vibe of what someone might call a tulpa or thoughtform, which is the idea that you can essentially will an entity into being just by intensely concentrating on it. But in this case, it might have that metaphysical dimension, but it has this very literal dimension of attracting people to a story and then having that story spread.
Anyway, let’s talk about the Pigman of Bonnie Brae Bridge in Denton, Texas.
As you might guess from the very long intro that I did, there is not a lot of info out there about the Pigman of Bonnie Brae Bridge. In fact, I don’t even really know what the Bonnie Brae Bridge is. As far as I can surmise, it seems like there are perhaps multiple bridges on Bonnie Brae Road in West Denton, and perhaps this creature haunts some or all of them.
Here’s the story that I found online on the blog Denton Haunts. This urban legend dates back to the 1950s. High school kids would go out into the woods to hook up and they would come back with stories about a “a grunting, rock-throwing, grotesquely deformed Pig Man.” (Sorry about some of the language in here; it sucks that every monstrous urban legend and every movie villain has some sort of facial disfigurement.)
Apparently there was a newspaper article — which I have not been able to find so far in my newspaper database searches — in which cops cautioned people to stay away from these locations because there have been reports of someone vandalizing parked cars and bothering couples who are parking there. But it sounds like most of the story came from word of mouth. The tale became that there was a “malevolently grotesque PigMan that terrified young lovers and unwary travelers who ventured into these rural regions known as “Hog Valley.””
Teenagers reported that they had encountered “a grunting figure who scurried in the shadows of the creekbed and pelted parked cars with stones, and others told of a man-like creature with glowing red eyes who traveled the roadside with an aggressive pack of grunting wild hogs.” The original blog post that the story comes from suggests that these were pranksters, or maybe these were stories that parents told to keep their kids from hooking up in the woods, both of which seem plausible for at least some of the sightings. Though it’s also totally possible that it could be a mix of something real and copycat hoaxes.
Also worth noting: the blog post is accompanied by a YouTube video that was made by somebody else, not the author of the blog post. The video seems to be of a supposed “pig man” who was sighted in Tennessee, not Denton. And just based on what the YouTube account is and based on the conversation in the comments, I kind of think it’s a creepypasta. Also, to me, the video looks like a bobcat, though what do I know? I’m not exactly a nature expert.
Also, the stories mention that this happened in Hog Valley, which it seems to be implied is in or near Denton, but I don’t actually know where that is. It’s possible that there’s a place that used to be called Hog Valley but now is not called that. I’ve encountered that even here in New York City where I live now. For example, in Woodside, where I used to live in Queens, there was a place called the Snake Woods and Rattlesnake Spring that’s now just apartment buildings but used to be a creepy forest.
That being said, there is a comment from 2013 on this blog post where someone says “i played around in hog valley many late nights in the early 80’s and had been scared off plenty times !” which makes me think that it’s a real place that just isn’t very searchable online.
The blog post then recounts two origin stories for the supposed pigman:
The drifter: A drifter was cutting through a farmer’s land when he was attacked by wild boar, and then somehow those bites caused him to transform into half-man, half-pig creature “doomed to roam the creekbeds of Hog Valley, ravenously searching for easy prey like unsuspecting paramours parking on the rural roads outside of town.”
The Cowboy Mafia: This second story is wild and goes into something I had never heard of. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was apparently a “Cowboy Mafia” made up of motorcycle gangs who may have guarded “concealed sites of illegal drug activities.” It sounds like sources are hazy there and supposedly the people who have been interviewed haven’t wanted to give details, but the idea is that someone was, to quote from the blog:
brutally beaten by a biker gang after having his nose cut off and a ‘Glasgow grin’ carved into his face (like the Joker)… a gangland sign that someone has been ‘nosy’ and talking or ‘squealing’ to police. Horribly disfigured and unable to function in polite society, this “PigMan” was forced to roam the rural countryside foraging for food, sometimes raiding hog slop or taking shelter in barns, sheds, and under bridges in anonymity except for an occasional frightening encounter.
So the idea there was that the pig man was supposed to be a deterrent so no one else would snitch on the Cowboy Mafia, and the blog Denton Haunts mentions that this would have been a reflection of the the community’s anxiety about having this organized crime outfit in the area. Also, the Cowboy Mafia was a real thing, and I will get into that later.
All of the information that we have about this supposed creature comes from one blog post. A single blog post from October 2011 published on the blog Denton Haunts. Anything else that mentions the Denton pigman, as far as I can tell, geta this information directly from this blog post.
Normally a story like this would be something that I might mention on a round up episode of a bunch of different urban legends from an area. And originally, I was going to just include this on a more general episode about Denton hauntings. But I found this really interesting and bizarre, and I find this source probably about as credible as any source of Denton ghost stories could be. I’ve mentioned this blog plenty of times on my podcast, but Denton Haunts is run by a former professor at the University of North Texas, Dr. Shaun Treat. At least at one point, he was doing ghost tours in the area. Last episode, I extensively cited a thesis by a student at the University of North Texas who did a documentary based on Dr. Treat’s ghost tours.
So, to me, I don’t think that he is making up this story. Though, to be clear, I don’t know him personally and have never met him. But he is someone who has spoken to a lot of people about ghosts and hauntings in the area, so he is in the position to have been told stories like this. So I think this is an instance of someone having been told a bunch of different versions of the legend verbally and just writing it down.
There are only three comments on the blog post, none of which elaborate on the legend. Though one of them is somewhat upsetting and describes an alleged SA experience that someone had at a local haunted house that involves someone dressed up as a pig, which to me suggests that perhaps someone was kind of playing on the legend by dressing up that way. Or they could’ve just randomly chosen a pig mask. Who knows?
The Cowboy Mafia
All right, I said I would loop back to the Cowboy Mafia. One thing I love about urban legends is that as you dig into them, you learn a lot of weird bits of history that you never would’ve come across otherwise. Despite being from the area, I had never heard of the Cowboy Mafia.
They were well-known enough to have their own Wikipedia page, though, so that’s where most of this info comes from.
In the 1970s, there was a group of cannabis smugglers who Dallas newspapers dubbed the Cowboy Mafia. They were said to be the most prolific drug smuggling ring in all of Texas. Between 1977 and 1978, they imported more than 106 tons of cannabis over the course of three trips from Columbia to Texas. These trips were undertaken on shrimp boats called the Agnes Pauline, Monkey, Jubilee, and Bayou Blues. Each boat carried between 35,000 and 40,000 pounds of cannabis, which was then brought to ranches owned by a man named Rex Cauble, which is a Texas name if I’ve ever heard one.
In 1978, the crew of the Agnes Pauline was unloading their cargo in Port Arthur, Texas, when the federal government came and seized the boat. This led to a high-profile arrest and court case. Twenty-six members of the smuggling ring were convicted in 1979. Rex Cauble, the multimillionaire rancher who was believed to be the mastermind behind all of this, was convicted of many crimes, including smuggling 106 tons of cannabis, in 1982.
He was sentenced to ten concurrent prison terms of five years, which I think just means five years, and was released in 1987. If you read the Wikipedia article, it’s pretty enraging, because he could have lost up to a third of his fortune of $55 to $80 million (which comes out to between $173,336,632 and $252,126,010 in 2023 inflation bucks). But the way in which things were structured and actually carried out, it looks as if he and his family got to keep most, if not all of his money. Remember that this was happening concurrently with the war on drugs which began in the 1970s and which Reagan intensified in 1982.
The war on drugs was enormously destructive to the United States, resulting in the prison population in the United States skyrocketing, which meant that families were torn apart and people’s lives were ruined even for extremely minor drug-related convictions. It destroyed whole communities, particularly communities of color, and had a terrible effect on this country that is way outside the scope of this episode but which is significant.
Meanwhile, Cauble was convicted of an enormous amount of drug smuggling, and you could argue that officials bent over backwards to make sure that he got to keep as much of his money as possible and that he spent as little time in prison as possible.
So to me, the scariest part of this story has nothing to do with the paranormal and has everything to do with government corruption and how the ultra-wealthy get to live under a different set of laws than everybody else.
What urban legends do
Well, there we have it. I managed to turn in a 500-word blog post from twelve years ago into a 4,000-word essay. I was going to talk about pigmen from other places in the United States, but I’ve run out of time. Just know that there are plenty of pigman legends from various states. Much like the goatman, the pigman seems to be a cryptid-type trope pops up in various places and takes on some of the unique character, history, and anxieties of a specific area.
Do I think there is a pigman out there in Denton? I don’t know. It’s awfully hard to prove a negative, I just don’t think we have enough information to make any kind of educated guess. To me, it seems like an urban legend from the 1950s which may or may not have been based on a real encounter with something paranormal morphed into a different story based on local news about drug smugglers, and I’m curious what tone the story would take on if it reemerged today.
Or, alternatively, if it’s still something that’s talked about often today and not just remembered as a legend that people used to tell in the 1980s and earlier, I’m curious about what shape the story has now. How might it be filtered through our anxieties? Will this be a tale that ends up spreading and proliferating online in a similar way to the Goatman’s Bridge legend? Or is this an urban legend that will stay hyperlocal and spread verbally?
I guess by talking about it, I’m doing my part to spread it, but who knows if it’s something that would catch on. If you live in the Denton area, have you had an experience with a pigman? Have you heard different version of this legend? I’d love to know; you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the episode art: This is based on a picture I took of a tree near the Old Alton Bridge in Denton, Texas.