A visit to the Ozark region could mean stumbling across flooded cemeteries, swimming with piranhas and coming face-to-face with a howling horned cat. Or simply enjoying scenic outlooks. The Ozarks stretch from Mid-Missouri down to northern Arkansas and portions of far eastern Kansas. The region has come into the spotlight thanks to the show “Ozark” about a money laundering scheme gone wrong. If you’ve never been to the region, it’s not exactly like the show (less high stakes drama, more families on vacation). But the Ozarks has been a hotbed for folklore, fireside stories and strange-but-true tales. Take a journey into the Ozark’s mountains, lakes, rivers and forests and discover some truly fascinating legends.
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In December of 2015, a camper at Devil’s Den State Park snapped some photos of a curious looking cat with horns. The camper thought the creature was none other than the Ozark Howler, a creature said to prowl the remote, rugged areas of The Ozark Mountains. The story of the Ozark Howler goes far back in the region and is described as a cat-like creature the size of a bear with horns and glowing red eyes. The sound of its cry is reportedly a mix between an elk’s bugle and wolf’s howl. Every few years, reports of hearing, seeing or even capturing a photo of the creature roll into news stations in Arkansas and Missouri.
During the summer of 2007, vacationers thought twice about swimming in the Lake of Ozarks. Two piranhas were caught in the lake, apparently dumped after becoming too large for someone’s home aquarium. Flesh-eating piranhas are not indigenous to the lake – a popular vacationing spot for boating, fishing and swimming. Stories abound about piranha infested areas of the lake where a fun swim could turn into a tragedy. To date, no one has been attacked by piranhas at the Lake of the Ozarks and winter-time temperatures at the lake are too cold for piranhas to survive, but the story persists.
The Lake of the Ozarks wasn’t always a lake. The lake is manmade, part of project completed in 1931 that created roughly 1,150 miles of shoreline – that’s longer than the coastline of California. Several small towns had to completely pick up and rebuild elsewhere when the massive lake was created. It’s believed some of the cemeteries from these small towns were difficult to locate due to a lack of headstones. Official documentation lists 2,800 gravesites that needed to be moved, but only around 1,121 were clearly identified and found. That leaves over 1,500 gravesites unaccounted for and possibly at the bottom of the lake.
The Ray House
The Ray House had the unfortunate fate of becoming a field hospital during the Civil War. Located near Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in Missouri, the Ray House was commandeered by Confederate troops to treat battle wounds. Soldiers from both sides of the conflict were treated at the house. Paranormal investigators have reported activity in the house tied to the suffering of the war. Even if there aren’t ghostly visitors, the fact that the idyllic setting was once the site of a raging battle gives the old homestead a spooky cast.
Two anglers fishing in the fall of 2019 hauled up an unexpected catch: a large shark. The story turned out to be a hoax posted by a prank news site, but it made the rounds of the internet. The story stated the shark was caught in the Osage River, a tributary of the Missouri River not far from the Lake of the Ozarks. And there is actually a shred of truth to the idea that there are sharks in the rivers and lakes of the Ozarks. Bull sharks can survive in fresh water and one has been caught in the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois. While the chances of encountering a shark in the Ozarks are pretty much zero, the idea has spawned plenty of tall tales and even the aptly named movie “Ozark Sharks.”