The Green GowRow of Newton County
According to the legends, the gowrow was a gigantic lizard, with enormous tusks. There is a persistent report that gowrows hatched from soft-shelled eggs as big as beer-kegs. Some say that the female carried its newly hatched young in a pouch like that of a possum, but the oldtimers do not agree with this. The gowrow spent much of its time in caverns, and under rock ledges. It was carnivorous, devouring great numbers of deer, calves, sheep and goats. Perhaps the creature ate human beings, too.
Vance Randolph, Fabulous Monsters in the Ozarks
The Gowrows are one of those lost monsters in Ozark folklore. It never really achieved the popularity of your bigfoots or standard lake monsters (or the Ozark variants of the Fouke Monster and the White River Monster) and eventually faded it into obscurity. The most notable and possibly first example of its existence happened January 31, 1897. The Arkansas Gazette reported that a traveling salesman of the name of Will Miller had hunted down one of the creatures. The thing they described was a twenty foot long green reptile with enormous tusks that emitted a noise that sounded an awful lot like “gow row”
My first encounter with the creature came from another story that originated much closer to my part of the Ozarks. In Boone County is one of those mailbox towns that seem to overpopulate the hills. That is to say a town that isn’t really there beyond being on the address of a mailbox. These mailboxes aren’t located in any place specifically, and sometimes aren’t even attached to a house. They just make their claims on a nice plot by the road and declare that at some point someone has or will live there again. Self is one of those towns, just a lone mailbox madly declaring its non-existent establishment.
Near and around Self there is a bit of a sink hole (or cave take your pick) called Devil’s Hole, and a few stories that all begin to sound a lot a like begin to claw their way up from within it. It tends to go as such, a few spelunkers find this particular hole and decided they should make their descent. First they drop down a rope with a flat iron tied on the end. After hearing it clunk against the ground deep down in the cave, they begin to hear a hissing noise (and sometimes a “gow row” for good measure) This initiates a sudden tug against their rope, which the spelunkers desperately pull back at. Eventually whatever is in the cave let’s loose. When the rope is finally pulled up, the flat-iron is mangled to bits. Vance Randolph recounts this story in We Always Lie to Strangers, and a similar contemporary equivalent that replaces the flat-iron with a stone appears in Moran and Sceurman’s Weird USA.
So my introduction to the GowRow was vague and abstract. A nasty noise in a cave scares spelunkers. So believe me I was delighted to learn of the somewhat rich history of such a creature. From Ozarker’s catching them by fattening them up with apples to where they couldn’t get back underground, to hucksters requiring a quarter payment to see their monster (then revealing the creature had escaped) That and dinosaur/dragon visuals versus a bunch of hillfolk was just an amusing contrast. Needless to say there was no way to not include it in Backwood Folk.
The initial designs for the Gowrow were before they served a story purpose. I just knew the fellow would have to appear eventually. He took on a very Komodo Dragon look, as it seemed almost natural, and the tusks fit the head well enough. It didn’t seem like it would be too far removed from the real world to pop in and have a visit, which is completely opposite from where I would go down the line. A part of me thinks I just really wanted to use the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms as my creature and call it a day.
Then the story started to take place. I began to figure out how the gowrow was going to make its appearance in Backwood Folk. Needless to say its a bit different than now. The bones (pun unintended) of the story are still there, for sure though. Initially the entire story was going to take a more ridiculous angle of a Quartermass and the Pit style storyline. Lilian and Benedict fall through the hole in much the same way and encounter the bones of the gowrow. Lilian tells her grandfather’s story, and the rest of the chapter is devoted to Bertrum showing up and trying to get them out. The Wild Woman shows up and gets angry and promises vengeance. At no point did you ever actually see the gowrow alive. It would just be these bones jutting out of a cave wall. Yeah, I don’t know why I wrote it like that either, I guess maybe the myth of this thing? Being just bones however lead to what would become its final design. I literally started from the skeleton. It all comes from the image of a mammoth skull in my head. Just imagine finding one just jutting out of a wall, half buried. It seems mythic and powerful all its own, plus the gowrow’s tusks gave me ample opportunity to use that visage.
The top design reflects what I assumed a baby gowrow would have been at first. It was still a quadruped, and now more reflective of a gecko, as a gecko was also named for the noise it makes. Not that that makes a lot of sense, but that was association I had. The bottom drawing was the attempt for the adult. Eventually I ran out of room for the legs in that one sketch, so I just cut them out. And then I got thinking about it as a worm or snake. The gowrow was always said to be in caverns and the like, which is suitable since due to the Ozarks’ karst terrain there are plenty. But suddenly I had the notion of, what if the gowrow actually tunneled. It was digging these networks of tunnels and in fact was the reason for the Ozarks terrain. It’s a silly notion, but that aligns nicely with Po’Dunk. It’s karst terrain is a result of the gowrows digging it out. It also lead to the sinkholes that characters kept falling through. Hieronymus tumbling down a sinkhole for instance in Chapter 1 was informed by this new design. Notice though, it was greatly smaller. For some reason I saw it more of equivalent with the size of the livestock it ate. That would change.
And here is what initially came to be the final design, aside from some minor changes I made while drawing the pages. It also lead to the changes of making it actually appear in story. I felt it had a lot of personality and the capability to be both frightening and sympathetic, depending mostly on the angle at which you view those big googly eyes. The tusks were made enormous, because why not? Its arms long enough to tunnel, butfold back under so it looks disgusted or threatened. The only real changes that the occurred in page was removing the red from the pupils, and making those eyes glow. That and the rattle on its tail. Some gowrow stories mentioned a scythe or blade at the end of its tail, and I just couldn’t make that work without making it look like an action figure accessory, or just really make sense. The rattle replaced that, and further emphasized the creature as defensive (save for the hunt) but also added a nice Ozark touch.
It’s sad to say I dunno if their will be many more in the comic’s future, as you can see the last one is dead as of the 60′s. It’s sort of my little nod to the passing of this creature from any kind of public conscience in the Ozarks into it’s mostly forgotten status today. But it makes a great monstrous footnote in the Ozarks, and a fun aside for this comic.
Backwood Folk is taking the week off, as I fix some computer stuff, attend weddings, and try to get a head of schedule again. On March 27th the comic returns with a more true than you think story called Bertrum, The Baby, and the Goat.