Big foot and King Hal

Alabama Living Magazine

I grew up in Clarke County, squeezed between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.

In the southern end of the county, where the rivers converge, are swamps that would do the Amazon proud.    

Knowing how things are different there, I was not entirely surprised when news reached me that in the vicinity of Gainestown, a hairy “creature,” eight feet tall, was abroad on the land, terrorizing pets, ransacking garbage cans, and making a general nuisance of itself.

Gainestown, for those unfamiliar with southwest Alabama geography, is just north of all those swamps.

According to the person who claimed he saw it – he was visiting from Texas, which may or may not be significant – the giant weighed around 800 pounds, had 16-inch feet, five-foot long arms, and “smelled of cheese gone bad.”

What else could it be but a Bigfoot?

Bigfoots (or should that be Bigfeet?) are pretty popular these days.  Where once they were confined to Canada and the Pacific Northwest, they have apparently migrated and are popping up all over. Even Florida has the “Skunk-Ape.”

So why not Alabama?

And I am here to tell you that if a Bigfoot sets up shop in our fair state, the swamps south of Gainestown would be the place it would go.

Where the rivers join is a jungle broken only by an occasional lake left behind when the streams changed course. It is so impenetrable that back before the Civil War a runaway slave named Hal found his way into the middle of it. There he created a haven for other runaways and ruled it as their “king.”  It took a small army to dislodge them.

Today all that remains of Hal is the long, meandering body of water that bears his name – Hal’s Lake – and the stories that are still told of how Hal really didn’t die in the fight, that he took to the swamps, and that he lives there still.

Or maybe his spirit lives in Bigfoot.

Or maybe he became Bigfoot.

Who knows?

I only know that down in the forks, in a land where the earth moves under your feet, where there are still more deer and bear and hogs than humans, where you can catch fish that look Jurassic, and where once, as I sat in a boat waiting for a bite, a bush suddenly erupted with colorful birds that, to this day, I cannot identify. In a land like that, anything is possible.

It is beautiful country, unchanged for centuries.

It is country worth seeing.

But if you go down there, and smell cheese gone bad, beware. You may be where you ought not to be and if you are, Bigfoot might get you.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at


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