By Stephen D. Bowling
There are many strange and unusual stories in Breathitt County, but rarely is there any evidence to support these tales. Even rarer is a photography of the unexplained event or creature. When a “calliker” was killed at Little’s Creek in 1954, we are fortunate that a photograph forever captured the event.
In the summer of 1939, an animal made its way through Breathitt County, killing dogs and farm animals. Several people saw the beast, but no known photograph exists. After some time in Breathitt, it appears to have moved on to Morgan, then Menifee, Rowan, and Lewis Counties.
What the creature might have been was never explained. No mention after 1939 found its way into the local papers except in the writings of Clennie Hollan, who wrote the “Ramblin’ Through Williba” article each week in The Jackson Times. Hollon mentioned the creature several times, which he called the “calliker.”
In fact, he reported in May 1953 that a white rather than the usual black calliker had been killed at Oakdale. Hollon kept the story alive and mentioned the creature more than 10 times. It is difficult to determine if he was writing in the belief that the creature existed or if he was poking fun at those who did. He constantly asked for any photos or proof that they did exist and even offered a reward. At one point, Hollon reported that his friend, Tom Bradley, had caught a calliker and kept it as a pet. Anything could appear in print before newspapers employed fact-checkers.
Where the name “calliker” originated is not known. There was no other mention of this name being applied to another mysterious creature anywhere in the United States. There are other mentions of creatures with the same habits and similar build in hundreds of other newspapers, but never is it called a calliker. Facts about this creature are hard to come by, which lends more mystery to this beast.
One fact is clear. In September 1954, Cornelius Neace shot something at his house on Little’s Creek in the southern end of Breathitt County. The information about the shooting was published in the September 16, 1954 edition of The Jackson Times on page 1. The letter printed at the bottom of the front page is from Clifton D. Strong, the community news reporter from Little Creek and the Whick area. The newspaper thought it so strange that the editor ran it as a news story.
Slays “Calliker” Little Resident Makes County Safe For Dogs Dog owners, and more especially the dogs themselves, may breathe collective sighs of relief today and offer thanks to Cornelius Neace, fearless resident of the Little community of Breathitt County. The reason for the note of gratitude to Mr. Neace? Well, it seems that the Little citizen has slain the infamous “Calliker”, slayer of members of the canine family in Breathitt County for many years and described by various persons as being everything from an Alaskan seal to an African man-eating tiger. Or, so our Little correspondent, Clifton D. Strong informs The Times in a letter today. Here’s the way the story goes, according to Mr. Strong. I am glad to report that Cornell Neace of Little has killed one of the animals that has been killing dogs and eating them in our community. It killed and ate one dog for Jim Bush, just left the dog’s entrails in the back yard. On the same night about midnight Cornell Neace was watching for the animal to visit his home, and sure enough. It visited for the last time. He saw the animal rear up on his yard gate. Having a shot gun ready some 40 feet away, he fired a deadly shot to the animal, and pierced him in the stomach. Description of the animal as follows: About the size of a large god, heavy built shoulders and neck like a lion, slim, slender hindparts, forelegs much larger than hind legs, short sharp ears, head and shoulders real black, except for a white spot on the beast. Has small, real black eyes, but the body of the animal was also black, or dark tinted with gray and has a short black bushy tail that resembles a skunk’s tail, about 18 inches long. No one in our community that I know knows what the name of the animal is. Readers please read the description of this animal ad if anyone know the name of it please drop me a postal card. Give name of the animal and also sign your name. We are anxious to know. Mr. Neace thinks there were two or three more of these animals there about his house at the time he killed the one. He said he shot another one a little while before he killed that one. Our folks here think it to be a timber wolf, but you draw your own conclusions. I would like to have your comments, especially Clennie Hollan and Allen Trout’s.
The creature he killed was unusual, and, thankfully for historians, it was so strange that a photograph was taken with Neace holding the beast by the tail.
The Jackson Times article was not the last for the calliker story. The Lexington Herald-Leader ran an article on April 25, 1969, written by Nevyle Shackelford about the beast he called a “brush wolf.” Shackelford described the creature as “a werewolf sort of varmint that in the dead of night utters weird, bone-chilling ululations before making raids on the batteries.” He romanticized the creature creeping through the rhododendron and silently sneaking up on its prey. Shackelford included a description of the calliker in his article and printed that it was “about three feet long, are bushy-tailed, weigh about 30 pounds and have a shabby buff coat.”
Was this one of the creatures that Cornelius Neace shot at Little, Kentucky in 1954? To my knowledge, no modern reports of calliker sightings have been recorded in Breathitt County or any of the surrounding counties. If you see one or have one around your place, make sure to take a picture of it. Who knows who will write about these legends and creatures in the future.
I am not sure if the reward is still out there– you will have to take that up with Clinnie Hollon’s family.
Special thanks to Mary E. (Thompson) Strong of Copeland for her help with this post.
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling