The Sidehill Gouger
Artist: Walter Bender
My father had the unhappy tendency to tell the same jokes and stories until violence threatened. He did this partly to share his brand of hilarity, and partly to annoy the heck out of poor slobs trapped within earshot. One of his worn out tales concerned cows with legs shorter on one side than the other. The freakish cows' legs were mismatched from grazing on steep mountains while perpetually facing in the same direction. Some cows had shorter left legs, and some had shorter right legs. My father's deformed cows sound a lot like the sidehill gouger.
The sidehill gouger is yet another "fearsome critter" from North American folklore. They're peaceful herbivores, who live in mountainside burrows, and lay between six to eight eggs. If you look closely at the painting above, you'll notice the mother is a "left-sided" gouger, while her pup is "right-sided." This tragic occurance results in much heartache when the unfortunate pup is unable to follow its mother around their mountain home. When gougers try to travel in the wrong direction, they tip over and fall, rendering them helpless to wild predators and human hunters. Another difficulty occurs when "left-sided" and "right-sided" gougers manage to mate and produce pups with mismatched legs. For example, the offspring may have a short right front leg, and a long right back leg. These sad little pups soon become a predator's meal.
A goat-like gouger
It's said gougers from the Appalachians have fur only on the side facing away from the mountain. Apparently, rubbing against the boulders on the mountain's slope wears the fur off, leaving the skin smooth to the touch, and tough like leather. Those characteristics make the gougers' furless side very attractive to handbag makers.
A badger-like gouger with corkscrew tail
It obvious no one truly knows what a sidehill gouger looks like. While some observers swear the gouger resembles a goat, others keenly insist a badger fits the bill. Even the creature's name is cause for disagreement. Though sidehill gouger is the most popular tag, other names include wowser, hunkus, rickaboo racker and cutter cuss. It's certainly enough to make me cuss! In Vermont, the gouger is called the wampahoofus. Enterprising farmers of that state bred the creatures to cows so their bovines could easily traverse the mountainous environment. This must have been the origin of my father's cow story. Personally, I like sidehill gouger the best. They walk on hillsides, and gouge out a path in the process.
The French dahu.
North America isn't the only country with loopsided creatures traversing the mountains. In France you'll find the dahu, a mountain goat-like animal easily captured with ground pepper. The unsuspecting dahu, smelling the scattered pepper, violently sneezes causing either a rocky concussion, or a sudden roll down the mountainside to the hunters below.
There's also claimed to exist the sidehill or wild haggis of Scotland. The less said about that little creature the better!