A couple important occurrences helped shape the history of Inman, Kansas, one an historical fact and the other a legend. The fact is that the Santa Fe Trail passed just a few miles outside of town on its way through Kansas, and the legend is that of the mythical wetlands creature affectionately known far and wide as Sink Hole Sam. The story of Sam has been told and retold many times, but the coming of a new year seems an appropriate time to retell it yet again.
Once upon a time near a small town called Inman, in the land of Kansas, a legend was born; a legend that nearly 70 years ago would bring this sleepy little town notoriety for a season. The legend became that of Sink Hole Sam. Prior to the 1920’s, a string of small freshwater lakes stretched across part of central Kansas, coming within a couple miles of the town of Inman. It’s widely known that back then people from all around the state came here to fish and hunt ducks in those lakes. Eventually the lakes were drained, leaving Lake Inman and a few low pockets of water that became known as “sinkholes.” Inman Lake remains as the largest natural lake in the state of Kansas. The largest of the sinkholes became known locally as” the Big Sinkhole,” and here a legend was born in the form of a large serpent-like creature that became Sink Hole Sam. People speculated that Sam had been living in some prehistoric underground cavern that had somehow filled with water from the sinkhole, allowing him to finally venture forth. Or maybe Sam had lived there in some of the lakes all along, and now with them drained had nowhere else to go. Evidently no one got close enough to see if the creature should be named Sam or Samantha, but I’ll stay true to the legend and call it “Sam.” Two unidentified Inman men fishing at the sinkhole first reported seeing Sam, and soon after, local “Inmanites” Albert Neufeld and George Regehr spotted him also. The story goes that Albert sought to save the town by taking pot shots at poor Sam from a nearby bridge (I suspect the bridge was not really all that nearby!) Of course, descriptions of the beast varied according to the audience and to the time of day, but Sam ended up being a very large snake-like creature, about fifteen feet long and the diameter of an automobile tire.
Now everyone likes a good legend, and the discovery of Sam was no exception. The story spread like hot peanut butter! Newspapers caught wind of the tale, (no pun intended) and locals started getting calls from strangers all across the country. Today, some residents still recall seeing hundreds of cars parked around the big sinkhole hoping “Sammy” would make a curtain call.
In an attempt to quell speculation about their new prehistoric mascot, (here the legend takes a slight southern detour) some “great scientific minds” were brought on board in the persons of Ernest Dewey and his assistant Dr. Erasmus P. Quattlebaum. Earnest D. and the Dr. informed Inman that Sam was a “Foopengerkle,” one of a species thought to be the “extinctest” creatures ever to inhabit the Kansas Plains. This must be where he became Sam rather than Samantha, because Ernest D. and Dr. Q. maintained that no female “Foopengerkles” ever existed. Their final report urged caution, since Sam did not seem to realize he was extinct. Sam soon disappeared from sight, never to be seen or at least acknowledged publicly again.
Perhaps Sam still comes out at night to prowl the waters of the Big Sinkhole, frolicking and doing whatever else it is Foopengerkles do. Tromping through the wetlands there I’ve heard strange sounds I always figured were muskrats or beavers rummaging around through the cattails, but maybe it was really Sammy out for a stretch and a snack! Each time I’m there and I get that feeling that someone or something is watching me, I peer optimistically over my shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big lug. But now with the wetlands and the sinkholes nearly dry again, ole’ Sam has probably for sure retired to his cavern until he has water enough to swim once more.
Millions of dollars have been spent attempting to prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster, and as far as I know, all such attempts have failed at both. Sink Hole Sam put Inman on the map and in the news those many years ago, and no one has yet disproven his existence to me. Like I said, everyone likes a good legend; after all this is America, and stranger things have happened! …Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected].