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Hoof Prints In The Snow

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The Unseen Enemy
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The Legend Of The Devil’s Footprints

By James Donahue

The strange story of what the natives in Britain called the devil’s footprints has been passed down in various publications ever since it occurred in 1855. To this day, such an event has never been duplicated, nor has what happened in Devonshire been explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

As the story is told, sometime between 11 p.m. on Feb. 7 and dawn on the following morning, a trail of odd “U-shaped” tracks was found in fresh fallen snow for about 100-miles in a straight line. The four-inch-long and two and three-quarter inch wide marks appeared as if a one-footed beast hopped along, coming down to leave each mark about eight inches ahead of the last.

The trail appeared to begin in Topsham and Bicton in the North, and pass south through Exmouth, across an unfrozen bay near Powdersham Castle and ending in Dawles and Totnes at the South. Natives said the snowfall ended at about 11 p.m. on Feb. 7, and the marks were first noticed by a baker in Topsham when he was opening his shop at dawn on Feb. 8. He said the tracks lead to a point three feet from the door where they turned toward a five-foot thick brick wall. He said on the top of the wall, he found another track.

As they rose to greet the day, other people began noticing the track and started comparing notes and gathering information. In the end, the track led in an almost straight line, not allowing anything to get in its way. They went over the tops of snow-covered wagons, buildings and at one point appeared to have entered a shed and emerged on the other side. At another point the trail led to a drainpipe and emerged on the opposite end, as if the creature had crawled through the pipe.

As time passed, it appears that people began embellishing the story. They said the prints appeared to have been “burned” into the snow as if by a hot poker. And at one point near where the trail ended in a thicket where they said dogs refused to enter.

The story goes on to say that groups of villagers banned together with pitchforks and bludgeons, following the trail and expecting to come upon some terrible beast. Before the day was over, people were saying they thought the hoofmarks had been made by the Devil.

The newspapers picked up the story, thus saving the story for historians and collectors of odd information to ponder over, as we are doing at this moment. After the story appeared in the London Times, various people wrote letters to the editor suggesting that the marks were made by various animals ranging from a badger to cats, mice, a donkey with a broken shoe and even a kangaroo. None of the suggestions, however, fit the established fact that the tracks defied logic, passed over buildings and even water, and went in a straight line for 100 miles before they ended.