The Beast in US

Why Idaho Created a Wild Man

By Patrick McCarthy

Photos Courtesy of Patrick McCarthy

I first met the embodiment of the wild man at a tender age. I looked up one day and saw my broad-shouldered, well-muscled father hovering above me.

Joseph “Joe” McCarthy was from Bantry Bay, County Cork, Ireland. Larger-than-life at 250 pounds with just a 22-inch waist, he was a massive man. A lock of rich black hair covered his head. He had large hands, which were weapons for a bare-knuckle boxer, who had become a local legend in Fruitland and the town’s wild man.

Much later I came to understand that the classic wild man—huge, hairy, and violent—is the eons-old exemplar of the half-human, half-beast of medieval times and of worldwide lore and literature. Regarding nearly all wild man sightings, including mine as a little boy of my father, there is an element of truth and a larger piece of fiction. His image exists on three planes: the common man (as my father was), the mountain man (historical and fictional), and the wild man himself.

Like the wild man and mountain man, my father was a stoic, an enduring man’s man. He helped to coach high school athletes in all sports, thereby neglecting me in the 1940s and 1950s. I became a disaffected youth, filled with resentment and unrest. Rebellious against authority, I was later part of the Sixties generation that protested the Vietnam War.

However, as a youngster, I was shy and introspective. I preferred to watch, rather than participate in, the events going on around me. Over the years, I gradually turned my bashfulness and disaffection into positive behavior. I became a keen student of wild man cultures, and eventually deduced that “Old Joe”—as my father was called—was the “lost father” of all of us, because he symbolized the absent and unemotional parent of any child.

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Patrick McCarthy

About Patrick McCarthy

Patrick McCarthy taught mass media studies for two decades at five schools, specializing in film and TV production, media criticism, and historical subjects, including mountain man/wild man studies. An avid trout fisherman, he lives in Boise and writes full-time.

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