Woman hiking in green forested area
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 12, 2024 ·  4 min read

Cannibals Feared to Live In US National Park Where Five People Have Gone Missing

A mystery surrounding disappearances in U.S. national parks has taken a chilling turn as an old legend has returned: the existence of feral cannibals. This theory, fueled by popular media and platforms like TikTok, suggests that wild people are responsible for a number of unexplained vanishings. Despite lacking concrete evidence, the fear persists, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Let’s examine the evidence, and explore why such stories are leading the hysteria.

The Origins of the Legend

Dark foggy pine scary forest
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The idea of feral people living in U.S. national parks is not new. Folklore about wild men dates back to the late 19th century. The first reported sighting was in 1877 in Western North Carolina, where gold miners allegedly encountered a wild man living in a cave filled with bones.1 This narrative has evolved over time, gaining traction with each retelling, particularly through the lens of podcasts and TikTok.

One of the most famous cases fueling this legend is the disappearance of six-year-old Dennis Martin in 1969. During a family camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dennis vanished without a trace. Despite extensive search efforts involving the U.S. Army’s elite special forces, not even a trace of him was found. This case and others have been cited by conspiracy theorists as evidence of feral cannibals. (Ah yes, the old “lack of evidence being evidence” strategy).

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Missing 411 and the Role of Media

Poster for a missing young woman hangs on a pole near the road
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The cannibal legend gained renewed attention with the documentary film “Missing 411,” which explores the mysterious disappearances of an estimated 1,600 people from national parks across the United States.2 Former police officer David Paulides, the author of the Missing 411 book series, stated that many of these cases remain unsolved and may involve sinister elements.

The film details several chilling cases, including that of a three-year-old boy who went missing in Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest. His remains were found four years later, with the official cause of death being an animal attack. However, many believe there is more to the story. Such narratives have given way to a surge of speculation where discussions about feral cannibals often take place.

The Rationality Behind Disappearances

National Park
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Despite the sensationalism, experts argue that most disappearances in national parks can be attributed to more mundane causes. The National Park Service indicates that many missing persons are either very young or elderly; those who may succumb to the natural elements or become disoriented on the trails.3 Factors like harsh weather conditions, a lack of experience, and inadequate navigation skills often lead to tragic outcomes.

Folklore experts refer to stories of feral people as “contemporary legends,” which are characterized by their obscurity, lack of evidence, and wide audience appeal.4 These legends thrive because they sit “on the edge of credibility” (outside of the edge, to be clear), making them perfect for viral content in the digital age.

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TikTok and Contemporary Legends

Russia, Kazan May 28 2019: Tik Tok application icon on Apple iPhone X screen close-up. Tik Tok icon. tik tok application. Tiktok Social media network
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TikTok has become a powerful platform for the dissemination of contemporary legends. Users like @jaybaebae96 and @garcious have garnered attention with their posts about feral cannibals, claiming that these wild people inhabit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These stories, while engaging, often lack verification and contribute to public fear and misunderstanding.

One viral post claimed that the government is covering up hundreds of eyewitness accounts of feral people. Such claims are unverifiable (shocking) and often just fear monger, leading to real-world consequences like deterring people from visiting national parks.

The Impact on Local Communities

The New River deep in the gorge, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Fayette County, West Virginia, USA
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The legends have also had a detrimental impact on local communities, particularly in rural areas like Appalachia. TikTok users from West Virginia and Kentucky have voiced concerns that these myths demonize off-grid and low-income residents, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. The portrayal of these communities as dangerous or cannibalistic is not only untrue but also exacerbates existing social stigmas.

Experts emphasize that while hermits and off-grid survivalists do exist, they are not feral cannibals. These individuals often live off the land out of necessity, not malevolence. Misrepresenting them can lead to further marginalization and misunderstanding.


Image for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Shutterstock

While the legend of feral cannibals in U.S. national parks may captivate the mind, it remains just that—a legend. Most disappearances in national parks are likely due to natural causes and human error, not wild people lurking in the woods. However, the persistence of such stories highlights the power of folklore and the modern media’s role in shaping public perception. As with any contemporary legend, it’s important to approach these stories with a healthy dose of skepticism and a commitment to seeking the truth.

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  1. Rumors swirl online about cannibals living in Colorado’s national parks.” Denver Gazette. Tamera Twitty. September 28, 2021.
  2. Feral People In National Parks – Truth or Tale?.” Zion Camp
  3. Rumor about deadly forces lurking in national parks catches fire on TikTok: ‘I am absolutely terrified’.” Yahoo. Kelsey Weekman. May 13, 2021.
  4. ‘Feral cannibals’ feared to live in US national park where five people have gone missing.” Unilad. Mia Williams. May 28, 2024.