Johns Creek calls it "fabled." The website AtlasObscura.com, which describes itself as an online "guide to the world's wondrous and curious places," called it "folklore."
Indeed, it seems that no one has been able to confirm the following as fact, but here goes ...
According to those outlets, at some time near the turn of the 20th century, a train with circus animals as its cargo crashed near Duluth. Monkeys that were on the train escaped into the woods and eventually ran up against some sheltered farmers.
Having never seen a monkey before — remember, this was pre-Animal Channel — farmers near Sal’s Creek were scared by these furry creatures climbing up trees and screeching at them.
And so in what Johns Creek calls a “less-than-proud moment” in the city’s folklore, those farmers grabbed their firearms and took aim at the monkeys, shooting and killing every single one of them.
According to AtlasObscura, the unknown artist wanted to create these statues to send a message that not understanding something isn’t a reason to destroy it.
It's unclear when exactly the memorials for the monkeys were made, but they were donated to Autrey Mill by the artist at sometime during the 1990s, says Mary Winder, the mill's program director. Today they can be found along Forest Trail North, which stretches over a third of a mile in Autrey Mill.
“We assume the artist heard the story and was inspired,” Winder said. “Besides the documentation that Autrey Mill has just from fliers and handouts we have found no other record of the story.”
Winder said that the moral of the story remains important.
“While exploring in nature, it is not uncommon to come across an animal that you cannot identify or that makes you nervous. Despite your fear, remember that all animals have their place,” she said. “If you are truly frightened, simply take two steps back and walk away. The animal in question is likely more scared of you than you are of it.”