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Monsters And Sea-serpents


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

It is hardly to be wondered at that two prominent scientists should have
declared on behalf of the sea-serpent, for that remarkable creature has
been reported at so many points, and by so many witnesses not addicted to
fish tales nor liquor, that there ought to be some reason for him. He has
been especially numerous off the New England coast. He was sighted off
Cape Ann in 1817, and several times off Nahant. Though alarming in
appearance--for he has a hundred feet of body, a shaggy head, and goggle
eyes--he is of lamb-like disposition, and has never justified the
attempts that have been made to kill or capture him. Rewards were at one
time offered to the seafaring men who might catch him, and revenue
cutters cruising about Massachusetts Bay were ordered to keep a lookout
for him and have a gun double shotted for action. One fisherman emptied
the contents of a ducking gun into the serpent's head, as he supposed,
but the creature playfully wriggled a few fathoms of its tail and made
off. John Josselyn, gentleman, reports that when he stirred about this
neighborhood in 1638 an enormous reptile was seen quoiled up on a rock
at Cape Ann. He would have fired at him but for the earnest dissuasion
of his Indian guide, who declared that ill luck would come of the
attempt. The sea-serpent sometimes shows amphibious tendencies and
occasionally leaves the sea for fresh water. Two of him were seen in
Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, in 1892, by four men. They confess, however,
that they were fishing at the time. The snakes had fins and were a matter
of fifty feet long.

When one of these reptiles found the other in his vicinage he raised his
head six feet above water and fell upon him tooth and nail--if he had
nails. In their struggles these unpleasant neighbors made such waves that
the fishermen's boat was nearly upset.

Even the humble Wabash has its terror, for at Huntington, Indiana, three
truthful damsels of the town saw its waters churned by a tail that
splashed from side to side, while far ahead was the prow of the animal--a
leonine skull, with whiskers, and as large as the head of a boy of a
dozen years. As if realizing what kind of a report was going to be made
about him, the monster was overcome with bashfulness at the sight of the
maidens and sank from view.

In April, 1890, a water-snake was reported in one of the Twin Lakes, in
the Berkshire Hills, but the eye-witnesses of his sports let him off with
a length of twenty-five feet.

Sysladobosis Lake, in Maine, has a snake with a head like a dog's, but it
is hardly worth mentioning because it is only eight feet long-hardly
longer than the name of the lake. More enterprise is shown across the
border, for Skiff Lake, New Brunswick, has a similar snake thirty feet

In Cotton Mather's time a double-headed snake was found at Newbury,
Massachusetts,--it had a head at each end,--and before it was killed it
showed its evil disposition by chasing and striking at the lad who first
met it.

A snake haunts Wolf Pond, Pennsylvania, that is an alleged relic of the
Silurian age. It was last seen in September, 1887, when it unrolled
thirty feet of itself before the eyes of an alarmed spectator--again a
fisherman. The beholder struck him with a pole, and in revenge the
serpent capsized his boat; but he forbore to eat his enemy, and, diving
to the bottom, disappeared. The creature had a black body, about six
inches thick, ringed with dingy-yellow bands, and a mottled-green head,
long and pointed, like a pike's.

Silver Lake, near Gainesville, New York, was in 1855 reported to be the
lair of a great serpent, and old settlers declare that he still comes to
the surface now and then.

A tradition among the poor whites of the South Jruns to the effect that
the sea-monster that swallowed Jonah--not a whale, because the throat of
that animal is hardly large enough to admit a herring--crossed the
Atlantic and brought up at the Carolinas. His passenger was supplied with
tobacco and beguiled the tedium of the voyage by smoking a pipe. The
monster, being unused to that sort of thing, suffered as all beginners in
nicotine poisoning do, and expelled the unhappy man with emphasis. On
being safely landed, Jonah attached himself to one of the tribes that
peopled the barrens, and left a white progeny which antedated Columbus's
arrival by several centuries. God pitied the helplessness of these
ignorant and uncourageous whites and led them to Looking-Glass Mountain,
North Carolina, where He caused corn and game to be created, and while
this race endured it lived in plenty.

Santa Barbara Island, off the California coast, was, for a long time, the
supposed head-quarters of swimming and flying monsters and sirens, and no
Mexican would pass in hearing of the yells and screams and strange songs
without crossing himself and begging the captain to give the rock a wide
berth. But the noise is all the noise of cats. A shipwrecked tabby
peopled the place many years ago, and her numerous progeny live there on
dead fish and on the eggs and chicks of sea-fowl.

Spirit Canon, a rocky gorge that extends for three miles along Big Sioux
River, Iowa, was hewn through the stone by a spirit that took the form of
a dragon. Such were its size and ferocity that the Indians avoided the
place, lest they should fall victims to its ire.

The Hurons believed in a monster serpent--Okniont--who wore a horn on his
head that could pierce trees, rocks, and hills. A piece of this horn was
an amulet of great value, for it insured good luck.

The Zunis tell of a plumed serpent that lives in the water of sacred
springs, and they dare not destroy the venomous creatures that infest the
plains of Arizona because, to them, the killing of a snake means a
reduction in their slender water-supply. The gods were not so kind to the
snakes as men were, for the agatized trees of Chalcedony Park, in
Arizona, are held to be arrows shot by the angry deities at the monsters
who vexed this region.

Indians living on the shore of Canandaigua Lake, New York, tamed a pretty
spotted snake, and fed and petted it until it took a deer at a meal. It
grew so large that it eventually encircled the camp and began to prey on
its keepers. Vainly they tried to kill the creature, until a small boy
took an arrow of red willow, anointed it with the blood of a young woman,
and shot it from a basswood bow at the creature's heart. It did not enter
at once; it merely stuck to the scales. But presently it began to bore
and twist its way into the serpent's body. The serpent rolled into the
lake and made it foam in its agony. It swallowed water and vomited it up
again, with men dead and alive, before it died.

The monster Amhuluk, whose home is a lake near Forked Mountain, Oregon,
had but one passion-to catch and drown all things; and when you look into
the lake you see that he has even drowned the sky in it, and has made the
trees stand upside down in the water. Wherever he set his feet the ground
would soften. As three children were digging roots at the edge of the
water he fell on them and impaled two of them on his horns, the eldest
only contriving to escape. When this boy reached home his body was full
of blotches, and the father suspected how it was, yet he went to the lake
at once. The bodies of the children came out of the mud at his feet to
meet him, but went down again and emerged later across the water. They
led him on in this way until he came to the place where they were
drowned. A fog now began to steam up from the water, but through it he
could see the little ones lifted on the monster's horns, and hear them
cry, We have changed our bodies. Five times they came up and spoke to
him, and five times he raised a dismal cry and begged them to return, but
they could not. Next morning he saw them rise through the fog again, and,
building a camp, he stayed there and mourned for several days. For five
days they showed themselves, but after that they went down and he saw and
heard no more of them. Ambuluk had taken the children and they would live
with him for ever after.

Crater Lake, Oregon, was a haunt of water-devils who dragged into it and
drowned all who ventured near. Only within a few years could Indians be
persuaded to go to it as guides. Its discoverers saw in it the work of
the Great Spirit, but could not guess its meaning. All but one of these
Klamaths stole away after they had looked into its circular basin and
sheer walls. He fancied that if it was a home of gods they might have
some message for men, so camping on the brink of the lofty cliffs he
waited. In his sleep a vision came to him, and he heard voices, but could
neither make out appearances nor distinguish a word. Every night this
dream was repeated. He finally went down to the lake and bathed, and
instantly found his strength increased and saw that the people of his
dreams were the genii of the waters--whether good or bad he could not
guess. One day he caught a fish for food. A thousand water-devils came to
the surface, on the instant, and seized him. They carried him to a rock
on the north side of the lake, that stands two thousand feet above the
water, and from that they dashed him down, gathering the remains of his
shattered body below and devouring them. Since that taste they have been
eager for men's blood. The rock on the south side of the lake, called the
Phantom Ship, is believed by the Indians to be a destructive monster,
innocent as it looks in the daytime.

So with Rock Lake, in Washington. A hideous reptile sports about its
waters and gulps down everything that it finds in or on them. Only in
1853 a band of Indians, who had fled hither for security against the
soldiers, were overtaken by this creature, lashed to death, and eaten.

The Indians of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas believed that the King
Snake, or God Snake, lived in the Gulf of Mexico. It slept in a cavern of
pure crystal at the bottom, and its head, being shaped from a solid
emerald, lighted the ocean for leagues when it arose near the surface.

Similar to this is the belief of the Cherokees in the kings of
rattlesnakes, bright old inhabitants of the mountains that grew to a
mighty size, and drew to themselves every creature that they looked upon.
Each wore a crown of carbuncle of dazzling brightness.

The Indians avoided Klamath Lake because it was haunted by a monster that
was half dragon, half hippopotamus.

Hutton Lake, Wyoming, is the home of a serpent queen, whose breathing may
be seen in the bubbles that well up in the centre. She is constantly
watching for her lover, but takes all men who come in her way to her
grotto beneath the water, when she finds that they are not the one she
has expected, and there they become her slaves. To lure victims into the
lake she sets there a decoy of a beautiful red swan, and should the
hunter kill this bird he will become possessed of divine power. Should he
see the woman, as the serpent queen is called, he will never live to
tell of it, unless he has seen her from a hiding-place near the
shore--for so surely as he is noticed by this Diana of the depths, so
surely will her spies, the land snakes, sting him to death. In appearance
she is a lovely girl in all but her face, and that is shaped like the
head of a monster snake. Her name is never spoken by the Indians, for
fear that it will cost them their lives.

Michael Pauw, brave fisherman of Paterson, New Jersey, hero of the fight
with the biggest snapping-turtle in Dover Slank, wearer of a scar on his
seat of honor as memento of the conflict, member of the Kersey Reds--he
whose presence of mind was shown in holding out a chip of St. Nicholas's
staff when he met the nine witches of the rocks capering in the mists of
Passaic Falls--gave battle from a boat to a monster that had ascended to
the cataract. One of the Kersey Reds, leaning out too far, fell astride
of the horny beast, and was carried at express speed, roaring with
fright, until unhorsed by a projecting rock, up which he scrambled to
safety. Falling to work with bayonets and staves, the company despatched
the creature and dragged it to shore. One Dutchman--who was quite a
traveller, having been as far from home as Albany--said that the thing
was what the Van Rensselaers cut up for beef, and that he believed they
called it a sturgeon.

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