Friday 2 March 2018

The Monster of the Everglades, 1901

     Since the 1980s, Florida has been infested with an invasive species, the Burmese python (Python bivattatus), and early this century someone discovered a green anaconda, the largest snake in the world, there. But what about the old days? Here is a report which appears to have gone around the world, because I discovered it in an Australian newspaper, the Maitland Daily Mercury (NSW), Tuesday 15 April 1902, on page 5, but it seems to originally appeared in the New York Times, 30 November or 1st December 1901.
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A Strange Monster

     An enormous reptile, more like the extinct brontosaurus or fabled sea serpent than any living creature, has (says a Jacksonville correspondent of the New York Times) recently been killed by a hunter in the lower Everglades. It has for one hundred years not only been a tradition among the Seminole Indians, who inhabited the borders of Lake Okeechobee, but it is stated as a fact within the knowledge of some of the Indians now living that an immense serpent made its home in the Everglades, and has carried off at least two Indians. The Indians reported the animal to be snakelike in appearance, with ears like a deer; that it had only been seen in the Everglades, and that it was very wild. They said that when it travelled it frequently stopped, raised its head high above the sawgrass to take a view of its surroundings, to discover enemies, or locate victims. If frightened, the Indians asserted that it glided off at immense speed. These stories have kept the venturesome hunter and trapper on his guard and in a state of more or less anxiety, notwithstanding they did not give credence to these Indian stories.
     Recently Buster Ferrel, one of the boldest and most noted hunters of Okeechobee, and who for twenty years has made the border of the lake and the Everglades his home, on one of his periodical expeditions noted what he supposed to be the pathway of an immense alligator. For several days he visited the locality with the hope of killing the saurian, but was unsuccessful in finding him. His pride as a hunter was piqued, and his desire to obtain the hide of what he felt sure to be one of the largest alligators ever seen in this section, where alligators are noted for their immense size, grew daily. He studied some plan to outwit it. A large cypress stood near its pathway, and he concluded to climb the tree and take a stand for his game. He accordingly took his position in the tree. Nothing appeared. He was becoming discouraged, but determined to give one more day to the effort. On the third day, before he had been on his perch an hour, he saw what looked to him like an immense serpent gliding along the supposed alligator track. He estimated it to be anywhere from 25ft. to 30ft. [7½ to 9 metres] long, and fully 10in. to 12in. [25 to 30 cm] in diameter where the head joined the body, and as large around as a barrel 10ft. [3 metres] further back.
     The creature stopped within easy range of his gun and raised high its head. As it did Ferrel shot at its head. Taken by surprise, the serpent dashed into the marsh at tremendous speed, while Ferrel kept up firing until he had emptied the magazine of his rifle. About four days afterwards he ventured back into the neighbourhood, and about a mile from where he first saw the monster he saw a large flock of buzzards, and went to see what thy were after, and there he found the creature dead and its body so badly torn by the buzzards that it was impossible to save the skin. He, however, secured the head, and has it now in his home on the Kissimmee River. It is truly a frightful looking object, fully 10in. [25 cm] from jaw to jaw, and ugly, razorlike teeth. He described the animal as dark coloured on its back and a dingy white beneath, with feelers around its mouth similar to catfish. He has gone back into the swamp with the intention of obtaining the skeleton and bringing it back, after which he will send it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
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     Well, that's the story. Apparently, nothing was ever heard of Buster or the monster snake again, and the Smithsonian never got its specimen.

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