; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, October 28, 2013

Indiana's 'Monster' Snakes

The state of Indiana has it's fair share of monster sightings and stories. Alien big cats, lake and swamp monsters, phantom kangaroos, "devil monkeys," bigfoot, lizard men, giant birds, and a possible dragon. The one phenomenon that intrigues me is the number of sightings and encounters (natural & supernatural) with giant snakes or snake-like creatures. There have been a few aquatic reports...but I'm concentrating on those incidents of land-dwelling snakes. There are other places in the USA that have large snake reports...but Indiana, for whatever reason, has a more varied mix of slithering serpents. Is it, for the most part, just bluster? Possibly...but most legends usually start based on fact. Tell me what you think:


The most horrible snake story of the season comes from Benton county, and is told by the Lafayette Courier as follows: “There is a larger snake, measuring fifteen feet in length, as large in circumference as a good-sized stovepipe, with eyes of fire, adorned with horns underneath fully ten inches long, in the cemetery west of Oxford Benton county, Ind. It has been seen by at least a dozen people, and the supposition is that it subsists by feasting upon the dead bodies interred therein. Rumors of such a reptile inhabiting the city of the dead have been afloat for two years but until recently they have not been believed.

A gentleman of Oxford, whose word was never known to be doubted saw the snake the other day, and although he found and picked up a club, he became frightened at its mammoth size, and instead of entering into a battle with it he took to his heels and without looking back to see if it was after him, ran breathless to his home. At first he gave some excuse for this hurried and excited arrival but at last related his experience. There is a certain amount of distress among the citizens of Oxford, who have relatives buried in the cemetery, over the general belief that the reptile is living upon the dead bodies. The gentleman who informed the Courier reporter this morning of the matter says that on investigation there have been found large holes leading down into the graves. It is with a feeling of horror, accompanied with a shudder, that the people of Oxford have learned of this unnatural being. Those who have seen it, describe it as being of frightening appearance with its fiery eyes, horns and mammoth size. None have seen it but that at the first glimpse their hair seemed to raise on their very heads, and their hearts to almost stop beating at the sight of the terrible creature. - Logansport Journal, Logansport, Indiana - 3 September 1889



By International News Service.

GREENSBURG, Indiana, October 8. – Prominent citizens in the southern part of Decatur County declare that stories regarding the depradations by a monster snake are not fables. They declare the reptile, reported to be from twenty-five to thirty-five feet long and proportionately large as to girth, has been seen several times in the community during the last few days.

Work has been virtually abandoned in some sections and men, armed with guns, are searching for the monster. A calf belonging to Robert Bishop is said to have been devoured by the snake and the entire community professes intense alarm.

Some residents advance the theory that the reptile escaped from some passing show. Others point to stories, emanating from Sullivan and Green counties, many miles distant, of a serpent of similar proportions which is declared to have ditched “flivvers” [Ford Model T automobiles] in encounters on the highways. The Sullivan-Green county reptile was described at widely separated points within a space of a few hours and it received much publicity – some of it more than half serious – in the newspapers.

Now the Decaturites are wondering if this monster donned figurative seven league boots and emigrated to this country. - Brownwood Bulletin - Brownwood, Texas - October 8, 1920



The Woods and Streams north of Jasper found a dubious honor in the natural history of Indiana a few weeks ago when two men who were canoeing a flooded stream spotted a large snake swimming uncomfortably close to them.

After whacking it into oblivion with a paddle they took it to a conservation officer who identified the 42-inch-long serpent as a western cottonmouth, so-called because of its white mouth. Indiana suddenly became identified as the home of a fourth species of poisonous snake.

The western cottonmouth joins the timber rattlesnake and copperhead of southern and central Indiana and the massasauga, found in northern Indiana swamps.

The western cottonmouth, or water moccasin, has long been suspected to inhabit southern Indiana. One was reported in Gibson County in 1887, but its existence wasn’t confirmed. Persons who want to look for cottonmouths might note its dark brown coloring under black markings, a triangular head and a heavy body. One way of telling it from the non-poisonous copperbelly is to look it in the eye. If the pupil is round the snake is safe. If it is slit-shaped like a cat’s, it is venomous.

Experts say that of the four poisonous Indiana snakes, only the rattlesnake’s bite is usually fatal. There is only one sure test of this rule of thumb.

Fortunately, or unfortunately--depending on your interest in snakes--residents of most of the Wabash Valley will have to go a ways to find one of the poisonous species. A recent issue of Outdoor Indiana reported that poisonous vipers seem to give Sullivan, Daviess, Knox, Pike and most of Gibson counties a wide birth.

A visitor to Vincennes in 1816 attributed the lack of snakes to the Indian custom of burning off the tall grass of the prairie each Fall to make spotting game easier. Also, the flat, rolling plain of Knox County is not the sort of topography rattlers prefer. They like hilly timbered land.

Then maybe the poisonous snakes have heard of the inglorious end of Big Jim.

A century ago stories of a giant rattlesnake were striking fear in the hearts of the area. Big Jim was reported as the terror of the Wabash, a monster rattler 10 feet long (or longer in some estimates). He made his home at Rattlesnake Bluff on the Little Wabash, 12 miles north of Carmi, Ill., although he reportedly ranged up and down the Wabash Valley.

The snake was first noticed in the spring of 1881 when loggers went to log the Skillet Fork bottoms.

According to the story of this confrontation, told with grand detail in 1908 by the Vincennes Commercial, the loggers were driven to shelter in rain to the bluff overhanging the river. A black man in the crew was sent for firewood, but he came back, terrified and empty-handed. The logger, who was named Big Jim, reported seeing a great demon prowling the bluff. Capt. Ed Ballard, in charge of the crew, angrily ordered the man back to his task.

Minutes later a scream was heard from the top of the bluff and Jim hurtled down the bluff and into the flooded river. He was never seen again, though an extensive search was made of the river the next day. More men ascended the bluff but heard what they said sounded like a thousand rattles. Rain or not, the survivors boated to the Illinois bank of the Wabash in record time.

The Commercial, looking back, said the logging business in the area was set back by stories of the giant snake. Also, other excursions of this of this monster rattler, now called Big Jim in honor of his victim, were reported in succeeding years. Near the bluff one farmer looked into his chicken yard and saw his best Plymouth Rock rooster staring eyeball to eyeball with a giant snake. He emptied a shotgun at the snake, and it disappeared. He said his rooster was never the same again.

Cattle and hogs were reported bitten in the area.

Then a group of turkey and squirrel hunters, including Knox County Sheriff Lee Staley, saw what they said was Big Jim on a log sunning himself. They blasted away at him, interrupting his nap but apparently not hurting him.

A country school four miles from Rattlesnake Bluff was the next site of a report. Big Jim was spotted nearby, and the frightened teacher gathered the students inside the school, shut the blinds and hid out until evening when parents came to see what the problem was. School was dismissed for the rest of the year.

One are farmer reported the snake’s love for his blackberry patch. The farmer, William Ude, said his bull tried to horn the critter and came out the loser to the snake’s fangs.

A large cage put over the hole to what was supposedly Big Jim’s lair was found bent and twisted. A price was put on the snake’s head, and fearful farmers began wearing high boots to ward off attacking snakes. A snake, Big Jim, of course, frightened a team of stagecoach horses near Centerville, Ill., sending one frightened traveler up a tree.

Dynamiters blew holes over Rattlesnake Bluff, maybe sending thousands of snakes to their deaths, but reportedly not Big Jim. In 1908, after more than a quarter of a century there still was a rattlesnake mania north of Carmi, and all reports of snakes were attributed to the legendary serpent.

Big Jim finally was put to rest, shortly after the latest account of his history had been told in the Commercial.

On the W.H. Thompson farm in southwestern Sullivan County, farm hand John Bascomb heard a commotion in the pigpen. A boar had a giant rattlesnake in his jaws, close enough to the head that the snake couldn’t get in a knock-out punch. By the time he had returned with a rifle the other hogs in the pen were in the fray, stomping and biting at the writhing snake. Bascomb finally got a clear shot, and the snake was finished.

Bascomb mounted the skin, which measured 12 feet five inches and had 29 rattles. Whether Big Jim or just a big rattler, the legend of the terror of the Wabash died in a Sullivan County pigpen. - The Valley Advance, Vincennes, Ind., May 31, 1983



Mark Weston, a farmer living near the town of Alexander, Ind., relates a most wonderful phenomenon which occurred at his place. He says:

“Just after dark night before last I had occasion to go out to the barn to look after the horses. A public highway passes within yards of my house, and the barn is built about 20 rods from the house due south and somewhat nearer the road. I started from the house in the direction of the barn and bad gone perhaps half the distance when I noticed something playing along the ground that looked like a tremendous fiery snake.

The object crossed my path, and as it did so I felt the air grow much colder and a peculiar, moaning sound arose, like the sighing of the wind through the trees, only it was loud enough to drown a man’s voice when he would shout. Then I felt something come over me like electricity, and I became motionless as though I had grown fast to the ground.

I was terribly scared, but I never lost the use of my hands or legs through fear, though there was something peculiar in the air that simply paralyzed me. When the thing had got perhaps 50 feet from me going west, it turned and came back, and as it did so the moaning sound changed to a shrill whistle, something like a locomotive would make, and when it got just in front of me it took a course directly away from me and toward the barn.

It traveled very rapidly and looked like a large ragged streak of fire, perhaps 30 feet long and 18 inches in diameter. The thing reached the barn and in almost an instant ran directly up in front of the building and onto the roof. I expected every moment to see the barn burst into flames, but it did not. The great fiery snake ran with great rapidity all over the building, in almost every direction, up and down, crosswise and every way. I suppose, a thousand times. It then came to the front of the building and elevated itself, and it stood straight on its tail fully 30 feet in the air.

I was perfectly conscious all the time, but try as I would I could not move from the spot. After the thing had remained in an upright position for, I presume, three or four minutes there was a sudden explosion like the discharge of a cannon, and the thing disappeared entirely. With the disappearance of the strange phenomenon I felt a shock like the first one I had felt, and at the same time I gained control of my limbs. I hastened to the house, told my wife what I had seen, and she thought I was crazy, but upon my insisting she consented to accompany me to investigate the matter.

You can imagine our surprise upon reaching the barn to find it covered with a remarkable network resembling large ropes of ice. They appeared to pass around the building in exactly the way the fiery monster had passed. It was not ice, however, but seemed to be more of a crystal, for it would not melt even when we held a flame to it, and when struck with a hatchet it simply gave a dullish sound and did not break.

Upon entering the barn we were amazed, as two good horses stood in their stalls immovable. They were alive, but neither could move a muscle. They seemed to be paralyzed and stood there more like statues than anything else. They were warm and breathed all right, but aside from this you could not tell they were alive. I applied the whip, and they never flinched. A dog that sleeps in the barn was dead and appeared completely petrified. He was lying on the ground with his head on his paws just like he was sleeping. When I left home this afternoon, everything was just as I I have described it to you. - Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden, Utah - 1 July 1893

Monster Files: A Look Inside Government Secrets and Classified Documents on Bizarre Creatures and Extraordinary Animals

Monster Spotter's Guide to North America

Strange Indiana Monsters