Missionaries to foreign lands often have remarkable stories to tell: thrilling escapes from hostile heathens, the perils of travel, and clashes with local witch-doctors. Rarer are tales like the following.
FOUND NEW MONSTER
Veteran Missionary Tells of Hideous Reptile
From Its Lair in a Mine, the Creature Attacks Workman—Was Unlike Anything the Minister Had Ever Seen or Heard of.
Dr. Watkins, the veteran missionary who has just returned from a four months’ evangelical trip through the outlying states, tells a strange story of a wonderful snake which he killed in an old, abandoned shaft of a mine down in the State of Guerrero.
“My attention was attracted one day,” says Mr. Watkins, “by the horrified cries of an Indian miner who came running toward me, his face ghastly with fright and the perspiration dripping like rain drops from his brow. The man rushed up and cast himself at my feet, where he lay trembling and gasping. As soon as he was able to get his breath, he told me that he had been seized by a horrible monster which had suddenly sprung upon him from one of the hidden recesses of the mine, and that he had narrowly escaped being drawn down into its embrace.
“My curiosity was aroused and I proceeded to the mouth of the shaft with the man as soon as I could induce him to return. We looked down but in the dense obscurity could see nothing. Drawing my revolver I bade the man go down into the shaft a way, assuring him that no harm would befall him, as I would follow close with my cocked revolver ready for use.
“The miner did as I commanded and had done down for a number of feet when suddenly from the dense blackness I saw a huge and indescribably hideous head with wide-open mouth shoot up. The jaws of the creature were wide open, showing its sharp-fanged teeth in its mouth looking large enough easily to take a man down at one gulp.
“The miner screamed with terror and I feared he would lose his hold and fall, but he clung desperately to the ladder while I thrust the barrel of the revolver full into the creature’s mouth and fired. With a tremendous hiss it dropped its head and then we saw it was a huge serpent like unto nothing I had ever heard of before.
“As its struggling body came into my view I fired again, and the snake, slipping from the ledge on which it had stretched itself, fell with a squashy thud to the bottom of the shaft, where we could hear it thrashing about in struggles which momentarily grew weaker and finally ceased altogether. Then we went below, fastened a rope about the body of the reptile and hoisted it to the surface.
“There was then unfolded before our eyes the most hideous creature man could ever dream of. Its head was like the huge stone head of a frightfully carved Chinese dragon. Its body about the middle was as large as a man’s thigh and its length was so great that I dare not say how many feet it measured. I very much regretted being unable to preserve the skin and bring it back for the study of scientists, but I was compelled to leave it behind.” Philadelphia Telegraph.
Idaho Register 30 October 1903: p. 12
The stuff of nightmares! All the elements of a perfect monster story are there: an exotic location, a subterranean lair, a local in peril, a lucky shot, regret that proof is lacking… The ideal yarn to liven up a missions fund-raiser at the local church.
Balanced against that, we find that the author was a well-respected missionary who spent 38 years in South America and Mexico. Here is his obituary and we cannot say that he did not do his Christian duty as he saw it.
BUSY LIFE ENDED
Death of Rev. D. F. Watkins, Missionary to Mexico. San Diego, Cal., Rev. David Foster Watkins was born in Bridgend, Wales, on December 26, 1842 and died in San Diego, California, February 2, 1913. He was a brother of Thomas Watkins, who was prominent in Scranton, Pa., during some years as a speaker, a poet, earnest Christian and politician. At 18 years of age he came to this country, making his home for some time in Pennsylvania, where his ability as a public speaker was soon discovered and he was urged to enter the ministry. Coming to California he engaged in home missionary work in San Francisco while pursuing his theological studies there. He with his friend John Stephens, was ordained to the ministry in September, 1872. At the same service he was married to Miss Edna M. parker, who has been his companion and helpmate through all the years of arduous labor.
In October of the same year Mr. and Mrs. Watkins, accompanied by Mr. Stephens, left California for Mexico, beginning their work in Guadalajara. Mr. Stephens was murdered while acting as pastor at a point 300 (?) miles from Guadalajara. In 1887 Mr. Watkins began his work in Mexico City, where he found many friends. In 1903 he visited Peru, Chili, Bolivia and Ecuador. In 1908 Mr. Watkins was obliged by failing strength to give up his missionary work and return to California. He joined in at once with the Cambrian Society of this town.
While life was his he was busy and when the time came for him to give up life his only regret was that he should be able to do no more for Mexico and the Mexican people who were dear to his heart. Mr. Watson leaves behind him, beside Mrs. Watkins, an only daughter, Mrs. Lucius Chase, of Los Angeles, and three grandsons. Druid [Scranton, PA] 27 March 1913: p. 4
What is particularly puzzling is that, other than this reptilian report, his own writings (that I can locate online) are entirely about mission work and the little that is said about him in church publications is bureaucratic and factual, such as the number of churches he established and the fact that he baptized the first Inca Indian convert to the Protestant faith after obtaining legislation in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile “for liberty to all worship.” Considering the many perils he and his companions faced, he does not seem to have written his memoirs. The anomalous snake truly is an anomaly in his career, unless “his ability as a public speaker” is a clue that he knew exactly how to enthrall an audience.
Any ideas on what the creature, if it existed, might have been? Gila monsters don’t look that much like Chinese dragons. This sounds a bit like the snake in Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets. And other clues to whether this story had any truth to it? One doesn’t like to think of a man of the cloth making up a monstrous fib out of—well—whole cloth. chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com You go on ahead. I’ve got a revolver…
This story will appear in my upcoming book: When the Banshee Howls: Uncanny Tales from the Past.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com.