Once again, I plunge into the chilly waters of cryptozoology in search of the sea serpent with two late 19th-century accounts of a monster captured off British Columbia. Once again, I offer the caveat that I am just a mere sea serpent fancier and not a marine zoologist, and as for as the legitimacy of these reports, I am in well over my head.
COMPOSITE SEA SERPENT
Capture of a Strange Monster Off British Columbia
Combination of Snake, Animal, and Fish. Natives Frightened and Scientists Puzzled.
The sea serpent, so long regarded as hardly more than a myth, can be held so no longer, says the San Francisco Examiners, for a creature that answers very well to the description so often given of it has been captured in Euclatat rapids, not far from Vancouver, B.C., and exhibited before its death to thousands of people there.
Cover the body of a 17 foot serpent with scales, attach to it above and below and for its full length a long, flowing mane, and to this creation add the head of a wolf, with two rows of grinning teeth, and the result will be very much such a monster as has just died in that city, its body now being in process of preservation. It has been viewed by members of the Harlan Smith and Dr. Boaz parties, now representing the Smithsonian institution, but they have not been able to classify it.
D.H. Forbes and Simon Ryan, two Vancouver fishermen, were its captors. They were fishing for cod in Euclatat rapids when they first saw it in pursuit of a fish which one of the men was drawing to their canoe. Forbes threw a cod spear at it and succeeded in striking it.
But it was one thing to strike and quite another thing to capture it. The spear held, and the monster started away at a rate that threatened to capsize the boat dragging behind it. Finally Ryan succeeded in planting his spear in the creature’s body, and by means of the double hold thus secured they at last hauled their strange captive into the canoe.
But the question whether they were captors or captured was in abeyance for some time longer, for the hideous serpent made a desperate fight for life and liberty. With his paddle Ryan attempted to hold it down, but it seized the paddle blade between its teeth and splintered it into fragments. In the meantime, however, Forbes was beating it with its paddle, and it apparently succumbed. It was then placed in a box of water, and the men concluded that they were the victors in the struggle. This conclusion seemed subject to revision thereafter, as the monster once again revived and made another unsuccessful attempt to get at his captors.
Forbes and Ryan took their captive, still living, to Shoal bay, where the Indians regarded it with a mixture of fear and superstitious reverence, refusing to come near the sloop in which it was kept.
Thence it was brought to Vancouver, and in that city it was viewed by thousands before its death, four days later. Among these thousands, scientists and others, was not a person who had either seen or heard of such a creature except it might have been in the presumably fabulous narratives relating to sea serpents. After the body has been preserve it will be sold either to the British Columbia museum or to some similar British institution.
The serpent’s body is 17 feet in length and about 5 inches in diameter. It is covered with scales. Two manes, one above and the other below its body, extend from its head to the end of its tail, each mane being about 8 inches in length. The head, which is repulsive and brutish beyond description, is fitted as to its yawning mouth with a double row of teeth. The front set are sharp and cruel, teeth for battle, while those in the rear are molars. Its every motion was that of a snake. Slight protuberances on the back of its skull might be considered embryo horns.
Take it for all in all, this strange, ugly resident of the deep might well pass for the sea serpent of the many tales. It lacks nothing except it be in length, and if it had chanced that Fishermen Forbes and Ryan had run upon a larger specimen of the same genus—well, there would have been left no Forbes and Ryan to tell the tale.
The daring fishermen make the following affidavit, which is duly attested before a notary public:
“These are the facts as to the capture of the sea serpent, wolf fish or whatever it may be that we, the undersigned, take our oath to: While fishing for cod in the Euclatat rapids, a furiously running stream up the coast from Vancouver, B.C., an animal’s head suddenly appeared above the water, with a snakelike body trailing after it. The strange monster was following a cod about to be hauled into the boat. Fearing that the canoe would be upset by the onrush, one of us, an old fisherman known throughout British Columbia as the ‘White Frenchman,’ gaffed the uncanny monster in the side two feet from the head and after a struggle hauled him into the canoe, which happened to be a very large one. There the monster made a desperate fight for liberty. The strange marine animal was finally stunned by a blow from the canoe paddle, but not before it had crumbled the paddle in pieces between its strong tooth ribbed, vicious looking jaws. The strange creature was taken quickly to land and placed in a tank of salt water to keep ti alive. From Euclatat rapids we shipped him to Shoal bay and from Shoal bay to Vancouver, where we exhibited him for four days, when he died from his wounds.
Three thousand people have seen the monster, and not any of them have ventured to name what appears to be part snake and part animal and part fish, or attempt to classify it.”
Newark [OH] Daily Advocate 30 October 1899: p. 7
Let’s imagine for the moment that the account above is correctly reported. I cannot locate Euclatat rapids “up the coast from Vancouver, B.C.” Is this Ucluelet, the village on the west side of Vancouver Island? If so, it would not make any sense to take the creature to Shoal Bay (on East Thurlow Island) and then back to Vancouver, unless they paddled north around the end of Vancouver Island. British Columbia is famous for its tidal rapids. Possibly the name was badly transcribed.
Census records for 1891 show a Simon Ryan and a large number of persons with the surname of Forbes in the same New Westminster district north of Vancouver. There is, of course, no assurance that these are the same persons in the newspaper article.
The “members of the Harlan Smith and Dr. Boaz parties” were part of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition [1897–1902]. Dr Franz Boas was the director of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History and a fieldworker in the Northwest. Smith excavated and explored in the Vancouver area and Yakima River Valley.
The description suggests some features of an eel, although I don’t know what to make of the two rows of teeth. There is actually a creature called a wolf eel found in B.C. waters, but it doesn’t match the description of the serpent all that closely, although the article below might disagree.
I have not found any San Francisco newspaper versions of this article. However, after transcribing the article above, I found this piece in the Mining Review of Sandon, B.C., which takes a much more sceptical (and, I have to say, plausible) tone. Please excuse the repetition–I’m a completist–but compare and contrast.
WAS NOT A SEA SERPENT
EIGHT FEET LONG, AND LOOKS LIKE A WOLF FISH.
Affidavits Made to the Fact of the Capture – Description of the Creature.
Has the sea serpent at last been captured? That is the question residents of Victoria, British Columbia, are asking. Three thousand persons have seen the monster. Not one has been able to recognize it as belonging to any known species of the fish or reptile family.
The man who captured it, when he saw it in the water thought it must be at least twenty feet long. Great was his surprise when actual measurement proved that it was less than eight feet long. [A cautionary note for all monster-spotters.] Pictures and descriptions of the monster seem to indicate that it is a variety of the ferocious wolf fish, a common article of diet among the natives of Iceland. Not that the residents of Victoria are ready to believe this. So firmly convinced are they that a new monster of the deep has been captured that affidavits have been taken of the method in which the fish or serpent, was taken in the Euklatat Rapids, on the southern coast of British Columbia.
AFFIDAVIT AS TO CAPTURE
The following is a true copy of the sworn statement regarding the capture:
“These are the facts as to the fight with the sea serpent, or wolf fish, or whatever it may be. Three of us were in a fifteen-foot Indian canoe, anchored in the rapids, which run about twenty miles an hour in the spot where we were located. We were engaged in fishing for codfish. The man in the bow named “’White-Frenchman,’ who has been fishing the rapids for nine years, and who hasn’t any other name in those parts, was just in the act of hauling in a cod on the line when the sea serpent poked its head above the water and made after the cod to devour it.
As the monster was coming direct of the boat, ‘White-Frenchman’ thought he would take no chances, and, poising his gaff, thrust it into the serpent’s side two feet from its head. After being landed in the boat, the animal or fish made a desperate fight for liberty and attacked the Frenchman who had wounded him. The old fisherman thereupon seized the canoe paddle and struck at the monster’s head.
“In a half stunned condition the creature then seized the paddle between its jaws and crushed it in two, but afterward lay quiet.
“The serpent was then taken quickly to land and thrown into a salt water tank to keep it alive. The creature was afterward shipped to Vancouver, British Columbia, where it was on exhibition for four days alive in a tank, but finally died from its wounds.
“When alive it came to the surface of the water constantly for air, but was for the most time underneath the surface. Three thousand persons have seen the animal up to the present, and not one of them has ventured to give the creature a name or classify it.
“Sworn before me this 18th day of September,1899.
“A.A. Anderson, Notary Public.
DESCRIPTION OF THE MONSTER
This baby sea serpent, although only eight feet long and ten inches through the thickest part of its snake body, possessed enormous strength, and in fighting used its two sets of teeth, its flippers as claws, and its muscular body snake fashion.
The snake had a gray mottled body, almost round, and had a mane composed of a hairy substance which will stretch out over eight inches. The body is some inches over seven feet long. It has two flippers near the head, which look like reversed claws more than a fish’s fins.
The head of the creature is the most remarkable part. It has an enormous jaw, and a long tongue, which when the animal was alive, was constantly darting in and out like the forks of a venous snake. It is asserted that this tongue contains poison. The tongue is pointed, but not forked.
The creature had a large, clear eye, much like the eyes of a fur seal, but black and vicious looking. The jaw is heavy and of great strength, and encloses two sets of teeth. The front set are pointed much like cats’ teeth and are strong set in the mouth. The top set, five in number, protrude, and when the jaw is closed lap into the lower set, which retreat from the mouth. Behind this set is another combination of molars, upper and lower, massed together in circular form. Evidently after the prey was torn by the front teeth it was masticate don the crunchers behind.
The monster will be sold to the British Columbia Museum of Curiosities at Victoria. Mining Review [Sandon, B.C.] 21 October 1899: p. 7
Of course the coast of British Columbia is well-known for Caddy, the sea monster. Bernard Heuvelmans prints an account reported in October of 1933 in the Victoria Daily Times by Major W.H. Langley, a barrister and Clerk to the British Columbia Legislature. He and his wife and son saw the following creature in the Straits of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland.
“On August 10, 1932, I was with my wife and son on Chatham Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. My wife called my attention to a mysterious something coming through the channel between Strong Tide Island and Chatham Island. Imagine my astonishment on observing a huge creature with head out of the water traveling about four miles per hour against the tide. Even at that speed a considerable wash was thrown on the rocks, which gave me the impression that it was more reptile [i.e. lizard or saurian] than serpent to make so much displacement….fold after fold of its body came to the surface. Towards the tail it appeared serrated with something moving flail-like at the extreme end. The movements were like those of a crocodile. Around the head appeared a sort of mane, which drifted round the body like kelp….The body must have been at least 5 ft. thick, and was of a bluish-green colour which shone in the sun like aluminium.”
This is followed by another report of a huge creature seen from Chatham Island from October of 1933 and the christening of the monster as “Caddy,” from “Cadborosaurus,” after Cadboro, near Victoria, where it was first seen. [In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Bernard Heuvelmans, 1968, pp. 441-444.]
While searching for variants of Euclatat/Ucluelet/Euklatat in connection with sea serpents, up bobbed multiple mentions of LIFE Magazine 8 June 1956, which contained a report of a monster carcass at Dry Harbor, Yakutat, Alaska, identified as a Baird’s Beaked Whale. Unfortunately there is no LIFE issue for the 8th of June, 1956 and, while I’ve looked at other issues in that year and other years, I cannot find any mention of an Alaskan carcass.
Does anyone know if the LIFE citation is a hoax or a misprint? And can the Euklatat creature be conclusively identified as a wolf eel from this description? Drift over to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com with any news.
Chris Barton kindly sent me these corrections to the article – the papers of the past had trouble sometimes with foreign and Native American names. Thanks, Chris!
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. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.