The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Introduction-Canadian Water Monsters

CFZ Canada welcomes guest blogger Dale Drinnon.  I'm sure you will enjoy his offerings!  Thanks so much, Dale, for your support.  ~Robin

CFZ Canada had put up an article earlier this year in which it was stated that Plesiosaur fossils had been found in the deposits left behind by Glacial Lake Agassiz. This would be unusual for several reasons, not the least of which would be that the lake would be pretty much perpetual icewater. I had also discovered something about Lake Monsters in North America during my studies of the reports, most of which I shall explain later in this article. But for this matter I should say that Lake Agassiz was an extremely transitory body in Geologic time: it was not in any one place for long and it did not last a for a long time all told. Its position was continually shifting northward with the retreat of the continental ice sheet, and the total thickness of accumulated deposit was not much. Therefore it is quite possible to have aquatic deposits laid down in the same geographic area (or part of it) but at a different (probably older) time. And so this is what I expect was the case of the Plesiosaur fossils in this area, probably coming from an older time and a much warmer climate (I would be quite happy to admit the opposite to be true should any good evidence show up to confirm the idea that the Plesiosaur fossils were actually contemporary with Lake Agassiz and Final-Pleistocene in date.)

Now the other matter was something which does not become apparent in reading the usual accounts of Water Monsters in North America, but the fact is that The Longnecked animals are almost always reported at the far East and West of the continent and almost always not very far inland from the sea. And this also seems true of the genuinely large eel-like animals. Long-necked or Periscope reports are almost never from the deep interior of the continent and they are therefore suspicious when they DO appear there.

I include two pieces of Native art to demonstrate the idea: one is a Longnecked Seaserpent "Totempole" from the far South of Alaska (and hence in the same cultural area as the adjoining part of British Columbia, including prime "Cadborosaurus" viewing area) and the other a Mikmac Petroglyph from the East Coast area of a maned longnecked animal with its neck down in usual swimming conformation. That petroglyph looks pretty authentic to me and it compares well with White witnesses' sketches for similar types of Seaserpent sightinngs. So personally I think that is probably a "Sketch from life" by an actual witness, or not done long after an actual sighting in any event. It is also c;lose to other petroglyphs on the West coast. The "Totem Pole" is comparable in size and shape to a Viking ship's figurehead, but I suspect that the head is made larger than the actual animls' would be in real life. However it is entirely possible it is intended to show the "Periscope" at life size.

Now the conception of a Water Monster that held over the interior of most of North America for most of the time was that of a creature called "The Great Horned Serpent". This category probably included more than one original species but often the "Serpent" would be shown with four short legs and the usual representation woul;d be then a "Water Panther", Piasa or "Mishipizhiw" (Piasa turns out to be only an alternative form for Mishipizhiw= Water Panther) And I recently discovered that such "Fearsome Critters" as the Wisconsin Hodag are actually little more than the White Man's borrowing of the same creature. As far as living creatures (Cryptids) go, there are some large Lizard-shaped animals that are identified as "Water Panthers" but the original category was an amalgam to start with. For that reason it is not too unusual if the identity had been tgged on to giant Otters in the north and also Giant spinybacked Iguana lizards in the warmer climes. However, it seems that there is another reason why the special features of such representations are insisted upon.

The Sioux Water Monster Unktehila as depicted by Jonathan Carver in 1766-7 seems plausibly drawn from the fossil remains of a Diplodocus topped off by the hurned round head of a Triceratops. And perhaps it actually is meant to be a sort of Paleontological reconstruction. The composite image seems to have been strong enough to capture the imagination of the Native Continent: "THIS is what a Water Monster looks like"

To quote some similar words from a recent (Dec 2005) National Geographic site:

Unktehila, Monsters in Native America
In a small auditorium at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Kevin Locke, a Lakota Sioux storyteller from Standing Rock Reservation, gently strokes a braided strand of sweetgrass. Its power will help him bring forth good thoughts and feelings. Then he grips his ceremonial rattle, closes his eyes, and, as an attentive audience of Lakota Sioux children and visiting Boy Scouts listens, he sings a Lakota prayer used at the springtime Thunder Feast.

“Leciya tuwa makipanpelo. Wiyohpeyata Wakinyan Oyate kola makipanpelo.”

The words rise and fall to the sound of Locke’s rattle, and he gives it an extra flourish at the end, signaling the close.

“We sing this to welcome the Thunder Nation,” Locke explains, referring to thunderstorms. “Maybe some of you have heard the word Wakinyan before and know its meaning?”

One slender Lakota boy raises his hand. “It’s the name of our cat—he’s orange like a Thunder Being.”

Locke smiles broadly. “Good, good. That’s right, Wakinyan are the Thunder Beings, forces with power, like the Thunder Birds. They come with the big cumulus clouds in the spring to the prairies. The Wakinyan bring the rain, hail, thunder, and lightning—all the things that renew life after the winter. But in the long ago days, before humans, the Wakinyan also used these things in a big battle. And that battle was with the evil water monsters, the Unktehila.”

There were many different kinds of Unktehila, Locke continues, but most were like huge reptiles with scaly skin and horns; some were like giant lizards, and others were like serpents; some slithered on their bellies, and some had feet. “They ate each other and every other living thing, and so the Thunder Beings were given a divine mission to kill the Unktehila. That’s when the Thunder Birds came with their thunder and lightning. They struck the water monsters with lightning bolts and boiled their lakes and streams until they dried up. After that most of the Unktehila died or were very diminished in size, so that all we have left today are some small snakes and lizards. But we know the giant Unktehila lived because our people found their bones in the Badlands and along the Missouri River.”

Indeed, long before paleontologists arrived to excavate the fossils of marine reptiles, Native American peoples were carrying away enormous bones that lay exposed on the surface. For the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Kiowa (as well as many other tribes), the bones held special powers and could be used for healing or other rituals. And, as Locke explained, the bones were also “the physical manifestation of the evil forces the Unktehila represented.”

Although Locke had learned about the Unktehila from his elders and had sung the prayers of the Thunder Feast many times, he’d never seen the kinds of fossils that likely inspired the stories. So we went to the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, where skeletons of a plesiosaur and mosasaur are on display. These and other marine reptiles had lived in the ocean that covered much of North America about 75 million years ago.

“Wow,” he said, nodding appreciatively at the long-necked, fat-bodied plesiosaur. But it was the massive-jawed mosasaur that held his attention. “Now this one,” he said, pausing to size up the 29-foot-long snaky animal, with its fierce array of teeth and double-hinged lower jaw joint that allowed it to swallow large kinds of prey (including other mosasaurs). “This one is an eating machine. If our people found one of these, I’m sure they would call it Unktehila.”

And, Locke added, mosasaur-like creatures with toothy jaws and horns were often painted on the tepee covers of the Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Blackfeet. Some Native Americans had carved images of such creatures into the rocks above the Missouri River, and others had made one out of stones along the river’s banks. “Everyone who sees these knows they’re Unktehila.”

Paleontologists often find bones of pterosaurs, flying reptiles, along with the mosasaurs. Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist, suggests that pterosaur and mosasaur remains may indeed have triggered the stories of the Thunder Birds and their battle with the water monsters.

Do the Lakota, like the people who wait for Nessie to surface, regard the Unktehila as still existing? Locke hesitated. “Well, the old Unktehila were killed by the Thunder Birds. That’s what our stories say. Some people still fear large bodies of water, and they’ll say prayers to protect themselves from Unktehila when crossing the Missouri River.”

But, he went on, the power of the Unktehila lies more in what they symbolize than in any hard reality. “They were a negative force and had to be destroyed. That’s what the Thunder Birds did for the world. And that’s why it’s important for us to keep these stories alive. Because there are still negative forces—many that are even more powerful than water monsters—in the world today. We have to fight against things like alcohol and depression and materialism. These are the new Unktehila. We can fight them with our songs and music.”

And that’s why Kevin Locke sings about sea monsters for the children: To remind them of their heritage and to tell them about the ancient battle fought to bring goodness into the world.

In a way they are right because we do actually still have reports of Sea Monsters that are described like Plesiosaurs or Mosasaurs. But the Water Monsters described as having full sets of antlers like deer and moose are much more likely to be inspired by sightings of swimming deer and moose, with their long wakes giving the illusion of an elongated body swimming in the water with a "Serpentine" motion. On the other hand I have some different concept art for Unktehila and it seems to be drawn from motre recent reports. It is a large fish=shaped creature with a series of knobs on the backbone and those knobs give it away: the head os roughly correct but the mouth and jaws are wong, and the vertically-flattened swimming tail is also about correct but lacks the "Forked" effect of having two lobes. In other words, the clearly seen parts of the fish are obviously representing some kind of a large sturgeon, while the filled-in underwater features are less identifiable because they are less accurate representations. 

And the drawing of the "Cadborosaurus" from The Paranormal Haze article Monsters of Canada-
Is a much better representation for the "Ogopogo" sightings that are more sturgeon-like. I have consequently renamed that illustration as "Ogopogo"

It seems that the dominant type of large water Cryptid from the midsection of the continent-From "Ogopogo" territory up to including the Great Lakes, at least, and at least as far as Hudson's Bay to the North, seems to be a large sturgeon of some sort, and in those areas "Periscopes" are rarely reported. When they ARE reported, they are usually in the range of 3-5 feet long/high and are most often reports of swimming moose. Toward the East and West coasts themselves, there are reports of the Plesiosaur and Giant Eel types. In such places as Lake Champlain and other lakes in that area, the usual visual impression of the monster is something like a Plesiosaurus of a "Brontosaurus" and that has stood up as being true for the largest part of the 20th century. On the other hand, there is also much overlap so that dominantly in older days, and continuing on into the present, you are still ALSO getting reports of swimming moose or deer, and then a minority of reports of seals and other mistakes.

Dale Drinnon joined the SITU back in the days when Ivan Sanderson was still alive, and they exchanged some letters: at the time of Sanderson's death he was allowed to go through Ivan Sanderson's files pretty extensively. Dale has run exhaustive statistical analyses on Water Monster reports back in the 1970s, including this data, as well as some referesher studies of the data more recently. Unfortunately the bulk of Dale's material remains unpublished and remains controversial in that it strongly bucks the trend set by other Cryptozoologists and proposes new models for Freshwater types when traditionally the Monsters have been treated as if they were all the same sort of thing (For examples see Peter Costello, In Search of Lake Monsters, on up to George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatrures, 2002)

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