“The Most Hideously Frightful Monster That Ever Confronted Mortal Man”
In the late 1800s, a Frenchman named Raud made a truly extraordinary statement regarding a monstrous snake seen in the California countryside, earlier in that very same year, and which was estimated to have an overall length of around forty-feet. Despite the controversial nature of the story, it was supported by his friend and colleague, F.C. Buylick – both of whom were cutting wood and burning charcoal when the immense creature loomed into view. Raud, who broke off from the wood-cutting to pursue nothing more threatening than a hare, said the following of the beast, which appeared to dwell deep in the woods, swamps, and fields of the area:
“I had proceeded twenty-five yards, perhaps, when I emerged into an open space not to exceed thirty feet in diameter. As I entered it the hare dragged itself into the brush on the opposite side, and I quickened my steps in pursuit. Almost at the same instant I was startled by a loud, shrill, prolonged hiss, a sound that closely resembled the escape of steam from the cylinder of a locomotive when starting a heavy train. I stopped as suddenly as if my progress had been arrested by a rifle bullet, and looking toward the upper end of the plat my eyes encountered an object the recollection of which even now makes me shiver with horror.
“Coiled up not more than twenty feet from where I stood was an immense serpent – the most hideously frightful monster that ever confronted mortal man. It was a moment before my dazed senses could comprehend the dreadful peril that threatened me. As the truth of my terrible situation dawned upon me, my first impulse was to fly; but not a limb or muscle moved in obedience to the effort of my will. I was as incapable of motion as if I had been hewn in marble: I essayed to cry for help but the effort at articulation died away in a gurgling sound upon my lips.
“The serpent lay in three great coils, its head, and some ten feet of its body projecting above, swaying to and fro in undulatory [sic] sinuous, wavy convulsions, like the tentacles of an octopus in the swift current of an ebbing tide. The monster stared at me with its great, hateful, lidless eyes, ever and anon darting its head menacingly in my direction, thrusting out its forked tongue, and emitting hisses so vehemently that I felt its baleful breath upon my cheek. Arching its neck the serpent would dilate its immense jaws until its head would measure at least eighteen inches across, then dart toward me, distending its mouth and exhibiting its great hooked fangs that looked like the talons of a vulture.
“As I stood in momentary expectation of feeling the tusks and being crushed in the constricting fold of the scaly monster, my situation was appalling beyond description – beyond the conception of the most vivid imagination. The blood ran down my back cold as Greenland ice and congealed in my veins. Every pulse in my body seemed to stand still and my heart ceased to beat. Even respiration was slow and painful. There was a choking, suffocating sensation in my throat, and my lips became dry and parched. There was a ringing in my ears, dark spots floated before my eyes, and I should have fainted but for the horrifying reflection that if I gave way to such weakness my doom was inevitable. A cold clammy perspiration oozed from every pore, and so intense was my agony of fear that I suffered the tortures of the damned augmented a thousand fold. While all my physical capacities were prostrated and paralyzed, every mental faculty seemed preternaturally sharpened. It appeared as if the terrible tension of my nerve and bodily incapacity immeasurably increased my range of vision, and rendered my perceptive faculties critically acute.
“Not the slightest movement of the serpent escaped me, and every detail of its appearance -size, color, shape and position – is, alas! Only too strongly photographed upon my recollection. As I stated before, the serpent lay in three immense coils, the triple thicknesses of its body standing as high as my shoulders. The monster was fully twenty inches in diameter in the largest place. Its head was comparatively large. Its tremendous jaws that at times dilated to twice their natural size, having enormous hooked fangs that fitted in between each other when the mouth was shut. The neck was slender and tapering. The belly of the serpent was a dirty whitish color, deeply furrowed with transverse corrugations. With the exception of about ten feet of the neck and contiguous parts which were nearly black, the body of the snake was brown, beautifully mottled with orange-colored spots on the back. How long I confronted this terrible shape I do not know. Probably only a few moments; but to me it seemed ages.
“At length the serpent began slowly to uncoil, but whether for the purpose of attacking me or retreating I could not fathom. You can have but a faint conception of my relief and joy when I discovered that it was the latter. Lowering its crest and giving vent to a venomous hiss, the monster went slowly crashing, through the chaparral, its head being plainly visible above the jungle. For a moment I could scarcely realize that I was no longer threatened by a death too horrible to contemplate.
“There was a tingling sensation through my body from the top of my head to the soles of my feet as the blood again commenced circulating in my veins. I attempted to step forward, but so benumbed were my limbs that I fell heavily to the earth. Recovering, I staggered through the chaparral into the open country. As I emerged from the thicket I saw my partner a short distance up the ridge and motioned him to approach. When he did so he was greatly alarmed at my haggard appearance, and excitedly inquired the cause. In reply I pointed to the serpent, then some 100 yards distant- a sight that threw him into the utmost consternation. We watched the monster until it disappeared from view in the rocky recesses of a cliff that overhangs the river. We were enabled to measure the length of the serpent very exactly by its passing parallel with two trees, its head being even with one while its tail reached the other. Mr Buylick has since ascertained that the trees are forty feet apart.”
While this story is undeniably sensational, it is a fact that in the distant past massive snakes did indeed exist. Take, for example, Titanoboa, a huge snake that reached close to 50-feet in length and weighed in at around 2,500 pounds. Although its territory was Colombia, and it went extinct millions of years ago, just perhaps there may have been an American equivalent that lived until the early 1800s – as the story above suggests.