Exploring American Monsters: Wyoming

Although Wyoming is one of the largest of the fifty states, it has the smallest population – only 586,107 as of 2015. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, alone has more people. The geography of Wyoming is stunning, with two-thirds of the state made up of the Rocky Mountains, the rest being the High Plains. Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are in Wyoming, as is Devils Tower (of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” fame). Nearly 10 million acres of the state are covered in forest. Farming is a big part of what makes Wyoming thrive, as are the coal, natural gas, and oil industries. Famous people from Wyoming include Buffalo Bill Cody, sportscaster Curt Gowdy, and Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. The state is also known for a mummy named Pedro.

Photo from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.

San Pedro Mountains Mummy

Prospectors Cecil Mayne and Frank Carr were blasting for gold in the San Pedro Mountains in October 1932 when their dynamite uncovered a room that was about four feet tall and fifteen feet deep. A room in a mountain wasn’t the strange part. The strange part was what was in the room. The prospectors found a mummified fully-grown human sitting with its legs crossed. The mummy was only a foot tall, and had the face of an old man. This find gave rise to talk about the Shoshone Indian tribe’s stories of small, violent humans called Nimerigar who would attack the Shoshone with small bows, and poison-tipped arrows.

Scientists at the University of Wyoming X-rayed the mummy, and claimed it to be a small, misshapen child that had been killed by a blow to the head. Other reports claimed it was a fully-grown adult who died when he was in his 60s. Whatever, or whoever it was, Pedro was displayed in a Meeteetse, Wyoming, drug store until the figure was sold to a businessman from Casper, Wyoming. In the 1950s it was sold to New Yorker Leonard Wadler, and has since disappeared. Whether it be the mummy of a Nimerigar, or the sad case of a deformed child, it remains a legendary piece of Wyoming history.

 

DeSmet Lake Monster

The dark blue waters of Lake DeSmet stretch over 258 acres under the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains in Johnson County, Wyoming. This popular fishing destination not only boasts rainbow trout, Lake DeSmet is the home of legends.

The local Crow Indians claimed the waters of the lake had the ability to heal, and to cause visions. One of those visions poisoned the mind of a young warrior who fell in love with a water spirit, and spurned the woman who was to soon become his wife. In her sadness, the woman drown herself, and her father killed the warrior who had driven his daughter to suicide. When the wind moans across the surface of DeSmet Lake, it is supposedly carried by the dead warrior.

The first white man to see the lake was Jesuit missionary Father Pierre DeSmet in the 1840s. By this time the local Indians had become fearful of the lake. Not only because of the tragic legend of the dead lovers, but because of what people would later call Smetty.

When white settlers came to the area, some reported seeing a serpent swimming in the lake. It as big around as a tree, and about forty feet long. It had a head like a horse, and a bony ridge down its back. Stories from the tribes near the lake claim the monster had been known to snatch people from the banks, and disappear with them into the lake’s depths that are allegedly lined with bottomless tunnels.

Railroad surveyor Edward Gillette highlighted the experience the Barkey family had with Smetty in his 1925 book, “Locating the Iron Trail”: “They had seen two sea serpents which had made a great commotion in the water, and swam as fast as a horse could trot. Mrs. Barkey stated that ‘they looked like a long telephone pole with lard buckets attached,’ referring no doubt to the fins or flappers along their sides.”

 

Screen shot from Mary Greeley’s video.

Bigfoot

A story about monsters in a sparsely populated, mountainous state wouldn’t be complete without Bigfoot. This encounter occurred in Yellowstone National Park, per National Geographic. A video by Mary Greeley shows what may, or may not, be four Bigfoot move out of the trees, and observe a heard of American Bison.

Real? Fake? Michel Sartori, a zoologist at the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne, Switzerland, told National Geographic it was a fake. “I had two looks at the video, and although I am not a specialist in digital images, the fake is obvious in my opinion. The four of them are visible at the beginning, but for an obscure reason three of them disappeared behind a quite small fir tree … and the one who walks has quite a mechanical way of moving. All this makes this video quite suspect at best.”

Regardless, this alleged Bigfoot sighting is only one of  numerous reports of the big hairy fellow across the state each year.

 

Jackalope

John Colter had already secured his place in history as a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), the first expedition to cross western North America. Then he became the first white man to see the Teton Mountain Range, and enter what would in 1872 become Yellowstone National Park. But Colter didn’t stop there. He claimed to see a jackalope.

The legendary jackalope is a large rabbit with antlers that can run 90 miles per hour, and use human words. This creature has been reported not only in Wyoming, but throughout the American West. It has a German cousin, the wolpertinger, which has antlers, bird wings, and fangs. Colter’s jackalope report was soon forgotten.

For jackalope enthusiasts, the legend of the creature began in 1939 in Douglas, Wyoming, when taxidermist Douglas Herrick and his brother Ralph began selling mounted rabbit heads with antlers they’d attached. Everyone seemed to want one. Ten years later the town dubbed itself the Jackalope Capital of the World.

More than once the Wyoming state legislature has considered a bill to make the jackalope the official state mythical creature. For some reason these bills keep failing.

Jackalopes aren’t real – unless, of course, they are. Two different strains of the papillomatosis virus are known to attack rabbits, raising horn-like tumors on their head. Papillomatosis is also called “Jackalopism.”

A rabbit afflicted with the papillomatosis virus. Photo from the Daily Mail.