Mar 03, 2020 I Brent Swancer

The Mysterious River Monster of Georgia

Meandering through the countryside of southeastern Georgia, in the United States, is the Altamaha River, which stretches for 137 miles, making it one of the longest rivers in the state. It is notable for its very large river basin, the second largest in the country, which covers 14,000 square miles of sprawling marshland, numerous tributaries and secondary rivers, twisting channels, islands, dikes, canals, lakes, ponds, and spooky abandoned 18th and 19th century rice fields. The basin is home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem, earning it the nickname “The Little Amazon,” but among the many animals that inhabit this vast expanse of river territory and its murky waters is supposedly a mysterious, frightening beast that long terrorized the native tribes and which has allegedly been seen haunting these waters to this day.

The Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe often spoke of a creature they called the Altamaha-ha, said to be an alligator-like reptilian beast, around 20-30 feet long, gray or green in color with a whitish-yellow underbelly, and with front flippers instead of legs, a powerful tail, a bony armored back, very large eyes, and an oversized mouth full of sharp teeth. It was mostly seen as an aggressive creature best to be avoided, and its favorite haunt was believed to be an area near where the sleepy little town of Darien, in McIntosh County, is now located, as well as at a place called Butler Island. Far from mere folklore, when the first settlers of the area arrived from Scotland to found the town of New Inverness, which would become Darien, they too began to report seeing this creature, both in the water and on shore sunning itself.

The Altamaha River

Although it was frequently sighted for a very long time, one of the earliest real publicized reports of the monster allegedly occurred on April 18, 1830, when a schooner captain and his crew claimed to have encountered it off of St. Simons Island, just below the mouth of the Altamaha River. It was described as being a whopping 70 feet long, with a body as thick around as a large barrel and with a reptilian, crocodilian head set upon a longish neck, and there would be several other reports of the same thing in the days after this account. The creature would be spotted numerous times over the years, with some of the reports becoming quite high-profile in the news.

One such sighting supposedly happened in 1969, when a Donny Manning and his brother were fishing along the river at a place called at Clark’s Bluff when they saw a strange creature go cruising past them. They at first thought it might be a sturgeon, which are known in the river, but a closer inspection showed that it was more like an alligator, about 12 feet long, gun-metal gray on the top and oyster white-yellow on the bottom, with a crocodilian head, a horizontal tail like that of a dolphin, and a bony triangular ridge stretching down its back, as well as a dorsal fin. The creature apparently actually took the bait on their hooks and snapped the lines. In 1970s , a man by the name of Harvey Blackman would also see the beast, saying it was 15 to 20 feet long and with a snake-like head. The creature was seen by several other witnesses at the time, and it was said to have caused a wake large enough to cause boats to bob about. One of the witnesses even claimed to have fetched a rifle to shoot at it, but that it had by that point disappeared into the gloomy depths.

The 1980s had a few major sightings as well. One report from 1980 comes from two men who saw it on a mud bank, where it appeared to be stranded, struggling and thrashing about trying to dislodge itself. It was very much like the other descriptions, with two noticeable front flippers but no rear ones that could be seen. It apparently finally managed to free itself and swim off. A crab fisherman also saw a creature he described as looking like an immense eel. The report that probably best launched the Altamaha-ha, by now often known as “Altie,” into the public consciousness was made by a former newspaper publisher named Larry Gwin, who along with a friend spotted a humped reptilian beast swimming and leaving a wake as they were fishing at Smith Lake.

Altamaha ha 1
Image by Rick Spears, from the book "Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist"

Sightings have continued right up to the present. In 2002 a boater purportedly saw a 20-foot long, 6-foot wide reptilian creature break the water as if coming up for air, before sinking back down again to disappear, and even more recently there was alleged video footage of the Altamaha-ha taken in 2010 in the channel off Fort King George Historic Site in Darien, although it is quite blurry and indistinct. As recently as 2018 the Altamaha-ha was making the news when a mysterious carcass purportedly washed up at the Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge. A photo was taken of the dead creature, which looks very reptilian and much like one would imagine the Altamaha-ha to look like, but considering that the actual body was never produced for study it was widely denounced as being a hoax, before being found to have been a piece of performance art fashioned from a stuffed shark and paper mache. However, the sightings continue and many believe there is something to it all. However, just what that something could be depends on who you ask.

There have been lots of disparate theories for what the creature could be. For some it is merely misidentified local wildlife, with alligators, manatees, and large sturgeon known to prowl these depths, and even beavers have been proposed as the culprit. There of course is also the idea that this is just floating logs or other debris, or that this is all hoaxes and made up stories. But could this really be an unknown creature that has managed to remain hidden? The region is full of relatively untouched wilderness and wetlands, and it certainly seems that something large could find a way to hide itself away here, but what would it be? There are no answers at this point, and the mysterious Altamaha-ha continues to be sighted to this day.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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