Sep 01, 2022 I Nick Redfern

When Snakes Were Beyond Huge: Real Monsters on the Rampage

It’s a fact that all snakes can swim, which is something that has almost certainly led some lake monsters to be mistaken for huge snakes. And vice-cersa. On many occasions, though, the witnesses were absolutely sure about what they had encountered: we’re talking about gigantic snakes. Let’s now take a look at some of the most astonishing cases on record. In 1868, a Frenchman named Raud made a truly extraordinary statement regarding a monstrous, near-dragon-like 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. 

(Nick Redfern) Not quite a giant-sized snake, but this one is just as good!

“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. 

(Nick Redfern) Looking for monsters and monster-sized things.

“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.” 

The Hagenbecks were a family of collectors of all manner of animals that supplied the world’s zoos with a wide variety of exotic animals for more than a century. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they came across a number of extraordinary tales – and extraordinary animals, too. Indeed, one of the Hagenbecks’ explorers was the very first person to encounter a pigmy hippopotamus, on February 28, 1913. In addition, explorer Lorenz Hagenback had a particular interest in snakes. But not snakes of the average variety. It was super-sized snakes that fascinated him, to the point where he made it his business to collect just about as many credible reports as possible. A fascinating story came to Hagenback from a pair of Roman Catholic priests, Father Victor Heinz and Father Protesius Frickel. Father Heinz’ story was particularly notable, since it revolved around the sighting of a truly colossal monster. Heinz prepared a statement that told the entire, shocking story:

“During the great floods of 1922 on May 22 – at about three o’clock to be exact – I was being taken home by canoe on the Amazon from Obidos; suddenly I noticed something surprising in midstream. I distinctly recognized a giant water snake at a distance of some thirty yards. To distinguish it from the sucurijiu, the natives who accompanied me named the reptile, because of its enormous size, sucurijiu gigante (giant boa). “Coiled up in two rings the monster drifted quietly and gently downstream. My quaking crew had stopped paddling. Thunderstruck, we all stared at the frightful beast. I reckoned that its body was as thick as an oil drum and that its visible length was some eighty feet. When we were far enough away and my boatmen dared to speak again they said the monster would have crushed us like a box of matches if it had not previously consumed several large capybaras.” Such was the extraordinary nature of the encounter, Father Heinz was far from hooked on finding all he could on the immense beast and its ilk. He learned that yet another huge boa had been shot and killed, one day previously, as it tried to devour a capybara – the world’s largest rodent and which can reach the size of a dog. It wasn’t long before Father Heinz had a second sighting of a massive snake:

“My second encounter with a giant water snake took place on 29 October 1929. To escape the great heat I had decided to go down river at about 7:00 p.m. in the direction of Alemquer. At about midnight, we found ourselves above the mouth of the Piaba when my crew, seized with a sudden fear, began to row hard towards the shore. ‘What is it?’ I cried, sitting up. ‘There is a big animal,’ they muttered very excited. At the same moment I heard the water move, as if a steamboat had passed. I immediately noticed several meters above the surface of the water two bluish-green lights like the navigation lights on the bridge of a riverboat, and shouted: ‘No, look, it’s the steamer! Row to the side so that it doesn’t upset us.’”

“Petrified, we all watched the monster approach; it avoided us and re-crossed the river in less than a minute a crossing that would have taken us ten to fifteen minutes as long. On the safety of dry land we took courage and shouted to attract the attention of the snake. At this very moment a human figure began to wave an oil-lamp on the other shore, thinking, no doubt, that someone was in danger. Almost at once the snake rose on the surface and we were able to appreciate clearly the difference between the light of the lamp and the phosphorescent light of the monster’s eyes. Later, in my return, the inhabitants of this place assured me that above the mouth of the Piaba there dwelt a sucuriju gigante.” And, there is the following account of Reymondo Zima, a Portuguese merchant, who Father Heinz had the good fortune to interview. Zima told the priest:

“On 6th July 1930 I was going up the Jamunda in company with my wife and the boy who looks after my motor-boat. Night was falling when we saw a light on the river bank. In the belief it was the house I was looking for I steered towards the light and switched on my searchlight. But then we noticed that the light was charging towards us at an incredible speed. A huge wave lifted the bow of the boat and almost made it capsize. My wife screamed in terror. At the same moment we made out the shape of a giant snake rising out of the water and performing a St. Vitus’s dance around the boat. After which the monster crossed this tributary of the Amazon about half a kilometer wide at fabulous speed, leaving a huge wake, larger than any of the steamboats make at full speed. The waves hit our 13-meter boat with such force that at every moment we were in danger of capsizing. I opened my motor flat out and made for dry land. Owing to the understandable excitement at the time it was not possible for me to reckon the monster’s length. I presume that as a result of a wound the animal lost one eye, since I saw only one light. I think the giant snake must have mistaken our searchlight for the eye of one of his fellow snakes.”

A sixty-foot-long, deadly snake roaming around California? It sounds incredible, and yet that is precisely the story that came out of Spring Valley, California in the summer of 1868. The story was told in the pages of the Calaveras Chronicle newspaper, whose staff said: “On the 12th of August, 1868, the serpent was first seen in the vicinity of Zane’s ranch, near Spring valley. Several persons-reputable people-saw the monster on two or three occasions, but always at a considerable distance-never nearer than a quarter of a mile. The reptile created the most intense excitement in the neighborhood, and at one time the getting up of a party to hunt it down was strongly agitated. 

 “What were then thought to be the most extravagant stories regarding the size of the serpent were told, but recent events prove that the truth was not exaggerated. The snake was seen in an open field in broad daylight, and described as ‘being from forty to sixty feet long, and as large around as a barrel.’ The mark of the monster in the dust where it crossed the road bore witness to its immense proportions. There was a difference of opinion regarding its method of locomotion, some maintaining that it progressed by drawing itself into immense folds, after the manner of a caterpillar, while others were equally certain that its motion was similar to others of the ophidian family. 

“The serpent disappeared for several months, and was seen by Mr. W. P. Peek, of this place, while coming up the hill from the Gwin mine. Mr. Peek was driving a two horse team and had got about half way up the steep hill that has to be ascended in leaving the mine, when he heard what he supposed to be the loud ‘screeching’ noise sometimes made by a wagon brake. Certain that a team was coming down the grade, and being in a favorable place for passing, he turned out of the road. “After waiting until out of patience, and no team appearing, he drove on. He had gone but a short distance when a movement in the dense chaparral that lined the road, attracted his attention, and, advancing in the direction, he was horrified by the sight of a portion of the body of an immense serpent. At the same time his horse became unmanageable, and while Mr. Peek’s utmost endeavors were put forth to prevent the escape of the frightened team, the monarch moved slowly off into the brush, making the hissing sound he had mistaken for the brake of an approaching wagon. 

“About a year subsequently the serpent was seen by a couple of boys in the vicinity of Mosquito, the youths being so badly frightened that they could scarcely reach home and tell the story. Such is briefly the story of the Calaveras serpent up to Saturday of last week, when the experiences had with it at once settled all doubts as to its reality, and fix the fact beyond question that one of the largest boas of which we have knowledge has its residence in this county.” If only such massive snakes were still seen today! They would be definitive monsters!

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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