Saturday, February 1, 2014

The 1901 Everglades Monster

From the New York Times, December 1, 1901: a news report of a Florida outdoorsman named Buster Ferrel ("one of the boldest and most noted hunters of Okeechobee") who killed a giant sea-serpent of unknown type. The enormous creature was snakelike in appearance, it's said, with ears like a deer and feelers around the face like a catfish. It was so large that it would prey on animals as large as deer and wild hogs.

The piece recounts how Ferrel shot the creature as it fled, then discovered its carcass four days later beset by vultures. He chopped off its head and saved the skull as a memento, but then had second thoughts about the value of the unknown creature to science, and so vowed to go back into the swamp and try to recover the skeleton. The article ends by stating Ferrel's intent to donate the remains to the Smithsonian.

So what happened next? No one knows. There are no follow-ups to the report. The same article appeared, unattributed and with some portions slightly altered, in the January 5, 1902 edition of the Clinton (Iowa) Morning Age. I fear the entire story may be a fabrication. There's something literary about the way the uncredited writer of the piece tells the story in a bit too much flowery detail, and the fact that the story is said to be out of Jacksonville gives me pause. (Jacksonville, as you may be aware, is nowhere near the Everglades.)

Did Buster Ferrel even exist? Apparently so. There's a passing reference to him in the Kissimmee Valley Gazette, April 22, 1898:

"A man by the name of Davis that was cut by Arthur Speer of Orange county some time ago died at Buster Ferrel's camp on Okeechobee beach last week of blood poison caused from a deep gash under his shoulder blade. I guess speer cut deeper than he meant."

Some have speculated, fancifully, that perhaps the entire story is true but that Mr. Ferrel never returned from his subsequent visit to the swamp and so the entire matter was forgotten by those newspapers up north. One day perhaps someone will shed further light on the mystery for me.

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