Chasing History’s Mysteries: The legend of the Creature of the Coosa River

By Mike GoodsonBy Mike Goodson

For the past 50 years I’ve been fascinated by stories of the paranormal. Today many popular radio and television shows deal with strange sightings and discoveries of giants, monsters and UFOs, many of which have been reported in the Etowah County area.
    While many of these instances have had beginnings as a hoax in a prankster’s mind, many others have baffled people for over 100 years. During the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of these reported sightings, as well as some of the unsolved crimes in our area. Many of these crimes remain a mystery to this day.
    One of the first strange sightings in the Etowah County area was reported by several of Gadsden’s leading citizens, including a famed riverboat captain who later became one of Gadsden’s early mayors. This particular story concerns a serpent-like creature that was reported numerous times along the Coosa River between Gadsden and Rome, Ga.
    The first reported sighting of this strange creature was published in the pages of local newspapers on June 8, 1877. Marcus Foster, a respected citizen of Gadsden, was fishing in the vicinity of Ball Play Creek when he noticed a strange commotion near the opposite bank.
    As Foster crossed the river to get a closer look, he was amazed to find a serpent-like creature glaring at him, startling the fisherman to the point of paddling his boat away from the creature. The large snake-like creature floated silently along the bank until it slipped under the water.
    Foster later told of his experience rather reluctantly. Fearing public ridicule as a drunk, he later told of his experience with several other prominent citizens telling of similar experiences. It seems that this strange creature had been seen as early as 1862. The famed riverboat captain James M. Elliott also reported seeing a strange creature drifting slowly near Rome.
    James M. Elliott Jr. was born November 12, 1854. He became involved with boats owned and operated by his father. Elliott was the captain of several boats, including the Sidney P. Smith, Magnolia and Hill City. The Magnolia was the largest and most elaborate riverboat to make the voyage from Rome to Gadsden. Elliott reported seeing a strange creature drifting slowly near Rome.
    Reported sightings of this creature emerged over the next several years, from Rome to Wills Creek. Each sighting told of a large, serpent-like creature covered with scales. This monster was reported to be 15 to 20 feet long and covered with large fins. It always disappeared beneath the water when anyone attempted to get close. A group of people rafting down the river reported seeing the same creature about two miles below Gadsden. In each instance, the monster was seen for only a few minutes and would disappear beneath the waters of the river.
    A possible explanation for the creature’s appearance was given in 1882. A newspaper reporter witnesses a great disturbance in the water and attempted to get a closer look. An up-close investigation revealed a large clump of leaves and weeds thrown up from the bottom by an accumulation of gases. Most people living along the banks of the Coosa River accepted this theory, and the strange sea monster of the Coosa River was never reported again.
    A side note to this strange sighting was that this creature reportedly was killed at Ten Island near Ohatchee a few years later. A group of people enjoying a picnic came across this strange serpent and stoned it to death.
    Was this strange creature a figment of some prankster’s imagination, or was this beast a prehistoric creature that time had forgotten?
    The Coosa River has brought much to Etowah County, including one of the earliest unexplained sightings over the past 170 years.
    Reports of giant fish, snakes and even alligators are reported almost daily along the river. Did Captain Elliott actually see this giant serpent, or was this just the beginnings of Etowah County’s “urban legends?”
    Only time will tell if the monster ever existed. 

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