Watch out... there may be monsters in the Coosa!

By Danny By Danny "The Vagabond" Crownover

Horror stories began to surface during the late 1950s and early ‘60s when the many dams were constructed along the Coosa and other rivers in Alabama. Stories of catfish as large as a Volkswagen have been told over and over again for more than 50 years.

While these stories have been told as true, there were stories of river monsters of all kinds being retold many times during the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially when several alligators were reported killed along the Coosa River. The unusual sightings and reports seemed to explain missing livestock along the riverbanks.

The enclosed article brought back memory of the famous Coosa River Loss Ness Monster that was a big story in the 1800’s. Even in modern times, we still hear of large catfish (bigger than humans) that ply the Coosa, as well as other tales of the river.

On June 8, 1877, a local newspaper reported that Marcus L. Foster, a respected citizen, had seen a “Sea Monster of the Coosa” in the vicinity of Ball Play Creek. Foster, a son-in- law of R.B. Kyle, was the first manager of Kyle’s Opera House.

According to the report, Foster was setting out bank hooks near the mouth of the creek when his attention was diverted to what looked like a man, standing in a slow drifting boat alongside the opposite bank.

His curiosity thoroughly aroused, Foster decided to cross the river. As he drew nearer, the object’s appearance seemed to change to that of a woman standing in the water, with only about three or four feet of her body visible.

Foster’s idle curiosity soon was transformed into startled amazement. When he was within 50 yards of the creature he found that he was looking at some sort serpentine monster.

The head and neck, which resembled those of a horse, extended straight out of the water. Large popeyed eyes glared back at him, and an open mouth revealed a tongue of fiery red.

Thinking discretion the better part of valor, Foster furiously paddled to the opposite shore, where he watched the monster float quietly along until it finally disappeared under the water.

Because it seemed completely improbable, Foster related his tale reluctantly. Once it was told, he was surprised to find that other citizens had faced similar experiences.

A Mrs. Martin, who lived near Foster, told of how terrified she was in 1862 when she saw a monster in the vicinity. About the same year, Judge Lemuel Standifer was paddling in a rowboat near Rome, Ga., when suddenly a noise sounding like rolling thunder struck behind him. As he turned, Standifer saw what he thought was a serpentine head about 40 yards away, slowly sinking beneath the water’s surface.

Even the esteemed Captain J.M. Elliott reported seeing a mysterious leviathan drifting along near Rome. The notorious sea monster was spotted at least three more times in 1877.

Green Rasbury told of seeing a strange black creature near the mouth of Wills Creek, where the creature splashed from one bank of the Coosa to the other. John Burgess reported that he spotted a similar creature in the same locality.

Each sighting told of a large, serpent-like creature covered with scales. The monster was reported to be 15 to 20 feet long and covered with large fins.

On June 25, a party of raftsmen observed the notorious serpent, apparently for the last time, when it appeared two miles below Gadsden.

Actually, the Coosa River Monster was first documented in a letter in 1816. The letter stated that a number of Saint Clair County settlers near Ten Islands had killed a sea monster that was sick and found half on shore and half in the water. When they open up the beast it had recently eaten an Indian, his canoe, a deer, a bow with arrows and a rifle.

It was believed that the sea monster had become ill from eating the rife. The beast itself was not described in any detail.

When the Neely-Henry Dam was under construction at Ohatchee, divers surfaced with stories about giant catfish as large as a man swimming on the murky bottom of the Coosa River.

Other strange creatures have been seen on the Coosa River in Etowah County. These include riverboat captains seeing giant fish.

For weeks in 1877, the Coosa Monster was the talk of Etowah County. Curiosity seekers plied the river, hoping to solve the mystery. By all accounts the fact remained that the reports were given by reputable citizens.

Local newspapers were sufficiently impressed with the reports to admonish parents to keep their children away from the Coosa during the summer.

Years passed before anything else of significance was heard of the elusive river serpent. In June 1882, an explanation of the mystery was advanced by a news reporter who had spent an afternoon in a small rowboat on the placid Coosa.

Suddenly a commotion commenced near the eastern bank about a mile and a half above the Broad Street wharf.

The startled newsman saw before his eyes a huge black mass, resembling a monster, rising slowly from the depths. 

“The sight,” he reported, “was a thrilling one and well calculated to alarm anyone.”

But on closer examination he discovered that the sea monster was only “a great mass of leaves and weeds” evidently thrown up from the bottom of the river by the accumulation of gases beneath the mass.

Thereafter, the “sea monster” faded into obscurity and the Coosa reclaimed her tranquility. The next time you go to the Coosa River, however, remember this story and be careful!        

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