The account was originally published in the late New York Herald (a tabloid), but due to the lack of availability, I'll have to rely on a reprint from StrangeArk itself taken from an Indiana newspaper's reprint. The article's length is substantial - almost 5000 words - so I'll skip to the relevant parts knowing the full version is securely and freely available.
Conversions are my own.
Anonymous and Schmidt, Franz Herrmann. Prehistoric Monsters in Jungles of the Amazon, New York Herald (N.Y., N.Y.) January 29, 1911. Section 5, Columns 1-5:
The Forests and the Snakes.
There were hours when we would not hear the cry of a bird or the flutter of its wing or see a snake sliding away to hide. Again, on shelving ground particularly, or around waterfalls, animal and bird life would be abundant. It was at such a spot we saw our largest snake. The day had been oppressively hot, and just as the sun was getting down into the west we came to a fine waterfall about ten feet wide [3 m], with a fifty foot [15 m] pool below it emptying into a brook across which an active man could leap.
Just where the brook left the pool a great brown log had fallen, making a natural bridge. One of the Indians was about to cross it, seeking some light wood for the night's fire, when he gave a queer cry and came bounding back. I saw Pfleng pick up his rifle and I did likewise. The Indian led us back to the point where he had stood and showed us what a mistake he had made. The log was a great sleeping boa constrictor. The terrible, creature had caught some sort of an animal by the pool, and having eaten it, as a lump one-third of the way down the body showed, grew sleepy and remained where it was in the sunshine, stretched across the brook.
At first we thought the creature was dead, and came near enough to see that its sides were working either through respiratory or intestinal action. I was for having a shot or two into the parts of the body we could see, but Pfleng argued against it. The snake could be of no use to us, and if we wounded it its thrashing about would kill some of us unless we climbed the trees or got out of the vicinity. It was nearly impossible to kill it outright, so why discommode ourselves for the fun of putting a few holes in his snakeship's tough body?
At least we had a fine opportunity for studying him. For fully a half hour he lay there until the shadows struck him, and then he began to draw forward slowly, and in ten minutes was gone into the jungle. I measured with my eye the thickness of the body as compared with a certain stone by which it lay. The two were the same. The thickness of the stone was twenty-two inches [0.56 m], yet the snake's body was thicker further up. From the spot where the head lay to where the plated tail had marked the ground when the snake started to crawl was forty-four feet [13.4 m], and there being two or three loops of the body in between we estimated his full length at sixty-five or seventy feet [20-21 m].
At this point I want to say that I know nothing of natural science or anything of the names of the animals and I do not believe that Pfleng did either, though he pretended to. We simply made up our minds that we would bag one if we could and have a good look at it; perhaps it was some now kind of gigantic alligator or some huge variety of water snake. At least it would be good sport. We had three guides from the waterside who remained with us sixteen days of travel quite as difficult as that which I have described.
The valley was like any other of many we had crossed, and we should merely have detoured the swamp if Pfleng, surveying it with his glasses, had not noticed in two or three spots on the shores of the lakes some huge swathes or crushed tracks such as the Indians had mentioned. We could not inspect these from solid ground.
The only way we could get at them was from the water so we cut a tree, made a rude dugout, shaped up some puddles and the second day set it afloat, in the open water at the head of the lake. Ono thing we noticed at once. There was not an alligator, iguana, or even a large water snake to be seen anywhere. This in itself was queer. The swamps were full of floating islands where a tree or a big branch had fallen in, gathered a lot of water plants around it and gradually formed a structure on which even small trees grew.
We had to steer in and out among these, often cutting a path for the dugout through masses of entwining plants on the top of the water. One of the Indians leaning over the bow would keep the machete swinging as we drove the dugout slowly forward with the paddles. At last, we got into a pool of open water from which one of the swaths led shoreward, and we put the boat, right up into it.
There was no question but what it had been made by some enormous body being dragged from the water through the plants and mud until solid ground was reached, when a great circular wallow in a sunny spot was made. On the plants nearby were marks of waves two feet above mean level on the average and great, flaglike stocks as thick as my log were broken off short in the track and the tops mashed into the mud, while the movement of the body had carried quantities of the soft ooze from below the water and spread it like plaster on the crushed plants.
A very large elephant or hippopotamus could have made a similar track. In making the return journey to the water practically another course had been chosen, the point of entrance being some hundred foot [30 m] to the east, and a little shelving bank there having been crushed in with the small trees that grew on it, in a way that showed that many tons of weight must have rested on it. The creature that had been able to make marks like these in the course of a peaceful progress must be a terrible thing if aroused to anger.
The Indians in the dugout grew more and more frightened, and I confess that I began to watch the water and listen for movements along the shore or among the islands with feelings slightly more tinged with anxiety than I had felt before I saw these evidences.
Leaving this spot, we proceeded slowly along and soon came to an island which was evidently a favorite sunning spot, as the plants were crushed down all over it and it was plastered with mud dragged up from the bottom. It took much time to get ahead any and it was very late in the day before we crossed one bayou about a half mile wide to examine some similar spots on the further shore. Here we found three spots where some amphibious animal had left the water and returned to it. One was very large and the other two only about half the size.
Plainly there was more than one such creature in the lake. Another thing which we had not observed previously was that vast quantities of fronds, tender green leaves and broad stretches of flag growth had been ripped off. I have seen spots in which a herd of elephants has fed, and those looked very similar. One tree had a smear of mud on it fully fourteen feet [4.3 m] from the ground.
Encounter with Bullet Proof Monster.
Now we hastened back, following the same track we had cut, and twice we stopped paddling to listen as both Pfleng and I were sure that we heard heavy splashing behind the islands to the east. The Indians were for leaving at once, and in their talks among themselves that evening it was easy to see that they were discussing the matter of remaining longer in such a dangerous region. They were badly frightened. We mounted a guard that night for the first time in weeks, Pfleng and I taking turns with an Indian each. I believe that our men would have deserted us if we had both slept.
After breakfast, we set out again in the dugout, taking our heavy calibre Remingtons with us and a good supply of ammunition. Taking the southern shore we traversed the stretch that seemed to be most affected by the waters from the hot springs, and shortly before noon began to find more wallows as the ground along shore grew firmer. At last we came to one large one which had been used for leaving and entering the water, or else the animal was still on shore. We approached very carefully and a thrill shot through me as I saw that the mud on the weeds and water plants was still dripping. We were close to our quarry.
With every precaution, the paddles making no noise at all, we advanced to the water line. To have left the boat would have meant going in the mud to our waists, perhaps, and yet we could see nothing but green stuff from where we were. We argued the question in a whisper and Pfleng had just announced his determination to follow the track inland if it was the very last act of his life, when a troop of monkeys was heard approaching, gathering some great blue-black berries from small trees that grew in the mud. We had just made them out when there was a sudden outcry among them, a large dark something half hidden among the branches shot up among them and there was a great commotion.
One of the excited Indians began to paddle the boat away from the shore, and before we could stop him we were one hundred feet from the waterline. Now we could see nothing and the Indians absolutely refused to put in again, while neither Pfleng nor myself cared to lay down our rifles to paddle. There was a great waving of plants and a sound like heavy slaps of a great paddle, mingled with the cries of some of the monkeys moving rapidly away from the lake. One or two that were hurt or held fast wore shrieking close at hand, then their cries ceased. For a full ten minutes there was silence, then the green growth began to stir again, and coming back to the lake we beheld the frightful monster that I shall now describe.
The head appeared over bushes ten feet tall. It was about the size of a beer keg and was shaped like that of a tapir, as if the snout was used for pulling things or taking hold of them. The eyes were small and dull and set in like those of an alligator. Despite the half dried mud we could see that the neck, which was very snakelike, only thicker in proportion, as rough knotted like an alligator's sides rather than his back.
Evidently the animal saw nothing odd in us, if he noticed us, and advanced till he was not more than one hundred and fifty feet away. We could see part of the body, which I should judge to have been eight or nine feet thick at the shoulders, if that word may be used, since there were no fore legs, only some great, heavy clawed flippers. The surface was like that of the neck. For a wonder the Indians did not bolt, but they seemed fascinated.
As far as I was concerned, I would have waited a little longer, but Pfleng threw up his rifle and let drive at the head. I am sure that he struck between the eyes and that the bullet must have struck something bony, horny or very tough, for it cut twigs from a tree higher up and further on after it glanced. I shot as Pfleng shot again and aimed for the base of the neck.
The animal had remained perfectly still till now. It dropped its nose to the spot at which I had aimed and seemed to bite at it, but there was no blood or any sign of real hurt. As quickly as we could fire we pumped seven shots into it, and I believe all struck. They seemed to annoy the creature but not to work any injury. Suddenly it plunged forward in a silly, clumsy fashion. The Indians nearly upset the dugout getting away, and both Pfleng and I missed the sight as it entered the water. I was very anxious to see its hind legs, if it had any. I looked again only in time to see the last of it leave the land—a heavy blunt tail with rough horny lumps. The head was visible still, though the body was hidden by the splash. From this instant's opportunity I should say that the creature was thirty-five feet long, with at least twelve of this devoted to head and neck.
In three seconds there was nothing to be seen except the waves of the muddy water, the movements of the waterside growth and a monkey with its hind parts useless hauling himself up a tree top. As the Indians paddled frantically away I put a bullet through the poor thing to let it out of its misery. We had not gone a hundred yards before Pfleng called to me and pointed to the right.
Above the water an eighth of a mile [200 m] away appeared the head and neck of the monster. It must have dived and gone right under us. After a few seconds' gaze it began to swim toward us, and as our bullets seemed to have no effect we took to flight in earnest. Losing sight of it behind an island, we did not pick it up again and were just as well pleased.
Since it was apparent that our Remingtons, heavy enough to drop a lion or an elephant in its tracks, were no defence at all against such animals as we had seen, and from the tracks we had reason to suppose there were larger ones in the region, the wisest thing for us to do was to be content, move on as soon as possible, and return with a rapid fire gun or something like that. Also it, would have been impossible to got the Indians into the dugout again even with a gun muzzle at their heads.
When we struck the Madeira we encountered a bunch of the white men on the railway project. They were mostly young engineers and were Canadians who had not been out long. When we told what we had seen they were very polite about it, but it did not take us long to find out that they thought we were liars or had been crazy from fever or were trying to [trick] them.
That was the first of the disagreeable experiences I have had, and when Pfleng and I separated at Para we agreed to forgot the whole thing and say no more about it. He has since died, succumbing to fever March 4, 1909, in Rosario. As I said on beginning this story, I tell it just as it happened, and anybody who reads it may think what he pleases about it.
I should say that I have been asked to locate the region and so have worked the matter out as carefully as I can. It is about five degrees thirty minutes south and seventy degrees five minutes west, and can be most easily reached by ascending the Solimoes River.
Self-admitted poor naturalists spotting multiple cryptids with an account written in a novelistic style and published in a tabloid sends up more red flags than a Soviet military parade. Debus (2002) interpreted the account as being "sensational, yet most decidedly fictional". Coleman and Huyghe (2003) appear to concur ("[o]f course, the encounter with the creature itself may be little more than a fantasy"), although note that Roy Mackal thought it rang true because the description of the landscape and manner of expedition were apparently accurate. I unfortunately lack access to Mackal's book (the price is insane), but Smith and Mangiacopra (2004) mention that Mackal was unable to confirm the existence of Schmidt, and the authors speculate that it may have been a pen-name. Presently, internet searches for "Franz Hermann Schmidt" only turn up cryptozoology articles.
The account identifies the colossal snake as a Boa constrictor, a species with a maximum length of about 12 feet (3.65 m) (Hornaday 1904) or 4 meters (13 feet), for a southerly subspecies (Bertona and Chiaraviglio 2003). Perhaps the observers used 'boa constrictor' broadly and in fact referred to the green anaconda, a species that does get very large... but certainly nowhere close to 70 feet (21 m)! As I wrote in a prior post, estimating snake length can be very difficult, especially when the body is in 'loops', so it is perfectly plausible that the actual length of the individual could be a fraction of what was reported... that is, assuming there was a large snake at all.
Curiously, the Indiana reprint gives the location of the second sighting as five degrees thirty minutes south and seventy degrees five minutes west, that is, next to Rio Itaquai, a tributary of Tabatinga, Brazil; Coleman and Huyghe (2003), and thus presumably Mackal and the original N.Y. Herald article, give the coordinates as 5°30' S, 75°5' W, in the but this must be a reference to the starting point (Bogotá) and/or bulk of the trip; alternately, it could have been an archaic reference to the former Gran Colombia.
As for the actual sightings, it has the following bizarre reported traits:
* Head 10 feet (~3 m) off ground, size of beer keg, tapir-like (w/ trunk)
* Eyes small and dull, "set in like those of an alligator"
* Neck snake-like but thicker, rough in texture, covered in mud
* Head and neck ~ 12 feet long (~4 m)
* Body 8-9 feet (2.4-2.75 m) thick at shoulders rough in texture
* Heavy flippers with claws
* "heavy blunt tail with rough horny lumps"
* Total length 35 feet (10.5 m)
* Clumsy locomotion
* Unharmed by firearms
* Apparently attempted to eat monkeys, may have injured some
* Large tracks out of the water, one large and two smaller.
* Evidence of grazing.
* Mud on trees up to 14 feet (4.3 m) high.
* Took place at 5°30' S, 70°5' W
The extrapolation that many animals were present based on areas of crushed vegetation alone is silly. The blogger Cryptodraco suggested these 'tracks' may be due to hot spring activity. The observation of possible grazing of course does not necessarily correlate with whatever the gentleman saw, and it would seem very odd for a grazer to going around attacking monkey, presumably for food!
It goes without saying that this encounter is fictionalized, but could it have some factual nucleus? Dale Drinnon and Cryptodraco speculated that the animal may have been an elephant seal, and I agree that it is the most parsimonious candidate.
|Male Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina) from Flickr user man_with_nonname|
Definite fits include the rough skin texture (like an alligator's sides), foreflippers, tapir-like snout, and clumsy terrestrial locomotion. Possible fits include the size and proportions (eyewitness estimates should not be considered set in stone), long and thin neck (the appearance of one could be suggested in a starving individual), and the 'tail' description which could be applicable to hind flippers. Details that don't fit include the small and dull eyes, not being harmed by large caliber firearms, attacking monkeys, and nearby grazing.
The location is interesting since Southern Elephant Seals are occasionally visitors to tropical South America - the last post discussed 2 Ecuadorian sightings and mentioned several dozen Brazilian ones - but this sightings reportedly took place thousands of kilometers into the Amazon drainage, which seems like an impossible marathon even for an elephant seal. The sighting is closer to the Pacific (i.e. only hundreds of kilometers), but the Andes would surely be an insurmountable barrier for a seal.
This leaves us with the possibilities that:
* The sighting is a total fabrication.
* An elephant seal was observed, but not in the reported location
* An extremely wayward elephant seal was observed in the reported location.
* The party saw something else.
As for the last option, the anonymous commentators variously suggested: Astrapotherium descendant, giant Matamata, and Carettochelyid. No offense to the commentator, but the astropothere suggestion was textbook phylogenetic roulette, as there is no reason to think they were aquatic, and if alive they would probably be interpreted as a weird tapir, not just an animal with a tapir-like head. The turtle suggestions were interesting, but it seems unlikely anyone would be unable to recognize a turtle (being some of the most distinctive vertebrates around), and it would require the usage of the prehistoric survivor paradigm. I'm going to say that invoking a prehistoric survivor is a huge strike against parsimony, and could only be plausible when there are absolutely no extant animals that come close to matching and a hoax is unlikely. I probably shouldn't even dignify the suggestions that the sighting was of a 'dinosaur' or 'plesiosaur' - it should be clear to everyone why they don't fit and why they were suggested.
The conclusions that can be drawn from Herrmann's story are limited. It obviously contains elements of both fact and fantasy - but to what degree has it been dramatized? The snake encounter isn't too dramatic and seems like a plausible story naïve explorers would tell. The latter one is either a poor attempt at telling a 'Lost World' story or one incredibly lost seal.
|"Artist's" "Impression", or crime against humanity.|
Bertona, M., and Chiaraviglio, M. (2003). Reproductive Biology, Mating Aggregations, and Sexual Dimorphism of the Argentine Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor occidentalis). Journal of Herpetology 37(3), 510-516. Available.
Coleman, L., and Huyghe, P. (2003). The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and other mystery denizens of the deep. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin
Debus, A. and Debus, D. (2002). Dinosaur Memories: Dino-Trekking for Beasts of Thunder, Fantastic Saurians, 'Paleo-People,' 'Dinosaurbilia,' and other 'Prehistorica'. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, In.
Hornaday, W. (1904). The American natural history: a foundation of useful knowledge of the higher animals of North America. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Available.
Smith, D. and Mangiacopra, G. (2004). Rescued from the Past - #3 An 1900s Prehistoric Amazon Monster - An Explorer's Encounter, Crypto Fiction, or a Combination of Both? North American BioFortean Review #14 6(1), 19-27. Available.