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Prehistoric Monsters in Jungles of the Amazon

Amazing Narrative of an Explorer, Who Describes a Saurian That was Unhurt by Volleys of Ballets from Elephant Rifles.

 

Long before the scientists began to discover indisputable evidence in fossil remains of reptilian monsters there were stories of strange gigantic animals in the far interiors of Central Africa, South America and even in the Indian jungle. Amyas Leigh, in his early explorations from the vast Matto Grosso district of Argentina and Bolivia to the upper tributaries of; the Orinoco, sets down many instances of the reports of huge amphibious animals brought to him. Von Humboldt heard of them also.

Scientists are more willing to credit the statement that some surviving: forms of the ancient dinosaurs are to be found in the gigantic tropical swamps east of the Andes, because the conditions of heat, vegetation, &c., are to-day nearly what they might have been in prehistoric periods.

Major George W. Fawcett, F. R. G. S., who traversed the southern section of the Amazonas region to give a scientific report of the great district of Acre and the map the boundary for the Brazilian government, describes many new fish and animals that he discovered, and heard often of the gigantic saurians that the Indians had seen further north. Colonel Julius G. Tucker, late United States Consul General at Martinique, penetrated further into the Caqueta country than any white man had ever done before and was assured by the highest dignitaries of the Caqueta tribes that terrible amphibious reptiles were to be found further south.

Charles Johnson Post, American engineer, artist and writer, who crossed the continent at its widest point some years ago, heard the same stories, saw some very remarkable signs and is a firm believer that gigantic animals of some kind exist there. Adriano Portales, collecting agent of the Itapu Trading Company, wrote an article for a Rio Janeiro newspaper five years ago saying that natives had shown him the head of a dead monster which, they had found.

The following article is by an unscientific man, who, as he says, can merely relate what he saw. It is the most definite and circumstantial account as yet made public. Franz Herrmann Schmidt is an employee of the Hamburg-American Company, with headquarters at Manaos. While seemingly incredible, what he has to tell may in a few years be a matter of common knowledge

 

By Franz Herrmann Schmidt

So many of my friends in Brazil have besought me to make public the account I am about to write, and so many others in the United Slates and in Germany have laughed at the story when I told it to them, that I have hesitated for a long time about mentioning it again. It is not pleasant to be called a liar good humoredly, even when one has no means of proving that he is not, but knows that he is telling the truth. If boa constrictors as thick as trees and over one hundred feet long are common, and are admitted to exist, I do not see why the stay at home public should not believe that what I saw in the same country is really there.

Therefore I want to remark at the outset that the man who does not believe what I have to say can go up the Amazon, and, with enough patience, see the same things; or if he does not care for the hardship he can find plenty of proof that many other men besides myself have had proofs brought to them. It is as well to add that when the wildernesses of Amazonas, Aero and Matto Grosso are opened up there will be many a surprise awaiting the college professors and others.

On October 8, 1907, Captain Rudolph Pfleng, who was well known as a sailor and trader, and myself were in Bogota, Colombia, seeking a number of concessions in the Orinoco country, but political conditions being very unquiet we failed to get them, and on the date mentioned determined to set out at once to penetrate the interior and descend some river on the other side of the watershed to the head of navigation on some branch of the Amazon. En route we hoped to find some high bars rich in gold, perhaps some fine new rubber areas or new forests of wild cacao; also both of us were anxious to keep our late presence and our mission in Colombia a secret. Had we gone out by the coastwise route the fact would have been common gossip.

From Bogota, with a party of Indian porters, we crossed the mountains to Tomeque, then on to San Martin, the country growing wilder and wilder. At Concepcion de Aramo we were compelled to organize a new party, but were fortunate to get twelve men who had been rubber gatherers and had been out of the regions inhabited by their own tribes. A little travel does a very great deal to broaden a primitive Indian, quite the same as it does an over civilized white man.

For the arduous journey before us no finer set of men could be found. Any one of them could travel all day with two hundred pounds on his shoulders, supported by a cloth or hide band around his head; all could handle a machete in clearing a path with skill and tirelessness that can be found only among the Indians of the tropical forests.

 

The Party's Equipment.

The second week we passed for days through wild cacao forests, with tens of millions of dollars of the crop going to waste all around us. We husbanded our food supply carefully till we got to the Ariari River, leaving our packed provisions untouched almost, while we lived on monkeys, the great gray lizards with their delicate pink flesh and all kinds and varieties of green things gathered by the Indians. One plant, which they called menna, something like an artichoke, made the very finest mock cream tomato soup I have ever tasted. We made the main portion of a number of meals from it. The shooting of monkeys for food was by no means an easy task. We had two rifles each, a 30.30 Mauser, a light Marlin repeater and two heavy Remingtons, good for game, defence or all around purposes. It was these latter which we used in the swamps, as I shall relate.

When we reached the Ariari we chose a fine high dry cliff for a camp and tarried long enough to pick a tree that would make a dugout canoe large enough to carry the fourteen of us and what we were packing.

We had been disappointed in our search for gold. The gravel of the streams indicated a little, but there were abundant signs of old workings conducted by the Indians, and they had removed, doubtless, vast quantities in other generations. In the days when they would trade a leaf basket full of gold dust to a Spaniard for a rebajo cloth they must have got much of the grains, nuggets and dust in the San Martino country.

When we moved on we descended the Ariari and meeting a rubber prospector's party, learned that the San Maderia and Mamore Railway project being pushed through by Percival Farquahar and some other American, millionaires was doing very nicely, so we thought we would get in the back of the new country which it would tap and see if there was anything on which we would care to try to get concessions in Rio Janeiro, so we ascended the Guayabero to the junction with the Ubia and struck south through the great gap there to the Macaya, crossing the watershed. It looks like, a very out of the way course, but it was the quickest and easiest travelling, following the zigzagging watercourses, shooting rapids when descending and carrying around them when going up.

The overland journey from the Guayabero was the worst piece of work I have ever attempted, and I thought that I knew about all there was to know concerning fighting one's way through a country so thickly grown with trees that nearly every one is grown into every other one; where thousands of trees have been engulfed and smothered by the gigantic creepers spread over them; where one can travel for hours and never set foot on real soil unless on the banks of some stream or in some gully gash in the earth. It was necessary to use the knife almost constantly and some careful steering by compass was required to prevent travelling indirectly, owing to the numerous detours made necessary by spots that were absolutely impenetrable or where there were swamps that could be crossed only by going through the tops of the trees that grew out of them.

 

The Forests and the Snakes.

Many times we did this, and if a man lost his footing he would plunge down through the green into water that we could not see. Once in a while we would find a stretch where the supersoil was unproductive of undergrowth for some unexplained reason, but the great trees flourished. I remember one forest, mostly of trees like eucalyptus, where we advanced for hours winding in and out among the trunks, so closely set that there were many apertures through which a man could barely pass, and in choosing the path the lead man was careful always to select openings that would admit the broadest of the packs. The underfoot in these places where the sun never shines is wholly of moss and fungi so deep that one sinks half way to the knee at every step.

I have since thought of those jungles and realized that in their recesses they might hide almost anything from a lost city to a mountain of gold already minted. A friend of mine who took a hardwood lumbering contract a number of years ago failed financially, because in the tract, which lay in country not nearly as dense as that which we traversed, he found the forests so dense that he had to fell on an average of seven trees to get one salable trunk to the ground.

Much of the foregoing sort of country characterized all the way to the Solimoes, where travelling became easier, and on by Tabatinga to the Journa. Water travel rested us for our second plunge into the forests, and the second plunge we would not have taken if it had not been for the things told us at Tabatinga. Behind us was desolation, so far as human beings were concerned, and there were not many animals save in the more open stretches.

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, with a fifty foot 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, 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, and there being two or three loops of the body in between we estimated his full length at sixty-five or seventy feet.

What caused us to leave the easier river route and plunge into the forest once more were the stories we heard from the Indians. The tribes in this belt are the Cocamas, the Hypurinas and the Manoteris, all of them clustering along the water courses and all as like as peas, so that I could see no reason for tribal distinctions at all. By taking the direct route to the south they assured us that we would find a wonderful cacao and rubber country, but there were great swamps inhabited by animals of such size that, the boa constrictor we had seen would be a plaything for them.

At least twenty Indians were encountered who had at various times seen this huge animal of animals. Penning and I questioned the stupid follows minutely and were puzzled to find that, while they agreed pretty well as to description. actions, &c., there was a wide divergence, as to size and as to spots in which the creatures had been encountered. At least two hundred miles apart some of those must be, yet all lay in the general southerly direction.

 

Land of Extravagant Vegetation.

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 twelfth day we descended into a long valley with a spot about three miles wide and nine or ten miles long in the centre that showed many spaces of open water a hundred yards wide or more. It was a shallow lake, literally choked with vegetation. Following the stream down we found that near the head of the lake the influx was augmented by some huge gushing hot springs with a sickening odor and a worse taste. Even in a land of extravagant vegetation, that around the head of the lakes was the most extraordinary I have over seen, and I believe that the water from the springs had something to do with it.

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 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 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.

 

The Flight.

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 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.

Fort Wayne, Indiana, Weekly Sentinel, Feb. 8, 1911.
Originally published by the New York Herald.

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