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Located in the town of Rochester, Lake Manitou was once considered forbidden to the Potawtomi who lived in the area. The reason for their fear was their belief that the lake was inhabited by a great monster called, Meshekenabek. In his Recollections of the Early Settlements of the Wabash Valley, Sanford C. Cox reported that, "The Indians would not hunt upon its borders, nor fish in its waters for fear of incurring the anger of the evil spirit that made its home in this little woodland lake." In fact, the Native Americans would later warn settlers against building a mill on the lake, said Cox, fearful that the monster would "rush forth from its watery dominions and take indiscriminate vengeance on all those who resided near the sacred lake."

Perhaps the Lake Manitou monster wasn't all Native American superstition because during construction of the mentioned corn mill in 1827 several men who worked surveying the lake for the mill reported seeing the monster. They claimed the creature was dark colored, and over thirty feet long with a long neck and a head like a horse.

News soon spread of the lake monster, making it difficult to find men to finish the job. The area's first blacksmith described the monster like this: "The head being about three feet across the frontal bone and having something of the contour of a beef's head, but the neck tapering and having the character of the serpent. Its color was dingy, with large yellow spots."

On July 21, 1838, the Logansport Telegraph reported that two men spotted the monster which was "sixty feet long, and looked like a huge snake." Using the eyewitnesses' descriptions, George Winter, a noted painter of native Americans, sketched his conception of the monster for the newspaper.

Over the years sporadic sightings of the "Devil's Lake Monster" were reported. However, in 1849 the Logansport Journal reported that a huge buffalo carp that "weighed several hundred pounds" was caught in the lake, the fish's thirty pound head was exhibited at Logansport. People thought that the monster had been caught at last, but in 1888 a 116-pound spoonbill catfish was pulled from the lake by four men. The monster sized fish was placed in a horse trough by the county courthouse in Rochester and people were charged ten cents for a peek. Eventually, the catfish was butchered and sold at ten cents a pound.

In recent years, reports of the Lake Manitou monster have waned. Today when the northern Indiana winters freeze the lake over, the ice shifts and emits booming and roaring noises. Residents around the lake smile and say that it is the monster trying to force its head above the ice.





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The serpent of Horseshoe Pond, six miles south of Vincennes, was 60 feet long bigger and longer than a telephone pole and it resembled a snake, but it had a head like that of a large dog.

That's how Isaac Daines described what he had seen in the murky waters of Horseshoe Pond, in the April 22, 1892 Vincennes Commercial. The newspaper described Daines as "a highly respected farmer, whose veracity cannot be questioned." Daines, his wife, hired men and neighbors, had all seen the creature on several occasions. Daines stated:

Its color is black on the back and sides. It inhabits the water and does not seem to venture any distance on shore. It glides through the waters of the pond with that easy and graceful movement peculiar to a snake swimming. When approached it becomes alarmed and swims away; if pursued it flees with wonderful rapidity.

Daines said he had tried to kill the monster several times. The bullets seemed to have no effect. Daines planned to collect a crowd of men armed with Winchesters to kill or capture the sea-serpent.

Evidently alarmed by this attention, the monster moved south. The June 17, 1892 Commercial reported that the sea-serpent had been seen again by "men of good repute for veracity," this time in Big Swan Pond, ten miles south of Vincennes.

The huge snake was still described as having the head of a dog, colored white, with a white throat, but its black back and sides were now "spotted or mottled, red and yellow, like the side of a large water snake." Skeptics said it was only a large water moccasin of exaggerated size, but others said it was something else. No further sightings were ever reported of this strange serpent.


Two men canoeing a flooded stream north of Jasper, Indiana spotted a large snake swimming uncomfortably close to them one fine day in May 1983. After whacking it into oblivion with a paddle they took it to a conservation officer who identified the 42-inch-long serpent as a western cottonmouth, so called because of its white mouth. Indiana suddenly became identified as the home of a fourth species of poisonous snake. The western cottonmouth joins the timber rattlesnake and copperhead of southern and central Indiana and the massasauga, found in northern Indiana swamps.

The western cottonmouth, or water moccasin, has long been suspected to inhabit southern Indiana. One was reported in Gibson County in 1887, but its existence wasn't confirmed. Persons who want to look for cottonmouths might note its dark brown coloring under black markings, a triangular head and a heavy body. One way of telling it from the nonpoisonous copperbelly is to look it in the eye. If the pupil is round the snake is safe. If it is slit-shaped like a cat's, it is venomous.

A visitor to Vincennes in 1816 who noted a refreshing lack of snakes in the area attributed the good fortune to the Indian custom of burning off the tall grass of the prairie each Fall to make spotting game easier. Also, the flat, rolling plain of Knox County is not the sort of topography rattlers prefer. They like hilly timbered land. Then maybe the poisonous snakes have heard of the inglorious end of Big Jim.

A century ago stories of a giant rattlesnake were striking fear in the hearts of the area. Big Jim was reported as the terror of the Wabash, a monster rattler ten feet long (or longer in some estimates). He made his home at Rattlesnake Bluff on the Little Wabash, 12 miles north of Carmi, Illinois, although he reportedly ranged up and down the Wabash Valley into Indiana.

The snake was first noticed in the spring of 1881 when loggers went to log the Skillet Fork bottoms. According to the story of this confrontation, told with grand detail in 1908 by the Vincennes Commercial, the loggers were driven to shelter in rain to the bluff overhanging the river. One man from the crew was sent for firewood, but he came back, terrified and empty-handed. The logger, who was named Big Jim, reported seeing a great demon prowling the bluff. Capt. Ed Ballard, in charge of the crew, angrily ordered the man back to his task.

Minutes later a scream was heard from the top of the bluff and Jim hurtled down the bluff and into the flooded river. He was never seen again, though an extensive search was made of the river the next day. More men ascended the bluff but heard what they said sounded like a thousand rattles. Rain or not, the survivors boated to the Illinois bank of the Wabash in record time.

The logging business in the area was set back by continued stories of the giant snake. Also, other excursions of this monster rattler, now called Big Jim in honor of his victim, were reported in succeeding years. Near the bluff one farmer looked into his chicken yard and saw his best Plymouth Rock rooster staring eyeball to eyeball with a giant snake. He emptied a shotgun at the snake, and it disappeared. He said his rooster was never the same again. In the same locale, cattle and hogs were also reported bitten.

Then a group of turkey and squirrel hunters, including Knox County Sheriff Lee Staley, saw what they said was Big Jim on a log sunning himself. They blasted away at him, interrupting his nap but apparently not hurting him.

A country school four miles from Rattlesnake Bluff was the next site of a report. Big Jim was spotted nearby, and the frightened teacher gathered the students inside the school, shut the blinds and hid out until evening when parents came to see what the problem was. School was dismissed for the rest of the year.

One area farmer reported the snake's love for his blackberry patch. The farmer, William Ude, said his bull tried to horn the critter and came out the loser to the snake's fangs. A large cage put over the hole to what was supposedly Big Jim's lair was found bent and twisted.

A price was put on the snake's head, and fearful farmers began wearing high boots to ward off attacking snakes. A snake, Big Jim, of course, frightened a team of stagecoach horses near Centerville, Illinois, sending one frightened traveler up a tree.

Dynamiters blew holes over Rattlesnake Bluff, maybe sending thousands of snakes to their deaths, but reportedly not Big Jim. In 1908, after more than a quarter of a century there still was a rattlesnake mania north of Carmi, and all reports of snakes were attributed to the legendary serpent.

On the W. H. Thompson farm in southwestern Sullivan County, farm hand John Bascomb heard a commotion in the pigpen. A boar had a giant rattlesnake in his jaws, close enough to the head that the snake couldn't get in a knock-out punch. By the time he had returned with a rifle the other hogs in the pen were in the fray, stomping and biting at the writhing snake. Bascomb finally got a clear shot, and the snake was finished.

Bascomb mounted the skin, which measured a terrifying 12 feet, five inches long and had 29 rattles. Whether Big Jim was an unknown species of serpent or just a big rattler, the legend of the terror of the Wabash thankfully died that day in a Sullivan County pigpen.








The Lake Manitou Monster was reportedly a large serpent. In the Whitley county town of Churubusco, the lake monster was a giant turtle. The story of "Oscar" as the turtle would later be known, starts in 1898 in a seven acre lake east of town. The owner of the lake, Oscar Fulk, first spotted the turtle when it unexpectedly surfaced in front of him just a few yards from shore. The turtle was huge, Fulk estimated the animal to be at least five feet wide with a big, ugly head like a snapping turtle.

"Oscar" the turtle would remain unseen for almost fifty years when, in 1947, it would once again be sighted, capturing the attention of the national media. By then the lake was called "Fulks Lake" and was about 100 yards behind the plowed fields and small, white farmhouse owned by the Gale Harris family.

Helen Harris would later write about her family's encounters with the "Beast of Busco" and the unwanted attention they received:

My brother, Charles Wilson, and his son-in-law first saw the turtle while fishing in the lake. We thought at first he was kidding us, but he said he was serious. He had never seen a turtle that big.

Later, my husband Gale and our minister, the Rev. Orville Reese, were repairing the roof of the barn when they saw the turtle surface.

The two men estimated that the turtle was as big as a large dining room table and could weigh as much as 400 pounds.

Gale Harris was determined to catch "Oscar" and he would watch the lake to try and study the beast's habits. A unverified story says that Gale managed to get a rope around the turtle with the other end attached to a hitch with four horses. But "Oscar" wasn't about to be caught in such an undignified fashion. The beast dug its claws into the mud and the rope broke allowing the turtle to escape.

Unfortunately for the Harris family, the newspaper reports about "Oscar" led to a steady stream of uninvited guests to the farm. According to Helen Harris, "We couldn't sit down and eat a meal in peace or get our work done on schedule. We had no privacy in our home. People came by the hundreds and would walk into our home without knocking. They used our bathroom, sat in the living room or did anything else they wanted to do without asking."

What finally happened to the "Beast of Busco" is anybody's guess. Gale Harris thinks the turtle went underground, through springs and channels to another lake. Others think he walked out of the lake in order to find a more peaceful home. The road just 100 yards from Fulks Lake caved in around 1954, some say because of "Oscar's" great weight when he walked across it.

"Oscar" however has not been forgotten, Every year the town of Churubusco celebrates its "Turtle Days" festival with a parade and other turtle-oriented activities. Although the Harris family didn't enjoy the fame "Oscar" brought them, Churubusco, (or Turtle Town USA as they like to be called) still enjoys the attention brought about by the mysterious "Beast of Busco."


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