Haunted by Dragons: Flying Monsters in 19th Century California

Haunted by Dragons

FLYING MONSTERS IN 19th CENTURY CALIFORNIA

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A MONSTER OF THE AIR

Thomas Campbell and Joseph Howard, two wood-choppers working in the timber five miles northeast of Hurleton, Cal., inform us by letter of a singular creature they saw flying thought the air last Friday afternoon. They write: “About four o’clock Friday afternoon last, while at work, we were startled by the sound of many wings flapping in the air. Looking up, we perceived passing over our heads, not more than forty feet above the tree-tops, a creature that looked something like a crocodile. It was, to the best of our judgment, not less than eighteen feet in length, and would measure two feet across the body, from the head to the tail a distance of probably twelve feet. The tail was about twelve feet long and tapered from the body to a point probably eight inches wide. The head was in the neighborhood of two feet in length and the jaws (for its mouth was open) could not have been less than sixteen inches long. On each side of the body, between the head and the tail, were six wings, each projecting between eighteen inches and two feet from the body. As near as we could see, these wings were about fifteen inches broad, and appeared to be formed similar to a duck’s foot. On the under side of the body we counted twelve feet, since on a side.” Mr. Howard fired on barrel of a shotgun at the monster, and writes: “It uttered a cry similar to that of a calf and bear combined, but gave no sign of being inconveniences or injured. In fact, when the shot struck, we heard the bullets rattle as though striking against a thin piece of sheet iron. The object was also seen by a number of Chinamen working near us, who were badly frightened and fled to their cabins.” This is the first time we have ever heard of such a creature as this; but our informants are reliable men, hence we cannot doubt their statements.—Gridley (Cal.) Herald.

“A Monster of the Air,” Cleveland Plain Dealer (April 22, 1882): 2.


PTERODACTYLS AND OTHERS.

There is no limit to the products of Fresno County. It can not only grow finer raisin grapes than any other spot in the world, and more of them, more luscious figs, bigger walnuts, sweeter peaches and better apricots, but it has lately gone into the business of raising wild animals, and in this, as in everything else, it bids fair to defy competition. Its latest achievement, according to the report of reliable citizens, is the production of a pair of pterodactyls, which are flying round with the desolate freedom of the wild bird, ravaging henroosts and terrifying the timid fellow-citizens of the late lamented William Forsyth. A learned contemporary confirms the report of the discoverers of the prehistoric bird, and adds that there Is nothing surprising in it, for though the pterodactyls did properly belong to the mesozoic age, geological ages overlapped, and there would be nothing impossible in the survival of a pair of these curious creatures to this day.

All that can be said of this is that if the pterodactyl did overlap so far, its stretch of wing must beat anything that was ever seen in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. The only specimens of the fossil pterodactyl which have been found have occurred in the slates and chalk formations of the cretaceous system, in the secondary era. This era was followed by the tertiary era, which, according to geologists, must have lasted millions of years, and this again by the quaternary, which in its turn was succeeded by the glacial age, or ages. All these eras, whose duration cannot be estimated in years or centuries, intervened between the period when the pterodactyl dug its prodigious beak into the mud and the present day. There never was a fossil of that order found in the eocene, or the pliocene, or the miocene, or the pleistocene. The curious creature, half bird half reptile, which was generally about the size of a small bat, but which occasionally grew to such dimensions that the tips of its wings were twenty feet apart, perished in the convulsions which preceded the tertiary deposits. It had ceased to catch small fish in salt marshes long before Fresno rose up out of the bowels of the sea.

It is true, as our contemporary observes, that geological eras overlap and that an occasional specimen of the fauna or flora of one era is found in the fossils of in successor. But for that to be the case the eras must follow each other without break. There is no more chance of finding at the present day a living member of the vast reptile family which flourished In the cretaceous age than there is of Noah’s Ark coming into port and anchoring off Meiggs Wharf. Not only is that the case, but quite a considerable number of species of animals which lived in the present era a few centuries ago have died out, or are dying out. The great auk, which was once, not uncommon In Northern Europe, is believed to be extinct. So is the moa of New Zealand, which was far larger than the ostrich. The woolly elephant, which roamed the frozen tundra of Siberia since the world assumed its present shape, has not been seen in life since the historic period began. There can be little doubt of the existence at one time of the unicorn, though it is now generally regarded as a fabled creature. In our own time the buffalo is rapidly disappearing. It will cease to exist unless care is taken to preserves few members of the family in public parks. They write from Australia that the kangaroo is growing scarce. It also will probably only survive in captivity. The sea-serpent, which is the subject of so many forecastle yarns, was certainly a denizen of the sea after man had begun to inhabit the earth.

All these creatures came into existence when the conditions were favorable for their life. They lived and flourished so long as those conditions lasted. When the conditions changed they began to languish, and finally faded away, like tho North American Indian. They appear to be succeeded, not by new species and new genera, but by improved forms of existing species and genera. The wild boar of the Ardennes has made way for the Berkshire pig; the fierce wildcat for the domestic pet which nestles on the rug before the fire; the sullen, silent dog, that was akin to the wolf, has been succeeded by the faithful watch-dog, which alone of all brute creatures is susceptible of unselfish devotion; wild cattle by herds of milch kine; intractable horses, feeding as often on flesh as on grass, by the thoroughbreds of the present day, as docile as children and as sagacious as man. The gain which the world has realized out of the transmutation reconciles us to the loss of a few species of no particular utility and rarely gifted with beauty.

“Pterodactyls and Others,” San Francisco Call (August 5, 1891): 4.


PTERODACTYLS.

Sport Gunning For Dragons Near Fresno.

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Monstrosities Which Are Half Alligators, Half Birds.

The Wild, Weird Story of a Fresno Newspaper Man.

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Two Screaming Dragons Snap Their Jaws and Show Their Teeth—Six Feet Long and Look Like Frogs.

The Fresno sportsman now goes gunning for pterodactyls. These are dragons who lived in the carboniferous age, but who forgot to get petrified when the Fresno man and woman went through that process for the special benefit of nineteenth century dime museum owners. A letter from Fresno to the San Francisco Chronicle of Monday tells the Munchausen story, and from it the following excerpts are taken:

Fresno, July 31.—The report that two strange dragons with wings have recently appeared in the swamps east of Selma was at first regarded by many as a sensational story without foundation in fact, but after different persons at different places had claimed to have seen the strange creatures it began to be thought worth investigating.

The history of the unusual visitors, so far as reported, is as follows:

The men who live along the swales and sand hollows east and southeast of Selma on the evening of July 13th heard strange sounds in the air just after dark, like the rushing of wings when some large bird passes swiftly through the air overhead. At the same time a cry was heard, resembling that of a swan, though enough different to make it plain it was not a swan. But on that evening nothing was seen. The sound of the rushing of wings and peculiar cries were heard at intervals for two hours, when about 10 o’clock all became still. The last cries heard were far away in the direction of King’s river. . . .

On Monday night, July 21st, Harvey Lemmon and Major Henry Haight were out looking after their hogs that feed in the tules. As the men were returning to Selma they were surprised to hear a strange, strangling noise in the deep swale under the bridge. In a moment there was a heavy napping of wings and the two monsters rose slowly from the water and flew so near the men that the wind from their wings was plainly felt.

Mr. Haight described the dragons as resembling birds, except that they had no feathers, and their heads were broad and their bills long and wide. He judged that the expanse of their wings was not less than fifteen feet. Their bodies were without covering. Their eyes were very large—Mr. Haight was sure not less than four inches in diameter. . . .

J. D. Daniels, of Sanger, heard of the matter, and on Wednesday went over to Selma and joined those who were going out to capture the dragons. Your correspondent saw Mr. Daniels today and had from him the account of the searching party. It is better given in Mr. Daniels’s words:

“When I reached Selma I found the company, which, with me, consisted of five persons, preparing to go down to Hog lake to set watch. This is a small pond of water, and was considered as liable as any to be visited by the monsters. “We drove out to the lake, and there being no brush convenient for a hiding place, we dug holes in the bank, and soon after dark we took our places in the holes with our guns, ready to see what could be done in case the visitors put in an appearance.

“We remained there till 3 o’clock in the morning, and nothing of an unusual nature having taken place we returned to Selma, somewhat disappointed.

“About 10 o’clock that day, Thursday, Emanuel Jacobs came in and reported that the monsters had evidently been in Horn valley, about four miles above, the night before. They had killed a number of ducks, and the banks of the pond were strewn with feathers.

“We had no intention of giving over the plan of capturing the dragons, and Thursday night two of us returned to watch—Mr. Templeton and myself. We secreted ourselves in the holes which we had made the night before and waited patiently with our guns, determined to secure one of the strange visitors at least, should they make their appearance.

“About 11 o’clock the cries were heard in the direction of King’s river, seeming two or three miles away. The ominous yells drew nearer, and in a few moments we heard the rush and roar of wings, so hideous that our hair almost stood on end. The two dragons came swooping down and circled round and round the pond in rapid whirls, screaming hideously all the while. We had a good view of them while flying. Two or three times they passed within a few yards of us, and their eyes were plainly visible. We could also see that instead of bills like birds they had snoots resembling that of the alligator, and their teeth could be seen as they snapped their jaws while passing us.

“Evidently the dragons were trying to decide whether or not they should come down in the pond. They were probably examining if there was any food to be had, such as ducks, mudhens and fish.

“At length they came down with a fearful plunge into the pond, and the mud and water flew as though a tree had fallen into it.

“They dived and floundered around in the water, and as nearly as we could judge at the distance of thirty yards they were about six feet long, and while wading in the water they looked not unlike gigantic frogs. Their wings were folded, and appeared like large knobs on their backs. Their eyes were the most visible parts, and seemed all the time wide open and staring.

“They were very active, and darted about among the tules and rushes catching mudhens. One of these fowls was devoured at two or three champs of the jaws.

“As soon as we saw a good opportunity we leveled our guns at the one nearest us and fired. One rose into the air with a yell and flew away, every stroke of the wings showing immense strength.

“The other floundered about in the water till it reached the edge of the pond, when it crawled out, dragging a long wounded wing after it, and started Across the plain. We loaded our guns and gave chase. We soon lost sight of it, for it went much faster than we could. However, we were able to follow by its dismal cries in the distance. We followed it half a mile, when it passed out of our hearing.

“The next day a company went in pursuit and trailed it by the blood on the grass. It was followed three miles to the Juniper slough, which it entered and all trace of it was lost. Whether it is yet concealed in the tules or whether it has died is not known.

“Where it passed down the bank it left several well-formed tracks in the mud. One of the best was cut out with a spade, and, after drying, was taken to Selma, where it is in the possession of Mr. Snodgrass. The track was like that of an alligator, though more circular in form. It had five toes, with a strong claw on each. The track is eleven inches wide and nineteen long.”

The most probable solution of the matter is that these dragons are solitary specimens of some geological animal supposed to be extinct. It most nearly fits the description of the pterodactyl, a weird nocturnal vampire, half bat, half lizard, that infested the vast swamps of the earth in the carboniferous age. The pterodactyl is described by geologists as attaining a size often four times as large as the eagle, while the bill became a snout, and its mouth was set with ghastly teeth that devoured birds, reptiles and all small animals that came in its way.

It may be that this species of animal has not become entirely extinct, as has been supposed, but that these are veritable pterodactyls. It is now recalled that a strange monster resembling these was reported a few years ago in the vast swamp between Tulare lake and Kern lake.

“Pterodactyls,” Los Angeles Herald, Volume 36, Number 107, (August 5, 1891): 6.


Haunted by Dragons

A Pair of Fearful Monsters Found in California

Neither Fish, Flesh nor Fowl, but a Hideous Combination of All—Story that Puts Joe Mulhatton to the Blush—Possible Explanation

Special to the Republic.

San Francisco, Cal., Aug. 8.—A number of persons living in the vicinity of Reedley, Fresno County, Cal., all reputable citizens, too, according to a Chronicle representative, swear that they have seen and hunted two dragons with wings 15 feet long, bodies without covering of hair or feathers, head broad, bills long and wide, eyes not less than 4 inches in diameter and with feet like those of an alligator, somewhat, though more circular in form. They had five toes on each foot, with a strong claw on each, and its track is 11 inches wide and 19 inches long. These strange creatures were first seen southeast of Selma, on the night of July 11, and their peculiar cries and the rushing of their mammoth wings were heard as late as 10 o’clock, when all became still. The dragons were last heard that night crying the direction of King’s river.

FRIGHTEN A PICNIC.

Two nights later A. X. Simmons’ poultry yard was visited by the monsters, many of the hens being bitten in two and left partly devoured. Those who examined the dead chickens say the teeth marks on them resemble those made by a very large dog. On July 19 a carriage loaded with picnickers was returning from a picnic at Clark’s Bridge, and in the clear moonlight saw the monsters plainly circling in the air and heard the rush of their pinions, snapping of their jaws and fearful cries overhead. On Monday, July 21, Harvey Lemon and Major Henry Haight, who live just outside of Selma, going after their hogs, who fed on the Tules, heard a strangling noise in the deep swale under a bridge, ad in a moment, with a heavy flapping of wings, the queer creatures rose slowly from the water, flying so close to the men that the wind from the tremendous wings was plainly felt. Their description of the monsters tallies with that of the persons who saw them on the 13th and 19th.

AFTER THE MONSTERS.

J. D. Daniels of Sanger heard of the matter and joined a party of five that were going out to capture and kill the dragons, and he tells the following story, after reporting that their first night’s watch at Hog Lake was a disappointment:

“About 10 o’clock that day (Thursday) Emanuel Jacobs came in and reported that the monsters had evidently been in Horn valley, about four miles above, the night before. They had killed a number of ducks, and the banks of the pond were strewn with feathers. We had no intention of giving over the plan of capturing the dragons, and Thursday night two of us returned to watch, Mr. Templeton and myself. We secreted ourselves in the holes which we had made the night before and waited patiently with our guns, determined to secure one of the strange visitors at least, should they make their appearance. About 11 o’clock the cries were heard in the direction of King’s river, seeming two or three miles away. The ominous yells drew nearer, and in a few moments we heard the rush and roar of wings, so hideous that our hair almost stood on end. The two dragons came swooping down and circled round and round the pond in rapid whirls, screaming hideously all the while. We had a good view of them while flying, two or three times.”

THE GREAT BRUTE WINGED.

“They passed within a few yards of us, and their eyes were plainly visible. We could also see that, instead of bills like birds, they had snouts resembling that of the alligator, and their teeth could be seen as they snapped their jaws while passing. Evidently the dragons were trying to decide whether or not they should come down in the pond. They were probably examining if there was any food to be had, such as ducks, mudhens and fish. At length they came down with a fearful plunge into the pond, and the mud and water flew as though a tree had fallen into it. They dived and floundered around in the water, and as nearly as we could judge at the distance of thirty yards, they were something over six feet long, and while wading in the water they looked not unlike gigantic frogs. Their wings were folded, and appeared like large knobs on their backs. Their eyes were the most visible parts, and seemed all the time wide open and staring. They were very active, and darted about among the tules and rushes catching mudhens. One of these fowls was devoured at two or three champs of the jaws. As soon as we saw a good opportunity we leveled our guns at the one nearest us and fired. One rose into the air, yelled and flew away. Every stroke of the wing showed great strength. The other floundered about in the water until it reached the edge of the pond, when it crawled out, dragging along its wounded wing after it, and started across the plain. We loaded our guns and gave chase. We soon lost sight of it, for it went much faster than we could. However, we were able to follow by its dismal cries in the distance. We followed it half a mile, when it passed out of our hearing. The next day a company went in pursuit and trailed it by the blood on the grass. It was followed three miles to the Juniper slough, which it entered and all trace of it was lost. Where it passed down the bank it left several well formed tracks in the mud. One of the best was cut out with a spade, and, after drying, was taken to Selma, where it is in the possession of Mr. Snodgrass.”

ANTEDILUVIAN SAURIANS.

The most probable solution of the matter is that these dragons are solitary specimens of some geological animal supposed to be extinct. It tallies most nearly with the description of the pterodactyl, a weird nocturnal vampire, half bird, half lizard, that infested the vast swamps of the earth in the carboniferous age. The pterodactyl is described by geologists as attaining a size often four times as large as the eagle, while the bill became a snout, and its mouth was set with ghastly teeth that devoured birds, reptiles and all small animals that came in its way. It may be that this species of animal has not become entirely extinct as has been supposed, but that these are veritable pterodactyls.

It may be possible that in the immense sultry and miasmal swamps surrounding Lake Tulare these hideous monsters have survived the destruction of all their kindred and have come down to the present day. There are places in the vast expanse of swamps bordering the lake on which no human being ever set foot. The Tules grow a perfect wilderness and they may have furnished a refuge for these hideous things until the present day. The search for the monsters will be carefully carried on, and the hunters believe that ere many days they will secure this wounded mammoth bat-lizard, which is creating no end of talk among the scientists of California to-day.

“Haunted by Dragons,” St. Louis Republic 84 no. 22333 (August 4, 1891): 1.


Coast Items

The editor man of Fresno County Has broken loose again. This time he has discovered neither petrified men, pterodactyls or phantoms, but a mummy, the well-preserved remains of a man who died on the hot plains of that section and dried up instead of decaying. We do not doubt this story in the least. The whole population of Fresno County is in imminent dancer of drying up and blowing away to boot if these editorial Truthful Jameses are not checked in their mad career.

“Coast Items,” San Francisco Call (October 16, 1891): 3.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2196 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.