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Thursday, June 04, 2009

DALE DRINNON: Origins of the Water Horse

The Water horse is a mythical animal frequently equated with the Loch Ness monster and similar creratures (as the Kelpie, etc.) It turns out that "Water horse" (and less often its counterpart "Water cow") are common names for the elk (moose in America) in parts of Scandinavia and Russia. At the end of the Ice Age, moose (elk) were common in the British Isles, including Ireland (not to be confused with the "Irish elk") but they were driven to the periphreal areas as the forests retreated. They lingered in Scotland into Roman times, it seems from subfossil remains, and they have been introduced there artificially in more modern times.[Internet]

The thing is, the use of the name "Water Horse(Cow)" to mean elk/moose is not even controversial. It would seem that "Kelpie" was originally a mythologized elk (with its more horrific undead bogie version, the Nukelavee) and confused with the maned sea serpent.

Records of several such reports are at at Loch Ness. A report on a February night in 1934 by Patricia Harvey and Jean MacDonald, who saw a four-footed beast 6 feet high at the shoulder
and perhaps 8 to 10 feet long that moved swiftly on land. They saw this creature at close range (20 feet, no doubt an underestimate of the range) and the creature was dark in color but had a white spot on the throat. It emerged from the woods and headed for the water.[Mackal]
But there were also a whole series of such reports recalled as childhood memories when the "Monster" flap occurred in 1933, and these "Camel" reports merged into traditional Kelpie reports. These ranged in date from 1879 or 1880 to 1919 or 1920 and their descriptions all matched this description, with minor variations due to lapses in memory (larger or smaller, lighter or darker in coloration, etc.)

Very likely this was the authentic local "monster" tradition and the identification with Kelpies is quite strong: the deascription of the size and color, and especially the camel-shaped head and neck exactly match a description of a European moose/elk, without antlers (the elk that have antlers are the males and then only in season; the latest native-Scottish elk remains seem to indicate that they had stunted antlers)

In Search Of Lake Monsters , quoting Sir Walter Scott in 1810 on pages 132-133, says "If I could for a moment credit the universal tradition respecting almost every Scotch loch, lowland or
highland, I would positively state that the water-cow, always supposed to dwell there, was the hippopotamus..

A monster long reported to inhabit Cauldshields loch, a small sheet of water in the neighborhood, has of late been visible to sundry persons...a very cool-headed, sensible man....said the animal was more like a cow or horse"

This looks very like the continuing tradition of the Scottish water-horse or cow (which is also connected to rumors of similar creatures supposedly in Canada, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia and far-Eastern Siberia) is based on unsuspected survivals of the European elk (moose)

Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures on the Water-Horse entry lists a conglomerate category with the distribution given as "Scotland, Wales and Ireland, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Scandinavia, and Siberia. Legends have also migrated to Canada" Some of the Native American Water Monsters are also supposedly hooved, and split hooves are a common feature (even when supposedly representing a horselike creature, such as the Kelpie)

"Water bull" is given a separate category, as are Mongolian "Water cattle" elsewhere. The extended lump-listing of Water monsters as Eberhardt's appendix includes the Mongolian Water-cattle as well as other Water-horses-or-cattle in Switzerland, Eastern Europe, European
Russia and Northern China (Manchuria)

Some rough estimates from Eberhart's appendix on water monsters in Mysterious Creatures are: Out of 884 lakes, rivers and streams with monsters drawn largely from sources like Bord and Bord and L. Coleman, At a rough estimate, 3/4 of these locations are in the Europe-Russia-Canada-and-USA area, something over 600.

At another approximate reference, half of these areas, something over 300, include reports of "Water-horses, Water-bulls or Water-cows", horse-headed animals with moderate lengths of neck, sometimes blunt or forked short horns (antlers) and sometimes large ears, and furry or hairy humps. These reported animals are usually about 10 feet long to twenty feet ( length estimate doubled) but can be estimated as up to 100 feet long (by including the wake) The locations including such reports include British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Wisconsin, Montana, Wahington state, the Great Lakes, and specific locations such as Lake Champlain, Lake
Okanagon, and Flathead lake. This includes the series of "Horse's Head" reports in Quebec, of an animal averaging 10-20 feet long but said to travel overland between lakes. A Fair word-picture for a moose.

All of which is rather mind- boggling when you consider the magnitude of what this means in terms of eliminating nearly the entire water monster category. The remainder of locations are
largely ambiguous or indeterminate, with a sprinkling of various minor fishlike, reptillian or mammalian water monster reports.. It is an enormous mishmash of all sorts of different reports and includes tropical as well as temperate freshwater monsters, and several known hoaxes.

Water Horse reports do include the New England area, with creatures in Maine and Connecticut that emerge from the water and travel rapidly overland, leaving cloven hoofprint ("Clawmarks"). These include reports recorded by Loren Coleman. Similar reports are common
up to Newfoundland (where they are clearly identified as the same Gaelic Water-horses)[Coleman, Eberhart]

One clear 1933 report of the Loch Ness Monster on shore indicates cloven hoofs, and the tracks attributed to Ogopogo are the exact size of moose tracks. [Mackal,Costello]

Reports like this are actually mostly in fringing areas where moose/elk are supposed to be locally extinct or poorly recognized by "civilized" people, and such reports are only more rarely made by local hunting natives that depend heavily upon moose in areas where they are common and the natives are very familiar with them. Reports are usually made by farmers or city people, with a recurring number of people out boating. For example, consider the Flathead Lake Monster from internet sources:

"A woman wrote me a letter from Canada with perhaps the most interesting sighting. In the early 1970s she took a group of five girls from her church to the lake. She was a teacher at Flathead High at the time. The group spotted a deer frantically swimming to shore. Behind the deer a large wake was moving in fast. The girls screamed for the deer to swim faster and maybe it did, as it made it to shore just before whatever was in pursuit could catch up. The large wake
then fizzled out and disappeared and the lake was calm. The woman and all five girls to this day swear by what they saw.

Another person wrote me an email saying he knows somebody who has a videotape of the monster. The keeper of the tape doesn't show it much in fear of coming off as crazy. But the e-mail writer said it is not the usual long-distance grainy footage that could easily pass as a
hoax. It was taken from a boat with the creature - whatever it was - swimming close by.

Other people, who don't know each other, told me similar accounts of seeing a serpent-like large creature snaking through the lake. They all admit it could have been a natural feature distorted by the conditions, by light or ripples, but they doubt it."

--It should be noticed that the large wake following the frantically swimming deer was probably generated by the deer (frantic only in wanting to get to shore)And MOST of these accounts seem to be only unidentifiable wakes or waves in the water. The exact same occurance of a "Monster" wake chasing a deer in the water comes from the Ogopogo lake, Lake Okanagon.

Flathead lake is definitely one location with moose-antlered "Water Horses" being reported regularly. [Sanderson Archives] The Flathead Lake monster is usually reported as twenty feet long,dark in color and sometimes with a single hump on its back. A characteristic sighting was in 1960 by the Ziegler family when they went to investigate unusual waves near the shore of the lake. Mr and Mrs. Ziegler saw something rubbing up against the pilings of the pier as a cow would rub up against a post to scratch itself. Mr Ziegler went back for his gun and Mrs. Ziegler
saw a "horrible" head about the size of a horse's "with about a foot of neck showing". She screamed and Mr. Ziegler returned in time to see it swim off at speed. [PURSUIT article on Flathead Lake Monster]

This has all the earmarks of a moose sighting--the shape and size of the head, short length of neck, the way it rubbed up against the pilings and the way it swam off. It all fits: NONE of this is typical of the Long-Necked category of sea-serpents as defined by Heuvelmans (the kicker is absolutely that it does NOT have a long neck) Mr. Ziegler denied that it was a sturgeon and rightly so.

The original popularization of this matter was from The Mystery Monsters, sequel to The Maybe Monsters, by Gardner Soule and originally printed 1965, using accounts drawn from the Flathead Courier: no outside source seems to have taken notice before Soule's book (which includes the Ziegler account and is mentioned as a source in later Lake Monster books) One odd fact is that Costello quotes the same Flathead Lake reports as Soule, without citing any sources:
possibly he had them as quoted through an intermediary he does not seem to have named. Ivan Sanderson certainly knew of Soule's books.

Sanderson wrote his chapter on Lake Monsters in More "Things" in 1966 (as a magazine article later reprinted in the book) and mentions the Flathead Lake monster but not the source: He vaguely alludes to the Ziegler description (not an exact quote) and says similar reports come from Waterton lakes and Lake Payette. And they do, but Waterton Lakes also has "Baby Monster" reports that have nothing to do with the other reports. They are in the right size range to be ordinary otters. Both of these other areas have the standard "Water Cows" with long wakes, some of them with the initial antler spikes reported as "Horns". Flathead Lake does have a native tradition of a Water Monster with a full set of Moose Antlers.

Coleman cribbed most of this material in a later article for Strange magazine, where I believe the original Sanderson article was published first. When I went through Sanderson's files circa 1974, I saw the originals for these reports and some others of the Moose type from such places as Maine. along with some Long-Neck, but Sanderson did not differentiate the two, nor yet some fairly obvious reports of large seals. Dinsdale mentions getting material from Sanderson, and what Dinsdale actually mentions is in the More"Things" chapter as well.

Many of the nearshore sea sightings of "Merhorses" also seem to be moose sightings, including some in Scandinavia and some "Cadborosaurs" off the Northwest coast area. This does not mean sightings with necks ten to thirty feet long, but horse or camelheaded creatures with only a
few feet of neck, usually about a yard (or a meter) Many of these sightings are during the winter, it seems, which is ordinarily a low point in regular sea-serpent sightings. Almost always
any reports of great length are due to prolonged wakes as in "Super-otter" sightings. The wakes in moose reports are generally from 25 to 100 feet long, which happens to be exactly the size given by Heuvelmans for the Merhorse . However, he specifies only the one-humped sighting
type--but goes on to mention "vertical undulations" and that clearly refers to the wakes.

Sanderson also emphasizes "vertical undulations" in freshwater reports that clearly refer to wake. The "One-humped" configuration also refer to the male moose's shoulder hump in other
easily identifiable cases. Clear instances of this are reported from Colorado and Lake Manitoba-Winnepeg-Winnepegosis, in which cases the head-neck region is never much more than four or five feet long.[PURSUIT,Costello]

In Monster Hunt, Tim Dinsdale quotes Ivan T Sanderson from a long letter to him about the "Northern Water Monsters" in the Taiga zone, but he included Loch Ness in the category as well, mentioning that such animals in European Russia (and Sweden) were called Water-cows.
The Taiga is the zone of Northern Coniferous forests and is the main habitats of the moose and elk. Heuvelmans gives the distribution of freshwater monsters in the same area as defined by isotherms, but it comes down to the same thing, The Water Horse/Lake monster's home range is the moose's home range. Water Horse or Water Cow is one of the recognized names for the Elk in the Uralic family of languages and it might also be in the original Indo-European (cf Equs to Elk) [Private communication to group from a Russian member]

Water monster reports actually sometimes come with reported Moose-antlers: one of the early ones in Lake Champlain has this feature, as do other simlar reports in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Furthermore, traditional images of Water Horses or Dragon Horeses are shown with antlers or other such structures on the head that correspond only to moose antlers in Scandinavia, Central Europe, Siberia and Northern China. And Water Horse images in Karelia are definitely identified by some Archaeologists as representing elks.[Group photo album reference: album also illustrates swimming moose with "string-of-buoys" wakes]

I would probably be just as happy to say "the European and Siberian elk is sometimes called the Water-Horse and such traditions as cryptids generally refer to such creatures but mythologized"
Coleman, L. A Field Guide to Water Monsters
Coleman, L. . Cryptozoology A to Z
Eberhart, George M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. 2 volumes. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Heuvelmans, B. In The Wake of The Sea-Serpents
Heuvelmans, B. 1986. Annotated checklist of apparently unknown animals with which cryptozoology is concerned. Cryptozoology 5: 1-26.
Mackal, RP. The Loch Ness Monster
Mackal, RP. Searching for Hidden Animals
Dinsdale Tim, Monster Hunt
Costello Peter, In Search of Lake Monsters
Sanderson, Ivan T. More "Things"
Sanderson Ivan T. Investigating the Unexplained
Sanderson, Ivan T Archives [The author had inspected these before they were dispersed]

Internet sources on moose information

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