October 05, 2017

The Return of the White River Monster

The Return of the White River Monster

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

It’s October and time to look at history stories that are creepy or just weird.  Regular readers will recall that some time ago, I did a post about the White River Serpent, (as opposed to the Beast of White River which was a different monster).  The post sparked conversation and inspired a local woodworker.

I’ve now found that there was an expedition (of sorts) that tracked down the monster.  Their efforts were reported in the Noblesville Republican-Ledger with the first article being on July 15, 1892:

“Os Phelps, Will Fryberger, Al Decker, Will Freehafer, and Ed Royer drove across the country to Anderson Tuesday, carrying boats and fishing tackle in great abundance.  They will launch their boat at Anderson and let it float while they fish on the way homeward.  The fish stories they tell on their return will equal the snake story which appeared in Monday’s Democrat, which was without a doubt a hallucination of a diseased mind brought on by an attack of Tizerism of the brain, and woe be unto his monstership if he falls in the way of the invincible quintet on their homeward float, because they are equipped to capture large game and it would be a fortune to them should they capture this monster alive and exhibit it under canvas.”

That’s a rather harsh way to talk about the men that were quoted in the other story, (not to mention quite a run-on sentence).  I’ve found no sources for the word “Tizerism”.  It might mean something political, as the two newspapers – the Republican-Ledger and the Democrat – were constantly at war, particularly about politics.

As it turned out, the expedition was a success, with an article on July 22 headlined “The Monster Captured”.  The sub-headline read, “The Democrat’s Sea Serpent Secured by the Big 5 Fishermen”.

“On Wednesday evening when Os Phelps, Will Fryberger, Al Decker, Allen Frehafer and Ed Royer were nearing their home landing from their two days’ fishing excursion, just between the railroad and wagon bridges a sight met their eyes that chilled the blood in their veins – even the stout-hearted commander of the crew, Phelps, held his breath in dread of the monster.  Its appearance was truly terrible.  What seemed to be a living monster was plainly visible.  It was twelve feet long, on its head were formidable horns, in its center it was several feet wide and the extremity of its tail was adorned by a bush, and as it rose and fell with the waves, the stoutest of the crew held their breath at sight of the terrific monster.  After a few moments delay and hurried consultation they determined to capture it, having remembered the ghost story of their boyhood and the language, “No harm I’m sure can happen to the good,” they separated, one of the boats approaching from the south, the other from the north.  They approached it warily with bated breath, each eye strained to discover a vulnerable point, each brave heart trembling as to the result.  Nearer and still nearer they approached until of a sudden, Freehafer made a bold dash forward and seized a horn of the monster.  A shout of exultation and relief went up from each throat when they discovered the monster to be nothing but the skin of defunct bovine that had caught on some trash which held it there.  An unfortunate ending of what the local editor on the Democrat had pictured as an estray deep water monster that had found its way here during the late freshets.”

You might note that there is quite a bit of sarcasm and hyperbole in that story.  What’s more, the Republican-Ledger was so eager to score points, they overlooked the fact that the object found by the fishermen does not fit the description in the other paper.  The Democrat said the monster had a forked tail and said nothing about horns.  So, who knows?  The White River Serpent might still be out there.