By Ken Korczak
The Red River of the North forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and flows north into Canada, where it empties into Lake Winnipeg. When early settlers first traversed this wide, muddy river, they reported sightings of gigantic catfish bigger than their boats — fish as big as logs drifting in the river. But, occasionally, there have also been reports of a large, black, snakelike creature in the Red, a creature that resembled descriptions of the famous Ocopogo sea monster often sighted in British Columbia.
Well, here is a story told to me by an elderly gentleman who lives in northwest Minnesota. He claims that he and four friends not only got a first hand look at one of these mysterious giant water serpents — but they actually killed it! The events described here happened in the late 1950s. Please note: All names have been changed in this story at the request of the interview subject. So, without further delay, the story of the Red River Snake Monster awaits your read!
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Once or twice a summer it was Wayne’s practice to brew a batch of his famous corncob wine. Here is how the vile mixture was made: First, Wayne scraped two dozen moldy corn cobs and put the kernals in a bucket of warm water. After letting this sit for a day in a humid shed, he added several pounds of sugar, a gallon or two of grape juice and about 20 gallons more of warm water. He tossed in a hunk of yeast, and then he let it ferment for nine days. After this time, Wayne strained the pungent liquid through a bolt of cheese cloth.
The corncob wine was now ready to drink. To help get this done, Wayne called up four friends—Howard, Roy, Forrest and Wally. Here is how Wayne served his concoction—he placed the galvanized steel tubful of wine on a picnic table. He gave each guest a tin cup. They stood around in a circle, dipped in their cups, and guzzled. It would be difficult to judge the strength of Wayne’s corncob port. It was weak, but it certainly had a few percentages of alcohol.
You had to drink a lot to get a buzz, but of course, there was a lot.
When the tub neared half-empty, the conversation became louder and more boisterous. The men kept drinking until the rims of their tin cups scraped loudly against the bottom of the galvanized tub. They left the dregs, however, because it was cloudy and stunk of yeast. On this particular day, much of the discourse centered around “huntin’ and fishin’.” As the tub neared empty and the day grew dark, the talk became more raucous, including a lot of macho bragging along replete with various sensational claims of physical and sexual prowess.
Then Wayne came up with a very bad idea for a group of men who had just polished off 20 gallons of corncob wine—he suggested they grab a couple of shotguns, some flashlights, take a boat and launch it out on the Red River of the North to see if they could blast catfish out of the shallows.
The technical name for this sport is shotgun fishin’.
Forty-five minutes later, the five men were boating on the muddy Red in Roy’s 18-footer. Howard and Forrest held powerful flashlights, and they played the beams across the inky water.Suddenly, a flashlight beam revealed a floating log which Roy mistook for a gigantic catfish. He let go a blast of his 12-gauge. The rotten log exploded into splinters. River water and bits of wood rained down upon the men. This caused them all to whoop and yell. The boat rocked back and forth and water splashed into the bottom of the boat.
Minutes later Howard’s beam glimpsed something shiny and Roy swung quickly around, only to bang the barrel of his shotgun against Wally’s forehead. Wally fell back and almost went into the water, but the boys caught hold of him before he could go over the side. Everyone thought it was pretty funny, except for Wally. Wally’s fun was over for the night, but not his part in the adventure. Yes, Wally would play a central role in the fantastic events that were about to happen.
Dazed and barely conscious, Wally leaned back in the boat and let his right forearm dangle into the water. A minute later, he felt a strong pressure squeezing his arm. Wally jerked his hand out of the water and let loose a savage yell. All four of the others turned at once to look at him. The two flashlight beams held by Howard and Forrest revealed an amazing thing—some kind of thick, black, long snake-like creature had attached itself to Wally’s arm! Screaming, Wally lifted his arm straight up into the air. The serpent creature curled around the length of his arm, wrapping it like a barber pole.
Here is how one of the men described the creature—“My best description would be that it looked like an electric eel, the kind you see in them undersea adventure TV shows… it had a flat head, shiny black skin, slimy, and I think we saw smooth fins on the thing. It must have been six, seven feet long.” Of course, it was difficult to see well because it was dark, there was so much pandemonium, and the men were considerably hazed by the fermented beverage coursing through their veins.
“Everybody was screaming and yelling at once,” Wayne said. “We were going crazy when we saw that thing on Wally’s arm! It was dark and flashlights were dancing around like crazy… we were rocking the boat so bad just about all of us were swamped into the river… it was nuts!”
Wally began to shout: “Get this ———- thing off my arm! O-o-o-w-w-w-w! Get this ———- thing off my arm!”
Roy grabbed his shotgun by the barrel, wound up to take a hard swing at the monster, lost his balance instead and fell backward into the river. In all the commotion his pals hardly noticed.
Wayne slipped out his pocket knife and made a vicious thrust at the giant river snake, but missed and plunged his knife deep into Wally’s arm. Wally howled in anguish. He thought the monster had bit him. He started to flail his arm around, and whacked Howard square in the face. Howard, face covered with slime, was hurled backward and only Wayne’s quick catch prevented him from going over.
Wally began slamming his arm against the side of the boat, but the snake only squeezed tighter. Wally was in full panic. He kept screaming: “Get this ———- thing off me! Get this ———- thing off me!” In desperation, Wayne recovered Roy’s shotgun from the floor of the boat. In a lucky glimpse afforded by a chance pass of a wild flashlight beam, Wayne noticed that some three feet of the snake’s body was dangling below Wally’s arm.
He pointed the shotgun in that general direction, pulled the trigger and unleashed a roaring discharge. The kickback of the 12-gauge knocked Wayne backward and out into the drink. He dropped the shotgun and it sunk to the silty bottom of the river. Luckily, he was able to grab onto the side of the boat and haul himself back in.
“I got real lucky,” he said, “‘cuz I blew the whole bottom part of that snake monster clean off.”
The truncated end of the creature’s body jerked wildly around like a loose high-pressure hose. Fetid black blood and slime spurted in all directions, spattering the men with rank gore. But the blow was enough to cause the creature to go limp. Wally heaved it from his arm and heard it splash down somewhere in the black water where it sunk to its death.
As soon as everyone had calmed down, they could hear Roy screaming and splashing around in the river. Their flashlight beams located him. They motored over and pulled him in the boat just seconds before he went under for the last time. At this point, the men decided that they had enough shotgun fishin’ for one night and pulled the plug on the adventure.
“We still talk about that bizarre night to this very day,” Wayne said. “I think the biggest mystery is what the heck that thing was. It sure as hell wasn’t no fish, and I never heard of any snakes that big here in northern Minnesota.” Yes, the identity of the creature does pose something of a mystery, but one must grant that much could be explained by the consumption of an entire tub of corncob wine. But as far as I am concerned, there is an even bigger mystery contained within this story—that all five of these geniuses lived to tell it.
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