Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at the origins and growth of the agriculture industry in Southeast Georgia and Bulloch County.
Jason Frye’s book, entitled “Southern Myths, the South’s Own Loch Ness Monster” (2018), recounts the tale of Jacques Le Moyne — the first European artist in North America.
“He was (off) the Georgia-Florida coast in the mid-1500s, (when) these monsters show up again and again.” Taylor Brown’s article about the Altamaha River, was published in Garden and Guns (Feb/March 2018).
Brown reported on Le Moyne’s reports: “Le Moyne wasn’t here to draw maps filled with imaginary monsters or warnings like ‘Here be Dragons;’ he was sent to catalog the flora and fauna of the region.”
And, “His alligators are misshapen and dinosaur-like, more like the descriptions of the Altamaha-ha than any alligator I’ve seen. The head is too big, the neck too long, and (it looks like) a smaller Loch Ness Monster.”
`Along the banks of the mighty Alatamaha River, as it was known in early times, settlers who lived along the river, who used it to conduct commerce, or in search of their next meal, knew well-enough to keep eyes open.
`Many tales were told over many evening’s fires in native villages or in the scattered settlement homes of encounters with the “Alatama-Haha,” or “Altamaha-ha,” of the scaly sea monster that inhabited its waters.
`Known to some by its nick-name, “Altie,” references to this creature predate even the earliest British colonialization attempts in what was then known as the “Debatable Lands.”
Anthropologists reported their suspicions this creature was first discussed by the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe. The Europeans settling along the river had also seen the beast.
“One of the first non-native reports of the creature was April 18, 1830, when a correspondent of Savannah’s Georgian newspaper reported multiple sightings of a sea monster on the Georgia coast. “
“The primary eyewitness was Captain Delano of the schooner Eagle, who reported seeing a large creature off of St. Simons Island below the mouth of the Altamaha River.”
“His description stated that it was about 70 feet long, its circumference about the size of a barrel, and its head resembled that of an alligator. Five other men on the schooner also reported having seen the monster.”
Then, “In the 1920s timbermen riding the river reported sighting a large snakelike water monster and in 1935, a group of hunters spotted what they called a “giant snake” swim through the river.”
Two brothers fishing at Clark’s Bluff on the Altamaha in 1960 told newspapers “it (had) a snout like an alligator, and a horizontal tail, (and had) a triangular ridge along the top of its body, (and) sharp pointed teeth.”
Another report from 1980 stated “two men (were) stranded on a mud bank near Cathead Creek (and saw it) lying half way in the water, thrashing and trying to free itself from the bank.”
And, “They described it as being dark-colored with rough skin and about 20 feet long. While watching, the creature freed itself, submerged and disappeared.”
Another man reported he saw Altamaha-ha by Smith Lake: “the animal was 15-20 feet long, snake-like with 2 brown humps that protruded from the water, (leaving) behind a wake like a speedboat.”
A local crabber reported the same year that Altamaha-ha came close to his boat, and he got an excellent look: to him it looked like “the world’s biggest eel.”
Sightings continued: A man in a boat near Brunswick saw something over 20 feet in length and 6 feet wide break the water. In 2010, a videographer shot some video of the creature off of Fort King George.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at email@example.com.