Darien, Georgia was first settled by the former inhabitants of Inverness, Scotland. Some of you might recognize the name from the stories of the Loch Ness Monster, as Iverness is the very city where reports of Nessie began and continue to this day. These hardy Scotsmen braved the long journey to America, where they formed the town of New Iverness, later renamed Darien, in the mid-1730’s. Almost as soon as they settled, word began to spread of another, yes, another serpentine water-beast roaming the waterways near the Altamaha river.
Altamaha-ha is said to be like a mix between a crocodile, a manatee, a dolphin, and an eel. It is said to have a long neck, the head of a croc, the body of a manatee, and the tail of a dolphin, although it is usually depicted with one large, diamond-shaped tail fin as opposed to the forked tail fins of a dolphin. Its coloration is disputed, some saying it is slate gray while others will say it is more green. There have also been disparities in size and length. Generally those who get a good look at the whole creature will tell you that it was about twenty feet in length, but there have been sightings of much smaller or much larger beasts with similar appearances. It has led many to believe that the Altamaha-ha has produced offspring.
As usual, there is no concrete evidence that points to Altie being real, at least not scientifically. There are many compelling stories and tales from respectable sources lending to the beast’s existence, some dating back to before the land was even settled by European immigrants. Nobody can pin the overactive imaginations of the Ivernessians, although it is a startling coincidence that the same group of people who found Nessie also discovered a second water monster in their new home. They were not really the first to see it, however. As one might notice, “Altamaha-ha” is hardly a Scottish name. No, the first group of people to tell tales of a water serpent were the Tama Indians. Their tales spoke of a large snake that bellowed and hissed from the water’s edge. It was from these natives that the settlers first heard the name of the creature.
Reports of Altie were not well-documented until the 1900’s, and even then the reports were not really published or given much attention until the 1980’s. There are over 350 recorded sightings of the beast, a large number for any cryptid. It is only the lack of photographs or video footage that allows this creature to maintain its cryptid status. Unlike most similar sea or lake monsters, Altamaha-ha seems to keep up a regular stream of sightings.
One of the first sightings to be taken seriously came from a pair of timbermen in the 1920’s. They were drifting downstream on a raft when something passed underneath them. The thing just barely breached the surface, but the men saw enough to know that whatever it was, it was huge and they didn’t want to mess with it. They reported the incident when they got back, bringing the name Altamaha-ha back into the memories of Darien residents. It was seen again in 1930’s by a pair of hunters, who watched it swim upstream from their vantage point along the bank. In the 40’s it was seen by a whole troupe of boy scouts and their counselors, who speedily rounded up the boys and informed authorities of the potentially dangerous beast.
Things got really serious in 1969, however, when someone caught the first really good look at Altamaha-ha. Up until then, all anyone had really seen was the shadow of the creature or the smooth sides of it as it worked its way up or down the river. Donny Manning was with a friend, fishing off of his father’s houseboat for catfish when something strange snapped up his bait, something that didn’t feel like a catfish at all. The thing bolted straight out and away from the boat, but it reared up out of the water for a moment before the line snapped and it was gone. Donny described it as having a ridged back, admitting that he mistook it for a massive sturgeon at first. It was slate gray with a whitish underside and was long and thin, like an eel. It had sharp, pointed teeth, which gleamed brightly in the light coming from the houseboat. His estimation was that the creature was about ten to twelve feet long and seventy-five pounds, based on the feel of it when it snapped his line. As the creature swam away it moved more like a manatee than a serpent, its body moving in an up and down motion as opposed to side to side. It was definitely a strange and alarming sight, but Donny claims that he feels blessed to have seen such an elusive beast with his own two eyes.
This was the best description of Altie until 1980, when another pair of friends named Barry Prescott and Andy Greene spotted the creature stranded whilst on their way home. They stopped the car to watch, startled by the sheer size and length of the thing they were seeing. At that point Cathead Creek, the creek they had been driving past, dead ends into a stretch of mucky land before turning into trees. The animal was thrashing wildly, utterly panicked as it tried to work itself back into open waters. Barry stated that only about 20% of the animal was actually stuck, but apparently that was enough to keep it from backpedaling into the water. It had dark brownish-black skin with a rather warty texture, although the men admitted that they could not tell if it was actually warty or if it had just splattered itself with lake mud during its struggles. One thing was certain, though, and that was that this creature was over twice the size of the one that Donny Manning saw. The men estimated that it was around 30-40 feet long, with a massive dorsal fin sticking up out of the water. It was a very powerful creature, even if it was stuck in a precarious situation, and very thick, somewhere between 3 and 4ft wide. They watched it for awhile, but prepared to leave after seeing that the beast was making no progress. Just as they turned on their car to go, however, it was able to free itself from the mud and retreat into deeper parts of the creek with a massive splash.
A lot of sightings took place between ’85 and ’95, mostly by hunters and other people who might find themselves out near the water. A few described a more serpentine creature, although all said that the beast had an odd way of swimming, using that up and down motion, like a dolphin. The most recent sighting was in 2002, reported by a commercial captain who happened to be towing a sailboat with two other people inside, a man and a woman. As they traveled along the river, everything became oddly still and quiet. Suddenly, right in front of the boat, something surfaced. It moved like a dolphin breaching for air, its long body sliding up and down in an arch right before the captain’s eyes. Because the lighting was rather dim, he could not be sure what part of the creature he was looking at, but he was fairly certain that he saw a sharply-tapered dorsal fin slip by and disappear back into the water.
It surfaced once more in the same manner, a few yards further away from the boat, and then it disappeared for good, leaving the captain in a state of shock. The couple on the sailboat hadn’t seen a thing, and so he was left to ponder the wisdom of reporting his sightings to a superior or authorities.
Yet how could one doubt his sanity when there have been so many sightings of Altie throughout both American and Native American history? It is really interesting to note that even though there have been so many sightings, well into the hundreds, the media has largely ignored making a big deal of it. This sounds like a job for… cryptozoologists! Everyone is counting on you, fellas. Get out there and discover some sea monsters!