The Missouri River is one of the longest rivers in North America. It was one of the main routes of western expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century. The trail was blazed as fur trappers and explorers explored the areas around the river in the 1800s. Pioneers and steamboats use the river as a source to cultivate new developments across the country.
During that time of great exploration and expansion, one set of pioneers found more than they bargained for. On May 14, 1870, a group of fisherman found a strange monster caught in the Missouri River while they were dragging for fish. Described as a hideous looking savage monster, they could not identify the monster and struggled to describe it.
The river monster had a huge slimy, scaly body. Connected to the body were short, strong legs and immense claws. He also had a long, serpent like tail, sharp teeth that were like those of a saw, and chewed everything they came into contact with. While ravenously chewing anything in its path, it refused to leave the water. The fisherman described the monster as being over ten feet in length and over five hundred pounds. The most horrifying experience with the creature was when it made an awful roaring noise like that of a sea lion.
As the story was published in the South Side Signal, the fisherman were sure the creature was not a fish, an alligator, a crocodile, or a turtle. They were sure the creature met the description of fairytales and legends- that of the mythical dragon. Others speculated that they did in fact see an alligator, or a local fish, the alligator gar. Others agreed that the creature was likely crocodilian in nature or some sort of salamander, likely the Hellbender.
The crocodilian family includes alligators, caimans, crocodiles, and gharials. The family is filled with large, semi aquatic, predatory reptiles. They first appeared over eighty three million years ago. Crocodilians are lizard like reptiles with powerful teeth. Many speculated that the Missouri River Dragon was actually an alligator, whose species commonly inhabit freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Others insisted the monster was more than likely an alligator gar. The alligator gar is the largest freshwater fish in North America. The fish originated over one hundred million years ago. Alligator gars were so named due to their strong resemblance to American Alligators. They share a broad snout and sharp teeth. This specific type of gar can get up to ten feet long and up to three hundred pounds. Their bodies are torpedo shaped with scales. They also have large sharp teeth they use to strike out at prey.
The other common theory was that the Missouri River Dragon was actually a Hellbender Salamander. The giant aquatic salamanders are slimy with short legs, but only are recorded as growing up to about two feet. They are the largest salamander species in North America.
Despite the wide variety of theories, no one animal species seems to encompass all of the characteristics described by the early fisherman. While each has some similarities, no fish or crocodilian creature seems to fit the part of the monster that terrorized fisherman in the early 1800s. Other sightings corroborated the story given by the fisherman but no one has ever been able to capture or more closely study the creature who claims the Missouri River as its home.