all of the above: giant snakes!

BY: Tim R. Swartz


I Don't Like Spiders and SNAKES!!

For many people, snakes evoke a sense of fear and dread on a visceral level. Recently, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that humans and their ancestors coexisted with dangerous snakes for more than 40 to 60 million years, and that deep-seated fear of snakes is of evolutionary origin and not something learned as a child grows up.

Most of us in the Hoosier state rarely interact with snakes in the wild. When we do, it is usually a garter snake, not very threatening, but for those who have handled one, definitely stinky. Nevertheless, large, potentially dangerous snakes do exist in Indiana.

In August, 2017, Clayton Fleener and his girlfriend, Abigail Kerns, were walking along Trail 9 in Brown County State Park when they were shocked to see a, HUGE, snake crossing the trail ahead of them. Fleener took a video of the snake, which appeared to be at least five-feet long.

Fleener showed the video to park rangers and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources confirmed that the snake was a timber rattlesnake. Timber Rattlers are common to Brown county and are also considered an endangered species in Indiana.

As strange as it may seem, Indiana has a long history of sightings of abnormal and giant snakes. In the days when most of what would later be Indiana was nothing but dense forest, Native American's avoided certain parts because they claimed that monster-sized serpents, big enough to swallow a man whole, lurked in the rivers, trees and undergrowth.


Apparently these stories weren't just tall-tales meant to frighten the kids, as years later, settlers moving into the Indiana territory also had run-ins with terrifyingly giant and/or poisonous reptiles. One interesting snake that was said to be found all over the midwest was the hoop snake, so-called because it would grab its tail in its mouth to create a "hoop" with its body and roll after its prey.


Famous ornithologist Robert Ridgway claimed to have caught such a creature in 1880 around an area known as Montours Pond in Knox County. The snake, which was also referred to as a "mud snake," had a sharp, poisonous spine at the end of its tail which it would stab its prey after rolling after it. Fortunately, no other snake with these features has ever been identified or caught in Indiana, so perhaps Ridgway was better at identifying birds and not reptiles.

Along with hoop snakes, people across the U.S. in the 19th century were also claiming to see flying snakes. And not just snakes that can glide, like the ones that live in Asia, but snakes that were said to have wings like a bird.  The Ft. Wayne Gazette ran a tantalizingly short article on May 27, 1883 that referred to "A vast quantity of mammal fossils were found in Wabash County. This is near the same location where Justice of the Peace, Lewis Keagle, of Laketon, saw a large flying serpent a few years ago. The squire has lost his interest in all science and attends strictly to his office affairs."

I conducted a little research on Justice Lewis Keagle, he was a veteran of the Civil war, serving in Company E, 130th Infantry Regiment Indiana. He served in the capacity of Justice of the Peace in Wabash County starting in 1876 and passed away in 1897. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any other references about Justice Keagle and his flying serpent. 

Another flying serpent was seen in September 1883 near Greensburg, Indiana. According to the Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois - 10/17/1914) Mrs. Joseph Groswick and Mrs. Casper were out in a buggy when a seven-foot-long winged serpent flew out of a tree and chased the pair for almost a mile. Luckily, a pair of hunters and their dogs managed to chase the creature away before it did any damage. In addition to its wings, the two women claimed the snake also had a beak like an eagle.

I should note that winged snakes were once considered real and pests to farmers and their livestock in Wales UK. Marie Trevelyn's 1909 "Folklore and Folkstories of Wales" mentions: "The woods around Penllyne Castle, Glamorgan, had the reputation of being frequented by winged serpents, and these were the terror of old and young alike. An aged inhabitant of Penllyne said that in his boyhood the winged serpents were described as very beautiful and 'looked as though they were covered with jewels of all sorts. When disturbed, they glided swiftly, 'sparkling all over,' to their hiding places. When angry, they 'flew over people's heads, with outspread wings bright like the feathers in a peacock's tail.' His father and uncles had killed some of them, for they were 'as bad as foxes for poultry.' This old man attributed the extinction of winged serpents to the fact that they were terrors in the farmyards and coverts."

Greensburg may have been a favorite haunt of phantom snakes as the Brownwood Bulletin, Brownwood, Texas (October 8, 1920), ran a story taken from the International News Service with the headline "MONSTER SERPENT DITCHES VEHICLES ALONG ROAD."

The article stated that stories regarding a monster snake seen in the southern part of Decatur County were not fables. They declares the reptile, reported to be from twenty-five to thirty-five feet long had been seen by reputable citizens several times in the community. 

"A calf belonging to Robert Bishop is said to have been devoured by the snake and the entire community professes intense alarm with men, armed with guns, searching for the monster."

Some residents wondered if they were seeing the same reptile that had been spotted in Sullivan and Green counties. That serpent allegedly ditched “flivvers” (Ford Model T cars) in encounters on the highways. 


A serpent that seemed to have gained a taste for human flesh was said to inhabit a cemetery west of Oxford in Benton county. People who had the misfortune to see the snake said it was at least fifteen-feet in length, with a circumference of a good-sized stovepipe. It had ten inch long horns on top of its head and its eyes would glow a fiery red when they reflected light. It was rumored that the creature was eating the dead bodies interred at the cemetary. 

One witness told a reporter with the Lafayette Courier that he had encountered the snake "and although he found and picked up a club, he became frightened at its mammoth size, and instead of entering into a battle with it he took to his heels and without looking back to see if it was after him, ran breathless to his home." Smart man. 

The man also said that Oxford residents, worried that a monster may be living amongst the graves of their loved ones, had searched the cemetery and "found large holes leading down into the graves." (Logansport Journal, September 3, 1889)


Even though timber rattlesnakes are now mostly confined to Brown and Monroe counties, at one time they ranged through most of southern Indiana and Illinois. Snakes of all sorts, venomous and non-venomous, were so numerous in the area that pioneer woman always carried a "snake stick" to use in dispatching any reptile that she might meet while out doing chores.

No other snake, however, carried such a fearsome reputation in the Wabash Valley as "Big Jim." Big Jim was named after its first reported victim, a logger who was clearing trees at the Skillet Fork bottoms in Illinois during the spring of 1881. The rattler was said to be 10-feet-long (or longer in some estimates) and would apparently go out of its way to attack humans. He made his home at Rattlesnake Bluff on the Little Wabash, 12 miles north of Carmi, Illinois, although it reportedly ranged up and down the Wabash Valley.
The monster serpent was also fond of chickens, hogs and cattle. One farmer said that he lost his prize bull to the fangs of Big Jim when the bull tried to use its horns to defend itself against the vicious snake.

Big Jim seemed almost a phantom rather than a physical snake as it was repeatedly shot with little effect. A group of turkey and squirrel hunters, including Knox County Sheriff Lee Staley, saw what they said was Big Jim on a log sunning himself. They turned their rifles on him, but apparently he escaped unharmed.

After that incident, Big Jim made numerous appearances throughout Illinois and Indiana. A stagecoach near Centerville, Illinois was driven off the road by Big Jim and one frightened passenger fled to the top of a nearby tree to avoid and further interaction with the giant viper. Because of this event, dynamite was used to blow up large sections of Rattlesnake Bluff, but Big Jim, once again, defied efforts to send him to rattlesnake heaven. In 1908, after more than a quarter of a century, there still was a rattlesnake mania north of Carmi, and all reports of snakes were attributed to the legendary serpent.

All good legends must finally come to an end, and Big Jim met his fate on the W.H. Thompson farm in southwestern Sullivan County, Indiana.  Farm hand John Bascomb discovered that a boar had the giant rattlesnake in his jaws, close enough to the head so that the snake couldn’t use its poisonous fangs. Bascomb managed to shoot the snake which measured an alarming 12-feet five inches long and had 29 rattles. Definitely a very big snake.

Big Jim may have died in the early 20th century, but it wasn't the last monster serpent to be seen in the state. The D. A. Crance family was driving next to Spy Run Creek in Fort Wayne on June 13, 1952, when they saw an 18-foot, grayish-blue snake with a head as big as a bulldog cross the road. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette nicknamed it “Pete the Python.”

Typical of other cryptid creatures, after a three-day hunt organized by Sheriff Harold Zeis, nothing was ever found of Pete the Python.

For centuries, snakes have held a special place in our mythology. Nearly every culture in the world has legends about snakes and serpents. The Bible places the serpent in the role of the bringer of knowledge and wisdom, but it is also a deceiver...a trickster. In other societies, the snake signifies power, creativity, realization and transformation. The snake is often represented as an all-powerful being with the ability to facilitate rebirth. Joseph Campbell writes in "The Power of Myth" that the serpent represents not only the dynamics of existence, but also the bondage of life with time.

Whatever the underlying meaning of the relationship with humanity and snakes, those who have witnessed the "other-worldly" versions are certain that what they saw was real, but they are left forever mystified by their experience.  


Tim Swartz is a regular contributor to Daydrifter. He is also the editor of