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History with Phil: Montana has its own legendary monsters
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History with Phil: Montana has its own legendary monsters

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Did you know that in addition to “Nessie” — the famous Loch Ness Monster in Scotland — there are many similar lake monsters in this country?

Lake Erie has Bessie, Chessie lives in Chesapeake Bay, New York has Champ, Nebraska has the Alkali Lake Monster, Tessie lives in Lake Tahoe, and Caddy can be found off the coast of Oregon. Not to be outdone, Montana has its own lake monster — the Flathead Lake Monster also known affectionately as “Flessie” by local residents.

Flessie was first seen by over 100 passengers aboard a steamboat in 1889, described as an unusually large whale-like creature. Other sightings since then have described the creature as being similar to a sturgeon or, most commonly, a serpent. Eyewitnesses have given her length as anywhere from 20 to 40 feet. Many of these accounts describe her as an eel-like creature with steely black eyes.

Even though she is often called a lake monster, by all accounts she presents no danger. In fact, quite the opposite.

A 2017 newspaper article titled “Lake creature saves tot’s life” depicted Flessie’s supposed rescue of a three-year-old boy. The child, who could not swim, was found soaking wet at the end of a dock. When asked what had happened, he stated that he had fallen into the water, and that a monster had lifted him back up.

Around Flathead Lake, there are several murals and statues in her honor. She has even invaded the food world, as the Cove in Polson has an 18-inch pizza named after her. Despite her fame, Flessie remains an elusive figure, one that only occasionally makes her presence known.

Another of Montana’s supposed mysterious creatures is Shunka Warak’in, the beast with a hard to pronounce name. According to a Native American legend, the creature would sneak into camps to gobble up dogs. “Shhuhnkha Warahwalkin” means “carries off dogs” in the Ioway language.

This monster has been described as looking like a wolf with high shoulders but with a back that slopes downward like a hyena’s. But, what makes this cryptoid unique is that it was killed, stuffed, and put on display.

In 1896, Israel Hutchins of Madison County encountered an unusual wolf-like creature which he dubbed “Ringdocus.” In his son's memoirs, Elliot describes the night his father killed the beast with a single rifle bullet, bringing a quick end to the creature.

Like many a hunter, Hutchins took the remains to a local taxidermist. The finished product was then put on display just across the Idaho border; there it remained for nearly a century. But sometime in the 1980s, it went missing. In 2007, the stuffed remains were tracked down by Hutchins’ grandson, Jack Kirby, and returned to Montana.

Over the years since Hutchins killed the creature, there have been reports of a similar wolf-like animal roaming the West and Midwest. In 2005 and 2006, the deaths of more than 120 Montana livestock were attributed to an animal nicknamed the “Creature of McCone County.” However, DNA confirmed that the “Creature of McCone County” was actually a domesticated wolf that had been turned loose.

Surprisingly, Hutchin’s Shunka Warak’in remains has never undergone DNA testing. According to Jack Kirby, it may be more interesting to preserve the mystery than solving it. During an interview in 2007, he rhetorically asked, “Do we really want to know?” Probably not.

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