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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Plesiosaur at Laguna Negra (Plesiosaur Lake), Epuyen. Part 3.

 

This is the third and last post on this strange creature.

III. The expedition

To head the expedition, Onelli’s chose his friend Emilio Frey who had worked with him on the Border Commission. The team also included José María Cinaghi, the Zoo’s administrator, its taxidermist, Alberto Merkle; Associated Press correspondent, Mr. Estrella; freelance reporter of Caras y Caretas Magazine, Dr. Vaccari and Mr. Santiago Andueza, a champion target shooter.

On their way

They set out on March 22, 1922 and soon arrived at Bariloche, where they stayed for a while. It was there that Frey wrote about a creature seen at lake Huechulafquen (see our post on Huechulito Here):

many times I heard respectable neighbors of Junín de los Andes say […] that in the Lake Huachi-Lauquen, at dusk, an animal often appears on its surface, which has more or less the same features of the one that is said to have been seen in Esquel. Very long neck, lizard head, body that must be enormous, because when it submerges it produces a sort of “boiling” in the waters.[1]

After leaving Bariloche, they arrived at Sheffield’s cabin on April 21, where they met his wife and children but not him, he was absent, and would be so for the remainder of the expedition.

Eager to get started he had Sheffield’s son, José take them to the place where the beast had last been seen. The track was:

quite erased; it must have been 30 cm wide [1 ft]. There have been no tracks of the animal since then, which is strange, because according to a statement of the lady [Ms. Sheffield] only 20 days ago Juan had again seen the mysterious animal. [1]

They explored the tiny lake finding it was very shallow – not deeper than 5 m (16.4 ft.). They threw dynamite into it and found nothing, not even pejerrey (silverside) fish, abundant in Epuyén River. Could the beast have eaten all of the lakes’ fish? Had it moved on?

Frey believed that the animal had left the tiny lake and swam downstream to Lake Puelo via Epuyén River. They widened their search to explore them, finding nothing. Frey was not discouraged because the local people “firmly believe in the existence of this strange animal”.

Sheffield somehow got the news to the US where Professor Brewster Loomis, a paleontologist of Amherst College, who had been in Patagonia back in 1911, was quoted in the New York Times as skeptically stating that while in Patagonia he too had heard stories of monsters which he disregarded because “the imaginative native might see anything”.[2]

The lack of any positive results and the arrival of winter led the team to postpone further exploration until the following summer. It was then that Leonard Matters in the July 1922 issue of Scientific American concluded that the plesiosaur “if it ever existed, appears to have fled to parts unknown”.

The expedition officially called off at the end of the following summer, on April 23, 1923. Onelli remained Director of the Zoo until his untimely death in 1924.

IV. Aftermath

But, what did Mr. Sheffield actually see, that is, if he saw anything?

Actually, he saw nothing, just some tracks; it was his daughter Juana who saw the creature with her brother Teddy.

According to Juana, when she was 10 or 12 years old, she saw a “big creature” and told her father.[1] He too had seen the tracks close to the lake where they usually hunted ducks; “the tracks were wide, but it seemed that [the creature] had short legs”.[3]

In an interview back in the 1970s she added that it “did not have a head or a tail, it looked like a [tree] trunk”;[4] later, in 1995, aged 85, she gave a more detailed account and told that it was not her father, but she who first saw the creature’s tracks.

They resembled “cart tracks”, which surprised them as they were in the soft ground of a “mallín” (bog) by the lake. It seemed to them that something heavy had dragged itself through the plants. She believed that these were “paw marks” and that the creature that made them had a long body and short legs and “where it passed with its belly or body it squashed the small plants”.[5]

She recalled that by the lake something frightened their dog and they noticed tracks that went into the lake and surfaced on the other shore, she also saw something:

half red, half yellowish, nearly the color of leather sole. The animal’s fur was like hairs or feathers. They looked like hairs. We did not see its tail or head. We saw the part of its torso. It was lying there, sleeping in the sun […] That animal walked over a dead cow and did nothing to it; apparently it did not eat meat[5]

It was not restricted to the lake, because she later saw it on a backwater of the Epuyén River, it was hunting fish; she heard a sound like a howling calf and saw the beast: “on a cliff, […] and the fish boiled above in the water […] the noise came from there. The animal howled like a two year old calf”.[5]

Closing comments

This article is just a summary of my book’s chapter on this interesting subject. Considering it is a blog, I have tried to keep the post as short as possible.

After reading Juana Sheffield’s remarks on the beast, it is clear that the animal was a mammal.

Its physical appearance is very similar to other cryptids reported in the region (i.e. Colhue Huapi creature).

Long body and short legs are definitively otter-like. A large otter.
A scary one too (her dog was afraid of it).

Could it have been Muster’s water tiger? Its yellowish hair is similar to what Musters described as the tiger’s fur color.

What we can be sure of is that it was not a plesiosaur. Onelli was right, the creature was a mammal. Though I don't think that it was a surviving mylodon (Onelli's theory).

Part 1 of this post is Here.
Part 2 is Here.

Bibliography.

[1] Juárez, F. Historias patagónicas. Online.
[2] The New York Times, (1922). New York. US 11.03.1922.
[3] Gavirati, M., (2001). Galería de Personajes Patagónicos: Martín Sheffield. El gaucho yanqui. La Bítacora Patagónica, Año 4, N° 16. Invierno 2001.
Also: Gavirati, M. Patagonia Histórica. Martin Sheffield: el gaucho yanqui. Entrevista con Juana Sheffield, 11-1995.
[4] Juárez, F., (2000). La historia de la magia. La Nación. B. Aires, Argentina. 09.01.2000.
[5] Matamala, J., (2001). Martin Sheffield Sheriff en la Patagonia. Testimonios. Online.



Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

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