The Dog-Serpent of Twin Lakes Village
by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today contributor
A beast green like the slimy wash on the underside of a boat, with black eyes “encircled with a rim of red” and a mouth “filled with glistening fangs.”
For more than a century words like these have circled around Lake County referring to a Loch Ness-ian monster who allegedly inhabits the Twin Lakes Reservoir. It is a creature of varying reported size who makes a periodic journey from its subterranean rest to appear above the surface at the audience of select townsfolk, if only to inspire continued fear of its legend. Tales of anchors being dropped into the lake only to be swept off in an underwater current to unknown depths has led to rumors of the creature’s home below the lakes. No photos have yet been taken of this grisly abomination, only stories have been told:
“The reported appearance of a marine monster in Twin Lakes revives a bit of strange and undoubted history. In the summer of 1881 a young man named Herman Wolf, and a boy whose identity has passed out of recollection, were fishing late one evening in the lower lake. Several people were watching them from the bank, when Wolf, who was rowing, suddenly dropped the oars, and, rising to an erect position, began to walk backwards out of the boat, his eyes fixed on the water in front of him, and an expression of speechless terror on his face. As he rose, the boy, who was seated in the stern, looked over his shoulder, and leaping up, sprang with outstretched arms after his companion. Both disappeared at once and did not rise, and although the spot was carefully searched, the bodies to this day have never been recovered.” [Carbonate Chronicle, 6-1884]
Here’s another story with a more vivid description of the beast:
. . . James Powell, a miner and prospector, who lives close to the Twin Lakes house, was walking with a party of several, armed with fishing poles, near the shore of the lower lake, when their attention was attracted by an unusual commotion in the water several hundred yards out. As they looked they were appalled and bewildered to see a GIGANTIC HEAD rise from the surface. They stood petrified with amazement and terror as a neck fully twenty feet long reared itself out of the waters and poised there for a moment. The contour of the monster was that of a colossal serpent… During this time it was seen not only by the fishing party whose attention it originally attracted, but by several other people near the bank of the lake, who fully corroborate the description given.” [Orth Stein, 1884]
These tales, while ominous, give no indication to the legend’s origin. Some hunting through the annals of local history uncovers the first story ever recorded on the subject, from that summer of 1881. On a Monday afternoon, a man named Hulbert was walking the edge of the upper lake when he sighted a thrashing beast in the water. After racing back into the village, and only a half-hour of convincing entreaty, several townsfolk agreed to accompany Hulbert to the place of the disturbance.
“To the afrighted Twin Lakers [its head] seemed as big as a cracker box, and of a vividly green color… It was like to nothing in the heavens above or the earth below, and as it seemed to be heading directly their way, the spectators did not tarry any longer, but made some of the best time on record out of the vicinity. Between the spot where the monster appeared and the village, the terrible head grew to at least four times its original dimensions, and the description they gave it was fearful and wonderful in the extreme.”
In short order a small army of twenty men and boys armed with rifles made their way to the water’s edge, and carefully approaching began to throw sticks and stones into the water. Evidence of the creature’s thrashing was visible, but they could not incite an appearance. They deliberated the truth of Hulbert’s claims, and even considered throwing Hulbert into the lakes to settle the matter, as either it would bait the monster and encourage an appearance, or would serve as his punishment for such a crafty ruse; but instead the band of warriors turned home, the matter still a shrouded in mystery. It’s where the story reaches its conclusion that we get the first solid hint at the true nature of the beast:
“Meanwhile a shock had been preparing for their nervous systems, at the village. They had not been gone more than five or ten minutes before a strange creature wandered in. It required a scrutinizing glance to recognize it as a big New Foundland dog that had been disfigured in some extraordinary manner… It seems that a gigantic but superannuated canine that had passed its days of usefulness and basked for months at the village store, had been enticed to the bank of the lake by a couple of Twin Lakes humorists. Here he had been tied while they applied a coat of green paint to his head, touching up the eyes with a few artistic strokes of vermillion. The result is better imagined than described.
It was their original intention to create a consternation among the villagers by simply turning the animal loose, but a far more brilliant idea struck one of the wags. It was immediately acted upon, and the luckless dog taken to the bank of the lake. A rope was attached to one of its legs, a big stone fastened to the other end, and the animal anchored far enough out in the water to permit only its head emerging. In this melancholy condition it was left, while one of the jokers gave the alarm. At the time the crowd rushed to see the monster, however, the dog’s frantic efforts had succeeded in breaking the detaining cord and rushed out of the chilling waters. The denouement took place as soon as the gang got back, and the village saloon did a thriving business for the next ten minutes. So ended what bid fair to be the biggest item ever gleaned in the locality.” [Carbonate Chronicle, 9-10-1881, R386]
And thus the first account of the Dog-Serpent of Twin Lakes comes to an end. It becomes a cautionary tale for domestic animals of that region for the lengths Twin Lakers are willing to go for a good gaff. Though people have continued to report sightings of the creature, they are more careful now about who they tell, for fear of enticing the wrath of a far greater beast, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Leadville Today Contributor Brennan Ruegg swims only in shallow water.