I’m a lake rat. I wasn’t born that way or anything, I just developed into one. A lake rat, by my definition, is someone who likes to be on, in and near water. Anywhere will do, as long as it allows for motorized boats. I’m not much into paddling, but I’ve done it on occasion.
My first lake experiences were at Lake DeSmet in northern Wyoming. Not a long season for water sport there as you might imagine. The lake is man-made. See, God didn’t make us enough lakes so we had to make some of our own to take our boats on. You find a river or creek, condemn all the property that will be flooded, you build a dam, the water starts to back up, and presto you have a lake. DeSmet is one of them. Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Shasta, I could go on, are all man-made lakes. Most of them are created as reservoirs for nearby towns and cities, but the more important result is that swimming, water-skiing, boating, and fishing are now available.
Lake DeSmet was named after Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet a Jesuit missionary from Belgium who brought Christianity to the “heathen” Indians. It is said that he traveled 180,000 miles in 30 years in his dedication to serving America’s Indian population. He had such a good rapport with them, he was used by the Federal Government to negotiate treaties, treaties of which he didn’t approve. I was told that he was killed and scalped by the Indians, but that is obviously not true. He died in 1873 in Missouri from illnesses that plagued him most of his life. There is an iron plaque on a stone marker commemorating Father DeSmet on a turnout overlooking the lake.
Lake DeSmet was rumored to have it’s very own “sea serpent” for a good while. They even sent a team of divers into the lake back in the 60s to look for some sign of it. The only problem, and the reason the myth persists to this day, is you can’t really get to the bottom of the lake because of all the underwater vegetation. You can’t really call it “seaweed”, but it’s the same thing. If you don’t believe me about the Lake DeSmet Sea Serpent, check out this link: Wyoming Folklore I don’t make everything up. In 1939 they supposedly caught the sea monster, but when they dragged the body to shore it exploded so there was no evidence. Something about water pressure or air pressure on the carcass. There have been pictures taken of the Sea Serpent published in the Sheridan Press. Probably taken by fisherman that had a little too much to drink, taking pictures of a floating log or tree branch. But no actual evidence of the monster exists.
I heard a story about some industrious college students from the University of Wyoming building a sort of mock sea serpent one summer. They launched it in the lake the summer of 1967, I think. It was built on a canoe in a kind of sideways “S” shape and these guys would paddle the contraption around a cove. It resembled a large snake with a dragon head floating on the surface. They spent a good part of the summer terrorizing fisherman that had nipped at the Jim Beam all afternoon or slammed down the cold ones. Scared the hell out of some of them. But a good majority of these innocent anglers kept it to themselves. Still the paper published stories of sightings and warnings to stay away from the lake until it was deemed safe again. Of course the place was packed every weekend.
One lucky tourist had the good fortune of capturing the monster on film and sold it to the paper for a size-able sum, enough to pay off his repair bill at the local Chevy dealer where he had abandoned his car. The photo was kind of blurry and hard to distinguish, but if you studied it real good, it sure enough looked like a sea serpent. I forgot to mention that the sea serpent canoe was only put in the water late in the evening so photography was difficult. Eyewitness reports put the creature anywhere from six feet to 40 feet in length. Some confirmed it breathed fire, and others said it made a horrible roaring sound. It did neither.
Dan Dryer’s father put an end to the fun when he roped the beast from the bow of Randy Finnelly’s dad’s boat. He was sitting on the bow of the boat in his cowboy boots and swimming trunks swinging a rope over his head. It was dark and they shouldn’t have been on the lake in the first place. Finnelly guided the boat in and Dreyer made the perfect throw. The rope was tied off to the starboard rail, and when Finnelly reversed the engine, the rope tightened and ripped the suckers head right off revealing the two college students who were struggling to paddle away. Dryer and Finnelly were also allegedly rip-roaring drunk at the time.
I picked up the nearest weapon I could find, a large stick, and rushed off in the direction of the outhouse where Randy’s sister, Carey, had just let out one of her famous blood-curdling screams. I got the weapon because what she screamed was “RATTLER.”
Now rattlesnakes are found around here often enough, but they are not known to frequent the outhouses by the lake. This one probably happened on the cool concrete floor of the outhouse and thought he had found the perfect spot to spend a hot August afternoon. Rattlesnakes like to be in the shade. There he was, coiled up right inside the door, rattling his tail menacingly. You would too if you were a snake and Carey had damn near stepped on you.
Carey had retreated a good distance away and was standing with her arms wrapped around herself shifting from one foot to the other because, well, she still had to pee. The snake hadn’t helped her condition either.
She was two years older than Randy and me. Randy had been my second-best friend since second grade, and they owned a boat. I spent a few of my summers getting second-degree burns from too much exposure to UV light.
Carey wasn’t exactly stunningly beautiful, but she was the closest thing to a “Playboy” centerfold that we had. At 15 she had one major attribute. She was, shall we say, well-endowed. You could do “Shakespeare” from that balcony.
(To Be Continued….)