Cryptid Profile: Rocky (The Rock Lake Terror)
In the great state of Wisconsin, approximately 20 miles east of Madison and just a couple of minutes from Lake Mills, there sits a body of water within Jefferson County, known as Rock Lake. The lake covers 1365 acres, appears to have the somewhat shape of a figure eight, and it registers 87ft at its deepest. From the surface, Rock Lake appears to look like any other body of water in the state, but below the surface, the hidden secrets become known.
Deep below the surface, there are what appear to be underwater “pyramids” that many people believe were built by ancient peoples who once called Wisconsin home, more specifically, during a time when the lake was nearly dry. Researchers lean towards the possibility of the Mississippian Culture being responsible for the mounds (also called pyramids) underwater, their culture once stretched from the east coast to the Midwest and up towards Canada. But the mysterious mounds aren’t the only thing that dwells below the surface, many feel that a lake monster also calls this place home.
The Rock Lake Monster, who would later become known as Rocky, was first spotted in the lake in 1867. A man by the name of Harbeck claimed to have seen a large lizard swimming in the lake, and at one point, he said to have encountered it on land. Harbeck stated that the serpent was hidden within large reeds and vegetation along the shore and as he walked by (he must have startled it), the creature’s head rose up, it hissed at him, and it quickly made its way back into the water. Other witnesses at the time reported seeing a large and thick creature that resembled a serpent swimming under the surface of the water. The mystery animal was known to occasionally break the surface of the water and hiss aggressively at onlookers who were close to the shoreline.
Near the end of the 1870s, a man by the name of R. Hassman spoke of how he encountered the beast as it was holding stationary close to the shoreline. Hassman stated that he took notice of what appeared to be a large tree limb floating on the water’s surface, but as he examined the object closer, he could see it was in fact alive. Frightened by the sheer size of the creature, Hassman did what any scared onlooker would do, he proceeded to stab it with his sharpened walking stick. Rocky suddenly sprang to life and thrashed about, Hassman reached out to grab the makeshift spear in an attempt to hold the monster but his attempts proved useless. The serpentine monster dove back under the water and made its way towards the middle of the lake. After his account of what happened, Hassman is quoted as saying, “I could no more hold it than I could hold an ox.”
While the 1870’s encounter is quite amazing, the most famous sighting/interaction with Rocky though took place in 1882. Two men by the names of Ed McKenzie and D.W. Seybert had challenged one another to a race in their rowboats, first one across the lake wins. As the men raced towards the other side, one of them noticed what appeared to be the large trunk of a fallen tree floating across the surface and into their path. The two men slowed their speed but continued to float towards what they assumed to be nothing more than a log when suddenly, a large neck and head rose up nearly three feet out of the water, opened its mouth wide, and hissed in their direction. The monster dove back down into the murky silt-filled water and disappeared, the men were left scared and alone in the middle of the lake. Without warning, the large head and long neck broke the surface of the water yet again, but this time it was right next to McKenzie’s boat. The obviously terrified man began to yell, “Bring a gun! There’s a big thing out here! Come quick and bring a gun!” as loud as he could in hopes that someone on shore would hear him. Seybert took up an oar from his boat and began to swing at the creature and slap the water in an attempt to drive it back below the surface.
Eventually, John Lund heard the shouts for help and saw what was taking place in the middle of the lake. He scrambled to gather up a group of men who were also onshore and they all jumped into an available boat that was tied up and began to make their way to the two men who were currently keeping the large creature at bay. As the group got closer to the incident that was taking place, a man in the boat by the name of Wilson raised his shotgun and took aim at the creature. As if knowing what was about to occur, Rocky turned its head towards the third boat, showed its teeth, let out a loud hiss, and dove back into the depths of Rock Lake. Wilson kept his gun pointed towards the water in preparation for Rocky’s return, but the creature never resurfaced. Realizing that it would be in their best interest to vacate the lake immediately, the three rowboats quickly made their way back to shore. The men scanned the water for any sign of the beast, but Rocky would not be seen for the rest of the day.
After the encounter of 1882, sightings of Rocky became few and far between, but that doesn’t mean the Rock Lake Terror was gone, many believe he simply moved to another lake not far away. A few miles away from Rock Lake is Red Cedar Lake, a lake that many people believe is partially fed by Rock Lake via a connecting underground stream. In 1890, farmers around Red Cedar began to report sightings of a serpentine beast swimming around in the lake. But it wasn’t until a local pig farmer reported that a creature resembling a 20ft serpent grabbed one of his hogs off the shoreline in its jaws and pulled it back under the water. People soon realized that Rocky more than likely found a new home with an abundant food source. The monster was said to have gone on a rampage along the shores of Red Cedar Lake and snatched up any livestock that ventured within grabbing distance. The partially devoured remains of cattle, sheep, and pigs were often found the next day floating near the surface or washed up on the shore. In 1892, a farmer by the name of William Ward reported that five of his sheep had been snatched by a monster and dragged back into the lake over the course of one night. Rocky’s presence soon became such an issue that local residents closed up their cottages and fled the area. But then all of a sudden, the attacks stopped and Rocky disappeared.
Many people started to think that Rocky, the Monster of Rock Lake, had died. Sightings were almost non-existent and those who had claimed to see the monster could give no other details besides possibly seeing a large shape below the surface. People were relieved that the monster was gone, or so they thought. Almost 50yrs would pass before a new sighting of Rocky would make waves around Rock Lake. In July of 1943, 15yr old Joseph Davis was fishing on Rock Lake when he started to notice wakes rolling on the water. Confused about where the wake was coming from, Joseph stared out at the water in hopes of finding its source. Suddenly, almost 20ft away from his boat, the large body of an unknown creature rose up from below the surface. Joseph watched as the brownish-black creature slowly moved through the water and he waited for it to show its head. But oddly enough, the monster never lifted its neck to show its head and let out its signature hiss. The large torso at the surface (almost 7ft exposed) slowly arched forward and sunk back down beneath the dark water, never to be seen again.
The 1943 sighting would be the last time anyone saw the Rocky, the Rock Lake Terror. It is believed that the creature had died to old age or some unknown ailment.
So, was Rocky real? Depends on who you ask. Native American legends from the Ho-Chunk tribe within the area of the Rock River (not far from Rock Lake) did speak of a terrible monster that lived within the river. A creature that was said to have a huge head, “wide jaws filled with many teeth, and a body that looked like a serpent. They spoke of how animals that were drinking at the edge of the water were often snatched by the jaws of the creature and swallowed whole. Many tribes even believed that there were several of these monstrous creatures calling the Rock River home and they would often dump offerings of tobacco and other objects into the water to appease the creature’s wrath.
Now, I do not live too far from the Rock River, in fact, it pretty much runs right through my city (Janesville, WI). I have personally never seen any large serpentine creatures within the murky river water, but I can understand how one could think that a monster could be down there. The river is incredibly dark and you cannot see anything at the bottom of it, it is fast-moving, it is a tributary of the Mississippi River, and it runs for over 299 miles. Oddly enough though, alligators have been found within the waters of the Rock River before, some even in Janesville. One was discovered frozen in 1892 a measured almost 6ft, a 3ft gator was found sunning itself on the banks of the river in October 2005, a 4ft gator was found in the water in September 2007, and a 2ft gator was discovered in the river in December 2011.
So who knows, if out of place alligators keep showing up in Wisconsin for some reason, it might not be that unbelievable for a large serpentine creature to call this great state its home as well. Perhaps it was one of these mystery gators that managed to make its way into Rock Lake all the way back in 1867 and everyone just assumed it was a lake serpent out of fear. Maybe Rocky really does exist and one day it will make another appearance. Maybe these are just nothing but good stories passed down from generation to generation and they have since taken on a life of their own. Who knows?
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google