An April Fool Lie

Readers of the Omaha Daily Bee on April 2, 1885, must have been astounded to learn of the sighting of a gigantic serpent in the Missouri River near Omaha. The Bee‘s improbable tale included a frightening description of the creature, supposedly spotted the previous day:

“Close inspection (with spy glass) disclosed the fact that it was about fifty feet in length, with a skin very black and covered with scales, each about two feet in superficial area, of an ellipsoidal form, and with a color, which may be described as a light cerulean. Toward the head, the body tapered down considerably, so that at the base of the animal’s skull the thickness did not exceed five feet. Two upright ears, of about eighteen inches length, a cavernous and ivory-bedecked mouth, huge glassy eyes of a flaming red completed the main features of the beast’s head. The tail of the animal was about three feet in length, without the blue color, and traversed up and down by finny bars, and terminating in an arrangement something like a Maltese cross.”

The Bee reported the approach of the huge river serpent with a series of timed bulletins. By 12:30 p.m. the creature had reached the foot of Davenport Street. “He is heading toward the shore. People are becoming alarmed and are rushing for gallery seats. 1:05 P.M. The river serpent is still clearing the shore. The excitement is 300 proof. Spectators frantic.

“2:00 P.M.-The river beast is now encaged between the piers of the [Union Pacific] bridge. The Union Pacific has sent a special wrecking train to the spot to remove the debris of the structure as soon as it shall fall.

“2:30 P.M.-The meranguthaneum giganteum [serpent] is still flattened in between the stone piers. It is beginning to grunt-noise something like a cross between the tone of a homesick foghorn and the ‘Last Rose of Summer’ as rendered by the U.P. band. The beast is evidently in great pain. Horrible things are anticipated, and

“3:20 P.M.-The river serpent is beginning to flounder terribly. The demolition of the bridge is expected momentarily. The timbers begin to creak, the stone foundations are tottering, the whole structure is about to-

“4:00 P.M.-This is an ‘April Fool’ lie.”


Another fictional Nebraska creature, the Walgren Lake Monster, is mentioned in Old Jules by Mari Sandoz. Line drawing from Nebraska State Historical Society Library Collection.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast.

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.