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The mysterious sea serpent of Wyoming

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Headlights swallowed in fog, we arrived at Lake DeSmet in north-central Wyoming on the cries of legend, banshee winds hurling sleet like buckshot against the side of our travel trailer. We trolled up and down the Mikesell-Potts Recreation Area, deserted now in the prelude to winter, before unhitching in a site partially sheltered by a naked and scrawny hedgerow. A single transmission line sagged high above the tiny shoreline campground, and between gusts, one could hear the slithering current, like alien tendrils spilling from the mothership, metallic and eerie beneath the hazy orange cone of a lonely street light.

Rumors start here. Of men. Of monsters. Since the turn of the 20th century, reports of a great sea serpent at Lake DeSmet, perhaps two, have circulated amongst the locals, the lore of both white settlers and natives alike. “Smetty,” some call it today, similar to his better-known colleague “Nessie” in the Scottish Highlands. In his 1925 book Locating the Iron Trail, author and railroad surveyor Edward Gillette — namesake of Gillette, Wyo. — recounted his interaction with the Barkeys, a nearby ranch family, after their first sighting.

“They were all very much excited, stating that they wished I had arrived half an hour earlier as they had seen two sea serpents which had made a great commotion in the water, and swam as fast as a horse could trot,” Gillette wrote. “Upon asking them to describe these animals as accurately as possible, Mrs. Barkey stated that ‘they looked…

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