New Mexico River Serpent

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on February 12th, 2007

Mike Smith writes of the legend of a New Mexico River Serpent on his blog My Strange New Mexico.

When it comes to tales of enormous and legendary amphibians, Scotland boasts its elusive mascot in the waters of Loch Ness, China shares rumors of a gorge-dwelling creature that chases fishermen, and South Africa reports fearfully on a half-horse/half-fish that keeps eating people’s faces.

New Mexico, you might think, should have nothing.

New Mexico shouldn’t even enter such conversation, and yet New Mexico has Avanyu.

One object of worship for the former residents of Pecos Pueblo was said to be an enormous snake—a serpent god named Avanyu, the Plumed Water Snake—a terrifying, man-eating demigod that lived in a hole beneath the pueblo. Some accounts say it lived solely on live human babies, which it feasted on about once a month, though others say it also devoured the tribe’s sick and dying.

The size of the snake varied with every account of it. In Death Comes for the Archbishop, a 1927 novel containing a version of the legend, author Willa Cather intimated that the snake was generally kept nearby in the Santa Fe Mountains and carried down by torch-light, in a heavy chest, for ceremonies. Most other accounts, however, say the snake was prehistorically gigantic—huge enough that it left a track like a small arroyo, and that whenever it slept underground, the earth would seem to rise and fall.

The legend of Avanyu, the giant snake, grew far beyond the walls of Pecos Pueblo. According to Art Latham’s Lost in the Land of Enchantment, the snake entered Hispanic folklore when what would later turn out to be a dinosaur skeleton was discovered in a sandstone wall near Ghost Ranch, seventy miles northwest, and thought to be the snake’s remains. And in his 1844 Commerce of the Prairies, Josiah Gregg wrote, “The story of this wonderful serpent was so firmly believed by so many ignorant people, that on one occasion I heard an honest ranchero assert, that upon entering the village very early on a winter’s morning, he saw the huge trail of the reptile in the snow, as large as that of a dragging ox.”Mike Smith

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

9 Responses to “New Mexico River Serpent”

  1. lastensugle responds:

    It must have been hard for the population of a village, to provide a baby every single month!

  2. fredfacker responds:

    I’ve often wondered how many legends originated from early cultures discovering dinosaur fossils.

  3. UKCryptid responds:

    In my village the teens are breeding faster than rabbits so it wouldn’t have been a problem to provide the serpent with food if it were here 🙂
    Mind you it does say in all fairness it was also thought to eat the sick and dying. Anyway, besides all that, this is an interesting bit of folklore, probably not to be taken literally but interesting no doubt. All myths and legends are born from something, perhaps a large snake merely terrified these villagers (as they still do today) due to not understanding the creature as a biological entity rather than a ‘demigod’.

  4. UKCryptid responds:

    fredfacker, yes i agree, finding huge bones, teeth etc must have been very scarey for people not sure on their origins.

  5. Phoenix responds:

    Actually, they had a show about how a lot of the Greek legends may be based on finding ancient fossils on one of the science channels. For example, the original stories of griffins had them guarding some gold mines, and sure enough one of the ancient gold mines had the fossils of one of the triceratops-style dinosaurs (no horns), where the skeleton would have the bird-like beak, quadruped skeleton, and the bones from the neck-frill could look like wings. Mammoth skulls would have fairly small eye sockets on the side, and a huge hole in the center of the ‘face’ for the trunk/nasal cavity, hence the cyclops. Dragons are pretty easy to explain, obviously. Giants were from finding the leg bones of mammoths or dinos, and thinking they were gigantic human leg bones.

  6. Mnynames responds:

    Phoenix is referring to Protoceratops, regarding the Griffin legends. Specifically, the Griffins were said to line their nests with gold, which were greatly prized by local tribes of Pygmies (The original use of the term, I believe. Early accounts place them in Scythia and far Asia, where the fossil sites are located. Later accounts move them to Ethiopia). The fossilization process of the Protoceratops and specifically their numerous nest sites (the first dino eggs ever found, discovered by the famed Indiana Jones-like paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews) apparently acted something like a strainer, collecting gold deposits, meaning that nests of strange, beaked creatures could be found that contained gold. Fossils were also commonly found in early excavations of ancient Greek temples, but oddly, were seldom preserved.

  7. sschaper responds:

    Sounds like a large mudpuppy-like amphibian. And reminds me of central American stories of feathered serpents and human sacrifice.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Very interesting little account. I wonder what kind of fossil it was that they found?

  9. U.T. Raptor responds:

    “Actually, they had a show about how a lot of the Greek legends may be based on finding ancient fossils on one of the science channels”
    There are also at least two fairly in-depth books (one on primarily Greece and Rome, the other on the Americas) on the subject, which I recommend reading…

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