Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Aleza Freeman

May 20, 2024

Nevada’s monsters aren’t hiding in the closet or under our beds. They’re swimming in our lakes and lurking around the desert.

Fortunately, these mysterious beasts — like enormous water snakes, drunken wild cats, crying baby corpses, and man-eating giants — only exist in folklore.

While you’ve probably heard claims of an alien invasion at Area 51 and hauntings in pretty much every former mining town, the state is also a hotbed for urban legends about imaginary friends, most of which date back to indigenous times. Other tales of cryptids, or unknown species, were popularized by 19th-century pioneers.

Like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest and the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, sightings of some of these ominous fellows continue today, while some are remnants of the past. From elongated men with a taste for human flesh to a marshmallow-eating lake monster, here are five of the mythical creatures that allegedly call the Silver State home.

Cannibal Giants

Myths about Cannibal (or Stone) Giants can be found in Paiute folklore around the U.S. and Canada. In Nevada, there are stories about a legendary group of red-haired cannibalistic giants known as the Si-Te-Cah or Sai’i.

The myth was recorded by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, daughter of a Paiute Indian chief, in 1883. According to Nevada Traveler, she described them as “people eaters” who could catch arrows in mid-air and shoot them back at their enemies, and said they were eventually driven into a cave and suffocated to death in a fire set by her ancestors.

In 1911, these stories were substantiated when guano miners found mummified remains supposedly measuring 8 to 10 feet tall in the Lovelock Cave area, according to NDTV. More recent research, however, claims that the alleged skeletons of Giant Cannibals were probably more like 6 feet tall.

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

Tahoe Tessie

Tahoe Tessie is said to be a lake-dwelling creature who resides in the majestic Lake Tahoe, a freshwater lake that straddles Nevada and California. Some believe she lives in an underwater tunnel beneath Cave Rock, a stone formation north of Stateline, Nev., on U.S. Route 50.

Stories and sightings of Tahoe Tessie trace back to the mid-1800s and continue into modern day. According to Fandom’s Cryptid Wiki, those who claim to have seen her describe her as a large, serpentine critter, possibly the size of a bus, with smooth skin and reptilian features. Many sightings involve seeing a black hump rising from the water while others say it was turquoise.

Tahoe Tessie is quite a legend in the Tahoe area. She has been turned into a cartoon character, featured in children’s picture books. She even has her own app. Created by the University of California, Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the educational app, called Find Tahoe Tessie, allows children to use scientific knowledge to locate a cartoon version of the mythical swimmer.

The leading theory about Tahoe Tessie comes from the research center’s founder Charles R. Goldman. He believes the sightings are a case of pareidolia (similar to people seeing a recognizable face in an inanimate object) and that people are misidentifying real aquatic organisms in the lake.

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Cactus Cat

Once said to wander the deserts of Nevada, California, New Mexico, and Colorado, the Cactus Cat was described as a bobcat-like animal with thorny fur, sharp bones sticking out of its legs, and a branched tail. Reports of this cryptid, which was described as slightly larger than a normal household cat, first came from frontiersmen and cowboys in the 1800s.

The Cactus Cat wasn’t considered particularly dangerous to humans. Truth be told, this fabled feline sounds like a party animal. According to Fandom’s Cactus Cat Wiki, they emerged at night to slash open cacti with their bladelike bones and drank the inebriating sap, then stumbled around intoxicated and drunkenly wailed in the darkness.

In reality, the Cactus Cat was most likely a bobcat, mountain lion, or porcupine. As for the wailing sounds, they most likely came from pumas.

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Illustration courtesy of Margaret R. Tryon/CC0 1.0.

Water Babies

One of the largest natural lakes in Nevada and the largest remnant of the ancient Lake Lahontan, Pyramid Lake is enclosed within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation. Located 40 miles northeast of Reno, it is the only home to the world-famous Lahontan cutthroat trout, but that isn’t all. Legend says it also houses creepy spirits, known as water babies.

There are several legends about the water babies’ origins, all dating back to the Northern Paiutes, who originally inhabited the area. One way or another, the legend involves dead babies, possibly premature or ill-formed, who haunt the lake. It is said they lure unsuspecting victims by mimicking the sounds of crying babies before dragging them underwater and drowning them.

In an article about Pyramid Lake in the Granby Drummer, Mark Fiorentino describes the results of the hauntings as “calamities ranging from equipment malfunctions to boating accidents to disappearances. Some accounts say that they target fisherman, lurking just below the surface waiting for the opportunity to seize and drown those that get too close to the water.”

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Photo courtesy of Rhalden.

Cecil

With a name like Cecil, this cryptid doesn’t sound too scary. But according to legend, Walker Lake’s snake-like rascal has a head similar to a crocodile and an enormous tail covered in scales. Some have reported Cecil as being nearly 80 feet long.

Sightings of Cecil in Walker Lake — 130 miles southeast of Reno — go back many centuries, but were first recorded in 1868. In the legend handed down by the Walker River Paiute Tribe, the lake actually has two serpents who were once human beings, a man and a woman. The tribe was afraid to go out on the lake for fear of being eaten, according to an article on CarsonNow.org.

The Mineral County Independant News shared a rumor that Cecil emerges every 100 years, sometimes during a local Armed Forces event. Residents of the area advise that visitors carry marshmallows with them to the lake and toss them into the water to appease the monster and stay safe.

Cecil used to have his own float in the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City. These days he pops up in parades and at events in Hawthorne, Nev. Most recently, he made an appearance at Hawthorne’s Homecoming Parade. You can follow Cecil on Facebook, where he is named as a public figure.

Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

Photo courtesy of Cecil the Serpent via Facebook.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!Nevada’s mythical creatures: Water snakes, wild cats, & giants, oh my!

  • Aleza Freeman

    Aleza Freeman is a Las Vegas native and award-winning journalist with two decades of experience writing and editing lifestyle, travel, entertainment, and human interest stories in Nevada. Her work has appeared in AARP magazine, Haute Living and Nevada Magazine.

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