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Lyle Zapato

Horse Seized By A Devilfish

Lyle Zapato | 2013-10-22.8650 LMT | Cephalopods | Retro

Octopus attacking woman on horseback

As floridly reported in the Rock Island Argus, Jan. 3, 1903:


Desperate Plight of a Young Woman In the Mexican Gulf

THERE is a small island lying about two miles off the gulf coast, near Corpus Christi, in Texas, that can be reached when the tide is out by wading or riding a horse through the shallow water. It is a venturesome journey, and one that a man seldom makes without promising himself not to take the risk again. It is easy to maintain courage when one is near the coast or the island, but a feeling of loneliness and utter helplessness overcomes the venturer when the waves roll against the breast of his horse and the sea gulls fly about his head. He looks about over the vast expanse of water, and when he recalls that ships often pass where he rides and that whales have been stranded on that same bar and that porpoises, man eating sharks and monster devilfish are frequently seen there he makes an effort to increase the speed of his horse. Failing to impress the tired animal, he vainly endeavors to prevent his mind from occupying itself with heart thumps that can be heard above the lonesome lapping of the waves.

The island is a beautiful spot, eagerly sought by tourists, picnic parties and tired people who want to enjoy an outing. It is shaded by forest trees of luxuriant growth, from the boughs of which long strands of swaying moss depend seemingly to add the charm of gentle undulation to the surroundings in accord with the ceaseless motion of the sea. The earth is carpeted with soft Bermuda grass mingled with flowers of every hue. Countless swarms of tropical birds fill the air with song, while the wide beach is thickly strewn with curious and beautiful shells.

After a day's enjoyment in this lonely retreat a small party of young people who reside in the vicinity of Corpus Christi were preparing to return to their homes when Miss Fanny Flackman, a pretty girl who enjoys riding on horseback, concluded that it would be great fun to exchange her seat in the boat with one of the young men who had ridden a pony to the island. No one apprehended danger, as the sea was calm, and the young woman would have an escort of five or six well mounted young men at her side, and the party in the boat had promised to closely accompany her during the voyage.

Danger came in a way that had not entered their minds, and the pretty girl, after enduring terrors that would have paralyzed a less courageous mortal, narrowly escaped a horrible death.

While they were slowly journeying through the water, laughing and singing, Miss Flackman's horse suddenly threw up his head, staggering and snorting as if frightened and hurt. The young woman jerked the reins and struck the animal a sharp blow with her whip. He made a powerful lunge forward, bellowing like a wild mustang, and as he made an attempt to rear up for another plunge two long, snaky looking arms shot out of the water by the side of his head. Realizing that some monster, had attacked her horse, Miss Flackman screamed with terror, calling loudly for help.

John Sailings urged his horse speedily forward, thrusting out his hand with the intention of seizing the reins near the head of the struggling animal. Another long sucker darted upward and fastened itself in one of the rings of the bridle bit or perhaps against the nose of the horse.

Sailings was raised on the coast, and, being familiar with the denizens of the sea, he no sooner saw the slimy sucker than he recognized it as a part of a monster devilfish. While making an effort to get closer to the frightened girl the terrorized horse made a powerful struggle to shake his assailant loose, and, throwing himself upon his haunches, he reared up, dragging a portion of the body and its tangled mass of long arms out of the water.

"An octopus, a devilfish!" shouted a dozen voices as those on horseback crowded to the rescue of their companion. Miss Flackman proved to be at home in the saddle or she would have been thrown from the back of the frenzied horse. She drew herself up into the saddle and called to one of her friends to come and take her on his horse. The horses scented danger, and, though the boys were lashing them with fury and driving their spurs into their flanks, they refused to approach their struggling comrade. Only a few seconds had passed since the attack was made, but the water was churned to foam and colored with blood that was streaming from the nose and mouth of the horse. It looked as if a dozen long, slimy reptiles were fastened about the head of the furious animal. The boys in the boat, pushed the bow of their little craft close to the devilfish, and one of them began to strike it with an oar, while another made battle with a boathook. The enraged monster suddenly rose to the surface, spreading out a tangled mass of long suckers and emitting an inky fluid that colored the waters of the sea. Revolvers and guns were quickly brought into action, and the boys rained lead into the quivering mass of living deviltry, which seemed to have no further effect than to increase its rage and cause it to lash the sea with some of its arms, while others were fastened upon the struggling horse.

Finding that he could not force his horse close enough to be of service to Miss Flackman, George Judy, a valiant young rancher, drew his pocketknife and plunged into the sea. Seizing the imperiled girl about the waist, he drew her on his shoulder and was in the act of bearing her away when the floundering horse turned his head around, dragging the octopus so near that it lashed against his body and caused him to stumble. Regaining an attitude of defense, he found that an arm of the persistent devilfish was fastened about the screaming girl's ankle. His knife happened to be a good one, and a single forceful blow sufficed to sever the repulsive member of the monster's body. Other arms, vibrating with rage like the tongues of mad reptiles, shot above the convulsed waves, and in the midst of them appeared the head and great eyes of horror within a few feet of the rescuer's face. One can hardly imagine a man in a more frightful or perilous position. All the horrors of a battle and death beneath the waves as the devilfish slid along the bottom, with its victims in its grasp, toward some cavern flashed across the brave young man's mind, and he determined to make a heroic struggle to save himself and the pretty girl on his shoulders. His blade flashed, and at every stroke a tentacle fell, severed, upon the foaming sea. The monster squirmed and lashed the water, apparently little affected by the loss of several of its terrible weapons.

When the boat touched the heroic young man's side, he was almost ready to fall from exhaustion.

The horse shook the suckers loose from his nose, and as Miss Flackman and her valiant rescuer were assisted into the boat they saw the fragments of the octopus, still quivering with combativeness, slowly sinking about the hideous head and body.

(Also reprinted in The Logan Republican with a different, but not as well-composed, illustration.)

For more cephalopod vs. quadruped action, see also: The Wonderful Electric Elephant vs. Giant Octopus.

End of post.