This year, the fan-favorite Cecil the Serpent of Walker Lake returned to Carson City for the first time in decades to participate in the Nevada Day parade.
History of the Beast
Let the residents of Scotland have bragging rights to the Loch Ness Monster because the citizens of Mineral County know that we have our own celebrity living right here.
Many believe that the Walker Lake Serpent came to be in the 1960’s but that is far from the truth. Stories handed down by generations of Native Americans report of two living in Walker Lake, being of human form; one man, one woman. Children were told not to make fun of them.
Other legend talks of when Lake Lahontan began to dry up and a pair of serpents were forced apart. The male made his way to what would become Walker Lake and the female made her way to Sand Mountain outside of Fallon. Legend states that when the drifting sands of the dunes begin, it is the lady serpent whimpering for her beloved.
Many Native Americans have called the serpent — Toagwa.
From Native American folklore to the first European explorers to make their way to the West, reports of a large monster lying on the banks of Walker Lake have been documented in newspapers throughout Nevada.
The first reports of such came in a letter from Reuben Strathers to the Esmeralda Union on Oct. 3, 1868. It stated that he and a friend had killed a monster on Mt. Brawley near Aurora.
The animal had a head in shape not unlike that of the crocodile, with fore-feet near the neck, a tail of enormous length, which lay perfectly quiet, with only the body-part moving. Its body was said to be covered in scales, glistening in the morning sun.
The party shot arrows at the animal and killed it. As they approached the unknown animal, “The stench became overpowering and sickly,” and they estimated the length at fifty-six feet.
Before Mineral County was carved out of Esmeralda County, residents began to claim homesteads at Walker Lake. The editor of the Walker Lake Bulletin began publishing accounts of a monster on Aug. 1, 1883. He stated that the Native Americans who were encamped by the lake “were awakened by a horrible soul-shrieking screech. Looking out, they plainly discerned two monster serpents fighting. The battle continued for some time and finally extended to dry land, where one of the ghoul reptiles was seriously wounded.”
His version began years of stories in a variety of newspapers. The Reno Evening Gazette would report in 1909 that, “You cannot hire an Indian to go out into the lake any distance.” The Native Americans like those who frequent the lake today, probably know of the treacherous waves that come rolling in from the north.
Jack McCloskey, a past editor of the Mineral County Independent and Hawthorne News would also write about the fabled sea serpent, calling her Sallie.
He printed a picture of the serpent wound up in a rock cave and mentioned, “It is know that there are underground springs feeding into the lake and it is common belief that there is an underground outlet.” This outlet is the connection between Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake that so many speak of.
To date, it is as fabled as the serpent, himself.
In August of 1930, a serpent was verified by many habitants of Mineral County, as members of the American Legion Post of Hawthorne manufactured a serpent with the aid of boats and materials to greet delegates to the Legion convention.
With the help of then prominent citizens such as Walter McKeough, Al Hughes, Harvey Dondero, Arlen Boerlin and Donald Grant, a water pageant was staged at Navy Beach telling the old traditions of the sea serpent.
The story would play out that a young Native American woman would be given as a sacrifice to the serpent due to the tribe having suffered severely from drought. The chief would call on Lahontan, the spirit of the water, for his counsel. Lahontan called to their negligence of the spirits during the times of plenty and told them of the old customs and their fathers making sacrifices to the serpent.
The serpent would disappear for some time after that first initial sacrifice, but would later resurface, just like the tales.
May 1964 would see the resurfacing of “Cecil the Serpent”. A large floating creature that was much like he is today in structure but was painted black with psychedelic polka dots of many colors.
He caught on fire in 1966 due to some overzealous fireworks.
After his close call with fire gods, Cecil decided it would be best to ‘land lock’ himself.
Once on land, Cecil has become a main parade attraction each year. Powered by a 1966 Department of the Navy cargo pickup that had been wrecked at the base,Cecil was constructed by depot employees from wire, burlap and fiberglass.
He now graces Armed Forces Day parades and each Mineral County High School Serpent Homecoming game with his large 90-foot frame.
On Oct. 31, 1965, he stole the hearts of many Nevadans as he slithered his way down the streets of Carson City in his first Nevada Day celebration where he won both the Governor’s Revolving Trophy and the Community Trophy. The smoke breathing serpent has delighted many people and citizens who have been able to bring their children back to Hawthorne each third weekend of May to enjoy the sights and sounds of Cecil from their childhood.
Known to put fear into the hearts of many children and dogs alike, Cecil once again graced the Nevada Day Parade with his low, eerie moans and his smoke breathing nostrils.
Now a senior citizen, Cecil was in need of some major upkeep and with the help of SOC LLC., this geriatric serpent made his debut in the 67th Armed Forces Day parade after much needed structural and cosmetic work have been accomplished.
This year, Cecil uncaved himself from his lair so that the large beast can be a delight to you and your families in Carson City after several mysterious decades.
Living in social times, Cecil now has his own Facebook page where he encourages his friends to upload new and old photos.
Each childhood has special memories that make your journey home a special one. Cecil is one of those memories that must be shared with your family.
When you see him slithering down the street and hear a little child screaming, you will reflect back and remember, “That was once me.”
Keeper of Keys
“Taking Cecil to Carson City after approximately 25 years, was quite an exhilaration experience from start to finish. I was the one to drive him the last time and it really felt good to be the one to bring him back. As Cecil made his way down Carson Street in the Nevada Day Parade, it was quite evident; he was a special site to behold. There were several announcers along the parade route and each one said something special about him. After I heard each one finish their spiel I would give the crowd a blast on the horn and a shot of smoke out Cecil’s nostrils. The crowd went wild! They clapped their hands, they yelled hoorays and many gave the old guy a standing ovation until we were out of site. I’m partial to the old guy, but it’s my feeling he was the hit of the parade,” stated Glenn Bunch, keeper of the Cecil keys.
“In addition to Cecil, walking alongside him was a group of Walker Lake supporters. Lorna Weaver, grant administrator for the Walker Lake Working Group had made a promotional brochure to distribute. She and her son, Gabriel; daughter, Faith and friend, Skylar from Sparks was accompanied by our very own, Kathy Trujillo and Sophia Castillo-Trujillo of Hawthorne (who is the photographer and kayaker on the cover of the brochure) walked the full distance of the parade route greeting all the spectators and handing out over 1,100 of the brochures. They also handed out Scandinavia Fish candies. Lorna laughed as she mentioned, we need fish in the lake! To the group of volunteers who made the walk, Cecil is proud of you and thanks you for all you do to save Walker Lake,” Bunch continued.
Bunch continued, giving thanks to the following, “To make all this come to life took a group of volunteers who gave of their time to help make it all happen. There were repairs that needed to happen to make the old guy road ready. Repairs were done on the motor replacing some parts on the factory 1966 engine. Jimmy Richards helped make sure all his tires were aired up and ready to travel. Bill Griffith helped me do some repairs and attached the banners to the trailers, then he and Marc MacPherson along with myself, towed the three trailers behind our vehicles to the city. The county supplied a driver, Dustin Dean and the transport truck and trailer to haul the head. Tina from Napa Auto Parts supplied the CO2 to make him blow smoke. Wade Barton of Sign City made some outstanding signs to show our love for our community and desire to “Save Walker Lake”. Search and Rescue members helped at the yard getting him loaded up to travel the unloaded when we came home. A special mention to Dennis Bunch and SOC who give him an outstanding facelift paint job. A lot of people made mention they liked the new paint design and felt it made him look meaner going down the street. They loved it.”
The old guy really made a “splash” in the Carson City. Cecil is back home now and back in his cave resting up and getting ready for his next trip out to wow the crowd. It takes a village to make it all work and Bunch thanked everyone who helped make this trip a “roaring success!”
If you want to help with the upkeep on Cecil, an established fund is set up with Mineral County Chamber of Commerce. The monies are used for batteries, paint and bandaid’s to keep Cecil running