Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Creature Of Lead Island

Mississippi River charts show it as an island a quarter mile wide and two miles long, located near the Iowa shore at mile 387, just above the Lost Creek about two miles above the Santa Fe Bridge. The place's name, Lead island, goes far back into history. When the Indians first gave Julien Dubuque the right to mine their lead in 1788 it created a regular flow of keelboat traffic carrying the precious cargo down the river from the Mines of Spain at Dubuque to St. Louis. One of those heavily laden boats was blown ashore on the island during a sudden storm. The massive weight quickly settled in the mud, and it kept right on sinking. With no way to raise the boat, and no other craft to transfer cargo to, the crew abandoned both the boat and cargo. As far as can be documented, the boat and cargo are still there, giving the island a name that stuck to this day. Lead Island next made news in the 1890's. One night a farmer named Alley, who lived nearby, heard his big Newfoundland dog barking furiously near the river and went to investigate. As he neared the dog, a wild howl of terror and pain came out of the darkness, followed by a violent splashing, then complete silence. Alley could find no trace of his pet, then or in the light of morning He was sure that something must have dragged the huge dog into the water. When the incident was reported by local news, the editor received a letter from a Keokuk traveling man who had been skating on the ice near Lead Island the previous winter. It told of the man being chased by a monster 20 feet long with a shiny black body, a huge gray head, and four short stubby legs. He claimed that when the creature could not catch him on the ice because of its short legs, it slithered back into the water and pursued him under the ice, trying to break through to get him. The terrified fellow skated to shore and ran down the railroad tracks to get away.The letter was published, but given little credence, as it was considered a practical joke. But that wasn't the last report of a monster on Lead Island. The next winter, a hired man working on the nearby Wenke farm was prowling the riverbank opposite the island gathering driftwood for his stove. He heard a growling like that of a dog coming from the island, and looking up to see a long black animal with stubby legs sitting on the island mud. It appeared to be about four feet long and slipped quietly into the water when seen. Since the creature was considerably smaller than those previously sighted, the man figured it had to be the offspring of bigger ones living in a hole or cavern under the island. No one really cared to dispute him for fear of being challenged to go diving to look for the cave. These stories eventually died out and there were no more reports of monsters. But another strange event did occur on Lead Island years later. Early one spring, two hunters were working their boat up through the chute beside the island when they spotted a big chunk of ice with something on it wedged against the shore of the island. That something turned out to be the body of a young woman, lying with sightless eyes staring at the sky and one hand trailing in the icy water. After recovering from their shock, the men tied a line to that hand, towed the ice cake to the Iowa shore and ran for help. The body was found to be that of a women about 35 years old with fine features and rich auburn hair. There were no signs of violence and nothing to help identify the body. The doctor who had examined the body testified before a grand jury that she had died during, or just after the birth of a child, but her identity was never resolved. In recent times the only stories about the island center around the huge mushrooms that can be found there in the spring. Although, with the invention of metal detectors and other electronic gadgets that have revolutionized treasure hunting, there is no doubt about a renewed interest in the buried boat and its treasure.