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The Serpents of Bienville is an artist collective started in Southern Alabama by Amanda and Sean Herman. The project has grown from a study of southern mythology and folklore to include art, books, and merchandise available for purchase. The Serpents of Bienville is a celebration of the Southern Arts community and the people that carry on the tradition of creativity. Subscribe to our blog to hear about Alabama's history, oddities, lore and hidden treasures. Follow us on social media to stay up to date with new artists and projects in our community!





Filtering by Category: History

What Will Our Children Be Thankful For?

Sean Herman

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” 

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark


Portrait of Christopher Columbus

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

Since the dawn of time, storytelling has been used to rally a following for a cause.  Stories that may be true, or may be embellished, will become justifications for movements, reforms, and even wars.  From Christopher Columbus (who’s biography by Washington Irving was more of a romance than a biography) to Jamestown and the legend of Pocahontas (a teenager taken hostage, passing away at the tender age of 21).  Could stories even be used to rally a nation through a genocide, causing a nation to have a completely different view of a historical event? Could a story fool a nation into celebrating genocide? 

In the year 1621, a group known as the pilgrims sailed from Europe to the “New World” in search of religious freedom.  After landing on Plymouth Rock, the pilgrims began to set up a living space, but being new to the area, needed some guidance.  In walks Squanto, a Native they met while searching for food,  who taught the pilgrims how to survive and farm in the “New World”.  After the pilgrims’ first successful harvest, they had a big feast to thank the Native Americans for, helping them to live through the season, and demonstrating the first action of mutual aid brought to the Natives. 

Illustration of Natives suffering from smallpox

Illustration of Natives suffering from smallpox

This is the story we tell for Thanksgiving, a holiday in November known for the feasts eaten to get energy up for the violence and aggression needed to purchase the newest useless item at midnight.  Maybe we should take another look, and instead of thanking for a harvest, possibly they should have been apologizing for smallpox from a prior visit, or the future they were bringing to a nation of people that made the land that became America home for thousands of years prior. 

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” 

George Orwell


Illustration of Squanto

Illustration of Squanto

A different perspective of this story accounts for events to have taken place in 1614 rather than 1621, when a group of English explorers sailed to the Americas with the intent of bringing back valuables from the “New World”, ultimately being a ship full of human cargo.  They sailed home to England, filled to the brim with Patuxet Indians bound for a life of slavery. What Natives didn’t get taken into slavery, perished from the disease of small pox brought by the European’s visit.  By the time the fabled Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay, they discovered one remaining living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto.  Squanto had been taken into slavery, so he knew the valuable commodity of the white man’s language. With the lingering thought of the fate suffered from his people, he knew that negotiations of some sort would need to be done.  He taught the Pilgrims to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between them and the Wampanoag Nation. With the ending of that year, the negotiating nations had a feast to mark the successes of the season.

The Puritans Coming Ashore

The Puritans Coming Ashore

Like the opening of Pandora’s Box, the fabled tales of the “New World” reached across the Atlantic, sparking the interest of religious diehards searching for a place to set up a new society, one based in their beliefs.  In walks the Puritans claiming this land for God, as did the scores of other British settlers that followed.  With righteous indignation on their side, they began to enslave the Natives, or “savages” as they referred to them.  Governor William Bradford referred to the Natives as “savage people, who are cruel, barbarous, most treacherous”.  What Natives wouldn’t allow capture, were murdered.  The Pequot Nation was one of those that wouldn’t back down, and didn’t enter the negotiations that led to Squanto’s peace treaty.  After the discovery of the body of a white trades man dead in a boat, the fingers of blame pointed directly at the Pequot Nation, no evidence needed.  Thus started the Pequot War, one of the bloodiest wars to be fought by the tribes.

Painting based on the Green Corn Festival

Painting based on the Green Corn Festival

The Pequot Tribe had an annual Green Corn Festival, one to give thanks for the prior growing season.  The tribe gathered in peace in 1637, near what is now known as Groton, Connecticut.  The festival garnered 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, all brought together to celebrate the bounty of a growing season, one worked on together in unity.  

Illustration of the massacre

Illustration of the massacre

The tribe celebrated late into the evening, eventually retiring to slumber with their families.  Children were cradled in their mothers arms, all huddled together, grateful for what the world had given them.  As the sun was about to rise, the tribe was awakened to the screams of English and Dutch mercenaries, ordering them to come out.  Those leaving the building were greeted with gunshots, or worse, clubbed to death.  Once the remaining heard what was happening, they refused to come out.  Mothers huddled with their children, attempting to guard them, to shield them from the evil that lie outside of those walls.  The group cried, holding each other, as the air grew hot and thick, from the flames lit by the mercenaries.  There, in the longhouse, the remaining terrified women and children were burned alive, never to see the faces of the cowards who sealed their fates. 

Mason himself wrote:

"It may be demanded...Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But...sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents.... We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings."

Word of the conquering of the tribe that refused to negotiate quickly reached the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he declared the following day “A Day of Thanksgiving”, citing the new found victory, a victory against 700 unarmed men, women and children.  Fueled by this “victory”, the colonists and their Indian allies began to go from village to village of the Pequot, leaving a trail of blood and ash in their wake.  These actions fueled a thriving slave trade, with women and children over the age of 14 being sold into slavery, and those to young to be used, were murdered.  Regularly scheduled departures from New England, in boats filled with as many as 500 slaves at a time, became common place in the colonies.  To encourage the demise of those who stood in their way, a bounty was paid for Indian scalps.

The area that is now known as Stamford, Connecticut, was the site of an especially “successful” raid against the Pequot’s.  This “victory” inspired a local church to announce a second day of “thanksgiving”, celebrating the overcoming of the heathen savages.  Some of the more gory accounts say that the heads of Natives were put on display throughout the town.  Unfortunately, this thirst for blood spread, and the Wampanoag tribe, with whom they had peaceful treaties in our traditional story of Thanksgiving, became their next victims.  The Wampanoag chief was beheaded, his head stuck on a pole, in a victorious display, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  His head remained there, for 24 years, as a reminder.

 The victorious thanksgiving feasts continued, growing larger and larger with the passing of each frenzied massacre.  After years passed, George Washington eventually suggested one day a year being set aside for the feast, uniting the new country in victory over the savages.  Thanksgiving still didn’t actually become a holiday until, starting in 1846, Sara Josepha Hale began writing letters to the President, which became several Presidents over time, asking for the holiday to be recognized national.  Hale is better known as the writer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and is eventually associated with most the foods associated with Thanksgiving.

Lincoln and Hale

Lincoln and Hale

Finally, during the Civil War in 1863, on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota, President Lincoln decided on an act to unify the Union. Lincoln took Thanksgiving from a random, regional phenomenon observed mostly in the north into a full-fledged national Holiday. Hale’s obsession with the story of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving is what led to the popularization of the idea, and it was because of Hale that the holiday eventually became nationally recognized. That Thanksgiving may not actually be the first, but it is still pretty much the reason we celebrate the holiday today.

“Genocide is not just a murderous madness; it is, more deeply, a politics that promises a utopia beyond politics - one people, one land, one truth, the end of difference. Since genocide is a form of political utopia, it remains an enduring temptation in any multiethnic and multicultural society in crisis.”

Michael Ignatieff

“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either.”


There is a traditional view taught about early colonization, and it’s impact on the Native culture.  Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation wrote:

Painting of Edward Winslow

Painting of Edward Winslow

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Similar to the earlier story of the pilgrims at Thanksgiving, working with the Indians in harmony, Winslow paints a picture of unity of love amongst the nations.  Growing up as a white male, this was the viewpoint I was most familiar with.  As I continued researching, though, I found a very different viewpoint from the Native population.

Painting of a Yuchi Indian

Painting of a Yuchi Indian

The Yuchi Tribe, from the area that is now Alabama and Tennessee, has a very different stand point, starting with the creation of the whites.  The legend goes that men and woman emerged from the sea-foam itself, first man, then woman, rising out of waves on the sea.  At first the Natives thought they were sea gulls (having never seen a white person).  When the Natives made boats to explore further, the whites disappeared.  Later the whites returned, a great number of them.  When the natives met them again on the water, they couldn’t understand them, and the whites left.  More time passed, and the whites returned, this time asking if they could come ashore.  They said, “Yes”.  With a fear of water they left again.  Returning again later, they had a box with them and asked the Natives to fill it with some earth.  It was given to them, and they again left.  Returning again they now had a larger box, which again was filled.  This time they took the earth back to their ships, planted crops in them, and watched them grow.  The whites told them their land was fertile and strong, and asked if they may live on it.  The native agreed, and the from that day, the white man never left again.  The Creeks, another tribe from what is now the Alabama area, always asserted that Native were formed from the red earth, and the white from the foam of the sea, that’s why Natives are firm and the white man is restless and fickle.

Another Creek myth states that the red men lived on an island under the rising sun.  At one point, the water rose, covering the area with water foam, for which the white man arose.  More and more coming ashore, asking for land, but only as much as one cowhide would cover. (This is known as a “fraud of cowhide”, a method used to take over land).  The Natives were apprehensive, some evening wanting to kill the whites.  Other’s spoke up, stating that the amount of land they want is not much, and they had so much to give.  Once in agreement, the white man threw the cowhide in the water, and cut up the wet hide into many little pieces.  They stretched the pieces, which then measured the four corners of the land.  When the Natives protested, the whites declared that it was only as much as one cowhide.   

With the Native land taken from them, with disease given back for exchange, the Natives were also given whiskey, which plagued Natives to this day.  The Alabama spoke of how they and the Koasati came out of the earth, on opposite sides of a certain tree, and settled there in two body forms.  Though they had different speech, they always kept near each other.  They only came out at night, returning to the ground during the day.  The white man came, saw the tracks, and began to track the two people.  He returned, but could never find the two bodies.  Finally the white man left a barrel of whiskey, curious to see who came to it.  Finally, one night, one of the two bodies came out and tasted the whiskey.  He felt good, and began to sing and dance.  The others were soon to follow, singing and dancing, eventually being caught by the white man.

Painting depicting Columbus and the Natives

Painting depicting Columbus and the Natives

Later, the Shaman predicted the coming of the whites.  The way the story goes, a Creek chief died and appeared before Gohantone and told him that the land they lived on belonged to him and his children, forever, but these whites that are coming will overwhelm you and take your land.  They will only becoming greater in number, with your (the Native) population decreasing, until at last dying out.  Terrible times will be had when only the White man remains.  

Photo of  Black Elk

Photo of Black Elk

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...” 

Black Elk



Daphne, Alabama was not the place that I pictured myself raising a family when I was finishing up high school here.  I couldn’t even imagine raising a family, it was all so far from my mind, all I cared about at that time was getting out.  Just as almost every 18 year old does, I left my hometown the day after high school graduation, and didn’t look back.  As time passed, my visits became more and more focused on the area, on the things I had missed when I was young.  When the time came, and I finally returned home, I found myself now enamored with the small town, and area that I had called home.  With my undirected teen angst now directed adult angst, I found myself in an area that was far more sacred than even I could imagine.  

Illustration of thought to be early settlers in Baldwin County

Illustration of thought to be early settlers in Baldwin County

Daphne’s history as a settlement dates as far back as the Paleo-Indian period and Native American tribes from around 9000 BC.  Those early settlers were hunter-gather tribes that were found migrating throughout North Alabama.  The Tensaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole all came through the area, which became known as a neutral ground where they would discuss the relationships between the nations.  Daphne is one of two places in the world that experience what is known as “Jubilees”, a phenomenon where the oxygen rises to the surface of the bay, washing a variety of sea life on shore.  The Natives viewed this act as a blessing from nature, and is still seen that way by many of the town’s inhabitants.  In the beginning, the Natives primarily worked in small groups together, through hunting and scavenging, though over time the production of weapons and pottery advanced and became more of a priority.  The late Woodland stage Native Americans brought about much more elaborate ritual services, with burial grounds being found throughout Baldwin County.  At the zenith of Native American culture in area, around 1500, it’s estimated that a community of about 5,000 people lived within 50 miles of the coast.  These were the people that greeted Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540, and this first interaction became one that the Natives would never recover from.

Illustration of a Choctaw Village

Illustration of a Choctaw Village

Our area has always had it’s share of ghost stories, tall tales, and myth told about Natives.  From Massacre Island and the 8 foot Native warriors, to the tale of the Wampus Cat, these stories always reflect a culture, searching for their sacred land, and taking vengeance on the souls that took it.  This reflection of myths, most created and spread by the white man, demonstrates the knowledge of wrongdoing, and perhaps a prediction of recourse.   

One of my favorite stories comes from Fort Gaines.  Here is how the story is told by my lovely wife, Amanda Herman,

Inside Fort Gaines, with a photo of what is thought to be one of it's many ghosts

Inside Fort Gaines, with a photo of what is thought to be one of it's many ghosts

“It is said that the fort has a native protector, a motherly defender, an ancient guard, that came from the spirit haven that is Massacre Island. (Modern day “Dauphin Island” that you can read about here) An old native American woman has been seen roaming the outer halls of Fort Gaines, keeping a watchful eye and protecting her sacred ground from disrespectful intruders. She has disdain for the settlers that took her people’s land and is known to be incredibly angered by those who do not hold her home to the regard that she has. This woman is said to be clothed in the skins and furs of the indigenous animals and her face is heavily aged by weather and worry. Is she one of the reasons that Massacre Island is so cursed, because she believes, along with the spirits of her people still present on the ancient burial mounds, that people have not treated the land and each other with the respect that is deserved?”

“We'll be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.” 

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

What will the story be of our history?

On Friday November 17th 2015 Paris was the site of a series of brutal attacks justified by religious zeal.  These attacks took place in six separate locations across the city.  As I write this, at least 130 people are reported to be dead, eight of those being the suspected perpetrators of the attack, with another 200 people injured, 80 of those seriously.  We can watch as the story is now being written, overtime becoming an altered, distorted history.  Before manipulations can occur, we have an opportunity to read first hand accounts that show another story arising from these ashes.  Here are a few of the stories that might be lost in the wake of responsive violence, stories that give an alternative view of our human interaction, and maybe some hope in desperate times.

Chloe Clement found herself celebrating the 35th birthday of a friend at La Belle Equipe cafe, when gunmen began to fire directly at the diners.  Ludovic Boumbas, Clement’s best friend, immediately dove in front of Clement, taking the bullet that was intended for her, and killing Ludovic.  Instinct took over, creating a hero.

A security guard at France’s national soccer stadium saved thousands of lives by catching the suicide bomber before he entered the building. A spokesman for the security team and French police told the Wall Street Journal that at least one of the bombers had a ticket to attend the match. He discovered the explosive vest while conducting a routine frisk. Caught, the bomber backed up and detonated his own vest, killing himself but no others. Soon, other suicide bombers outside the stadium did the same, setting off a ripple of firecracker-like blasts that were heard by those inside, unharmed from the intended blast.

Lastly, Antoine Leiris and his wife Helene Muyal-Leiris were at the historic Bataclan venue watching Eagles of Death Metal play that night, an event that I have witnessed a time or two myself.  A few songs into the bands set, the venue was filled with the deafening sound of gunfire as the venue was stormed by assailants.  Hostages were taken, and slowly killed one by one, in front of the fearful eyes of those surrounding them.  Jesse Hughes, singer of Eagle of Death Metal described the scene to  With his voice breaking, he described how fans were killed while trying to  save each other during the attacks.  He says,

Photo of Jesse Hughes

Photo of Jesse Hughes


"People were playing dead and they were so scared," he said. "A great reason why so many were killed is because so many people wouldn't leave their friends. ... So many people put themselves in front of people."




One of those to perish was Antoine’s wife, the mother of his child,  Helene.  Only days later, Antoine wrote this piece, translated to English from the original post in French.  

"You Will Not Have My Hatred

Still of Antoine Leiris

Still of Antoine Leiris

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know you’re dead souls.

If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.

So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost. The player still plays.

I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

Mourners after the Paris attacks

Mourners after the Paris attacks

Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived.

I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in the heaven for free souls to which you will never have access. 

Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep.

He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free.

Because you will never have his hatred either.”

Indian Camp, Mt. Vernon, Alabama

Indian Camp, Mt. Vernon, Alabama

Finding ourselves on yet another precipice of human history, entrenched in the debate of Syrian refugees, the fear mongering pushed to a breaking point, we have to wonder how history will speak of this time.  Do we have an opportunity to truly change the course that we have been speeding towards, since the ship was launched in 1614?  Bill Hicks said that it comes down to two choices, every decision in life, down to two choices, living through the eyes of fear, or the eyes of love.  “Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.”  Hicks continues, urging the audience to see a world focused on interpersonal interaction, creating relationships built on commonality and mutual understanding.  At these points in our short lives, we wonder “what can we do”?  Perhaps we can break things down to the individual interaction we have everyday.  Just as Antoine urges, instead of looking at our neighbors with a suspicious eye (or as cultural “savages” like our ancestors did hundreds of years ago) we should not sacrifice our true liberty for hate mongering fear.  Can we not stand together, united and triumphant against our foes of malicious division, and as Hicks says, “we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”  It’s in the history of our fore fathers, like the folklore of Thanksgiving, in their transgressions, that we can truly learn how to move forward.  We have to learn what happened to get us to these precipices, a cliff we are fearfully clinging to. Events of the past teach us what actions driven by fear can do, from the flames of the massacre of the Pequot to the gunfire of Paris.  Now is the time to take control and write a history we can believe in, one devoid of fear, one that our children will be proud of.  What will this story be?  More importantly, what will your story be that your children will be thankful for?


“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

-Mahatma Gandhi




  1. "Native American Netroots." Native American Netroots. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  2. "Cooking the History Books: The Thanksgiving Massacre." Republic of Lakotah Mitakuye Oyasin RSS. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  3. "Choctaw." Snipview. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  4. "Daphne, Alabama." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  5. Schiffman, Richard. "The Truth About Thanksgiving: What They Never Taught You in School." The Huffington Post. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  6. "6 Shocking Facts About Slavery, Natives and African Americans." Indian Country Today Media Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  7. "Thanksgiving (United States)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  8. "Thanksgiving’s Origin Story Isn’t Exactly What You Were Taught." The Mary Sue Thanksgivings Origin Story Isnt Exactly What You Were Taught Comments. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  10. "Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln." Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  11. "Why We Shouldn't Celebrate Thanksgiving." Alternet. 22 Nov. 2007. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  12. "The Thanksgiving Day Massacre...Or, Would You like Turkey with Your Genocide?" Daily Kos. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  13. "Moments of Heroism Emerge from Paris in Aftermath of Attacks | Toronto Star." Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  14. Brinded, Lianna. "The Widower of a Mother Killed in the Paris Attacks Posted a Heartbreaking Message on Facebook." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
  15. Lankford, George E. Native American Legends of the Southeast Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations. 2nd ed. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama, 2011. 136-139. Print.



Early Summers: Fairhope Holiday

Sean Herman

 Since the Fairhope founders had community in mind when laying out the land for particular use, they were far-sighted enough to set aside over a mile stretch of beachfront property to be protected as public area in 1899. This came as a great influencer when nearby and traveling vacationers were choosing their getaway location.

The Fairhope Pier was an incredible attraction in the early 1900’s. The original pier was built in 1895. As the bay steamer would be easing into dock in Fairhope, the Thriller was waiting to greet the daredevils.

This giant metal waterslide was the to fun for many touring and local children, while the casino at the foot of the Fairhope Pier was the key draw for adults looking for entertainment. It wasn’t exactly what you would envision when you hear the word “casino” today, however. This casino was a bathhouse and concert hall.

Entertainment was incredibly easy to find, with the town being founded by poor artists, actors, writers and eccentrics.

To cool off after a long day at the Magnolia Pavillion romping down the beaches of Mobile Bay, Mr. Berglin’s Azalea brand Ice Cream Plant was churning out the perfect summer treat just down the road from the pier.

The Eastern Shore Yacht Club was built after the Hurricane of 1916 destroyed the Mobile Yacht Club on the opposite shore of Mobile Bay on July 5th, 100 years ago. This hall would house family events and teen dances until 9pm every night, and after that hour, it was strictly adult-only entertainment.

Most travelers would hope to stay in the Colonial Inn up the hill from the bustling beach scene.

Beasts of the Bay: Farragut's Monster

Christian Mott

Farragut's Monster

Beast of the Bay Series, Part 1

Christian Baxter Mott


    From too far west, where the tattered edges of ancient maps are drawn with undulating sea serpents half-concealed with tails, teeth, or tentacles, the quivering lips of intrepid men have always whispered eastward in the washing quiet of night, when only the darkness itself could be listening over the creaking of the deck, over the rippling of wind in the sails, afeared that speaking the omen outright would consequently breathe it into existence: 

Here there be monsters.

    Farragut grit his teeth at the thought and swallowed down the old tales he heard back in the West Indies. He peered over the bow of his flagship toward the dark Bay; beyond the Mobile Point peninsula, the three silhouettes of forts stood situated on its sands guarding the mouth of the last of the Confederate port beasts. He’d already taken New Orleans; Mobile was the last protected harbor, the last throat still able to feed the rebellion. Yet the harbor would soon be won, the forts captured, and the port his—in a matter of time, the beast would starve.

    Gray dawn approached in a haze. Granger rushed him, sending the army ashore to Dauphin Island, but the belated Tecumseh hadn’t yet arrived from Pensacola. It would, though, at any moment . . . Any moment, now . . .

    And when the warship appeared off the horizon of the Gulf, Farragut prepared for the final siege. The bleeding red sun followed the Tecumseh, shedding August light on the maritime battlefield before his fleet. Buoys teetered on the water, marking the perimeter of the naval minefield, forcing any intruders too far east, and far too close to the guns of Fort Morgan. 

    The rebel navy moved into position just beyond the torpedoes, ready to intercept him and his true Navy. Farragut lifted his nose to the salty breeze, sensing that conditions were ideal, realizing the southwest wind would blow smoke into the faces ofMorgan’s artillerymen. 

    “Reduce steam pressure,” he said to the man at his side, thinking of the boilers. “The current will give us speed.”

    The ships were paired, iron and wood lashed together, to resist the fire of the Fort. If one failed, its partner would carry it through. The Tecumseh lined up in the first column and eagerly fired the first shot. The final battle began.

    The eruption of war disturbed the latterly calm waters of morning. A swash to the right of the minefield caught Farragut’s eye, but he deemed its wake negligible. As planned, the old cowcatcher Brooklyn took lead before the Tecumseh and shot forward toward the opposing fleet.

    Farragut kept a close eye on the few vessels before him, assessing how they steered east and remained clear of the minefield to the west. The Tecumseh cut it closer than he liked, but all in all swam true to orders. Yet another swash caught his eye; a boiling beneath the surface, a molten shimmering glow, and the piercing sound of ripping metal initiated the lurching of the Tecumseh

    “The torpedoes!” yelled the man at his side. “She steered too close!”

    But Farragut had been watching and saw with his own eyes that it was impossible. There wouldn’t be any mines outside the buoys—no, it would’ve been far too dangerous for the rebel blockade-runners.

    The injured vessel sunk in a matter of moments, leaving nothing but sailors hanging onto the wreckage or swimming to shore. Fewer and fewer of the men kept their heads above water, and something like oil darkened the blue surface. Farragut spotted Commander Craven grasping the remaining side of the hull, gasping, until a pale cloud of gun smoke passed between the two ships, blocking his view. When it cleared, Craven had disappeared.

    Farragut didn’t understand what he’d seen, certain only that it was no torpedo that sunk the Tecumseh

    The smoke was too thick to see. As his flagship passed Morgan now, he climbed to the rigging of the mainmast for a better view. A sailor followed him up, attempting to lash him to it.

    “Never mind,” he told the man as he peered into the depths of the Bay waters below, searching through the pale clouds. “I am all right.”

    Even so, the man tied him to the forward and after shrouds, but Farragut paid him no mind. He couldn’t proceed without knowing what had taken the Tecumseh. Could it be? Were there truly stray torpedoes outside of the boundary?

    He sought out the mines, spotting a few of their dark shapes beneath the clear surface, when he caught sight of another incredible shadow in the water. It swam with a jerking motion, ripping its colossal tail back and forth, craning around and around what must be its rigid serpentine neck. The giant beast circled the sinking Tecumseh, snatching survivors from its wreckage.

    A fear took hold of Farragut’s heart, a nauseous sensation he’d subdued since departing boyhood. There, lashed to the rigging, he questioned the goodness of his eyes, doubted his own sanity. It couldn’t be, and yet it had to be.

    He could swallow down the old tales no longer. The miserable stories he heard from a grinning, toothless pirate captured in the West Indies were true: a Leviathan guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay, watching and protecting those who unknowingly fed it. 

    “It breeds chaos,” the bastard had said, repeating the legend. “It feeds on lost souls of the sea, lost by any means necessary—storms, scurvy, sirens . . . Its breath is the fog that darkens lighthouses, its wet stench the foul sea mists of melancholy. Its tempered patience alone allows safe passage to blockade-runners and slave ships, only to devour as many of its passengers as death keeps from reaching the shores . . .”

    Anyone who threatened those Bay waters, the pirate had said in not so many words, would challenge the beast. The only way out, he’d said, was in.

    Yet Farragut had forgotten the reason why . . .

    And then it hit him. We must reach shallower waters. We must, or we all die.

    Coming to, remembering his place in this battle, he scanned the naval front. The cowcatcher halted before the destroyed Tecumseh, and the fleet nearly came to a standstill within firing range of Morgan. The ship’s flags signaled a question, requesting orders, but had he not already given them? Farragut gesticulated as best he could, pointing forward and shouting, “Go! Go, damn you!”

    Yet it did not proceed. He called down to his man, “The Brooklyn! Why doesn’t she go?”

    “Torpedoes in her path!” he yelled over the gunfire. “The Tecumseh blocks safe passage!”

    The giant serpent beneath the waters now took the long way round the minefield, and soon it would overtake them from behind, leaving no escape. Farragut realized then, with a wrenching in his gut, what he had to do—what he had to ask his men to do with him. 

    He peered back from his rigging—the Beast of the Bay ripped nearer—and he thought with a sense of grim satisfaction how, once again, the salvation of a country rested solely in weathering the dark and dangerous waters to the west. But progress was never achieved by fearing the unknown, life never lived by waiting to die . . .

    Either endure the wrath of the sea titan, or brave the torpedoes . . .

    He prayed they were soused and ineffective.

    “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Charting of Farragut's Entrance to Mobile Bay for purchase  here

Charting of Farragut's Entrance to Mobile Bay for purchase here

    The man below ran the orders to the Captain, and the flagship pressed on past the cowcatcher, leading the column of fourteen warships through the minefield, steady as she goes. They passed through to the other side unharmed, to shallower waters, where the giant creature could not follow. It remained back in the depths, lashing about in its molten ire, rending apart what remained of the Tecumseh.

    The vessels continued in the battle with Farragut distracted by the chaos in the background. In its rage, the Leviathan set off one of the torpedoes, silent in the mess of battle. The waters roiled into a sort of repose, and Farragut was certain no one had seen but he.

    Looking on from his rigging, the gun smoke of battle surrounding him, he choked up one last memory of the pirate in the brig, gazing drunkenly at him through the bars; his words now sat on Farragut’s lips, as though an echo first spoken from a specter at the deepest depth of the sea itself:

    “How do you kill it? Oh ho, Lieutenant Farragut, it’s already been long dead.”

    A clammy, cold sweat now chilling him in the midmorning humidity, he climbed down from the rigging, prepared to halt progress and assess the damage done to his fleet, so they could press onward. For the only way to end the Leviathan, he surmised, taking notice of the Tennessee approaching slow like a shark, would be to cut off the hand that fed it. 

    He would forget the beast, siege the forts, and take the harbor. 

    This port would be his.

    For here there be monsters.