, pub-6663105814926378, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 The Hapless Water-skier Urban Legends 4289

The Hapless Water-skier Urban Legends

A water-skier in a southern reservoir gets too close to an area of sunken stumps and fences. He falls, and when the boat returns to pick him up, the skier says he must have hit some barbed wire, as he can feel sharp punctures in his legs. When he is pulled from the water, it turns out that he had fallen into a huge ball of water moccasins; shortly afterward he dies from the multiple snakebites.

Some form of this story is told about numerous lakes, especially in the South and Midwest. The legend was adapted by Larry McMurtry for his 1985 book Lonesome Dove to describe a cowboy crossing a rain-swollen river on horseback; this, in turn, yielded a horrendous scene in the TV movie based on the book. Among other Southern writers who have retold the story is Ellen Douglas, who, in her 1988 book Can’t Quit You, Baby, began her version, “There is an apocryphal tale of a water-skier that rolled like ball lightning through the Mississippi Delta during the late sixties.” In this telling, a beautiful young girl is water-skiing when she believes she is caught in barbed wire. “But there isn’t any barbed wire. No. It’s a writhing, tangled mass of water moccasins. . . . She is dead before he can drag her into the boat.”

Water moccasins, also called cottonmouths, are quiet creatures, seldom seen, and not believed—at least by herpetologists—to live or travel in large groups. In fact, these snakes are not even known to exist in many of the lakes where hapless water-skiers are said to have perished.

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