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Both Native American tribes that lived near Lake Champlain, the Abenaki and the Iroquois, had their own legends about a large creature inhabiting the lake. It was called Tatoskok by the Abenaki. Samuel de Champlain is often erroneously credited with being the first European to sight Champ, but readings of his accounts show that he saw something near the St. Lawrence river. This body of water was erroneously reported to be Lake Champlain in 1960.
The something he did see in Lake Champlain was ". . . [T]here is also a great abundance of many species of fish. Amongst others there is one called by the natives Chaousarou, which is of various lengths; but the largest of them, as these tribes have told me, are from eight to ten feet long. I have seen some five feet long, which were as big as my thigh, and had a head as large as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth. Its body has a good deal the shape of the pike; but it is protected by scales of a silvery gray colour and so strong that a dagger could not pierce them." Volume 2, chapter IX, of Champlain's journal (quoted in Meurger 1988.)
Historians think it was probably a garfish, a class that includes lake sturgeon, which are still living there today.
The next famous account appears in the Plattsburgh Republican of Saturday, July 24, 1819. Captain Crum was aboard a scow on Bulwagga Bay the previous Thursday morning when he reported a black monster, about 187 feet long and with a head resembling a "sea horse" that reared over 15 feet out of the water. He claimed the monster he saw had three teeth, eyes the color of a "a pealed [sic] onion," a white star on its forehead, and "a belt of red around the neck." This is a remarkable level of detail concerning an object that was, according to the witness, some two hundred yards away.
Sea story or not, this account marks an official date and place for more modern Champ sightings.
1873 was a busy year for Champ. A New York Times story reported that a railroad crew had seen the head of an "enormous serpent" in Lake Champlain, with bright silvery scales that glistened in the sun. Both the men and the monster parted ways at that point.
In July that year the Clinton County Sheriff, Nathan H. Mooney, reported an "enormous snake or water serpent" he thought was 25 to 35 feet long.
In August of that year the steamship W.B Eddy encountered Champ by running into it. The ship nearly turned over, according to the tourists on board.
Never one to miss a trick, in 1873 showman P. T. Barnum offered a reward of $50,000 for "hide of the great Champlain serpent to add to my mammoth World's Fair Show."
Considering that year's interest in Champ, it's amazing he didn't just fake it, as he had his FeeJee mermaid (it was actually a stuffed monkey attached to a stuffed fish.)
Another group sighting came in 1945, when passengers of the S S Ticonderoga claimed to have seen a creature.
Things really heated up in the last half of the twentieth century. By 1992 sightings totaled 180, with approximately 600 people claiming to have seen Champ.
The twenty first century saw a new wave of sightings, counting in the double digits each summer and prompting interest from Japanese television, the Today show, NBC's Unsolved Mysteries, and Fox Network's Sightings.
In 2003, the Discovery Channel did a special on "America's Loch Ness Monster" in the wake of three new sightings by June of that year.
Were lawmakers just playing it safe?
Champy is now protected by law on both sides of Lake Champlain.
1981 — Port Henry, NY declares their waters a safe haven for Champ
1982 — State of Vermont passes a House Resolution protecting Champ
1983 — In New York, both the State Assembly and the State Senate pass resolutions protecting Champ