The following is an excerpt from my new book which will be available early this Fall.
Lago Lácar, a glacial lake in Argentine Patagonia, just a stone’s throw from the Chilean border, is home to a strange monster dubbed el Cuero—a Spanish word that translates to “leather” or “cowhide.” Lake Lácar has an average water depth of about 548 feet and reaches a maximum depth of just over 900 feet. The icy waters cover an area of about 21 square miles.
It seems unusual for a creature to be named the English equivalent of cowhide; but descriptions of this strange beast match that of a cowhide 2-5 feet long, that has been stretched out. The animal also has a barbless, whip-like tail. When hearing this description, the first thing that comes to mind is the large freshwater stingrays native to South America. However, the Cuero has some distinctive features that differentiate it from the common freshwater stingray. Among these, it supposedly has eyes that sit atop reddish stalks, almost like a snail. Some reports indicate that the creature has two eyes; other witnesses claim that the creature has for eyes; there are some who claim that the creature has eyes all over its body. In addition to the strange number of eyes, and stalk-like eyes, el Cuero is said to have an extendable mouth—some describe it as a mosquito-like proboscis. With this, the Cuero sucks the blood out of its prey. To round out the features of this frightful beast is a set of razor sharp claws that encircle its strangely shaped body.
The Cuero is a vicious predator—and humans are fair game. Accounts state that the monster bursts out of the water and overcomes its prey. It then punctures its victim with its mosquito-like proboscis and drains the hapless body of all of its blood. The unusual monster is said to be able to move on land; how well it moves on land, how long it can stay out of the water, and how far it can move on land is unclear.
Sightings and Stories
Documented sightings of the Cuero are difficult to come by. There are enough legends and rumors, though, to believe that something strange might exist in Lago Lácar. One of the most often cited accounts of a Cuero attacking humans occurred when a mother was washing clothes by the lake. Her baby was sleeping nearby, when suddenly, a Cuero burst from the waters and enveloped the child. The helpless baby was pulled into the water—undoubtedly a meal for the brutal monster. This unverified account is strikingly similar to another—only this one comes from Lake DeSmet in Wyoming. I included the following story in my first book:
The Crow also have a frightening tale in which a monster emerges from the lake and snatches a papoose off the banks. According to the story, a beautiful young mother was cleaning recently killed rabbits in the water. Her sleeping baby was nearby in a papoose-type carrier. Suddenly, the young woman heard something on the shoreline. It was a terrifying creature—coming out of the water and heading straight toward her child! The monster grabbed the infant in its jaws and returned to the water. The helpless woman could do nothing to save her child.
These accounts, while thousands of miles away, are eerily similar in nature. There are others. The following excerpt, also included in my first book, comes from Nevada:
As the Paiute legend goes, two sisters were washing clothes in the river. One of the sisters had an infant who she left in the shade as she worked. While the sisters were distracted with their work, a serpent emerged and ate the infant…
These are only two stories; there are countless others to choose from and compare. Stories told by indigenous people of a monster attacking a child on the shore while the mother is busy working seems to be an archetype. Why? If the various accounts, thousands of miles away, are only myths—why are they so similar? Of course, there is a possibility that few consider— the stories could be true.
The terrible Cuero is not limited to Lago Lácar; rumors of similar creatures are common in rivers and lagoons throughout Chile and Argentina. One of these places is Lake Fatalaufquen. Reports from here sound very similar in nature to a freshwater stingray. Lakes Lolog, Paimún, Ranco, Carrilaufquen, and Rosario, to name a few, are also said to have Cueros lurking in their waters.
A creature known as Hueke-Hueke’ has descriptions that perfectly match the Cuero. The dreaded Hueke-Hueke’ is also blamed for attacking people, particularly children, who venture too close to the edge of the water.
What are these creatures, Hueke-Hueke’ and el Cuero? If they aren’t monsters, then how did their legends originate? Famed Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), who wrote of mythical creatures, suggested that the Cuero is some sort of fresh water octopus. In the absence of definitive answers, this guess is probably as good as any.
Aside from the snail-like eyes sitting atop stalks, and the aggressive behavior of el Cuero, the freshwater stingray seems to be the most plausible explanation for the Hueke-Hueke’ and el Cuero. Though not aggressive, river stingrays are very dangerous and extremely feared.
Stingrays are able to inflict a painful, and if left untreated, possibly even fatal sting. The tail of the stingray is equipped with a venomous spine that is capable of puncturing skin and bone. When stepped on or brushed against, the stingray thrusts its tail into its unsuspecting victim and uses the force of its weight to drive the spine. Unfortunately for those who use the rivers of South America, stingrays frequent shallow water and bury themselves in mud and sediment up to their eyes. This, and the murkiness of much of the water that they inhabit make them extremely difficult to detect and avoid. There are accounts of very large stingrays striking a person and the spine becoming lodged in the ankle or leg of the victim. Unable to free their spines, the massive stingrays then swim out into the river, dragging and drowning their victims in the process.
Did the legends of el Cuero and Hueke-Hueke’ arise out of a healthy fear for stingrays? This is possible. However, there is one problem with the stingray theory as an explanation for the Cuero. Stingrays do not live in Patagonian lakes and rivers; they dwell in the more tropical and temperate climates of South America. Is it possible that a population of stingrays came to inhabit lakes in the cooler climates to the south? If so, could this have given rise to the Cuero legends? Or is it possible that the fear of stingrays is so ubiquitous throughout South America that the phobia spread to areas where they do not live? If so, could descriptions of the beast over time have been exaggerated to the point of having eyes atop stalks and the other bizarre features of the Cuero?