The Alligator by Francis C. Woodworth

On the whole, though the alligator can hardly claim any attention from us in these stories, owing to his manner of locomotion, and some other circumstances, yet I think I will introduce him to the reader, as I have two or three anecdotes about his tribe, which are worth reading, and as he comes within the qualifications for introduction to our present company of animals, so far as to possess the specific number of locomotive organs.

A British medical officer, many years a resident in the East Indies, relates the following painful incident: "A native, being employed in repairing a ship lying in the Bengal river, carelessly put his legs off the stage upon which he was seated, at the side of the vessel, and being engaged in conversation with his wife and child, who were on board, forgot the danger of his situation. As he proceeded in his labors, it was necessary to lower the stage, until it came within a few feet only of the water. He had not been in this position many minutes, when a monstrous alligator rose suddenly above the surface of the river, and before the poor man perceived the animal, seized one of his legs, snapped it off, just above the knee, and descended into the water. The man then tried to get on board the ship, but in vain. The pain, the terror, the loss of his limb, so entirely prostrated his strength, that all his efforts were useless. The wife hung terror-stricken over the side of the vessel, not knowing what to do, calling for assistance, and shrieking distractedly. The boy, with more presence of mind, clung to his father, and endeavored, with all his little strength, to lift him up. The cries of the woman at length brought some persons to ascertain what was the matter. At this moment the monster appeared again. The son redoubled his exertions to drag his father from his terrible situation, but with as little success as before. Some of the people who were attracted to the spot, threw stones, sticks, or any thing that happened to be in their way, at the alligator, while the wife, thinking that the deliverance of her husband was now certain, hastened to the shore to seek the surgeon. As the monster advanced, the child became convulsed with terror, and at length was hardly able, by his exertions, to sustain the weight of his father's body. He called loudly for assistance, but either through surprise or fear, his cries were unheeded. Still continuing to defend himself in a measure from the attacks of the alligator, the sufferer became exhausted from pain and loss of blood. The terrible animal seized the other leg. The boy still kept his hold, and contrived to throw a rope round the body of his nearly expiring father, so as to prevent him from being pulled into the river. At this instant the wife returned with the surgeon. But, alas! they came too late. The poor Indian recognized his wife, gave one parting look, then sunk in death on the bosom of his child."

Mr. Audubon, the distinguished naturalist, has given some of the most interesting facts in connection with the alligator that have come to my knowledge. He says: "A friend having intimated a wish to have the heart of one of these animals, to study its comparative anatomy, I one afternoon went out about half a mile from the plantation, and seeing an alligator that I thought I could put whole into a hogshead of spirits, I shot it immediately on the skull-bone. It tumbled over from the log on which it had been basking into the water, and, with the assistance of two negroes, I had it out in a few minutes, apparently dead. A strong rope was fastened round its neck, and in this condition, I had it dragged home across logs, thrown over fences, and handled without the least fear. Some young ladies there, anxious to see the inside of its mouth, requested that the mouth should be propped open with a stick put vertically; this was attempted, but at this instant the first stunning effect of the wound was over, and the animal thrashed and snapped its jaws furiously, although it did not advance a foot. I have frequently been very much amused when fishing in a bayou, where alligators were numerous, by throwing a blown bladder on the water toward the nearest one. The alligator makes for it, flaps it toward its mouth, or attempts seizing it at once, but all in vain. The light bladder slides off; in a few minutes many alligators are trying to seize this, and their evolutions are quite interesting. They then put one in mind of a crowd of boys running after a football. A black bottle is sometimes thrown in also, tightly corked; but the alligator seizes this easily, and you hear the glass give way under its teeth, as if ground in a coarse mill. They are easily caught by negroes, who most expertly throw a rope over their heads when swimming close to shore, and haul them out instantly."

A writer in the Liberia Herald, according to his account of the matter, had a pretty good opportunity to observe some of the habits of the alligator. "Coming down the river," he says, "a few days ago, we espied an alligator lying with his body on the sloping margin of the river, his lower jaw submerged in the water, while the upper was extended in the air, showing a formidable array of teeth. We stopped to gaze at him. Anon, a hapless fish ventured within the dread chasm, when the treacherous jaws suddenly closed, and severed the fish asunder. The native boys who were with us, took the occasion to assign the reason of some of the alligator's movements. They say he lies with his mouth open, to attract a certain insect which floats upon the surface of the water. These collect in large numbers around his mouth; fishes feed upon them, and when lured by the desired prey within the vortex, they become a prey themselves."

There is a singular adventure with an alligator recorded by the captain of a vessel on the coast of Guinea. It is as follows: "The ocean was very smooth, and the heat very great. Campbell, who had been drinking too much, was obstinately bent on going overboard to bathe, and although we used every means in our power to persuade him to the contrary, he dashed into the water, and had swam some distance from the vessel, when we on board discovered an alligator making toward him, behind a rock that stood some distance from the shore. His escape I now considered impossible, and I applied to Johnson to know how we should act, who, like myself, affirmed the impossibility of saving him, and instantly seized upon a loaded musket, to shoot the poor fellow before he fell into the jaws of the monster. I did not, however, consent to this, but waited, with horror, the event; yet, willing to do all in my power, I ordered the boat to be hoisted out, and we fired two shots at the approaching alligator, but without effect, for they glided over his scaly covering like hail-stones on a tiled house, and the progress of the creature was by no means impeded. The report of the piece, and the noise of the blacks from the sloop, soon made Campbell acquainted with his danger; he saw the creature making toward him, and, with all the strength and skill he was master of, he made for the shore. And now the moment arrived, in which a scene was exhibited beyond the power of my pen to describe. On approaching within a very short distance of some canes and shrubs that covered the bank, while closely pursued by the alligator, a fierce and ferocious tiger sprang toward him, at the instant the jaws of his first enemy were extended to devour him. At this awful moment Campbell was preserved. The eager tiger, by overleaping, fell into the gripe of the alligator. A horrible conflict then ensued. The water was colored with the blood of the tiger, whose efforts to tear the scaly covering of the alligator were unavailing, while the latter had also the advantage of keeping his adversary under water, by which the victory was presently obtained; for the tiger's death was now effected. They both sank to the bottom, and we saw no more of the alligator. Campbell was recovered, and instantly conveyed on board; he did not speak while in the boat, though his danger had completely sobered him. But the moment he leaped on the deck, he fell on his knees, and returned thanks to the Providence who had so protected him; and, what is most singular, from that moment to the time I am now writing, he has never been seen the least intoxicated, nor has been heard to utter a single oath."