Thursday, February 20, 2014

They Shall Take Up Serpents 2.0

The National Geographic channel will air a special, "Snake Salvation: They Shall Take Up Serpents" tonight at 10 PM ET/PT in the wake of Pastor Jamie Coots' death Saturday from a snakebite.  NatGeo's CEO said in a statement they wanted to air the special to give perspective to the world-wide discussion the death of Jamie Coots has caused.

Jamie Coots preached his last sermon Saturday night.  According to his son, Cody Coots, he was handling three poisonous snakes near the pulpit when a 2.5 ft-long timber rattlesnake bit him near the base of his right thumb. "It was the quickest snakebite I ever seen in my life," Cody said, adding that it hit him fast and within minutes the poison overwhelmed him. 

Jamie Coots

Coots was arguably the most prominent serpent handling preacher in the world.  The faith has historically shied away from the media but a new generation of preachers like Coots and 23 year-old Andrew Hamblin, who were featured on National Geographic's "Snake Salvation," have welcomed media interest in hopes of growing their declining numbers and to hlep understand the often laughed at belief.  Hamblin has posted pictures of him handling snakes on his Facebook page, earning comments calling him variations of a freak, an idiot, a false prophet.  Believers are quick to defend their faith and offer rebuttals.  Jamie Coots commented on one, "Take them up son if you don't obey the WORD OF GOD you will die lost and go to a DEVILS HELL!!!"

Signs followers, with varying names like Coots'  Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, KY, Hamblin's Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, TN, and the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, WV are members of a group of Appalachain Christians that believe Mark 16:18 should be read plainly as 'they shall take up serpents.'  Congregants only handle snakes, drink poison, and hold flames near their skin when they feel an anointing from God to do so, believing their faith will protect them.  If they are bitten or harmed they are either be being punished for sinning or it is simply a sign of God's confirmation.  The act of dying as a result is believed to be God's plan and a sign to followers.  

NatGeo - Jamie Coots:


Barely 100 years old, the tradition of snake handling in church is generally agreed to have been popularized by convicted moonshiner George Hensley.  In 1910  he showed up at a tent revival in rural Tennessee with a rattlesnake and gave a testimony of having been up on a mountain contemplating God's word when the snake crawled out in front of him.  Taking it to be a sign from God, Hensley took up the snake.  He demonstrated to the congregation that he could handle it without being harmed.  He soon attracted a large following.  By the 1940s it had grown quite large.  Several states, including Kentucky and Tennessee where Coots' and Hamblin's churches are, passed laws against handling poisonous reptiles during church. The local laws usually go unenforced, unless a death draws attention to them. Though the number of followers fell, small congregations remained scattered through the mountains.  

George Hensley with a 'crown of snakes'

George Hensley died from a snakebite during worship in 1955. In 1995 the Middlesboro congregation drew media attention when member Melinda Brown died after refusing to seek medical treatment when she was bitten during a church service.  The Bell County District Attorney filed a complaint against Pastor Coots but the judge declined to hear the case. In 1998 her husband, John Wayne Brown, died from a bite during a service in Alabama. The last death to occur in Kentucky was in 2006 when a Laurel County woman died from a snakebite. In May of 2012 national media attention was brought by the death of Reverend Mack Wolford after he was bitten at an outdoor service in West Virginia.  

Jamie Coots was arrested in 2008 for having 74 snakes in his house.  In February of 2013 he was given a year probation for transporting poisonous snakes across state lines from Alabama to Tennessee. In November of 2013 officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency cited Hamblin with 53 counts of violating the state's ban on venomous snakes. Hamblin argued his case that the snakes belonged to the church and the raid violated the congregation's religious liberty.  The grand jury decided not to indict him.

Coots supporting Hamblin during court proceedings, where protestors showed up in support of the preacher
Cody Coots told reporters that the snake that killed his father would be back in church this Saturday.  Cody, 21, has assumed leadership at the church where his grandfather and great grandfather also preached.  "It was God saying, this is how you wanted it, and it's your time to go. ... If he didn't plan [to die this way] he would have stayed alive," Cody told TMZ. Jamie Coots had been bitten by poisonous snakes eight times before.  In 1998 he lost part of a finger from a bite.  He kept it in a jar. 

Jamie Coots' finger

Cody Winn, known on the show as 'Big Cody,' was standing near Jamie Coots when he was bitten.  He said Coots dropped the snakes for a moment, but picked them up and finished the service.  When he finished he was heard saying, "My face feels like it's on fire."  Coots went to the restroom along with his son and Andrew Hamblin.  Within minutes he was unconscious.  Five men carried him to a car and he was taken home and placed in a recliner.  EMTs received a call and after finding he had left the church, showed up at the Coots home just after 9 pm.  Jamie's wife, Linda Coots signed a consent form and sent them away.  An hour later  the coroner showed up and pronounced Jamie Coots dead.

Cars were parked several blocks away from the the Creech Funeral Home in Middlesboro Tuesday where Jamie Coots' funeral was held.  A Facebook page created for the family asks that donations be made through to help pay for burial expenses.  Coots did not have life insurance. 

Ralph Hood, of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a psychology professor who has studied the serpent handling practice for 40 years believes Coots' death will not stop the movement, but the opposite, "They will continue, and praise Jamie Coots as a martyr who died for his faith.”

Jamie and Cody Coots handling snakes during services:

They Shall Take Up Serpents - old blog with more info on serpent handling and Mack Wolford's death

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Legend of El Chupacabra

This is a chupacabra.

This is not.
Taken 2010 in Southern Alabama

This is a wild dog, coyote, or perhaps a fox with the mange or some other disease that effects it’s skin and appearance. If I was going to try and say it was anything else, I would say Zombie Dog, but calling all these sightings around the country Chupacabras has became a trend.

Today’s news feeds are filled with claims of chupacabra sightings, evidence, and sometimes even bodies here in the United States. The evidence, photos or video, always depicts a dog-like creature.  The snout may be a little long, it may not have any fur, and there are other differences that set them apart from the average family Fido.  

What bothers us here on Lost Creek is that these critters look NOTHING like the creature that was originally spotted in Puerto Rico in 1995 and given the name ‘Chupacabra.’ When this, perhaps modern-mythical, beast immigrated from the Caribbean through Mexico and Central America to emerge in the US, it apparently went through a major change in appearance.  

The genesis of Chupacabra lore can be traced to Puerto Rico in 1995.  Descriptions of the creature said it stood three to four feet tall and walked upright on two legs.  It was lizard-like, with grayish skin and a row of sharp quills running down its back.  Sometimes descriptions included a forked tongue, fangs,  glowing red eyes, and leathery, bat-like wings.  It's feet had three claws.

These early descriptions of chupacabras often said that they hopped, much like a kangaroo.  Some reports described some kangaroo-like features.  This reminded me of the time when a couple friends and myself went to a concert in Cleveland.  On the way home we took turns driving and napping.  While I was riding shotgun on the interstate somewhere in Ohio, we drove past what appeared to have been a dead kangaroo on the side of the road.  When my friend in the backseat woke up and we told him about what we saw he insisted we had indulged in certain chemicals and left him out.  I assure you, that was not the case.  It wasn’t until I dug into the chupacabra descriptions that I recalled the kangaroo-looking critter on the interstate.  That may have been my first run-in with El Chupacabra…more on that later.

Backing up further in time to the 1975s, we found reports of a creature called ‘El Vampiro de Moca,’ that was blamed for the death of livestock in the small Puerto Rican town of Moca.  A rash of UFO sightings broke out on the island.  Farm animals, initially suspected to have been killed by a Satanic cult, were found bled dry through small circular incisions.  No one ever claimed to see the Moca Vampire, and it came to be believed that the slayings were the result of illegally-imported crocodiles.

Things seemed to die down.  Now skip forward to 1995.  The Puerto Rican towns of Orocovis and Morovis began seeing more dead animals turning up.  The bodies of goats, chickens, and other animals appeared to have been exsanguinated through a puncture wound.  Canovanas seemed to be the center of the new epidemic with over 150 reports of dead animals.  That August Madeline Tolentino reported seeing the creature in broad daylight.  The sketch below was made based on Tolentino’s description and published in local newspapers:

Prominent and described in detail by a witness described the quills in detail.  An interesting theory is that the 'quills' described are actually its wings folded on its back. A story told my a former Navy Seal talks about seeing a group of creatures that at first resembled chimps killing another animal for food.  Then they noticed spikes that ran down their spine that would stand up when they became agitated.  They filmed the entire episode. The film according to the Seal is three minutes long and classified.  [2]

Photo from Texas. Kangaroo-like appearance?

By the early 2000s chupacabra sightings had spread into the US, starting in Texas and continuing throughout the country.  Ranchers would find their animals dead, spot a predator they believed responsible, call it a chupacabra, and sometimes catch it on film or even kill it.  However, when DNA testing has been done on such subjects, it almost always comes back as a coyote with the mange or hybrid  dog or coyote that has bred with other animals.  

Unidentified animals labeled as chupacabras have been spotted all over the country, as far north as Maine.  Kentucky is no exception, as the following video shows:

Some believe the chupacabra is some previously unknown creature.  Others believe it is related to the UFO sightings and is some kind of alien creature.  Lesser known is the theory that the chupacabra is the creation of a genetic research lab hidden in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.   El Yunque is a mountain range on the eastern part of the island.  Proponents of this theory believe the creature escaped from the lab during a particularly bad storm in the early 90s.  The US has admitted to having labs and testing chemicals in Puerto Rico as part of Project 112.  Anthrax and Agent Orange are among the toxic chemicals that were researched and sometimes sprayed for testing on the island.  Reports of other strange creatures have came from the Yunque area: hairy bigfoot-like bipeds, flying creatures resembling Velociraptors, a colony of black panthers, and a monkey-like creature that uses wings to fly (1).

Trail cam photo showing a creature with wings

Chupacabra in a tree?

Is the chupacabra an example of an urban legend, a tale told again and again, evolving over time? Is it some alien or genetically altered creature?  Rational explanations somewhere?  The only thing we’re sure of is that the pictures of dead dogs and coyotes that keep surfacing have absolutely nothing to do with the original creature described in Puerto Rico.  The farm animals they have been blamed for killing had lost very little of their blood. When these mangy dogs start showing up with a row of quills down their backs and walking around on two legs, we’ll start to take notice. We’re very disappointed that chupacabra has became a blanket term for any unknown or immediately identifiable animals. As much as we'd love to see at least questionable if not verifiable pictures of something that sounds more like the Puerto Rico cryptid , we hate every (fellow) redneck that see's a poor coyote suffering from a disease and emails the local news station video of it.

However, if the definition of the term is changing, to cover any strange beast, particularly crazed, diseased, possibly evil animals like coyotes and Foxes, then perhaps we should get the Enquirer on the line, because we’ve encountered one such beast first hand and it lives right up the road here in Letcher County.  Interestingly, it has been linked to local Sasquatch sightings.  But that’s another story all together. 

Related Links: - all the photos of Americanized dog-like chupacabras you could ever want to look at
Article from HuffPost on Feb '14 sightings in Texas
Timeline of famous sightings


This goes at the end because we wrestled over whether to include it or not.  Images of sick animals are horrible.  We love all critters, the regular and paranormal ones.  But we posted pics of people's flesh eatern off and thieir rotting limbs with the krokodil stories in the hopes that educated people will far better.  Here are pics for comparison of actual known animals:

Coyote with mange

Another coyote with mange

Considering all the different breeds of dogs not much of a stretch from this one with mange

 Project Retribution