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She Was No Dupe

June 2024
1min read

My boyhood home having been the Monongahela River area of Pennsylvania, I was most interested in Vance Bourjaily’s fascinating account in the April issue of his great-great-great-grandmother’s migration west (“Wisky for the Men”)—particularly her journey through the Pittsburgh area and the Ohio River Valley.

Mr. Bourjaily doubts his ancestor’s diary entry that describes Allegheny River fish that were “alligators [with] heads like a catfish and short legs,” theorizing that they were most likely flathead catfish and that she had fallen for a riverman’s tall tale. I assure the author and your readers that there is such a creature in the Ohio and its tributaries—a large salamander we call a water dog, but properly known as the hellbender. I’ve seen them well over a foot long and weighing perhaps two pounds.

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