Saturday, October 29, 2011


Petroglyph of a River Monster along the Cimarron River
in Northeastern New Mexico. Photo: Bill McGlone.

This remarkable photo was taken by Bill McGlone a couple of decades ago along the Cimarron River in northeastern New Mexico.  It appears to be a portrayal of the head and foreparts of a large creature and incorporates considerable work as well as an example of incorporating a natural projection of the cliff face for the head. My first reaction upon seeing this image was that it is a portrayal of the Mesoamerican Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. It certainly bears what appears to be a ruff of feathers on top of the head. What might represent a fin can be seen projecting downward from behind the head.
Drawing of the river monster petroglyph, Cimarron
River, New Mexico. Drawn by Peter Faris.

Virtually all of the peoples of the American Great Plains believed in underwater monsters living in the lakes and rivers. I have written elsewhere that I assume that such beliefs were originally inspired by the erosion of the large bones of prehistoric mammals (mammoths, mastodons, etc.) out of the river banks during the spring runoff. Given the location of this large, complex petroglyph near the Cimarron River in northeastern New Mexico I believe we are justified in assuming that it represents one of these great underwater monsters.
Of the people who occupied that area during prehistoric and protohistoric times, we can identify the Southern Cheyenne, the Comanche, and the Kiowa. The area that the Kiowa claimed as their homeland lay in the southwestern plains adjacent to the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado and western Kansas and the Red River drainage of the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma.
Zemoguani, painted lodge, collected by James Mooney,
1891-1904. National Anthropological Archives.

The Kiowa version of the great underwater monster was the zemoguani. Portrayals of zemoguani were collected by the anthropologist James Mooney in 1904 from the Kiowa. These include a painted model tipi with zemoguani on its side and a hide painting of a Kiowa camp circle showing the painted zemoguani tipi erected in its place in the camp circle.

Kiowa Model Painted Tipi with Zemoguani, National Cowboy
& Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK.

As I said above the first reaction of many viewers to this remarkable petroglyph is that it is Quetzalcoatl, but given the location of the image on the cliff in the area claimed by the Kiowa, and given its resemblance to zemoguani, I personally feel that this identification is more reasonable.


  1. Yes, I am Kiowa. Who were/are the Kiowa(s) who claimed that this image is of the Kiowa Zemoguani?

    I have always had a problem with this word. Phonically, it sounds out to be "Zim-mo-gone-knee". Yet, there is no Kiowa word that even remotely sounds like this.

  2. William C. MeadowsMay 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    The name is Ze-maut-qu-ne (pron. Zay-mawt-kwoo-nee). Ze-maut means to be held in the mouth / by the teeth. Qu-ne-dau means to be in a state of rolling over and over. The name is the same as later applied to the alligator and is based on how the species kills its prey. A Kiowa woman had this personal name in the 1890s.

    Wm. Meadows
    Missouri State University.