The South American Reetsa Expedition

If you're well-versed in hoax lore, you might have heard the story of the South American Reetsa Expedition. It's a hoax attributed to the New York City prankster Brian G. Hughes, who was active as a hoaxer from around 1895 to 1910. (He died in 1924.)

He pulled off quite a few hoaxes. Around 1895 he submitted a cat to the New York cat show, claiming it was a rare breed known as the Dublin Brindle. After it won a prize, he revealed it was just an alley cat. A few years later he tried a similar stunt at a horse show, submitting a horse named Puldeca Orphan. It was really a street-car horse from the railway company. (Puldeca Orphan = Pulled a Car Often)

But the South American Reetsa Expedition was, according to H. Allen Smith, author of The Compleat Practical Joker (1954), one of his "most celebrated gags." Hughes told the media that he had financed an expedition to search for a rare South American creature, the Reetsa. For a year he supplied them with updates about the expedition. Then, finally, he announced that a Reetsa had been caught and would be shipped to New York City. On the day of its arrival, reporters were gathered at the pier as Hughes proudly led a mangy bull down the gangway. Reetsa was "a steer" spelled backwards.

The story of the Reetsa Expedition is told in many anthologies of hoaxes. For instance, it appears The Big Book of Hoaxes (the cartoon anthology of hoaxes). It's also mentioned on the wikipedia page about Hughes.

Since I've been adding a lot of new material to the Hoax Archive recently, I decided it was high time to add the Reetsa Expedition. But instead of just parroting the standard story about the hoax, I tried to track down some original news reports about it. I figured there would have to be something. However, I've been able to find absolutely nothing. There's no mention of it in any newspaper archive, such as, the google news archive, or the proquest archives. I found quite a few obituaries about Hughes. They described many of his pranks and hoaxes, but none mentioned the Reetsa Expedition. That alone contradicts the claim that it was his most celebrated hoax. In fact, the earliest reference to it I can find is in H. Allen Smith's 1954 book, and Smith offered no date or source for the tale. So I'm concluding that it's one of those classic hoaxes that never actually happened. Kind of like the September Morn hoax I debunked a few months ago. Though, of course, I'm willing to change my mind if anyone can unearth any evidence that it did occur.

Animals Pranks

Posted on Wed Jun 10, 2009


So it's a hoax hoax?
Posted by Frosted Donut  on  Wed Jun 10, 2009  at  03:49 PM
I believed the "reetsa" story although I always thought it was a pretty lame hoax. I'm still pissed at you, though, Alex, for debunking the September Morn thing. You and your stupid "facts" ruined one of my favorite hoax stories.

How DARE you, sir? HOW DARE YOU?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  02:38 AM
It also crops up in "Sidewalks of America" by Benjamin Albert Botkin (1954) and "Hoaxes" by Curtis MacDougall (1958), so was probably not an invention of Smith's.

Perhaps Hughes started the story himself?
Posted by David B.  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  04:22 AM
MacDougall's book was actually originally published in 1940. I'm trying to track down a 1940 edition to see if the story about the Reetsa is in there.

But I doubt Hughes made it up. I found an interview with him in the Washington Post, in 1922, in which he was reminiscing about his favorite hoaxes of his career. Never mentioned the Reetsa.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  07:38 AM
One point: The 'reetsa' should not have been a bull, mangy or otherwise. Steers are castrated as calves before they can grow into bulls. A better name for the reetsa would have been 'xona'. Oxen are also castrated.
Posted by Phred22  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  01:08 PM
You should go to the library and check out which expeditions took place during the westward movement. don't just wait for answers from others...explore and find out for yourself also.
Posted by Streaming christmas music  on  Thu Jun 11, 2009  at  02:57 PM
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