Like the famous Loch Ness in Scotland, Utah’s Bear Lake keeps a monster-sized secret in its watery depths. Located at the top of Logan Canyon on the Idaho border, Bear Lake has been at the center of “monster sighting” stories since at least 1868.
That was the year that local resident and Deseret News correspondent Joseph Rich reported sightings of “a strange serpent creature” in his newspaper. Between 1868 and 1871, several more sightings of the monster were reported, including campers who claimed that a huge alligator-like creature emerged from the water and destroyed their camp. Local man Thomas Sleight reported a huge animal out on the lake swimming with incredible speed, while Aquilla Nebeker saw the monster gobbling his flock of sheep, along with several rolls of barbed wire. A local fisherman even captured "a junior member of the notorious Bear Lake monster family" near Fish Haven in the summer of 1871. Panic over the monster reached such a fevered pitch that area gun sales increased from 1868 to 1870.
But with each sighting, descriptions of the monster changed dramatically. It was reportedly between six and ninety feet long, with a horse-like – or maybe a snake-like— head, with a body that was alternately brown, green, shiny, scaly, or hairy. The monster was seen rising from the water, floating calmly, swimming at great speed, and even walking on the shore. Several eyewitnesses were well-respected members of the community, which gave the story credibility. Various plots were hatched to capture the monster, from giant fishhooks to plans for straining the lake itself. None of those came to fruition.
Joseph Rich eventually admitted that he had invented the monster story to attract tourists to Bear Lake. But many eyewitnesses stood by their accounts, and Shoshone oral tradition actually tells of a serpent-like creature in the lake. So what do you think about the Bear Lake Monster? Historical fact? Fascinating legend? Or complete hoax?
Image: Folk painting of Bear Lake Monster, 1972-73. Artist unknown. Landscape painting depicting the Bear Lake Monster chasing swimmers. Courtesy of Merrill-Cazier Library.
See “Bear Lake Monster,” History & Lore of Logan Canyon Podcast Series, Stokes Nature Center, 2010, http://www.logannature.org/history_podcast.html; Bagley, Pat. “'Monsterologist' Doesn't Dismiss the Bear Lake Monster.” Salt Lake Tribune, 7/30/2006; Will Bagley, “Bear Lake Monster Season Is Over for This Year, but the Legend Lives On,” Salt Lake Tribune, 12/8/2002; Will Bagley, “Does Monster Lurk Beneath Bear Lake?” Salt Lake Tribune, 3/4/2001; Law, Dorothy C. “Bear Lake's Monster Tales Live in History,” The Herald Journal, 5/26/1985; Portraits in Time: Logan Canyon, a Historical Guide, Bridgerland Travel Region and the United States Forest Service Logan Ranger District.