The legend of the Bear Lake Monster has been around for more than a hundred years.
Sightings of the big reptilelike creature surfaced as long ago as 1868, and as late as 1961. The legend goes that the monster lives in Bear Lake, located on the Utah-Idaho border in the northeastern part of the state.In her book "Folklore in the Bear Lake Valley," author Bonnie S. Thompson describes how Indians first alerted the settlers to the monster, describing it as the "serpent kind," but with legs and having the ability to spurt water upwards out of its mouth.
On August 3, 1868, the Deseret News printed an article by Joseph C. Rich, who stated that the Indians said therewas a monster in the lake and that the animal carried away members of the tribe while bathing. However, the article stated that the Indians had not seen the huge animal since the buffalo left the valley.
The legend of lake monsters has been around for years. Thompson writes that some people speculated that the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland and the Bear Lake creature are one in the same. The legend goes, she says, there is an underground waterway that connects the two lakes, thus giving the monster free reign in both bodies of water.
"It migrates from one lake to the other, thus explaining the rash of sightings in the early days and then nothing for years," stated Thompson.
Even Mormon Church President Brigham Young let his curiosity get the best of him. When he heard stories about the monster, he decided to visit Bear Lake himself.
Young and his party drove along the shoreline in 1869 to catch a glimpse of the animal but were unsuccessful. The president later wrote that he visited some residents in St. Charles who said they had seen the resptile, and he thought they were sincere.
Several reports published in the Deseret News about the monster aroused interest in Salt Lake City, and a news editor recalled a story of ancient Lake Bonneville, speculating that the monster may have stayed on after the huge body of water disappeared.
Tales of the Bear Lake Monster in turn spurred pranks. According to Thompson, a monster was captured in the Great Salt Lake in 1971 and was put on display. A group of scientists uncovered the fraud by pointing out that the animal was in fact a large codfish shipped in from the East which had eight chicken legs attached to it.
But sightings continued in the lake. In 1870, C.M. Johnson of South Eden, wrote that he had seen the monster. He stated that he was walking along the shoreline when he thought he saw the body of someone who had drowned.
When he got closer, he described what he saw: an animal that had "ears or bunches on the side of its head nearly as large as a pint cup. The waves at times would dash over the head when it would throw water from its mouth or nose."
Soon after Johnson's report, the monster had been spotted by at least 20 people. One eye-witness account says the monster could "swim faster than a horse could run on land."
Another monster story was told by Aquilla Nebeker of South Eden who said he was alerted to the monster after he heard an awful noise coming from the direction of where his livestock were grazing. He said he rushed to where his animals were and to his horror, he saw a "monstrous serpent" eating his sheep.
Nebeker reported that he ran back to his house and watched the monster eat all the sheep. The monster then continued to eat and swallowed a roll of barbed wire.
The tale continues that the animal thrashed itself back into the lake and immediately sank to the bottom and drowned due to the weight of the wire.
The latest reported sighting happened in 1961. The following account comes from Glade Myler of Cove.
"A troop of Scouts chaperoned by my father and a friend were at Camp Hunt located near Lakota," stated Myler. "I went out in a rowboat with the rest of the Scouts, and father and his companion stayed at the camp.
"They were standing on the shore watching the lake, when a huge body arose from the water, making huge waves as it rose. It appeared for only a few minutes, traveling south, then slowly sank and disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared."