looking back Logan Canyon Road, 1930, overlooking Bear Lake and Garden City
Bear Lake Monster: Gift of a nostalgic past
by A.J. Simmonds
One of the interesting "ifs" about our area is the
continued rumor of the Bear Lake Monster.
During almost every summer season after the Bear
Lake Valley was colonized, someone claimed to have seen
something in the lake. No two stories agreed, nor were
they believed. Not, that is, until July 1868.
On the 27th of that month, young Joseph C. Rich of Paris
wrote a letter to the Deseret News. He stated that during
the first part of July, Mr. S. M. Johnson saw what he
presumed to be a dead body floating in the water. On
closer inspection, the "corpse" proved to be a strange
creature with "ears or bunches on the side of its head
nearly as large as a pint cup. The waves at times would
dash over its head, when it would throw water from its"
mouth or nose."
Mr. Rich offered further confirmation.
"On Sunday last as N. C. Davis and Allen Davis of St.
Charles, and Thomas Sleight and J. Collings of Paris with
six women, were returning from Fish Haven, when about
midway from the latter named place to St. Charles their
attention was suddenly attracted to a peculiar motion or
wave in the water about three miles distant. The lake was
not rough, only a little disturbed by the wind. Mr. Sleight
says he distinctly saw the sides of a very large animal that
he would suppose to be not less than ninety feet in
length...In a few minutes after the discovery of the first a
second followed in its wake, but seemed to be much
smaller, appearing to Mr. Sleight about the size of a horse.
"A larger one followed this, and so till four large ones, in
all and six small ones had run southward out of sight."
No sooner has this bombshell been dropped on Utah via
the pages of the News, than a report came in from Lehi on
the shores of Utah Lake that some kind of sea serpent
made his home there. It developed that in 1864 Isaac Fox
had seen two "snakes" in Utah Lake, both about twenty
feet long. In 1866 the creatures were again sighted by two
men gathering wild hay near the shore. One of them
reported the pertinent data:
"Its head was a foot across and shaped like a
greyhound's and it had the wickedest-looking black eyes
he's even seen. It darted its tongue out which was red and
forked. The color of the 'snake' was a deep yellow color
with black spots."
The editor noted that "These make a character for Utah
Lake, as the abode of monsters almost rivaling Bear
Lake. One thing somewhat noteworthy with regard to both
these lakes, we believe, is that an Indian cannot be got to
go into either, as from personal knowledge, or tradition,
they believe monsters exist in each. They say that at
Pelican Point, in Utah Lake, one of these monsters
swallowed an Indian whole, scalplock and all!"
While the monster in Bear Lake hasn't swallowed
anyone within recent memory, in 1879 he did eliminate
half a dozen sheep and a couple of spools of barbed wire.
The correspondent who reported the incident was more
impressed with the creature's reappearance than with his
The three years from 1868 to 1870 were the heydays of
monster viewing on Bear Lake. Scarcely a summer month
passed without some type of new confirmation finding
print in one of the Salt Lake City newspapers. Then
whatever it was that everyone kept seeing disappeared.
Then in the summer of 1877, it became apparent that a
monster also cavorted along the far shores of Great Salt
Lake. According to an affidavit signed by J. H. McNeil, an
eyewitness, on the evening of July 8, a number of
employees of Barnes & Co.'s saltworks at Monument
Point near Kelton were suddenly startled by a loud snort
from the briny waters of the lake. Looking toward the
direction of the noise, they saw a "huge mass of hide and
fin rapidly approaching and when within a few yards of
the shore it raised its enormous head and uttered a
terrible bellow." The beast has a body like that of an
immense crocodile and a head resembling a horse. Not
content with merely frightening the workers, the creature
charged toward the shore. Stampeding up the hillside, the
salt boilers spent an uncomfortable night among the rocks
and greasewood. The next morning they found their camp
upset and huge tracks along the beach.
The Salt Lake City newspapers were inclined to scoff,
but dutifully reported that two days later "a huge
creature of the reptillian order had been seen in Utah
The rash of new data set local natural science
dilettantes to synthesizing. Was it not possible that
observers were seeing the same species of creature? It
was, they reasoned, perfectly feasible for a beast of the
size described to travel from Bear Lake through the Mud
Lake swamps to Bear River, swim down the Bear to Great
Salt Lake, and then up the tepid Jordan River to Utah
Despite the fact that in 1894 Joseph C. Rich confessed
that he was the one who "discovered and made famous by
publication in the Deseret News that wonderful first class
lie — 'The Bear Lake Monster,' " the creature continued
to be seen.
The monster certainly did not lack apologists. Theories
were advanced that the beast followed an established
migration route between Bear and Utah Lakes via the
Bear River and the Jordan River. In the 1920s four dams
were built in Bear River between Bear Lake and Great
Salt Lake. The diversion of much water for irrigation,
culinary, and industrial purposes lowered the level of
Great Salt Lake and almost dried the lower courses of
both the Bear and the Jordan. If a migration pattern did
exist, it was disrupted.
At least those have been the modern explanations.
From time to time someone still claims to have seen the
Bear Lake Monster. But the claims are hardly made with
the enthusiasm of those a century ago. Whatever lurks —
or did lurk — in the depths of the mountain seas has
ceased to be important to the dwellers on their shores.
The Bear Lake Monster, the Salt Lake Monster, and the
Utah Lake Monster belong to another time. They belong to
an era when standardized neon signs did not blink the
name of nation-wide mercantile chains across the murky
waters; when those waters could produce anything, not
just salt and game fish and weekend boating; when
anything that could happen on the frontier generally did.
The mountain lakes no longer wash the outskirts of raw
pioneer communities; they wash the suburbs of
sophisticated cities, and monsters don't frequent the
environs of civilization. They cavort where beginnings are
made, where the land is new and wondrous and still open
The Herald Journal/Valley, Monday. May 19. 1980—3
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