The Bear Lake Monster has featured in many famous TV series including Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes and Syfy Channel’s Haunted Highway. Utah Folklore says the state’s Great Lakes house not one, not two, but five fearsome water monsters. Early Native Americans believed some lakes were cursed by ‘Water Babies’ who would coax travellers into the water to their deaths. By the time pilgrim settlers started to arrive, local tribes told tales of a giant water lizard, thirty feet long, with large ears and a mouth that would swallow men whole. It’s been a while now since the last sightings were reported in 2002. Still these lakes have become a major tourist attraction.
Local natives said the great serpents had disappeared in the 1820s, but by the 1860s white settlers were reporting incidents involving huge, terrifying, scaly creatures. The Utah and Bear Lakes in the north have had most sightings of these monsters; indeed, the description witnesses provide suggest these lakes each have one of a pair of twin water-dragons.
One of the first appearances of these creatures was in 1864 when a local man, Henry Walker, was in the Utah Lake. He reported seeing something that looked like a giant snake, but with the head of a greyhound, which frightened him so much he fled the water.
Over the years, there were frequent accounts of reputable people, including local priests, meeting the beasts. All witnesses provided the same description – that of a giant snake’s body with short, trunk-like legs rising out of the water with an enormous mouth and fearsome black eyes.
In the late 1860s, the idea of hunting down the monsters gained favour. Young local men tried shooting at them. Some successfully hit their targets, although no one was ever able to sufficiently wound the beasts in order to capture them. One farmer heard rustling in his garden one night. Using only his old rifle, he confronted and shot the creature, only to discover it was his neighbour’s heifer.
In 1870 real physical evidence was recovered, when fishermen from Springsville, a nearby town, found a large unidentified skull with a five-inch tusk on the jaw. The next year the Salt Lake Herald even revealed that the monster had been caught, but what happened to the body of the captured creature is unknown. In 1871, two local men were out fishing on Bear Lake when they saw the monster rise from the water. They said they managed to hit the beast with shots from their rifles, but the beast just swam away. A wagon train captain called William Bridge said in 1874 that he had also seen the Bear Lake beast. Bridge reported that the creature had been about 20 yards from shore when it surfaced from the water. “Its face and part of its head was covered with fur or short hair of a light snuff colour,” he said. Bridge also described it as having a flat face with large eyes, prominent ears and a four or five-feet-long neck. Bear Lake residents were so affected by Bridge’s testimony that they decided to make a trap to capture the beast.
Two prominent local citizens, Brigham Young and Phineas Cook, hatched a plan which involved little more than a giant fishing line. They linked a 300-feet-long, one-inch-thick rope to a large hook with a huge slab of mutton attached as bait. The position of the rope was marked by a buoy floating on the lake surface. Although the trap was often robbed of meat, no monster was ever caught. Lake monster sightings had fallen away drastically by the end of the nineteenth century.
There was one sighting of the Utah Lake creature in 1921, which marked a limited resurgence in interest, but then the whole area once again quietened down. Since then, one of the few reliable reports was in 1946 by a local Scout master who said he had seen the bizarre creature appear on the surface of the lake. The account was widely regarded to be so detailed and accurate that only the most ardent sceptic could doubt it.
Local wags have also pointed out that Scouts don’t lie. But some still do question the truth of the Utah Lakes monsters. In his lecture on the subject to the Utah State Historical Society, local historian D. Robert Carter said he actually believed the monster was a species of giant bug – humbug.