Sunday, April 12, 2015

1868: First Bear Lake Monster sightings

                         Bear Lake from the Highway 89 overlook.

UTAH and Idaho’s own rough equivalent of the Loch Nest Monster is the Bear Lake Monster. It dates back to Native American legends and was first reported by pioneer settlers in the summer of 1868 – in the plural sense – since one mass sighting included 10 different creatures at the same time.
“Monsters of Bear Lake” was an Aug. 5, 1868 headline in the Deseret News. (The D.N. was Utah’s only newspaper at the time.)
Correspondence from Charles C. Rich, namesake of Rich County and LDS Church Apostle comprised this initial monster report, given almost five years after settlers first had arrived there.
The “monsters” then were listed as 1. Grasshopper swarms, crop destroyers; and 2. The Bear Lake Monster, an elusive sea creature.
The Lake Monster reference is highly significant, occurring 90 years before the term ”Bigfoot” was coined. And, coming 65 years even before the famed Loch Nest Monster became known world-wide (though some Loch sightings may date back to the 7th Century).
“All lakes, caves and dens have their legendary histories,” Rich wrote. ”Tradition loves to throw her magic wand over beautiful dells and lakes, and people them with fairies, giants and monsters of various kinds. Bear Lake has also its own monster tale to tell, and when I have told it, I will leave you to judge whether or no (“not”) its merits are merely traditionary.”
Rich continued: “The Indians say there is a monster animal that lives in the Lake that has captured and carried away Indians while in the Lake swimming; but they say it has not been seen by them for many years, not since the buffalo inhabited the valley. They represent it as being of the serpent kind, but having legs about eighteen inches long on which they sometimes crawl out of the water a short distance on the shore. They also say its spirits water upwards out of its mouth.”

Thus, the Native Americans hadn’t sighted the local lake monster for likely more than two decades before the pioneers arrived.

                           A southern section of Bear Lake.

Rich’s 1868 newspaper account continued:
“Since the settlement of this valley, several persons have reported seeing a huge animal of some kind that they could not describe; but such persons have generally been alone when they saw it, and but little credence has been attached to the monster, and until this summer the ‘monster question’ had about died out.”
So, there were two more pre-1868 Bear Lake monster sightings by early settlers.
Rich next reported: “About three weeks ago (likely early July of 1868), Mr. S.M. Johnson, who lives in the east side of the lake at a place called South Eden (about half-way north along the Utah side of the lake), was going to the Round Valley settlement, six miles to the south of this place and when about half way he saw something in the lake, which at the time, he thought to be a drowned person. The road being some distance from the water’s edge he rode to the bench, and as the waves were running pretty high he thought it would soon wash into shore. In a few minutes two or three feet of some kind of animal that he had never seen before were raised out of the water.”
The report continued: “He did not see the body, only the head and what he supposed to be part of the neck. It had 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. It did not drift landward but appeared stationary, with the exception of turning its head. Mr. Johnson thought a portion of the body must be lie on the bottom of the lake or it would have drifted with the action of water. This is Mr. Johnson’s version as he told me.”
 (The monster expelling water seems consistent with Native American stories and the deepest part of Bear Lake at about 209 feet is not far from there, on the east side.)
Rich next wrote that the next day three women spotted a similar monster in the same place along the lake that was “very large and say it swam much faster than a horse could run on land.”
“These recent discoveries again revived the ‘monster question’” Rich reported. “Those who had seen it before brought in their claims anew, and many people began to think this story was not altogether moonshine.”
Rich then recounts more sightings:
“On Sunday last (July 19, 1868), N.C. Davis and Alan Davis of St. Charles and Thomas Slight and J. Collings of Paris with six women, were returning from Fish Haven, when about midway from the latter named place to St. Charles (all in today’s borders of Idaho), 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 a light wind. Mr. Slight says he distinctly saw the sides of a very large animal that he would suppose to not be less than ninety feet in length. … It was going south and all agreed that it swam with a speed almost incredible to their senses. Mr. Davis says he never saw a locomotive travel faster, and thinks it made a mile a minute, easy.”
The 1868 report continued: “In a few minutes after the discovery of the first, a second one followed in its wake; but seemed to be much smaller, appearing to Mr. Slight about the size of a horse. A larger one followed this, and so one until four large ones, in all, and six small ones had run southward out of sight.”
Rich then attested to Mr. Davis and Mr. Slight as being well known and reliable persons.
“I have no doubt they would be willing to make affidavits to their statement,” Rich wrote. “There you have the monster story so far as completed, but I hope it will be concluded by the capture of one sometime. If so large an animal exists in this altitude, and in so small a lake, what can it be? It must be something new under the sun…”
Rich then concluded his report stating that some settlers were talking of uniting to form a company to try and capture the monster, since it was something to rival P.T. Barnum (of later world-wide circus fame).

-RESEARCH conducted and compiled by Lynn Arave in 2015. 

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