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TALL TALES RUN DEEP IN LORE OF THE LAKE

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The mysterious Great Salt Lake has more than its share of legends and tall tales. The Great Salt Lake Monster, whales, whirlpools, savage Indians and underwater quicksand have all been reported during the past 175 years.

Here's a look at some of the legends:

The Great Salt Lake Monster

J.H. McNeil of Kelton, Box Elder County, and several other men were working for the Barnes and Company saltworks on the northern shore near Monument Point and the Central Pacific railroad line in early July of 1877 when they heard a frightful bellow.

As McNeil tells it, they looked up and saw an awful creature with a crocodile-like body and the head of a horse. As it saw the men, it charged toward them and they fled to the mountains. They were so frightened, they stayed there through the night and didn't return to work until morning. According to another account, huge overturned boulders marked the trail of the marauding beast. The creature was sometimes called the North Shore Monster.

McNeil signed an affidavit of the account, and a story on the sighting was published in the Corinne Record and later the Deseret News. However, the News account said the monster report should be accepted "with a few grains of salt." Some believe the monster may have been a buffalo.

Dolphins

Antelope Island was originally named Porpoise Island because on April 19, 1848, a local LDS church official whom some sources call Brother Kimball swore he saw a porpoise in the lake. He assumed there were many others.

A Brother Bainbridge also reported he saw a dolphin in the lake sometime in 1847 or 1848.

One theory to explain the dolphin stories is that the men may have seen a large carp swimming in Farmington Bay, where the lake's water is less salty than in other areas of the lake.

Whales

One Provo newspaper account in 1890 stated a pod of whales was spotted swimming and spouting in the lake. The whales were said to be offspring of a pair of young whales planted there 15 years prior.

Oysters

An editorial in the Feb. 5, 1853, edition of the Deseret News proposed planting oysters in the Great Salt Lake. The writer believed they could flourish there and be a great food source for the area. The only problem the writer could see was getting oysters transported from the coast. History books indicate oysters, eels, fish and crabs were all planted in the lake many years later, but none survived the salinity.

Whirlpools

There are tales of whirlpools in the Great Salt Lake marking the openings of subterranean channels that drained into the Pacific Ocean. (Some early trappers, including Jim Bridger, mistook the Great Salt Lake for the Pacific Ocean.)

Supposedly, an eyewitness around 1870 saw a schooner almost drawn into such a pool between Fremont and Antelope islands. However, another report said the lake was only a few feet deep in the area where the whirlpool was supposed to have occurred.

Fierce, sudden storms can strike the lake and create whitecaps and heavy-salt waves that pack twice the punch of a fresh-water wave. And some storms have caused water spouts and tornadoes across the surface of the lake. This is probably the basis of the old whirlpool tales.

Underwater quicksand

Mitch Larsson, former park ranger at Antelope Island, told the Deseret News in 1992 that while he's heard tales about the dangers of underwater quicksand, he knows of no facts to support its existance.

In May of 1939, the sandbar to Fremont Island was only eight inches under water. One man reportedly traversed it with horses and a two-wheel cart. The sandbar was even marked with stakes at quarter-mile intervals, but the man is said to have wandered off course and lost the horses in underwater quicksand. He had to hike and swim six miles to shore. This tale may have started the quicksand warnings.

Other tales

Another story tells of a powerful Indian tribe who inhabited the lake's islands and rode elephants. Islands were also reported to contain mysterious white Indian tribes.

Though these stories are far-fetched, hundreds of ancient Indian burial sites were exposed around the lake when its waters began to recede in the late 1980s.