The legendary tale of the Bear Lake monster and true story of the real Bear Lake monster
For over a hundred years, stories proliferated with many claiming one or more monsters lurked in Bear Lake
The legend of the Bear Lake monster may have all started with a Deseret News article. In 1868, Deseret News correspondent Joseph Rich published his account of locals alleging they saw a serpentine monster or “great big fish” in Bear Lake.
Bear Lake is situated on the border of northern Utah and Idaho and for over a hundred years, stories proliferated with many claiming one or more monsters lurked in Bear Lake.
What is the Bear Lake monster’s name?
Isabella. The Bear Lake monster’s name was revealed in 1996 during the annual Raspberry Days festival in Garden City, per Visit Bear Lake. Elementary school children voted on the name of the monster.
The Bear Lake monster is called “The Bear Lake monster” because it lurks in Bear Lake. “The Caribbean of the Rockies,” the lake is partially in Idaho and partially in Utah. The area around the lake has become famous for its raspberries, particularly the raspberry milkshakes. These milkshakes are so famous that they’re nationally recognized and also have been mentioned in literature like Michele Ashman Bell’s “Summer in Paris.”
Bear Lake monster history
Like I wrote earlier, as locals continued to share the legend, Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took interest in it. The Deseret News published an article titled “President Young’s Trip North” that described church leaders speaking with locals who firmly believed the tale. The church leaders reportedly believed that the locals saw something remarkable and that the accounts were certainly of a fish, but they did not readily accept the folk tale as true.
A church leader suggested sending a large rope to the locals to see if the monster could be captured. Local interest in the reality of the monster piqued over the next two decades. The bulk of the mentions of the Bear Lake monster in the archives of Deseret News are between 1868 and the 1890s with an especially high interest in the 1870s through the early 1880s.
On Aug. 27, 1873, a Deseret News reporter said, “This monster — he never saw, but the one — was master of the lake, and lived by devouring the animals which came by night to its brink to drink.” A month later, the September 1873 Deseret News said someone was observing the lake, waiting to see a monster pop up, but the monster hadn’t done so yet.
One Deseret News article from July 1877 titled “Quite “Fishy”” poked fun at the folklore surrounding the Bear Lake monster: “However, ‘Saxey’s’ Bear Lake monster has the precedence, having made its debut ahead of this Monument Point visitor. One would suppose the waters of the Lake were plenty salt enough, without his crocodile-ship ... The fact is we prefer to take the whole story with a few grains of salt.”
On Aug. 24, 1881, Deseret News printed news from a correspondent who said, “While on the way from Fish Haven, a number of the party saw what they supposed was the celebrated Bear Lake monster. It was described as a large undulating body, with about 30 feet of exposed surface, of a light cream color, moving swiftly through the at a distance of three miles from the point of observation.”
What does the Bear Lake monster look like?
After analyzing the mentions of the Bear Lake monster in the Deseret News, some typical descriptions of the monster are comparisons to either a serpent or crocodile. Sometimes the monster was described as having the spikes on top of it. Most of the time, the monster is mentioned in the singular, but there are instances where a plural is used. In later mentions, the monster is compared to a monster in Lake Superior — Pressie.
Yes, Pressie, which does, in fact, rhyme with Nessie — better known as the Loch Ness monster.
Since 1894, residents around Lake Superior have periodically reported seeing a monster around Presque Isle River, hence the name Pressie. According to Lansing State Journal, the bulk of sightings of Pressie occurred between 1894 and 1930. Pressie allegedly is a snake-like monster.
The Loch Ness monster has a longer folkloric tradition behind it. In a seventh-century biography of St. Columba, the monster is described as about to bite a swimmer when Columba commanded it to stop, per Britannica. Since then, the monster has several reported sightings and at one point, researchers scanned the whole lake to see what organisms live in the lake. They only found no large animals, but plenty of eels.
Some people have said the Bear Lake monster is actually the Loch Ness monster — I don’t know how a monster would transport itself from Utah to Scotland, but that’s how the legend goes.
How big is the Bear Lake monster?
Anywhere from six to 90 feet long, according to Visit Bear Lake. Most reports said the monster was around 40 feet long, per Austin and Alta Fife.
Bear Lake monster sightings
The Bear Lake monster was first reported seen in 1869 by Jospeh Rich. He sent his account to the Deseret News, which included details of locals claiming they saw it. Later, Rich said he lied about the sightings — it was “a world-class lie,” he said.
Another sighting was reported in 1907 in the Logan Republican. The Bear Lake monster website reprinted the account which said, “It was now close enough for us to see that it was some water monster … then started towards us like a mad elephant … before we could move he grabbed the horse with his two front paws, opened its teeth into it like a bullterrier would a mouse. After tearing the horse badly he made an awful howl and then was gone.”
There were two other sightings reported in 1937 and 1946, per Idaho Magazine. Other sightings were rumored to happen as the Bear Lake monster was cemented as part of Utah folklore and urban legend.
When was the Bear Lake monster last seen ?
Bear Lake business owner Brian Hirschi said he saw the monster in 2002. The Casper Star Tribune reported his account where he said he saw the monster on a night in June 2002 when he was anchoring his boat. He said he saw two humps in the water and then saw a serpent-like monster jump up in the air. He described it as “really dark, slimy green skin and deep beet-red eyes.”
His sighting was received with skepticism, according to the Casper Star Tribune. “Skeptics were quick to point out that his recounting of the 2-year-old sighting appeared in a Salt Lake newspaper on Memorial Day weekend — the start of the summer tourist season.”
The real Bear Lake monster
There is a real Bear Lake monster, but the monster is more furry and less serpentine.
Lurking in Logan Canyon, there was a grizzly bear who was called “Old Ephraim.” Newell J. Crookston told the story, available through Utah State University, of this grizzly bear who was particularly damaging to livestock in the area.
The bear was named after one of P. T. Barnum’s grizzly bears. Old Ephraim evaded many traps as he killed sheep, but Frank Clark was able to track him down and kill him in 1923. Per the Bear Lake monster website, Old Ephraim is still remembered in Garden City and Logan today via “A pizza place sign depicting a grizzly bear in Garden City, the skull of Old Eph on display at Utah State University’s Merrill Library, and the old sheep herder stories told from time to time.”
Even though the Bear Lake monster might not be real in the sense of a large serpent swimming through the lake, he’s real in Utah folklore.