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The Bear Lake Monster is a cryptid appearing in local folk-lore near Bear Lake, on the Utah–Idaho border.
The myth originally grew from articles written in the 19th century by Joseph C. Rich, a Mormon colonizer in the area, purporting to report second-hand accounts of sightings of the creature. However, he later recanted the stories.
In recent years the monster is considered to be a tourist attraction. The last reported sighting of the monster was in 2002.
Not all descriptions of the Bear Lake Monster agree, but one team of folklorists stated that it “is reported to resemble a serpent, but with legs about eighteen inches long on which it marauds along the shoreline.” One article reported that the creature had “a large undulating body, with about 30 feet of exposed surface, of a light cream color, moving swiftly through the water, at a distance of three miles from the point of observation.” Others reported seeing a monster-like animal which swam faster than a horse could run on dry land or even the speed of the fastest locomotive and had a head variously described as being similar to that of a cow, otter, crocodile or a walrus (minus the tusks). It size was reported to be at least ninety feet long, at most two hundred feet and certainly not less than forty. Some sightings even spoke of a second member of the species and smaller monsters as well.
An 1868 article in the Deseret News announced that, “The Indians have a tradition concerning a strange, serpent-like creature inhabiting the waters of Bear Lake…. Now, it seems this water devil, as the Indians called it, has again made an appearance. A number of our white settlers declare they have seen it with their own eyes. This Bear Lake Monster, they now call it, is causing a great deal of excitement up here” and then the author—Joseph C. Rich—went on to relate several sightings of the creature in recent times. The article created a stir in Salt Lake City and within a month “a news staff member… quizzed many Bear Lake people and found hardly a person who doubted it.”
LDS Church leaders took an interest in the monster and visited the area to speak firsthand with the residents of the region. They stated that they “had conversation with brother Charles C. Rich and other brethren from Bear Lake Valley, respecting the monster which have been seen in the lake”. Considering the testimony that had been given “by so many individuals, who have seen these creatures in so many places and under a variety of circumstances” they considered the story to be “indisputable.” The Deseret News continued to publish articles about the Monster—skeptically at times and defensively at others—while other local newspapers turned to attack the stories of a water devil. The Salt Lake Tribune even went as far as to quip that the Monster was “twin brother to the devil and cousin to Brigham [Young].”
Articles about the Bear Lake Monster continued to appear over the next several years, either reciting new sightings of the creature or creatures in Bear Lake as well as other rivers and lakes in the Utah Territory or calling the sightings into question. The number of alleged appearances of lake monsters all across northern Utah caused some people to speculate that there was an underground channel connecting the Great Salt Lake and other waterways to Bear Lake. Interest was high enough that at one point even LDS Church president Brigham Young decided to investigated the claims to find out whether the story was “an honest tale of a serpent, or only a fish story” and went was far as sending a large rope to Paris, Idaho to aid in capturing the monster.
Young wasn’t the only person interested in capturing the creature. One local resident proposed using a large baited hook attached to a twenty-foot cable and three hundred yards of one-inch rope, at the end of which was a to be a large buoy with a flagstaff inserted and an anchor to keep it in a perpendicular position. From the buoy one hundred yards of three-quarter-inch rope was to be extended to a tree on shore. When captured, it was hoped that the monster could exploited for its wondrous proportions in the show business, in competition with the famous P. T. Barnum.
Interest eventually died down in the subject and the phenomenon faded from public memory. Twenty-six years following his articles and allegations, Joseph C. Rich finally admitted that it had all been a “wonderful first class lie.”