During the pioneer era of Mormonism, legends of a water monster rivaling the Loch Ness Monster emerged from communities surrounding a large freshwater lake straddling the Utah-Idaho border. In 1868, the Deseret News ran an article by Joseph C. Rich—a leading settler of a small town on the shore of Bear Lake and the son of an apostle—that described Indian legends of a huge serpentine monster that emerged from the lake to eat humans and claimed it had been seen again by Mormon settlers. Dubbing it the Bear Lake Monster, he continued running energetic articles on the latest sighting of the leviathan off and on for a number of years afterwards. Local newspapers caught on to the excitement and began interviewing more people for information about the creature. The press that was favorable to the Mormons admitted the accounts seemed fishy, but continued to publish testimonies about the Bear Lake Monster anyway. Meanwhile, anti-Mormon press condemned it as a fraud and quipped that the monster had to be “twin brother to the devil and cousin to Brigham [Young].”
Soon, even Mormon leaders got involved. A group of general authorities passed through the region on a preaching tour and spoke firsthand with local residents who declared that the testimony given “by so many individuals, who have seen these creatures in so many places under a variety of circumstances” convinced them that the monster’s existence was “indisputable.” The reporter wasn’t convinced that it was true, but noted that he believed the witnesses to be honest and as such, “we must believe they saw something remarkable, whether monsters or not.” General authorities passing through the region watched for the monster during visits in subsequent years, but the monster never put in an appearance for them. This didn’t stop President Brigham Young himself investigating the whether or not there was a monster and even sending a large rope to aid in capturing the Bear Lake Monster.
Such stories faded from public interest over the years, and twenty six years after his initial article, Joseph C. Rich admitted that he had fabricated the Bear Lake Monster as a “wonderful first class lie.” Even though the creator admitted it to be a hoax, sightings are occasionally reported of the Bear Lake Monster, the most recent one being in 2002. Given the history of the monster’s creation, it is highly unlikely that it truly exists. It has, however, become a part of local folklore and legends in the small, Mormon communities surrounding Bear Lake in Utah and Idaho.
Wikipedia – Bear Lake Monster
Utah State University – Bear Lake Monster Digital Folklore Collection
Ancestry.com – The Bear Lake Monster—Facts, Fun and Fancy
Amazon.com – Between Pulpit and Pew
Amazon.com – Saints of the Sage and Saddle
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