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Does Monster Lurk Beneath Bear Lake?
Will Bagley
Published: 03/04/2001 Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

"All lakes, caves and dens have their legendary histories," a reader wrote the Deseret News from Rich County in July 1868. "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 monster tale to tell." Although long ridiculed as a myth or mass hallucination, the history of the Bear Lake monsters (and yes, there are more than one) deserves serious consideration.

There really is a Bear Lake Monster. Few historians would be willing to stake their reputations on a firm belief in the reality of a legendary creature, but there are Utah historians who believe a lot weirder stuff. Let us look at the compelling proof of The Monster's existence.

Consider the long tradition that such an animal lurks in the deep waters of Utah's fairest alpine lake. The Shoshoni have not seen it since the buffalo left the valley in the 1820s, but they had seen The Monster capture and carry away swimmers. The tribe's tradition described a serpent-like creature that spurted water and occasionally crawled ashore on its short legs. Examine the impeccable credentials of those who have seen the beast. The reputation of revered pioneers who had intimate encounters with The Monster should silence all doubters. Utah history testifies to the honesty of the Thomas, Cook, Rich, Johnson, Davis, Collings, Pratt, Budge, Slight, and Broomhead families.

The 1946 report of Cache Valley Boy Scout executive Preston Pond is so detailed that it alone should end all skeptical carping that the largest aquatic life in Bear Lake is big carp. After all, as folklorist Austin E. Fife wrote after hearing Pond's story, Scouts don't lie. Perhaps the best evidence of The Monster is the credibility of the newspaper that first reported its existence and has long been the beast's main booster: the Deseret News. In Utah, to doubt anything appearing in its hallowed pages is close to blasphemy, and this historian won't risk it.

Finally, here's a question that should settle all doubts about The Monster's existence: If there really isn't anything lurking in Bear Lake, then why, even after generations of cavorting on its shores by BYU students and the occasional presence of Congressman Chris Cannon, isn't there a Utah Lake Monster?

The evidence supporting the opposite conclusion deserves careful consideration, but that's another column. As the first published report indicated, the controversy over The Monster would only "be concluded by the capture of one sometime." So far, all attempts to do so have failed. Even a gigantic fishhook tied to a sapling by a rope failed.

The idea of hunting down the Bear Lake beast seems to have originated in the 1860s when Marion Thomas and the sons of Phineas Cook saw it while fishing near Swan Creek. They said the animal swam so near "they might have shot it with a rifle." In 1871, Milando Pratt and Thomas Rich actually shot at The Monster several times, but it simply swam away. Brave Bear Lakers refused to give up the hunt. One particularly intrepid farmer heard The Monster prowling in his garden. Alone in the dark, armed only with his trusty rifle, he shot the beast only to find it was his neighbor's heifer.

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