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History Matters
The Salt Lake Tribune Arch
Maybe There Is a Monster In Utah Lake
Will Bagley
Published: 03/31/2002 Edition: Final  Section: Utah Page: B1

Everyone hates to make mistakes, but, having made one, a good historian confesses, learns humility and moves on. Last week's column credited Jacob Hamblin with naming Pipe Spring, but it was his brother, William "Gunlock Bill" Hamblin, who blasted Dudley Leavitt's pipe.  

Last March this column asked, "Why isn't there a Utah Lake Monster?" It turns out there is, and its traditions are even older than the famous kraken of Bear Loch.  

Ute tribal lore tells that "Water Babies" haunted the lake, while a Water Indian lured the unwary to a watery death. The Utes said a mysterious creature had swallowed a man whole near Pelican Point.  

After vigilant citizens spotted the Bear Lake monster in August 1868, Happy Valley residents recalled repeatedly sighting a similar creature on Utah Lake. In 1864, Isaac Fox saw a 25 to 30-foot-long aquatic reptilian while hunting near the lake's north shore. The beast, with fierce dark eyes and a hound-shaped head, chased Fox to shore and almost ran him down. The creature swam back to join a second monster, perhaps its mate.

The monsters seemed to prefer the lake's northern end, for a similar beast was spotted there the next year. In 1866, two men cutting hay saw a yellow animal with black spots that repeatedly displayed a forked red tongue. Needless to say, the two men fled before making more detailed observations.  

Perhaps nothing offers more compelling proof of the existence of Utah's lake monsters than the eyewitness testimony of respected religious leaders. LDS Bishop William Price of Goshen and two fellow travelers spotted the serpent on the west shore of Utah Lake in 1871. Standing about 6 feet out of the water like a giant snake, the beast's 60-foot-long body looked like a section of stovepipe.  

Young Willie Roberts and George Scott provided the best description of the monster in June 1880. Far out in the lake, a small animal resembling a dog or beaver approached them. They thought nothing about it until the creature roared like a lion, raised its huge head out of the water and revealed four legs, each about a yard long. The head boasted alligator-like jaws about 3 feet long. The critter chased them, making "savage gestures."   

The boys' "terrified countenances" and consistent reports convinced their parents and English traveler Phil Robinson they had met the "great snake" of Utah Lake. "Does the Smithsonian know of this terror?" Robinson asked. 

Reluctant to accept such a terrifying reality, professional fishers ridiculed the monster tales. Peter Madsen had never seen the beast in his 14 years fishing the lake and suggested it was actually a "hell diver," perhaps an American coot. This lame duck had to flap its wings furiously and water ski many yards to get airborne, a clumsy maneuver that could be mistaken for the wake of a sea serpent.  

Such skepticism took a serious blow when, in 1870, fishers from Springville discovered the skull of a large creature with a 5-inch tusk protruding from its jaw, at last confronting lake-monster skeptics with physical evidence.  

The Utah Lake monster may have been among the casualties of World War II, when U.S. Steel (now Geneva Steel) began upgrading the local air and water. We may never know the truth about that critter, but next summer I plan to conduct field studies to prove conclusively that Utah is home to the world's last surviving dinosaurs. 

Historian Robert Carter, the bard of Utah Lake, described its sea monster in a Westminster College lecture last summer. Lake monster season opens April 1.


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