Straddling the border of Utah and Idaho, Bear Lake is a long, deep body of water lying along a shifting fault line.. The lake’s vivid blue waters- which are caused by an abundance of dissolved calcium carbonate- have drawn people to its shores for centuries, from the native Shoshone, Ute, and Bannock, to more recent European trappers and settlers. And also, according to settler Joseph C. Rich, a small population of aquatic monsters, . In an 1868 article for the Deseret News, Rich wrote: “The Indians say there is a monster animal which lives in the lake…They represent it as being of the serpent kind, but having legs about eighteen inches long on which they sometimes crawl a short distance out of the water onto the shore.”
The story quickly caught the interest of newspapers all over the west, eventually even reaching the ears of the leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. The church fathers, including Brigham Young, would inquire about the monsters when they were in the area around the lake and quickly discovered that nearly everyone claimed to have seen the beast or at least knew someone who had.
Descriptions of the monster varied. Sometimes it was said to be long and limbless like an eel. Other times it had dozens of little legs like a centipede. It was often said to have sleek brown fur like an otter, and little ears- or at least ear-like tufts of fur on its head.
Sightings of the monsters (sometimes singular, sometimes plural) became very popular in local papers, and led to a proliferation of hoaxes and tall tales. One particularly colorful encounter with the beast was related by Quill Nebaker in 1907:
“By this time all of the folks but me were terribly frightened and they confidently expected that the monster would smell the fresh-baked pies in the cellar and turn over the house in order to get them. Confidentially, I rather hoped he would in some way get the pies, but I sensed the danger to my loved ones and set my mind at work to devise ways and means to divert the animal’s attention in case he decided to come up our way. At this juncture my dog, which seemed mesmerized before, let out a terrible howl that attracted the monster and here he came full tilt, mouth open wide enough to swallow the front porch. Here was my time for action. And while I dislike to speak of myself, I must confess that I arose to the emergency... I noticed my large graphopohone (sic) standing on the table ready for use. An inspiration struck me- I called to mind the value of music in taming the snakes and wild animals of the forest- and I decided to try it. Hastily winding up the machine, I opened wide the front door, squarely in the face of the approaching monster, and turned loose my music.
As it happened, the record on the machine was that incomparable tune, “Home, Sweet Home,” and as its strain floated out on the midnight air, I noticed that the monster halted, then stopped. His head being low, a reminiscent smile played o’er his features, and as the chorus was reached we were surprised to see the monster’s tail switch ‘round toward his neck. As we watched we noted a stringed instrument, something like a lyre, at end of the animal’s tail, and as “Home, Sweet Home” continued, that monster didn’t do a thing but utilize his several hands or feet in playing accompaniment to that grand old tune. Ah, but it was sweet, and as “the band played on” we really fell in love with the Bear Lake monster. As I moved to his side, the monster seemed to welcome me as a friend of other days and before “Home, Sweet Home” was ended the animal’s head rested on my shoulder and we were mingling our tears together.
All was going splendidly and I had definitely decided to adopt the animal and make him a member of my family, but just there sorrow, deep and tearful sorrow, shook the frame of my newly made friend, and he began to weep. Great streams of tears poured from his eyes, and finally they flowed so copiously that the monster floated away in them. Thoughts of his subterraneous home were too much for him, and though he seemed loth (sic) to go, he waved us a sad farewell and disappeared from sight.
A point of particular interest just here is that as the monster passed the barn it left my barbed wire stacked up nicely, and on top the pile left that lyre on which it had played that accompaniment. Imagine my surprise at discovering that stringed instrument to be a portion of a bale of that wire and a part of my pigpen worked up into the most approved form.”
From the beginning, the Bear Lake Monster was known by local people to be nothing but a tall tale. Nevertheless, a number of outsiders were convinced the beast was real. Twenty-six years after publishing his first sighting of the beasts, Joseph Rich admitted that he’d made the whole thing up as a way to draw interest to the Bear Lake area. Yet despite this confession, sightings of the monster continued all the way until 2002. Whether these were honest reports by people who genuinely believed they’d seen an unknown animal in the lake or just more tall takes, is up for debate. But hoax or not, the monster remains a fond piece of Bear Lake folklore.
---“Quill Nebeker Sees Monster” Logan Republican, 21 September 1907