The legendary tale of Brigham Young and the Bear Lake Monster(s)

The legendary tale of Brigham Young and the Bear Lake Monster(s)

Oil painting of the Loch Ness Monster by Hugo Heikenwaelder. Some people believe the Bear Lake monster is actually the Loch Ness monster.

Creative Commons

The Deseret News broke the story of locals claiming to see the monster in 1868, but what has happened since then?

The Bear Lake Monster made a splash when the Deseret News in 1868 published correspondent Joseph Rich’s account of the serpent-like monsters (yes, monsters plural) that locals had spotted in Bear Lake, which straddles the border of Utah and Idaho.

“All lakes, caves, and dens have their legendary histories,” Rich wrote, before listing secondhand stories of individuals who claimed to have seen the monster.

One such account reads:

“About three weeks ago (likely early July of 1868), Mr. S.M. Johnson, who lives in the east side of the lake at a place called South Eden (about half-way north along the Utah side of the lake), was going to the Round Valley settlement, six miles to the south of this place and when about half way he saw something in the lake, which at the time, he thought to be a drowned person. The road being some distance from the water’s edge he rode to the bench, and as the waves were running pretty high he thought it would soon wash into shore. In a few minutes two or three feet of some kind of animal that he had never seen before were raised out of the water.”

Stories about the Bear Lake Monster percolated over the next several years. Reminiscent of the Loch Ness Monster, disputes broke out in local newspapers and the public became divided on whether or not the monster actually existed.

As locals continued to share the legend, Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took interest in it. The Deseret News published an article titled “President Young’s Trip North” that described church leaders speaking with locals who firmly believed the tale. The church leaders reportedly believed that the locals saw something remarkable and that the accounts were certainly of a fish, but they did not readily accept the folk tale as true.

The local community’s interest in the Bear Lake Monster skyrocketed over time, and in personal correspondence, Young suggested perhaps sending a rope to the locals to see if they could capture what they were claiming to see. Church leaders were not the only ones to take an interest in the Bear Lake Monster. For a time, several people in Utah territory went to Bear Lake to see if this folk tale had any merit.

Austin and Alta Fife’s “Saints of Sage and Saddle” recounts how some individuals believed that there was a second monster of the same species.

But while the folk tale of the Bear Lake Monster enjoyed intense fascination for a handful of years, interest waned. The most recent reported sighting of the legendary monster was in 2002. The tale still remains a beloved part of Utah folklore. In fact, even though there are other Bear Lakes, only the Utah-Idaho one seems to have this legendary monster.

Alan Edwards in a 2003 Deseret News article wrote about the lack of respect that the Bear Lake monster receives and also described the belief of some people that the Bear Lake monster is actually the Loch Ness monster. Some believe that somehow Loch Ness and Bear Lake are connected.

For a time, there was even a boat called “Bear Lake Monster” that sailed on Bear Lake, recounting the folk tale. And there is even a film being made, called “The Legendary Bear Lake Monster.” The trailer shows three teenagers encountering the monster before it ominously concludes.

Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

The Deseret News confirmed with the director, Brandon Smith, that the crew will finish filming in 2023 and the film will hit theaters in 2024. More specific details are forthcoming on their website.

Although it might be a folk tale, the Bear Lake Monster lives on in Utah culture.

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