Rugged mountains, lush valleys, and bright red patches of Indian paintbrush that seem to set the land on fire; grizzly bears, outlaws, and the Bear Lake Monster! Idaho's Bear Lake Valley, located in the tops of the Rocky Mountains, has fascinating history. Here mountain men held many a rendezvous, trapped and hunted. In 1819, Mountain Man "Fats" McKenzie named this area Bear Lake Valley because of the abundant black bears that roamed the Wasatch Mountains and after the most beautiful aqua-colored lake he had ever seen.
Outlaws, including the "Wild Bunch," roamed the valley, rustling cattle and robbing banks. In 1896, Butch Cassidy and two of his men robbed the bank in Montpelier, the complete account having been recorded by the town. Occasionally one man was caught, but Cassidy had gotten away with $ 7,000. Every year, Montpelier puts on a reenactment of the robbery for the public complete with costumes, horses, and revolvers. Of all the western outlaws, there seems to be a feeling of intrigue when the stories of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch are told.
Many bears roamed the Rocky Mountains. Early settlers knew the temperament of these animals and were cautious. There was one such grizzly by the name of Old Ephraim that roamed the mountains of the Wasatch Front, striking fear into the hearts of men and beasts alike. This grizzly caused unparallel damage and destruction, killing and plundering everywhere he went. Sheepherders often feared for their lives. From 1911 to 1923, he roamed the Wasatch Mountains from southern Idaho to northern Utah, wreaking havoc where he went. He was referred to as "Old Three Toes" because one foot was deformed. The grizzly measured at exactly nine feet and eleven inches tall, weighing 1100 pounds.
The lake itself is seven-and-a-half miles wide and twenty miles long, and is home to the Bonneville Cisco fish, which is indigenous to the area. It is also the home of the Bear Lake Monster. The mystery of this monster has been an exciting part of Bear Lake history ever since the early pioneers arrived in 1863. Native American territories such as the Shoshone, Bannock, and Utes owned this valley. Shortly after the settlement of the pioneers, the Indians told the settlers all about the Great Bear Lake Monster. They said it had captured and transported away two of their braves who were swimming. They told the pioneers that the monster was a serpent-like creature, had legs about 18 inches long and sometimes crawled out of the water.
The legend of the Bear Lake Monster made life a little more exciting for the pioneers. Throughout the years, no one has ever disproved the Bear Lake Monster. A group of scientists tried to discredit the monster and said that it was a huge codfish that was shipped in from the East, but the local people refuse to believe it. Many claim to have seen it and have given their own accounts of the Bear Lake Monster. They described it as being 90 feet long. It had small legs, flaming red eyes, ears that stuck out from the sides of its skinny head, and a huge mouth that was big enough to eat a man. Some said it resembled a gigantic alligator. They claimed it could swim faster than a galloping horse, and roared like an angry bull. This legend still lives on today; the question is: is it fact or fiction?
Rugged mountains, lush valleys, jagged cliffs, and bright red patches of Indian paintbrush; grizzly bears, outlaws, and the Bear Lake Monster! Idaho's Bear Lake Valley indeed has a captivating history.