Known to kill a dozen sheep in a single attack, then vanish…
Was it genuine history—or a tall tale—that a massive, yet elusive creature could commit this kind of mayhem and simply disappear? That a terrible, 10-foot tall, 1,100-pound beast could be lurking behind the next bend in the trail? Or that it was able to frustrate those who sought to track and kill it for nearly 10 years?
This is the story of a real Bear Lake Monster—one you may not have heard of. His name? “Old Three toes,” also known as “Old Ephraim.” That’s right, bears really were more common in times past in the Bear Lake area…even grizzlies.
When locals talk about a huge and mysterious creature in the Bear Lake Valley, they’re usually weighing in on the Bear Lake Monster. After all, numerous eye witness reports and legends surrounding the monster have been a part of the valley for about 150 years or more. Coincidentally, there was at least some opinion that the monster of the deep had a taste for sheep too.
In an August 27, 1881 article in the Ogden Standard, “A Sucker for Sheep,” the monster’s supposed liking for lamb chops is documented this way:
It was decided by the persons referred to that an attempt should be made to angle for the Bear Lake monster. A sheep was killed, placed on some grappling hooks attached to a rope, in the hope that the mammoth amphibious enormity would, from a predilection for mutton, be led into the delusive snare.
Another eyewitness claims that he saw the lake monster devour a horse, as reported in the Logan Republican on September 18, 1907:
It was now close enough for us to see that it was some water monster…then started towards us like a mad elephant…before we could move he grabbed the horse with his two front paws, opened its teeth into it like a bullterrier would a mouse. After tearing the horse badly he made an awful howl and then was gone.
Yet this story is not of the monster lake serpent, despite a shared taste for lamb, but one of a monster grizzly. One that, like the Bear Lake Monster, also generated frequent sightings and rumors between about 1911 and its death in 1923. The excerpts below are credited to the Cache Valley Tourist Council:
In the early 1900s, bears were a problem for sheepherders. One grizzly bear had developed quite a name for himself. Sheepherders called him “Old Three Toes,” for a deformity on one foot. This grizzly’s distinctive tracks made his tracks easy to identify. The bear wandered from Soda Springs, Idaho, and as far south as Weber County, and finally settled in Logan Canyon. “Old Ephraim” was named after a grizzly in California described in a story by P. T. Barnum.
Frank Clark, born in 1879 in Cherry Creek, near Malad, Idaho, was an energetic, nature-loving man. He was an excellent shot with his trusty .25-35 caliber rifle. His constant companion was his little sheep dog, Jennie, and of course his string of horses. He was part owner of the Ward Clark Sheep Company. During Clark’s first summer in Cache National Forest (1911), he counted over 150 dead sheep. He killed over fifty bears in his crusade against them. Old Ephraim was the smartest, fastest, strongest of them all. Mr. Clark became very well acquainted with “Old Eph’s” habits during the years.
By 1914, Mr. Clark was determined to get Old Ephraim. He set out with this as his main objective. He set trap after trap in the grizzly’s favorite wallows, but each time the trap was either removed, un sprung, or flung many yards away. He tried all the tricks he knew, but could never get “Old Eph” in his trap, nor could he get many glimpses of him. Always around the herd, there was the evidence of dead sheep. Old Ephraim was getting bolder and bolder, and more of a ruthless killer as the years passed.
It is interesting to point out here that the Bear Lake Monster, much like Old Ephraim, was also surrounded by rumors and rare glimpses—and yes, even the reputation of a ruthless killer. According to Indian legend, the stealthy creature would catch lake bathers by surprise, taking away the occasional member of the tribe. Now, back to our story.
In Frank Clark’s own words. “On August 21, 1923, I visited the trap and he (Old Eph) has drummed the wallow into a newly built one, so I carefully changed the trap to his newly built bath. I was camped one mile down the canyon in a tent. That night was fine, beautiful, a starlight night, and I was sleeping fine when I was awakened by a roar and a groan near camp. I had a dog, but not a sound came from Mr. Dog. I tried to get to sleep, but no chance; so I got up and put on my shoes but no trousers. I did take my gun, a .25-35 caI. carbine with seven steel ball cartridges, and walked up the trail. I did not know it was “Eph”: in fact, I thought it was a horse that was down. “Eph” was in the creek in some willows and after I had got past him, he let me know all at once that it was not a horse. What should I do? Alone, the closest human being three miles away and “Eph” between me and camp.
I listened and could hear the chain rattle and so did my teeth. I decided to get up on the hillside and wait for him. I spent many hours up there; I had no way of knowing how many, listening to “Eph’s” groans and bellows. Daylight came at last and now it was my turn.
“Eph” was pretty well hidden in the creek bottom and willows, so I threw sticks in to scare him out. He slipped out and went down by the tent and crawled into the willows there. I tracked him down there, and when I got close to the tent, I could see a small patch of hide. I fired at it and grazed the shoulder. Now for me to get the greatest thrill of my life.
“Ephraim” raised up on his hind legs with his back to me, and a 14 foot long, log chain wound around his right arm as carefully as a man would have done it, and a 23-pound bear trap on his foot, standing 9 feet, 11 inches tall. He could have gone that way and have gotten away, but he turned around, and 1 saw the most magnificent sight that any man could ever see. I was paralyzed with fear and could not raise my gun.
He was coming. still on his hind legs, holding that cussed trap above his head. He had a four foot band to surmount before he could reach me. I was rooted to the earth and let him come within six feet of me before I stuck the gun out and pulled the trigger. He fell back, but came again and received five of the remaining six bullets. He had now reached the trail, still on his hind legs. I only had one cartridge left in the gun and still that bear would not go down.
I started for Logan, 20 miles downhill. I went about 20 yards and turned, “Eph” was coming, still standing up, but my dog, Jennie, was snapping at his heels, so he turned on the dog. I then turned back, and as I got close, he turned again on me, wading along on his hind legs. I could see that he was badly hurt, as at each breath the blood would spurt from his nostrils, so I gave him the last bullet in the brain. I think I felt sorry I had to do it.
That’s how the hunt for a real Bear Lake monster ended, a hunt that started about 100 years ago. Today there are few reminders of Old Ephraim: A pizza place sign depicting a grizzly bear in Garden City, the skull of Old Eph on display at Utah State University’s Merrill Library, and the old sheep herder stories told from time to time.
But the story of the monster that got away will always belong to our very own Bear Lake Monster.Follow @bearlakemonstr