Long ago, long before Lake Chelan was formed, the landscape of northwestern Washington was much different. There were no mountains; instead, a grassy plain teeming with wildlife covered the land. The Native Americans living here had an abundance of food and resources; life was easy on the gentle plain.
The time of ease and abundance would be short-lived—a dreadful monster would appear and it began to terrorize the people and the animals of the area. Having a voracious appetite, the monster killed and ate so much of the wildlife that food became scarce for the Indians. The animals that weren’t devoured by the monster began to flee.
The desperate people petitioned the Great Spirit to intervene—to rid them of the beast so that they would have food again. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit came down to earth and killed the monster. Now free from the clutches of the evil beast, the people were able to return to a pleasant life of abundance as the wildlife returned.
Once again, the good life was only temporary for the Indians. The monster came back to life and resumed his terrible rampage. Again the people cried out to the Great Spirit, and once more he listened. The Great Spirit returned to the earth and killed the monster yet again. This time though, the Great Spirit cut the monster into pieces to ensure that it would remain deceased.
Incredibly, being cut into pieces did not prevent the resilient monster from resurrecting itself. Alive once more, the terrible beast brought famine and suffering to the people again. Turning to the Great Spirit for a third time, the people pleaded for deliverance from the monster. The Great Spirit heard their supplications and was merciful; he returned to the earth to do battle with the beast once more. Enraged at the defiance of the monster, the Great Spirit angrily smote the earth with his stone knife after killing the beast.
The landscape was forever altered by the blow from Great Spirit’s mighty stone knife. Mountains were raised all around and a deep impression was left in the ground. This would become the beast’s watery tomb; the Great Spirit tossed the monster’s corpse into the gorge and then poured water over it. This, according to Indian legend, is the genesis of Lake Chelan and the Lake Chelan Monster.
This fascinating tale is recounted in the book Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by author Ella Elizabeth Clark. Frank Hubbard shared this story with the author; he listened to the story from one of Chief Wapato’s grandsons through an interpreter.
Lake Chelan is a fjord lake; a lengthy, narrow, deep body of water that was carved by glaciers in the remote past. An aerial view of the lake lends credence in a strange way to the legend of the Great Spirit striking the earth with his stone knife. Lake Chelan looks like a gouge or a jagged cut from some sort of giant knife.
As stated earlier, Lake Chelan is very long and narrow. At its widest, Lake Chelan does not exceed a mile and a half, while it over is over 50 miles in length; the lake has a surface area of about 52 square miles. Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States; it reaches a maximum depth of 1,486 feet, and maintains an average depth of 474 feet.
Like numerous other lakes which are thought to have resident lake monsters, Lake Chelan is rumored to have a system of underwater caverns. Some claim that these caves not only exist, but link Lake Chelan with the Pacific Ocean.
The Monster’s Tail
Chelan Indian elders suggest that their ancestors were uneasy around the lake. Perhaps with good cause. There is one last piece to the tale of the Great Spirit killing the monster—a remnant of the monster remained alive—its tail. Legend holds that the tail remains alive to this day, occasionally thrashing and causing large waves and disturbances on the water. This part of the legend probably originated as a way of explaining seiche related occurrences on the lake. Like other lakes with long and narrow profiles, Lake Chelan is susceptible to seiches. A seiche is a standing wave that oscillates in a body of water that is at least partially enclosed. Winds can cause seiches to occur on lakes; downward pressure from wind causes the water in the lake to be forced toward the opposite end. As the wind subsides and the water returns back to the other end, a wave under water is created as the water moves back and forth from one end to the other.
A Dragon in the Lake
One of the widest circulated tales of a monster in the lake comes from the year 1892. The story is told in the book Ladies of the Lake: Tales of Transportation, Tragedy, and Triumph on Lake Chelan by Tom Hackenmiller. In the fall of 1892, the Wilbur Register reported that an unsuspecting camper was attacked…
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