The Monster in Lake DeSmet

The following was published in my first book, People are Seeing Something: A Survey of Lake Monsters in the United States and Canada.

Smetty

 Lake DeSmet, in Jackson County, Wyoming, is home to a lake monster, or at least the legend of a monster, known as Smetty. Tales of the monster predate the arrival of white settlers to the region. Long before the influx of pioneers from the east, the indigenous people of the area were leery of camping on the shores of the Lake DeSmet.1

A Lake Rich in History and Folklore

Lake DeSmet is a picturesque body of water located near the base of the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming. Decades ago, the lake was enlarged with a reservoir. Before the addition, Lake DeSmet was the largest natural lake in northern Wyoming.2 Today, the lake has a capacity of 234,987 acre feet and a maximum depth of 120 feet—more than enough room for a monster to dwell undisturbed and roam freely.

Father DeSmet

Lake DeSmet is named after the Jesuit missionary—and probably the first white man to see the lake, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. DeSmet was traveling with fur trappers through the area when they came upon the lake.3

DeSmet left his home in Belgium for the Rocky Mountains in 1840. The Jesuit priest was on a mission to present Christianity to the native people and convert them to Christ. He was well received and respected by the Sioux Indians, and was instrumental in peace negotiations between the United States government and the Sioux tribe.4

Native Legends

Lake DeSmet is at the center of fascinating aboriginal folklore. One such legend is a heart-wrenching Crow love story, reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy. According to the tale, a band of Crow warriors were camped along the lake one night. A young man named Little Moon asked his love, Star Dust, to meet him along the lake shore once the other members of the party had fallen asleep. Little Moon was the first to reach the meeting place; and as he waited, he watched as a mist gathered over the water. Out of the fog, a beautiful maiden appeared—more beautiful and enchanting than anything Little Moon had ever laid his eyes upon.

Star Dust arrived at their rendezvous point as planned. She saw Little Moon and made her way toward him. By the time she reached him though, he was under a spell and captivated by the maiden in the mist. Unaware that Little Moon’s attention was with another, Star Dust reached out to embrace her lover; however, he callously pushed her aside and turned toward the enchantress lingering in the mist. But, she was gone—the seductive beauty had vanished as quickly as she appeared.

Star Dust was broken-hearted and humiliated by Little Moon’s rejection. In fact, she was so distraught that she threw herself in the lake and drowned. The lifeless body of Star Dust was found by members of the tribe the next morning. Her father demanded justice; Little Moon was seized and bound to a rock facing the lake. Fittingly, his fate would be to forever stare out at the lake. Bound and facing the water, he would have eternity look for the maiden that had stolen his heart away from Star Dust.5

Today, when the wind blows across the lake, it creates a “moaning” sound—this is said to be Little Moon’s spirit wandering the lake searching for his maiden.6,7

Though the tragic Crow love story may be the most well-known legend, there are other native legends featuring Lake DeSmet. The Sioux believed that waters of Lake DeSmet possessed strong healing powers. They also credited the waters with an ability to produce powerful visions.8

The Crow also have a frightening tale in which a monster emerges from the lake and snatches a papoose off the banks. According to the story, a beautiful young mother was cleaning recently killed rabbits in the water. Her sleeping baby was nearby in a papoose-type carrier. Suddenly, the young woman heard something on the shoreline. It was a terrifying creature—coming out of the water and heading straight toward her child! The monster grabbed the infant in its jaws and returned to the water. The helpless woman could do nothing to save her child.9

Locating the Iron Trail

The first person to document the monster in Lake DeSmet was Edward Gillette. Gillette was employed as a surveyor for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Gillette found a quicker route through Wyoming than what had been originally proposed, saving the railroad company much money. Gillette chronicled his experiences working for the railroad in Wyoming in his book, Locating the Iron Trail. While Gillette was searching for a route for the railroad, he spoke with many ranchers and locals who told him about a fierce creature who stalked the waters and shores of Lake DeSmet.

The monster in Lake DeSmet, known as Smetty, is said to be 30 to 40 feet in length. Local ranchers shared with Gillette descriptions of what they had seen—a creature similar in appearance to a large alligator or crocodile, with paddles for feet, a spiny backbone, and a slender body.10

Interestingly, some researchers have pointed out that descriptions of Smetty bring to mind the ichthyosaur, the prehistoric “fish lizard.” Ichthyosaurs roamed the waters of the Western Interior Seaway 90 million years ago. During this time, the Cretaceous Period, present-day Wyoming was underwater and North America was divided into two separate land masses. As is the case with many other lake monsters, and the theories of their origins—it has been proposed that Smetty could be a holdover creature from a bygone era—a creature whose ancestors became trapped in lakes across North America as the ancient ocean waters receded.

90 million years is quite a long time for a species to survive—especially a species thought to be extinct for tens of millions of years. For an ichthyosaur to be alive in Lake DeSmet today, obviously, there would have to be at least a small, breeding population. When speaking of Smetty, it is understood that Smetty encompasses all of the unexplained, large aquatic cryptids that may inhabit Lake DeSmet. Gillette was told of an encounter in 1892, where a man observed two creatures for a period of about 15 minutes.11

A local rancher shared a chilling account with Gillette. The man witnessed a whitetail deer being attacked by the monster. He was awestricken at the ease in which the fierce creature ripped apart the deer as it dragged it into the water. Perhaps attacks such as this is the reason that horses near the lake, and local wildlife, seem to be wary around the banks of Lake DeSmet—allegedly.12

In another harrowing encounter on Lake DeSmet, a young ranch hand had a run-in with the legendary monster which left him quite shaken. His former employer’s daughter saw the young man hastily returning from the lake, his horse on a dead run. Her father ran out to meet him, but he was so shaken up that he could barely speak. After finally calming down, the young man described what he had seen—a 30-40 foot long serpentine creature, about eighteen inches in diameter, with a bony ridge running down its back. The monster was brownish-black in color, and swam using snake-like motions, with its head held high above the water.13

 Conclusion

It goes without saying that Smetty made quite a name for himself, especially during the early part of the twentieth century and late nineteenth century. Long before this, the monster had left an impression on the area’s Indian tribes. Encounters with the beast are said to occur to this day, although documented reports of recent origin are not easy to come by. Whatever Smetty is, or if he even exists at all, is a matter of debate. But there is no debating this: for many years people have been seeing something disturbing in Lake DeSmet.

Notes

  1. “DeSmet Lake Monster.” Ultimate Wyoming. Accessed August 20, 2015. http://www.ultimatewyoming.com/html/sectionpages/sec3/extras/desmetmonster.html
  2. “How Lake Desmet Got Its Name.” Lake Stop Resort. Accessed August 20, 2015. http://www.buffalolakestop.com/lakedesmethistory.htm
  3. Dave Walsh. “Lake De Smet.” Wonders of Wyoming. March 9, 2012. Accessed August 20, 2015. http://wondersofwyoming.com/lake-de-smet/
  4. Lake Stop Resort, “How Lake Desmet Got Its Name.”
  5. Walsh, “Lake De Smet.”
  6. Ultimate Wyoming, “DeSmet Lake Monster.”
  7. “The Lake DeSmet Monster,” YouTube video, 8:14, Posted by “GhostHunterofWyoming,” July 24, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAYhktbr9IM.
  8. Ultimate Wyoming, “DeSmet Lake Monster.”
  9. GhostHunterofWyoming, “The Lake DeSmet Monster.”
  10. Ibid.
  11. George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 688-689.
  12. GhostHunterofWyoming, “The Lake DeSmet Monster.”
  13. Philip L.Rife. “Water Monsters of the West.” In America’s Loch Ness Monsters. (San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2000), 49.

Leave a Reply