Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The monster of Alkali Lake

by Larry Miller

As a kid, hiking through the pine hills just south of Chadron, my buddies and I would sometimes play "war."  An imaginary enemy would be lurking somewhere near Paradise Valley or perhaps back near Blue Rock Cave.

From atop King's Chair rock, we could survey the countryside for friend or foe.

Occasionally, our hyperactive imaginations would choose battling monsters over mere mortals.  We sometimes spent our time stalking -- or being stalked by -- a sabre-tooth tiger, a giant lynx, or some other heinous beast too frightening to describe!

So, it was with a bit of amusement and nostalgia to learn that even grown-ups of bygone days liked to engage in a bit of fantasy.

This item comes courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.  Although it's not a Dawes County story, I suspect many northwest Nebraskans have driven the back roads of Sheridan County, oblivous to the danger that lurked nearby.  I feel somewhat cheated to have missed ever trying to pursue the beast in my younger days.

During the early 1920's, Alkali Lake near Gordon was the reputed residence of a sea monster. Reports of the giant creature said, "Its head was like an oil barrel, shiny black in the moonlight." 

"When it rears and flips its powerful tail, the farmers are made seasick." "It eats a dozen calves when it comes ashore and flattens the cornfields." An Omaha man who saw the creature said, "the monster was 300 feet long and its mouth large enough to hold the Woodmen of the World Building."

In 1923, the Hay Springs News called for an investigation of the lake, proposing to drag the lake and capture the monster. A few months later, the paper reported, "The Hay Springs Investigating Association has, after due consideration, practically given up the idea of dragging the Lake in an effort to locate the monster. Land owners want 4,000 dollars for three mont's lease, and certain percent of exhibition money if the animal is found. Considered excessive, the Association concluded to go no further."

Newspaperman John Maher, known for his hoaxes, was probably responsible for this tall tale, too.