The Varieties of Flathead Lake Monster Experience

Western Montana’s Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Twenty-eight miles long, 15 miles wide, and 370 feet deep, it’s no wonder the enormous lake is rumored to be home to mysterious species.

Recently I contacted Mr. Paul Fugleberg, longtime Polson, Montana newspaperman and area historian, in search of information on the Flathead Lake Monster. Polson is the largest town on Flathead Lake, and Fugleberg has spent decades in the area. He was kind enough to send me some excellent resources, including a log he’s compiled of strange and unusual things sighted on the lake. The Flathead Lake Nessie, as Fugleberg calls it, has been mesmerizing and terrifying lakegoers since 1889.

While reading through Fugleberg’s exhaustive sightings log, I was surprised to note the differences in the type of “monster” people reported seeing. Most report a huge fish-like creature (perhaps a sturgeon), but others – well, I’ll let some of the selected reports speak for themselves:

1934 – Herbert Hoover of Rollins spotted what appeared to be a “little brown faced man with big goggly eyes” while swimming in Flathead Lake near the family’s west shore home. He thought it might have been a seal. The sighting was recalled by Hoover’s sister, Mrs. John L. Wilcox of Phoenix, Arizona, in a letter, Jan. 18, 1966.

1951 – As he fished in the Flathead River from the cofferdam below the Kerr Dam powerhouse, 17-year-old Fred Sego heard a loud splash. He looked around and saw a huge black, horse-like object with two big eyes staring at him. Sego said he knew it wasn’t a horse because it came up from beneath the water’s surface. He was so scared that he fell over backward trying to get away. He got up quickly and ran, not taking the time to look more closely. He never mentioned this until June 26, 1992, after reading the account of the Stark-Mangels June 22, 1992 sighting.  (Ed. note: In 1992, Miss Stark and Miss Mangels reported seeing a four-humped creature in the lake.)

September 8, 1963 – Polson high school teachers Heather McLeod and Genevieve Parratt, boating about 11:30 a.m., noticed a “dark gray object with three humps” swimming toward the center of the lake. About 10-ft of its length was visible. It submerged as another boat approached and passed, then re-surfaced and swam toward the main part of the lake. The women watched it for about five minutes.

June 5, 1970 – Neil DeGolier of Polson, Neil DeGolier, Jr., and Don Jonasson, both of Anacortes, Washington, were fishing near the Narrows about 5:30 p.m. when they noted a “boil” on the calm surface about 200 feet from their boat. It was caused by something with a head like an “African rhino.” It submerged, swam away, then resurfaced. The men watched for a couple minutes before it submerged again and disappeared. They said it was about 10 feet long and was a “lizard color.”

Thursday, July 29, 1993, about 1:30 p.m. — In calm waters of Skeeko Bay off the north side of Wild Horse Island, Rich Gaffney of Oswego, Ill., who said he’d “been a cop for nearly 20 years,” and his wife and three children, 9, 13, and 15, all witnessed a “nessie” as it surfaced about 50 yards away amid an apparent school of bait-sized fish. It swam past their boat perhaps a hundred yards away but was easy to follow visually because of its wake. He described it as shiny with a bowling ball-sized head, shiny humps, about 15 to 20 feet long. His first impression was that it appeared to be a couple seals that were swimming.

Ed. note: And now for something completely different:

August 1961 – While water-skiing off the east shore, Vern and Pete Clark discovered a drowned monkey.

The above reports are reproduced with permission of Paul Fugleberg.