For over 200 years there have been legends told of a great monster that lives in the depths of Lake Chelan! These stories, once passed around the campfire before bedtime by Locals and Native’s alike, paint a consistent picture of the beast that dwells in Lake Chelan. I was fascinated while I spent considerable time researching the many stories! Here are a couple that I really think you’ll like; one from the homesteader’s perspective and another from that of the Native Americans:
“Originally rumored to have been brought over from Fort Augustus Scotland when a Scotsman took a treasure chest from the Fort where his Father was a soldier, and it was assumed that the chest was filled with gold and other riches, and set out to sea on a long journey. However, its true contents were discovered by the Captain and crew during a mysterious and violent storm off the coast of Washington in 1812.
Somehow the ship was transported to what is now known as Lake Chelan. The ship under great stress was tossed violently in the storm, and the chest and its contents were washed overboard into the water below. The Captain not willing to lose his mysterious prize dove into the water after it. He held on to the treasure chest and it took him quickly down to the crushing depths of the nearly 1,500 foot deep lake.
Unbeknownst to the crew, two female stowaways were on board who kept watchful eyes on the chest. Stewards to its precious contents. They too, jumped in after the chest and as they hit the water the crew watched with disbelief as it appeared that their feet transformed into fish-like fins as they breached, then dove into the angry water. Mermaids! One went after the chest the other after the Captain. The Captain was taken to the shore and the chest was taken deep, deep down into an under-water cavern. Where its contents, an egg, cracked open and a hatchling emerged.
The creature resurfaced in 1892. According to a local newspaper, an unidentified young man was bathing in the lake when some very sharp jaws locked onto his legs. The man screamed for help, and two of his friends tried to pull him out. But the hungry monster had other plans. After a life-and-death game of tug-of-war, the men dragged their friend onto the beach—with the creature still clamped onto his legs. The thing had the legs and body of an alligator, the head and eyes of a snake, a scaly tail, and bat wings. And though its skin was “soft as velvet,” the beast was impossible to kill. The men attacked the monster with knives, rocks, and sticks to no avail. The creature was not letting go. Eventually, they built a fire and dragged the dragon over the flames. That got a reaction—a bad one. The dragon flapped its wings and soared into the air, with the man still in its mouth. Suddenly, it dived into the lake, disappearing along with its victim.” (Strickler)
Legends go back to the Native people of the Pacific Northwest. Much like the legends of the dragon monster that hid in the shadows of Ribbon Cliff on the Columbia River, natives told stories about the monster that was located within “The Deep” or “deep water” Tsi-Laan (Lake Chelan).
“Early Indians were very wary of canoeing on the Deep Lake (Lake Chelan) for fear of the monster that they called “N’hah’hahat’q”. Long ago there were great struggles between the good and bad spirits in the Chelan Valley. An evil spirit in the form of a large serpent would come out of the Chelan River without warning and destroy the homes of the people up and down the valley. At other times it appeared and scared away all the animals and fish. This left the Indians without food for long periods at a time.”
“The good spirit finally decided to put up a rock barrier at the lower end of the valley that would dam the river, trapping the serpent and killing it. Unfortunately, the monster did not die but became enraged instead. The serpent slashed his way up the valley killing all the Indians except for a lone girl picking berries at the top of the valley. The rising water left her stranded and she eventually died. However, before she died, she painted the story of her life on the rock walls. The stories have never been translated but can still be seen at Stehekin when the lake level is low.” (Hackenmiller)
When divers were brought in to Lake Chelan back in 1945 to try and locate and recover the Chelan School bus that plunged into the lake which resulted in the loss almost an entire generation of students and the bus driver, stories were told by some of the divers about an enormous dark shadow type of figure that they saw at about 200 feet below the lake surface level. One diver was said to be so bothered by what he saw that he refused to go back down. What was this figure? Was it a larger type fish or was it something else?
The deep-rooted history behind the Dragon of Lake Chelan has so many different stories we could not possibly share them all. Every time I visit the upper end of Lake Chelan, I get an eerie sense that something ancient still dwells in the cavernous depths at the bottom of the 1,486-foot-deep lake. But what are legends anyway? Tall tales of good versus evil, and the adventurous history of generations that came before us, carving out the beautiful home for locals and a home away from home for travelers alike.
Hackenmiller, Tom. Wapato Heritage: the History of the Chelan and Entiat Indians. Point Pub., 1995.
Strickler, Lon. “The Lake Chelan Dragon.” Phantoms and Monsters – Real Eyewitness Cryptid Encounter Reports, 1 Jan. 1970, www.phantomsandmonsters.com/2014/06/the-lake-chelan-dragon.html.