Wallowa Lake Monster, Wallowa County, Oregon

Another look at the Wallowa Lake Monster

Contributed by Gary Jaensch

From the book called the Histories of Union and Wallowa Counties, 1902

      When I was little and got to spend some time at Aunt Mina and Uncle Gene’s I was always mystified by the story of the monster that resides in Wallowa Lake and that the Indians would never venture into the lake. Uncle Gene Johnson surmised there is an underground stream between Wallowa Lake and the Snake River, he said most probably a fish, a sturgeon most likely had when a small fish followed this under ground steam from the Snake River to Wallowa Lake and found much feed and grew to a immense size and lived a long life as sturgeon’s do. I have often thought of this story when I was at Wallowa Lake.
     As I was researching this book for Hammack and Womack relatives I found this story, the first story I had seen on this subject except for misc. excerpts, the story as follows. 
     The Imnaha river and valley take their name from an Indian brave who was called Imna. A long while ago some Indians from a hostile tribe visited Imna’s camp at night and led away two ponies. Imna pursued them alone up the river for several days, eventually overtook them, surprised them in camp, slew both savages and returned with the ponies. This courageous deed gave him prominence among the chiefs of his tribe and the river was named for him.
     Let us now recross the divide and enter the Wallowa valley proper. Rising in the mountains south of Joseph are two turbulent streams which unite at the mountain base and form the inlet of Wallowa Lake. This body of water lies one and one half miles south of Joseph and about one hundred and fifty feet above the town level. A long, high ridge is on the east and north of the lake, while on the west and south are lofty, snow -crowned mountains.
     It is four miles long and about one mile wide. It’s waters are very clear and very cold. In the center the lake is about two hundred and eighty feet deep. It is becoming every year more famous as a summer resort, and surely there is nowhere in the State of Oregon a more charming and delightful spot. The name is of Indian origin. It is said that the Indians used to fish here with traps. Instead of removing the traps from the water on leaving the valley for their winter camps, it was their custom to weight them down with upright poles on which they fixed crosspieces, hanging rocks to the outer ends. In describing the location of their traps, having in mind the crosses by which they were held in the water, the Indians said, “Wallowa”, meaning  a cross. Another explanation that is given of the name is that in Indian tongue,  “ Wallowa “ means simply fish-trap, and was applied to the lake by the Indians because of their custom of leaving these traps in its waters. 
     Indians have always had a superstition concerning the lake and would never venture into or upon its waters farther than a few yards from its shore. This fear is explained by a legend. An Indian brave in the long ago disturbed the solitude of an enormous, horned monster, far up in the mountains. The monster fled and the brave pursued. On and on they went until the waters of the lake were reached. The monster plunged in and his pursuer followed. Outward they swam, the pursued and the pursuer, until they were in the center of the lake. Here the monster paused. Just as the Indian reached out to grapple with his antagonist it sank below the surface and was seen no more. After swimming about a few moments the Indian also sank and never rose. The red men ever afterward believed that certain death awaited anyone who ventured near the center of the lake.

Womack Index

Wallowa County


Latest Content

Oregon Obituary Database

We changed our name, and have expanded!

Contains obituaries for Baker, Crook, Grant, Hood River, Lane, Linn, Malheur, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa Counties.