Man viewing Bear Lake
Reflections On A Lake Well Loved

Melinda Dunford
The original inhabitants of Bear Lake were Native Americans. There are hardly any left in the area, as many were moved to the Fort Hall and Wind River reservations. One of the few remaining is Melinda Dunford, a member of the Northwest Band of Shoshone.

Erma Stock
In 1863, the Bear Lake area was settled by Mormon pioneers. Many of their descendants are still living in the small towns around the lake. Even those who have moved away still remember the lake fondly.

Ezra J. Poulsen
Excerpts from “The Lake in My Life”, by Ezra J. Poulsen, in Idaho Yesterdays, the Journal of the Idaho Historical Society, Summer Issue, 1969, pp. 9-13.

At the time he wrote this article, Mr. Poulsen was an author living in Salt Lake City.

Melinda Dunford


Q: How did Native Americans make use of this area?

They used to come up here to get away from their enemies. They'd ride through here on the way to Wind River. They also came here to hunt and fish. And they also came here to play. they used to hold rendezvous on the south end of Bear Lake, just like we have reunions these days.

Even though the farmers, they settled the area, the spirits are still there and it's sacred to us.

There's a Shoshone trail that comes up from Preston that when I've crossed it I feel the spirit of my people. It's very beautiful here. I just wish more of my people lived here.

On January 29, 1863, the largest Native American massacre occurred near Preston, ID. In revenge for the previous Indian attacks, Colonel Patrick Connor and his Third California Infantry killed at least 400 members of the Northern Band of Shoshone. Twenty two of the soldiers were killed. About 180 Native Americans are thought to have survived. Melinda is one of their descendents.

Q: What do you feel is the significance of the Bear River massacre?

It was during the time of the Civil War so it was not emphasized like it should have been. That was how the government learned to deal with the Native Americans. It was attack and conquer.

I had relatives that survived that battle--a grandmother and a grandfather. My grandfather got away on a pony --he and another boy were strapped behind a Native American woman. I had a grandmother that ran for the river and had a new baby and the baby started to cry and she drowned the baby so it wouldn't disclose their hiding place because there were other Native Americans under the banks.

Q: Is it difficult to live near the place where this happened?

No. My grandmother, I was told, was a medicine woman and she was a spritiual lady and so I feel like I have some of her traits. It's very moving to be in the area where my people wandered and where they were involved in battles for their freedoms. It's a healing process. This helps me to come together. It doesn't complete it but it helps me heal spiritually.

Erma Stock

Below are excerpts of interview with Erma Stock, age 89, Fish Haven, ID, June, 1997. Mrs. Stock’s grandparents were among the first settlers in the Bear Lake area, arriving in 1864. ERMA STOCK

Q: What was it like in Fish Haven when you were growing up?

Everybody loved to come to the lake. They’d come to the lake to swim. They’d come to the lake to get their batteries recharged. It was a lark.

The cabins were built up with wood so far and then it was canvas over the top. There were two beds in the cabin and they accommodated six people if they wanted to sleep three in a bed. They were only three dollars. Then they built the A-frames. Those were very, very lovely. Then after some years, they built condominiums.

HISTORIC PEOPLE BY LAKE They had the big launch, the big launch boat. They would take it over to the hot springs across the lake and back. Across the lake there was a large hotel that went with the hot springs. It burned down and was never rebuilt.

This was a resort area and it was the choice spot on the lake. There was a lot of competition. We had Ideal Beach with a “swing” floor, this (Stock Brothers resort) with a “swing” floor and then Lakota built a dance hall. But Stock Brothers won out. We had two dance halls, one outside and one inside and two orchestras that came in from Salt Lake. They had about five dances a week. People used to dance then. They don’t dance anymore. They jig a little bit!

Everyone used to have a herd of cattle, a flock of chickens, a herd of milk cows. Now there’s only two people in the whole valley that sell milk. There are very few gardens raised. Everyone used to raise a garden. People come in now and this is their second or third home. They don’t slave for a living like we used to.

There was a bond among the people. They loved everybody. Neighbors were real neighbors in those days.

Q: Do you remember when the Indians used to come here?

Oh yes. The Indians used to come and camp on the creek here. They loved it here. This was their world. The white people just took over their world.

We used to trade for gloves; they used to make lots of beautiful gloves. And they were very friendly. They caught and dried fish on Swan Creek.

BEAR LAKE Q: Describe the lake and what it means for you.

The lake changes shades all the time. If a storm comes up the lake will turn green. If it’s calm like it is this morning that will be an emerald blue, just a striking color. The lake talks. It really talks. You have a bad wind, a bad storm coming in, the lake will just roar. It will make a heavy noise. Sometimes it’s very vicious. People don’t realize how vicious our lake is. There have been quite a few drownings.

This morning there was just thousands and thousands of diamonds. It just sparkles. You better brighten up.

I would be terribly homesick if I didn’t have the lake to look at every morning, every noon and every night. It’s a part of me that I love. I love this lake and I love this territory. And anybody that don’t have an anchor here, it’s sad.

Ezra J. Poulsen


Recently a friend was telling me of his happy boyhood in the Middle West. “We lived near a lake,” he rhapsodized, “a perfect environment for a boy.”

“How big was your lake?” I asked.

“About three miles by five,” he replied.

I smiled, thinking of my own lake-oriented youth. Bear Lake, sprawled across the border of Utah and Idaho, in a position resembling a sleeping bear, eight miles by twenty, green as the spring, blue as the sky, clear as a mirror, and as changeable as a woman’s mind. The lake is as much a part of my conscious life as the earth and the sky.

For over a hundred years, authentic, bred-in-the-bone Bear Lakers…have regarded this lake as an apologetic gesture on the part of Mother Nature to atone for the short, frosty summers and the man-killing winters. In the summer, they say, the lake cools it; in the winter it slows down the cold, often refusing to freeze over for many months, that it might dazzle the beholder with promises of spring.

Actually the lake, which with its appendages, the Mud Lake and many sloughs and waterways occupies nearly half the valley, moderates the climate so well that the valley raises the finest strawberries and raspberries this side of Paradise, in addition to other kinds of the more hardy fruit.

This balance between land and water makes the natives somewhat amphibious in their habits. Those who wander say it’s a good place to be from; and those who stay are known to mutter in their beards that it will be hard to endure until the end. At the peak of summer, however, you will find them hanging around the lake like a bunch of mud turtles on a log.

SETTLERS WAGON To the early settlers (the lake) was a merciful and convenient food production plant. Young Joe Rich, with the first scouting party sent out by the Mormon leaders, recorded in his journal that he caught an eleven-pound trout from the lake the morning after their first encampment by the shore.

Not only the modern breed of white men, but the early scouts, trappers and Indians knew and loved the region..several summers ago this was brought to my attention very dramatically.
I was squatting on the beach at Fish Haven early one morning, lost in thought, recalling happy experiences of the past; and as I believed, alone. But suddenly I felt the presence of someone else. Though I was not aware of a sound, a shadow was cast on the sand beside me.

Somewhat startled, I looked up. A tall, powerful Bannock Indian was standing by me, his arms folded, his dark immobile face centered on the blue water directly toward the morning sun. In his high-crowned black hat, red bandanna neckerchief and dark woolen shirt, he seemed like a wraith from the haunted past, completely indifferent to my presence.

For what seemed like an agonizing amount of time, neither of us spoke or moved. At last, in a tone of profound feeling, he spoke slowly: “Heap nice water!”

I was much relieved, and ignoring the fact that he might have been addressing the Great Spirit rather than myself, I answered promptly, almost gleefully, “You betcha!”

Again, there was a long silence, threatening to become more awkward than ever; but in his own time he spoke again: “Heap nice water!”

Again, I found relief from some invisible tension by replying, “You betcha!” Soon, we parted. And I find myself believing this was a moment of great spiritual awakening. I was proud to be in the presence of this stoic American aborigine, my heart attuned with him in appreciation of one of nature’s minor masterpieces.

The place now may seem less glamorous than when I first saw it through boyish eyes, though it has been somewhat improved. Still, I am now really in love with it.

If we could make a wish for every family on this earth, it might well be that each may have a cottage with a choice spot of ground near a lake like ours in a valley surrounded by the friendly hills and mountains, where the wonders and diversities of nature could be enjoyed on every hand and where respect and fellowship with one another might grow.