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Elizabeth Lake History and Folklore

Elizabeth Lake is a natural lake, lying directly along the San Andreas fault line in the Sierra Pelona Mountains in the northwestern edge of Los Angeles County. Though it is a natural perennial lake, it is known to dry out during severe drought years.

The origin of its current name, Elizabeth Lake, has two folklore stories.

The first story claims that Elizabeth Wingfield fell in the lake in 1849 while she was camping with her family. Walking on a log to fill buckets for cooking and drinking, Elizabeth slipped and fell in. She was not injured, but several other families witnessed her fall, and in fun, they began calling the area "Elizabeth's Lake". This version is unlikely, however, as it is undocumented.

The other story ties the name to Elizabeth Clayton Clark (1844 - 1911). In 1859, the Clayton family started a stagecoach, trading post, and dining establishment at their Tavern House and Ranch near the lake. She was well-liked and known by the frequent through-travelers, who always made sure to stop and chat with her at the family's kitchen. Three of her siblings are buried near the lake, closely linking the family to the area.

Elizabeth Lake once marked a dividing point between the territories of the Tataviam, Kitanemuk, and Serrano tribes of local Native Americans. The Tataviam may have called it Kivarum.

In 1780, Spanish explorer-priest Junipero Serra named the lake La Laguna de Diablo (Devil's Lake in English), because some who lived nearby believed that within it dwelt a pet of the devil, which later came to be known as the "Elizabeth Lake Monster". This mythical folklore story has origins that date back to the early 1800s, with numerous reports of strange happenings in the area.

One Los Angeles Times article from August 1, 1886, claims sightings of the "Elizabeth Lake Monster", reporting Mr. Peter R. Simpson's account in the following excerpts:

"On the evening of the 15th day of July... Mr. Simpson says that he noticed the peculiarly penetrating odor arising from the water. It seemed to float above the lake, and to fill the little valley with vague, undefinable forms of mist... bout midnight, Mr. Simpson says he was awakened by a terrible commotion which seemed to come from out in the lake.

There was an awful roaring, like the muttering of distant thunder, accompanied by a peculiarly loud, indescribable hissing noise... Far out in the lake was what seemed to be a black cloud, and below it, the water was seething and boiling... no sooner had he settled [back] to sleep than there was a great rushing through the air as of mighty wings, and the wagon was lifted bodily from the ground, carried about twenty yards out into the plain and dropped...

There was an immediate stampede of stock, ...scattering [the stock] over the plain and a dark form whizzing through the air in the distance. The noise of rushing wings continued, growing fainter...

For a moment Mr. Simpson thought that he had encamped in the path of a cyclone. Thoroughly bewildered, with a rifle in his hand, he stood listening intently to the great silence which hung upon the desert, when from out that stillness there arose afar off the sound of a great conflict... across the desert, he followed that sound.

Arriving at the summit of a low knoll, Mr. Simpson passed and gazed down into the little valley below him... The monster had come upon a drove of antelope sleeping in the gulch and had at once attacked them. About ten feet from where Mr. Simpson stood a fine buck lay bleeding, bitten clean through at one stroke of the "thing's" horrid jaws. Around another buck, the monster's wings seemed folded, while its long tail, barbed at the end, played around the pair incessantly, evidently seeking to transfix the antelope.

Mr. Simpon's description of this "thing" is very succinct: "It was about thirty feet long overall, I should judge," he said, "and of a warm reddish color, with a long snout and jagged yellow teeth. It had enormous wings, rigged like those of a bat evidently, long hind legs and a long tail, with a seemingly hard, barbed point. From its head and neck fell a shaggy mane, and its huge eyes gleamed like two horrid fires."

For ten minutes Mr. Simpson stood as one fascinated by this strange conflict, and then, being a keen sportsman, he lifted his gun and took a shot at the monster. He heard the bullet strike, and rebound. Then, disturbed by the shot, the beast in the grasp of the monster was transfixed a moment later, and the "thing" arose into the air, carrying its prey in its mouth, and made for the lake where it sank with a splash that must have been audible for miles.

There was no further disturbance that night. In the morning Mr. Simpson returned to the scene of the strange conflict and secured the carcass of the dead antelope. He also picked up some scales in which his bullet or the horns of the antelope might have knocked from the sides of the monster. These scales are round, semi-transparent, about the size of dinner plates, and of a reddish glazed appearance, somewhat similar to the ground glass. Mr. Simpson still has them in his possession."

No sightings of the Monster have been reported since the late 1800s.

Los Angeles Times, A Holy Terror: The Fiery Dragon of Elizabeth Lake


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