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ABORIGINAL LEGENDS and BIGFOOT
FOLKLORE, FACT, or FICTION
Long before the world’s first glimpse of the Patterson film, indigenous people from across the globe had infused their oral and pictorial history with stories of encounters with the creature we now know as “Bigfoot”.
However, long before the word “Bigfoot” was coined, our North American aboriginal peoples had both a spiritual and practical “relationship” with the creature, spanning thousands of years. In our contemporary quest for the collection of physical evidence, investigators have often mistakenly negated this millennium of first-hand encounters, as nothing more than simple “folklore”.
In the current mire of technological advance and information inundation, these experiences have been primarily “shelved”, only to surface as anecdotal reference “filler” material for the many books and films produced on the phenomena. As “Bigfoot Investigators”, had we first examined the First Nation “legends” with the objectivity they deserved, and with the same zeal that we collect contemporary reports, we may have reached our current understanding of the creature’s behavior at a much earlier point in our research.
As we enter the field armed with our thermal imaging cameras and parabolic “ears”, our increasing self-reliance on technology continues to shift our focus, out of necessity. After all, only concrete physical evidence will provide the proof necessary to satisfy the scientific community and, after all, only the scientific community’s acceptance of such proof will satisfy the world.
Before moving to California five years ago, I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver sits on the coastal tip of the Fraser River Valley – eighty miles away from Harrison Lake, a region known internationally as the “Sasquatch Capitol of the World”.
British Columbia has a long and unique history with the creature, and the accounts of its explorers and settlers interacting with the creature, go back nearly two hundred years.
One of the earliest recorded incidents took place in 1864. A fur trader, by the name of Alexander Anderson, reported that he and his party had been attacked by “hairy humanoids”. These “hairy humanoids” assaulted his party with a barrage of heavy rocks. It is most interesting that “rock throwing” was reported 145 years ago as Bigfoot behavior.
The fact that this group of people encountered a Bigfoot at all is a wonder, considering the vastness of the B.C. wilderness. Currently, this Canadian Province, which is nearly 50% larger than the State of Texas, is still two-thirds forested. Of that forest, the government estimates fifty per cent is still unexplored. The majority of the terrain consists of steep mountains, cascading rivers and lush vegetation, a perfect environment for a large population of Bigfoot to live permanently, without ever being observed by the human eye.
I have known of Sasquatch’s existence since I was a young child. Not because of the film, “The Legend of Boggy Creek” or because of the television series, “In Search Of”, but because the local Salish First Nation, had a strong established presence and their legends were highly revered. The Salish was considered to have had a “special relationship” with this creature.
Of course, my childhood occurred prior to the computer age, when the “Bigfoot Community” did not exist and there were, no “report” type, databases. Therefore, despite this early “education”, I had no comprehension of the creature’s behavioral traits or that they existed all across North America. I believed that there was only a very small number and they dwelled only in the temperate rain forests that hug the north-west coast of the United States and Canada. Had I seriously delved into native cultural history, I would have learned nearly as much about Bigfoot 30 years ago as I have been able to learn in that thirty year span, from then until today.
While it is true that some aboriginal stories and legends are colorfully embellished to make the story more appealing, there is good reason to believe that they are based on fact. As fascinating as the stories can be, their oral history is considered “sacred” and was meant to be taken very seriously, for its real purpose was and is to educate their most precious resource - the younger generations.
As you will learn upon examination of the following aboriginal “stories”, they prove to be far more than “campfire entertainment”. As a Tibetan Sherpa guide was once quoted as saying…”Our people did not make up the other animals in our legends, why would you think we made up the Yeti?” I believe the same argument should be applied to the “legends” of the tribes of North America.
The Salish First Nation (Chehalis in western Washington State) has a verifiable cultural history of over 9,000 years of existence in British Columbia. The Nation is broken into various tribes that live in the Southern Coastal, Coastal Inland and a small region of South Central British Columbia – all relatively close to the Canadian/U.S. border.
The tribes, although living in relatively close proximity, are varied with sub-dialects and in their customs. Anthropologists believe the Salish were originally members of the Flathead tribe of Montana, whom broke away from the main group and settled further west and north-west.
Despite their differences, each individual tribal group shares a common history of experience and belief in the creature our “modern culture” refers to as “Bigfoot”. An examination of their “folklore” references to the Sasquatch, finds the creature described with similar attributes, regardless of the tribe’s location.
Even the creature’s indigenous names are very similar phonetically. For example, the Musqueum Tribe of Vancouver calls the creature “Sesq’ uts”, and the Stó:lō Tribe of the eastern Fraser Valley call it “Sacsquec”.
All Tribes share a deep respect for the creature and an un-disputable belief that Sasquatch is both a physical and “spiritual” being.
To the Salish, the natural and supernatural worlds are indistinguishable. The animals that inhabit their territory are bestowed with shamanic powers and the Sasquatch is no exception. It would be a fair assessment to say the Salish considers the Sasquatch to be at the top of the animal hierocracy, and therefore a being to be highly respected.
Whether the tribe views the Sasquatch as a “good” creature or menacing and or a bad omen, any encounter with it has profound and prophetic significance. Such powerful significance not only applies to the person whom personally views it, but is transferred to the entire tribe membership itself.
Most natives regard him as a “brother” whose own “tribe” had somehow become lost or disconnected in times past. However, some aboriginal groups, such as the Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella of northern B.C., greatly fear the creature and refer to him as a “cannibal”. There is no reason not to assume that this fear is based on the tribe’s actual historical experience with the creature.
In most native languages, a single word can have a complex, multi-descriptive meaning. Some of the names given to the Sasquatch, describing the creature’s behaviorisms, concur with our current research findings with amazing accuracy.
Let us now examine some of the English translations of the west coast Aboriginal names for the Sasquatch…
The following “Aboriginal folklore tales” offer the most comprehensive glimpse into known Sasquatch behavior. The following “legends”, which I believe should be viewed as anecdotal testimony, contain graphic descriptions of Sasquatch traits – traits, that you will find, have all been confirmed by current research and are startling in their accuracy, (all characteristics of Bigfoot that can be corroborate by modern day research findings are ''italicized'').
Heat seeking sensors aside, how do some of the Aboriginal “Legends” compare with our current research findings?
''“Monster-Like with No Knees”''… (I find this very interesting, as I have read several reports in which the creature was described as walking with such rapidity and fluidity that it appeared as if it was “skating” or “cross-country skiing”).
''“Wild Man of the Woods” or “Man-Like Being” or “Man Lost in the Woods”''… (On the surface, this descriptive seems to be obvious, but there is indication these names refer as much to the creature’s human-like face and displays of facial expressions, then it’s over all appearance.
Endless reports speak of the creature as having a face more human than ape. Such qualities are often touted as the reason that many witnesses were reluctant to use their firearm, when threatened).
''“Tree-Hitter”''… (The early aboriginals were aware for thousands of years of the creature’s habit of tree knocking for communication and or warning. Yet, we tend to think this behavior is a recent discovery).
''“Man On All Fours” & “Land Otter-Man”'' (To the great Haida Nation, best known for being the creator of the “totem” and for their beautiful artwork, Bigfoot is known as “Koosh Taa Taa”. In their legends, he is called “Land Otter Man”. “Land-Otter Man is reported to communicate by ''“whistling”'', ''prefers to live near water sources, sometimes walk on all fours and likes to leave “gifts” for people in locations where people are sure to stumble upon them''. Also, the creature is sometimes described as having an unusually “round” rather than human-like” mouth. These very same attributes can be found in many contemporary reports!
Owl Woman”… (The “Owl Woman” was the name given for a female Sasquatch by the Salish Syilx tribe of the Okanagan. The creature was considered a cannibal who stole children in order to eat their hearts. ''Preying on children'' for food was a trait not uncommonly attributed to the Sasquatch. The Harrison Lake region Salish, 200 miles away, also experienced this. They were known to keep their children home from school when they saw signs that the creature was in the vicinity.
I was not able to verify the tribe’s correlation between the Sasquatch and ''“Owl”'' at the time of this writing. However, it is intriguing though, because taped recordings of alleged Sasquatch vocalizations have been described as owl like, and scientifically analyzed in comparison to the calls of various owl species.
The “Stenwyken” (Sasquatch) as told to Hester White (Okanagan First Nations (Salish Syilx) Museum – “Legends and Stories of the Okanagan”); “This story was told to me by an Indian called Susap; he was a wonderful man, and I was proud to call him ‘friend’. In 1872, as a young man, he went to work for Mr. Barrington-Price near Keremeos. In 1888 he came to work for my father, Judge Haynes, at Osoyoos. He helped with the cattle and served as a guide and packer when we journeyed over the Hope Trail to the coast. He came to see me one Christmas in Penticton, and related the following tale”…“Stenwyken, the ''Hairy Giant who smelt ‘as of burning hair’, left large tracks near the Indian caches from which he helped himself to the dried meat, fish, roots, and berries'' stored for the winter. He was often seen at the mouth of the creeks catching fish. He was peaceful-minded and never harmed the Indians. A Japanese, working in a mine at the north of the valley, was awakened one night when something brushed against his tent; thinking it was his employer, he went to the door and there stood Stenwyken with his hands out, making signs for something to eat. He was given food, and he left. Again, near Lumby, Stenwyken came to a tent ''with hands out asking for food'', leaving peacefully when satisfied. ”An addendum from the author – No doubt the Susquash of Harrison Lake and Stenwyken of the Okanagan are one and the same; as he has done no harm, he deserves consideration and his freedom to roam at will.”
Clearly, the author recognizes that this “legend” is no “story”. There is an amazing twist of irony in this story, for those of you who are familiar with the testimony of Janice Carter Coy. The account of the manner in which the creature approaches and gestures for food, (both in this “legend” and the last “story” in this article), precisely mirrors some of Ms. Coy’s accounts. Ms. Coy’s recollection of a long-term “relationship” with a Bigfoot family is highly controversial and has been largely dismissed as an “over active imagination” at best.
To read more about Ms. Coy’s experiences, please visit SFB’s website’s Table of Contents page under “Tennessee” or read her book: “50 Years with Bigfoot: Tennessee Chronicles of Co-Existence” ; by Mary Green and Janice Coy.
Our next legendary “story”, is from the land of the midnight sun. This account was written by Russell Annabel, known as Alaska’s most famous big game hunter and a highly regarded “outdoors” writer. In the story, he shares the adventure he had with legendary northern frontiersman, Tex Cobb. These excerpts are quoted from the book: “The Bigfoot Film Controversy”, by Roger Patterson and Christopher Murphy…”….We became involved one autumn with what would be called, I suppose, an abominable snowman. When I was a youngster roaming the north with Tex, we had never heard much about “Gilyuk”, the shaggy cannibal giant sometimes called ''“The Big Man with the Little Hat”''. Our adventure with “Gilyuk” occurred while we were camped in a pretty spruce park on Yellowjacket Creek, south of Tyone Lake. We had spent the entire summer on this mountain Nelchina Plateau, wandering and looking for fur sign… it was now late September, the beautiful time, no mosquitoes, land ablaze with color, the fish and the meat animals summer-fat, the caribou horde gathering, and we were footloose and free as perhaps men can never be again. This morning Tex was making coffee, and I was down at the creek cleaning a mess of grayling for breakfast, when six Indians filed in through the timber. They stood a moment solemnly regarding our four horses. To them a horse was a rarity, a mysterious animal…Chief Stickman was with them.
I had seen him once before, at Eklutna Village. A squat, square-faced man, very dark, with long hair and quick-moving obsidian eyes, he was the Denna boss of the entire area, and his reputation was bad. But now, he had trouble that he couldn’t handle. He told us about it, balancing himself with the moccasined sole of the free foot against the knee of the supporting leg.
I don’t know whether it was a bad habit or a medicine trick to ward off evil spirIts, or both, but it was disconcerting. He had come into this area two days ago, he said, with some of his people to kill and cache caribou for winter use. But they discovered that Gilyuk, the ''shaggy giant'', was hanging around. They had found sign yesterday. And of course everybody knew that Gilyuk wasn’t interested in caribou. Gilyuk ate men. “What kind of sign?” Tex asked. “We will take you to see it,” Stickman said. “It is not far.” After breakfast we followed the Indians upstream a couple of miles to a burned flat on which a nurse crop of aspen and birch had grown. In the center of the flat stood a ''ruined birch sapling! It had been about four inches through and maybe ten feet tall. Something had twisted the sapling as a man would twist a match stick''. The wood had separated into individual fibers, the bark hung in tatters. Stickman and his hunters stood back, while Tex and I looked the site over. Moose often ride a sapling down to get at the tender upper twigs. So do caribou. But no moose or caribou had done this. This had been done by something with hands. It had happened yesterday, because of the leaves of the sapling had not yet completely wilted. It wasn’t the work of lightning — no burns. A freak whirlwind hadn’t done it, because trees and brush a few yards distant were undamaged. The hard ground showed no tracks. We found no snagged hair in the brush, absolutely nothing, except the incredibly ''twisted birch sapling''. It was without question the eeriest sight I ever beheld in the wilds. Stickman said, ''“It is Gilyuk’s mark. We have seen it before.”''
I wish to make clear that to the Denna, (Dena’ina), people Gilyuk was no legendary creature… He was reality, and they spoke of him as they spoke of the bears and wolves. They saw his sign, and they saw him. He was a shaggy giant who wore a little hat and ate men. “We want to ask you to camp with us until we have killed our caribou,” Stickman said. “Gilyuk doesn’t molest white men. Perhaps he will not molest us if you are in camp.” Stickman had already told us that he bivouacked on the shore of a pothole lake two hours to the eastward. Tex said all right, we would move to his camp in the morning. As he spoke, he was still looking at the twisted sapling, his green eyes narrowed in thought. I couldn’t take my gaze off it either… We ate, broke camp and were putting on the packs, when here came the Indians, all of them — all that is, except Stickman.
An old man told us that they were returning to their town on Tyone Lake. Stickman was dead, he said. Gilyuk had taken him. The chief had got up in the night and gone down to the lake, perhaps for water, but nobody knew. A squaw with a birch-bark torch found his red flannel underwear on the gravel beach. It had been torn off him…”
After reading this supposed “story” a few questions and points immediately arise… Firstly, what is this reference to the “Big Guy” wearing a ballcap? I would venture to say that the Denna’s are describing the creature’s pointed sagittal crest as “cap-like”. Interesting, because the Sherpa’s of Nepal also describe the Yeti’s pointed skull crown as being “hat-like”… Why was “Gilyuk” known to “not molest white men”. Could it have been because the creature quickly learned that white men were a more formidable prey, because they carried firearms?
How many of you have heard only recently of stick formations being attributed to Bigfoot?
In fact, it would be safe to say that amongst researchers today, the proposal that Bigfoot is responsible for stick formations is still highly under conjecture. In addition, I found the group’s assessment in the rationalization of whether the formations are the responsibility of “Gilyuk” fascinating - their “forensic discussion” could have been a direct quote from many of the field notes of contemporary expedition reports I have read…
I do not know about you…but this “story” has gone a long way in swaying my vote to “yes” in favor of the validity of the belief that Native legends are based on truth and that Bigfoot is responsible for the complex stick formations and “tree twists” being found.
The next tale excerpts are from experiences of a woman who joined her husband in the Yukon, during the early 1900’s. She tells of what Hare (or Gwich’in?) Nation’s experience with the Sasquatch, which they call the “Bush Man” “Brush Man” or “Black Giant” in her book; “Yukon Trophy Trails”, by Dolores Cline Brown;
“…Not only were there bad animals but also bad men [in the Yukon], Billy Dechuk says. There were fearsome black giants who ate Indians. Billy told me about the time the Indians fooled one of these black cannibals. They stuffed their skin beds with hay to make it look as though they were all sleeping. When the black giant crept into a teepee to eat them, the Indians stole in from behind and clubbed the cannibal to death. Many times the Indians have scared the wits out of me by warning me about the Bushman. The Bushman lives in caves or holes in the ground and has enormous feet. Once, when Louis was away and I was alone, Billy Dechuk came to warn me of a big, big Bushman. He had just seen his tracks not far from our old cabin and told me that, if I saw the bushman looking through the window, I was to shoot right through the glass “and kill him dead quick.” …I am not ashamed to admit I was badly frightened, for our guides, who have faced many grizzly charges without fear, avoid going into the woods alone because of the frightful Bushman! On trails, we have come across scores of camps so old that the tree stumps had been chopped with stone axes; always, these camps are well hidden up a shadowy ravine. We asked the guides why this was. “Because of the bad people — the Bushmen,” they answered. Stone axes and crude spear points from these camps have been dated 10,000 years old!”
This last legend will complete this article and our brief look into the amazing history of our Aboriginal people and their encounters with Bigfoot. In this “story”, we again visit the Salish Syilx nation of the beautiful Okanagan Valley of south central British Columbia. Remarkably, this account is very similar to a 1924 report made by an Albert Osterman at Toba Inlet, on Vancouver Island which is across Georgia Straight and over 600 hundred miles away);
“The Big Men of the Mountains” From the book, “A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison, by Margaret A. Ormsby;
On the shore of the beautiful Okanagan Lake, Torouskin encamped. The summer was well advanced, and with the great heat of the long, long days, a dead calm set in… The white swan floated majestically on the smooth surface; the loon, uttering her sad wailing cry, dived into the depths of the beautiful lake; in the cloudless sky above circled the osprey. Happy was the group that sat on the shore of the great Lake weaving the long pliant osiers into a trap or conical basket.
The old man sat smoking, or instructing the younger members of his family. “Ke-ke-was [grandfather],” said the lively Minat-coe, “What if it should happen to my father even as it happened unto thee, when thou wert young, when the Big Men came down from their caves, allured by the abundance of fish?” “Jest not, my child,” replied the old man, fondly stroking Minat-coe’s glossy head, “for once they took him hardly would he escape.”
"Tell us about the Big Men, Ke-ke-was,” cried everyone in a breath. The old man shook his head. “Tell me, Ke-ke-was,” persisted Minat-coe, coaxingly, and the old man slowly filling his pipe began thus: “In the days that are gone I hunted in the mountains alone and fearless. Game of all kinds was plentiful and every night I returned to our camp with my horse heavily laden. At last, my father and mother grew weary of meat, and longed for the bright trout that frequent these waters. My father went up the stream a days’ journey from our encampment, and built a fish trap similar to the ones we are making now… I visited it daily, every morning. I went at sunrise and returned with fish enough for all our tribe. Suddenly the supply of fish ceased.
Day after day, I went but found nothing in the trap. Thinking it must have been robbed, I resolved to watch, so taking my blanket with me one night, I lay down by the trap…Towards morning, I fell asleep and soon I began to have troubled dreams. I heard a shrill shrieking whistle as of the north wind, and my senses were oppressed by a vile, suffocating odor. Suddenly I awoke to a consciousness of being lifted off the ground. Upwards I was lifted until I found myself on a level with a monstrous face. I was too frightened to observe much, for a huge pair of jaws opened, and emitted a laugh that sounded like thunder. I expected every moment to be put into that huge mouth and devoured; but the great creature in whose hands I was, stooped down and lifted up my blanket, which had fallen to the ground, and wrapping it carefully around me, placed me in the bosom of the goatskin shirt he wore. I struggled until I got my head into the air, for there was a fearful smell of garlic (read Janice Coy’s story) on about this huge creature that nearly choked me. Soon he began to whistle. It was the same sound I had heard in my sleep and thought was the north wind.
The Big Man calmly filled the basket with fish out of my trap, then, slinging it onto his shoulders, he stopped and taking me out of his breast, he took a fish and tried to cram it down my throat, but seeing me choke he desisted and put me once more in his bosom and went on his way whistling. Peeping out of the bosom of his shirt I saw we were in a huge cave. It was dark save for the red glow of some smoldering embers at the farther end. Throwing a few twigs on the embers, the Big Man blew them until with a sharp crackling sound they began to blaze, then I saw how vast a cave we were in.
It was somewhat low for its size, and from the roof hung garlic, meat and herbs… After taking a long look at me he went to a dark corner of the cave and presently returned with an armful of soft furs, which he threw on the ground at my feet and signed me to lie down. He next began to string fish on a long slender willow, which he hung in front of the fire. I watched his movement with fear and curiosity; soon I heard a shrieking whistle outside the cave.
At first, it seemed distant, then it came nearer and soon it ceased, and with a loud trampling noise, another Big Man entered the cave. He had evidently been hunting, for he carried three fine does supported by their necks from his belt… squatting down beside the Big Man who had taken me, they began to converse in voices like thunder. As I watched the two Big Men I was struck with the mild kindly look on their big faces…
After they had eaten their supper, my captor rose and rolling a large stone to the mouth of the cave, blocked the entrance. Then he took me and laid me on my bed of skins, carefully tucking me in. The fire died down and the cave grew dark, then I heard the most horrible sounds, which I felt could only be the snores of these men. Long, long was I kept by my kindly Captor… I watched unceasingly for a chance to escape, and at last once night I observed a ray of light stealing in between the rock and the entrance. I rose softly and found a crack left open through which the moonlight was streaming; it was large enough for me to force my way through.
As soon as I was outside the cave, I ran with all my might… For months I wandered, living on roots and berries, and at last I struck the headwaters of the Look-look-showier and following down stream, found my father’s camp. How my father and mother rejoiced to see me again! But even now as the winter approaches, I dread to hear the shrill shrieking of the north wind as it rises in gusts and sweeps over the great Lake, for in it I hear the whistle of the Big Men.”… Next morning Torouskin went up the stream and built a dam and set a trap, which he visited daily…
One day he returned empty-handed and in terror. At first, he refused to tell the cause of his fear, but when pressed by the old man, he told the following story: I went up to the fish trap as usual this morning and after I had gathered the fish into the basket and was about to return I heard a shrieking whistle! Nearer and nearer it came. I hid in the long grass, trembling, and waited and waited. Then with a heavy tramp that shook the earth, a man of monstrous size came whistling along...
His face was turned upwards watching a large white swan. He passed close to me and I quaked lest his huge foot should crush me; he never heeded me, but went on gazing after the swan and so he passed my hiding place, whistling. A strong smell of garlic filled the air around. When he had passed my hiding place, I crept out and came home as fast as I could run, regardless of my fish.
Never will I doubt the wisdom and truth of the aged, for... as thou sayest… there are many strange things in these mountains.”…and it is on this final note that I have chosen to end this article, for I “never doubt the wisdom and truth of the aged and I know, that “there are many strange things in these mountains.”.
(All reasonable effort was taken to be accurate in this article, out of respect for the great wisdom and contributions of the First Nations’ People).
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