Sasquatch and Wendigo: The Two Faces of the North American Hairy Man

A Study of the Persistence of Archetypal Wild Men, Mysterious Abductions, and Cannibalism in North America.

For over a thousand years North Americans have described a mysterious phenomena that eludes conventional scientific explanations. Pictographs made by the ancestors of the Yokut people of central California depict a family group of three “hairy people” among the known fauna of their homeland.[fig.1] Elders of the tribe living on the Tule River Reservation have passed down an oral tradition that describes the “Hairy Man” as living in caves in the high mountains. It is said that the Hairy Men diverged from humankind in pre-historic times abandoning the use of fire so that people could not track them in the wilderness. According to legend, the Hairy Men would sometimes steal from Yokut fish traps and food stores. It was claimed that in the past, when the hunters left to track game, the Hairy Men would sneak into the village to carry away human children. The Yokut believe that the Hairy Men once preyed upon and ate humans, but suggest they have abandoned the practice for various reasons.[1]

Fig. 1 – Hairy Man pictograph, Painted Rock, Tule River Reservation, CA, (SM Mannix)

Along the New England coastline, across the Adirondacks, and around the Great Lakes the Algonquin Peoples also lived in fear of a semi-human man-eater stalking their forests. The Wendigo was described as a malevolent spirit that would possess human beings and overpower them with cannibalistic cravings. Sadly, the unsympathetic attempts at assimilation by European colonists left us a fractured and incomplete history of the cultural heritage of the Eastern tribes. Some say that the Wendigo was merely a cautionary tale used to enforce taboos against cannibalism, but, the belief that people could literally transform into Wendigo persisted into the 20th Century.

In 1906, Royal Northwest Mounted Police constables in northern Ontario arrested the Ojibwa shaman and tribal leader, Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow, then believed to be about seventy years old. Known to Hudson Bay Company traders by the xenonym Jack Fiddler, he was a high ranking member of the Sucker branch of the Fish Clan, making him an important custodian of the philosophies and traditions of his Tribe. According to court records and newspaper reports, Jack Fiddler was also a famous Wendigo hunter who had been called upon to euthanize fourteen individuals afflicted with the cannibalistic maleficia. Jack Fiddler and his brother, Joseph, were charged with murder by police superintendents eager to impose Canadian law and Christian values on the isolated Anishinaabe clans. After fifteen weeks in captivity under a foreign legal system, Jack Fiddler managed to escape from his guards and decided to hang himself in a nearby forest. His brother Joseph was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but died in prison awaiting appeal. Thus, the last known Wendigo hunters quietly took a lifetime of occult knowledge to the grave.[2]

While RCMP Commissioner Aylesworth Perry may have dismissed the Wendigo as a “pagan belief” in 1909, earlier colonists seem to have believed in the veracity of such legends. Descriptions of the Wendigo are very different from those of the Hairy Men, however, the transformation of Human into Wendigo through cannibalism is consistent with the legendary origins of the Hairy Men. The recurring assertion that these creatures are more human than ape is significant. Among educated Europeans during the 18th and 19th Centuries the existence of creatures like the Hairy Man was not uncommon. Jonathan Swift described the “Yahoos” as an unsophisticated race of hairy humanoids in his satirical 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels. The father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linneus, included the Homo Troglodytes in his 1735 edition of Systema Naturae along with three similar half-man-half-ape species. The American frontiersman Daniel Boone probably never read Systema Naturae, but, it is known that Gulliver’s Travels was his second favorite book after the Bible. Boone claimed to have encountered ten foot tall “Yahoos” in the Kentucky wilderness, although his reputation as a raconteur makes it difficult to verify the details of his account. Appalachian folklorists have suggested that the campfire tale of the “Yeahoh” may have been borne from Boone’s love of Swift’s popular novel.

The tale of the “Yeahoh” involves a young hunter who seeks shelter in a cave and is taken prisoner by a large hairy woman living therein. The Yeahoh hunts and shares her kill with the man, who shows her how to make fire and cook meat. The two live together and have one or more children. When the man finally decides to leave, the despairing Yeahoh violently murders their hybrid offspring. In some versions the couple lives with the Yeahoh’s tribe, or nearby. It is interesting to note the attributes and behaviors passed down in this folktale told by the European settlers in Appalachia overlap with the tales told by Native Americans across the Continental Divide in California.

Fig 2. – Rev. Dr. T.S. Savage and a Western Lowland Gorilla (SM Mannix)

Thomas S. Savage, a Yale educated clergyman, physician, and naturalist, serving as a missionary in the then new Afro-American colony of Liberia, first confirmed the existence of the Mountain Gorilla in 1847.[fig.2][3] The name was taken from the description of the gigantic west African hairy men recorded by Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator, regarded as legendary monsters for the preceding 2,300 years. Before the end of the century reports of gorilla-like creatures in the mountains of North America began to emerge. In 1884, a newspaper in British Columbia reported that railway workers near the town of Yale had captured a young male gorilla, named him “Jacko” and securely locked him in the town jail. Two competing newspapers reporting on “Jacko” refuted the Daily Colonist story as a hoax, but it represents an archetypal account of these creatures embarrassing those who claim to have caught them by mysteriously escaping captivity.

In 1957, a 64 year old British Columbian woodsman named Albert Ostman came forward to report that he had been abducted by an eight foot tall ape-man in 1924. Ostman claimed he was carried away in his sleeping bag to a remote valley where he was held captive by a small family of large hairy people. He stated that they were neither threatening nor would they allow him to leave, feeding him and relating to him with apelike curiosity. After six days, he tricked the alpha male into eating snuff and the tobacco put his captor into a stupor long enough for Ostman to make his escape. A tough hard working man Ostman kept his experience a secret for over three decades out of concern for his reputation. After deciding to share his story with journalist, and original Bigfoot investigator, John Green[4], Mr. Ostman went so far as to sign a solemn declaration under oath affirming the truth of his account. The affidavit from the RCMP magistrate who took Ostman’s testimony confirms his character and integrity making him a model of the most credible witnesses to this elusive phenomenon.[fig.3]

Fig. 3 – Ablert Ostman and the “Patterson Giant” (SM Mannix)

In recent decades professional scientists and talented amateurs have begun to make considerable strides toward determining just what is behind the Bigfoot phenomena. Leading primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has endorsed the possibility that there is an unknown species of great ape subsisting on the bounty of the remote wildernesses of North America.[5] Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University, has collected hundreds of footprint casts throughout the U.S. and Canada. In his book, Bigfoot: Legend Meets Science, Dr. Meldrum presents evidence describing the unique anatomy of these animals’ feet as well as dermal ridge patterns identified on some casts. The Relic Hominoid Inquiry, founded by Dr. Meldrum in 2012, is a peer-reviewed academic journal publishing research articles and other communications related to the scientific investigation into reports of similar phenomena worldwide.[6]

Despite the fact that no one has captured any footage as clear and compelling as the 16mm film shot by Roger Patterson at Bluff Creek, California, in 1967,[7] the video evidence available online now is abundant. Few Hollywood special effects departments, and fewer hoaxers, have successfully fabricated a full body suit that can match Patterson’s hairy giant.[8] In fact, the majority of hoaxes are easily debunked because the art of producing a truly convincing hoax requires a considerable degree of talent. Bearing in mind that individuals with the expertise to create such special effects want both financial compensation and credit for their work it is difficult to expect them to keep their contributions secret. It is human nature to desire recognition for work well done, so much so that folks will even attempt to take credit for work that they did not do. This was the case with the conman Bob Hieronimus who claimed in 1998 that the ape in the Patterson film was none other than himself in a gorilla suit. Unable to provide any proof to substantiate his allegations, Hieronimus has made many contradictory assertions in his efforts to cash in on the notoriety of the controversial film. Dr. Meldrum and many others have denounced Hieronimus, observing that the man did not even know the actual location where the film was shot.

It is worth noting that hoaxers do immeasurable damage to reputable efforts to determine if the ape-men are real. Nevertheless, credible witnesses and researchers continue to report incidents of the phenomenon occurring in places where hoaxers would fear to tread. Meldrum has documented finding tracks of large humanoid footprints on ridgelines in the high sierras. He has also investigated a series of attacks on an isolated fishing cabin located in the Kenora District of Ontario, the least populated region of the province. Interestingly, this cabin is only 140 miles southeast of the Deer Lake First Nation where Jack Fiddler’s descendants still live. A century later this remote country is still a relatively inaccessible and underexplored wilderness.

Investigations at the fishing cabin on Snelgrove Lake have yielded some compelling evidence of one of the phenomenon’s most troubling mysteries. More common than witnesses who report seeing “Bigfoot” are those who encounter unseen attackers deep in the woods. Screams and bellowing calls are hard to pinpoint and easy to misidentify, but, because great apes are known to defend territory with similar behaviors experts are loath to discount such evidence. Unlike menacing vocalizations, rock throwing is a unique primate behavior, thus whatever has been throwing rocks at visitors to the cabin on Snelgrove Lake must be either a feral human or another species of ape.

Retired police detective David Paulides[9] began looking into the phenomena to satisfy his own curiosity. As a former law enforcement officer, Paulides applied standard investigative protocols when making his inquiries. By insisting each witness agree to sign a sworn affidavit, he gathered evidence as he would have done when building a criminal case. Through interviews with Native American tribal members and elders, along with his own field research, he has become convinced that the legendary monster is a real species of animal. Paulides presents what he considers to be conclusive proof in his books, The Hoopa Project: Bigfoot Encounters in California (2008) and Tribal Bigfoot (2009). He suggests that these animals are a very close relative of modern humans, adapted to survive in the remote wilderness environments that we find most inhospitable. Paulides has also done extensive investigations into clusters of unexplained missing persons cases in U.S. National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. The cases profiled in Missing: 411, (2012, now expanded into five volumes), are unsettling for any lover of the outdoors. To date, Paulides has been very careful in his public statements not to assert a direct connection between his belief in “Bigfoot” and the mysterious disappearances. He has suggested that elements within the Federal government know more than they are willing to disclose to the public about both phenomena, and he continues to pursue his inquires while working to raise public awareness and push for accountability.

Fig. 4 – Artist impression of North American “Hairy Man” (SM Mannix)

Despite the fact that thousands of individuals claim to have encountered these creatures, and a growing number of credentialed experts believe that they are real, it is still impossible to say just what they are. Their resemblance to great apes suggests that they are primates, putting them in the same taxonomical family tree as modern humans. Dr. Meldrum espouses the late Dr. Grover Krantz’s theory that they are the survivors of the Gigantopithecus blacki, a species of gigantic ground dwelling ape believed to have gone extinct 100,00 years ago. Gigantopithecus blacki fossils have only been found in Asia, but they are from a time when North America was still accessible by land. Another candidate are a recently discovered species commonly called Denisovans. Too few fossils have been identified since 2010 to know much about the Denisovans, except that they lived in Siberia 41,ooo years ago along side modern humans. DNA sequencing has determined that they were very closely related to us, possibly interbreeding with both humans and Neanderthals.[10] The little we know about Denisovans overlaps almost too well with how Native American traditions explain these ape-like hairy people. We choose to call them “people” because that distinction is commonly emphasized in the folklore of the first North Americans. Despite their hirsute morphology and gigantism, these bipedal primates are believed to possess advanced human intelligence and a prehistoric kinship to our species. It is said they are tribes that diverged from our own kind to live at one with nature. They have survived for millennia by avoiding contact with humans, and could potentially do so forever.[fig.4]

There are many theories about why this mystery persists, from the blatantly pragmatic to the utterly fantastic. In Richard Connell’s adventure story “The Most Dangerous Game” General Zaroff asserts that humankind is the most challenging quarry for a master hunter. If we consider the Native American descriptions, these phantom wild men must be approached with great caution. It is a reasonable assumption that they can, and sometimes do, kill people. As masters of the most remote and treacherous wilderness, they are not bound by our ethics or our laws. It is very probable that like any wild animal they could turn violent if threatened. It is also unwise to ignore the possibility that some of them might see humans as easy prey.

These facts, (if we accept them as such), present a conundrum for the scientific community. Even benign explanations are disruptive to the status quo, and therefore require the highest standard of verification. Despite the ample evidence of an unexplained phenomenon, the only irrefutable proof is an intact biological specimen, i.e., a living animal or dead body. Contrasted against their supposed humanity, this creates a profound matrix of ethical dilemmas for anyone presuming to collect such a specimen. For the hunter who serendipitously has a loaded weapon powerful enough to kill a giant ape and a clear shot, a number of questions arise: what if it is a prankster playing a hoax, or, a shamanic hermit disguised for an occult ritual? If it is an ape-man, what if there are others nearby? If so, will they exact revenge for the murder of their tribesman? Has the hunter already become the hunted? If not, will there be legal ramifications for killing this creature?­

The ambiguous status of the hairy bipedal phantoms makes it irresponsible for government agencies to officially recognize their existence. Governments are not in the business of admitting to anything that is outside of their control. It would undermine the prestige of the United States to acknowledge that there might be un-contacted Native American tribes living on public lands completely outside the reach of both State and Federal authorities.

In the absence of officially confirmed explanations weird theories abound. Some witnesses have reported other tangential phenomena in connection to seeing the bipedal hairy giants. Floating orbs of light are often associated with ghosts and occasionally explained as physical manifestations of spiritual energy. There are those who have extrapolated that the ape-men are related to UFO’s by proposing that if they are extra-dimensional entities; then, their elusive nature is easily explained. This author considers such postulations of minimal value as they amount to mere descriptive metaphors best suited to postmodern fairytales. For Native Americans the distinction between the verifiable and spiritual realities is not so clearly drawn as it is among Western academic scientists. As a metaphysical “spirit animal” the Hairy Men represent the soul of the wilderness, acting as guardians of the natural world. Ghostly apparitions of our most primitive ancestors certainly occur within the framework of our “collective unconscious” accounting for specific fleeting encounters. However, Jungian specters can not leave footprints, throw stones, or snatch children from campsites.

A preponderance of inconclusive evidence indicates small but prolific populations of unknown apes are at large in North America. The few known facts about these apes suggest their existence would be inconvenient for certain governmental agencies, various industrial interests, and those who are in the business of denying the science of evolution. For those endeavoring to prove the hairy bipeds do exist, their work is often thwarted by the stealthful apes’ inconvenient aversion to human contact. Most of all, the potential existence of these inconvenient apes is a persistent reminder that the sum of human knowledge is far from complete.

Citations & Sources

[1] Strain, Kathy M., “Mayak Datat: The Hairy Man Pictographs” Relic Hominoid Inquiry Datat Hairy Man Pictographs-1.pdf

[2] Stevens, James R., “Dictionary of Canadian Biography” University of Toronto Press

[3] Conniff, Richard, “The Missionary and The Gorilla” Yale Alumni Magazine

[4] Green, John, “On the Track of the Sasquatch”, Hancock House ISBN 0888393415

[5] Wells, Charlie, “Jane Goodal Fascinated By Bigfoot” New York Daily News, 10/02/2012

Flatow, Ira, (interviewer), Talk of the Nation: Science Friday. National Public Radio

Goodall, Jane –

[6] Meldrum, Jeffery, “Bigfoot Legend Meet Science” Forge Books 2007

ibid –

[7] Munns, Bill, “Analysis of the Integrity of the Patterson-Gimlin Film Image” Relic Hominoid Inquiry 2013

ibid “Surface Anatomy and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue Features in the Analysis of the Patterson – Gimlin Film Hominid” Relic Hominoid Inquiry 2013

[8] Keith, Barry, “The Patterson-Gimlin Film: When is a ‘Hoax’ Absolutely Genuine?” Relic Hominoid Inquiry 2012

[9] Paulides, David, “Hoopa Project: Bigfoot Encounters in California”; “Tribal Bigfoot”; “Missing: 411”

[10] Harmon, Katherine, “New DNA analysis shows ancient humans interbred with Denisovans” Nature. August 31, 2012

Wenz, John, “The Other Neanderthal” The Atlantic. August 27, 2014

Shreeve, Jamie, “The Case of the Missing Ancestor” National Geographic. July, 2013

4 thoughts on “Sasquatch and Wendigo: The Two Faces of the North American Hairy Man”

  1. That is a very interesting and well-written article. The investigation by David Paulides has me very interested and has prompted me to start reading about the Missing 411.

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