Is the Otterman on the roster of Alaska’s state monsters? Does this cryptid actually exist? Or could something else be lurking in the wilderness, taking the blame? Cryptozoology fans will want to know, so CryptoVille investigates!
The next installment of Destination America’s new show, Alaska Monsters, will cover the Otterman. If nothing else, these shows bring to light creatures I never heard of before and I am delighted to investigate! So here’s my take on the Otterman.
In the folklore of the Tlingit and Tsimshian Indian tribes, Kushtaka (Kooshdakhaa) translates to “land otter man.” These creatures were said to shape-shift into human form or that of an otter.
Interestingly, the Dan’aina tribe of South Central Alaska and the Inupict tribe of Northern Alaska have their own names for these creatures: Nat’ina and Urayuli respectively.
There are many versions of the Kushtaka or Otterman stories. In some, they are kind and helpful while in others they are menacing tricksters that try to lure sailors to their deaths, people near the shore into the water, and small children into their clutches to steal their souls by turning them into Kushtakas.
Part of the legend says Kushtakas make a high pitched whistle – low, high, then low again. It’s also said they can be driven away with copper, urine, and sometimes fire.
Overall the Otterman’s goal seems to be to turn humans into more Kushtakas/ Ottermen. That’s where the terror comes into the story because according to Tlingit tradition, in order to be reincarnated and eventually reach everlasting life in the hereafter, one must be human. If one is turned into a Kushtaka, they are out of luck unless a Shaman finds them who can undo the damage.
It is said that the Ottermen are afraid of dogs, so having one nearby would protect you.
I found this story in an article on the EsoterX site called The Fearsome Alaska Tlingit Kushtaka: If it’s not One Thing, it’s an Otter. Harry Colp was a gold-prospector exploring the area around the Patterson Glacier, north of Thomas Bay, Alaska, with several colleagues. The year was 1900 and what he recorded in a manuscript was later discovered by his daughter. Sometime after that it was produced as “The Strangest Story Every Told.”
“I left come the next morning, which was a fine sunny day. I took only the rifle with me, and when I came to the ridge, sure enough there were a few grouse hooting. I shot two and had gotten them when I bagged another one, which fell down the ridge about a hundred yards before it hung up.”
The story continues with him climbing down a ridge to fetch the dead bird when he spots a very promising ledge of quartz that he thought would have gold associated with it. He then began looking around for landmarks so he could find the area again to show his colleagues.
“… I turned half round to get a back sight on some mountain peaks, and lying below me on the other side of the ridge from the ledge was the half-moon lake the Indian had told me about.
Right there, fellows, I got the scare of my life. I hope to God I never see or go through the likes of it again. Swarming up the ridge toward me from the lake were the most hideous creatures. I couldn’t call them anything but devils, as they were neither men nor monkeys – yet looked like both. They were entirely sexless, their bodies covered with long coarse hair, except where the scabs and running sores had replaced it. Each one seemed to be reaching out for me and striving to be the first to get me. The air was full of their cries and the stench from their sores and bodies made me faint.
I forgot my broken gun and tried to use it on the first ones, and then I threw it at them and turned and ran. God, how I did run! I could feel their hot breath on my back. Their long claw-like fingers scraped my back. The smell from their steaming, stinking bodies was making me sick; while the noises they made, yelling, screaming and breathing, drove me mad. Reason left me. How I reached the canoe or how I hung on to that piece of quartz is a mystery to me.
When I came to, it was night; and I was lying in the bottom of my canoe, drifting between Thomas Bay and Sukhoi Island, cold, hungry, and crazy for a drink of water. But only to satisfy the latter urge, I started for Wrangell, and here I am. You no doubt think I am either crazy or lying. All I can say is, there is the quartz. Never let me hear the name of Thomas Bay again and for God’s sake help me get away tomorrow on that boat!”
This handwritten manuscript is kept at the Alaska State Library. (Map of Thomas Bay area above.)
What Academics Think
Anthropologists, folklorists, and psychology experts have many reasons to think the Otterman is a manifestation of humanity’s longing to explain existence, death, and the hereafter. They go into quite a bit of detail explaining it.
But here in CryptoVille, we want to know is it really a cryptid or a legend?
So far my opinion is that Bigfoots are probably being confused with the Otterman legend. The description by Harry Colp sounds to me exactly like that of a group of Bigfoots. They can have open wounds or sores just like any other animal.
Why Pick an Otter?
I’ve wondered how an adorable otter became associated with such a horrible creature. Anthropologists have a long explanation for it, starting with the difference between sea otters and river otters and how the Tlingit perceive them, plus the priorities of the Tlingit culture … etc.
It’s interesting reading so if you’re up for a quick study, see my references below. (Southeast Alaska Indian art linked to adorable pictures of otters above and below, as seen on EsoterX website.)
Overall, it reminds me of something that happens nowadays. You know how some people hate the Fall season because they see it as everything dying, drying up, disintegrating? Yet others look at this season as a time of abundance because of the harvesting, beauty because of the gorgeous leaves and happy pumpkins, and yummy food. I guess you could look at otters like the adorable fuzzballs they are, or see them as tricky, untrustworthy creatures.
The glass is either half full, or half empty, right?
Does the Otterman Exist?
There is no good evidence to point to and say there it is – an Otterman/ Kushtaka! Certainly no evidence that will convince the scientific community.
That said, I think it’s more than likely that the Otterman of today is a Bigfoot. I don’t believe these animals shape-shift, steal souls, or lure people to their deaths.
I believe anthropologists, folklorists, and psychologists are pretty much right in their opinions of how the legend of Kushtaka arose and why it did. Am I putting down the Indians’ belief system and folklore? No. They are entitled to believe what they want.
But as always, I’m looking for scientifically sound evidence that these animals exist. I’ve said before I’m convinced Bigfoots are real for a variety of reasons. And I feel pretty certain the Otterman is just another name for the big hairy guy we love to research and investigate.
What do you think?