A recent episode of Alaska Monsters investigated the legend of the Wind-walker in Alaska. It sounded familiar in some ways, but to two different creatures. Could this thing be real, a mixed up version of other creatures, or perhaps a total fiction? CryptoVille investigates!
Though I enjoy watching Destination America’s latest in monster hunting shows, Alaska Monsters, you will never hear me say they are a font of fact and accuracy. In fact, they are the complete opposite. A recent episode saw the team set off to find a creature called the Wind-Walker (image above right from the movie Wind Walkers).
They talked about sightings of the beast throughout one particular area of Alaska and the more they spoke, the more sure I was that they were describing a Bigfoot. I’m not sure how it earned the name of the Wind-Walker, but I think it’s safe to say that is simply the regional name for their Bigfoot.
Around the USA, people have named their local Bigfoots as they saw fit (Image left from Patterson Gimlin film.) For instance in Ohio, it’s called the Grassman, in the South the Skunk Ape, Southwest Alaska’s Hairy Man, West Virginia’s Yahoo, southern Arkansas’s Bogey Creek Monster/Fouke Monster, Arizona’s Mogollon monster, and so on.
Overall, people refer to it as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, often in the same conversation, but we all know what they’re talking about.
I didn’t expect the Alaska Monsters team to actually find the beast and they didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that Bigfoot lives there and throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. All the Native American tribes in those areas will tell you the big guy exists.
I had heard the creature called the Wendigo referred to as a Wind-Walker on several occasions. I assumed it was just another name for the same creature, much like Bigfoot and Sasquatch. Turns out, there are more names for this thing than you can imagine. (Artwork left by Caleb Cleveland, The Wind Walker.)
The legend is often attributed to a fictional story written in the 19th Century by Algernon Blackwood, but it actually pre-dates him and extends into the misty past of the Algonquian peoples, the Native American tribes of the US and Canada. The Wendigo is very much their legend.
Described as a demonic half-beast the name varies from wendigo, windigo, weendigo, windago, waindigo, windiga, witiko, wihtikow and even manaha. I think this confusion stems from regional colloquialisms for more or less the same beast. The key element in all of them is this: the wendigo is a cannibal.
I know I’ve heard stories about the wendigo in the American Southwest, along the mountain ranges of Arizona. I guess we can assume they adopted the stories from their trading partners and fellow tribes people from the North. However, I’m not certain about that. When I heard the stories of this creature in the Southwest, it sounded like a Bigfoot to me, 100%.
Some anthropologists believe this tale was begun to teach the early Native Americans and Canadian First Nations people of the evil of cannibalism. Because their tribes were so isolated and often snowed in for the winter, finding food was often hard if not impossible. It’s not inconceivable that some of the tribes resorted to cannibalism to survive. But the tribal wisdom overall, among all the peoples, was that this was a bad practice, a taboo. The legend of the wendigo would certainly scare the people and force them to change their ways. (Artwork above right by unknown artist.)
Instead the people were encouraged to either commit suicide or prepare themselves for a natural death.
Besides being cannibals, wendigo were believed to be evil, possessing great spiritual abilities. (Artwork left by Chent Hooran.) The tribes associated them with winter time throughout the North, and the starvation that often accompanied the cold weather. (Don’t you feel even more grateful for Santa Claus now? 🙂 )
Wendigos are always starving. Some tribes believed they keep growing after every meal so the energy from the meal goes into growing and their stomachs are never satisfied. They constantly hunt for more humans to kill and eat.
In an article in the World Heritage Encyclopedia, an Ojibwa teacher named Basil Johnston is quoted as saying, “The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [….] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.” (Artwork above right by Greg On.)
No wonder people were terrified! This seems to describe an evil creature that sounds very demonic to me. But what about the people who turn into wendigos?
The Native American legend says that people can transform into wendigo in two ways. The first, which is very rare, is one turns into a wendigo by dreaming about it. More frequently, the cause for the transformation results from the person cannibalizing another human being. Either way, once one becomes a wendigo their behavior becomes violent as they obsess about finding and eating human flesh. (Artwork left by White Raven Art.)
In an article on the Prairie Home website, humans who turn into wendigos are said to be so thin that you can only see them when they are facing you. If they are sideways, they are so thin, they can’t be seen. They add that there are versions of this legend that say wendigos are “giant spirits”, upwards of 15 feet tall. Their eyes glow, they have yellowed fangs for teeth, and very long tongues. Some describe their skin as sallow (yellowish), while others say they have matted hair all over. Here’s another clue that some people are confusing the wendigo with a Bigfoot – Bigfoots have hair all over.
Eventually the white settlers came and settled in Minnesota and they took the tale of the wendigo very seriously. (Wind Walker totem, shown right.) They began to have their own sightings of the creature and it came to be believed that if someone saw a wendigo, there would be a death in the village or settlement. According to the article in Prairie Home by Troy Taylor, “A Wendigo allegedly made a number of appearances near a town called Rosesu in Northern Minnesota from the late 1800’s through the 1920’s. Each time that it was reported, an unexpected death followed and finally, it was seen no more.”
Among some tribes, people who became very greedy would automatically turn into wendigos. The tribes wanted to foster a spirit of moderation and people relying on each other. Greed was severely frowned upon.
Apparently as recently as the 20th Century, there were people who spent a lot of time hunting down and killing wendigo. A Cree Indian named Jack Fiddler (photo left) said he had killed 14 wendigo at various times throughout his life. His final kill, that of a Cree Indian woman in October 1907, resulted with him being tried for murder, found guilty, and condemned to death. His son Joseph was charged with him as he had assisted his father in the murder. Jack admitted he had killed her but said he had to because she might kill other members of the tribe and he felt he had to protect them.
Near the town of Kenora, Ontario, there is a hot spot of wendigo activity. In fact there is a place called the Cave of the Wendigo, near the town. It got its reputation from the many trappers, traders, and trackers that passed through the area, each with a tale about seeing the wendigo monster. (Image right showing cave painting of the Wendigo by First Nations people.)
To this day, many people living around Ontario, and also throughout Minnesota and other areas of Canada believe the wendigo is still roaming their woods. According to Taylor, “[R}emember that the stories and legends of this fearsome creature have been around since before the white man walked on these shores. The legends had to have gotten started somehow, didn’t they?”
What do you think about this creature and its legend? Do you think, in some cases, that Bigfoot is being confused as a Wendigo? Do you think Wendigos really exist?