Native American Folklore Is Filled With Haunting Creatures

Centuries before the release of the yeti-themed “Smallfoot” movie, human-like creatures were stealing food, canoodling with women and causing general mischief in the lives of coastal Indians, according to native stories.

Nineteenth Century anthropologist Franz Boas recorded the daily activities of tribal members along with their stories. Boas believed that folklore was as much a part of anthropology as any other aspect.

Boas charted folk tales, noting similarities. He believed they spread from group to group like a common language — but with variations.

“They have these deep, deep oral histories,” Cosgrove said of local tribes.

“In amongst the how-to-fish, inheritance patterns ... come up stories about these beings that are not human and not animal,” noted White River Valley Museum curator Patricia Cosgrove during a recent Sasquatch exhibit. “There is a marked commonality up and down the coast about what is said and felt and understood about these beings.”

A good deal of mischief that might today be attributed to annoying neighborhood kids was blamed on Sasquatch and his kin.

“In the mountains live many giants … who look almost the same as humans,” Quinault tribal member Bob Pope told anthropologist Ronald Olson in 1925. “They are great thieves ... Some still come around the village at night and borrow a harpoon or a drift net, but usually return it before morning.”

“Stealing is a big theme,” Cosgrove said. “Many stole food or stole women or stole children.”

Examples of such creatures are:

▪ Dzoonokwa: A forest giant who lives on Vancouver Island, Dzoonokwa is covered in dark hair. She speaks in a quavering voice through pursed lips. Kwakwaka’wakw children who wander outside at night could get snatched by the creature, who might cook and eat them or just raise them as her own children.

▪ Sasquatch: Muckleshoot tribal members did not speak of Sasquatch. Doing so would draw one to you, says tribal member Romajean Thomas. They are human-like, covered in fur and over 7 feet tall with 20-inch long footprints. They can render humans unconscious with just one touch and are known to steal dried fish and women. Don’t whistle at night — that’s how they communicate.

▪ Slapu: Ann Jack, a Muckleshoot woman born in the 1840s, told Auburn anthropologist Arthur Ballard about Slapu, a hairy ogress that also was called Snail Woman. She, too, was a stealer of children.

▪ Stick Indians: According to Muckleshoot member Greg Swanson, Stick Indians are tricksters who steal salmon, tools and other items but eventually bring them back. They would not harm a person unless attacked.

The creatures bothering the Suquamish tribe, as related by Swanson, were smaller than humans.

A Suquamish elder, Ellen George, said her grandmother was a small girl living at the mouth of the Duwamish River when “wild men” entered their home one night to steal fish. Her family caught one and kept him.

“He used to go hunting, and in a short time he would come back with a deer with its neck broken, (even though) he didn’t have any weapons. (The people) kept him for a while and then they let him go. After that, they would find a deer or two with broken necks lying in front of their door in the morning. Then they would hang dried fish outside and the wild man would take it at night. So (after that) they never had to worry about (the wild men) coming back to rob them.”

An 1800s Suquamish man, John Adams, said there were no wild men left, Swanson related.

“They weren’t killed off, it’s just that they all became civilized,” Adams said. “Some of our own people had them as ancestors. One of my cousins had a sharp face and was a terrible man; that was because he was part wild man.”

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