Pre-Columbian and Early American Legends of Bigfoot-like Beings





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Indian Tribes:

  • Flathead
  • Spokane
  • Coeur D'Alene
  • Kalispel
  • Bell Coola
  • Nootkas


Legendary Beings:

a giant
the form of an Indian but larger, quick and stealthy
Zoomorphic beings
"wild" or "stick" Indians.
Owl-Woman Monster



Nehalem Tillamook Tales,
recorded by Elizabeth Derr Jacobs. Eugene: University of Oregon Books. 1959
The Puyallup-Nisqually,
Marian W. Smith. AMS Press, Inc. New York: 1969
The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume III: The Native Races. Vol. III. Myths and Languages.
San Francisco: AL Bancroft & Company, Publishers, 1883
Legends Beyond Psychology
Henry James Franzoni III and Kyle Mizokami.
UC Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology
Vol. 14, No.1
Folk Tales of the Salishan and Sahaptin Tribes,
Franz Boas, Ed. Kraus Reprint Co., New York 1969. (originally published by the American Folk-Lore Society, 1917)
Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies
Ella E. Clark, University of Oklahoma Press, 1977. ISBN# 0-8061-0701-4, LC# 66-13421



{Illustration Graphics}


Giants and Tree Men

Giants were formerly common in Coeur d'Alene country. They had a very strong odor, like the odor of burning horn. Their faces were black--some say they were painted black, and the giants were taller than the highest tipis. When they saw a single tipi or lodge in a place, they would crawl up to it, rise, and look down the smoke hole. If several lodges were together, the giants were not so bold.

Most of them dressed in bearskins, but some wore other kinds of skins with the hair left on. They lived in caves in the rocks. They had a great liking for fish, and often stole fish out of people's traps. Otherwise, they did not bother people much. They are said to have stolen women occasionally in ohter tribes, but there is no tradition of their having stolen women in the Coeur d'Alene country.

Other supernatural beings that used to be seen in the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane countries were called the Tree men. They, too had a strong odor. km They dressed in buffalo skins and had the power to transform themselves into trees and bushes. Once, when a number of people were dancing in the Spokane country near a small lake close to the present day Cheney, they suddenly smelled a bad odor. One of them exclaimed, "That is the Tree Men!"

The people looked around and saw four men standing a little apart from one another and wearing around their shoulders buffalo skins, with the hair side out. As soon as they saw people looking at them, they dissapeared. Four bushes stood where the four Tree Men stood. Those fourkm bushes could be seen until lately. Possibly the power of the people's glances killed them or prevented them from changing themselves back into men.

There are trees which have been in one spot a very long time. They really are Tree Men, although they seem merely trees to people looking at them. In other spts, trees and bushes change places or are sometimes absent and sometimes present. Often when these beings were seen and people approached them, they dissapeared, and only trees or bushes could be found.

Wild Man

People were drying fish up the Nehalem River. They heard a noise, the brush was crackling loudly, they knew that no wind nor common animal could be making that kind of noise. They hurried into their canoes and crossed over to the other side of the river. They forgot their little dog. They crawled into a place and lay down to listen. Their little dog barked and barked, then suddenly quit. Then they heard a terrific noise as Wild Man knocked down one side of the house. Then he must have gone back into the woods. They could not sleep they were so frightened, although they knew it was such a deep river he would be unable to wade it.

The next day one fellow went over in a canoe to have a look. One side of that large house where they had dried fish was smashed to pieces. The dog was lying there dead, and Wild Man's huge tracks were all around. That fellow came back and told the people, "Yes, I saw his tracks." They put all of their belongings and their fish in canoes and left that place for good. km They would not live there any more for fear he might come again. After that no one would camp on that side of the river.

That really happened.


There must have been a whole tribe of Wild Men because there were always some around.

A Nehalem man was not married. He would go hunting and permit the married people to have the meat he got. One summer he killed an elk, and he saved the blood. He took the elk's bladder and filled it with the blood. He made a camp near there. He placed that bladder of blood near his feet, lay down, and went to sleep. Wild Man came and helped himself to the elk meat. The man awoke. He was too warm, he was sweating. "Goodness! What is the matter?" he asked himself, looking about. It was like daylight, there was such a great fire burning there. Wild Man had placed large pieces of bark between the man and the fire so the man would not get too hot while he slept. You see, he treated that fellow well. When he spoke to him, Wild Man called the man "My nephew."

The man awoke to see Wild Man, that extremely large man, sitting by the fire. He had the fat ribs and front of that elk on a stick, roasting them by the fire. He said, "This is how I am getting to be. I am getting to be always on the bum, these days. I travel all over, I cannot find any elk. I took your elk, dear nephew, I took your elk meat."

That man stretched himself, he had forgotten about that bladder of blood. He kicked it with his feet, causing it to make a noise. Wild Man looked around; he said, "It sounds as if a storm were coming." (A Wild Man does not like to travel when it is storming.) Wild Man was afraid of that noise, he kept kicking that bladder of blood. He said, "Yes, a storm is coming." Wild Man asked, "My dear nephew, would you tell me the best place to run to?" That man showed Wild Man a high bluff. "Over in that direction is a good place to run," he told him. Wild Man started out running. Soon the man heard him fall over that bluff.

The man did not go back to sleep any more that night. In the morning he went to look. There Wild Man lay, far down at the foot of the bluff. he went around by a better route and climbed down to see the body. He took Wild Man's quiver, he left Wild Man lying there. Then he became afraid, so he made ready and returned from the woods taking as much meat as he could carry. He said, "Wild Man found me. He jumped over the bluff." He too found all kinds of bones in that quiver.

They must have been lucky pieces because elk would come down from the mountain for him, and only he could get sea lions on the rocks.

That is a real happening.

The Tsiatko and Seatco

A race of tall Indians, called "wild" or "stick" Indians, was said to wander through the forests. In general conversation they were referred to as tsiatko although another term, steta'l, from ta'l, spear, could also be applied to them.

The tsiatko lived by hunting and fishing. Their homes were hollowed out like the sleeping places of animals and could not be distinguished as human habitations. It was largely because of this lack of any houses or villages that they were characterized as "wild". They wandered freely through the wooded country, their activities being mainly confined to the hours of darkness. As has been said, they were abnormally tall, always well over six feet. Their language was a sort of a whistle and even when people could not see them they often heard this whistle in the distance. They had no canoes nor did they ever travel by water.

The giants played pranks on the village Indians, stealing the fish from their nets at night, going off with their half-cured supplies under cover of darkness, etc. Sometimes pranks on the persons of individual men, such as removing their clothes and tying their legs apart, were made possible by a sort of hypnotic helplessness engendered by the sound of the giants' whistle. km

The giant were dangerous to men if the latter interfered with them or caused hurt to one of their members. Under these conditions their hatred was implacable and they always tracked the culprit down until they finally killed him with a shot from their bows. Occasionally also, they stole children or adolescents and carried them off to act as wives or as slaves. For this reason children were mortally afraid of going about alone at night and the tsiatko threat was used in child discipline. During the summer camping trips when mat houses with loose sides were used for shelter, children always slept in the center surrounded by their elders for fear that the tsiatko would lift the mats and spirit them away. Men avoided conflicts with the giants and women retained the fear of them throughout their lives. Thus, one informant, a woman approaching seventy, broke her habit of rising before dawn and going to an outhouse at some distance from her home because she heard the whistle of a giant one morning. This happened during the winter of 1934-5.

Actual killing or capture of giants was said not to have been infrequent. Two of the more detailed of the accounts follow:

"In my grandfather's time (salt water, around 1850) his people captured a tsiatko boy and raised it. The child slept all day, then went out nights when everyone else was asleep. In the morning they would see where he had piled up wood or caught fish or brought in a deer. Finally, they told him he could go back to his people. He was gone many years and then came back once. He brought his tsiatko band with him and the Indians could hear them whistle all around. He said he came just for a visit to see them. Then he went away for good.

"A man from Skykomish who was a little older than I am told me that he and some friends killed a tsiatko once. There were several of them but the others got away. It was in the daytime and maybe they couldn't see so well. The one they killed had a bow and arrow and was dressed in some kind of skin. Cougar, I guess.


Nusqually Mythology, p. 348 describes a single creature, Seatco, calling him the most dangerous of the Indian "demonology", as follows: "the form of an Indian but larger, quick and stealthy. He inhabits the dark recesses of the woods, where his campfires are often seen; he sleeps by day but sallies forth at dusk for 'a night of it'. He robs traps, breaks canoes, steals food and other portable property; he waylays the belated traveler, and it is said to kill all those whose bodies are found dead. To his wicked and malicious cunning is credited all the unfortunate and malicious acts which cannot otherwise be explained. He steals children and brings them up as slaves in his dark retreats; he is a constant menace to the disobedient child, and is an object of fear and terror to all."


The Giant

Once a giant called saskets came to Union Bar. The people were living in a large wooden house. The giant leaned his back against the side of the house, and shook it violently. Some men ran out to see what was the matter, and saw a man who was exceedingly tall. The people were afraid, but he did not harm them.

The Cannibal

There was a man who belonged to the mouth of the Fraser River. He was of great stature and strength, and often killed people. Whenever he went to attack people, his wife accompanied him. Once he came up the Fraser River as far as Hope, and from there he returned. He attacked many houses, demolishing them, and killing the inmates, both male and female. On this journey, as on all others, he returned home carrying the heads of his victims. He and his wife had heavy burdens. He never came back.

The Tah-tah-kle'-ah (Owl-Woman Monster)

Yakama Indian William Charley told this story to McWhorter about the Tah-tah kle' -ah (Owl-Woman-Monster) in 1918. "Before the tribes lived peaceably in this country, before the last creation, there were certain people who ate Indians whenever they could get them. They preferred and hunted children, as better eating. These people, the Tah-tah kle' -ah, were taller and larger than the common human. They ate every bad thing known such as frogs, lizards, snakes, and other things that Indians do not eat. They talked the Indian language, and in that way might fool the Indians. There were five of them, all sisters. But at the last creation they came up only in California. Two were seen there. They were women, tall big, women, who lived in a cave."

"One time the Shastas (Shasta Indians) were digging roots and camped. They knew that the two Tah-tah kle' -ah were about, were in that place. The Indians were careful, but the Tah-tah kle'-ah caught one little boy, not to eat, but to raise up and live with them. The boy thought he would be killed, but he was not. The Tah-tah kle'-ah had him several days...[One day], when they were out of sight, the boy hurried away. He ran fast, traveled over rough, wild places, and at last reached his own people... After many years the two Tah-tah-kle'-ah were destroyed. None knew how, but perhaps by a higher power. Their cave home became red hot and blew out. The monster-women were never seen again, never more heard of. but they have always been talked about as the most dangerous beings on earth. One other of the five sisters was drowned. From her eye, all owls were created. The person or power that killed her said to her, 'From now on, your eye will be the only part of you to act. At night it will go to certain birds, the owls'." 59

A Yakama Indian named Tam-a-wash told L. V. McWhorter this Tah-tah-kle'-ah story in 1919.

"Owl [Sho-pow'-tan] was the man.60 He was a big chief who lived at Po-ye-koosen. 61 He went up the Naches [river?] to hunt deer. Many men went with him. They hunted all one sun, and when evening came, Owl did not return to camp. The hunters called to each other, "Owl is not here! Owl is away! Owl is lost!"

"Tah-tah-kle'-ah, the evil old woman with her basket, heard that call in the twilight, "Owl is lost!" And she said to her four sisters, "We must go hunt Owl who is lost from his people. We will get him for ourselves".

"Owl knew that Tah-tah-kle'-ah was coming for him; so he went up to a hollow place in the Tic-te' ah.62 You can see the trail that he traveled up the face of the rock to the cave high up in the wall of Tic-te' ah. Grass is growing along the narrow trail. You can see it when you are out from the rock where it winds up the cliff." km

"Owl had killed a deer. He filled the tripe with the blood of the deer. He heard Tah-tah-kle'-ah coming, and he knew she would kill him. He knew, and he placed the blood filled tripe in front of him... Tah-tah-kle'-ah entered the mouth of the cave. She looked. It was dark, but she saw it, the strange thing lying there. She did not know. She was afraid. She called to Owl, "Take it away! I do not like it!"

"Owl said, "No! That is something powerful, step over it." Tah-tah-kle'-ah did as told, stepped her foot over the tripe. Owl was ready. He did not get up. He sat there; and when the Tah-tah-kle'-ah stepped, he punched the tripe with his stick. He punched it often and it went, "Kloup! kloup! kloup!"

"Tah-tah-kle'-ah was scared! she screamed, threw up her hands, and fell from the cliff. The wana [river] ran by the base of the cliff, deep and swift. Tah-tah-kle'-ah fell into the water and was killed."

One version of a story called "A story about two girls a long time ago", written by Louis Mann is about the birth

of a golden baby. And "that five young giant women (Tha-tha Kla-yah-ma) from the South stole the baby."


    59 "The owl has the eye of this sinister monster, this devourer of children. among the Okanogans she is called Sne-nah, "Owl Women". ("Ghost Voices" 1992 Great Eagle Publishing, excerpts from pages 52-65 and 328. 3020 Issaquah-Pine Lake Rd. SE, Suite 481, Issaquah, WA 98027-7255 U.S.A., reprinted here by permission, for internal or personal use of Henry Franzoni, or the internal or personal use of specific clients of Henry Franzoni.)

    60 Sho-pow'-tan; A species of owl smaller than the great horned owl and noted for its "wisdom".

    61 Po-ye-koosen: Definition undetermined. The name of the country immediately up the Teiton River, and adjacent to the confluence of that stream with the Natches River.

    62 "Tic-te' -ah: this is Eagle Rock on the Naches River. It is an imposing pile by the side of the highway, on the south side of the river. Appearances would indicate that the river at no remote time swept the base of this rock as narrated. The channel is now several rods to the north. Tic-te `ah would indicate that the scene of Owl's feat was named for the "pilot" bird of the salmon. The natural habitat of this bird is the river cliffs and bluffs. in places, the perpendicular banks of the n-Che'-wana (Columbia River) are oftentimes festooned with their nests." [L.V. McWhorter]


Places of Mythological Interest

Chief among the places of mythological interest are the surf-fishing camps on the ocean shore south of Mad river. There are several names for these sites. Dandy Bill gave the name, tokelibowok, for the northern site, while he said there was another name that he could not remember for the prehistoric remains opposite site 36. He was not familiar with the two names given by Aleck Sam, sho, for the northern, and wadiswa, for the southern part of the stretch of remains.

On these sites the "Old Nation" known as the wigidokowok 63 used to live. The informants stated that they did not know much about these ancient people because their fathers never told them much, but that a long time ago there used to be a great many of these beings and that they were about as much like animals as they were like men. Perhaps they were the deer people, or the elk people, or possibly the duck people. The informants did not know. By and by another people came and constantly tricked the first people. One way in which they annoyed them was by dropping excrement down the smoke holes into their dwellings. These droppings can be seen now as the circles of stones that have been described (pl. 10., fig. 2). So the first people became angry and left. Some say that they went far to the south, and that perhaps their descendants became Mexicans.

Site 8.--These same ancient people used to live also on site 8 near a waterfall on Mill creek. According to a manuscript of A.L. Kroeber, the Yurok believed that the trail to the end of the world began at a place near here.


  • 63"The Northwestern mythologies are characterized primarily by a very deeply impressed conception of a previous, now vanished race, who by first living the life and performing the actions of mankind were the producers of all human institutions and arts as well as of some of the phenomena of nature. Second in importance in the Northwest are myths dealing with culture-heroes more or less of the trickster type."

Zoomorphic Beings (Boqs)

The attitude of mingled hope and fear with which the Bella Coola regard their supernatural anthropomorphic beings is typical of their thoughts and actions concerning zoomorphic creatures as well. In the supernatural world the dividing line between human and animal beings is not clearly defined; fabulous monsters have the mentality of supermen, and can be appeased, besought, or cajoled precisely as are anthropomorphic beings. Like those in human form, supernatural animals can bestow good or evil on human beings with whom they come into contact...

...(The boqs) somewhat resembles a man, its hands especially, and the region around the eyes being distinctly human. It walks on its hind legs, in a stooping km posture, its long arms swinging below the knees; in height it is rather less than the average man. The entire body, except the face, is covered with long hair, the growth being most profuse on the chest which is large, corresponding to the great strength of the animal. The most peculiar feature of the animal is its penis, which is so long that it must be rolled up and carried in the arms when the creature is walking; it terrifies its enemies by striking tree-trunks and breaking branches with its uncoiled organ. It is said that a woman was once drawing water at the edge of a stream when a boqs, concealed on the other shore, extended its penis under the water to the further bank and held intercourse with her. The contact rendered her powerless, as if turned to stone; she km could neither flee nor remove the organ. Her companions tried unsuccessfully to cut the organ until one of them brought a salalberry leaf, whereupon the monster, dreading its razor-like edge, withdrew.

The following stories illustrate, better than any other description, the attitude of the Bella Coola toward these animals.


Not many years ago a certain Qaklis was encamped with his wife and child in the Bay of the Thousand Islands, Altukwlaksos, about two miles above Namu, one of the haunts of the boqs. He heard a number of the creatures in the forest behind him and seized his gun, at the same time calling out to them to go away. Instead, the breaking of branches and beating upon tree-trunks came nearer. Becoming alarmed, he called out once more: "Go away, or you shall feel my power." They still approached and Qaklis fired in the direction of the sounds. There followed a wild commotion in the forest, roars, grunts, pounding, and the breaking of branches. The hunter, now thoroughly alarmed, told his wife and child to embark in the canoe while he covered their retreat with his gun. He followed them without molestation, and anchored his craft not far from shore. The boqs could be heard plainly as they rushed to and fro on the beach, but only the vague outlines of their forms were visible in the darkness. Presently, though there was no wind, the canoe began to roll as if in a heavy sea. Qaklis decided to flee to Restoration Bay, but before he had gone far his paddle struck bottom, although he was in mid-channel. Looking up, he saw that the mountains were higher than usual; the boqs had, by their supernatural power, raised the whole area so that the water had been almost entirely drained away. They are the only supernatural beings with this power. Qaklis jumped overboard into the water which reached only to his knees, and towed his canoe to Restoration Bay, the boqs following him along the shore.

This is not the only occasion on which boqs have appeared near Restoration Bay. Within the life-time of the father of an informant, a chief set out with some friends from Kwatna, bound for Namu. They traveled overland to Restoration Bay, thence by canoe, making the journey without incident. When returning, they decided to gather clams on the rocky point of the bay. As the craft shot around the tip of the promontory, they saw a boqs gathering shellfish. The paddlers backed their canoe behind some rocks whence they could watch without being seen. The creature acted as if frightened, it kept looking backwards, then hurriedly scraped up some clams with its forepaws, dashed off with these into the forest, and came back for more. The chief decided to attack the animal. A frontal approach was impossible owing to the lack of cover, so he landed and crept stealthily through the forest, armed with his Hudson's Bay Company's musket. Presently he stumbled upon a heap of clams which the animal had collected. He waited until it returned with another load, then raised his musket and fired. Instead of killing the boqs, its supernatural power was so great that the hunter's musket burst in his hands, though he himself was not injured. The boqs shrieked and whistled as if in anger, and at once hordes of its mates came dashing out through the forest. The frightened chief rushed out on the beach and called to his comrades to save him. They brought the canoe close to the shore so that he could clamber aboard, and then paddled away unharmed.

The Bella Coola believe that the boqs, unlike most supernatural animals, have not abandoned the country since the coming of the white man. One man was most insistent that they still lived on King Island, and promised to point one out if a visit were made to that spot. This man refuses to camp at the place where he affirmed, boqs are common. Another informant stated that though he had never seen one of the monsters, a horde of them surrounded his camp near Canoe Crossing for a week. Every night he heard them roaring and beating on trees and branches. A curious blending of old and new beliefs was recorded in connection with this statement. This man remarked that once he was gathering firewood when he heard the creatures closing in on him. His head swam with terror, until he remembered he was a Christian; he called on Jesus to help him, grasped his axe, and dashed towards the place from which the loudest sounds were coming. He heard the animals moving off all around him, but failed to see any of them.

Boqs have been heard as recently as 1924 according to popular belief. In January of that year a number of young Bella Coola were returning home in a motor-boat from Ocean Falls. They camped for the night on Burke Channel, and were alarmed to heard a crashing of bushes and a beating on tree-trunks. Thoroughly frightened, they directed the beams of several electric torches in the direction of the sounds without avail and at last started the engine of their motor-boat, the noise of which frightened the animals away.


Matlose is a famous hob-goblin of the Nootkas; he is a very Caliban of spirits;his head is like the head of something that might have been man but is not; his uncouth bulk is horrid with black bristles, his monstrous teeth and nails are like the claws of a bear. Whoever hears his terrible voice falls like one smitten, and his curved claws rend a prey into morsels with a single stroke.




Updated:June 18, 2000
© 2000 Andy Rennard, Bigfoot Field Researchers Organisation