Native American myth/tradition supports Bigfoot? A critical look.

bigfoot.jpg

Because it’s very much in the spirit of this blog, I thought I’d reproduce a piece by JREF forum poster “kitakaze” on the validity of claims about the Native American evidence for Bigfoot. It’s an interesting reminder of how history can be more easily co-opted to suit certain agendas by taking advantage of ignorance – ignorance of the past and of cultures and traditions alien to our own. Spurious claims are much more plausible when the audience has no frame of reference, and especially if they recognise that indigenous cultures are important to world history. This case, that Native Americans had Bigfoot myths, or even lived side-by-side with such creatures, reminded me of the Welsh Prince-Finds-America post I wrote a while ago. It sounds plausible, but once you start to do some research, or even just ask somebody who’s already done some, the names, places and people are shown to be just handy labels for some seriously wishful thinking. See what you think, and check the original thread for some comments:

It is my assertion that Native American traditions do not support the existence of bigfoot and that what is put forth by bigfoot enthusiasts as evidence for the existence of bigfoot has been cherry-picked and misrepresented. In my opinion this at best amounts to a collection of boogeyman tales not significantly different than that of countless other cultures.

A good example of this is the lengthy discussion in the ‘Simple Challenge for Bigfoot Supporters‘ thread on the JREF Forums regarding kushtaka (kû’cta-qa), a mythical being in the traditions of the Tlingit people of northwestern North America. We were told that kushtaka was a well-known and supported term for bigfoot and after much discussion and examination by skeptics the claim was dropped after the ‘Land Otter Man’ nature of the myth was established.

More recently we were told of the bukwus of the Kwakiutl people of Northern Vancouver Island:

One tribe dresses as animals and all the animals are known creatures except the sasquatch or buk’wus as they call them. They just consider it another primate and think nothing strange about its existence.

This poster was apparently unaware of the legendary Thunderbird and its place in Kwakiutl mythology. As for the supposed sasquatch/bukwus, again, critical examination reveals…

From the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture:

Like the Dzoonokwa, Bukwus is a wild creature of the woods. Described as a “chief of the ghosts”, he tempts travellers to eat his food, which transforms them into wild spirits like himself. The Bukwus dance is performed during the Tlasula.

From northwestcoastnativeartists.com:

Bukwus, the wild man of the woods, is a supernatural ghost like figure. He is associated with the spirits of people who have drowned. He lives in an invisible house in the forest and attracts the spirits of those who have drowned to his home.

Bukwus also tries to persuade humans to eat ghost food so that they will become like him. The Bukwus was a significant character for the Kwakiutl people.

One of the main proponents of correlations between Native traditions/mythology and bigfoot existence is a lady we’ve enjoyed much discussion with on the subject in the past here, US Forest Service Archaeologist Kathy Moskowitz Strain. Kathy is a bright women with a fine sense of humour who has over the years invested much study on the matter. She has a book on the subject forthcoming that is due to be released sometime this year IIRC. Kathy is a well-known bigfoot proponent/researcher who has appeared on the History Channel series Monster Quest a number of times. She posts here under the handle ‘Hairyman’.

Here is a youtube clip of her speaking on Native myths/traditions and bigfoot on the ‘Gigantopithecus: The Real King Kong’ episode of Monster Quest:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=vUThgEGxjEM

I find myself in disagreement with some key ideas of Kathy’s on the subject and think some can be illustrated by her comments in the above Monster Quest clip. For example, the statement “…as a scientist and archaeologist it doesn’t make sense to me that tribes would give names to imaginary creatures.” I find it difficult following Strain’s reasoning here. It seems to presuppose the idea that Native American cultures did not have mythical creatures when, as is clear with the example of the ubiquitous Thunderbird, we know this to not be the case.

She also states in the clip “that Native Americans have literally a hundred names for these creatures and I’m still discovering them.” Interestingly she then lists a few and includes the word ‘sasquatch’ which we have often been told to be a native word. Once again, upon further examination the word turns out to be a neologism coined in the 20’s by a British Colombian school teacher, J.W. Burns:

Formal use of “Sasquatch” can be traced to the 1920s, when the term was coined by J.W. Burns, a school teacher at the Chehalis, British Columbia Indian Reserve, on the Harrison River about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. Burns collected Native American accounts of large, hairy creatures said to live in the wild. Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark wrote that Burns’s “Native American informants called these beasts by various names, including ‘sokqueatl’ and ‘soss-q’tal'” (Coleman and Clark, p. 215). Burns noted the phonetically similar names for the creatures and decided to invent one term for them all.

Over time, Burns’s neologism “Sasquatch” came to be used by others, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. In 1929, Maclean’s published one of Burns’s articles, “Introducing British Columbia’s Hairy Giants,” which called the large creatures by this term.

Here is a partial list (from here) of tradtional Native names from the eastern United States provided by Strain that are supposed to represent bigfoot:

The list is not all there is, just what picked out quickly from a list of several hundred:

Tribe – Traditional Name – Translation

Alabama-Coushatta – Eeyachuba – Wild man
Algonkian – Yeahoh– Wild man
Caddo – Ha’yacatsi – Lost giants
Cherokee – Kecleh-Kudleh – Hairy savage
Cherokee – Nun’ Yunu’ Wi – Stone man
Chickasaw – Lofa – Smelly, hairy being that could speak
Chippewa – Djeneta` – Giant
Choctaw – Kashehotapalo – Cannibal man
Choctaw – Nalusa Falaya – Big giant
Choctaw – Shampe – Giant monster
Comanche – Mu pitz – Cannibal monster
Comanche – Piamupits – Cannibal monster
Creeks – Honka – Hairy man
Iroquois – Ot ne yar heh – Stonish giant
Iroquois – Tarhuhyiawahku – Giant monster
Iroquois/Seneca – Ge no sqwa – Stone giants
Menomini – Manabai’wok – The Giants
Micmac – Chenoo – Devil cannibal
Mosopelea – Yeahoh – Monster
Ojibwa – Manito – Wild man
Seminole – Esti capcaki -Tall man
Seminole – Ssti capcaki – Tall hairy man
Seneca – Ge no’sgwa – Stone giants

Here’s another list of Native American names alledged to correlate to bigfoot compiled by Kyle Mizokami, Henry Franzoni, Jeff Glickman. Some examples of some of the more ambiguous entries:

Name>Tribe>Translation

Skanicum – Colville Indians – “Stick Indians”

Steta’l – Puyallup/Nisqually Indian – “Spirt Spear”

Qui yihahs – Yakama/Klickitat Indian – “The Five Brothers”

Kushtaka – Tlingit Indian – “Otter Man”

Tah tah kle’ ah – Yakama/Shasta Indian – “Owl Woman Monster”

Gilyuk – Nelchina Plateau Indian – “Big Man with little hat”

Ge no’sgwa – Seneca Indian – “Stone Coats”

Atahsaia – Zuni Indian – “The Cannibal Demon”

Misinghalikun – Lenni Lenape Indian – “Living Solid Face”

Wsinkhoalican – Lenni Lenape Indian – “The Game Keeper”

Hecaitomixw – Quinault Indians – “Dangerous Being”

Yé’iitsoh – Navajo Indians – “Big God ”

It’s nice that they have a great big list put together but one wonders how they established a link to bigfoot or if it just ‘felt right’.

One of the prime examples that I have seen put forward by bigfoot enthusiasts countless time is Dsonoqua, The Wild Woman of the Woods. A classic boogeyman type figure, she is a mythical being of the Kwakiutl people of the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the adjacent BC coast who is said to be a stealer of children.

One thing that is a bit frustrating is the wide variation of spellings of Dsonoqua when rendered in the Roman alphabet. Here is a link to the Kwakiutl Tales Index collected and translated by Franz Boas circa 1910, which contains this entry entitled “The Dzô’noqwa”.

The tale is somewhat reminiscent of The Brothers Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

This is from reknowned Canadian artist Emily Carr’s book ‘Klee Wyck’ (1941) entitled ‘D’Sonoqua’, and below are some images [- see whether you think Dzô’noqwa/D’Sonoqua, or any other claimed Native American depictions of “bigfeet”, objectively fit with the Sasquatch/Bigfoot myth, or whether they are part of a rich mythological tradition in its own right – bshistorian].
totem_dzunukwa.jpgdson.jpgtsonoquad.jpgaa265a.jpg

I think what you have here is the classic case of footers highjacking a native myth and trying to wrench it into bigfoot evidence. It seems clear from all that I’ve seen so far that dsonoqua was held by the Kwakiutl to be a boogeyman type figure and not the representation of a species of 8ft giant bipedal primate that they shared their land with. I will look further into this.

Thank you for those observations, kitakaze – needless to say (and for what it’s worth!), I agree. Anyone stumbling across this piece should check out the JREF forum for further and future discussion of these claims about the “bigfeet”, and more besides.

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22 Responses to “Native American myth/tradition supports Bigfoot? A critical look.”

  1. DENNIS HARVEY Says:

    i really appreciate all the research everyone in the scientific community is doing trying to debunk or prove the existence of “big brother of the forest“ it sure gives me a lot of good reading material. the hair splitting over what name native people give to their real or imagined ghosts or monsters to try and prove where “big brother“ fits into all of this is laughable. when and if you would be so lucky (unlucky) to have an encounter in a remote forest with a being that defies an explanation that makes a sound like some shriek from hell while pissing your pants you`ll give it the worse name you ever heard or dream about it might even be a name of a boogey man you heard about when you were a kid whatever name you decide on it will make all the other names and associations not worth a pile because what keeps you awake at night doesn`t have a “name“

  2. tige Says:

    Hi, Im a 24 yr old cheyenne from oklahoma, and have seen a creature of a similar nature on the property i have,its 88acres of very private land next to the north canadian river,over run with trees with native lands beyond that, i was 22 when me and my then girlfrend(were still together) to spend the morning in the woods. it was 8:30 am and the sun was creeping over the trees, we were headed to the pow wow grounds on the south end of the property,taking a rode not usualy taken by us we figured no one would be their. pulling around some cedar trees i saw a woman figure thru an open area of saplings, we pulled up prety darn close. 45 yards away in an open area was what apeared to be an old woman with a native apperence. she was on her knee’s holding a very large infant that was rather large and grey skin with blue tint and long gangly arm that hung lower than its feet, and a pop belly with little hair on the head, as for the woman i am 5.11 and even on her knee’s i would stand a mid chest.Her face was grey with sunken in eyes distinctive indian nose and chin and high forehead with a red stripe from there to the chin,hair only on top of head whitch stood an inch 1/2 then draped down the back clear to the ground. the grey skin was only on the face neck cleavage area,what i had first thought was a long jacket was fur, brown dirty fur with twiggs and leaves in it, i know this is the most accurate discription of this creature being #1 two of us saw it.#2we were parked in a supercab pickup 45yards away#3it was 9:00 in the morning with blue sky. i have read the names above and like owl woman being she was grey. thanks (hah-ho)

    • David Says:

      Tige – this is an amazing encounter! You should tell the guy at northamericanbigfoot.com I follow his Blog that has interesting research into Native American sasquatch perspectives.

  3. kyle Says:

    This is Kyle M. I’ve been aware of this page for some time, but for some reason, at the moment, feel compelled to say something.

    What you are linking to that is purportedly a work of mine is actually a list created many years ago by a bigfoot enthusiast who was more enthusiastic than interested in adhering to scholarly practices. He collected a bunch of names of bigfoot-like beings in Native American folklore that Henry, Jeff and I had separately found and put them in a single list. Unfortunately, he (or she) then added our names and some decidedly questionable statements. The final indignity was to have the list finally end up on a rather loopy web site.

    Yes, I did do some research into legends of mythical bigfoot-like beings in native american folklore. You would be accurate to state that I thought there was a possible correlation. However, I never stated–as the link you point to said quite clearly–that list comprised “native american names of bigfoot”. I would never endorse the compiled list. I asked the web site operator to take it down, and she did.

    It’s a hallmark of good scholarship to investigate source material and not just to link to something and pass on the claims of a really outlandish web site just because it “sounds right” and fits your argument. That is remarkably similar to what I would be guilty of had I authored the original list, no? I find the mention of my name on a blog called “The BS Historian” based on something that I had nothing to do with irritating and unfair.

    • bshistorian Says:

      Hi Kyle – I’m not sure by what method of scholarship either I or the actual author of this piece could have known that your name had been inaccurately reproduced on that site. It linked back to this site. There was nothing at either location to suggest that the attached names might have been misrepresented. Ironically, I would normally refrain from posting names unless I was pretty certain of culpability, as it were. There’s no need where they appear in links – though you might argue the ethics of even linking to a site that names individuals.

      However, I am genuinely sorry you feel slighted by the appearance of your name here and do concede that the end result has been the suggestion on these pages that you had an active part in promulgating Bigfootery. This is an honest mistake. I am not out to piss people off (well, I am, but only those who deserve it) and it’s clear that you don’t after all fall into this category, so again – my apologies.

      Now, to resolve this, I would normally simply make an annotated edit to the article. However it is a) not my work to tinker with, and b) still extant at its original location on the JREF forums. As such, even if I were to edit or even delete the post here, it would remain available via Google. So for now I leave this entry intact, with your correction and again, my sincere apology that this has upset you – not my intention, and I’m sure not that of the author had he known how that list had come about. You might like to register and post a correction there where the author will see it;

      http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=104878&page=25

      I’m not precious about this though, and should you still feel strongly (or should the Google ranking of this page be higher than I thought it must be), will happily delete this article and let the content of the JREF post stand on its own along with any correction you care to make there.

      Best wishes,

      The BS Historian

  4. kyle Says:

    BS Historian–

    I appreciate the post.

    -Method of scholarship? Perhaps I erred here, because in formulating a response I keep going back to journalism and fact-checking. I suppose my position is that while I would expect Bigfoot web sites to repost the list without investigation into the source, I expect skeptics to rather dig a little deeper and investigate the origins of the material cited.

    (I attended the Eugenie Scott lecture last night in San Francisco and while I was basically on her side and those of Bay Area Skeptics, I found myself nitpickng tiny factual errors she made that in the presentation that would merely be par for the course if she was trying to make a pro-bigfoot argument.)

    The sad thing is, I would love to talk to skeptics and help shoot down the veracity of the list. But none of you have contacted me! You all accept the list just as the bigfooters do. This is very frustrating, not only from a personal standpoint, but because I have come around to the notion that skeptics are more rigorous and thorough in pursuit of the truth.

    Perhaps this is a bit unrealistic and I’m being unreasonable because of the circumstances. If so, I too apologize.

    The author of the JREF thread is aware of my position. I’ve spoken to Kitakaze and he was good enough to post an (anonymous) statement on the thread that the list does not and never did reflect my views. I don’t ask you to make any edits to this article–this thread of comments is quite satisfactory.

    One last point that I can’t let go unacknowledged: I can’t help but notice that I keep having to deal with skeptics to correct the record who are hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. “Kitakaze”, “BS Historian”–who ARE you people? My name is put out there and I must defend it. You guys, on the other hand, can simply re-invent yourself if things sour. It doesn’t feel very fair from this end.

    Anyway, apologies accepted, and I appreciate your response. This is closes the matter on my end.

  5. bshistorian Says:

    Kyle – thanks for the measured response. I don’t think you’re being unreasonable exactly. I realise that a quick google establishes that you are no longer affiliated with the Bigfoot movement – but this being the Internet, I’m afraid attaching one’s real name to something like that is not likely to ever go away. Ironically, this is one reason people such as myself do maintain a measure of anonymity online. This is NOT limited to skeptics, but is a widely accepted internet practice. I respect those that do use their real name, and indeed in other spheres (still with a measure of risk attached) I do. My main reason is that I am a professional person within the field, whose involvement in this kind of work (or hobby!) would not be permitted under my real name. Does that make me an unaccountable vigilante? You bet. This is the Wild West v2.0 we’re talking about here. Fascinating insights, reasoned arguments and referenced articles jockey for position with unmitigated BS, and that’s why we do what we do. Incidents like this are arguably the unintended consequences of this kind of exercise – unintentionally, you’ve been dragged back into this “fight” – and I’m sorry for that.

    I will certainly take from this that it’s best not to name names (even by proxy) unless one is certain of a person’s level of involvement, or more realistically, qualifies the naming ie “X source names Y person as claiming Z”. Ironically in my own posts here I tend to let the links do the talking unless a person is making a direct claim – though ethically speaking, is there a difference?

    I do think we need to acknowledge that the online environment (and blogging in particular) is not print journalism or academia. It’s an informal, fast-paced medium, and I’m not sure you can blame kitakaze or myself too much for failing to Google all the names involved in this case. I think there’s an argument which says he was simply reporting what another site was claiming (though repeating the names in the post was in retrospect unnecessary).

    As a simple analogy with the “real” world, imagine one of us writes a piece taking on a newspaper article in which you have been misquoted or misrepresented – is it our fault, or that of the source?

    Anyway, I think in having this conversation, we have aided in your long overdue rehabilitation from Bigfootitis. We may be skeptics, but we are by no means perfect! Acknowledging this and one’s mistakes is part of what hopefully separates us from the more rabid of the “believers”. Note also that many sceptics were once also believers in one or more paranormal or irrational area. Personally I have believed (mostly in my teenage years) in Bigfoot (!), UFOs, dowsing, ghosts, fringe archaeology, and no doubt more I’ve forgotten about.

  6. clifford Says:

    i am forever enthusiastic about the fervor that inevitably develops at the mere mention of bigfoot. to me, for anyone to say skeptics are more rigorous and thorough in pursuit of the truth without quantifying that with even a shred of validity is every bit as ridiculous as the moronic tool bags that claimed they found a bigfoot body in georgia! for the record, i do without question believe there is a north american primate/bigfoot roaming the united states and canada.

    cheers, cliff

    • Scott the Aussie Says:

      Clifford until I was about 16 (I’m 45) I supported that too; but then a thought occured to me. Theres a lot of hunters with high powered rifles tramping about those forests, and in all those years why hasn’t Bigfoot been shot dead. They shoot about everything else that moves in those forests, and yet for some reason….not this.

  7. Alex Says:

    Kitz isnt a native, so he shouldnt be saying that my culture doesnt support the creatures existence. hes a hypocrite

  8. F. Huff Says:

    Native American folklore often assigns supernatural powers to real animals, and Sasquatch would be amoung the real animals for many Native American Tribes. By this logic many animals could not possibly exist because they are mentioned this way in Native American Folklore…but they do exist (without the powers, of course).

    Believing in “Bigfoot” may have never crossed the minds of most of the lucky individuals prior to having had their Bigfoot encounter, but after that experience “believe” has nothing to do with it. Assume some species of animals are known to be exticnt and some are “believed” to be extinct. So, how old are these folklore legends, do they coinside with the known existence of such creatures as teratorns…and Sasquatch?

  9. carol Christoffel Says:

    Sorry my freind but you are misinformed if you think something is a myth because you have not experienced it. On my extensive travels I have met many Aboriginal people, the majority of whom still rely heavily on the land to subsist with,hunting, fishing and gathering. They know the woods far better than the average white or urban Indian.They almost all believe in Bigfoot as many,many, many of them have had encounters.Some believe it is good medicine, others fear it , while still others count it as a relative and arrange annual “family” reunions. Since even Christianized Natives often make a living hunting bears, they certianly as proffesional trappers know the difference between a bear and a bigfoot and I have heard several pro trappers tell me they know there is something in the woods that is not a bear, very big and walks like a man. No one wants to deal with it.
    And as far as your assertation that Animals do not have supernatural abilities and so on, you completely misunderstand the nature of things.
    My sister who is Jehova’s witness, was with me once, and was the first to point out the really, really big bird circling us three stories up over our motel.So big it looked like a small plane. That did not,strangely enough, cast a shadow on a bright and sunny day. I did not bother to explain that we had just been blessed with the sight of a Thunderbird.Such an explanation would have frightend her, as in her belief system such things can’t happen. There are lots of things in this world that can’t be explained but non-the-less are real.
    And spiritually each animal has a spirit. Just like the dog,or cat or horse that shows extrodinary understanding of it’s human family, wild animals also have a sense of who is trying to predate them and who won’t hurt them. Your culture tells you what can or can’t be.However, that culture has a lot of bias.Many Aboriginal stories are dummed down in the translation. Some are deeply symbolic and you must attain a certain level to even begin to pick up on hidden meanings. Most Aboriginal languages are extremely rich with multiple levels of meanings for a single word. Therefore to this day, great misunderstandings exist between the cultures with the dominant culture assuming it is all knowing and that Natives are ignorant. Give me a break. Proffesional trackers all tell me in the Nw, Alaska and elsewhere big foot is real.
    I have heard and experienced a lot and I also believe that it is real.
    Hang out in the forest long enough with nw coast Natives and you might just be writting a differnt blog.

  10. Carol Christoffel Says:

    Do you understand Big Foot might be both a primate AND a being that can control who sees it. Many have reported telepathic abilities. Furthermore, if it is a remaining strain of a “lost” primitive man, it may have developed cave and underground dwellings.Too many stories tell me this creature is not ‘JUST’ A PRIMATE but has human like abilities…..Personally I wouldn’t go looking for it if I were you.

  11. M. Smith Says:

    It’s real. Trust me. I have seen one. Family members have seen them, too. Thousands of reports exist. Either every single witness is lying or BF is real.

  12. Bill Me Says:

    To imagine BF is not real because no trace has been found in the vast woodland is to say the same for Native peoples. How many traces of their ancient existence has been discovered in the vast woodland over the centuries?

    • bshistorian Says:

      Their descendents would constitute a rather massive body of evidence for the existence of native peoples in the past.

  13. Uncanny Georgia: The Honka | Into the Wonder Says:

    […] many ways, the honka or kolowa is the Creeks’ answer to “Bigfoot”—although it is questionable whether Native Americans ever had a “Bigfoot legend” such as white Americans would conceive […]

  14. Native American legends as Bigfoot evidence: issues and concerns – Apes of the Uncanny Valley Says:

    […] For another critical look at how Native American stories are used as evidence for bigfoot, see here. […]

  15. Z Says:

    Great post! I just wrote a post exploring this same topic on my blog. There is clearly a lot of appropriation of Native mythology going on within the bigfoot community – as you said, referring to Native American mythology to support the existence of bigfoot seems plausible enough at first, but it quickly becomes clear that people don’t bother to actually research the original myths and their contexts, and distort what they hear to fit their preconceived notion of bigfoot. Here’s what I found in my research: https://apesoftheuncannyvalley.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/native-american-legends-as-bigfoot-evidence-issues-and-concerns/

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