Sasquatch: Finding the Boundary Between Legend and Fact
With the discussion of Sasquatch or “Bigfoot”, it is sometimes hard to discern where the boundary exists between traditional beliefs and legends, and the rudiments of any sort of facts.
What we can discern, however, is that for close to a century in North America alone, there have been ongoing reports of sightings of a creature that similarly blurs the boundaries between man, and some kind of beast. Nothing fitting this description should, or in likelihood can physically exist today, and remain undetected for so long.
Yet, the sightings continue. And, to a frustrating degree, with the recurrence of sightings, a nearly proportional lack of quality photographic or physical evidence seems to have been collected to support the anecdotal eyewitness accounts.
So what, then, are we to make of the troubling notion of the Sasquatch in our culture today? Is the creature long supposed to exist in the remote wilds of the Pacific Northwest merely modern myth involving a “monster”, borrowing perhaps from earlier traditions among Native Americans that featured similar belief in the existence of such creatures?
Part of what makes the ongoing Sasquatch narrative so strange rests upon this juxtaposition between the “old” and the “new.” More specifically, while the notion that such a creature might exist is not accepted by science today, it does not appear to be an entirely modern creation. To the contrary, recent sightings and reports do appear to be the continuation of a much longer-held narrative, existing among the cultures of various Northwestern Indian tribes.
In 1924, an article appeared in the June 16th edition of the Seattle Times, under the title, “Clue to ‘Gorilla Men’ found, may be a Lost Race of Giants.” As a brief aside, today, the dubious notion of the existence of a “lost race” of large humanoids has fueled much conjecture and conspiracy-theorizing (though it shouldn’t be confused with legitimate discoveries of large human remains that have been properly logged through the Smithsonian, as I’ve discussed in articles here and here. For more on the science behind this subject, also see University of South Carolina Professor Andy White’s excellent page on giants here).
All discussion of supposed “lost races” aside, the 1924 article discusses a number of interesting aspects of the folklore surrounding legendary creatures called the “Seeahtiks” in Native American traditions, which appear to directly mirror the subject of Bigfoot as it appears today.
An excerpt from the article, quoting Jorg Totsgi, a Clallam Indian and editor of The Real American, reads:
The Indians of the Northwest have kept the existence of the Seeahtiks a secret. Partly because they know no white man would believe them and the Indian, known for his honesty and truthfulness, does not like to be called a liar, and partly because the northwestern Indian is ashamed of the Seeahtik Tribe, said Totsgi.
“The “Mountain devils” or ‘gorillas’ who bombarded the prospectors’ shack on Mount St. Helens in 1924, according to the description of the miners, are none other than the Seeahtik Tribe with whom every Indian in the Northwest is familiar,” said Totsgi.
The Seeahtiks were last heard of by the Clallam Indians about 15 years ago, (approx 1899 – 1909) and it was believed by the present day Indians, that they had become extinct. The Seeahtik Tribe also make their home in caves, in the heart of the wilderness on Vancouver Island and in the Olympic Range, in particular Mt. St. Helens. “
As described by the Clallam Indians, the Seeahtiks are seven to eight feet tall. They have hairy bodies like the bear. They are great hypnotists, and kill their game by stunning them with hypnotic power. They also have a gift of ventriloquism, throwing their voices at great distances and can imitate any bird in the Northwest. They have a very keen sense of humor,” Totsgi added.
“In the past generations they stole many Indian women and Indian babies. They lived entirely in the mountain, coming down to the shores only when they wanted a change of diet. The Quinaults claim they generally came once a year to the Quinault River, about fall. The Clallams say they favored the river area near Brinnon on Hood Canal. After having their fill of fresh salmon, they stole dried salmon from the Indian women.
“The Seeahtik Tribe are harmless if left alone. The Clallam Tribe, however, at one time several generations ago, killed a young man of the Seeahtik Tribe to their everlasting sorrow, for they killed off a whole branch of the Clallam Tribe but one, and he was merely left to tell the tale to the other Clallams up-Sound. The Clallam Indians believed that the Seeahtik Tribe had become extinct.
Many of the consistent tropes of modern Sasquatchery remain present within Totsgi’s account, ranging from alleged “kidnappings” by the creatures (which is strongly implied by the proponents of research discussed by David Paulides in his Missing 411 book series), as well as the general size and description of the creatures as being 7-8 feet tall and covered in hair. The consumption (and occasional theft) of salmon from natives in the area is mirrored in accounts from modern times as well, most notably the famous “Ruby Creek” episode, which allegedly occurred in 1946.
Are the modern reports of ongoing encounters with creatures similar to the Seeahtiks truly a mere continuation of earlier folklore? It would seem strange indeed if all accounts supplied by witnesses were merely the stuff of some collective delusion, which has grown out of an earlier tradition of human interactions with a supposed “lost race” of giants. It would seem equally strange that such creatures could exist, however, and invariably evade detection, whether through a physical specimen recovered today (i.e. a body, or even a small, testable portion of one), or through fossil evidence suggestive of a longer occupancy in the Americas.
Something about the strange affair of the Sasquatch–whatever it is that rests at the heart of the mystery–indeed seems to elude us. The question, however, is whether that is an actual creature that manages to continually evade us, or merely our ongoing struggle to understand a very complex and nuanced mythology, with roots in the traditions of the ancient Americas.