Published on November 4, 2012 by Casey
Of all legendary Native American beings, none has captured the imagination of non-Native people as much as Sasquatch and other “bigfoot” creatures. So intense is this fascination that some Bigfoot enthusiasts seem to have labeled just about every mythological creature ever known in the western hemisphere as another name for Sasquatch. There are amusing collections of “Native American names for Bigfoot” online that include the names of giants, dwarves, ghosts, gods, underwater monsters, four-legged predators, an enormous bird, and a disembodied flying head.
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If we interpret the English word “Bigfoot” to refer only to creatures like Sasquatch– wild, hairy men of the forest that are human-sized or slightly taller– then here is our list of Native American bigfeet. Note that most of these legends are told by tribes of the Pacific Northwest region: Northern California, western Oregon and Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon. There are also many stories involving wild, hairy men of the forest in the Plains and Woodland tribes of the US, but most of those are forest dwarves, no taller than a human toddler.
The Bigfoot figure is common to the folklore of most Northwest Native American tribes. Native American Bigfoot legends usually describe the creatures as around 6-9 feet tall, very strong, hairy, uncivilized, and often foul-smelling, usually living in the woods and often foraging at night. Native American Bigfoot creatures are almost always said to be unable to speak human languages, using whistles, grunts, and gestures to communicate with each other. In some stories, male Bigfeet are said to be able to mate with human women. In some Native stories, Bigfoot may have minor supernatural powers– the ability to turn invisible, for example– but they are always considered physical creatures of the forest, not spirits or ghosts.
That is where the intertribal Bigfoot similarities end, however. In the Bigfoot legends of some tribes, Sasquatch and his relatives are generally shy and benign figures– they may take things that do not belong to them or even kidnap a human wife, but do not harm people and may even come to their aid. Sometimes Bigfoot is considered a guardian of nature in these tribes. These more benevolent Bigfeet usually appear alone or in a small family unit, and may exchange gifts or use sign language to communicate with Native American communities. But Bigfoot legends from other tribes describe them as malevolent creatures who attack humans, play dangerous tricks on them, or steal children; they may even eat people. These more dangerous Bigfoot monsters, known as Stick Indians or Bush Indians, are sometimes found in large groups or even villages, which engage in warfare with neighboring Indian tribes.
One more mythological creature deserves special mention on this page and that is the Bukwus of the Kwakiutl and other Northwest Coast tribes. Bukwus is not truly a Bigfoot figure, but bears enough resemblance to them (man-sized and covered with tangled hair) that he is often identified this way. The big difference, which is often missed by casual folklorists, is that Bukwus is actually an undead monster. They are the ghosts of drowned people; their bodies are depicted as stylized skeletons and they spend their time trying to trick humans into becoming ghosts by offering them the food of the dead to eat. In this regard, they are significantly different than the other “bigfoot” creatures, who are considered to be real creatures of the forest (not ghosts.)
Choanito, Sc’wanay’tex and Skanicum:
Legends and oral history about Native Bigfoot creatures in north-central Washington state.
Great Medicine Makes a Beautiful Country:
The Cheyenne creation myth, which includes references to mythological hairy men of the wilderness (said to be extinct.)
Illustrated story-book about the Sto:lo Indian Bigfoot, in the native Halkomelem language with English translation.
Giants, Cannibals & Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture:
Collections of stories from different tribes about American Indian Bigfoot creatures, giants, and man-eating monsters.