Long time readers of this blog know that I am an avid amateur folklorist. I can, and often do, spend hours perusing the myths and folklore sections of various libraries near my home in the hopes of finding an undiscovered gem that might somehow connect ancient lore to my cryptozoology interests. Logic dictates that if cryptid creatures like the sasquatch or black panthers really do exist, then the people of long ago should have encountered them. If so, then there should be some sort of record of these encounters. One issue with this line of thinking, however, is that very few of the Native American tribes that inhabited North America in pre-Columbian times had a written language. That doesn’t mean there is no historical record, though, as the stories, myths, legends, and experiences of each tribe were passed from generation to generation via the spoken word. Among the folktales told by these first Americans are stories of encounters with large, hair-covered giants. The fact that these tales have survived by way of oral tradition should in no way lessen their significance as part of the historical record regarding this topic. Today, we will explore a tale from Cherokee folklore.
The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the largest of three Cherokee branches/tribes recognized by the U.S. government. The members of the Oklahoma-based tribe are descendants of the Old Cherokee Nation who “voluntarily” relocated or who were forced to march west to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears, due to increased pressure from American settlers in the East. The Oklahoma Cherokees now reside on a vast reservation that spans all
Tsunihl’gul’ or Tshul’gul’ was the subject of many Cherokee tales. Cherokee elders described Tshul’gul’ in various ways and related many stories of encounters with this being to folklorists Jack and Anna Kilpatrick. A tribesman named Asudi shared, “He was very wicked…People didn’t want to live near where he was. The older people used to say he would lean on something and that he was very tall. He used to fall over upon people and mash them. Tshul’gul’ did a great many things and was always to be feared.” Asudi went on to share a story told to him by his father, who had learned it from his mother. In the interest of brevity, I will not reprint the entire story here. Instead, I will share excerpts that describe behaviors/characteristics of Tshul’gul’ that alleged sasquatch witnesses in modern times have reported as well. My thoughts on the behaviors/characteristics described will appear in red.
“It was in the Old Cherokee country where these Tshul’gul’ lived. They were very tall men.”
TCH Comment: Nearly all alleged sasquatch witnesses in modern times have described the creature as man-like in appearance and very tall.
“There was a couple there who had daughters of marriageable age. These daughters had heard many times about these tall, huge Tshul’gul’. These daughters were very desirous of seeing for themselves because they had heard fantastic tales of these tall, huge men. They had heard that these men could pull up large trees with their bare hands alone. That’s what they had heard, and that’s what these young women desired to see.”
TCH Comment: Again, the great size of these beings is stressed. Too, their great strength is mentioned. Many alleged sasquatch witnesses report seeing a creature perform a feat of strength that no normal man would be capable of. For example, people have testified to seeing wood apes breaking trees, twisting off thick branches from trees, killing feral hogs with their bare hands, and hurling large boulders.
“At sunset they would hear a whooping in the west. In the Old Cherokee country there is a great mountain that begins in the east and does not end until it gets to the west. When he (Tshul’gul’) whooped in the west, he whooped four times in traversing that mountain. His whooping ceased when he reached the end of the mountain in the east. At sunset the next evening he began whooping at the east end of the mountain. He whooped as he traversed the mountain and ceased as he reached the west end.”
TCH Comment: “Whoops” and “whooping” have become synonymous with the sasquatch. I, myself, have heard whoops at close range multiple times in a mountainous area in eastern Oklahoma. On a few of these occasions, the original whoop was answered by another “whooper” secreted in a different location. Countless others have reported hearing these vocalizations as well. Some of these whooping vocalizations have been recorded. Several such recordings made by the NAWAC are available to the public here. To my knowledge, no other animal native to Oklahoma or Arkansas is capable of making this distinctive “whoop” sound.
“When they got to the top of the mountain, everything was quiet. Then they heard him whoop right behind them, just out of sight, and they heard another noise, sounding ‘Daaast’!’ The noise was as if he was breaking sticks. Then they saw the limbs of trees shaking.”
TCH Comment: Many sasquatch researchers and alleged witnesses have reported incidents where they walked in very close proximity to one of these animals without knowing it. The people involved often say something along the lines of, “I’d have never known it was there if it hadn’t…” Behaviors described at that point include growling, grunting, huffing, whooping, the breaking of limbs or sticks, the throwing of a rock or a tree branch, or the violent shaking of trees and other vegetation. It should be noted here that all of these behaviors are textbook examples of intimidation tactics employed by the known great apes.
“Then they saw the tall man – swaying. While he was swaying, he was knocking over the smaller trees, and that’s what they were hearing. There was a large area where Tshul’gul’ had flattened the trees…The man that they saw there was whooping.”
TCH Comment: Again, classic intimidation tactics that continue to be reported today are described in this passage. Something else of interest is the observation of the creature swaying. Many alleged witnesses have reported this behavior. Descriptions of an upright animal that shifted its weight from one foot to the other in an agitated or nervous manner, or that peeked from behind one side of a tree and then the other, are easily found in today’s literature. Finally, the report of “flattened” areas could correlate to a nesting area or possible territorial marking. While such features have been located in modern times, the purpose behind them remains the subject of speculation.
“Then the young women came up and took a look at his face. They saw that he had slanting eyes, and they fled and said, ‘He has slanting eyes!”
TCH Comment: While many today might not be comfortable with the term “slanted eyes,” I think it is a key detail that should not be ignored because of perceived political incorrectness. On multiple occasions, historical and modern witnesses have used similar terms to describe the facial features of the sasquatch. I have heard or read accounts where witnesses said the face looked “Asian,” “like a person with Down’s Syndrome,” or “like a mongoloid” due to the appearance of the creature’s eyes. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water because we are not comfortable with these descriptions. The fact is, similar characteristics continue to be described today, albeit in gentler and more politically correct terms.
“In those days, Tshun’gul’
TCH Comment: Accounts of the “glowing” or highly reflective nature of the eyes of the sasquatch are well known. In my opinion, that could be the grain of truth hidden in the middle of the account above. Many researchers have documented the eyeshine that these creatures exhibit. Too, many are of the belief that the wood apes themselves are aware that their eyes shine and can give their location away. NAWAC investigators have reported catching the eyeshine of an ape in a flashlight only to have the animal duck its head or turn away from the light source. This could, of course, simply be due to the fact that having a bright light shone in one’s eyes is annoying, but when paired when the observations of others who have claimed to have seen these animals actually cover up their eyes with their own hands when spotlighted, it is an intriguing bit of anecdotal evidence that the wood ape is aware that its eyes strongly reflect light. Perhaps the Cherokee were attempting to explain the behavior of a sasquatch turning away from a light – in this case a fire – in this passage.
“…God permitted them all to live among people like us (of normal size); but they were always taking all the women and wives away from ordinary-sized men until smaller men were without women…So God declared that this was not the place for Tshun’gul’. God decided to send them all to the west, to the end of the world, and that’s where they live now. Someday they may return, and we will see them, they say.”
TCH Comment: Tales of sasquatches kidnapping women and children can be found in the folklore of Native American tribes across North America. Some tribes felt the behavior stemmed from the desire of a lonely sasquatch to acquire a mate and companion (wife). Others felt the abductions were more sinister in nature and felt the kidnappings were the work of cannibals. Whichever explanation you prefer, the belief that these creatures occasionally abduct women and children goes back centuries. I find the part of the story where the Tshun’gul’ were banished to “the west, to the end of the world” by God interesting. While it is true that bigfoot sightings continue to take place in and near Cherokee country – and other places across the continent – the unrivaled “Holy Land” of the sasquatch is the Pacific Northwest. Could the Pacific Northwest be “the end of the world” referred to in the folktale? It is interesting to ponder.
You can read the entire Cherokee folktale that I have cited above in the book, Friends of Thunder: Folktales of the Oklahoma Cherokees, if you would like to fill in some of the gaps in the story. Remember, I focused only on the passages that seemed to directly correlate to behaviors and characteristics of the sasquatch that are still being reported today. Having done that, I believe the correlation between the actions and characteristics of the Tshun’gul’ and those of today’s bigfoot are undeniable. I have no doubt in my mind that the Cherokees of days long past were describing the same animal so many seek today: the sasquatch.