18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night

Steve - October 16, 2018

Every single civilization and society on Earth has enjoyed an array of mythical creatures, many of which take the form of scary monsters. Whether designed to frighten or entertain children, to impart an important cautionary moral lesson through metaphor and allegory, or manufactured from genuine fear, Native Americans are no exception to this universal cultural phenomenon.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
Image Credit: iStock/kanishka

Here are 18 monsters that terrified Native Americans and will keep you awake at night:

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A Flying Head, as depicted in Iroquois mythology. Mohawk Nation.

1. A cursed former tribe member, the Flying Head seeks vengeance for the murders of elders

The Flying Head (also known as Big Head or Daqqanoenyent) is a cannibalistic monster belonging to the mythologies of the Iroquois and Wyandot peoples of North America, appearing as an antagonist in numerous stories and legends.

According to Native folklore, during an especially severe winter prior to European arrival an unknown tribe in New York state was suffering a famine. The young men wished to move the tribe across a great lake to seek new opportunities whilst the older men, believing the famine was a punishment for their crimes by the spirits, desired to stay and endure. Enraged by the old men’s stubbornness the young men killed them, decapitating the bodies and dropping their heads into the lake. However, one of the young men involved in the massacre became entangled in the pile of heads, falling into the lake and drowning. From the lake arose a giant head, taller than a man, coated in thick black hair, possessing wings and talons, and which would perpetually hunt and haunt the tribe.

After destroying those responsible for the murders, the Flying Head began terrorizing other tribes during which time the Iroquois faced the demon. After being plagued for many years by the monster, including a famous folktale in which a young Ongwehonwe hunter’s dogs sacrificed themselves to save their master from the beast, a woman roasting acorns was visited by the creature. Believing she was eating live coals, the Flying Head grew terrified at the strength of the Iroquois people and fled to never return. The hill where the unknown tribe’s village was located is widely considered cursed by Native peoples. Three hotels have been built on the sacred site in modern times and each one suffered a short and unsuccessful life span before mysteriously burning the ground, naturally reinforcing this superstition.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night

2. The Lechuza is a race of monstrous owl-women who hunt humans, especially children

The Big Owl (also known as Lechuza) is a mythological race of cannibalistic owl-women according to the folklore of the Yakama people, the inhabitants of modern-day Washington state. The Lechuza live in caves and hunt the people of nearby tribes, preferring the taste of children. Considered among the most dangerous human predators, they were believed to be the progenitors of the entire owl species – themselves a spiritual symbol of death throughout Native American communities; it is believed after a Lechuza drowned, her eye was used to spawn all other lesser owls. Having spread in legend to southern Texas and Mexico, recent years have seen reports of an owl-like monster called Le Lechuza in relation to unexplained deaths and sinister occurrences in the region.

The Lechuza is reflected in the folklore of numerous other Native tribes, including the Seminole “Stikini” and Wabanaki “Cipelahq”. The Stikini are believed to be evil witches with the power to transform themselves into owl-like creatures. During daytime, they walk among the Seminole people still, but at night they vomit their souls and become undead owl monsters that feast upon human hearts. Among some communities, it is feared even speaking the name risks turning yourself into one, whilst others use the Stikini as a children’s bogeyman. Similarly, the Cipelahq is a dangerous bird spirit, possessing a spectral cry and taking the form of a large owl with only its head and talons visible to the human eye. As with some Seminole communities, the Cipelahq has typically been used by the Wabanaki in children’s folktales.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A supposed image of the Flathead Lake Monster; author unknown.

3. The Flathead Lake Monster is an enormous aquatic animal that allegedly resides in Montana

The Flathead Lake Monster, originating from Kutenai traditions, is a creature that supposedly dwells in Flathead Lake, Montana. The creature is typically described as an enormous eel-shaped animal with a body akin to that of a snake, measuring between twenty to forty feet in length, blue-black skin, and grey-black eyes.

According to the tribe’s legend, the first inhabitants of the region lived on an island in the middle of Flathead Lake. On one winter day, whilst crossing the frozen lake two girls saw antlers sticking through the ice and believing they belonged to a drowned animal decided to cut them off. After cutting into the two-foot-long antlers the ice split open to reveal the monster, the awakening of whom caused the drowning of half the residents of the lake; this explanation is often provided in folklore for the small number of Kutenai people.

Similar to the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland modern reports of the Flathead Lake Monster are abundant in the local area, including a claim in 1889 by Captain James Kerr, thirteen such reports in 1993, and an alleged rescue of a 3-year-old drowning boy by the Monster. The creature was taken sufficiently seriously that in the 1950s a significant reward was offered for the capture of the “superfish”, but despite numerous efforts, no firm evidence of existence has ever been recovered.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A depiction of a Teihiihan; author unknown.

4. The Teihiihan were a race of dwarves who preyed on Native tribes living on the plains of Wyoming and Colorado

The Teihiihan – deriving from the Arapaho word for “strong” – are a race of cannibalistic dwarves with allegedly superhuman strength. Although descriptions vary, the Teihiihan are generally depicted as the size of children, with dark skin, and said to have an extremely aggressive and unsociable disposition. According to some legends they possessed the ability to become invisible, whilst others contended they merely seemed so due to the incredible speed with which they caught their adult prey. Within Native folklore, it is widely agreed that the Teihiihan were destroyed in an ancient conflict, in which the Arapahos and other Native American tribes allied to successfully defeat them.

A unique aspect of their characters, it is suggested in some tales that the Teihiihan had the ability to remove their hearts and store them for safekeeping, in so doing protecting themselves from physical harm to their persons. One such prominent story within Native folklore tells of a warrior captured by a family of Teihiihan, and who to delay his death asks his dimwitted captors about the macabre organs adorning their residence. Upon learning their true nature the warrior stabs each of the hearts, killing each member of the Teihiihan family and winning his freedom.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A Classical Maya depiction of a Camazotz. Eve Anderson.

5. The Camazotz was a Maya God worshiped by pregnant women but feared by all others

The Camazotz (Death Bat) is a God in Maya mythology, with the bat in general associated with darkness, night, and death throughout Native culture. Depicted as an anthropomorphic creature, with the body of a human but head and wings of a bat, the Camazotz was worshiped by a minority of Maya, notably by pregnant women who might offer sacrifices to ensure a healthy baby; pregnant women are recorded as venturing to a cave in Veracruz, Mexico, to make offerings to Camazotz. It was also believed by South American Arawaks that Camazotz was a predatory hunter, targeting villagers who wandered with ill purpose at nighttime.

In the Popol Vuh, a creation narrative spread via oral tradition by the K’iche’ people preceding the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, the Camazotz are monsters encountered by the Maya Hero Twins. Forced to spend a night at the House of Bats, the twins squeezed themselves into their own blowguns for protection. However, one of the twins, Hunahpu, grew impatient and sought to see if the sun had risen, sticking his head out whereupon Camazotz decapitated him and the other gods used his head in a ballgame. Other legendary stories including the Camazotz involve the creature serving in a role similar to that as Kharon, the boatman of Greek mythology, wherein Camazotz resides upon a bridge between the heavens and the underworld and acts as a powerful sentry or guardian.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
Ogopogo statue in Kelowna, British Columbia. Wikimedia Commons.

6. The Ogopogo is an ancient water demon who resides on Lake Okanagan and demands a sacrifice of blood to cross in peace

The Ogopoga (also known as Naitaka, translated as “water demon”) is a lake monster who according to Canadian folklore lives in Okanagan Lake, British Columbia. Most commonly described as measuring between 40 to 50 feet in length, the sea serpent resembles the extinct Mosasaurus: a carnivorous aquatic lizard from the Cretaceous period. As with the Flathead Lake Monster, numerous sightings of the Ogopoga have been claimed in recent decades, including at Okanagan Mission beach in 1946 and on film in 1968 although subsequent video analysis proved the creature to have been a mere waterfowl or beaver.

According to the legends of the First Nations, the Ogopoga would demand a toll from travelers in exchange for safe passage near its home of Rattlesnake Island in Lake Okanagan, using his tail to create a mighty storm for those who refused and leaving the shoreline strewn with the remains of those who sought to cheat him. The toll required by Ogopoga was that of life, and so when Natives ventured into the lake they often brought small animals, such as chickens, to drown in the lake and appease the monster.

In local legend Timbasket, a visiting chief from a neighboring tribe declared his disbelief in the existence of Ogopoga. Scorning the sacrifices of his guests to the demon, as he returned across Lake Okanagan Timbasket refused and his canoe was sucked under killing himself and his entire family. Local history also tell of non-Indians who ignored warnings, notably a settler in 1854 called John MacDougall. Whilst crossing with a team of horses, MacDougall’s canoe began to be dragged below the water. Remembering the advice of Natives, MacDougall cut the ropes holding the horses onboard; the horses were pulled under and drowned, but MacDougall survived.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A digital restoration of a Mastodon, widely believed to serve as the inspiration behind the mythological Katshituashku. Wikimedia Commons.

7. The Katshituashku was a carnivorous monster of gigantic proportions that terrified several Native populations

The Katshituashku (also known as the Stiff-Legged Bear) was an enormous man-eating monster with a large head that allegedly preyed on Native people throughout Eastern North America. Approximately elephant sized, with the Penobscot Indians of modern-day Maine detailing the creatures’ inability to sleep lying down due to giant inflexible legs, it is widely assumed that the monster originated from early mastodon remains discovered by Natives and incorporated into existing oral histories and mythologies.

The Katshituashku serves as a general figure of wider Native folklore, with several other tribal cultures retaining belief in a similar monster. The Iroquois people feared the “Naked Bear”, great man-eating creatures with the form of a bear but no fur and an oversized head; the beast was near invincible to ordinary human attacks, and could only be wounded in the soles of their feet. Likewise the Lenape, Shawnee, and Algonquian tribes told legends of the Yakwawiak – gigantic, stiff-legged, hairless bears comparable to mammoths or mastodons – whilst among the tales of the Alabama and Koasati peoples existed a huge carnivorous predator known as Atipa-Tcoba, described as bearlike in appearance.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A modern reproduction of the “Piasa Bird”, situated on the bluffs of the Mississippi River near Alton. Wikimedia Commons.

8. The Piasa Bird was a mythological man-eating dragon that lived along the bluffs of the Mississippi River

The Piasa Bird was a Native American dragon, similar to a Manticore or Chimera in Persian and Greek mythology, depicted by an ancient mural on the cliff sides of the Mississippi River. Painted between 900 and 1200 CE, although not surviving today with explorers of the late 17th century recording the increasingly damaged state of the mural due to a native habit of firing weapons at the image, a 1673 description of the so-called Piasa Bird by Father Jacques Marquette detailed a creature “as large as a calf”, with “horns on their heads like those of a deer”, “red eyes”, “a beard like a tiger’s”, “a face somewhat like a man’s”, “a body covered with scales”, and “so long a tail that it winds all around the body…ending in a fish’s tail”.

According to Native legend, the Piasa Bird lived in the nearby cliffs and developed a taste for human flesh after feeding on the corpses of deceased warriors. A brave local chieftain, Ouatoga, and his warriors were able to lure the creature from its nest and slay the beast with poisoned arrows; according to historian John Russell in 1836 the mural, the largest Native American painting ever discovered in North America, was painted in specific commemoration of this event.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A depiction of a skinwalker. Creepy Catalog.

9. Skin-walkers are evil witches with the power to turn into animals and even possess the bodies of other people

A skin-walker (also known as yee naaldlooshii) is a witch who according to Navajo folklore has, among other powers, the ability to turn into and disguise themselves as an animal. The animals most commonly associated with skin-walkers are those culturally identified as tricksters, notably the coyote but can also include those reflective of death and darkness such as wolves or owls.

According to Navajo legend, to become a skin-walker requires the wilful murder of a close relative, and as such they are both feared and reviled within native mythology. Representing the antithesis of the supposed cultural ideals of the Navajo and their medicine men, that of healing and helpfulness, skin-walkers choose to instead manipulate spiritual magic to do evil deeds in a perversion against nature. In addition to their powers of physical transformation, skin-walkers can also possess the bodies of animals and people by locking eyes with them.

Due to their presumed power, skin-walkers are prevalent beings in Navajo folktales. These stories typically take the form of climatic struggles between great persons of the tribe and the witch, although atypically for Native folklore not always with an exclusively positive outcome, and often including a didactic message for children to learn from. Many victory stories involving skin-walkers conclude with multiple inhabitants of a “hogan” – the traditional Navajo dwelling – joining together in a communal strength of wills to scare away the monster and the darkness it brings with it.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A mask depicting the image of Bakwas. U’mista Cultural Society.

10. Bakwas attempts to offer cursed food, whilst Kushtaka seeks to lure sailors to their gruesome deaths

As an innately spiritualistic culture, throughout Native American society there are numerous yet comparable accounts of a wide variety of evil supernatural spirits who prey upon tribes. Bakwas (also known as the wild man of the woods) is one such spirit belonging to the Kwakwaka’wakw people of modern-day British Columbia, similar to the Haida’s “gagit”, the Nuu-chah-nult’s “pukubts”, and the Tsimshian “ba’wis”. Bakwas offers ghost food out of cockle shells to humans stranded in a wood where drowned souls congregate; if they accept and eat the offered food, then they too become a ghostly being like Bakwas.

Equally Kushtaka (or land otter men) are shape-shifting monsters belonging to the folklore of the Tlingit and Tsimshian people of the Pacific Northwest, similar to the Nat’ina of the Dena’ina and the Urayuli of the Yup’ik. Capable of assuming human form, as well as that of otters among other shapes, Kushtaka enjoy tricking sailors to their watery demises. Typically described in legend as imitating the screams of women and children, the Kushtaka ensnares the victim, ideally children, and either brutally kills them or converts them into another Kushtaka; a minority of native narratives place the Kushtaka in a more pleasant light, depicting them as saving those dying at sea by turning them into a fellow Kushtaka. It is believed among tribes people that Kushtaka can be warded away through copper, dogs, fire, or in some instances urine. Due to this setting and the creatures preferred prey, it is widely theorized the origin of the Kushtaka legend was to encourage young children from wandering too close to the ocean.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
Giants as depicted in in Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. Wikimedia Commons.

11. Átahsaia was a giant cannibalistic demon who consumed humans and demons alike and routinely sought to abduct young women

According to the Zuni people of Southwestern United States, Átahsaiais is a cannibalistic giant demon. Depicted as several times larger than a human, with his torso described as being as big as a large elk, Átahsaiais possesses long grey hair as prickly as porcupine quills, skin so thick the knuckles appear horned, muscular arms covered in black and white scales, and a swollen red face in which his bulging eyes never blink. A minority of stories also claim Átahsaiais has long yellow tusks and long talons. An unsavory figure in native mythology, Átahsaiais is regarded as an incorrigible liar in addition to being a cannibal of both humans and his fellow demons. Habitually armed, Átahsaiais is routinely depicted with a giant flint axe or a flint knife “as broad as a man’s thigh and twice as long”.

Appearing throughout numerous Zuni legends of similar composition, in “Átahsaiais, the Cannibal Demon” the monster deceives two young maidens and lures them back to his lair. After failing to persuade them to eat a soup made from human children or to comb his hair, the women are rescued by the Zuni war gods who slay the demon. In another story – “The Rabbit Huntress and Her Adventures” – a young woman lost in a blizzard seeks refuge in a cave. Discovered by Átahsaiais, he attempts to break into the cave but again the war gods rescue the maiden and defeat the monster.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A Horned Serpent in a Barrier Canyon Style pictograph, Utah. Wikimedia Commons.

12. Uktena, the Horned Water Serpent, was a near-invincible crystalline snake with a gemstone in its head

The Horned Serpent (known as Uktena to the Cherokee people) is a mythological monster that recurs throughout several Native American oral histories, especially in the Great Lakes and Southeastern Woodlands regions. Described as being as large as a tree trunk and covered in magical scales, with horns and a gemstone on its forehead, the Horned Serpent could not be harmed except in a single spot on its head. Whilst its breath was poisonous, to slay the monster would win the warrior a crystal of immense power granting a life of successful hunting, rainmaking, and romance. According to Cherokee legend a great warrior name Aganunitsi achieved this feat, wherein he discovered the crystal required a sacrifice of blood each week. Without this tribute the crystal searches for blood itself, becoming a ball of fire and murdering those its encounters.

Other variants of the Horned Serpent includes the “Tie-Snake (estakwvnayv) in Muscogee Creek traditions. Slightly smaller than the Horned Serpent and likewise covered with crystalline scales with a large gem in its forehead, the snake was considered capable of prophecy and its horns were believed to carry medicinal powers. Unlike the Uktena, the Tie Snake was not considered to be a evil or willfully harmful to humans. Equally the Alabama people told stories of a “Crawfish Snake”, or tcinto såktco, of a similar design and purpose. In contrast traditional Sioux belief claimed these serpents were dangerous water monsters of the ancient world, but had been destroyed by the Thunderbirds – supernatural beings of great power – and only their lesser ancestors, such as lizards and snakes, had survived; it is theorized this mythological belief stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur fossils by the Sioux, and the Thunderbirds of pterosaur skeletons.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
Spirit Mound Historic Prairie in South Dakota, home of the Little People according to native folklore. Wikimedia Commons

13. In addition to the Teihiihan, numerous races of evil dwarves are believed to roam North America

The Nimerigar (or “people eaters”) are a race of dwarves belonging to Crow and Shosone legend, said to reside in the Wind River and Pedro mountain ranges of modern-day Wyoming. Described as aggressive by nature, they shoot poisoned arrows and kill their own kind should they fall ill with a blow to the head. During his famed expedition Meriwether Lewis claimed to have seen evidence of the “deavals”, describing them as roughly 18 inches tall and highly ferocious. Although originally believed to have been entirely mythical the 1932 discovery of the “San Pedro Mountains Mummy” – a 14 inch tall mummy – has brought this into question, with tests demonstrating the individual was approximately 65 years old at time of death and violently killed by an inflicted head wound. Since 1932 several other similar bodies have been recovered across North America, lending credence to a 1778 account suggesting the existence of a pygmy burial ground and of the possible historical existence of people akin to the Nimerigar.

Not isolated solely to the Nimerigar, Crow folklore also includes the Nirumbee: a race of goblin-like creatures. Estimated to be between one and two feet in height, with sharp teeth and little neck, the Nirumbee are considered enemies by the native peoples. Depicted as often engaging in harmless mischief, the Nirumbee are also considered responsible for evil acts such as child abduction and the killing of livestock. Similarly, the Pukwudgies – or person of the wilderness – of Algonquian folklore are a knee-high race of little people. Considered by some tribes, including the Ojibwe, to be harmless spirits of the forest, other tribes such as the Abenaki believed the Pukwudgies to be dangerous foes with a predisposition towards the theft of children and possessing powers similar to those of the magical skin-walkers.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A modern depiction of a Wendigo; author unknown.

14. Wendigo

The wendigo (or windigo) is a supernatural cannibalistic monster believed by several Algonquin tribes – including the Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Cree, Naskapi, and Innu – to reside in the forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes regions of North America. Appearing with some human characteristics, or according to a minority of interpretations an evil spirit possessing a human into monstrosity, a wendigo is typically created through human cannibalism or by an individual overcome with avarice and greed. Described as extremely gaunt and emaciated, with grayish skin, sunken eyes, tattered lips, and possessing a deathly odor, the wendigo greedily feeds on human flesh. However for each person it consumes the monster grows ever larger, so that it is always hungry and hunting; as such the legend is generally associated with stories of insatiable gluttony and gratuitous murder.

It is increasingly considered by anthropologists that the wendigo existed as much as a metaphor as a literal monster within native mythology, with the concept described as an early depiction of “social cannibalism” and applicable to any individual or idea which expresses a relentless drive towards unnecessary consumption and greed; in so doing, the story didactically encourages cooperation and moderation and discourages the taboo activity of cannibalism during harsh winters. Threatening the stability of a tribe’s existence and exhibiting a destructive nature, the allegory, coinciding with the ongoing eradication of native populations and the emergence of an early consumer capitalistic society in North America, is evident and telling, with the violent and unnatural wendigo symbolically representing the exclusion and forced assimilation experienced by disregarded natives via encroaching and expanding American colonialism in pursuit of Manifest Destiny.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A modern depiction of Two Face/Sharp Elbows. Lance Foster

15. Two-Face is a monstrous being who murders his victims with his razor-sharp elbows

Existing among the Sioux, Plains, and Omaha tribes, Two-Face (also known as Sharp Elbows) is a two-faced monster who enjoys preying upon natives populations, torturing and gruesomely disfiguring his victims before murdering them. As typically depicted in folklore all who gaze upon either of the twin visages of Two-Face become paralyzed by fear, or in some cases die instantly, and he utilizes his extremely sharp elbows to stab his frozen victims to death. As with several Native American monsters Two-Face is widely considered to retain a preference for children and female victims, especially pregnant women.

According to Lakota mythology Two-Face was once a woman who was turned into the creature as punishment for attempting to seduce the Sun god, with one beautiful face and one hideous; an alternative origin story includes a similar background, albeit with Two-Face being born from such an adulterous woman. This duality, as with several native stories seeking to impart a didactic lesson, is widely regarded as representing a disconnection from and disharmony with nature as an allegorical advocation of traditional conformity within the tribe.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A modern depiction of the Perverted Merman, lying in wait for his prey; author unknown.

16. The Perverted Merman hides in rivers and watches women as they bathe

N-dam-keno-wet (also known as The Perverted Merman) is a creature which recurrently appears in Algonquin mythology, specifically that of the Abenaki people. Described as half man and half fish, with a child-like human face, N-dam-keno-wet lives in streams and lakes where women regularly wash themselves. Unlike other native “monsters”, N-dam-keno-wet does not seek to harm these women or to scare them, merely to voyeuristically watch them; some traditional stories do include attempted molestation, but for the most part the “perverted merman” is just that: a pervert.

Mermaid-like creatures are a staple within Native American mythology, with several Algonquin tales including characters who disobey their parents being turned into similar creatures. Consistent throughout these depictions in native legend, the theft of a merman’s or mermaid’s clothing strips the being of their magical powers and renders them unable to swim.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A modern depiction of a Wechuge. Thomas Moor

17. Similar to the Wendigo, the Wechuge is a giant cannibalistic monster from Northwestern Canada

A wechuge, similar but not identical to a wendigo, is a cannibalistic monster stemming from the stories of the Athabaskan people of Northwestern Canada. According to legend the wechuge is a person who has become possessed or overpowered by the spirit of a great animal, in so doing devolving into a giant bestial form. Some versions of the wechuge depict the creature as being physically made from ancient ice come to life to hunt humans, invulnerable to harm and only defeated when melted over a campfire; this rendition of the wechuge is notably similar to that of the Wabanaki’s “Chenoo”: an ice giant who was cursed by the gods for his crimes, his heart turned to ice and his spirit trapped inside a troll-like monster that feasts upon humans. Described as giant animals, both intelligent and physically powerful, the wechuge hunts humans and attempts to ensnare and devour its prey through cunning deception.

As with the wendigo, certain tribes adhere to a less spiritual origin of the creature but instead a product of human indulgence in taboos resulting in the physical corruption of the depraved individual. The Dane-zaa of the Peace River region in Western Canada for instance contend a wechuge is the product of breaking a strong cultural taboo, such as having a photograph taken with flash, listening to guitar music, or eating meat with fly eggs in it.

18 Spooky Native American Monsters That Will Keep You Awake At Night
A pictograph of a Mishibizhiw attributed to the Ojibwe, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Wikimedia Commons.

18. The Underwater Panthers lived in the Great Lakes and could control the waters of their domains

The Mishibizhiw (also known as the Underwater Panther or Great Lynx) is a legendary creature belonging to the mythologies of native inhabitants of the Great Lakes region of North America. A monster from the underworld the panther resides in creeks and rivers, hiding in wait to drown unsuspecting prey. Described by the Sioux as possessing a body shaped like a buffalo, albeit with paws allowing for rapid swimming, the Mishibizhiw has just one eye, horns – either a single horn in the center of its forehead, or a pair – dorsal fins, a spiked tail, and is covered in scales; because of the latter characteristics, it has been speculated that the Mishibizhiw is in fact derived from a prehistoric stegosaurus.

Feared by the Ojibwa as the cause of waves, whirlpools, and rapids, it was considered within tribal folklore that each lake might be inhabited by its own Mishibizhiw who controlled its conditions. Despite being mortal enemies of the Thunderbirds some native communities revered the creatures as symbols of great power and hunting prowess, whilst at least one tribe fearlessly employed Mishibizhiw as part of a children’s game similar to “tag”. According to an ancient Chippewa tale, the Mishibizhiw lived on an island of mud situated between two lakeside villages. Avoided by locals for fear of an evil spirit, two girls crossing one day encountered the monster. Cutting off the beast’s tail with an oar, the severed limb transformed into a solid piece of copper and became a talisman for good luck in fishing and hunting for their tribe.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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Legends, Traditions and Laws, of the Iroquois, Or Six Nations, and History of the Toscarora Indians, Elias Johnson, Union Print and Publishing Co. (1881)

The Legends of the Iroquois, William Walker Canfield, A. Wessels Co. (1904)

American Indian Myths and Legends, Richard Erdoes, Pantheon (1984)

An Introduction to the American Indian, Paul Pettennude (1996)

Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies, Ella Elizabeth Clark, University of Oklahoma Press (1998)

“‘Lake creature saves tot’s life’: Flathead monster stories go back more than a century”, Vince Devlin, The Missoulian (2018)

Montana Myths and Legends: The True Stories behind History’s Mysteries, Edward Lawrence, Rowman & Littlefield (2016).

Oral Literature of the Indian Peoples of the Inland Northwest, Tom Yellowtail, University of Oklahoma Press (1999)

Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology, Kay Almere Read and Jason Gonzalez, Oxford University Press (2000)

In Search of Ogopogo, Arlene Gaal, Hancock House (2001)

Ogopogo: The True Story of The Okanagan Lake Million Dollar Monster, Arlene Gaal, Hancock House (1986)

The Piasa: An Indian Tradition of Illinois”, John Russell, The Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (1848)

The Piasa: or The Devil among the Indians, Perry Armstrong, Morris (1887)

The Navajo Skinwalker, Witchcraft, and Related Phenomena, J Teller and N Blackwater, Infinity Horn Publishing (1999)

Kushtaka, David Pierdomenico, Dap Publishing (2015)

Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Eberhart (2002)

North American Indian Legends, Everett Jackson and Allan Macfarlan, Dover Publishing (2001)

Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indian, Bill Grantham, University of Florida Press (2002)

Wyoming Legends: Little People & the Pedro Mountain Mummy, Kathy Weiser, Legends of America (2017)

Wendigo, J.R. Colombo, Western Producer Prairie Books (1983)

Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts and all Manner of Imaginary Terrors, David Gilmore, University of Pennsylvania Press (2009)

“Wechuge and Windigo: A Comparison of Cannnibal Belief Among Boreal Forest Athapaskans and Algonkians”, Robin Ridington, Anthropologica (1976)

“The Story of the Universal Classic Monsters” History Collection, Larry Holzwarth (2019)