For the past few weeks I’ve been writing a piece on investigative journalist David Holthouse and his new Hulu documentary ‘Sasquatch’ that just premiered on 4/20; a horrific tale of a bigfoot terrorizing the cannabis growers of Mendocino County. As my intrigue on the subject was growing, I kept getting side-tracked by the idea of a murderous bigfoot; finding myself investigating dozens of additional aggressive bigfoot reports.
As a child I read a story written by Teddy Roosevelt of a seasoned trapper named Bauman in Idaho, who narrowly escaped certain mutilation by what he was convinced was a bigfoot. His partner was not so fortunate. Apparently, the season prior to this encounter, a trapper’s body had been found torn to bits and partially eaten by an “unknown beast which left enormous human foot tracks in its wake.”
But that didn’t deter these rugged trappers. After a day of setting traps, they returned to find their camp ramshackled and their lean-to destroyed by what was thought to be a bear, but the footprints were not left by any bear. Upon further investigation, his partner remarked, “Bauman, that bear has been walking on two legs.” They continued nervously preparing dinner and slept a restless few hours.
Around midnight, Bauman was startled by a noise and sprung up in his cot. He was instantly struck by a wild-beast stench and saw the outline of a huge body in the darkness at the opening of their lean-to. Roosevelt writes, “Grasping his rifle, he fired at the vague, threatening shadow, but must have missed, for immediately afterwards he heard the smashing of the under wood as the thing, whatever it was, rushed off into the impenetrable blackness of the forest and the night.”
After a couple more days of empty traps and sleepless nights, the men decided to break camp. Bauman volunteered to retrieve the remaining traps while his partner was to get the packs readied. The horrified trapper returned to camp to find his buddy mangled, “his body was still warm, but the neck was broken, while there were four great fang marks in the throat. The footprints of the unknown beast-creature, printed deep in the soft soil, told the whole story.”
Roosevelt continues, “Bauman, utterly unnerved, and believing that the creature with which he had to deal was something either half-human or half-devil, some great goblin-beast, abandoned everything but his rifle and struck off at speed down the pass, not halting until he reached the beaver meadows where the hobbled ponies were still grazing. Mounting, he rode onwards through the night, until far beyond the reach of pursuit.”
Yeah, so I’m guilty. I believe…
I grew up watching the famed Patterson-Gimlin “Patty” tape and was fascinated with the great bigfoot, Loch Ness, and UFO-infused paranormal craze of the 70’s and 80’s.
In my youth, I wandered the woods of upstate New York in search of bigfoot tracks, bush huts, and bones. I rubbed snow into fallen gravestones in an old forgotten graveyard to read of those who died at the battles of Gettysburg and Shiloh. I continue to visit them when I go home and capture dancing orb images on my phone cam.
So the thought of another bigfoot story — oh hell yeah...
I didn’t have to look long online, nor geographically, to discover the most terrifying of all murderous bigfoot lore. At the far tip of the Kenai Peninsula, not far from Homer and Seldovia, lies the beautiful and mysterious abandoned town of Portlock, also known as Port Chatham. This area has been home to the Sugpiaq people for centuries.
The history of this alleged ‘creepiest place in Alaska’ is indeed remarkable. By every right it earns the classification of a real deal ghost town, flush with tales of a Sasquatch-like creature terrorizing the locals. There were reports of dozens of missing and murdered cannery workers; add a ghostly white-faced woman, screaming and moaning; wearing a long black dress, levitating and “appearing out of the cliffs.” Evil forces driving the inhabitants away from their sacred ancestral lands. It reads like a Scooby Doo plot.
Evidently in the 1920s, stories started popping up around the Kenai Peninsula about weird happenings in Port Chatham. There were wild yarns of a creature, said to walk on two feet, haunting the nearby chromium mining camp. There were also reports of trees that were completely ripped out of the ground, turned upside down, and thrust back into the ground with their roots facing up into the air.
Then there was a report of a mysterious death in 1931; a logger named Andrew Kamluck. It appeared that he had been hit over the head with a huge piece of logging equipment; something that a man could not have lifted and swung. When they found his body, there was blood on the crane and he was a good ten feet from it. It looked as if someone or some ‘thing ‘picked it up and bonked him over the head and tossed the heavy piece of equipment aside.
In the 1940’s, the events truly turned frightening. It’s said that over the next 20 years that up to three dozen grossly mangled bodies had turned up along trails, rivers, as well as floating out in the bay. These bodies were said to be ‘completely mutilated and essentially torn to shreds,’ not resembling anything that a bear or wolf could or would do. Cannery workers refused to come to work one season and were begged to return the following season with promises of armored guards protecting the camp around the clock.
Hunters tracking moose would occasionally come across giant, man-like tracks over 18 inches in length. One reports that while closing in upon a moose, “there were signs of a struggle where the grass had been matted down, then only the deep tracks of the man-like animal departing toward the high, fog-shrouded mountains…”
In 1949, it is rumored that the locals grew sick and tired of living in fear of this terrorizing Sasquatch, so overnight they fled the town completely, leaving behind all of their possessions. What could have caused them to leave such a beautiful area — the home of their ancestors — rich with sustainable resources? Could it be true? Could there really be a serial-killer Sasquatch just a short hop from Anchorage?
So that was the online ‘Google and YouTube search” portion of the research for this story — all very intriguing and mind-blowing. However, as much of a bigfoot enthusiast as I am, I was smelling something foul, but it was certainly not the hairy man. I knew there was much more behind this gruesome story that I needed.
I was prepping to get ready for the HarpDaddy BackCountry Blues Jam at the Schwabenhof Bar in Wasilla, thinking about our featured band that Sunday, the Sno-Gos and their leader, longtime blues guitarist Leo Ash. Leo and I went to Seldovia a few years ago with my band and he spoke of growing up in Nanwalek, the village to where the ‘evacuees’ from Port Chatham ‘fled’ to. The light bulb flashed on and I called him to discuss last minute jam details, but really to see if he had any Sasquatch stories or relatives that may be interested in chatting for a piece that I was working on about murderous sasquatch. He tells me, “You really wanna piss off my mom? Ask her about Sasquatch?” So within minutes I was on the phone chatting with mom…
Leo’s Mom is Sally Ash. Sally is Sugpiaq of Russian-Aleut descent. She has lived in Nanwalek for most of her life and continues to speak her native language Sugt’stun. Her mother was born in Dogfish Bay, near Port Chatham. She tells me, “Our people were nomadic, went by the seasons, whatever was in season they would move from one place to another. They went through Port Chatham, Dogfish Bay, Seldovia, Homer, even to Kodiak.”
“Portlock was kind of a creepy place,” she admitted. “They’d tell us don’t go out on a foggy day. That’s when he’s walking around. You could run into him and you never know what he might do.”
The ‘he’ that she is talking about is their local form of Sasquatch, known as Nantiinaq. Nantiinaq pronounced ‘non-tee-nuck,’ is not your typical, everyday Sasquatch brute. Nantiinaq is more of a supernatural being.
“I think he is part-human,” Sally describes. “He lived with people and then didn’t want to be around them anymore so he moved to the forest; away from everybody. He started growing hair and he looked like a bigfoot — scary… My uncles, my grandfathers, they all talked about him. They’d tell us they live far away from people. They don’t mix with people.”
A terrifying family story sprung to Sally’s mind.
“My brother went up to the lake. He was tying off his skiff. He started smelling something really bad in the bushes, so he opened it, moving the branches. Something’s going on here. Then he looked in there and there was a man with his hands — in the back way (turned around). It looked like a man, but he was all hairy and he looked really scary. So he and our cousin took off running and didn’t want to be up there. He wasn’t sure if it was a bigfoot, but there was a horrible smell,” she said.
I asked Sally if she thinks that Nantiinaq is a ‘he’ — a solitary Nantiinaq — or was there a clan of them?
“I think it’s a he; he has been living for a long time,” Sally says. “He’s old, he’s tall, he’s strong, he’s hairy. It lives in the woods and you can tell when he’s getting near. You can smell him. My mom used to talk about it a lot. She’d tell stories of the bigfoot, like in Dogfish area, her and her brother would talk about how bigfoot was around. They were getting too close to him and they would be nice to him. Respect him. Keep distance. They live with him but not so close. He moved around — he was quick.”
Sally served as translator for her cousin, Malania Kehl during her historic interview for the Homer Tribune in 2009, that has since taken the bigfoot-believing world by storm. Malania told the reporter that the entire town evacuated Port Chatham in 1949 due to this murderous Nantiinaq. Her story has been perceived as being factual by authors, documentarians, and bigfoot buffs like me.
I could tell that Sally really wanted to clear the air about the whole murderous bigfoot controversy. I also sensed a deep respect for her cousin Malania, along with a slight hesitancy still to spill the beans, but also determined to set the story straight.
“My cousin Malania was being interviewed and we were sitting with her,” Sally recalls. “Malania kind of made up a story, because she was getting tired of people asking if this (story) is true. She made up this story about how Bigfoot was killing people. It wasn’t true. Everybody knows that, but it was not our place to say nothing. We all knew but we couldn’t just stop her. We were brought up in a way where we can’t tell our elders they are wrong.”
“And that was her story,” Sally giggles… “we knew it. There was me and my sisters and my cousins and we all just sat there. We couldn’t tell her, ‘Don’t say that Malania,’ because she might get mad at us. We were younger than her and we were not allowed in front of her to say anything like that… Malania knew that we knew about her story that she made up and we all had a laugh about it with her.”
Sally said the reason for the exodus from Port Chatham was more practical in nature.
“People would see Nantiinaq, but that wasn’t the reason why people moved this way to Seldovia and Nanwalek. They moved because of the economy, schools and the church. There really was no killing of people.”
The timing also coincided with the extension of Alaska Highway Route 1 to Kenai and eventually Homer, diverting much of the traffic to the road system.
“When I was raised the BIA school was here and things were slowly turning into a different culture, but for her (Malania) it was still deep inside her. I think she was also not happy when they would go down and see that it (Port Chatham) was all different. Abandoned, rotting buildings — no more things to look at that she would see growing up.”
Sally believes Malania may have been implying, “Don’t bother the area; this is where our connections are strong. Maybe she was grieving and still in pain for the lost old way that she grew up compared to how it became. I think she was doing this like, ‘please do not disrespect’ so she made up a story.”
This land is now owned by the Chugach Corporation.
“Yeah it belongs to all of us,” Sally says. “That is where our culture; that’s where our people lived there and we have ties there. Since we left, a lot of boats have come in and just took stuff out; old victrolas, old books. They just disappeared and now all we have are rotting buildings there. Empty buildings with graffiti on some of them. When we go down we are not looking for things. We go down because we want to feel — there’s people buried there — we want to feel connected to them. Our ancestors are buried there; part of me come from those people and they are buried there.”
I have been wondering if Malania may have been using her story to ward off intruders, much the same way the farmers did in the ‘Sasquatch’ documentary. Instead it kind of provided fuel to the bigfoot geek in us to want to investigate further, find some investigators with the potential to intrude on ancestral land to bring back evidence of bigfoot at any cost, including the life of a solo, ancient misunderstood and highly publicized Nantiinaq; who seems to want only to be left alone.
“People come and they’re just jumping around looking around for him,” Sally said. “They’ll never find him like that, because he will run away from you and he’s fast ya know… we keep telling people ‘Don’t go looking for him’ and they go and do it anyway. They don’t believe us. He’s never going to show himself like that. When you’re looking for him and thinking you’re going to find him. He’s not hanging around waiting for people.”
This reminded me of one of the many ridiculous reality shows on the subject; this one in particular aired on the History Channel about the Hairy Man of Port Chatham. In ‘reality,’ one of the stars of the show informed me that they never actually visited the area, opting for a shoot just off the road system, staging wood knocks and tree breaks for dramatic effect. Sorry to say the show never made it to season two.
“If you follow him he will hide and he could turn into different animals,” Sally describes. “You can chase him and chase him and suddenly he disappears behind a tree and when you get close enough to see him all you see is a shimmering little mouse — shape-shifting. They would change to different animal; make you feel sad for them. They said don’t touch them, just leave them alone.”
She has a word of warning for anyone who might have a mind to pull a firearm on Nantiinaq.
“And don’t shoot them. You can shoot them but you’ll never kill them,” she said. “One man tried to do it, but he just took the bullet and pulled it out of his chest.”
I asked her whether there was any real fear among the people of going back to Port Chatham.
“My mom was born in Dogfish, but grew up in Port Chatham and went to school there,” Sally said. “Some people are scared. When we go through that area we are careful not to make waves and be noisy. We don’t want to bother it or offend it because then we might have problems. We don’t know how he’ll react to us. So that’s why we respect it and stay away from it. We know the signs and not to chase it around.”
So where is this Alaskan Bigfoot these days?
“This legend of the Nantiinaq didn’t just start. The Sugpiaq people always knew the story, but we also know it wasn’t a bloodbath like it’s being told,” Sally said. “Bigfoot never kill anybody. If anything, he ran away. He didn’t want to be around people. He’s out there. He lives among us.”
I asked Sally if there are sightings in Nanwalek as I had heard stories that potentially Nantiinaq has followed the people from Port Chatham.
“We don’t see him anymore here. We don’t see any,” Sally affirms. “They just moved far away from people is all we know.”
Sally’s story rings true. The facts are that there really are no facts. In my research I was unable to find any of the three dozen murdered and missing person reports over that time span. Sally reminds me, “It was misinformation.” The only real death in a town that had lumber and fishing as its main occupations was the logger pummelled by a piece of logging equipment.
For a great read on the subject, check out Larry 'Beans' Baxter's new work, 'Abandoned: The History and Horror of Port Chatham, Alaska'.