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Windigo
Posted: 20 July 2008 05:08 PM
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Has any one else ever head of this?

Evil spirit made man eat family
A look back at Swift Runner

On a cold December day in 1879, a man was hanged in Fort Saskatchewan, putting an end to one of the most horrifying killing sprees in Alberta history.

Swift Runner was executed for murdering and then eating eight members of his own family over the previous winter. He believed he was possessed by Windigo, a terrifying mythological creature with a ravenous appetite for human flesh.

It wasn’t an isolated case. During the late 1800s and into the 20th Century, fear of Windigo haunted northern Alberta communities, resulting in several grisly deaths.

Sun Media’s Andrew Hanon speaks with Nathan Carlson, one of the world’s leading authorities on Windigo, about Carlson’s personal connection to the blood-curdling creature.

Some call him a serial killer.

Others call him a desperate madman.

But right up until the trap door swung open and the rope snapped taut around his neck, one of Alberta’s most prolific murderers insisted it was an evil spirit that compelled him to butcher and eat his entire family.

Over the course of a single winter, he devoured his wife, six children, mother and brother.

MOST HORRIFYING

The man, a Cree trapper named Swift Runner, was hanged in 1879 in Fort Saskatchewan, the first legal execution in Alberta. The macabre case is considered by many to be the most horrifying crime in the province’s history.

But what most people don’t realize is that it was part of a much larger phenomenon that Edmonton ethno-historian Nathan Carlson calls Windigo condition, which haunted communities right across northern Alberta in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and cost dozens of lives.

The Windigo (an Anglicized form of the word Witiko) is a mythological creature among native cultures from the Rockies to northern Quebec. It has an insatiable appetite for human flesh and wreaks destruction wherever it goes.

Carlson describes it as “the consummate predator of humanity.” It’s sometimes described as “an owl-eyed monster with large claws, matted hair, a naked emaciated body and a heart made of solid ice.”

“It’s extremely destructive,” he says. “The more it eats, the hungrier it gets, so it just keeps killing.”

Windigos can possess people, transforming them into wild-eyed, violent, flesh-eating maniacs with superhuman strength. Many native people in northern Alberta lived in terror of being possessed.

“It’s important to understand that cannibalism was repellent to the people,” Carlson explains. “The Windigo personified evil.”

The Swift Runner case caused an international sensation, making headlines in newspapers across Canada and the U.S.

According to accounts, he wandered alone into the Catholic Mission in St. Albert in the spring of 1879, claiming to be the only member of his family who didn’t starve to death over a particularly cold, bitter winter.

The priests became suspicious when they realized that Swift Runner, who weighed around 200 pounds, didn’t seem malnourished at all and was plagued with screaming fits and nightmares as he slept. He told them he was being tormented by an evil spirit, called Windigo, but said little else about it.

They reported their misgivings to police, who took Swift Runner to his family campground in the woods northeast of Edmonton, where they made a horrific discovery - the site was littered with bones, bits of flesh and hair. Some accounts claim that the larger bones had even been snapped and the marrow sucked out.

He eventually confessed that he shot some of his family, bludgeoned others with an axe and even strangled one girl with a cord. In some accounts, Swift Runner said he fed one boy human flesh before he too was killed.

‘THE LEAST OF MEN’

Before he was hanged, Swift Runner expressed extreme remorse. He told Father Hippolyte Leduc, “I am the least of men and do not merit even being called a man.”

Interestingly, Swift Runner is the only documented case Carlson can find of someone killing others because he thought he was possessed by a Windigo.

All other deaths he can document were cases of “Windigo executions,” where others have killed the person believed to be possessed. They were acts of self-preservation, attempts to protect their community.

In most of the cases, the victims themselves begged to be killed before they harmed their families.

In many cases, witnesses reported physical changes -bodies swelling and growing, lips and mouths enlarging. Some of the victims spoke of icy cold in their chests and an inability to warm up.

Carlson, who’s Metis, first heard about the Windigo from his grandmother, who told him about an incident at Trout Lake, where members of the community killed a man possessed by a demon that had been cursed and turned into a Windigo.

The story haunted him throughout his childhood, and after his grandmother died in 2002, he discovered an eerily similar story in an archived newspaper.

“I was somewhat confounded by the discovery of the newspaper account that seemed to confirm a story that had been in my family for almost 100 years,” he says.

Further research revealed that the man who was killed was also a distant relative of Carlson’s.

Carlson is now writing a book on the Windigo condition in northern Alberta and is negotiating with filmmakers about a documentary.

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Posted: 20 July 2008 05:09 PM   [ # 1 ]
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Violent end
The possessed suffered horrifying deaths

Historian Nathan Carlson has studied dozens of Windigo cases in northern Alberta.

While the Swift Runner incident is by far the most infamous, several others also ended in horrifying deaths.

Here are some:

SLAVE LAKE, 1887

Marie Courtereille, 40, died after being struck four times with an axe—twice by her husband Michel Courtereille and twice by her son Cecil.

Testimony at their trial indicated that Marie had begged to be killed because she believed she was possessed by a Windigo, telling them, “I am bound to eat you.”

Over a period of several weeks, she became increasingly aggressive, “roaring like an animal” and attacking her husband.

Eventually, she was tied down and guarded around the clock until it was decided that there was no choice but to kill her.

The community supported the killing.

Both men were sentenced to six years for manslaughter.

FORT VERMILION, 1887

A half-starved, half-mad woman staggered into the community. She had walked more than 50 km through deep snow from Little Red River after her community threatened to kill her for being a Windigo.

Media reports said she killed and ate as many as 12 people, although it’s more likely she had only one victim, her own sister.

It’s believed that several of her relatives died of starvation in their remote winter camp, and in a fit of famine-induced psychosis, she shot and ate her sister. It’s unclear what the killer’s final fate was.

TROUT LAKE, 1896

A man named Napanin arrived at Trout Lake, an outpost near Wabasca, claiming the devil had come into him.

He had been travelling with his wife and child when he saw his child as a young moose.

“He wanted to eat him,” a witness said in a letter.

The wife and son ran away, and Napanin went looking for help for his affliction.

He complained of freezing, even when he was wrapped in six blankets.

“The sound of him was terrible. He was calling like a wild bull,” the witness wrote. “He does not look like a human being. He seems terribly swollen in the body and face.”

Fearing that he would eventually kill, men of the village decided that they had to kill him first.

No one wanted to do the deed, but eventually a local medicine man was talked into hitting him with an axe.

The body was buried, and a huge pile of logs placed over the grave to prevent him from rising from the dead. His severed head was buried separately.

SMOKY RIVER, 1899

A man named Moostoos was beaten, bludgeoned with a hatchet and stabbed after members of the party he was with said he warned them he was “going to go Windigo. I don’t want to do anything to my children. It is better that they should kill me.”

He added, “How would it do if I should eat my little ones, and especially their noses?”

Moostoos became violent—trying so hard to bite one person that he tore their clothes—and had to be restrained.

One witness said he levitated.

“He floated up right off the ground and when I caught hold of him, it was hard to reach up and seize him. He was very strong and we had hard work to get him down and hold him down,” said the witness.

“He was a small man.”

After they killed Moostoos, they travelled to the nearest police post and reported the incident.

Two of the party were charged with manslaughter. One was acquitted and the other—who wielded the hatchet—was sentenced to two months.

This case, Carlson said, was the last documented Windigo execution in Alberta.

The judge in the case said while the unusual circumstances led to a lenient sentence, he warned that any further killings would be dealt with more harshly.

He urged them to bring people behaving this way to medical doctors, who could either treat them or commit them to psychiatric care.

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Posted: 20 July 2008 05:11 PM   [ # 2 ]
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Windigo a perfect metaphor

The Windigo is still out there, says Nathan Carlson.

For years, anthropologists have studied Windigo cases, trying to determine what would lead so many people down an identical path of insanity and death.

Many scholars refer to the condition as “windigo psychosis,” suggesting several possible causes: being driven mad by starvation or mental illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia.

But Carlson argues that simply “medicalizing” the phenomenon is too simplistic, and that in a way, the Windigo myth is true.

“You shouldn’t look at it through Western eyes,” he says. “There are other ways of looking at the world. They’re legitimate and they have real consequences.”

Take, for example, the prophecy that began the epidemic of Windigo cases in Alberta, he said.

It began when Christian missionaries came into a northern village in the 1880s.

The community had a lodgepole where the locals held ceremonies and prayed for successful hunts and to keep Windigos away.

To prove the supremacy of their own beliefs, the missionaries cut down the pole and built a church on the site.

Carlson said a native prophet warned that this desecration and the abandonment of traditional spirituality would result in starvation and the coming of Windigos.

Many people were terrified by the prophecy, Carlson explained. Some were so fearful of Windigos that they refused to hunt for fear of meeting one. Starvation ensued.

“In a way, the prophecy was fulfilled,” Carlson said.

The Windigo legend is a perfect metaphor for today, he added. Society’s insatiable appetite for natural resources is like a ravenous Windigo, devouring all in its path and, for many indigenous people, destroying lives.

“If you look at it that way, the Windigo is real. Monsters are real.”

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2008/07/20/6213011-sun.html
http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2008/07/20/6213016-sun.html
http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2008/07/20/6213026-sun.html

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Posted: 20 July 2008 08:31 PM   [ # 3 ]
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I was vaguely familiar with the name Windigo before.  Probably from years of role-playing games.  I’ve never heard this history and detail before.  That is really interesting.

Thanks for posting it, DJ. 😊

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Posted: 21 July 2008 05:35 AM   [ # 4 ]
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It’s also spelled wendigo, Windago, Windiga, Witiko, Wihtikow.  Almost gives credence to zombies.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 07:40 AM   [ # 5 ]
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The stories I have heard of Windigo involved people being carried off into the sky.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:29 AM   [ # 6 ]
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Not to be confused with a Winnebago which carries people off to Florida.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:32 AM   [ # 7 ]
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GAH!!!!

I was trying so hard to come up with a Winnebago joke too!

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:37 AM   [ # 8 ]
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It was just luck that Maegan posted her comment.  I was struggling with it up until that point.  😉

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:15 PM   [ # 9 ]
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Isn’t this similar to the werewolf of Europe where someone thinks they are an animal or turns into one and eats people?  Several cultures have stories of people turning into animals.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:48 PM   [ # 10 ]
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I think the difference is that a Wendigo is an evil spirit that can infect a person, particularly if that person has tasted human flesh, but in general most people are safe from it (though not from someone so affected) if they avoid eating each other.  It’s more a cautionary tale than one just designed to scare you.

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Posted: 27 July 2008 06:09 PM   [ # 11 ]
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Oh, yes, I remember hearing about windigos long, long ago.  There was one story that relates to what Maegan said, about a couple of trappers out in the Canadian wilderness.  Apparently the windigo would sometimes sit outside the light of your fire at night and call to you, and it was supposed to be almost impossible to resist.  So the two trappers were sitting in a little shack overnight in the middle of Winter, and one of them heard the windigo calling him.  To make a longish story short, neither his nor his friend’s efforts to keep him from going out to the windigo worked, and he went out into the night.  His friend heard him yelling, and then the yelling starting coming from up in the air.  In the morning when the other trapper finally left the shack, he found the other man’s tracks leading out into the woods where they kept getting further and further apart (meaning that the man was taking long and longer strides) before they finally disappeared altogether where he’d gone off into the sky.

There was also a movie that came out years about about the whole idea of the windigo, called Ravenous or something like that.

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Posted: 28 July 2008 08:45 AM   [ # 12 ]
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I saw Ravenous…I didn’t realize that was what it was about.  Interesting.  It sort of changes the movie for me, now.

And Acci…that’s very similar to the story I read.  I also read a story where someone’s foot prints disappeared…and their body was left all crumpled (as if dropped from a great height), but there were not foot prints/tracks leading to the body.

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Posted: 28 July 2008 09:27 AM   [ # 13 ]
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I heard a lot about the Windigo or as it was more commonly called in the area I grew up, Wendigo.  There was a large native population in our area and as a kid I was fascinated by a lot of the legends their elders would tell.  Mind you I never heard of any actuall cases around us.  Could be that I was too young and just didn’t make the connection.

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Posted: 28 July 2008 01:54 PM   [ # 14 ]
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Wow. Good find, D. J.

Thanks for posting this. I had heard of the wendigo before, but not that it could take you over. :gulp:

In my area, it was described more as a supernatural creature that hunted unfortunates that crossed its tracks in the wilderness.  One could tell they were wendigo tracks due to their size-extremely large-and the fact that there would be a drop of blood in the heel of each one.  Why the drop of blood? Who knows. It was never explained fully…. :ahhh:

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Posted: 28 July 2008 02:22 PM   [ # 15 ]
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Stories pass from generation and area it seems, and slightly differ. But in essence it seems to be quite a wide and well known story.

I got to admit, it is too intriguing for even me to comprehend.

Generally, it is a spirit that inhabits bodies. More towards those of native culture.

I never believed in ghosts (tho I had an opportunity to of maybe become aware of one, which I was refused) or spirits, but this sheds new light on the matter for me. It seems this phenomenon is quite well known even tho you never hear of it (Unlike spotting critters in the water and aliens).

But, fact of the matter is…. there have been no creditable sources regarding this in the present. With makes on wonder if it is simply an urban myth collaborated by the people from the 1800-1900’s. And since communications between areas where low, certainly slight variations occurred.

Generally, we may never know.

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Posted: 01 August 2008 04:53 PM   [ # 16 ]
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Forgive me if I’m ressurecting an old post (possibly with something no one cares about) but…
The recent ‘Fear Itself’ episode was about a Windigo…and my God it is a creepy one…
Skin & Bones
*shudders*

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Posted: 01 August 2008 08:03 PM   [ # 17 ]
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Or a really old episode of supernatural series….
It shows sam and dean fighting against a killer crazed man who ate human flesh and became a man eater…

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Posted: 01 August 2008 10:13 PM   [ # 18 ]
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This reply is to DJ-Canada…I am Nathan Carlson…the person interviewed in the Windigo article. Trust me, there ARE credible eyewitness accounts. It depends on what you refer to as credible…Do you mean a written account by a Euro-Canadian? There are many of these. I visited the gravesite of a decapitated windigo. I am writing a book on the subject,and have two articles being published in Academic journals demonstrating this DID happen. I am also working on a documentary. I can show you eyewitness accounts if you don’t believe me.

Stay tuned for the article to be published. The recent Greyhound Tragedy in Manitoba Canada which involved a stabbing, decapitation, and alleged cannibalism, sounds like a modern windigo case.

If you have any questions, write back.

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Posted: 01 August 2008 10:38 PM   [ # 19 ]
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Do you have a good proof reader? =)

As for the recent headlines. I’ve heard no news of cannibalism as far.
http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2008/07/31/6316716-cp.html

But creditable accounts, I am of course referring to long past accounts.

But if you say who you say you are. I do welcome you to the forums. Otherwise…. I hope you will become a valued member.

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Posted: 02 August 2008 03:15 AM   [ # 20 ]
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WIndigo is just a canniball..
I dont care if theres a spirit or not…
Windigo`s are people who eat others just like cannibals…
Though a lot of stories about canniball spirits in every country the windigo is 1 of them..
Though makes no sense of anything of 1 being in a person…
in my opinion its just an excuse people then were gullible…
BTW welcome windigo have a nice experience here…
(dang why didnt i pick windigo as my Screen name…)

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Posted: 02 August 2008 12:34 PM   [ # 21 ]
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DJ…I am who I say I am. Read the Globe and Mail, Aug 1, 2008 article. It talked about cannibalism. Someone may disregard this modern case as windigo, (despite similarities)...I make no claim either way. But Windigo DID happen. I just wanted to clear that up. If you want to see an eyewitness account, look at John Robert Colombo’s new book ‘Strange but True’...there is an account that I supplied at the beginning of the book. The Swift Runner case (look up Wendigo on wikipedia) is a verified account of cannibalism that happenned in 1878.

Hope this helps! Thanks for your welcoming me to the forum.

Best,
N.D.C.

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