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Alaska’s Bigfoot: The Tornit

History and Mythology of the Tornit

Tornit, Alaska's Bigfoot, caught and caged
Photography by Elmira Gokoryan

Back in the old times, when Baffin Island was still known as Nunatsiarmiut (new-naht-saw-me-oot) and before European influence, the Inuit people lived near the coast of Kangiqtualuk. They were master kayak-builders and survived by means of subsistence—they were excellent hunters, regularly bringing in seals and whales to feed the people in their villages. They were not the only people living on the island though, they lived under the shadow of fear with a tribe of much bigger and aggressive people. Their way of living was different than their Inuit counterparts, as they could not build kayaks, tan hides, or preserve food in the traditional ways of the north.

These people are known as the Tornit (tore-knit) and possessed not only a larger stature but extraordinary strength; they would build houses out of stones and boulders that were much too large for any Inuit person to lift. These creatures, although human-like, are not human at all, with long arms and legs, they present more like a large ape or Neanderthal. Although they are bipedal in nature they would still be mistaken for a bear at a distance, due to their hairy appearance. Despite their largely physical advantages over a regular man, the Tornit have exceedingly poor eyesight which hinders their ability to hunt. They often smell like ghastly rotting flesh at worst and at best as if they have been freshly sprayed by a skunk—this concept also connects them largely to the creature of the southern United States known as the Skunk Ape.

So What’s the Story?

Crouching ape; Alaska's bigfoot, the Tornit
Photography by Kelly Sikkema

There is an abundance of lore available on these creatures through the published anthropological surveys of the Northern territories from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Franz Boas wrote down the oral traditions of the Inuit people from Baffin Island to Hudson Bay and captured many stories of the unscrupulous nature of the Tornit. There were some inconsistencies, with some villages recalling oral traditions that painted the Tornit to be a friendlier beast and even other recollections that the Tornit were actually hunted as a food source.

Their tense relationship with most of the Inuit tribes may have had less to do with the race of people as a whole and more so with the idea that neither the Inuit nor the Tornit seemed to be too fond of each other in general. The overwhelming consensus with all of the information available in books and online suggest they are a morally repugnant, dim-witted, unpleasant, and vicious creature. All of the lore taken into consideration, the reputation that the Tornit have, smacks more of a feudal war than that of a monster that hunts its prey from the shadows, but the isolated incidents of Tornit invading Inuit villages while the men were away simply to kill all of the women and children, in my opinion, makes them creatures to be feared.

Read the first installation of our original story, which features a rendition of the Tornit folktale, or check out other fascinating Alaskan cryptids!

Bigfoot

Date of Discovery

If we listen to the theory of Bigfoot being part of the genus of gigantopithecus, or giant ape, then they are believed to have been in existence when homo erectus first came into being. This means that they have existed for roughly two million years. However, there have been modern reports that date back as far back as 1818, when the Exeter Watchman reported having seen an “animal resembling the Wild Man of the Woods,” near Ellisburgh, New York.

Name

Bigfoot is possibly the most common name given to the gigantopithecus of North America–a genus of giant ape, that is said to have gone extinct around one hundred thousand years ago. Bigfoot also goes by the identifying name of Sasquatch, Skunk Ape, Skookum, Fouke Monster, Momo, Mogollon Monster, Yowie, Ban-Manush, Tornit, Honey Island Swamp Monster, Wild Man, Wauk-wauk, Saskehavis, and Grassman in the United States as well as other parts of the world. The name of this widely distributed creature varies based on the cultural influence of the region it was discovered to inhabit.

Physical Description

Bigfoot’s general appearance is more primitive than that of Neanderthal Man, standing between six to nine feet, and weighing between four hundred and one thousand pounds. They have a ruddy dark complexion, generally are known to have black eyes, with dark fur covering all of its bodies except its hands, the soles of its feet, as well as its upper facial region.

Origin

The villagers of the Caucasus Mountains have legends of this apeman going back for centuries, as do the Tibetans living on the slopes of Mount Everest. These are the first human accounts of Bigfoot being a creature that had been undocumented, but if sticking with the theory that Bigfoot is in fact a gigantopithecus then they have been around since man’s ancient ancestors first stood upright. From the Native American myths and legends, we have gotten a rich body of tales about hairy, manlike beasts that roam the forests; depending on the tribe, they have often been considered cousins of creatures such as the Wendigo, Tornit, Strendu, Chenoo, Oh-Mah, Skookum, the full list is exhaustive. Bigfoot may well be the most widely known and farthest-reaching cryptid across the world.

Mythology and Lore

Possibly the earliest and most notable report of Bigfoot was made by Theodore Roosevelt in his 1893 memoir, The Wilderness Hunter–his account came secondhand by a hunter and trapper by the name of Bauman. Bauman was trapping with a friend in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana when they noticed that there was something raiding their camp every time they went to check their traps. One evening after the two men fell asleep, Bauman awoke to a large, dark shape standing outside of his lean-to, without hesitation Bauman fired his gun at the shape. Over the next few days, the men often felt as if they were being watched from afar, that they were being followed as they went about their business, with something hiding behind the thick brush and trees. Eventually, the two men became so unnerved that they made the decision to leave the mountains entirely. In order to leave as quickly as possible, Bauman went to collect their traps while his friend packed up their camp. Upon returning to their camp, Bauman found that his friend’s body had been horribly mutilated and he fled as quickly as possible.

These creatures are apparently recorded to have had aggressive behavior well into the early twentieth century. Fred Beck reported that he and three other miners had been attacked by “mountain devils” whilst working their claim near Mount Saint Helens. They had continuously heard whoops, hollers, and screams from these unseen creatures for several days until one day Beck saw the unidentifiable creature staring at him from across a small canyon and immediately began firing his weapon.

The creature I judged to have been about seven feet tall with blackish-brownish hair. It disappeared from our view for a short time, but then we saw it, running fast and upright, about two hundred yards down the little canyon. I shot three times before it disappeared from view.

Fred Beck

As a result of Beck’s aggression towards the creatures, the miners reported that their cabin was attacked and at least three large, hairy creatures circled the cabin, pounded on the walls, tossed rocks, and jumped on the roof. Beck even recalled that at one point a hairy arm reached through a notch in the wall and attempted to grab one of the men’s axes–throughout the entire assault on their cabin the men alternated between being frozen in fear and firing their guns at the walls and roof.

Modern Pop-Culture References

Surprisingly, Bigfoot is a fairly popular topic when it comes to media references. When it comes to fiction and supposedly non-fiction material, there is a wealth of information both for entertainment and research purposes.

Patterson – Gimlin Bigfoot Footage

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