The Wendigo is a horrifying creature that appears in Algonquian Native American legend, who devour human flesh to survive a harsh winter. But are they only a myth? Or are they really cannibalistic humanoids waiting in forests for their next victim?
As the tale goes, the first-ever Wendigo was once a lost hunter. During a brutally cold winter, the man's intense hunger drove him to cannibalism. After feasting on another human's flesh, he transformed into a crazed man-beast, roaming the forest in search of more people to eat.
In another version of the story, the first Wendigo is said to have been a warrior who made a deal with the Devil. In order to save his tribe, he gave up his soul, and was transformed into a Wendigo.
When peace ensued, there was no need for such a fearsome creature, and the warrior was banished from his tribe, and forced to live as an outcast.
The tale of the Wendigo (sometimes spelled Windigo) comes from Algonquian Native American folklore, and the exact details vary depending on who you ask. Some people who claimed of encountering the beast, say it's a relative of Bigfoot. But other reports compare the Wendigo to a werewolf instead.
The Algonquians are some of the most extensive and numerous of the Native American groups in the North America, and they once lived along the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes Region.
However, Wendigo-like creatures are also found in the legends of other Native American tribes, including the neighbours of the Algonquians, the Iroquois. Amongst these peoples, a creature known as the Stonecoat bears some similarities to the Wendigo.
Roughly translated, the word "Wendigo" means "the evil spirit that devours mankind."
Another translation, said to be made by a German explorer around 1860, equates the word "Wendigo" with "cannibal." Wendigo are said to have an insatiable hunger for human flesh - no matter how much flesh they eat, they remain hungry.
This hunger is reflected in their appearance, which, according to some, is extremely thin.
Despite their gaunt physiques, Wendigo are described by some as giants, measuring at about 14.8 to 15 feet in height. Whilst there are slight variations as to the physical description of this creature amongst the different Algonquian peoples, it is generally agreed that Wendigo have glowing eyes, long yellowed fangs and long tongues.
Most Wendigo are also said to have sallow and yellowish skin, though others say that they are matted with hair or have decaying skin.
According to ethno-historian Nathan Carlson, it's also been said that the wendigo has large, sharp claws and massive eyes like an owl. However, some other people simply describe the wendigo as a skeleton-like figure with ash-toned skin.
Different versions of the wendigo legend say different things about his speed and agility. Some claim he is unusually fast and can endure walking for long periods of time, even in harsh winter conditions. Others say he walks in a more haggard manner, as if he is falling apart. But speed wouldn't be a necessary skill for a monster of this nature.
Once it has infiltrated human minds, he can turn them into Wendigo as well, instilling upon them the same lust for human flesh that he himself has.
One of the most infamous cases is the story of Swift Runner, a Native American man who murdered and ate his whole family during the winter of 1879. According to Animal Planet, Swift Runner claimed to be possessed by a "Wendigo spirit" at the time of the murders.
Still, he was hanged for his crime.
Some believe that the human personality continues to reside within the Wendigo, specifically where its heart should be. This person is frozen, and the only way to kill a Wendigo is to kill the human within it as well.
A few legends state that the frozen person is successfully rescued from inside the creature; in most cases, however, death is the only way to free a person from the Wendigo.
But no matter which version sounds the most plausible, this is obviously not a creature you'd want to run into on a hike.
Wendigo are believed to roam around the forests where the Algonquians lived, and forest dwellers that disappeared over the years are rumoured to have been eaten by these creatures. Many Wendigo sightings have been reported over time, not only by Native Americans, but by white settlers as well.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Algonquian tribes blamed many unsolved disappearances of people on wendigo attacks. At the beginning of the 20th century, an 87-year-old by the name of Jack Fiddler was tried for the murder of a woman.
Whilst he pleaded guilty to the crime, he defended himself by saying that the woman was on the verge of transforming into a Wendigo, as she was being possessed by the evil spirit. Therefore, she had to be killed before she murdered other members of the tribe. In addition to this woman, Fiddler claimed to have slain at least 13 other Wendigo during his lifetime.
But the believers say that Wendigo are still be out there in the woods. And underneath that terrifying, flesh-eating demon, there might still be a human man who was once just a hungry hunter.