SASQUATCH AND THE TRIBES IN WASHINGTON
THE STICK INDIANS OF THE COLVILLES
Choanito, Sc’wanay’tex and Skanicum, by Jim Keegan
Among the various tribes comprising the Colville Confederation, Sasquatch was referred to by several different names but a common conceptual thread permeates all of their beliefs. He was always considered a human being, members of their own species. Prior to the arrival of the white man, the only people known to the Indians were other Indians and Sasquatch. The Lake Band of Indians called him “Skanicum” which translates to “Stick Indian”. Some Indians referred to him as “Scwe-ney-tum”, derived from the original sc’wanay’tex meaning “stick woods) Indian”.
To the Wenatchee Indians he was known as “Choanito” or “Night People. “Many Indians believed that Skanicum could turn into a tree. This belief derived from their interaction with him.It is reported that a group of Indians followed Skanicum to a ravine through the bottom of which flowed a creek with the usual heavy growth of trees, brush, willows, etc. They sat down on the hillside where they could see the entire area including the hillsides. After a little while when Skanicum did not leave the ravine, some of the Indians went down into the ravine while others maintained vigilance from their vantage point. A complete and thorough search of the ravine yielded no sign of Skanicum, only trees, and they were certain that he could not have left the ravine without being seen. No Indian would dare to start chopping into the trees with an ax.
Today, the Indians know all too well that Skanicum’s color and natural camouflage enables him to stand motionless against a tree and be nearly imperceptible. Incidents involving Skanicum and Choanito Informants: Francis, an Indian woman, age 60 and niece to Patrick, described later, and her mother, Laura, age 85, are members of the Lake Band. Francis pronounces “Skanicum” as if clearing her throat with a mouth full of saliva.
This interview with Francis on September 17, 1985, was followed by another with her mother, Laura, at her separate residence at Nespelem. Laura (deceased in 1987) verified everything as reported by Francis, adding many details. Laura relates that as a child she had a much greater interest in things, especially Skanicum, than other Indian women whom she knew. She would ask questions of her Grandfather and Grandmother who explained things to her and passed on many stories. As a child, from about the age of six, she would sleep outside and spend considerable time in the mountains alone, could identify and understood the many sounds that she heard, like the “iiieee” cry of Skanicum.
Back around the turn of the century (1885-1900) the Indians set up a fishing camp near Keller on the San Poll River (“D” on map, p26). In the evening the men would return, tired and hungry, to camp with their days catch. The women would work all evening processing the fish and putting it on drying racks to dry. While cooking dinner one of the women, a recent bride through bride-purchase, took a kettle and went off after water. Minutes later she was heard screaming. The men rushed to the scene but could only stand and watch as Skanicum carried her off. They knew that Skanicum was very vengeful and if harmed the captive may be injured and the mountains would not be safe for any Indian. As she was carried away, the captive tore off and dropped pieces of her white slip leaving a trail for the men to follow. She was with Skanicum all summer, or at least a couple of months, when the men searching for her on horseback saw her gathering wild potato roots.
Skanicum was asleep nearby. Upon seeing the men she emptied her lap of the potatoes, crept quietly to them, leaped on one of the horses behind it’s rider, and thus escaped. Upon return to camp all of the Indians immediately broke camp and hastily departed the area. During her stay with Skanicum the woman had gathered roots, etc., which they shared. Skanicum eats anything that other people eat but lives primarily on roots such as that of the thule (tooly) or cattail plant, which they gather, dry, and store in caves. They build fires with flint stone and steal hides from Indians, which they use for bedding and to cover the entrance to their cave.
During her stay with Skanicum the woman became pregnant and bore a son named Patrick, who grew up on the reservation. Patrick’s body structure was very different from that of other Indians as his arms were very long, reaching about to his knees. He was very short, about 5’4″ tall (his mother was described as “tiny”), possessed a sloping forehead, very large lower jaw, a very large wide mouth with straight upper and lower lips, and straight protruding teeth. He was kind of stooped, or hump-backed. His ears were elongated upwards (peaked) and bent outward at the top. He had very large hands and long fingers, is described as very ugly although extremely intelligent. He attended school on the reservation, was “very smart”, operated a ranch in the area, died at about the age of 30, and is buried on the reservation. Patrick is described as a “gentle” man, never beat or mistreated his wife. He married easily as he had a good ranch and was considered “affluent”. From this marriage to Laura’s cousin was born three daughters and two sons. Both sons died at an early age. The three daughters were named, in order from oldest to youngest, Mary Louise, now about 65 years old, Madeline, and Stella. Stella died at a young age. Mary Louise lives near Omak. A couple of summers ago Mary Louise spent several weeks with Laura. Mary had heard several times over the years that her paternal grandfather was a Skanicum and sought verification from Laura.
Laura revealed all to her, confirming that her father was indeed half Skanicum. Mary Louise’ physical appearance is relatively “normal”. However, both girls have wide mouths (look like split from ear to ear), protruding teeth, and squint eyes. But Madeline, who lives on the Washington coast, has other very distinct Skanicum features such as sloping forehead, long peaked ears, etc. She is considered ugly by Indian standards, is an alcoholic spending much time in taverns. Patrick’s wife, mother of these girls, is Laura’s first cousin. Francis met Patrick when she was a young girl about eight years old. She reports another incident in about 1982 when she and her niece were returning to Nespelem from Omak just after dark. About two miles from Omak near a gravel pit they passed a Skanicum standing alongside the road.
About a year later Francis and Laura were returning home when they stopped up on Keller Butte to eat chicken that they had brought back with them. They heard Skanicum scream only a short distance away. So close in fact that they quickly left the area. There is a cave near Kartar on the reservation where Skanicum is known to live.
Laura reports that some years ago she shot a deer not far from Nespelem. Being alone at the time and unable to load it into her car, she returned the next morning with her grandson. Several Skanicum were on the scene. One, a female, was standing just alongside the road and never moved as Laura drove by her, getting a good look at her. She looked human, was about six feet tall, her body covered with long brown hair, had a sloping forehead with ears that appeared to be pulled upward. Arriving at the deer carcass they found that the liver had been removed, as had the tender parts of both rear flanks. The skin had been carefully rolled from the hindquarters; the meat was very clean (she reiterates and emphasizes how clean the meat was). She and her grandson left the carcass as they found it and left the area. Laura states that there are areas just south of Nespelem and about two miles north of the Columbia River where she can call Skanicum (in his language, she knows how) and he will answer. She believes that they live in the area. At one time she encountered a large male Skanicum on the highway near Nespelem. It tried to converse with her, making organized sounds, leaving her to believe that they have a language. She left quickly.
Louie, a 79 year old male member of the Columbia-Moses Band, knew Patrick all of his life and remembers him and his family well. He worked for Patrick on his ranch around 1925-1930, describes him as a “pinhead” about 5′ 4″ tall, with larger than normal ears, mouth, teeth, and with large hands he was a very good card player who seemed to instinctively know what everyone else was holding.
Choanito Among the Wenatchee Tribe, Sasquatch was known as Choanito, which in their language, means “NIGHT PEOPLE” and is pronounced Cho-a-ni-to. Isabel, a 100-year-old Indian woman, member of the Wenatchee Tribe, gave the following report of an event, which occurred during her Great Grandfather’s generation: In the fall of the year, October, a group of male members of the Wenatchee Tribe were on a hunting trip near Wenatchee Lake. One of the men became separated from the rest of the party and was captured by Choanito. He was taken to a cave far up in the Rocky Mountains and held captive by a family of Choanitos through the winter until spring. The odor in the cave was terrible. They would not take him out hunting with them but made him remain in camp near the cave with the women. They were like a different tribe of Indians.
In the spring they returned him to where they had captured him. Upon returning to his camp he was immediately recognized by the children who couldn’t believe that he was back as he had been gone for so long. They thought that he had been killed. He had been well treated by Choanito.
Margie, an Anglo woman married and living on the reservation since 1984, reports that recently she and her mother-in-law had dug camas-roots, which they placed on the roof of their trailer near Nespelem Creek, where animals could not get at them. During the night her mother-in-law heard Choanito on the roof. In the morning the camas-roots were gone and Choanito had put her puppy up on the roof. Choanitois still very active in the area. At night lights can be seen moving along the base of a nearby mountain as a pack of them travel along, and many have been reported on Keller Butte. People are always warned to be out of the mountains before dark.
Other Reports: Nancy, a 90-year-old Indian woman, reports that some years ago loads of Indians were taken to Yakima to pick hops. A woman living in her tepee at the rodeo grounds at the Indian Agency stayed home to tend her garden. She was captured from her tepee by Skanicum. The Skanicum was known to often steal dried salmon from the Indians in this area. Skanicum is known to live only in caves. He places willows over the door.
Vince, a 30-year-old member of the Lake Band and a friend of this author, reports that as a small boy his grandfather, who was a Blue Jay, took him far up on Moses Mountain to see Skanicum. He was told to be very quiet and he would see them. He did see Skanicum close up and reports “he was Huge” He knows of a cave going deep into the mountain that is reported to be a home of Skanicum. He has been inside the opening which he states is squared and smooth, appears to have been worked on with tools, and was covered with tree branches. Inside is a strong Skanicum stench. He was afraid to go further into the cave…