Meet the Bukwas: Wild Man or Wild Men?

“When we arrived at the mouth of the Kattlepoutal River, twenty-six miles from Vancouver (Washington), I stopped to make a sketch of the volcano, Mt. St. Helens, distant, I suppose, about thirty to forty miles. This mountain has never been visited by either whites or Indians; the latter assert that it is inhabited by a race of beings of a different species, who are cannibals, and whom they hold in great dread . . .”

Paul Kane, frontier artist, March 26, 1847.

Kane, from the frontispiece of the 1925 edition of his book. It was first published in 1859.
Kane, from the frontispiece of the 1925 edition of his book. It was first published in 1859.

“Although I have never personally encountered a Sasquatch, there is ample proof that hairy giants formerly inhabited the Chehalis district in considerable numbers. Its ancient name— ‘The Place of the Wild Men’— was until recently accepted as an echo of primitive superstitions, but the accidental discovery a few years ago of two crude cave dwellings confirmed the Indian legend that the later Troglodytic period of this region was the abode of human beings of huge stature.”

J.W. Burns, Indian agent, Chehalis District, British Columbia, 1940.

” . . .The Indians are now very sensitive to any imputations cast upon their veracity in this matter. During the 19th century they were ready to tell enquirers all they knew about the Susquatch [sic] men; but today they have become more reserved, and talk only to government agents about the matter. They maintain that the ‘Wild Indians’ are divided into two tribes, whose rivalry with each other keeps the number down and so prevents them becoming a serious menace to others. . .”

C.S. Lambert, 1954.

Do these men (and many others) speak of the same “wild man”? The Salish Indians of the Chehalis were the most detailed because here in British Columbia two tribes converged head on. J.W. Burns was also their Indian agent. He is the man who introduced us to the Indian stories of “Sasquatch,” a name he condensed from Saskahaua George, pronounced with the heavy Salish accent as Saskahaua Chotch. The Saskahaua was the Chehalis’ ancient name. Within this huge, primal area of British Columba there lived two types of “wild Indians,” similar enough to be considered roughly the same thing but different enough for the Salish to draw distinctions.

J.W. Burns was also faithful enough to preserve for us accurately that both tribes were the size of men. They are about 6 to 6 and a half feet tall but twice the thickness of an ordinary man. To the shorter Indian peoples these were giants. Because the word “giant” was often used, White Man later distorted the stories into the legend of 8 to 10 foot tall giant Indians with long hair on their head and then a giant Gigantopithecus ape. But the truth had always been something hairy all over and very manlike.

These are the 2 tribes. But what are they? Is one an apelike human and the other a humanoid anthropoid? Or are they two separate species of undiscovered anthropoid who are inimical to each other?

Many tribes have preserved the reality of the bukwas– the “wild man of the woods.” But their artwork doesn’t help answer the question. It only confirms the conundrum. He is portrayed in art as two different things– human and apelike. It appears two different entities were truly that suggestive of each other.

There is another problem. How to reconciled the masks with other stories of “wild men”?

Paqusilahl--Qagyuhl
One example of the wild man– monstrous, fierce, manlike but more ghoul than man.

There is no known artwork of the dreaded Skoocoom of Mount St Helens. Indeed, Paul Kane couldn’t really understand what the Klickitat and Chinook meant,  thus rendering them as the superlative redundancy “beings of a different species.” Yet they were so humanlike that the local Indians regarded them as cannibals for having half eaten a trapper before Kane’s arrival. When Whites began to visit Mount St. Helens more they came back with stories of the Mountain Devil. These encounters eventually led to the legend of the “gorillas of Mount St. Helens.”

If that’s what the Indians were speaking of, then what are the Skoocoom? One thing is certain: they were so dreaded that no Indian would step foot on the mountain shoulders. They were so dreaded there is no artwork of them. They were humanlike to the Indians but not human; they were gorilla like to White Man but not gorillas.

A famous bukwas mask -- one of the apelike examples.
A famous bukwas mask — one of the apelike examples. All apelike bukwas are noted for a strange, hook nose that curls under.

The most details still come from the Saskahaua where the two tribes collided. A number of Braves who had had contact with the “wild Indians” insisted that one tribe could speak something akin to Douglas. Brave Charley Victor insisted they were human, though quite different. Of his encounter with a Sasquatch klootchman (female) he said: “The hairy creature, for that is what it was, walked toward me without the slightest fear. The wild person was a woman. Her face was almost negro black and her long straight hair fell to her waist. In height she would be about six feet, but her chest and shoulders were well above the average in breadth.”

There are a number of example of the bukwas preserved in tribal masks. The same Salish have a very peculiar one. It is preserved in Washington DC in the National Museum of the American Indian.

Human but wild-- almost our Rich Burroughs image of a caveman, but this was carved 100 years ago by the Salish. It is a bukwas shaman mask.
Human but wild– almost our Rich Burroughs image of a caveman, but this was carved 100 years ago by the Salish. It is a bukwas shaman mask.

There it is– the features are not Indian or White. They are negroid to an extent and the symbolic trappings are there to indicate the “wild man” — disheveled hair, rough, unkempt appearance. The mouth does not have the grimace and snarling teeth because this is the Shaman mask, and the mouth needed to be jointed in order to work. However, many of these type of masks do not have the snarling grimace. He has noticeably fat lips. All the humanlike bukwas masks have noticeably fat lips.

5419Is this the Sasquatch man, the tribe of wild humans the Salish insisted lived deep in the Saskahaua? This isn’t the article “Meet The Sasquatch,” so we don’t want to deal with it here, but I would say it would be a good guess. The difficult part is to try and sort out how many of the other “wild Indians” in the Pacific Northwest are this same type of people. There are the stories of the Seahtiks and other tribes who lived in conclaves along the Cascade range.

They most certainly are not Bigfoot. But could some of these have been mistaken for the Skoocoom?

From other masks there can certainly be no doubt that something very apelike is also presented as snarling in the manner of the bukwas. The Tsimishian Mask is the most notable as that of an “ape.”

The snarling Tsimishian Mask.
The snarling Tsimishian Mask. A noteworthy Catarrhinian nose and no ocular boney ridge around the eye. It’s not the loysi, and it doesn’t appear to be a native American anthropoid.

Is the Saskahaua reality the truth for the entire Pacific Northwest? Are there remnants of actual, very primitive looking people in conclaves and also a very unusual anthropoid? Or is it only true for the Saskahaua?

Unlike with the artwork representing the Dsonoqua, the bukwas cannot be reconciled with a species. We only know from artwork that there are snarling “apes” and men, strange different looking men, an sometimes a mixture of both. When the Klickitat said “beings of a different species” which ones were they referring to? Which ones really are the dreaded Skoocoom?

Although no identifiable artwork exists, fortunately there are other reports, far more detailed, of a tall, hairy humanlike anthropoid that give us some clues. Next we will meet the Skoocoom.

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