Walking Sam Revisited

Wounded Knee Tribal Police Patch

As I mentioned here previously, Mike Crowley recently heard stories that had a familiar ring to them among the Sioux of the Dakotas.

Crowley tells that during a Tribal Council meeting at Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, of how…

…one local woman, who left before I could talk with her personally, asked Washington for help dealing with Walking Sam. The woman, who was elderly but otherwise quite lucid, described Walking Sam as a big man in a tall hat who has appeared around the reservation and caused young people to commit suicides. She said that Walking Sam has been picked up on the police scanners, but that the police have not been able to protect the community from him. She described him as a bad spirit. She wanted help from Washington with foot patrols for the tribal communities to protect them from Walking Sam.

At the time, I was thinking that this may have been a reference to Bigfoot sightings. Yes, some people have claimed sightings of big hairy ape men in the Dakotas. Many of these sightings have taken place on the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge reservations. Or, perhaps it may just have been a plea for help with teen suicides – a plea that needs to be translated through a cultural filter. The woman was from Red Scaffold, which is a small community on the reservation.

The following evening found me perusing the bookshelves at Prairie’s Edge, a large Native American arts, crafts, music, and bookstore in Rapid City. I looked through quite a number of books trying to find any reference that I could to Walking Sam. I found nothing.

Indeed, Michael Crowley’s journey of discovery has been a frustrating one, it would seem.

Oh, he did find one “town’s police chief and emergency services manager” who was “familiar with the stories about the Walking Sam sightings and the connection to teen suicides.”

But at the end of his blog posting he writes: “Whether Walking Sam represents Bigfoot, an evil spirit, or is just a manifestation of the fear that people have about losing their loved ones to what seems an incomprehensible type of event, the teen suicides are real.”

This, of course, reminded me of my recent time in Texas, listening to and spending time with Peter Matthiessen, who has had much to say on Indians and Sasquatch.

Peter Matthiessen’s work with the Pine Ridge “Big Man” info has drifted into his current work with First Nations people. Some of these same people I mention in my book, Suicide Clusters (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1989), who have likewise experienced past teen suicide epidemics.

Walking Sam, Big Man, Sasquatch, and so many other names seem so often to be associated, among the Native peoples, with suicide that in the mind of some, indeed, there appears to be a link between bad luck, death, and these hairy big ones.

I’m not too surprised that Crowley found little concrete in the Dakotas about Walking Sam, the big man with the hat. Certainly that doesn’t mean it isn’t well known to the Lakota and not being seen, as he readily acknowledges. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about Walking Sam again.

Pitt Lake Giant

Above is artist Harry Trumbore’s illustration from The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates (p. 45) of Pitt Lake, BC’s "Sasquatch" seen in June 1965. Please note how the structure of the head might resemble a flattop hat from a distance.


Thank you!

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.

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  1. This sounds more “Fortean-Keelian”-like than strictly Cryptozoological, but thanks for the story, anyway, Loren.
    Could it be a type of Trickster Spirit?
    Or just a type of Wendigo? Mmm..
    I agree. Walking Sam apparently will be “heard from” again.

  2. In earlier articles I noticed that Sam was named after Uncle Sam, the symbol of white American patriotic culture. Perhaps Walking Sam represents everything about white American settler culture that was destructive of traditional Lakota culture, a symbol of the land-grabbers and cultural chauvinists who turned up and ruined everything.
    Wendigo was a cultural construct whose purpose was to warn against cannibalism, and would be seen in harsh winters. Walking Sam could be something similar, a warning of some cultural psychopathological malaise which leads to teenage suicides.
    Cultural alienation leads to psychosis and suicide wherever it happens, and maybe Sam is the specific manifestation of a un iversal problem.
    There could indeed be some high strangeness going on here, the collective trauma of alienation generating a paranormal manifestation in the form of Sam. Wendigo could be the same sort of thing.

  3. Evil spirit of some kind without a doubt. According to the folklore that I know, cleansing the young people in smoke made from green cedar branches might help. Running the spirit through with a lance covered in cedar oil even better.

  4. I’ve been following the recent “Bigfoot Massacre” saga with mild interest and considerable despair. However, some interesting points were raised, in particular the ongoing moan that obviously deranged theories put forward by one individual who appears to be mentally ill reflect badly on cryptozoology as a whole because they are taken to be representative of what everybody in that field believes – i.e. they’re obviously all nutters, so no mainstream scientist needs to take their sad witterings seriously.

    I disagree. Cryptozoology isn’t taken seriously because of the constant intrusion of material like the above. What seems to be assumed here is that anything anybody says they’ve seen, even if it is explicitly supernatural and tied to one particular minority belief-system, is in some sense literally, objectively true, and can be lumped in with evidence that apparently relates to a flesh-and-blood creature that is either a clever and highly reclusive primate or a rather dim variant on homo sapiens sapiens. The telling point here is that the “elderly but otherwise lucid” primary witness is assumed to be incapable of getting anything wrong for any reason, apart from that awkward little detail about the creature having a hat on.

    Well, obviously, he doesn’t wear a hat – that’s just silly. So we can throw that particular detail out of the window. Never mind that the creature being discussed here is described as a “man”, meaning “human being”, whose most significant distinguishing features are that he is “big”, “tall”, and wears a certain type of hat. I am 6′ 7″, therefore, depending on my choice of headgear, this could be a description of me. Assuming of course that I was in the habit of wandering around the USA inciting Native Americans to commit suicide. Which, by the way, I’m not.

    However, in a desperate attempt to drag a creature into the category of “Bigfoot”, you illustrate the thread with a drawing of the aforementioned fellow, and then take it as read that the allegedly reliable witness was so amazed by the shape of his skull that she not only misidentified it as being some type of hat, but completely failed to notice that he was an otherwise naked 7-foot ape-man!

    In terms of mainstream science, this is roughly equivalent to assuming (as Dan Brown did, but then, he was writing fiction, the sole purpose of which was to pay his bills with the minimum of effort) that because the Higgs Boson is nicknamed “the God Particle”, it must have something to do with religion; and furthermore assuming that for this reason, the almost immediate breakdown of the newest supercollider at CERN was due to the Devil’s disinclination to allow humans to isolate little bits of God Almighty in test-tubes, so what it needs is a jolly good exorcism, and then it’ll work fine. The above argument will not endear you to theoretical physicists.

    So make your minds up. Is Bigfoot a magical bogeyman whose basic purpose in life is to materialise from another dimension and persuade the Dakota Sioux to commit suicide in larger numbers that they otherwise would? And without wishing to in any way belittle the horrible difficulties that many cultural minorities suffer from, I think it’s worth mentioning here that since the high suicide rates in this particular group, and many like it, are linked with a hideous combination of cultural marginalisation, grinding poverty, substance abuse problems, and serious mental health issues, possibly some of these people are not the most reliable of objective witnesses. But assuming they got it right, and assuming that this particular religious belief-system is correct, then clearly Bigfoot is an evil monster who needs to be banished by means of magic rituals involving enchanted branches. And whether he looks more like Mighty Joe Young or The Cat In The Hat really isn’t an issue – this is special secret magic stuff that’s true because somebody said so, so who cares whether or not certain details are absurd?

    So let’s think about M. K. Davis and his claims. Yes, they’re absurd, and also defamatory to various people, living or dead. But what he’s actually claiming (for whatever reason) is that, on the basis of extremely shaky evidence indeed, he can prove that a big logging company killed a number of these creatures for reasons based purely on greed and then covered it up. This isn’t terribly likely to be true, especially given the quality of the evidence he puts forward to support it. Indeed, it is 99.99% safe to say that M. K. Davis is either a cynical fraud or mentally ill. But at least what he’s claiming is possible.

    On that basis, the whole Bigfoot Massacre saga is vastly more plausible than this “Walking Sam” nonsense, which, even if we assume that anything vaguely improbable that takes place on the North American continent is automatically a Bigfoot manifestation so long as the creature involved is fairly tall (which is a bit like saying that anything over 6′ in height is an elephant unless it’s got windows), is quite explicitly a quasi-religious belief roughly on a par with Leprechauns. This is why, to mainstream science, anything suggested by cryptozoologists will always be dismissed out of hand. Even if you triumphantly point to bigger-than-previously accepted squids (though still nowhere near big enough to sink a ship, as depicted every single time these critters are discussed), mainstream science will always snigger and say: “Yeah, but you guys believe in fairies!” Because you do.

    There are at least three different topics involved here: cryptozoology proper, which is the study of real, biologically feasible creatures that actually exist but haven’t been catalogued yet; cultural anthropology, which is equally valid but another discipline altogether; and religion or thereabouts, where proof is neither needed nor sought for, because I know it’s true and that’s all that matters. Cryptozoology will be laughed at until it figures out which of the above is its main theme. And depending on its choice, perhaps it’ll be laughed at anyway; but it needs to make a choice, because these approaches are mutually exclusive.

    Think about it…

  5. I was just listening to the April 24, 2011 episode of the Paracast and was surprised to hear Micah Hanks talk a little bit about Walking Sam. It’s got me wondering whether there have been any other reports. I keep meaning to get back out to South Dakota to poke around a bit on this, but — being a family man with responsibilities — have not had a chance.