The Last of the Wendigo Hunters
· 15 min. read
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The Wendigo is one of the most feared creatures in Canadian legend. As with any story that spans different cultures and languages, it has different variations, different spellings, and different names, yet there are still many similarities. For example, to the Anishinaabe people, when somebody commits cannibalism, they turn into a giant ice monster with a desire for human flesh. This monster is known as a Wendigo. The person who committed cannibalism is then locked inside the frozen monster's heart, and while can sometimes be saved, they are often killed alongside the creature when it is slain.
The Wabanaki believe in a similar creature called the Giwakwa, which comes from a person who has committed cannibalism. They are then said to be possessed by an evil spirit that turns their heart into ice.
The Iroquois believe in a creature called Stonecoats, who are man-eating rock monsters often associated with winter. In some legends, they began as people who become monsters when resorting to cannibalism. In other stories, they were created for the purpose to hunt humans.
And lastly, the Cree believe in Witikio, another monster born out of humans committing cannibalism. They believe the only way to save the person inside the Witikio is to melt their ice-cold heart.
In a recent episode of Unsolved Canadian Mysteries, Dylan and I discuss the origins and variations of the legend and some sightings of the creature. While it is often considered a sole Indigenous legend, encounters have also been reported in The Jesuit Relations when several Jesuit missionaries had to be executed because they became apparent Wendigo. Additional encounters have been reported by the North-West Mounted Police/Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Hudson's Bay Company.
You can hear other stories on my friend Warren James' YouTube channel, A Warning to the Curious:
However, tonight's story takes place in 1907 in the then-District of Keewatin, in an area that on October 16, 1907, The Victoria Daily Times referred to as, "just above the northeast corner of the province of Manitoba". Today, Hudson's Bay is in the northeast corner of Manitoba, but in 1907, Manitoba was much smaller, and the District of Keewatin covered from almost the US border all the way to the Arctic. It's part of modern Manitoba now, but it was a separate entity back then.
The Victoria Daily Times article picks up mid-way through the story, and for brevity's sake, that's where will start too. Two Indigenous men of the Sucker people had been arrested and held in Norway House in the District of Keewatin. One of these men, Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow, or Jack Fiddler, was one of their chiefs. His brother Pesequan, or Joseph Fiddler, was another. Both men were very old and frail. Jack was described by Sergeant David Bennett Smith of Norway House as "very old... He falls down and his heart and pulse are very weak on such occasions".
Their reason for their imprisonment was the murder of Mrs. Thomas Fiddler, or Wahsakapeequay, Joseph's daughter-in-law which occurred sometime in September of 1906. Word of the homicide reached the Royal North-West Mounted Police in late 1906, and on June 15, 1907, the officers arrested the two men.
However, it soon came to light that Jack and Joseph had killed more than just one person. In fact, Jack had earlier told Methodist minister Edward Pau-panakiss that had he been responsible for the death of over fourteen people. Some put that number at twenty-six, or even over thirty.
Although it would take fifteen weeks of captivity for the trial to finally get started, tragedy struck only a few days before Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry of the RNWMP would arrive. On September 15, 1907, Jack Fiddler was going for a walk around Norway House when he ventured into the bush. He would be found later that day, "lying on a rock with his sash tied in a large slip knot ‘round his neck... The other end of the sash was attached to a tree... He was dead." Jack Fiddler had killed himself.
Methodist missionary Joseph Albert George Lousley described Jack as having “not the slightest sign of enmity or hatred towards men nor God, no rebellion or unbelief, he is a quiet dignified man who has lived his life with a clear conscience.”
Three days later, when Commissioner Perry finally arrived, one of the strangest court cases to have ever happened in Canada began to unfold.
The two primary witnesses were Eyelids (or Owl) Rae and Angus (or Manawapait) Rae. They were both there the night of the murder and were cousins to the Fiddlers. They both said that Jack and Joseph believed they were killing Wendigos -- or soon-to-be Wendigos, in the case of Wahsakapeequay. In fact, the Fiddlers were known for their ability to kill these monsters and people often sought after them for protection. Stories even exist of shamans sending Wendigos to the Suckers, and Jack and Joseph fighting them off. Their father, who died in 1891, also served as a Wendigo hunter.
In the case of Wahsakapeequay, however, things were a little different. She was brought before them very sick, and "would not be quiet". Angus described her as being in "deep pain and incurably sick". Several women had to restain Wahsakapeequay after she arrived, and by the next morning when Jack and Joseph saw her, she would be calm and asleep.
The belief was that Wahsakapeequay was dying, and once she died, she would become a Wendigo. Or at least, she believed she would return as one. Having her in their community would endanger their lives, so she had to either be killed now, or be killed when she was in a more dangerous form. Jack had done something similar to his brother Peter Flett after he became a Wendigo years prior. To them, it was a form of euthanasia.
So, Jack requested Eyelids and Angus to hold Wahsakapeequay's arms down, and Jack placed a "band of linen" around her neck. Jack took one side of the linen and Joseph took the other side. According to the Rae brothers, as reported in Free Press Praire Farmer, they then "throttled the life out of the wretched woman with the fatal cord".
However, Angus's testimony continued, this wasn't the first time he was party to their killings. Before Wahsakapeequay, the Fiddlers had also killed Ahkamekeseecowineiw. He screamed and thrashed while being strangled, and his corpse was tossed into a fire to burn. In retrospect, this may have been to "melt" the heart of the Wendigo, but other testimony says it's because the blood of the Wendigo is dangerous and needs to be destroyed. In contrast, after Wahsakapeequay was strangled, she was given a burial.
Angus also said that he had heard of another killing, this time with three Meekises brothers and Elias and John Rae helping Jack Fiddler with his crime. Once the murder was complete, the brothers began to fight amongst themselves. Speculation emerged that the spirit of the Wendigo had jumped from their victim to one of their men -- David Meekises. David would then be held down, strangled, killed, and burned as well.
Angus continued that three weeks after Wahsakapeequay's murder, a woman brought her husband to the Fiddlers. She pleaded for them to "strangle the fellow", and Angus assisted in that murder as well.
"I knew I had done wrong," Angus said, "for I had killed a man, and I fled. I took council with my wife, but she said that if it had not been done the man would have turned into a cannibal and eaten our babies."
Another witness, C. C. Sinclair, an accountant at Norway House, told of a similar killing a few years ago. Another man had been declared to be a Wendigo and was strangled, and then placed on some wood over a fire to burn. However, while burning, he regained consciousness, burst from the ropes, and ran through the camp. The botched executioners -- who the Free Press Praire Farmer doesn't identify as the Fiddlers, but we can assume they were -- were then forced to shoot and kill the burning man with a shotgun.
The trial concluded, and then the jury was sent for deliberation. Three times they requested assistance from the commissioner to clarify the law and finally at 10 o'clock, they declared Joseph and the late Jack Fiddler guilty of murder. However, they put in a recommendation of mercy, on account of the inaccessibility of the bands from the "reach of civilization, and the old red man's probable ignorance of the white man's law".
Joseph Fiddler then spoke and echoed that of the jury. The Sucker people were very remote from the rest of Canada, and even in 1907, were hardly touched by the modern world. He confessed to the crimes, but stated his ignorance of the new laws of the land: "I did not know what I was doing was wrong, and if I had known, I would not have done the deed.”
However, Commissioner Perry rejected that defense, stating: "What the law forbids no pagan belief can justify." Perry would then sentence Fiddler to hang on twelve noon on January 7, 1908.
Joseph Fiddler would be relocated to Stony Mountain Penitentiary, but due to his age, was sick and weak, and spent most of his time in the hospital. The Sucker people appealed for his release and to be returned home before he died, and that appeal was eventually granted... three days after he died from tuberculosis. He was being buried in Stony Mountain Penitentiary Cemetery the day they came to deliver the good news.
Angus would remain at Norway House for his own trial regarding the murders, but Eyelids would return to the District of Keewatin and tell the Suckers what happened to their chiefs. The RNWMP would follow suit the next year, to find more culprits who participated in these killings.
Without the chiefs to lead the Sucker people, Jack's son Robert Fiddler was forced to sign Treaty 5 in 1910. Many of their people would eventually move to Sandy Lake, under Treaty 9, and their children would be enrolled in Sandy Bay Residential School.
Today, there are no more Wendigo hunters, and the concept of a Wendigo is now referred to as a form of mental illness. In fact, the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases lists "wendigo psychosis" as a "culture-bound syndrome". The transformation of a person into a Wendigo is a transformation of the mind, not the body or the soul.
But to the Fiddlers, who fought for generations against the Wendigos to keep their people safe, there isn't that much of a difference between what is and what isn't, as long as it just stays dead.
But what are your thoughts? Have you ever heard of the Wendigo? What are your thoughts on the story? I was actually very surprised to hear that the jury had asked for mercy! If you're interested in hearing more about Wendigos and some of the stories about them, please check out our episode of it on Unsolved Canadian Mysteries.
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Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, Manitoba, Paranormal