Bigfoot Encounters

Many Smokes, National American Indian Magazine, Fall 1968

Matah Kagmi
Names for hirsute hominids used by the Modoc and the Klamath Indians - Northern California and Southern Oregon

The Klamath and the Modoc tribes were generally divided into relatively autonomous villages in south central Oregon and Northern California, each with its own leaders and shaman (medicine man); the villages would ally for war, and members of different villages often married. They spoke related languages (or dialects) of the Sahaptin-Chinook branch of the Penutian linguistic stock and sharing many cultural traits.

Their richly fertile territory lay in a great trough in the southern Cascade Range, some 100 miles (160 kilometres) long and 25 miles wide. During winter, when snowdrifts could reach six feet (two meters) or more, most village families lived in semi-subterranean, earth-covered lodges, usually one family to a lodge.

In summer the usual dwelling was either a domed house of poles and matting or a lean-to of brush. Sweat houses, used by both men and women, doubled as community centers for prayers and other religious activities. Religious belief focused largely on guardian spirits, whose aid was sought for all manner of human accomplishments.

There was considerable trouble between the Modoc and the early white settlers. The Modoc were finally constrained to live (1864) on the Klamath Reservation in Oregon, but most of the tribe was dissatisfied. In 1870, Chief Kintpuash, or Captain Jack, led a group back to California and refused to return to the reservation...

The attempt to bring them back brought on the Modoc War (November of 1872 to June of 1873 which was more a 6 months winter seige than a war. The only Indian-U.S.Army war ever fought in California, had the Modoc holed up in lava rock caves, surrounded by U.S. Troops throughout the winter months. General E. R. S. Canby was the only U.S. Army general ever killed in action (by Modoc) during all the U.S. Indian wars - General Custer was actually a lieutenant-colonel. Captain Jack, the Modoc leader, was executed in October 1873, along with John Schonchin, Boston Charley, and Black Jim. Multiple atrosities were laid to both sides.)

After the Modoc War, the Modoc people were divided; some were sent to Oklahoma (where a few remain) and some to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon. The Modoc in Oregon share lands with the Klamath and the Snake. In 1990 there were some 500 Modoc in the United States.

These wonderful tribes knew early California well, but the only Sasquatch related story I was able to find came from the INFO Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, spring 1970. The article to follow concerning the Matah Kagmi is reprinted from "Many Smokes, National American Indian Magazine, fall 1968, courtesy Stockard Greyling, Modoc County, California.

The Modoc Man and Sasquatch, The Tulelake Story

"My grandfather was born in Upper California country near the mountain called Shasta. This was in the year of 1853. He fought in the Modoc Indian War (1872–73) in defense of his homeland; however, it was the same old story--defeat and being sent to a reservation.

Grandfather did not like the white man's reservation however, and soon returned to the part of the country that he loved. It was by some very good luck and the help of a white friend in Yreka, California, he was able to buy some land near Tulelake up in the mountains. He then built a cabin there, and lived there from then on until his death. He died in 1935. He fell asleep on a riverbank and never awakened again. Grandfather lived a long and eventful life, but not always a happy one.

He told me this story as a child, and I never tired of hearing it. His first contact with the Sasquatch was one evening in the summer of 1897. He was walking along a deer trail near a lake just about dusk, when he saw up ahead something that looked like a tall bush. Upon coming a little closer he became aware of a strong odor, sort of musky. He then gave a close look at the bush, and suddenly realized that it was not a bush at all, for it was covered from head to foot with thick coarse hair, much like horsehair. He took a step closer, but the creature made a sound that sounded like "Nyyaaaah!" Grandfather now knew this was the man of the mountain the old ones spoke about, ...a Sasquatch!

Although it was growing darker, Grandfather was able to see quite clearly two soft brown eyes through the hairy head part, then the creature moved slightly, and Grandfather made a motion of friendship and laid down the string of fish that he had been carrying. The creature evidently understood this, as it quickly snatched up the fish and struck out through the timber nearby. It stopped only for a moment and made a sound that my grandfather never forgot--a long, low "Aaagooooooouummmmt"

Grandfather never told anyone outside the family this story, he called them people. He referred to them as people called 'mahtah kagmi.' [Now here is something that is most interesting, and doubtful that it could be by chance, and that is that the people in Himalayas call the so-called snowman a 'metoh kangmi.' The two names are very much alike.]

It was only a few weeks after his encounter with the matah kagmi that he was awakened one morning by some strange noises outside his cabin. Upon investigating, he found a stack of deerskins fresh and ready for tanning. Off in the distance he heard that strange sound once again, "Aaagoooooouummm!" After this there were other items left from time to time, such as wood for fuel, acorn, wild berries and fruits.

It was a few years later that Grandfather had his second, but far more amazing contact with the Sasquatch. Grandfather had taken a job with some white men from the San Francisco area to help them search for some treasure [gold] that was supposed to be on Mount Shasta in California.

Now Grandfather never cared much for money, but times had changed for the Indian and living off the land was a little harder now. However these men had a map of some kind and were bound that they would find the gold in question, so Grandfather agreed to act as guide for them. However he could scarcely conceal the fact that he thought all whites a little crazy that searched for this yellow metal. Even though they assured Grandfather that if they found the gold he would be a rich man, this made little or no difference to him.

After the treasure party had reached the foot of Mount Shasta, the whites began drinking a lot, so Grandfather told them that he would go ahead and explore some of the lower level rock shelves, as they were in no condition to do so themselves. Soon that morning he set out up a mountain trail, an after quite a bit of rough climbing, he reached a shelf that he wished to examine. Then it happened. A timber rattler struck him in the leg!

Grandfather killed the snake and started to come back down to a more comfortable spot, but soon found it difficult to go on walking and as best as he can remember he became sick at his stomach and fainted. When he came around again, he thought he was dreaming, for three large mahtah kagmi about eight to ten feet tall surrounded him. He noted that they had made a small cut on the snakebite and had somehow removed some of the venom and they placed cool moss on the bite. Then one of the matah kagmi made a kind of grunting sound and the two lifted him up and took him down a trail that he did not know. Finally after some little descent down the mountainside, they placed him under a low brushy tree and left. Again Grandfather heard theirt mournful cry, "Aagooooooouummmmm"

After a long while he began to feel better, and then took his old .44 caliber cap and ball pistol and began to fire some shots in the air. Finally the gold party found him. Grandfather said nothing about what happened concerning the mahtah kagmi.

He was taken back to where the pack mules were tied, and then on to the nearest little town where he rested for a few days, and then returned to Tulelake. Grandfather told only his immediate family about this encounter, and after this would never take anyone for any amount of money to the Mount Shasta region. He would only say: "Matah Kagmi live! That Holy Place, I have friends there."

For many years after, in the still of the evening or sometimes late at night, he would still hear the sound he now knew, "Aagoooooouumm," the call of the mahtah kagmi. Grandfather went on to relate that the Matah Kagmi were not vicious, but were very shy, especially of the white man, and they generally only came out in the evenings and at night. They lived chiefly on roots they dug and berries, and only ate meat in the bitterest of cold weather. Their homes are in deep mountain side burroughs, unknown to man.

I never tired of these stories that my Grandfather told to me as a boy, and he said they were true, and I believed him. May his spirit always know peace.

Written by a Modoc.
© INFO Journal, Vol. 2, No 2, Spring 1970
Credit Stockard Greyling, California

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