Bigfoot Encounters

The Stenwyken, The Wildman of the Woods
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One Indian legend of the Okanagan Valley concerns the hairy giant they called Stenwyken or Stuan-aw-wkin. This beast sounds like the one whom Indians in other parts of British Columbia call the Sasquatch and who may have inspired the Coast Indians' ceremonial mask of the Wild Man of the Woods.

Hester White, writing in the 1962 report of the Okanagan Historical Society, said a Christmas visitor had told her about Stenwyken while she was living in Penticton. Her guest was an Indian called Suswap who had worked for her father, Judge Haynes, at Osoyoos.

Said Suswap: "Stenwyken, the hairy giant who smelled of burning hair, left tracks near the Indian caches where he helped himself to the dried meat, fish, roots and berries stored for the winter. He was often seen at the mouths of creeks catching fish. He was a peaceful man and never harmed the Indians.

"However, one day in the long ago at berry time an Indian maiden disappeared; it was feared that stenwyken had carried her away. After a long time she returned to her tribe and said stenwyken had seized her and carried her to a large cave, the floor of which was covered with skins of bear, deer and mountain sheep.

"She was given roots, berries, dried fish and meat to eat. She was not harmed in any way, but she was prisoner, because a large stone rolled across the mouth of the cave prevented her from going out again.

"When she was left alone, she used some of the hides to make a pair of moccasins, in the hope that she would have the chance to escape one day, or night. The rising moon showed her that the stone was not as tightly over the entrance to the cave as it had been, and she was able to squeeze past the stone to liberty. After traveling many miles, she at length found her own people.

"Another Indian girl belonging to a north Okanagan Indian tribe vanished from their camp some years later. After three years, she came back and said Stenwyken had captured her and carried her off to a large cave. He had sealed her eyelids with pitch so she could not see where they were going.

"Some time afterwards she gave birth to a stenwyken baby but it died. Again her eyes were sealed with pitch and she was returned to a place near her people's camp, where the pitch was removed. She was released, but stenwyken watched from a hiding place until she arrived safely in the camp."

In spite of all stenwyken's precautions, people thought they knew where the cave in question was-at Tulameen-Allison-Princeton, not far from the Okanagan Valley. Miners on their way to Fraser River goldfields sheltered in it, and A. E. Howse, a pioneer Princeton merchant, stored his extra supplies there.

Hester White related that a Japanese miner camped at the north end of Okanagan Valley was awakened one night when something heavy brushed against his tent. Thinking that it was the mine boss he went outside, and there stood stenwyken with his hands out. The Japanese man gave the creature some food and Stenwyken left.

Stenwyken used the same begging method again near Lumby, southeast of Vernon. Again he was given food and again he left peaceably.

"No doubt the sasquatch of Harrison Lake and stenwyken of Okanagan Valley are one and the same. As he has done no harm he deserves consideration and his freedom to roam at will," added Hester White.

While traveling to Westbank via Skaha (Dog) Lake, Mrs. John Fall Allison was told about "the big men who live in these mountains" by her Indian guides. Her granddaughter, Mrs. Jim Sisson of North Vancouver, told me that when Mrs. Allison wrote about the " souie-appo " she really meant the sasquatch. Mrs. Allison said it was "a species sometimes malevolent and sometimes benevolent" and "a monster something like a huge ape, and was said to live both on Chippaco and Mount Baker."

Citation: Moon, Mary. “Ogopogo: The Okanagan Mystery.” North Vancouver, B.C.: J. J. Douglas Ltd., 1977. 144-145.

The author's notations are interesting because they echo those stories handed down in the writings of J.W. Burns roughly 53 years earlier while he was teaching on the Chehalis Indian Reservation in the early 1900's

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