The Skinwalker Sightings
Some of the most colorful cryptids to be found in American culture originate from tales passed down through generations by the country's Native American tribes. From Sasquatches that dwell within the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest to the Dogmen which traverse the highways and byways of rural Michigan, it seems that the same monsters who stalked the campfires of the Sioux and Apache settlements may still walk freely amongst us.
Origins of the Skinwalker
The origins of each of these entities usually feature no small degree of mysticism and tragedy, often involving conflicted human characters who are transformed into monsters either as a result of villainous witchcraft or involvement in rituals which they voluntarily subjected themselves to. And whilst many are malevolent or murderous in nature, few are as unsettling as the tales told about the Skinwalker. This particularly dangerous and deceitful creature was first spoken of by the Navajo people, who christened it the naaldlooshii, which translates as "he who walks on all fours".
The term described a witch or sinister individual who had chosen to relinquish all of their humanity by participating in a secretive ceremony. This involved the invocation of certain charms and chance and culminated in the willful murder of a loved one. After consuming the flesh of their victim, the killer in turn lost all vestiges of kindness and reason, transitioning into an unfeeling and relentless monster, intent only on the commission of further acts of murder and cannibalism.
This unholy process also granted them the power not only to control the actions of other predatory creatures, but also to transform into them at will. Regardless of whether they had remained in their own decaying form or had chosen to take the shape of an animal such as a wolf or coyote, the skinwalker possessed the ability to take control of those it countered by entering via their gaze, discarding their own body in the process and inhabiting that of the unfortunate victim.
Skinwalkers were described as supernaturally fast and powerful, able to cover great distance in a short amount of time and easily outrun a human being. When not hunting live prey across the countryside, these vile entities would seek out recently dug graves, they would unearth fresh corpses, grinding the bones down into a powder which would later be used to poison and incapacitate future victims. It was said to be relatively easy to distinguish skinwalkers from other predators, because although they were able to mimic the physical form of their chosen animal, they still moved in much the same way as when they were a human being. Their pelt was said to hang loosely off their skeletal frame, as if wearing an outer garment. Their eyes also gave off an unnatural glow that could be seen approaching through the darkness.
Much like the vampires of European culture, a skinwalker could not enter a residence unless it had been invited. Instead, it would scour the transport routes and highways that connected human settlements, picking off small groups of travelers before retreating to their chosen hiding place. The only way to truly kill these beasts was to uncover it and then speak its true human name which would cause it to die within three days. If recent stories are to be believed, the skinwalker has successfully endured the trials and tribulations that it's human ancestors had to endure and continues to pose a very real threat to America's modern-day inhabitants.
The police encounter
US Route 491 carves its way down through the states of Utah and Colorado, finally terminating as it reaches New Mexico. Originally christened as US Route 666 when it was completed in the mid-1920s, it came to early unfortunate nickname of 'The Devil's Highway'.
Following the persistent theft of its iconic road signs in a series of fatal traffic accidents, it was eventually renamed to its current and decidedly less dramatic reference number. A stretch of this iconic highway, which forms a border of the nearby Navajo reservation and connects the city of Gallup to the nearby town of Shiprock, has been the scene of a number of inexplicable and supernatural occurrences.
One summer evening during the mid-1990s, a pair of highway patrolmen were dispatched to conduct a search of the area following reports that a motorist had been attacked. As the two officers drove slowly along the carriageway, illuminating the surrounding terrain with the search light mounted on the roof at their cruiser, they received an update that a truck driver had felt tired whilst traveling along the highway earlier that evening and had pulled over to get some sleep.
He had subsequently awoken a short time later to the sounds of scratching, coming from the base of the driver's side door. As the trucker had lowered his window and leaned out of the cab to see what was making the noise, a shape had lunged up out of the shadows beneath him. The terrified driver caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a dark figure, wearing some kind of Halloween mask before he had panicked and driven away at high speed.
Contacting the police switchboard in the aftermath of the incident, the witness described how he had looked in his wing mirror as he had been driving away, to see the figure running along behind the truck in pursuit, illuminated by the red glow of his tail lights. When he had finally reached the nearest town and pulled over, he had then discovered deep scratches and indentations, freshly carved into the metal of the cab door. At the conclusion of the radio transmission, the two officers had scoffed at the story and were just about to terminate their search when their patrol car was suddenly rocked by something violently impacting off the passenger side door.
As the driver instinctively stamped down on the accelerator, the officer beside him had turned to see a horrifying face leering in at him through the window, it's red glowing eyes staring intently at him. As the police vehicle accelerated away, the face at the window remained, making him believe its body was clinging to the side of the car. But then the nightmarish features begun to fall away and the officer realized that the creature was in fact, running alongside the fleeing vehicle at a speed that should have been impossible to achieve.
Later on back at their parade station, the two officers agreed that their attacker had resembled an old lady, possessing a body that was emaciated and skeletal in appearance. Its skin had been dark as if covered in an animal palette and yet it had possessed the face that was pale and hairless in stark and haunting contrast. It was an encounter that would cause both officers to avoid traveling along that particular stretch of road in the future, wherever possible.
The Dillon Reservoir sighting of the skinwalker
During the summer of 2004, a mechanic by the name of Stephen Ferguson had a chilling encounter whilst working on the Dillon Reservoir in Colorado. On the 13th of July, Ferguson found himself working late into the evening after a busy day. The owner of the Frisco Marina had asked him to come and take a look at one of his boats, which had been cutting out intermittently. It was almost 10 pm by the time he arrived on site and whilst the marina itself was closed, the owner had left the keys to the boat in a key safe by the main reception.
He found the vessel in question sitting towards the end of the main jetty and keen to finish his last job of the day and get home, he set to work straight away. Within about 10 minutes, he had diagnosed the fault and was commencing the repair, when he suddenly spotted someone standing on the jetty to his left.
He could not see who it was as the light he was working by was far too bright. All he could see was a silhouette cast against the dark blue of the night sky. He assumed it was the owner of the boat coming to check that the repair was being carried out, so he called out his name. "Mr. Bennings, is it?", he asked. The silhouette did not respond and remain completely motionless. Feeling slightly unnerved, Ferguson spoke again.
"Listen, whoever you are, you're not supposed to be down here. This is private property." Again, there was no response. But after a brief pause, the figure suddenly took a step forward and the mechanic could see several features illuminated in the ambience of his work light. It had extremely long arms, at the ends of which were grotesquely large hands and long spindly fingers. The skin of the face was creased and all folded up, almost like the figure was wearing somebody else's face over its own. Its clothes were all mismatched and haphazard as if sporting the garments of several different people.
Its movements were jerky and unstable as it moved forward once more, this time stepping down onto the boat. Ferguson picked up the biggest wrench he had to hand and told the intruder to stay back, but it continued forwards until it was almost upon him. He swung with all his strength, knocking the figure off balance before rushing forwards and pushing it over the side of the vessel. Whatever it was disappeared with the splash, while the mechanic jumped up onto the jetty and ran back to his truck, leaving his tools behind.
When he went back to collect them early the next morning, he found his toolbox sitting exactly where he had left it. Nothing had been taken from it. But the baseball cap he had been wearing, which had come off his head at some point during the commotion was gone.
The three wolves like entities
Another location which has gradually become enshrined in the legend of the skinwalker is the city of Flagstaff in Arizona. Situated on the borders of the Grand Canyon National Park, it is only a three-hour drive from the territory of the Navajo Nation and has been the scene of multiple sightings of alleged Skinwalker activity.
During one of their incursions, the police were called to an isolated rural farmstead, following a report that intruders had attempted to gain entry. Upon speaking to the homeowners, it transpired that their daughter had been awoken earlier that evening by strange noise coming from outside. Peering out of her bedroom window into the darkness, she had noticed what appeared to be three exceptionally large wolves congregating at a point just outside the perimeter of the property's wooden fence line.
The three animals were far larger than any wolf she had seen before and all appeared to be in a poor condition, being very thin and appearance with their coats sagging loosely underneath them.
As she watched, one of the animals reared up on its hind legs and tentatively poured at the fencing producing the strange sound which had disturbed her. After a few seconds, it dropped back down onto all fours before suddenly rearing up again and managing to stand independently.
Her eyes now wide with horror, the girl looked on as the two accompanying animals proceeded to do the same until all three were standing bolt upright seeming to regard the barrier in front of them. They then moved forward, their forepaws reaching out like human arms, taking hold of the wooden fencing. With a sickening feeling rising inside her, she realized that they were attempting to climb up and over the fence. It soon became clear that none of the tall figures could gain an effective handhold and their attempts ceased, but rather than moving away from the fence, the three wolves suddenly moved closer to one another.
It was at that point that the girl became aware of a new commotion coming from the animals: the sound of men chanting in chorus. Utterly terrified by the three unnatural figures which were now staring back at her, speaking together in an unknown language, the teenager cried out for her parents. As her father ran out onto the front porch with his rifle, he caught sight of three large black shapes bolting away into the treeline, before he managed to get off a shot.
The search of the perimeter fencing uncovered nothing unusual and the attending officers were soon on their way again, but the incident had left a lasting impression on the farm's inhabitants. Several days later, at the insistence of the girl's father, an elder from the Navajo reservation came to inspect the fencing. In hush terms, she explained that the family had been visited by three evil spirits, and that they had been lucky to survive the encounter.
Both flagstaff and the legend of the skinwalker would achieve National notoriety in June of 1987, when a hospital worker named Sarah Saganitso was found murdered on the grounds of the local medical center. She had been stabbed repeatedly and her attacker had apparently bitten away at her torso and face, leaving it extremely difficult to identify her remains.
Following inquiries by the local police department, a college professor by the name of
George Abney was arrested and charged with the murder and it was the mitigation offered at court by his defense attorneys that elevated the case to a national level. Abney had been compelled to commit the murder by strange voices, which had spoken to him whilst he was asleep and had told him to consume the victim's flesh, after the deed had been done. The presence of a broken wood stave near to the body, and soil which had apparently been removed from a nearby graveyard were evidence of black magic, according to the defense.
Anthony was duly convicted of the crime, but then released a year later when an appeal that he had lodged was upheld. In a curious twist of fate, members of Saganitso's family had petitioned the judge for his release, claiming they did not believe Abney was the true killer and that he had been acting under something else is control.
Historians and commentators on Native American Culture are quick to point out that the majority of historical encounters with paranormal entities stem from the fact that warriors would often go to war adorned with the pelts of animals fastened to their clothing. In the heat of battle, witnesses would mistake their enemies as oversized beasts who moved unnaturally compared to regular members of their species. Similarly, tales of these individuals possessing supernatural speed and endurance are attributed to memories of the survivors being affected by the trauma of having been relentlessly hunted and pursued by their attackers.
It is intriguing though, that the skinwalker shares a large number of characteristics with similar entities found in other cultures all around the world. The concept of a human becoming cursed by consuming the flesh of another is similar to tales of the wendigo. The idea that they cannot enter a premises without permission is also found in the folklore of vampires from Eastern Europe. And the idea that if they are wounded in their animal form, the injury remains upon their human body is identical to the description of the Aswang found in the Philippines.
Are the similarities in these stories from across the globe proof that there is another sinister species that shares this world with humanity, one which has always existed alongside human beings dwelling within the shadows, but following on as mankind migrated to new lands settling near to their communities? Or is there perhaps something much deeper and psychologically routed taking place hardwired into the human psyche, which generates the concept of a creature that is truly horrifying and apparently unstoppable? A monster that possesses powers and characteristics that defy belief.
In time, it is possible that America's Southern States may yet yield some clues relating to the origins and existence of the skinwalker. Until then, our only advice is to avoid venturing out into the night, if you can at all help it. And if you do find yourself driving along a dark highway in the small hours, whatever you do, don't stop!