Mythology Of Mt. St. Helens--Part 3A Picture


Modern Age Stories: Part 3A

PREFACE--The Mountain As I Know It

--David J. Bruer

When I usually talk about Mount St. Helens, people tend to believe I was alive to see the 1980 eruption, but to their dismay, I missed the whole thing about by four years. My fascination with the volcano began right after 6 months of life. My family took me to the volcano and found that my lungs weren’t that well develop to handle the harsh air and low oxygen pressure that they had to evacuate the volcano quickly, even after four years, the volcano and its landscape was quite bleak!.

Once more we went to Mount St. Helens when I was four years old. Again the air was to thin and I had trouble breathing due to my asthma and cystic fibrosis. My family began to consider the mountains as a bad place for me and they decided to keep me away for quite some time. It scared the family terribly for they were there to have a good time and not rush me to the nearest ranger’s station.

It wasn’t until I was about nine years old did I return to the mountain, back to Spirit Lake. My family allowed me to hike to the top of Windy Hill to overlook at Spirit Lake. It was a beautiful hot summer day with a few low clouds passing by. The climb was long for hiking up to the top was painful. When I reached the ridge, my grandfather had me pick up a piece of wood from the ground and point towards the lake. The piece of wood I picked up was moderately heavy. With the photographs done, he instructed that I put it back as a ranger began his ascent. I bent down to place it back and fell over and rolled down the steep slope. Like being in a washer, the world spin as I fell towards Spirit Lake; in terrible pain, I looked down at the lake and watch the water boil under me. Glowing red eyes peered up at me. The water looked like it was growing…a hand was crawling up the slope. Voices above me told me not to move. I dare not budge as a ranger came down on a rope and told me to remain still for any movement would send me down the slope. They roped me in and I asked:

“Did you see it? Did you see the face?”

The ranger looks at me queerly, “There is nothing down there.” He assures me as he mentally concludes that I must have bumped my head pretty bad.

Since then, I became transfixed on learning what I saw that day and after nearly 20 years of visits, I have seen more things out in the woods then I even shared in this book.

One of the things I have not seen however was the ‘Big Harry Man’. I learned all of the names: Selahtiks, Seeahtic, St’iyahama, Stiyaha, Kwi-kwikai but another name I learned was Bigfoot also known as Sasquatch. These names were always interesting, but I never seen a Bigfoot or seen any evidence of a Bigfoot. But during one summer night in 2010, just as the sun went down near Redrock Pass, up on the mountain I began to hear some strange noises that sounded like loud thumping roars…I was enough to give me the chills as I poked my fire. Listening closely, those roars turned into what could be nothing more than the calls of the evening grouse. I chuckled to myself, “At least it wasn’t one of those Mountain Devils!”

Mountain Devils On Mount St. Helens

--L.E. Bragg

Pg. 41-53

Coastal tribes called them Selahtiks sometimes spelled Seeahtic, the Yakamas called them St’iyahama, and the tribes of the Upper Cowlitz River country said Stiyaha or Kwi-kwikai (The Whistler). All describe beings that roamed the Cascade Mountain range, sleeping by day and hunting by night. The giant, hairy creatures were known to carry off horses and people. Indian lore describes them as members of the fierce Selahtik tribe, a band of renegades who looked like giant apes and lived like wild animals in secluded caves high in the Cascade Mountains. Children were taught never to say their name, because if the beast heard their names, they would come and capture a human from the tribe.

Elkanah Walker, a missionary to the Spokane Tribe, described local beliefs in a letter written to the missionary board in April 1840. Walker reported that local tribes believed in a race of giants that inhabited a mountain west of their lands. The giants lived near the top of this mountain, which was covered with perpetual snow. Since they could not see in daylight, they hunted and worked at night. The men were thieves, who came to peoples’ lodges and kidnapped them as they slept. Victims were placed under skins and taken to the creatures’ homes without even being awakened. When humans did awaken, they were lost and disoriented and had no sense of direction, their way home totally unknown. This being left tracks a foot and a half in length. Possessing great strength, the beast has been known to carry two to three large logs at one time across their backs. Often they stole salmon from Indian nets during the night and devoured the fish raw. People who were awake when the giants came knew they were near by the overwhelmingly strong stench they give off. It was not uncommon for the creatures to come at night, give three whistles and then throw stones at the humans’ lodges.

Elders of the Colville Tribe tell of an Indian man who was kidnapped by the great, hairy beast. After living with them in their cedar-bark shelters for one year he was returned to the spot from which he had been taken. A hunting party found their tribesman at the exact site he had last been seen, in a trancelike state. When he recovered from the hypnotic spell, he told of living with the giant beasts who were great hunters and able to scamper up impossibly steep cliffs and shoulder heavy loads of game. They hunted by night, leaving their crude bark shelters and returning at daybreak with their prey. The mammoth beings used signals to communicate, sometimes sounding like hooting owls, and they possessed the power to hypnotize their captives. Tribal Elder Isabel Arcasa once said in an interview, “The reports of the big footprints are nothing new. We Indian people know all about those dark people even if we have never seen them.”

Indians would never go anywhere near places the Selahtiks were known to inhabit. If tribal members ever encountered the Selahtiks, they were careful not to offend them, believing that if a man were to harm one of the creatures; they would never forget the incident.

An Indian man once told miner Fred Beck that if he ever saw Selahtik to show that he was friendly. The way to express this was to wave cedar boughs at the Selahtik, so that it would then know that he has come in peace. Later Beck might have wished he had listened to his Indian friend’s advice when he and a group of miner had their own encounter with the mythical beast.

Beck, his father-in-law, Marion Smith, brother-in-law, Roy Smith, Gabe LeFever, and John Peterson, were prospecting around Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington, where they had sought gold for several years, when they had experiences both spiritual and terrifying. In 1922 they were on a gold-hunting expedition when a spiritual being in the form of an Indian man appeared to the members before them to show them the way. When the miners referred to him as Great Spirit, the Indian replied, “The Great Spirit is above me. We are all of the Great Spirit, if we listen when the Great Spirit talks.” The men followed the white arrow for four days, beginning at the Lewis River, south of Mount St. Helens, and traveling up the Muddy River. The terrain was rocky, rough, and rugged, making for very slow going up many steep slopes. One of the miners became tired and impatient and cursed the spirit that led them. Just then, they saw the white arrow soar upward, change direction, and descend downward. The arrow seemed to hover at the top of the north cliff of what later became known as Ape Canyon as a result of the men’s adventures. As the group approached the site, they saw the image of an open door. Their spirit guide appeared before the opening and told them, “Because you have cursed the spirit leading you, you will be shown where there is gold, but it is not given to you.” With that the apparition disappeared and the door began to close.

The men named their mine the Vander White, after another spirit they had encountered, the spirit of a woman who has comforted them on their journey. They proceeded to blast a mineshaft at the opening the white arrow had indicated, and to work the mine for two more years. An assay they had done showed that the mine contained $2,000 of gold per ton of rock, but Beck and his friends never found the main “pocket of gold” within the cliff. Beck wrote of the group, “We were simple men and hard working men, and an aura of good or spiritual power surrounded us.”

At first all was calm and peaceful, though sometimes the men would hear whistling, or hollow thudding-thumping noises coming from the woods. The sound usually came at night, but sometimes soft thumping sounds were heard during daylight hours. One of the prospectors became convinced that Beck was making the noise. This man lad the way on most excursions, and when the noises were heard he quickly turned to Beck at the back of the group. This happened about eight times before he told the others, “By golly boys, it’s not Fred making the noise after all.” Still, he wanted to make sure that Beck was not playing a joke on him. After giving a false excuse, the miner walked away from camp to explore the source of the mysterious thud-like noises. When he returned to camp he announced to the other, “Now I’m certain it’s none of us. I walked for half an hour and everywhere I went, I heard it. Sounds like there’s a hollow drum in the earth somewhere and something is hitting it.”

The men also saw unexplained giant humanlike tracks while camped in a tent below Pumy Butte. Camp was near a creek that flowed into a large, wet sandbar. They would go to the creek area to wash their dishes and get drinking water. After one such outing, one of the miners returned to camp in an agitated state. He led the others back to the sandbar and took them to its center. In the middle of the acre-wide sandbar were two enormous tracks approximately four inches in depth. There wasn’t another track on the entire sandbar. It looked as if whatever had made the impressions must have been dropped from the sky and taken back up. At the time the miners dismissed the tracks as big Indians fishing barefoot along the river.

Marion Smith told of rumors he had heard about a man fishing the Muddy River. The fisherman laid out a string of the fish he had caught on the riverbank and went back to fishing the river. A sound made him turn to the riverbank where he saw a great man-like creature smashing the fish he had caught against the rocks. The fisherman rushed out of the woods, convinced that what he has seen was not human.

During their six years of prospecting in the Mount St. Helens and Lewis River area, the five miners spotted giant footprint-like tracks near creek beds and springs on other occasions. Smith, who was an experienced hunter and woodsman, was always nervous when the tracks were found. The prints were large (up to 19 inches long) and Smith knew of no animal that could have made them. But the tracks makers had left them alone and they felt safe enough. That changed when one among them accused their spirit guide of being a liar. From then on Beck admitted, “A quiet apprehensiveness settled over us.” They continued to work the Vander White claim, but deep down each man felt that no good would come of it. The men built a log cabin and filled the cracks between the logs with chinking made from strips of split saplings. The cabin was built solidly enough to withstand the deep snows that winters dumped upon the peaks of the Cascade Range.

There was great excitement mid-July of 1924, after the Vander White partner had received the good assay on their claim. Though Beck had a toothache and asked Marion Smith, whose old Ford was their only mode of transportation, to take him to town to see a dentist, Smith refused. “God or the Devil” could not get him away from his claim he replied.

Smith was determined to continue mining even though the men had been hearing strange noises every evening for a week. Each night they heard a “shrill, peculiar whistling.” First they would hear it echoing from one ridge top, followed by an answering whistle from a neighboring ridge. They also experienced the deep thumping noises, as if something was pounding itself on its chest.

Fearing whatever was out there, Smith asked Beck to come with him to get water from the creek, located about a hundred yards from their cabin. The apprehensive Smith suggested they take along their riffles for protection. As they walked towards the spring, Smith yelled and raised up his rifle. Beck saw what he was aiming at—a hairy creature about a hundred yards in front of them. A 7-foot-tall being, covered in dark black or brown hair, was standing next to a pine tree across a small canyon. The creature darted behind the tree, but as it poked its head out for a peek, Smith shot at it. Pieces of bark flew off of the tree with each of the three shots fired. The animal took off running down the ridge, upright, on two legs, at great speed. Beck took three more shots at it and gave chase before it disappeared from view. “Don’t worry about that devil, Fred, I got him right in the head!” exclaimed Smith. As the men reached the ridge top, they were able to look down and see the creature running and leaping across distance of up to 14 feet. Neither man understood how the animal escaped unscathed with at least three bullets in its head.

The two took their water back to the log cabin and told their partners of the experience with the great apelike beast. All agreed it would be best to leave for home the next morning since it would be dark before they could get to the place they had left the car. They decided to spend one more night in the cabin, rather than be caught unprotected in the woods after sunset. The sturdy log cabin was windowless and contained a long bunk bed and a rock fireplace at one end. Two prospectors slept in the bunk, and three on pine boughs on the cabin floor.

All were asleep when around midnight they were awakened by a “tremendous thud against the cabin wall.” Marion Smith, who had been sleeping on the cabin’s floor, was yelling and kicking. Filling or chinking had been knocked loose from between the logs of the cabin and had fallen on his chest. Smith was waving the rifle that he slept next to back and forth as he thrashed about. Beck rushed over to his father-in-law and pulled the piece of chinking off his chest. As Smith jumped to his feet, the men heard a tremendous amount of commotion from outside their shelter. They had a pile of unused pine shakes near the cabin, and it sounded like many feet were stomping and trampling over the pile of split wood. All of the miners had grabbed their rifles by that time. Smith peeked through the hole in the wall where the chinking had broken out. Though he saw only three of the giants, hairy creatures outside the cabin, it sounded “like a heard of horses,” as if there were many more.

Throughout the night, the creatures hurled rocks at the log cabin. Most hit with an enormous bang, but then clattered harmlessly to the ground. A few did fall down the chimney into the fireplace. The men shot their rifles through the gap in log cabin wall, but only when the beings were attacking their cabin. As the raiders backed off, the miners would stop shooting at them. Beck thought that if they saw that the men only shot at them when they charged at the cabin, they might realize that the men were just defending themselves and would not harm them if they left. That strategy changed when the men heard heavy footsteps above them, and realized that the creatures were on the cabin’s roof. Round after round was fired through the ceiling. A long pole was stripped from the bunk bed and used to brace the log door. Still the attackers were butting up against the door, causing it to visibly vibrate from the impacts. Shots were fired through the thick, log-hewn door. The creatures shoved against the walls of the little cabin as if trying to push the structure over. Smith and Beck did almost all of the shooting; the three others huddled in a corner of the cabin with guns clutched in their fists, too shocked to fire.

The seemingly endless barrage of rocks throwing and battering went on all night long. The most frightening moment came when a long, hairy arm came reaching through the space between the cabin’s logs and grabbed one of the men’s axes by its handle. Beck turned the head of the axe upright, so it stuck between the logs preventing the creature from pulling the axe out. Simultaneously Smith fired his rifle at the creatures arm, barely missing Beck’s hand. The ax was dropped and Beck pulled it safely back inside the cabin where it could not be reached again.

During a lull in the fighting, Smith sang out, “If you leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone, and we’ll all go home in the morning.” He truly thought that the Mountain Devils (his name for the beings) might understand and leave them in peace. Just before daylight the attack ended, and as soon as the partners were sure their enemies were gone and it was light enough to see, they ventured cautiously from their shelter. The ground around the cabin was completely covered with impressions of gigantic feet.

On their way to the mine tunnel to retrieve their tools, Beck spotted one of the “apelike creatures” approximately 80 yards from them at the edge of the canyon. Taking aim, with the creature plainly in his sites, he shot it three times in the back, the ape started to run, then fell off a cliff into a 400-foot gorge. After that Smith opined that they should leave immediately, without even packing up their mining equipment or supplies. He reasoned that it was better to leave $200 in supplies, powder, and drilling equipment behind than to lose their lives. All agreed and they packed out only what they could fit into their packsacks.

Beck thought that he had convinced the others not to speak of their experience, but as soon as they reached the Spirit Lake Ranger Station, his father-in-law let loose the tale. Smith walked to the ranger’s quarters searching for Ranger Welch. When he had previously told Welch about the giant tracks he had seen in the mountain canyon, the ranger had asked him to report back to him if he ever encountered more. Smith first spoke to Mr. Welch as the ranger was outside in the barn. The two men met outside the barn where Smith told Welch that he had shot a Mountain Devil. Welch asked the miner if he meant he shot a bear. “No, a Mountain Devil,” exclaimed the prospector. Welch asked if he was talking about a wolverine, to which Smith again answered, “No, a Mountain Devil!” At that the ranger became alarmed and surmised that the crazed miner might have shot his wife. The ranger was just contemplating how to wrest the rifle from Smith hands, when Mrs. Welch appeared on the porch. He then saw the other men still sitting in the car, tightly gripping their guns. Welch later described them as a bunch of wild-eyed miners. When the group headed for their homes in Kelso, they left a thoroughly puzzled ranger at the station with no idea what to make of their story.

The tale quickly spread around the town of Kelso after the miners’ return. It wasn’t long before the press got wind of the incident and it appeared in papers throughout Washington and Oregon. After that, as Beck described, “The Great Hairy Ape Hunt of 1924 was on.” Many interviews followed, curious people came to Mount St. Helens seeking the Great Hairy Apes, or Mountain Devils. Beck even spoke to a big game hunter from England who showed him a gun so large that he guessed it must have been an elephant gun.

The day after the stories broke; the ranger from the Spirit Lake station announced his belief that boys from a local YMCA camp were responsible for the assault on the cabin. The ranger later retracted his statements when the boys had all been accounted for the night of the incident. After seeing the aftermath at the cabin, he changed his opinion as he did not think that mere boys could have inflicted the damage done there. Through he continued to believe that humans were responsible for the incident, the ranger did make the following statement to a reporter for the Portland Oregonian:

“Old man Smith, who started this ape stampede, absolutely believes it. If ever a man was ‘wild-eyed,’ it was Smith when he came down here from the cabin with a story of having been attacked by apes. Something happened up there, but I can’t imagine what though. It wasn’t apes. Another funny thing is that you can’t shake the stories of the other men with Smith. Oh there’s a mystery about it. The mystery to me is who put up the job on Smith and his companions and how in the world they did it.”

Later Fred Beck went back to the cabin site with two reporters and detective from Portland. The group found the cabin in squalor, with rocks ringing the property, and a few scattered around the base of the fireplace. Though they did see large tracks, which they photographed and measured at 19 inches, they failed to find any of the “ape-men.” Neither did they find the bodies of the creatures that had been shot. Some believed the animals’ remains were washed away by the seasonal snow melt or that the fellow beings came and removed the bodies, taking them back to their lava caves.

Over the years many accounts of the event were written, but Fred Beck disputed some of the stories. Some told of gigantic boulders being hurled at the log cabin during the great attack. Beck stated that though there were a few sizeable rocks found around the cabin, none amounted to the size of boulders. Most of the rocks thrown made quite a ruckus, but bounced off the sturdy pine logs siding the structure. It is not true that any huge rocks fell through the roof, but some did fall down the chimney and roll out of the fireplace. Neither Beck nor any of the miners were rendered unconscious by any of the falling rocks, as was sometimes reported. The log cabin stood for many years and was visited by many curious adventurers. It lasted until the 1960s when it was reduced to ashes by a fire.

In a 1966 interview with Roger Patterson (producer of the famous and controversial Sasquatch film), Beck described the apes as being about 8 feet tall and build like a man with narrow waist, broad chest and shoulders, and “bull necks.” Their noses were flat and ears similar to human ears. The bodies were covered with hair, with less on the faces and none on the palms of the hands. The apes’ elongated arms hung down as far as their knees. They walked upright on two legs, their great weight causing deep impressions in the ground.

Stories about the event continued to be printed in local newspapers for over forty years. The Longview Daily News recounted the event on June 27 and 28 1964, saying, “The legend of the ape-men of Mt. St. Helens returns, like hay fever, with summer weather.” Sightings in and around Ape Canyon abounded between 1963 and 1964, with two groups of Portland sightseers describing an encounter with a 7-to10-foot-tall, light-colored hairy creature; three witnesses riding in a car spotted such a being in their headlights on a desolate mountain road; and a couple fishing on the Lewis River encountered a beige-colored figure “bigger than any human,” which disappeared into the brush leaving a huge footprint in the sand.

Some believe that an elaborate prank was pulled off against the frightened miners in the summer of 1924. One man came forward saying he had made the tracks they saw with his knuckles. After the great influx of curious “ape hunters” around Ape Canyon, it became impossible to know what has been there before all of the publicity.

Others thought the whole story was a hoax made up by the miners to keep people away from their gold claim. Since the prospectors walked away from the mine, leaving hundreds of dollars in equipment behind, this seems unlikely. Beck claimed that none of the miners took any gold ore out of the Vander White mine, and that the few nuggets he left Ape Canyon with were picked up in other places.

The canyon’s name was bestowed upon it as a result of the miners’ experiences. Ape Canyon is a deep, desolate, rugged valley in a remote area, part of which was deluged by mudflows when the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens caused lahars or mudflows to cascade down the mountain clogging the Muddy River. One point of the canyon ends near Ape Cave, the third longest lava tube in North America. Ape Cave contains 13,042 feet of mysterious chambers, lava falls, and oddly contoured walls. Marion Smith later said that he believed the cabin, which was built just a year before the Mountain Devil attack, had been constructed near a cave where the apes lived. Smith told an interviewer that he knew where the apes’ caves were.

Was this remote area home to a lost tribe of giants and could they still live in Ape Canyon? Nearly all Washington tribes describe the same type of creatures, who have been heard making whistling noises like those the miners heard. Reverend Walker’s 1840 letter contains references to a mammoth race of beings who were known to throw stones at Indian lodges in the night. Whether they’re called Mountain Devils, Giant Apes, Big Foot, Sasquatch, or Selahtik, Beck predicted in his accounts of the Ape Canyon incident, “No one will ever capture one, and no one will ever kill one…so will they always get away.”

Link To: Mythology Of Mount St. Helens -- Part 3B (I Fought The Apemen Of Mount St. Helens)

Continue Reading: Ages of Man