By Corey Coolidge
The top of the world can be one of the most dark and desolate places on Earth. Deep in the Alaska forests, swamps and mountains lurk wolves and bears, yes, but also strange creatures born of nightmares. Many stories were provided over a hundred years ago by Edward Nelson, an ethnologist looking to study the people of Alaska. Move over Chupacabra and Bigfoot, there are stranger creatures creeping in this abridged guide to ghosts and monsters of The Last Frontier.
Before we dive into our list, understand that while many see these as creatures of myth and lore, others they have deeper connections. Supernatural experiences can be very personal events in a person’s life. One never knows what they might encounter and this guide seeks to help readers identify and hopefully come out of such a run intact. God forbid you’ll ever have to use this guide in a practical manner.
For those that are skeptical of the existence of the supernatural, know that these legends also fill a gap in our knowledge. They tell stories of how things in our world might work and the lessons people have learned over the ages, lessons that might still be salient today. They are a window into our history and culture.
Tizheruk or Pal-Rai-Yûk
Description: Described by Nelson, they are man-eating creatures with horns that curl forward and out, then backwards at the tip. Their eyes are small and beady. Their body is shaped like a crocodile or a snake, with a seven-foot head and a thick, flipper-like tail.
Habitat: The Tizheruk lives in swamps, lakes, and rivers from Kuskokwim to the Yukon. There they wait under the water for an animal to drink, or to wander too far in. Then they strike, dragging their victim down. If you ever see parts of an animal or person floating in a body of water, beware, a Tizheruk may be close by.
History: At the birth of creation when man first walked the earth, so too did the Tizheruk. The Raven came to men and warned them about this creature, telling them which lakes were perilous to drink from, lest they be eaten by one.
Weaknesses: Tizheruk can be easily tricked. Indigeous Alaskans would paint their boats with pictures of Tizheruk to make them think the boat was one of them, or perhaps simply to appease them. Otherwise, they seem to be vulnerable to normal weapons. In fact, Nelson claims they are extinct, the last having been killed by a hunter in vengeance for killing his wife, if you can believe such boasts.
Description: These are not our furry, purring little pets we adore, Kats are the children from the union between a man and bear. Their descriptions can vary widely. Some are deformed creatures, like a two-headed or one-legged bear. Others are pure monstrosities. A prospector in the Thomas Bay Area, south of Juneau, reported encountering creatures in “The Strangest Story Ever Told” by Harry D. Colp that seemed to look like a blend of sexless men and monkeys, whose bodies were covered in long coarse hair and scabs.
Habitat: Kats can be found in the Alaskan Panhandle, in the southeast, as they are primarily a legend of the Tlinglit people. They could also be related to Bigfoot legends of the American northwest.
History: There are many legends from the panhandle of bears running off with men and women who then marry them. The name Kats comes from a man named Kats from Sitka, who married a bear that could change into a woman. The final fate of the man Kats was a bloody one. He was eventually killed by his own monstrous offspring, jealous of the old family he longed for.
Weaknesses: Kats are very tough to kill. Legend has it that thousands of hunters have tried and failed. The prospector who authored “The Strangest Story Ever Told” fired his gun into them with no effect. They may be immune to most attacks due to their thick bear hide and strange anatomy. Their one weak point may be their heart, but finding the heart on Kats can be difficult. For example, the heart of a two-headed bear is between the heads, making it very difficult to attack. All said, Kats may not be as dangerous as they look. The prospector described them as dangerous, even though he fired first, in fear. The Tlinglit people of the panhandle describe them as passive unless provoked.
Tin-Mi-Uk-Puk the Thunderbird
Description: Most depictions of the thunderbird are of a giant eagle with a black tail and a severely curved beak. Thunderbirds are so large that they hunt whales as food.
Habitat: Thunderbirds can be found all along the coast of Alaska from the Bering Strait to the Panhandle. As their name suggests, they come out during thunderstorms, or they may be the spirit of the thunderstorm itself. Stories say that the blink of their eyes creates lightning and the beat of their wings creates thunder.
History: It is unknown if there are many thunderbirds or just a single one known as Tin-Mi-Uk-Puk. They may be physical creatures, who nest and create offspring, or spirits, manifestations of thunderstorms that are both real and ephemeral. If the latter is the case, thunderbirds may be as old as creation. In Ojibwe traditions in eastern Canada, thunderbirds were created to fight underwater spirits. This seems to coincide with the Alaskan myths of the birds hunting whales.
Weaknesses: As creatures there may be a way to defeat them, but as spirits they can only be appeased. The best course of action is to seek shelter, which may be a given considering you would already be in a thunderstorm.
The Lake Iliamna Monster
Description: A 15- to 30-foot long predatory fish that can swallow whole caribou. Some say it could be an ancient ichthyosaur, a type of extinct marine reptile with a shark-like body, similar to how the Loch Ness monster may be an ancient plesiosaur. Jeremy Wade of Animal Planet’s show River Monsters speculates that the monster could just be populations of white sturgeon, as their habitat includes the Gulf of Alaska.
Habitat: Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in Alaska and the 8th largest in the United States. It is 77 miles long and 22 miles wide with a maximum depth of 988 feet.
History: No one knows the origin of the beast, if there are more than one or if it truly is an ancient ichthyosaur. Many people have tried to prove its existence; even the Anchorage Daily News once got in on the action, offering a $100,000 bounty to anyone who could provide concrete proof of the monster.
Weaknesses: Cameras, apparently, as no one has yet to capture a clear image of it. It also has a predilection for red boats, so please choose a different color when boating on the lake.
Description: Human shaped save for a tail and covered in fur except for its face. It may be human-sized, or even twice that. The most defining feature is its long nose which can grow as long as a foot.
Habitat: This creature is exclusive to the Kenai Peninsula, and is only found in the summer. Perhaps it hibernates for the winter, but that is purely speculation.
History: The Sdonalyasna is also known as the “people-stealing monster.” It doesn’t kill a person, at least not directly. It instead lures people away using animal sounds, most notably bird song. The victim will fall into a coma and can be revived by a good luck song, holy water or sign of the cross. This creature may have ties to the of Nakani, or wildmen, of Nahanni Valley in Canada who many consider a type of Sasquatch.
Weakness: Sdonalyasna imitate animals imprecisely. If you can recognize the signs you can easily escape one, or even find and rescue its victims.
Description: Ghosts are the souls of the dead that can still be encountered. They can interact in small ways with the environment. Rick Goodfellow of Anchorage Ghost Tours has had reports of ghosts touching or pulling on the clothing of people. The biggest difference is in culture, how different peoples view ghosts. To Christians a ghost is someone that has been denied heaven, while to indigeous Alaskans it is just another state of being, a perfectly natural way of existence not to be feared.
Habitat: Anywhere there are people there can be ghosts. They exist in both the cities and the countryside.
History: Every ghost has their own story and place in culture, be it ghosts of theaters, hotels or ancestors of indigeonous Alaskans. Some died violently and are said to be seeking justice while others just seem to exist. Learning the history of a ghost may give a person insight to local history.
Weaknesses: Goodfellow has had encounters on his ghost tours and stated that he has never had a fatality due to a ghost. There are reports of bruises and scratch marks that victims attribute to ghosts. Goodfellow says the best advice is to be respectful and calm.