Wendigo comes from a word in the Native American Algonquian language meaning “evil spirit that devours mankind.”
While relegated to mythology, many Indians recorded encounters with the creature. Some cryptozoologists today speculate that the human-like beast may be related to, or may actually be, the present-day “Michigan Dogman” phenomenon.
According to a couple of Robinson Township eyewitnesses, a creature fitting the description of the Michigan Dogman appeared in late 1993 to early 1994 in and around Grand Haven Township’s Hofma Nature Preserve.
A story has also circulated that, in 1994, a car on Lakeshore Drive was involved in a collision with an unidentified large animal that authorities concluded was a deer. But a witness was reported to have stated, “The driver couldn’t even explain what he hit.”
Several years ago, in a wooded area, two Robinson Township boys claimed they spotted a creature that looked like it was “half-man, half-dog” creature.
The first accounts of the Wendigo were recorded by explorers and missionaries in North America in the 17th century. Its general description conveyed an appearance of a werewolf, devil or cannibal. In Native American culture, it was usually described as a large, skeletal deformed creature with missing lips and toes.
According to Indian folklore, there was good reason to fear the creature. In some accounts, a Wendigo would follow a lone wanderer for a long time. When the prey became suspicious and turned around, the creature would manage to get out of sight by hiding behind a tree. This behavior is also consistent with another creature early white settlers, who were loggers by trade, came to know as the Hidebehind.
After a while, the person being followed would succumb to hysteria, running until he became disoriented by his surroundings. Then, the Wendigo would strike.
A Cree Indian named Jack Fiddler, from Ontario, Canada, claimed to have killed 14 Wendigos during his lifetime. He and his son, Joseph, were arrested for the murder of a Wendigo-possessed woman in 1906. Both men pleaded guilty of the crime, explaining that the woman had been possessed by the creature's spirit and, during her transformation, the Fiddlers shot and killed her, using silver bullets.
Jack Fiddler took his own life Sept. 30, 1907, before he could stand trial for the murder.
It is believed the legend of the American Werewolf sprang from the Fiddler event.
A possible Wendigo sighting occurred in Lenox, Mich., as recent as November 8, 2009, when a man by the name of Mitch and a friend were enjoying an evening bonfire. The two heard leaves on a nearby tree rustle, then witnessed a “human-like figure” standing near a shed. It was claimed the creature stood 8-10 feet tall.
“We just stared for what seemed like five seconds,” Mitch said in a report, “and then it screeched and took off into the woods.”
The behavior of the Wendigo, Hidebehind and present-day Dogman all fall into the wider phenomenon known as “Shape Shifters," or creatures thought to have the power of changing their physical appearance at will.
Another shape-shifting creature said to prowl parts of Michigan, especially Wayne and Otsego counties, is a large, black panther-like cat. Reports of black panthers, in places where they do not belong, have been occurring throughout North America for about 25 years.
Still others point to demonic explanations — that these creatures are all illusions conjured up by the devil in regions where spiritual warfare exists — Ottawa County being one such location. One witness to the 1993-94 Robinson Township Dogman sightings stated in an interview that he believed Ottawa County has a historic, though clandestine, undercurrent of demonic activity.
“It's been a battleground for over a century,” he said. “And it's still going on today.”
While all of this may seem incredible and strange, it’s worth noting that mainstream folklorists, like Thomas E. Bullard of Indiana University, have been publishing papers on the possibility that certain kinds of folklore and urban legends find their origin in actual physiological experience.
Whether myth rooted in reality, or demonic illusions in a spiritual battle between good and evil, people are seeing what cannot easily be explained.