Abenaki for "Together [with] the Ancestors," in honor of their legacy, while modern day Abenaki living in New England continue the traditions started many moons ago.
When Creator created the Abenaki people many spirits fell from the dust of Creator’s hands. One spirit stepped out to watch over the forests and animals. He is known worldwide as Big Foot, Yeti or many other names, but here in Abenaki lands, he is the Spirit of the Woods or Kchi Awas.
He shows himself to some people, but no one can catch him. They get a smell or a sound but he is a shapeshifter. Suddenly there is only a deer standing there.
Kchi Awas is important to the Nulhegan people, a band of the Abenaki. He protects sacred sites like Brunswick Springs in Vermont or Bradford Springs in New Hampshire. People travel far to be healed at these springs. In 1790 settlers in Bradford knew of Abenakis going to their springs for healing. Any attempt at profit is always destroyed.
An old Nulhagen once went to the spring to be healed when he saw the Spirit of the Woods. He was scared so he sang a lullaby to the spirit. He was thankful for his healing and wanted to sing if this was the end of his life. The Spirit lay down and fell asleep so he was able to steal away. The old man taught this song and told this story so this is the way Abenaki remember Kchi Awas to this day.
The Abenaki Trails Project presents Big Foot as a spirit as the Abenaki believe, not a monster. Still today many people throughout New Hamsphire claim to have seen a being like a large upright gorilla. A video from WMUR-TV interviewed Scott Lucas who heard loud sounds in the woods. He attended a town hall meeting in the north country where he says he learned over five hundred people believe in Big Foot.
Sightings continue throughout the state. Rebecca Courser reported a person she knew saw one at Tucker Pond in the Smith Corners region of Salisbury. In 1979 Peter Samuelson saw an unusual being while prospecting for minerals in the Ossipee Mountains on the ledges of Bald Mountain. He saw a small structure made of big stones “with hemlock boughs for a roof.” Through the door he saw a manlike creature about seven feet tall with his back to him “totally covered with tangled gray hair about three inches long.” His dog growled, and the creature made loud sounds showing it was upset.
“I can’t describe the noise,” Samuelson said. His girlfriends, Holly Swaffield, was very frightened and they left rapidly. A few months later she found an article from the 1890’s in the Wolfboro Library. A person living in a cabin on Connor Pond in the Ossipee Range saw a dog walk onto the pond and fall through the ice. A large hairy creature came out of the woods, rescued the dog and vanished.. This is in tune with the Abenaki belief in Kchi Awas as the protector of animals. A year later Samuelson came back to the site and found no sign of the shelter.
Artist Mike Eastman of Berlin saw his version of Kchi Awas ,who he calls Shy Man in 1973. He was sleeping on the porch of a cabin on Lake Umbagog when he awoke to a strong monkey smell. The massive being he saw checked out a boat at the dock and headed off across a swamp.
Since then Eastman has made an extensive study of Shyman. He has taped seventeen hours of the animal’s click/pop language, made plaster molds of his footprints, collected hair and painted pictures of his sightings.
Since 2015 he claims to have found areas in the woods where families of the secretive creatures live and found stick dwellings and subtle alterations of the landscape. In the manner of Abenaki people of past he has left tribute offerings of food, and observed them behind trees and rocks. He believes they live in families, and communicate with each other in their own language. He feels they need to be protected from the increasing impact of humans on their environment like any other rare species.
Archaeologist Dr. Goodby of Franklin Pierce University, when asked about a new species of mammal, says it is really easy to solve this mystery. “Find a body,” he says. But a spirit who protects the forest can never die.
Tara writes blog posts for the Abenaki Trails Project in collaboration with the Nulhegan Band Historic and Cultural Preservation Office. She is an alumni of U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Tara is the narrator of "Muskrat Stew and Other Tales of a Penobscot Life: The Life Story of Fred Ranco."