Devil Monkeys in Canada
In the year 1498, during his third voyage to the New World, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus sailed beyond the Caribbean islands for the first time and moored his ships off the coast of what is now Venezuela. Suffering from a debilitating illness which rendered him nearly blind, he ordered his men to row to the shore in boats and erect a Christian cross. Upon returning from their mainland excursion, his captains reported that the mountain beyond the beach was swarming with “gatos paules,” or monkeys.
Columbus’ description of this minor adventure is the first non-indigenous written reference to New World monkeys- five long-tailed families of the order of primates endemic to South, Central, and Mesoamerica. As incredible as it sounds, most primatologists today believe that the first New World monkeys came to the eastern shores of South America from West Africa by sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on vegetation rafts, preceding Christopher Columbus’ first transatlantic voyage by about 35 million years. These same experts also believe that the descendants of these seafaring simians, after taking up residence in nearly every corner of the southern half of the continent, never ventured further north than central Mexico, leaving most of North America perpetually bereft of their mischievous presence. Contrary to this scientific consensus, however, several obscure native legends, coupled with a spate of 20th Century eye-witness accounts and a handful of enigmatic fossils, seem to indicate that a species of long-tailed monkey once abode, and may still abide, in the wilderness of North America. In this piece, we’ll explore the eclectic assortment of evidence supporting the existence of this mysterious primate, a creature sometimes colloquially referred to as the ‘Devil Monkey’.
New World Monkeys
New World monkeys are the only non-human primates universally supposed to be endemic to the Americas. These occidental pongids are endowed with several unique characteristics which distinguish them from their Old World cousins. The noses of New World monkeys, for example, are generally broader and flatter than those of their Afroasiastic relatives, with nostrils that open on the sides of the nose instead of on the bottom. When compared with their African and Asian counterparts, New World monkeys are of small to medium build, ranging in size from the tiny pygmy marmoset- the smallest monkey in the world- to the 33-pound woolly spider monkey- the largest monkey in the Americas. Interestingly, several primates endemic to the New World- including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and woolly monkeys- are capable of grasping tree branches and other objects with their tails- a useful feature which their Old World cousins lack.
Since at least the days of Christopher Columbus, New World monkeys appear to have confined their haunts to the southern half of the continent, eschewing the harsher, more frigid climes of Canada and the United States in favour of the tropical rainforests of Brazil and Peru. Most primatologists agree that, by the time the Isthmus of Panama formed in the misty abyss of our geological past, connecting the great islands of North and South America for the first time in history, New World monkeys were so well adapted to their equatorial abodes that they had no practical reason to venture further north than the jungles of Mexico.
Fossils of North American Primates
Intriguingly, for at least 150 years, geologists and paleontologists have uncovered evidence indicating that a completely different, far more ancient assortment of primates may have inhabited the wilderness of Canada and the United States long before the African ancestors of the New World monkeys first set paw upon their botanical rafts. Since 1870, for example, fossils of a primitive, lemur-like primate called Notharctus have been unearthed in Wyoming and the American Southwest. Since the 1960s, fossils of another ancient lemur-like creature named Ekgmowechashala have been found in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oregon (Ekgmowechashala being a Sioux Indian word meaning ‘little cat man’). In 2008, the fossilized remains of a marmoset-like animal called Teilhardina, supposed to be the oldest primate yet discovered in North America, were unearthed in the state of Mississippi. And in 2016, the petrified bones of a member of the oldest known New World monkey species, Panamacebus, were discovered in northern Panama, at what would once have been the southern end of the island of North America.
With the exception of the mysterious Panamacebus specimen, the fossils of every primate unearthed in North America appear to be related more closely to fossils found in Europe and northern Asia than with any derivative of Africa. This intriguing observation has led some scientists to propose that a whole variety of primates migrated from Asia to North America long before the first New World monkeys disembarked on the beaches of South America, making their transcontinental journey over an ancient land bridge connecting Kamchatka with Alaska, by which the ancestors of most Amerindians are believed to have migrated to the Americas.
Legend of the Cet’aeni
The idea that some sort of monkey once haunted the wilderness of North America echoes an ancient and little known native legend endemic to the southern border of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory. This unnerving oral tradition appears to have its origins in the watershed of the Copper River, a remote valley tucked between the Wrangell, Chugach, and St. Elias Mountains of southeastern Alaska, historically and currently inhabited by members of the Ahtna Nation. According to the Ahtna, vicious long-tailed men once lived in the Mentasta Mountains of southeastern Alaska, and in caves along Tanada Creek and the Slana and Copper Rivers north of the Wrangell Mountains. The Ahtna called these creatures Cet’aeni, a word which translates to ‘The Tailed Ones’, or ‘Monkey People’.
One version of this legend appears in the 1997 book In the Shadow of the Mountains, by Copper River native John E. Smelcer. Another rendition, told by Ahtna natives Fred and Katie John, appears in James Kari’s 1984 book Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’: The Headwaters People’s Country. According to John Smelcer’s grandmother, Mary Smelcer-Wood, and an Ahtna elder named Markle Pete, “these tailed-ones were kind of human-like. They walked on their hind legs, but they were hairy all over. They did not wear any clothes, and they had long tails.” Fred and Katie John also described the Cet’aeni as being vaguely humanlike in appearance. “It had body hair,” they said. “There was no hair on its face. They say its face was like a man’s. Its hands were like a man’s hands. It had a long tail. They say that it was as big as a tall person. That is what I heard about it.”
Several hundred years ago, so the story goes, members of an Ahtna band who camped at the confluence of the Slana and Copper Rivers, at the site of present-day Slana, Alaska, began to mysteriously disappear. According to Reverend Arthur R. Wright, a half-Dene Episcopalian missionary who lived among the Ahtna in the early 1900s, whose version of the legend first appeared in the February 7th, 1924 issue of the Cordova Daily News, the disappearances began shortly after a dog brought the fresh tail of a fish into camp. These ordinarily-unremarkable remains aroused the curiosity of the Ahtna, as they were wholly engaged in hunting caribou at that time and had not caught any fish that season. Suspecting that another band was encamped nearby, several Ahtna scouts headed up the Copper River towards its headwaters to locate their mysterious neighbours. They never returned from their excursion.
More disappearances took place in the area throughout the ensuing months. The first Ahtna to vanish were children who strayed too far from camp. Next, women went missing on berry-picking excursions. Before long, elders began to disappear from their tents. Even grown men who dared to venture beyond the light of the campfire at night would vanish mere feet from camp, as if swallowed by the darkness. The disappearances increased to such an extent that the Ahtna feared that their entire band might soon be forced to abandon the country.
One day, an Ahtna hunter who had been out in the bush raced back to camp, breathless with exertion and terror. He told his friends and family that he had seen a manlike creature with a long tail perched upon a particular fallen tree.
One of the band’s young warriors, whom legend describes as being especially courageous and intelligent, suspected that the Tailed One his fellow tribesman had seen in the woods was responsible for the mysterious disappearances that had plagued his people. He resolved to track the creature to its den and kill it.
The young warrior followed his compatriot’s trail to the downed timber and found a pair of strange tracks leading into the woods. He followed the paw prints to a hidden trail which cut through the forest and proceeded down this secret path. As he walked, he covered his own footprints with grass so that his pursuit would go unnoticed by any observant enemies who might enter the trail behind him. According to the version of the legend which Reverend Wright learned from his Ahtna friends, the brave came across lengths of grass rope stretched across the trail- components of primitive traps which he managed to avoid springing.
After following the tracks for some time, the brave came to what Fred and Katie John identified as a hill south of the present-day Alaskan village of Batzulnetas, which sits on Tanada Creek just upriver from its junction with the Copper River, about fourteen kilometres (8.5 miles) southeast of Slana. There, the warrior spied a handful of tailed men in the distance. According to Reverend Wright’s version of the legend, the creatures used their tails to propel themselves, curling them between their legs and recoiling them “in such a manner as to push themselves forward”.
Careful to avoid detection, the brave picked his way through the forest and placed himself windward of the creatures so that they would not pick up his scent. That accomplished, he climbed a tall tree and concealed himself within its upper branches. From his high perch, he had a clear view of the Monkey People, whom he discerned were playing a game with some sort of ball, shrieking with hideous delight as they rolled the round object back and forth to each other. After watching the game for some time, the brave realized, with a thrill of horror and rage, that the ball with which the Tailed Ones were so gleefully playing was really the decapitated head of a young man who had recently disappeared from camp.
No sooner had the warrior made this appalling observation than it began to rain. Appearing to dislike the water, the Tailed Ones abandoned their sport and headed further up the trail. The young man scrambled down the tree and followed them, prudently maintaining a safe distance.
Eventually, the Monkey People came to a cliff which ran along the banks of the Copper River. Near the top of the escarpment were eight caves, each of them sufficiently wide to accommodate an adult human. One by one, the Cet’aeni climbed up the cliff and disappeared into the caverns.
Certain that he had discovered the den of the creatures who had been killing his people, the young man ran back to camp and informed his fellow tribesmen of this new intelligence. With the disappearances of their loved ones fresh in their memories, the Ahtna unanimously agreed to rid themselves of their tailed tormentors as soon as they could. Considering the undeniable craftiness of Monkey Men, they knew that the only way to achieve this end would be to completely annihilate them in a single surprise attack. In order to ensure that this dangerous operation, so critical to their survival, was executed as smoothly as possible, they deliberated for some time and formulated a plan of attack which required the participation of every member of the band. When their preparations were complete, all the Ahtna men and women followed the warrior to the caves of the Cet’aeni, the former carrying their weapons and the latter holding either torches or bundles of green branches.
They finally arrived at the den of the Monkey People, the vicinity of which was strewn with human bones, all of them thoroughly gnawed and stripped of flesh. There, the women tied the green branches they had collected into eight bundles, and affixed each bundle to the end of a long pole. Then they built a roaring fire at the base of the cliff, and held each bundle over the flames until it was smoking. That accomplished, they used the poles to hoist the smoking wood up the side of the cliff and stuffed the bundles into the mouths of the caves, and in no time, the caves were filled with smoke.
Their task complete, the men positioned themselves around the foot of the escarpment, their weapons at the ready. As expected, the Monkey People began to emerge from their smoky domicile, screeching as they sought fresh air. One by one, they crawled out of their burrows, only to be struck down by the spears, arrows, and war clubs of the Ahtna warriors who were waiting for them on the outside. Some of the Monkey Men fought viciously with their besiegers, and one warrior was killed in the struggle. In spite of this stern resistance, the Ahtna managed to slaughter what they believed to be every last Cet’aeni, and returned to their camp later that night, never to be bothered by the Tailed Ones again.
Legend has it that the caves of the Cet’aeni can still be seen dotting the cliffs along the river, and that fragments of ancient charcoal and scorched arrowheads- relics of the battle between the Ahtna and the Monkey Men- can still be found therein.
In his report entitled “Archaeology in Central Alaska,” published in 1939, as Volume 36 of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, American archaeologist Froelich Gladstone Rainey identified the legendary den of the Cet’aeni as a collection of “thirty rectangular pits” located less than a mile from Batzulnetas, an old Alaskan village which Fred and Katie John claimed was founded by the same Ahtna band members who slaughtered the Monkey Men. Rainey visited these pits, which had been dug into “a low bench above an old stream bed which is now dry,” and described them as measuring one metre in depth and 1-1.25 metres in width, “overgrown with unusually large spruce trees and covered with a thick mat of the slow-growing moss. They are not regularly oriented, and one pit is often joined to two or three others, forming a series of connected excavations.” Rainey and his team dug test pits and trenches through and around the pits in the hope of recovering artifacts of archaeological significance, but “encountered only scattered pieces of charcoal.”
The Legend of the Tcetin
Although the legend of the Cet’aeni has been described as “very regional” and “unique to… Ahtna oral history,” the work of 19th and 20th Century ethnologists clearly indicates that a number of native tribes throughout the northwestern corner of North America share a traditional belief in predatory tailed men who once prowled the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness.
One of the earliest references to this belief appears in the book The Inhabitants of the Northwest Coast of America, an 1839 ethnology written by Baron Ferdinand von Wrangell, the de facto governor of the tsar-backed Russian-American Company which once dominated the fur trade on the Pacific Coast. In his book, von Wrangell wrote that the Tanana Indians of Central Alaska; the Tanaina Indians, whose traditional homeland lies west of Ahtna territory; and the Ingalik (a.k.a. Deg Xit’an), whose territory lies northwest of Tanaina Country (whom Wrangell called “Galtsan,” “Kenay”, and “Inkyulyukhlyuat”, respectively), all believed in manlike creatures called Chynkat, which lived in caves underground. According to Wrangell’s informants, these monsters “have tails and are covered like a beast with fur.” It must be mentioned that the word ‘Chynkat’ bears close resemblance to Chilkat, a nation of southeasterly Tlingit Indians who excelled in trade and warfare; it seems possible, if not particularly probable, that the tailed Chynkat of legend may have been fanciful embellishments of these powerful neighbours.
In his article on the Tanana Indians for Volume 6 of the Smithsonian’s Handbook of North American Indians (1986), which treats with the indigenous nations of the North American subarctic, ethnologist Robert A. McKennon wrote that a “belief in a race of manlike monsters with tails who formerly inhabited the area” was prevalent along the south-central border of Alaska and the Yukon Territory. In his 1959 ethnological treatise on the Upper Tanana Indians, he identified these monsters as the “Tcetin”, or “Tailed Men… [creatures] described as looking like [old men] except that [they possess] a tail… They lived in holes in the ground in the Upper Tanana region, ravishing women and devouring men.”
McKennon recounted one old Upper Tanana legend about the Tcetin which he learned from two natives named Sam and Fred Sam. This story is nearly identical to the classic tale of the Ahtna Indians who smoked out and slaughtered a troop of Cet’aeni on the banks of the Copper River, differing only in the identity of its protagonists and the location in which it is set. This particular story revolves around a band of Upper Tanana Indians from the Tanana River, rather than Ahtna from the Copper River. Instead of taking place near Slana, Alaska, this story is set in a village located about two miles downriver from present-day Tetlin, Alaska, about 54 miles (87 kilometres) northeast of Slana, on the opposite side of the Mentasta Mountains.
According to this legend, the Tcetin killed every Upper Tanana Indian who trespassed on their territory. “One day,” McKennon wrote, “an Indian, wiser than the others, sneaked down there. He saw the Tcetin playing ball with human heads. He carried the news back to [Tetlin]. That night the medicine man made a big rain. The next morning all the [Tetlin] Indians went down to the Tcetin holes. They built big fires in front of them. The Tcetin that rushed out were killed with clubs; others perished in the flames; still others suffocated by the smoke. All were killed.”
Another Upper Tanana story which McKennon learned from two Tanana elders named Old Lucy and Nabesna John involves a battle of wits between a Tcetin and Tsa-o-sha, the legendary cultural hero of the Tanana. According to this story, a Tcetin ambushed Tsa-o-sha’s wife on a forest trail and killed her. Tsa-o-sha yearned to avenge his wife’s death, but was told by his friend, the Fox, that the Tcetin could not be killed in open combat. Accordingly, he invited the Tailed Man to play a certain ball game which he know he could not resist. While the Tcetin was preoccupied with this sport, Tsa-o-sha snuck up behind him and killed him with an ice pick.
Later that night, the Tcetin came back to life and returned to his den. Infuriated, Tsa-o-sha sought Fox’s council a second time, and was informed that the only way to kill the Tcetin for good was to cut his tail into tiny pieces, bury the pieces in the snow, and pour water over them so that they became encased in ice. Tsa-o-sha did as Fox instructed him and effectively put an end to the Tailed Man’s existence.
Tailed People in Other Alaskan-Yukon Traditions
McKennon went on to describe how members of a particular Gwich’in tribe in northern Alaska, who lived along the shores of Chandalar Lake, “believed in a somewhat similar ogre which was described by a more sophisticated informant as looking like a monkey”. The Eyak Indians of the Copper River delta similarly held that a hairy manlike animal haunted their own territory. This creature, however, in McKennon’s opinion, more closely resembled a gorilla than a monkey, since it lacked a tail.
“The Tanaina… and the Tahltan… also believed in a tailed, manlike creature,” McKennon continued, “whom the latter described as ‘Monkey People’.” McKennon suggested that these beliefs call to mind the writings of Father Emile Petitot, an Oblate missionary who lived among the easterly Dene Indians of the Mackenzie River, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, in the late 1800s. In several of his notes and letters, Petitot described an old Slavey Dene legend which contends that the ancestors of the Mackenzie River natives migrated long ago from a westerly land populated with hairy tailed men.
Later on in his book, KcKennon implied that the natives of the Yukon made a distinction between the Monkey People and the “Brush Man”, a legendary man-eating wildman whom one old Klondike prospector identified as the “mahoney man”, or Nakani, of Northwest Territories Indian tradition.
The Legend of the Kushtaka
Another hairy long-tailed humanoid of northwestern legend is the Kushtaka (sometimes spelled ‘Kustaka’), or Land Otter Man- a manlike otter or otter-like man which was said to reside on the Alaskan Panhandle. According to Scots-Canadian anthropologist James Teit in his article “Tahltan Tales”, published in the October-December 1921 issue of the Journal of American Folklore, “Some Indians, in speaking English, call them ‘monkey people.’”
The Kushtaka, Teit wrote, were believed to be a kind of spirit which preys on people who become lost in the wilderness. Like the fairies of Celtic folklore, they cause their victims to hallucinate, and to become crazy and wander about aimlessly. Some lure lost humans to their watery or subterranean abodes, in which they imprison them forever.
The Tahltan Skeptic
Although the Kushtaka are most prominently associated with Tlingit folklore, the Tlingit being the historic sovereigns of the Alaskan Panhandle, they also appear in the legends of the Tahltan Indians, whose traditional homeland lies in northwestern British Columbia and south-central Yukon. At least one traditional Tahltan story featuring this legendary monster, which Teit included in his book, portrays it as an impish kleptomaniac with the mischievous mannerism of a monkey.
This particular tale centres around a young Tlingit man who did not believe in Land Otter Men, and was not afraid to venture into the wilderness by himself. One night, while camped alone, this man heard noises in the darkness. Suspecting his nocturnal visitors to be wild animals, he built a roaring fire and loaded his musket.
Just as he was drifting off to sleep, the man spotted a strange figure watching him at the edge of the firelight. He raised his musket and made to shoot the figure, but found that he could not pull the trigger. At that moment, he lost consciousness.
For some time, the young Tlingit flitted between lucidity and oblivion. In fragmented bouts of consciousness, he saw the strange creature throwing snow onto his fire, as if in an attempt to smother it. The mysterious visitor was soon joined by a similar-looking companion, which assisted the former with its task. The young man struggled for control of his senses and succeeded in leveling his musket at his unwanted visitors several times, but always found himself incapable of pulling the trigger.
When dawn came, the man woke up beside the ashes of his campfire and found that his gun was missing. Aside from the absence of his firearm, there were no visible signs of the mysterious events of the night. Shaken, the young man picked himself up and started for his village.
The trail to the village wound through a narrow defile between two hills. At the entrance of this passage, the man found his missing gun leaning against a stump. “After that,” the story concludes, “the young man believed in Kustaka, and was afraid of them.”
The Land Otter Sister
American anthropologist John R. Swanton included a number of traditional Tlingit Kushtaka tales in his 1909 book Tlingit Myths and Texts. Several of these stories make frequent mention of the prominent tail each Kushtaka was said to possess. One story, for example, tells of a Tlingit woman who was saved from drowning by the Kushtaka and taken to the realm of the Land Otter Men, where she transformed into a Kushtaka woman herself. She married a Land Otter Man and had many children, all of which retained sufficient semblance of their maternal heritage to pass as human beings to the casual observer. “From their waist up,” Swanton wrote, “they looked like human beings; below they were otters, and they had tails.”
One day, the woman took her children to visit her brother, who had long since given her up for dead. Although initially shocked by her strange otter-like appearance, the brother welcomed his sister into his home, and introduced his own children to their tailed cousins.
During their visit, the sister’s tailed children helped their uncle catch a prodigious quantity of “devilfish”, or octopi, which he liked to use as fish bait. There is an implication that the children used their tails to accomplish this, along with other chores with which their uncle asked them to assist him, evoking the useful prehensile tails unique to New World monkeys.
Gordon Ferrier’s Sighting
To many current members of the Tlingit and Tsimshian First Nations of Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia, the Kushtaka remains a very real threat to travelers who lose their way in the Pacific Northwest. The Tailed Ones of Ahtna and Tanana folklore, on the other hand, are generally regarded as monsters of the legendary past, no more to be feared by modern man than cave lions or saber-toothed tigers. Even if the campfire stories of the predatory, cave-dwelling Monkey Men of the Copper and Tanana Rivers have any truth at their core, any potential danger posed by the Cet’aeni is supposed to have been quashed generations ago, when the last of the Tailed Ones were wiped out in the shadows of the Mentasta Mountains.
Despite the reassurances of native folklore, sightings of mysterious monkey-like creatures are still reported from time to time in the wilderness of North America. Distinguishable from reports of other hairy wildmen by the mention of a tail, some of these sightings have nonetheless made their way into collections of classic Sasquatch sightings, such as the writings of the late Canadian journalist John Willison Green. In his 1970 book Year of the Sasquatch, for example, Green described the experience of a man named Gordon Ferrier, who claimed to have seen a monkey-like creature near his home on the Mamquam River, a tributary of the Squamish River, not far from the town of Squamish, British Columbia. He saw the animal one morning in June 1969, standing in a ditch across the road from his home. It was covered with hair, walked on two legs, and appeared to have a bushy tail. Later, Ferrier discovered strange three-toed tracks in the ditch where the creature had stood, which measured fifteen inches in length and a hand span in breadth. He finished his report by claiming that “dogs in the area acted very upset on many occasions.”
An article in the June 11, 1969 issue of the Squamish Times identified Ferrier as the boarder of Paul Gratton and his wife, Norma, who lived on No Name Road just south of the Mamquam Bridge, just upriver from the Mamquam’s confluence with the Squamish River. According to the article, Ferrier first saw the creature three weeks earlier, in mid-May, 1969, after it ripped open a window in Gratton’s home. Ferrier investigated the commotion and saw the mysterious creature disappear into the brush near the back of the house. He estimated it to be 5’8’’ in height, and described it as having a long tail and being covered with reddish fur.
The following day, Mrs. Gratton and her children stayed at the home of their neighbour, Trudy Gulliman, fearful that their unwanted visitor might return. Their fears were justified; during their absence, someone (or something) entered their house through a window and left a pile of moss on the floor before departing.
About a week later, at about 6:15 a.m., Gordon Ferrier looked up from the Grattons’ dining room window and saw the same creature he had spotted before standing in the bush across from the house. He described it as having small pointed ears, reddish hair, and a “pushed in face like a Pekinese” dog, and said that it walked erect on two legs. Startled, he called to Paul Gratton, who arrived just in time to see a long tail and a shock of reddish hair disappear into the bush. The two men went outside to investigate and found tracks deep enough to have been left by a 300 pound animal.
Mrs. Gratton reported the incident to the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who took plaster casts of the strange footprints before destroying the originals with a rake. In his book, Green indicated that the plasters the police cast were later destroyed.
On the advice of the Mounties, Mr. Gulliman hung a bag containing bread and honey from a tree outside his home in order to determine whether the creature was a bear. The bag remained untouched, which the Gullimans and the Grattons took as an indication that the strange animal was not a member of the ursine family.
According to an article in the June 5th, 1969 issue of the Vancouver Sun, Mrs. Gratton, Mrs. Gulliman, and other Mamquam housewives described the police as being uncooperative, claiming that they treated their case with “bemused tolerance” bordering on open amusement.
The Feral Monkey Theory
Some of those who have written on monkey sightings on Canada’s West Coast have proposed that the subjects of such reports are, in fact, feral monkeys who eke out a living in the rainforests of British Columbia, whose ancestors were transplanted from some tropical abode generations ago and managed to acclimate to their new environment. Most champions of this theory suspect that the first wild monkeys to make their homes in the Pacific Northwest were escapees of some wind-tossed Spanish treasure galleon destined for the imperial Ming Court or the Habsburg menageries of Spain or Italy. Through some accident, they escaped from their cages somewhere along the coast of Western Canada, clambered ashore, and took to the woods.
One proponent of this theory was a woodsman named Mike King, who lived on Vancouver Island in the early 1900s. According to an article in the December 30th, 1904 issue of The Ottawa Evening Journal, King made an effort to learn the local explanation for the mysterious hairy wildmen who were spotted from time to time flitting through the forests of Vancouver Island. “Their story,” the article claimed, “which Mr. King wormed from an old native with much difficulty, is to the effect that at the coming of the Spaniards to the West coast an immense monkey… escaped from one of the vessels and took refuge in the forest wilderness.”
British celebrity explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes heard a similar explanation for the alleged head-hunting wildmen of the South Nahanni River, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, during his expedition to the region in 1971. In his 1973 book The Headless Valley, he wrote, “We heard tales of Spanish galleons shipwrecked on the rocky coastline of British Columbia with ‘cargoes of apes’. The theory was that some of these apes escaped ashore and headed inland. The long winters killed off all but a few who, finding hot sulphurous springs somewhere in the Nahanni region, survived over the years and were the cause of the various decapitations.”
The Devil Monkey
While modern sightings of tailed, monkey-like creatures are quite rare in the wilderness of British Columbia, they are surprisingly common in the eastern half of the continent, particularly in the Appalachian Mountain region of the eastern United States. Cryptozoologists- those who study elusive animals, the existence of which the general scientific community has yet to acknowledge- have dubbed this mysterious primate the ‘Devil Monkey’.
Some cryptozoologists are of the opinion that there are enough consistencies in most Devil Monkey sightings to support the idea that the animals they describe belong to the same species, the characteristics of which cryptozoologist George M. Eberhart outlined in his Volume One of his 2001 encyclopedia Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. According to Eberhart, the Devil Monkey stands from 3-8 feet in height, is covered with light brown to black hair, has pointed ears, and sports a baboon-like muzzle. Many of those who claim to have encountered it report seeing a long tail, which has alternately been described as black, bushy, or hairless. The creature has been observed walking on its hind legs only, as well as on all fours, leaving behind foot-long tracks crowned with three rounded toe prints. An aggressive animal, it is said to have attacked both dogs and humans, and to have killed livestock, and has been heard hooting, screaming, and whistling.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman detailed several Devil Monkey sightings in his 1983 book Mysterious America. The first story, which Coleman discovered in Jesse W. Harris’ article “Myths and Legends from Southern Illinois” in the March 1946 issue of the magazine Hoosier Folklore, took place in the summer of 1941. While hunting squirrels along Gum Creek near the city of Mount Vernon, Illinois, a preacher, whom Coleman identified as ‘Reverend Marsh Harpole’, was approached by “a large animal that looked something like a baboon,” which leaped out of a tree and began walking towards him. The reverend struck the creature with the barrel of his gun and fired several shots in the air, successfully frightening it away.
Sometime after the preacher’s encounter, local farmers reported hearing blood-curdling shrieks at night, which seemed to emanate from the wooded bottomlands along the area’s creeks. Hunters began seeing strange tracks during their rambles, and the dog of one farmer from Bonnie, Illinois, was killed by some mysterious predator. Fearful that a panther was on the prowl, a group of locals banded together and resolved to kill the creature.
It soon became clear that the strange nocturnal screamer was no wildcat. One night, a driver claimed to have seen the unusual creature bound across a road along the Big Muddy River about fifty miles from the preacher’s initial sighting; although he neglected to provide a detailed description of the animal he saw, he was sure it was not a panther. Later, a hunter spotted mysterious animal tracks along the more northerly West Okaw River. Several alleged witnesses described how the animal jumped from place to place, leading some to suspect that it was a kangaroo which had escaped from a zoo.
Despite their efforts, local hunters were unable to bag the mysterious animal, and interest in it gradually faded away.
Cryptozoologist Chad Arment described several Devil Monkey sightings in an article in Volume II, Number 1 of the North American BioFortean Review, the first of which took place early one morning in 1959. While driving down a rural road near Saltville Virginia, the parents of a southwest Virginian woman named Paulette Boyd were charged by what appeared to be a large monkey. The creature sprang from a ditch as their car drove past and slammed into the passenger window, leaving a deep scratch in the paint. Paulette’s mother, who was sitting in the passenger seat, described the creature as having “light, taffy colored hair, with a white blaze down [its] neck and underbelly. It stood on two large, well-muscled black legs, and had shorter front legs or arms.” This particular specimen did not appear to have a tail. After crashing into the passenger window, the monkey loped alongside the car for a few moments and continued to chase it after it was outdistanced.
When he had put some distance between his car and the vicious primate, Paulette’s father produced his revolver and contemplated driving back to shoot the creature, but reluctantly agreed to leave it be at his wife’s fervent insistence.
“Several days after this incident,” Paulette continued, “two nurses in the Saltville area were driving home from work early one morning, and were attacked by an unknown creature who ripped the convertible top from their car before they escaped. A search party was formed, but the dogs brought in to track the creature refused to follow the trail. It has never been explained.”
Years later, Paulette’s brother showed their mother a magazine illustration of a prehistoric lemur-like primate whose fossilized remains had been unearthed somewhere in the United States. Their mother remarked that the creature she had seen in 1959 closely resembled the image in the magazine.
Paulette went on to detail two more sightings of similar creatures which she heard from her friends and family members. The animal in the last sighting she described allegedly walked on all fours, and stood around three feet high. It was “covered in shaggy, rough greying brown fur” and “had a long muzzle and small, pointed years.” Its hind legs were longer than its front legs, it bore visible claws, and it had a hairless tail which the witnesses likened to that of an opossum.
Loren Coleman’s aforementioned book Mysterious America describes three more alleged Devil Monkey encounters which took place in late April and early May, 1973. Each of these sightings occurred in the same rural area outside Enfield, Illinois, about forty miles southeast of Reverend Harpole’s 1941 Gum Creek encounter. Witnesses described the creature they saw as a “gray monkey” which stood about five feet tall, and claimed to have heard it howling and shrieking.
Another sighting was reported by a woman named Debbie Cross, whose story was recorded by researchers Ron Schaffner and Kenny Young and published in Coleman’s book. In the early hours of June 26th, 1997, Cross was watching television in her rural home outside Dunkinsville, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, when her dogs began barking at something outside. She turned on the porch light to see a fur-covered monkey-like creature about thirty feet away, standing at the edge of a pond.
“It was about three to four feet tall and gray in color,” she told Schaffner and Young. “It had large, dark eyes and rounded ears extended above the head. It had real long arms and a short tail. It made a gurgling sound.”
The creature glanced at Cross before skipping across her lawn, walking on its hind legs and apparently balancing itself with the knuckles of its front arms. It walked along a barbed wire fence before disappearing from view, screeching as it vanished into the gloom.
Chad Arment described several more Devil Monkey sightings in an article in Volume II, Number 2 of the North American BioFortean Review, which was published in the year 2000. One report was furnished by a woman from Ohio, who contacted Arment after reading his aforementioned article in an earlier issue of the same publication. One night, while driving on a rural highway between Roanoke, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the informant was startled by a strange creature which leapt across the road in front of her car. “The creature was NOT a wolf,” she wrote. “It was all black with very short sleek fur, pointy ears and a long thin tail. It seemed catlike, yet not like any cat I have ever seen. I would say it was easily 6 feet tall when standing. Its torso looked very much like that of a very thin man and its head resembled a man almost with a pointy beard. However, its hind legs were more like a wild cat or dog I guess. Very muscular & thick.”
Another alleged Devil Monkey sighting, which took place on September 9th, 2001, in the rural community of Danville, Hew Hampshire, is listed in George Eberhart’s encyclopedia. The anonymous witness described the animal as a “giant black monkey”, and claimed that it appeared eight more times in a two-week period following the first sighting.
Relatively recently, a couple of unverifiable sightings of mysterious monkeys have been reported in Canada. A young cryptozoologist named Thomas Morgan of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, discovered one of these stories in an online database called the Paranormal Studies & Inquiry Canada and wrote about it on his own website, SuperbugTom.com. The story in question was submitted by one Ian Harper, who claimed to have encountered what he described as a “big white monkey” near Lake Scugog, Ontario, while biking with his dog in 1992. He described the creature as being “about three feet tall, with long willowy arms and a large head.” When his dog prepared to attack it, the monkey stood up on its back legs and uttered a deep, sonorous grunt.
Morgan described another encounter on his website which was alleged to have taken place in the mid-2010s. According to Morgan, who presumably heard this story from the witnesses themselves, two Cree sisters from Jackhead, Manitoba, “claimed to have seen a large monkey-like creature” cross the Manitoba Highway 6 sometime in the mid-2010s (Morgan curiously also places the sighting near Devils Lake, Manitoba, which is located about 13 kilometres east of Manitoba Highway 5, but nowhere near Highway 6). The sisters described the creature as being four feet tall, and having brown hair, large shoulders, a sloped back, and a tail.
Over the years, various cryptozoologists have proposed a number of theories as to the nature of the Devil Monkey of the eastern United States. In his second article in the North American BioFortean Review, Chad Arment suggested a connection between the Devil Monkey and the Wampus Cat of Cherokee Indian tradition, and put forth two potential candidates for its identity: the Hanuman langur, an Old World monkey native to India; and Protopithecus brasiliensis, an extinct 50-pound New World monkey whose fossils have been discovered in a cave in Brazil, believed to be the largest New World monkey to ever exist.
In his encyclopedia, George Eberhart suggested that Devil Monkeys might be pet monkeys, zoo monkeys, or research monkeys which escaped into the wild, perhaps on account of some natural disaster like Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Florida in 1992. Eberhart went on to cite several troops of feral monkeys known or strongly suspected to live in the American wilderness, including squirrel monkeys, rhesus macaques, and capuchin monkeys believed to dwell in the Florida everglades, as well as a troop of Japanese macaques which run wild in Texas.
The late cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall drew a connection between the Devil Monkey and the nalusa falaya, or “Long Black Being”, a shadowy monster of Choctaw Indian legend said to possess long pointy ears. He suggested that Devil Monkeys might be surviving specimens of Theropithecus oswaldi, a 250-pound East African baboon believed by most primatologists to have gone extinct during the Pleistocene Epoch.
In Mysterious America, Loren Coleman proposed a potential connection between Devil Monkeys and a rash of mysterious kangaroo sightings which took place across the Midwestern United States throughout the 20th Century, suggesting that the Devil Monkey is really some “kind of giant baboon that moves by saltation, leaping as do kangaroos.” In his 1999 book The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide, which he co-authored with fellow cryptozoologist Patrick Huyghe, Coleman placed the Devil Monkey in an animal class which he dubbed ‘Giant Monkey’. “Giant Monkeys are generally 4 to 6 feet tall,” he wrote. “The smaller ones (juveniles) often resemble wallabies or ‘baby kangaroos.’ They have muscular bodies with barrel chests, arms thicker than a man’s, very strong legs, and a thick tail. Their faces are often described as being doglike or baboonlike, with dark piercing eyes and pointed ears. They have short to shaggy hair, varying in color from black to red, often with a heavy coat around the shoulders in males.”
Is the Devil Monkey of the eastern United States some sort of prehistoric primate whispered of in the oral histories of the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations? Is it an escapee from a zoo or research lab, or a simple misidentification? Does it have any connection to the mysterious creature spotted by Gordon Ferrier in Squamish, British Columbia, in the summer of 1969, or with the sinister cave-dwelling Cet’aeni of Alaskan and Yukon legend? Until a specimen is killed or captured, these questions will remain unanswerable, leaving the legend of the Devil Monkey one of North America’s many great unsolved mysteries.
- “Perception and Description of New World Non-Human Primates in the Travel Literature of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” by Cecilia Veracini in the October 2016 issue of Annals of Science
- “Renaissance Menageries, Exotic Animals and Pets at the Habsburg Courts in Iberia and Central Europe,” by Perez de Tudela in Early Modern Zoology: The Construction of Animals in Science, Literature and the Visual Arts (2007)
- “Adapiformes: Phylogeny and Adaptation,” by D.L. Gebo in The Primate Fossil Record (2002)
- “The Oldest North American Primate and Mammalian Biogeography During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum,” by K. Christopher Beard in the 2008 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- In the Shadow of the Mountains (1997), by John E. Smelcer
- Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon (1996), by Ed Ferrell
- The Upper Tanana Indians (1959), by Robert A. McKennan
- Tlingit Myths and Texts (1909), by John R. Swanton
- “The Mamquam Monster: Animal, Human or Sasquatch,” in the June 11, 1969 issue of The Squamish Times
- “Ginger-Haired Sasquatch Eludes Ladies of Mamquam,” by Mike Graham in the June 5th, 1969 issue of the Vancouver Sun
- “The Wild Man of Vancouver: Mysterious Denizen of the Woods: Prototype of Kipling’s Mowgli Seen by Reputable Witnesses. Various Theories to Account for His Presence in the Forests,” in the December 30, 1904 issue of The Ottawa Evening Journal
- “The Wild Men of California,” in the November 10, 1870 issue of the Titusville Morning Herald (Pennsylvania)
- “Cryptids of Canada the True North Strong and …. Weird,” by Kelly McMillan in the May 28th, 2021 issue of MisfitsAndMysteries.com
- “Virginia Devil Monkey Reports,” by Chad Arment in Volume 2, Number 1 of the North American BioFortean Review (2000)
- “Devil Monkeys or Wampus Cats?” by Chad Arment in Volume 2, Number 2 of the North American BioFortean Review (2000)
- Mysterious America (1983), by Loren Coleman
- The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (1999)by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe
- Volume One of Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2001), by George M. Eberhart
- Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’: The Headwaters People’s Country (1984), by James Kari
- “Archaeology in Central Alaska,” by Frelich Gladstone Rainey in Volume 36 of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (1939)
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