Original story told by S. E. Schlosser
Late in the 19th century, when Weber Canyon and the surrounding mountain ranges were little known to white settlers, a man by the name of Alistair Wilde homesteaded on the upper half of the canyon, and built a small shack for supplies next to a spring. Wilde herded sheep in the canyon.
Wilde would spend weeks at a time up in the canyon, moving his sheep around from slope to slope until late autumn, when he would come down out of the canyons and bring his sheep into the valley. One year, however, he was caught in a freak snowstorm that lasted for several days and was never heard from again.
Many years later, Alistair Wilde’s nephew Charles moved down from Canada to claim the homestead, which had been abandoned since Alistair’s presumed demise. He had purchased a new flock of sheep, and moved into Alistair’s shack.
One day as Charles was browsing the contents of the shack, he came across Alistair’s journal, which included this entry:
Wednesday, September 24, 1862—Last Saturday I had a most curious experience with an old Indian from Rhoades Valley [now known as Kamas] who calls himself Waranak. I was tending the sheep, up in the high draw to the south-east, below the lake, where I found him. I’ve seen him before on several occasions in the same area, and our exchanges have always been friendly. This time, however, he was decidedly serious and refused to engage in any kind of pleasant conversation. He told me of a creature called a “wendigo,” and warned me that winter would come much earlier this year, and that I should move down out of the mountains before it came.
As Charles read on in the journal, he learned that “wendigo” was an Indian word used to describe an evil winter spirit. It was enormously tall—taller and stronger than two bears standing, but was thin, white, and frail-looking, with its skin pulled tightly over its bones. Its eyes were black and pushed deep into its sockets. Its odor was of rottenness and decay. It made no sound but a hiss, and left no trace when it walked but bloody footprints.
Legend says that the wendigo is kept alive by eating human flesh, and is never satisfied. Worse than being eaten by a wendigo, the wendigo can take possession of a human body, and that man or woman or child then becomes a wendigo, first seeking out family members to feed upon. It is said that the wendigo is most alive and active in times of winter storm and famine, when man is at his weakest and most vulnerable.
The entry went on to mention that Alistair had a good laugh when Waranak had gone. He had never put stock into legends or myths and was barely religious himself. The idea of coming down early for winter was also bothersome, but he had learned to trust the natives’ sense of weather and decided that he would make preparations to leave in 10 days time. That was the final entry in his journal.
In time, Charles Wilde tore down the shack and replaced it with a sturdy little red cabin and a tin roof, the same one you can still see today. Charles herded his sheep in many of the same canyons and hollows that Alistair had. Over the years, Charles learned where the best spots were and how to get the sheep from one valley to the next with the least amount of trouble. He also noticed many trees that Alistair had carved his name into, and sometimes brief journal entries such as the date and weather, or mention of a cougar attack or bear sighting.
Charles always kept a rifle with him and a hunting knife for safety. One day in late autumn, just a day before Charles was ready to go back down to the valley for the winter, a freak snow storm hit hard and fast. If you’ve ever been in the Uintah mountains in late fall when a nor’wester comes in, you understand what kind of storm this is, dumping several feet of snow in a day, sometimes lasting for a week.
Charles cobbled a small shelter for himself, but was largely unprepared for a storm of this strength. His sheep scattered, Charles Wilde became hungry and desperate, and on the third day decided to venture out during a break in the storm to look for food.
He wandered in the direction he knew some sheep might have gone for protection, a small dark hollow to the north and east of where he was. As he entered the hollow, a chill came over him. Far above he could hear the wind slowly moving the treetops, but down below it was deathly still and cold. As he stepped into the silent hollow, he looked down and could see heavy, bloody footprints in the deep snow. As he backed away, he heard a hiss that was everywhere around him at once.
Charles Wilde crouched in the snow, just as a wind whipped up. Looking, waiting, remembering the word “wendigo” and what he had read in Alistair’s journal some years ago. Charles grabbed his rifle and cocked it.
Suddenly a snowbank just ahead of him exploded as a tree-like creature jumped out at him. It was gaunt and pale as death. It had no lips and long yellowing jagged teeth. Charles took aim with his rifle and shot true, but the bullet passed through the creature, making a bone-breaking sound.
The wendigo screamed and a burst of wind blew a curtain of snow between them. Charles knew he had just one more chance to live. He ducked behind a small fir tree and watched. He could not see the wendigo clearly but for its dark eye sockets, searching for him.
As the snow settled again, the wendigo turned and finally seeing Charles Wilde with its sharp eyes, made a lunge for him. As the wendigo bent down to grab him, Charles sprang out with both arms wide, and plunged his hunting knife deep into the eye sockets of the wendigo, again and again, each eye now gone and bleeding profusely. The horrid creature grasped and reeled but Charles held on tightly, stabbing, plunging until the wendigo collapsed.
Charles now stood back from the awful creature, covered in blood. As the creature gasped its last rattling breath, a mist came out of it, and as it did so, there lay the ancient, bent frame of bones and skin of Alistair Wilde.
I wish I could say that wendigos in the Uintah mountains were never heard of again, but that’s not the case.
[Note: This is a work of fiction. The author apologizes to any relatives of the Wilde family still living in the Kamas valley for any unintended offenses.]