David Thompson meets Chief Ugly Head (Tete Laide), of the Flat Bow Kutenais.

The creature in the woods.

David Thompson meets Chief Ugly Head.

Historical background.

In July of 1807, David Thompson had crossed the Divide, arriving in the Kootenays to trade with the Kutenais aboriginals, and find a navigable river route to the Pacific.

By the 19th day of July, 1807, David Thompson had built his first fort in the Kootenays ( Kootenae House )on the northern shore of Lake Windermere, this turned out to be an unsuitable location and rebuilt on Toby Creek. Time was of the essence and he wanted to explore the Flat Bows Country which included a large river (McGillivray's River or today's Kootenay River ) that flowed south, hoping to determine if it was the Columbia, before returning East. Several Kutenais, which Thompson called 'Lakes Indians' visited with the strangers.

In his journal entry of 17 September 1807 He writes " They (Lakes Indians) drew me out a Sketch of their Country, and to near the Sea, which they say I may go to from hence and be back in a month's hence, were it summer time."

Thompson asked if they would guide him south along the river through their country. They declined saying that only their Chief could do such a thing. They would ask their Chief to consider the request.

After making several trading trips, they returned and David Thompson met Chief Ugly Head (so called because of his curly hair) of the Flat Bow Kutenais.

The French Canadians that had preceeded Thompson into the valley had named this band - 'Arcs plats' ( Flat Bows), and named (what we presently call Kootenay River and Lake), the Flat Bow River and Flat Bow Lake after them. David Thompson renamed the Flat Bow River and Lake, 'McGillivray's River and Lake' after his colleagues, having already named the river running North of Canal Flats 'The Kootenae River' after the Kootenais, not realizing that this was the elusive object of his quest, 'the mighty Columbia' that travels north and then turns south down to the Pacific.

The Chief and David Thompson met again on September 28th. In his Journal, Thompson records how The Chief related "That in the woods in these mountains there lives a very large animal that never lies down and has to sleep by leaning against trees to take it's weight. It has no joints in the middle of it's legs, but they have never killed one and never seen any of their remains.Thompson dismisses the story as a fanciful fable.

But has to reconsider later, - on the 4th January 1811, when in the company of several Canadians and Kutenais, Thompson examined tracks belonging to a large creature - On the 7th, he measured them - It had four large toes about 3 to 4 inches long, the ball of the foot sank about 3 inches deeper than the toes, with less marks on the heel part . The whole was about 14 inches long and 8 inches wide, it resembled a bear's track, it was in the snow on a river bank.

The next day Chief Ugly Head guided Thompson from Windermere to Canal Flats, where he connected with the Kootenay River of today.

Artist's (Maureen's) notes and musings.
Hard to resist this as a subject. Is it an allegorical ecological footprint - or the footprint of a 'Sasquatch' sometimes called 'Bigfoot.'

In June 1969, Michael and I were camping in the Redwoods on the Oregon/California border in the United States. It had been foggy all the way down the Coast, so much so that we still had not seen the Pacific Ocean. After dinner we ventured down to the shore onto the sands and realised that we were following two trails of very large footprints. Michael tried to jump from one track to the other, the stride was over five feet wide. We looked at each other and had a "Home alone moment!", we were the only people in the campsite.

The next day we pulled into town, there had been 'fresh Sasquatch sightings' up the estuary in the woods.

The following year, there was an actual bi-pedal creature on display at Edmonton's Klondike Days, it was of Asian origin and hard to identify in the block of ice that encased it. Later we received our Sunday Times from England, and in the 23 March 1969 copy there was a photograph, a drawing and an article about a strange ape-like creature encased in a block of ice. It had been found floating in the Bering Straits. It had been shot and the FBI had been called in to examine the creature.

In the early 1970's Michael and I had gone out 'adventuring' near Hinton in Alberta and we ran into an old-timer who was a mink farmer. He told us a tale of someone he knew who had been taken captive (and later released) by something in the woods while he was hunting. He had been too un-nerved to use his gun on the creature. We did not set much store by the tale as the old-timer also said he had had target practice with 'Billy the Kid' in the 'Wild West and Billy had been up to Canada to visit him!

In 1973, while at the U of A, the Edmonton Journal asked if any artists were available to go out to Nordegg, Alberta where they were building the Bighorn Dam. A colleague Virgil Hammock was the only professor that did not have classes that day and he went out to do a sketch of the creature that several workmen had seen. It was a 'Sasquatch' sighting. Locals interviewed, also said that they had seen 'things' crossing the roads, and yes this was in David Thompson Country!

Source material.

Sunday Times article, 23 March 1968. Neanderthal Man? by Magnus Linklater. David Thompson's Narrative of his explorations in Western America 1784-1812. ed. J. B. Tyrell. Available for reading online at the Champlain Society Website. Barbara Belyea. - Columbia Journals - David Thompson.McGill-Queen's University Press. Jack Nisbet. -The Mapmaker's Eye. David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau. WSU Press.