The wendigo is the darkest of spirits, described as having too-tight skin, towering antlers, and an inexhaustible appetite for human flesh.
Many think that the wendigo is just a character out of Native American mythology, but in 1879, a Cree by the name of Swift Runner did its bidding by killing and cannibalizing his entire family.
To many of the Algonquin tribe, the wendigo was very real—and also had a bad habit of possessing unsuspecting people and turning them into cannibals. Unfortunately, during the 1800s, several Algonquin natives actually did feast on their fellow humans, a result of a mental disorder modern-day psychologists call wendigo psychosis. And perhaps the most infamous “victim” of this horrifying condition was a Cree by the name of Swift Runner.
Born in Alberta as Ka-Ki-Si-Kutchin, Swift Runner was a popular man in the Cree community and the father of six children. At over 180 centimeters (6′) tall, he was a giant of a man, and made his living as a trapper and a guide for the North West Mounted Police.
But over time, Swift Runner developed a taste for whiskey and fell into the throes of alcoholism. Making things worse, Swift Runner was an angry drunk, and his drinking habits got him into trouble. First, he was fired by the police force, and then he was kicked out of his tribe thanks to his violent tendencies.
Then in the winter of 1878, Swift Runner took his family—his wife, six children, his mother-in-law, and brother—out into the forest. Several months later as spring rolled around, Swift Runner staggered out of the woods and into a nearby Catholic mission. When the priests asked what was wrong, Swift Runner said his entire family was dead.
During the winter, he hadn’t been able to find any food. Slowly but surely, all his relatives had starved to death.
The priests were somewhat suspicious, however. Swift Runner looked pretty healthy. Why hadn’t he succumbed to starvation? Plus, they knew quite a few other Cree who’d had a pretty successful winter, hunting-wise. The priests were also disturbed by Swift Runner’s constant nightmares. The man would wake up in the night screaming at the top of his lungs. The last straw was when Swift Runner tried to lead a group of children out into the woods.
Convinced he’d killed his family, the priests went to the authorities. The police put Swift Runner under arrest and ordered the big man to lead them to his winter campsite. Now, sources disagree on what exactly happened next. Some say Swift Runner immediately took them to the spot. Others say he intentionally tried to mislead them, only cooperating after he was made drunk. Either way, when the group eventually stumbled upon the campsite, they found a truly horrifying scene.
There were bones everywhere, some broken in half and hollowed out. That could only mean one thing. Someone had snapped them open and sucked out the marrow. Their suspicions were confirmed when they found a pot full of human fat. There was only one child who appeared to have died of natural causes and was buried on the grounds.
That’s when Swift Runner pulled the wendigo defense. According to Swift Runner, he’d been possessed by an evil spirit. That’s when he’d murdered and eaten his entire family. But as you might expect, that didn’t really fly with authorities. When Swift Runner went to trial in 1879, the jury didn’t buy his supernatural tale, and after 20 minutes of deliberation, they sentenced the Cree to death.
Swift Runner was eventually executed on December 20, 1879. In fact, he was the first man legally hanged in Alberta, Canada. Before his death, the big man converted to Catholicism, and moments before the trap door dropped, he gave a speech admitting his guilt.
Quite a few people came to watch Swift Runner meet his maker, including one spectator, who claimed it was the 29th hanging he’d witnessed, was thoroughly impressed with the show. As this execution connoisseur later put it, “It was the prettiest hanging I’ve ever seen.”
Source - Knowledge Nuts
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