Bigfoot By Any Other Name…Is Just A Man? The Origin of the Word Sasquatch


I have an affinity for, or an affection for cryptids, specifically for Bigfoot.  If you follow me on twitter, you probably know me best by my avatar, which is Harry the Bigfoot from the 1987 hit movie Harry and the Hendersons (one of my all-time favourites).  I should be clear though, I’m not a believer.  That is to say that I’m decidedly undecided on the reality of Bigfoot, but I truly love the mythology and traditions surrounding the concept.  I would be overjoyed should some field researcher, or ‘squatcher’, bring the world undeniable evidence of the existence of this giant, hairy wild-man of the backwoods in, not only the Pacific North West of the United States, but also in other countries the world over…but I’m not holding my breath.

Bigfoot is perhaps the most famous mythological creature in human history, and there are many people making it their life’s business to seek out all information and knowledge on the subject, and to find evidence of this elusive beast, or beasts as the case may be.

But there’s an aspect of the Bigfoot phenomenon that a great many people don’t know, and it’s an issue that is formative to the entire mythology.  We all know that the name of Bigfoot, Sasquatch – which is used by most researchers because is seems to lend a small degree of credibility to the search – is actually a Native American / First Nations word meaning hairy wild-man, but do you really know the story behind that name?

The word Sasquatch isn’t technically a Native word, it was coined by Canadian teacher and Indian agent J.W. Burns in the 1920’s.  Burns taught for many years at the Chehalis Indian Reserve (No.5&6), which sits on the banks of the Harrison River near Vancouver, British Columbia (between Deroche and Agassiz).  That reserve houses the Chehalis First Nation band of Sts’Ailes people, who were almost wiped out by early European settlement of the area, and who have rebounded from the time of the horrible Residential Schools to a population of over 1000 band members.

Burns was, arguably, obsessed with the Indian tales of giant hairy wild-men, and he wrote extensively on the encounters that were shared with him by tribal elders and travellers.  It was through his writings that the word Sasquatch was brought into mainstream culture.  He wrote an article for the popular Canadian MacLean’s Magazine (April 1929 issue), in which he used the term frequently and since then it’s been a household name.

The problem is, the word Sasquatch was most likely a mistranslation.  That word doesn’t actually exist in the oral traditions of the people in question, nor in any other Native culture in North America.  The hairy wild-men of which Burns was a fanatic, apparently do exist, whether as a reality or as a fairy-tale, but they were known by many different names, depending on the specific tribe or band being referenced.  It’s generally thought that Burns confused the spelling and pronunciation of the Chehalis word ‘sasqac’.  This word means beast, but there are other contenders for the correct etymological originator, such as ‘sokqueatl’ and ‘soss-q’tal’, both of which mean wild-man, according to cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark.[1]

It isn’t necessarily that Burns made a mistake, or misunderstood what was being said, some think he deliberately combined several words in an effort to make an umbrella term to cover all of the various languages he was working with, but it’s generally accepted that he did make the word up, for whatever reason.  And as such, we now have a blanket term, a household name for the creature or creatures that have been known to Native American and First Nations people for centuries.

There’s more to this, though, and it gets a bit weird.

World famous researcher and author Gian J. Quasar, renowned for being the authority on the Bermuda Triangle, and the creator/editor of The Bigfoot Blatt, has a slightly different theory.

Quasar says that Sasquatch has a completely different meaning, one you won’t be expecting.

In the first issue of The Bigfoot Blatt, of which there appear to only be two issues, Quasar expanded on a theory subtitled Lingua Fanca [sic] – Chinook Trading Jargon: A Skoocum Language, wherein he outlined the etymological origins and evolution of several words, apparently of the Chinook language.  He explains the origin of the word skoocum, suggesting that it began as the name of a greatly feared henchman of the Klikatats Indian band, who was known as the Casanov Skoocoom (or the henchman of Casanov, who was the chief of the tribe).  Skoocum is now used to describe someone who is good or excellent, or ‘cool’, and Quasar says that’s because the Casanov Skoocum was such a good murderer.

Quasar notes that the words in question are considered lingua franca (as he apparently tried to signify in the subtitle, listed above), or working languages, and are used to make communication possible between peoples who do not share a common mother tongue.  And it’s through this process that he claims that Sasquatch actually means Saskahaua George.

Quasar claims that Sasquatch came about as an alternative word meant to describe long haired wild-men of King George, or white men if you prefer.  He says that Indian warriors were known as sawash (or siwash), but they didn’t want to refer to non-Indian’s by the same term, so saskahaua was invented.

“Saskahaua George comes down to us as “Sasquatch” because the Indians seldom liked to refer to them as sawash (siwash a century ago). That implied they were Indians. But this is something that offended the Indians.”[2]

By implication, Quasar is saying that Burns coopted saskahaua, which ultimately became Sasquatch, which has now gone down in history as the Native word for giant, hairy wild-men, or Bigfoot.

Now, despite Quasar’s standing as a relatively respected researcher on the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon, he doesn’t appear to be a linguist, and his connection, if any, to Native American / First Nation customs is entirely unconfirmed.  That and the fact that the Chinook peoples are not related to the Chehalis people (though they were neighbours, geographically), makes his theory a little sketchy.  It’s an interesting thought though…

What if the word we’re all using to identify a huge, hairy, possibly mythological cryptid actually means white-man-of-King-George?  I doubt Quasar is going to convince anyone to give up the word now, but it does pay to understand just where our linguistic icons really come from.


[1] J. Clark & L. Coleman. The Unidentified & Creatures of the Outer Edge. Anomalist Books, 2006. ISBN 1933665114

[2] Gian J. Quasar. Lingua Fanca – Chinook Trading Jargon: A Skoocum Language. The Bigfoot Blatt – Issue 1, page 2.

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