Minnesota's Dogman: Tracing the Legend through Time TAP TO GET PODCAST
When you think of Minnesota cryptids, werewolf-like creatures might not be what comes to mind. But throughout the late 90s and into the mid-2000s, dogmen seemed to find their way into the land of 10,000 lakes.
The night was dark, mysterious… and boring, just like every other night on border patrol. But things wouldn’t stay that way for long. Early that September morning, a Security Forces Airman at the local air force base in St. Louis County, Minnesota, was tending to his nightly rounds, ensuring the perimeter of the air base was secure. The night shift was operating on less than a skeleton crew, with so few people on duty that it often meant splitting up tasks to make all the evening rounds. But no matter, nights were mostly quiet. Why would this be any different?
But as the airman pulled along the Northeast edge of the base, he began to feel a bit… uneasy. Maybe it was the acres upon acres of woods that lay just beyond the fence line. The base might have been just a few miles north of Duluth, a reasonably sized city, but in Minnesota, things get rural quickly. Or maybe it was the fact that he was alone tonight. Driving those border roads was normally a bit less freaky when there was an extra set of eyes to help keep watch. But it just so happened that there were an extra set of eyes after all. But these eyes were not looking out but rather looking back.
The firsthand account reads:
“I was on this road, driving towards our baseball field when my headlights caught a pair of eyes reflecting back at me. They were almost at eye level with me, and I was sitting in an F-150. Around this time, a few of the guys had been seeing this huge buck around the property (like a 16-pointer or something around that size). I was about 80 yards or so when I saw these eyes reflecting back at me. So, I’m thinking it was a big deer. “I gotta see this thing.” So, I hit the gas and started speeding towards the field. This is where it all happened so fast. It’s almost hard to explain. There was a little slope behind the baseball field. It sloped down, probably about 12-15 feet, into a brush line. The brush went about 30 feet, then turned into a thick tree line. The brush was probably armpit high to me and pretty tough to traverse through, being so thick. As I turned into the baseball field and turned the truck towards the thing, I just caught the rear end of the thing leaping down the slope, below the line of sight of my headlights. The thing was no more than about 20 feet ahead of me when it leaped. All I got a look at was the back end of the thing, and it was big! The best I can do to describe it is to say that it was wolf/dog-like in nature. It had a long tail (longer than 2 feet). The hind legs looked exactly like those of a dog, the same as the back paws, but the paws were huge. They were bigger than my hands, for sure. The hair/fur was wavy yet matted and thick. The color was blondish or very light brown. I didn’t notice any gray in it, but this all happened within about 2-3 seconds. I sat in my patrol truck for a couple of seconds, confused and thinking, “I know what I saw, but it couldn’t have been what I saw.” So, I hopped out with my flashlight and M-16 rifle and walked to the edge of the slope. All I heard was the thing running through the woods in front of me, heading in a northwest direction. And this thing sounded like a moose charging through the trees! It made a lot of noise! That’s when I started to get really scared, thinking, “If this is some sort of wolf or whatever it could be, my M-16 isn’t going to do a thing to this animal.” So, I jumped back into my patrol truck as fast as I could and headed back to headquarters. I’m a trained observer, and an avid hunter, and have worked with animal rehabilitation, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in the past. I know my animals and the North Woods extremely well. I saw exactly what I saw. And that was the back end of a large wolf/dog thing that basically had its eyes level with mine while I was in a patrol truck.
When you think of Minnesota cryptids, werewolf-like creatures might not be what comes to mind. But throughout the late 90s and into the mid-2000s, dogmen seemed to find their way into the land of 10,000 lakes. Maybe the beast of bray road that famously terrorized Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in the 1930s needed a vacation. Or maybe there are more of these things than one might realize. But before we explore another eyewitness account, we first need to figure out what even is a dogman. And how did werewolf-like cryptids – or the folklore of them, find their way into North America?
Werewolf history runs deep. Some claim it can be traced back all the way to the Mesopotamian text, the Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2100 BC. In this tale, Gilgamesh called off a romance upon finding out that the woman who had caught his eye turned her last mate into a wolf.
Again in greek mythology, we see the idea of canine transformations. The Legend tells of how Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, angered Zeus when he served the god the remains of a sacrificed child. Taken with anger, Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves.
There’s even a tale in The Saga of the Volsungs, a Nordic folkloric work, that depicts how a father and son discovered wolf pelts that, when worn, would transform them into wolves for the next ten days.
And it probably goes without saying, but many of these tales picked up through time and found their way across Europe. From France and Germany into England and, ultimately, the united states, these werewolf tales morphed over time from a more human-wolf hybrid kind of creature into something more cryptid and beast-like. Now, I just skimmed over a ton of history that is, well, wild and fascinating. But rest assured, we will dive into all of that cryptid goodness in my next episode. But for sake of time today, I wanted to provide you with a very broad overview of how these cryptid tales found their way from ancient texts to North America.
But then, to offer a counterpoint, we have the Native American’s belief that men can transform into beastly creatures. Ever heard of skinwalkers? The Navajo people have passed down stories of healers who became corrupted by their own power, transforming them into dark beasts, most notably that take the form of coyote-like creatures.
We also have the wendigo, that monstrous humanoid that originated amongst the Algonquian-speaking First Nations. When European settlers first heard of this creature, their werewolf tales quickly began to merge based on the similarities in the stories.
So maybe people have been trying to label this phenomenon for eons. Maybe humans transforming into canines is a curse from above, a gift from below, or even a natural phenomenon from human’s often insatiable desire for power. Or, maybe it’s a collection of folklore that has been built layer upon layer. Or, maybe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Obviously, there are tons more here to cover and rest assured, we are going to touch on each of these points in the coming weeks. But for now, if you’ll stick around, I have one more first-hand Minnesota Dog Man encounter I’m sure you’ll love to hear.
It was a routine drive through the Minnesota snow, or at least; it started as such. In the first couple of months in 2009, a man was driving those rural backroads when a few deer caught his eye, but they caught something else’s eye too. His first-hand account reads:
I live in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, which is in west central Minnesota, about an hour’s drive from Fargo, North Dakota. My mother-in-law lives out in the country, about 3-4 miles out of Fergus Falls, and I was staying there while my wife and her mother went shopping in town. They called me and asked if I wanted to go to a 7 PM movie. So, I left the house at about 6:30 pm-6:45 pm to meet them at the theater.
About 2 miles from their house on a country road known as the Wendel Road, along the Mustinka River, I saw three whitetail deer. 2 of the deer were rather small, probably just yearlings, and a larger doe, who I assumed was their mother. Me being an avid hunter, lover of wildlife, and future Wildlife Biologist, stopped to look at the deer. I should also mention that I hunt in the area and have spent my whole life in the Fergus Falls area. The deer was following a small creek bed, which is, in fact, the Mistinka River, so there were hardly any trees except for one. Maybe I didn’t see it there because of the tree, but I just noticed something crouching behind the tree on my side of the road, looking at the deer and, to my disbelief, hunting them. It just sat there, looking at the deer, taking no notice of me, even though I was in my truck, no more than 40 yards away, with a clear view, with nothing obstructing my view of it. It had one “hand” on the tree that it was bracing itself with. What struck me as shocking was the fact that it seemed to be a 2-legged creature and not a 4-legged one. Its “hands” appeared to have opposable thumbs and were rather slender and long, very unlike a wolf. The creature looked as though if it stood upright, it would be over 7 feet tall, with a protruding muzzle, broad shoulders, a slender waist, and thick, muscular thighs, and being as if there was snow on the ground, I couldn’t see the feet. He was deep, dark brown in color throughout the body. After several seconds of looking at the creature in shock, the deer ran off. Then, something amazing happened. It looked right at me… As though blaming me for losing his meal. He just sat there, looking at me and blinking but not moving. This scared the crap out of me, so I hit the gas pedal and drove off.
It was very dark after the movie, so I didn’t much feel like trudging through the 3.5 feet of snow, with the possibility of a monster lurking in the area who is currently looking for a meal that I scared off. So, at about 10 am, I went back there and walked down to the tree. Under the tree, there was no snow, so there were no tracks that I could see, but leading up to the tree, there were three tracks leading in from my grandmother-in-law’s field, which was hard, black dirt, and if you know what a Minnesota field looks like in late winter/early spring, you can’t make anything out of the dirt. The tracks I did find were only about 6-7 inches in length but were clearly K9 prints, with the exception of 4 toe-looking marks in the snow.”
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.