Walking Sam: South Dakota’s Top Hat Wearing Bigfoot or Demonic Entity?

As we head to the Black Hills in South Dakota, legened has it, there’s a topcoat-wearing humanoid that is said to call out to weary souls encouraging them to join him.



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A quick warning: the second half of this episode covers themes of self harm. Nothing will be depicted in graphic detail but listener discretion is advised.

By the time Ed pulled into town, things had already gotten way out of hand. Something was out there stalking the wood-line of Little Eagle, South Dakota, that tiny spec on the map, but what it actually was, no one was quite certain. Ed Meller, a recently unemployed gravel hauler had heard about the astronomically large amount of sightings in this 60 person community over the last two months. Heck, almost half of the residents that called Little Eagle home had seen or had some kind of encounter with the creature – or rather, creatures over the last handful of weeks and sightings had only gotten more prevalent. So when Ed rolled up hauling his camper turned recon headquarters, he knew he had something special on his hands. 

Ed met LeMar Chasing Hawk at the edge of his property where he was escorted to set up base on the back side of the land. “It happened right over there.” Chasing Hawk recounted back to him. “It was around 10:15pm. (I was walking back home from a card game at the neighbors when) I heard a noise by my side and turned to look when I saw something between some bushes (on the edge of my property), stand up.” 

Chasing Hawk went on to describe that as he turned to look at… whatever this thing was, it arose and stood a whopping 9 feet tall and seemingly weighed upwards of 600 pounds. As the creature loomed just an arm’s length from where he was standing, Chasing Hawk quickly jumped back, turned, and ran as fast as he could back into his house where he slammed and locked the doors without ever turning to as much as glance over his shoulder. Chasing Hawk stated that ever since his encounter, he doesn’t as much as walk out on the front porch without his rifle slung over his shoulder. 

Ed took the story in deeply, let out a satisfied grunt, and dropped the trailer hitch and stabilizers. This spot was ground zero for whatever was going on in Little Eagle and Ed was confident that this time, he would find the proof he desperately wanted. Proof that South Dakota was home to that elusive legend, the Sasquatch. 

Ed had spent his free time (and savings) gearing up his camper trailer for such a time as this. Decked out to the max with tape decks and recording gear as well as a handful of rifles, tranquilizers, and hiking equipment, this wasn’t your run of the mill weekend home on wheels. Ed wanted proof and to get real proof it took a specific set of tools. Ed’s home base on the back nine of Chasing Hawk’s property was constantly manned with upwards of eight individuals, poised and on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. Ed went on to lead teams of hunters through the woods, gathering castings of massive, 18 inch long tracks as well as combing the landscape in six man teams around areas they had heard the monster’s distinct holler. 

“They Sound a lot like a coyote but they can give you any sound you want to hear”, Ed stated. Sometimes it’s a whoop. Other times it’s a holler. They have even learned to chatter, imitating the way a human’s voice sounds off in the distance and on a couple of occasions have shouted what sounds like the word, “Hey” back at the group. And all this evidence, the castings and recordings, these things were great. But Ed Meller was in search of something more. He wanted to lay eyes on the creature himself. And if the reports are true, the plan he hatched up next gave him more than he bargained for. 

“Bigfoot is nosey” ed remarked. So how do you catch a curious creature? You create a scene it can’t help but come and observe. The plan was intricate, yet simple enough. Gather a group of women, have them meet up in the clearing, light a bonfire, kick back, and throw a party all night long! And to top it all off? Blast an eight track stereo cranked to 11 blaring Bigfoot’s favorite sound: Female singers from the billboard top 100 of the the year. Because what Sasquatch didn’t love Fleetwood Mac in 1977. I mean, if I were a Sasquatch, I’m sure I’d want my freedom and well, who am I to keep them down? After all, they just want to go their own way. Alright, time to break the chain of Fleetwood Mac puns. 

The party burned on into the early hours and besides a good time, nothing really seemed to go down. But that all shifted as Saturday morning’s moon faded around 4am. Just on the furthest edge of the firelight, Ed began to catch faint glimpses of movement. He recounts, “We had a couple of them crawling around behind and on side of us, about 50 yards away”. It seemed to Ed that they were sneaking around just out of clear sight to get a better look. They appeared to be hunched down and watching, shifting around to catch a better glimpse of the night’s festivities. “They crouched so low in the brush you could just barely see their outlines” Ed remarked. But as they grew more curious, they made themselves more visible in the firelight. 

Not one or even two, but three distinct creatures could be seen on the outskirts of the fire’s glow. As Ed and his fellow watchmen traded rounds with the binoculars they jotted down notes on what they witnessed. Yea, that 9 foot one Chasing Hawk had seen a couple weeks ago? It was there. And next to it on the left stood an even larger form, about a foot or so taller. That one had to weigh close to 900 pounds! And hunched down in front of the two was a smaller Bigfoot, dark black in color with a tan swath across its chest. This one, possibly the offspring of the other two was estimated to only be around 6 feet tall. The three curious humanoids watched the party for the next couple of hours until the sun threatened to illuminate them before they slipped back off into the darkness and out of sight. 

Numerous people in the group documented seeing all three of these creatures moving about in the firelight’s edge. Some took note of how they had long, spindly fingers while others noticed the dark red glow their eyes reflected back. To Ed, this was it. He had came, seen, and now without a shadow of a doubt, he believed. 

As quickly as sightings sprang up, they began to taper off in Little Eagle. Within a few days a large snow storm blew in and though hunters in hopes of catching one of the creatures had hoped this would make tracks more obvious, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Whether they went into hibernation or simply moved on to fairer weather is anyones guess but one thing is for sure: the creatures that stirred this tiny township faded with the freeze and though the ground thawed just a week later, the appearances never sprang back. 

Now, as we venture into the next adoptions of the this tale, I’d like to make a note that things begin to intertwine and shift, as well as take a much more dark and macabre turn. The waters are about to get a bit muddy but I think you’ll appreciate it once we get to the other side. So, let’s dive in. 

Sasquatch encounters are no rare thing in North America. As a matter of fact, reports of that mysterious hairy hominid have been reported from Mexico across the US into Canada and in every single state minus Hawaii. So it comes as no surprise the South Dakotans have had their fair share of run ins with the our beloved hide and seek world champion. But just because South Dakota has reported sightings of what they call Bigfoot doesn’t mean they are talking about the same creature. 

Though the Bigfoot infestation of 1977 in Little Eagle faded from the mainstream eye, that didn’t mean sightings stopped everywhere. Pocket reports of large, hairy hominids sprinkle the South Dakotan map. But as time went on, the Taku-He, as it has been coined; which translates from the Dakotan tribes native tongue to English to mean, “What is it?”, seemed to grow and morph. 

It seemed to locals that Taku-He didn’t quite fit the traditional narrative of Sasquatch. For starters, just about every single Bigfoot sighting has taken place in some form of forested area. It seems our woodland counterparts prefer the bountiful abundance and solitude that woodlands offer. But South Dakota, while being one of the most beautiful and memorable places I have ever visited, is vast and well, pardon my saying, empty. South Dakota is the 5th lowest in overall population while being 17th largest by size. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. South Dakota has plenty of forested areas a Sasquatch might call home. I mean, the black hills national forest alone is over 1.2 million acres! But much of the state is covered in vast, open planes. Then you have the Badlands, those almost inverted mountains where vegetation is sparse and the earth takes on an almost alien appearance. It’s absolutely beautiful and if I’m being quite honest, very intimidating. 

And while these types of land are quite stunning, they aren’t the typical stomping grounds for a proclaimed forest giant. But that doesn’t seem to deter the Taku-He, because as sightings continued, a patterned seemed to emerge. This creature, while being “Squachy” in appearance, didn’t mind the vast, open landscapes of the Badlands. No, if anything, it seemed to embrace it. Oh, and there’s one more thing that set’s this creature apart from his forest dwelling cousin. He seems to have found his flare for fashion. Often, despite its beastly appearance, the Taku-He or rather, Walking Sam as it is now known, has been reported to be sporting a stovepipe hat.

Walking Sam – That’s the name locals have given to this dapper Bigfoot who fears not the open skies. But while the name might conjure up a jolly, traveling salesmen dressed to the nines, this creature is anything but. 

Their radios crackled to life. Local officers were called out to the scene late one evening to investigate multiple reports of a large, “tall man” terrorizing a local community. When they pulled up into the driveway of one local family’s homes and knocked on the door, it seemed the folks inside were hole’d up and too scared to answer. But after a few minutes of knocking and a return call back to dispatch to ensure they were at the correct residence, finally the wife of the home cautiously answered the door. When the two officers stepped into their house, still adorned with shag carpet in the entryway – a timestamp of the previous decade, they turned the corner into the living room where they found the woman’s husband and children huddled tightly together, weapons in hand as they hunkered down behind their castle constructed from couches and the dining room table and chairs. 

Once the officers were able to calm the young family down, they took their report. They gave an account of how upon opening the door to let their dogs in for the night, they looked out across their driveway and there, next to their 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic stood an impossibly “tall man” sporting a stovepipe hat. The wife remarked on how the hips of this… this thing were lined up with the top of the car. That put its legs at a staggering 5 feet long meaning this man-like creature had to be at least 10 feet tall! They also mentioned how the dogs were barking and howling, erratic in their efforts to get away from whatever this thing was. 

Another police report was filed near the town of Pine Ridge where multiple residents claimed a “large man” had been creating a panic. When police came to investigate they noticed in the mud, large tracks spanning over 13 inches in length. They also took note of a foul, putrid smell that tainted the air around where this tall man was claimed to have been seen. On one such call later that week, the local officers upon leaving the scene noticed two large, red eyes gleaming back at them just on the edge of the light. The silhouette of the creature was large and hairy, hunched and menacing they reported. But what was even more peculiar, most peculiar in fact was the large, stovepipe hat the otherwise monstrous creature was wearing. But this wasn’t the first time Walking Sam had been reported in Pine Ridge and it wouldn’t be the last. 

Walking Sam isn’t just a dapper Bigfoot. With his long, spindly fingers, thin and shaggy appearance, and often reported as being shrouded or even all together faceless, this isn’t your every day monster. But by monster standards, Walking Sam might just be the most monstrous of all. Why you might ask? Because Walking Sam doesn’t just stand about trying to look menacing. No, if the tales from Pine Ridge, South Dakota are true, it has no desire to terrorize your property or break into your home. Because Walking Sam is more interested in getting into your head. 

She sat in her room watching the rain fall one drab, October evening. As the young girl watched time tick away she couldn’t help but feel those sad, dark thoughts start slipping back into her mind. The rain brought her mood down and her depressive struggle began again. As she peered out the soaked glass, just barely able to make out the treeline in front of her, she began to hear voices. Like whispers only she could make out, they began to berate her, reminding her of her worthlessness and how she was a waste of time. They pulled her deeper into that dark spot in her mind as tears swelled in her eyes. Then, they made a suggestion. What if you just, left. Left this life. Left your pain behind. She wasn’t wanted here, wasn’t appreciated here anyways…

The girl, struggling with the voices in her head looked up from her tear soaked hands and out the window once more but something caught her eye. Just on the edge of her vision she noticed a form gazing intensely back. Tall and faceless with white sockets for eyes and resting on its head? A stovepipe hat. As soon as it noticed her noticing it, the form darted behind a tree and out of sight and instantly the dark thoughts retreated with it. She continued to stare out to see if it would appear again but it was gone for good.

Later, when visiting with her grandmother, the girl had made mention of how she was struggling with some dark thoughts and told of her experience with the tall man outside her window. Taken aback, her grandmother knew instantly of the monster she claimed she had seen. As her grandmother described Walking Sam back to her in detail, she trembled in shock and relief that this wasn’t all in her head. 

To the locals, Walking Sam takes a more spiritual role. It is believed that the monster, tall and faceless, seeks to get into the heads of its victims, filling them full of depressive thoughts where it then lures them into the darkness, whistling to draw them where it wants them. Then it overcomes its victim’s minds, driving them to self harm or suicide. 

Some have theorized that the creature is angry about people inhabiting its land. Others say that Walking Sam is lonely and beckons people into the afterlife where it then draws them in, hanging their souls from its arms like charms to keep it company. But the truth of all this is sadly far, far worse. So if you will hang with us for just a moment longer I think we can shed light on this darkness and bring awareness to something that has been festering beneath the surface for decades. 

There are a few powerful facets to how the tale of Walking Sam came to be. First, we need to understand that tall, dark, faceless figures go much further back than the Bigfoot encounters in Little Eagle back in 1977. See, Native Americans have long passed down tales of ‘Stick Men’. These dark silhouettes are often said to target individuals, tormenting them with darker thoughts. They are said to hide out on the edge of society where they lure people to their end with a curious whistle and a barrage of sinister mental attacks. As they overpower the mind it is said that they can drive you completely into madness. And if you aim to harm one of these Demonic Stick Men, they are said to seek out vengeance, pressuring you into self harm. 

Then of course, when you introduce tales of large beasts that share a similar shape and profile, it’s easy for imagery to blend from Bigfoot and Stick Men into creatures like the Taku-He. Mix in some internet cryptid culture like slender man with a few strange sightings from the 80’s and boom. There’s your Walking Sam. But it’s not just the ‘what’ we need to look at but more so the ‘why’. 

People have a powerful way of coping with tragedy. We cling to parables: those stories of relation that help us grasp deeper concepts. We paint pictures and craft metaphors to better understand our world. Kind of like the Slide-Rock Bolter we discussed a handful of episodes back. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of humanity. That ability to take what is in one’s own mind and convey it – to place it in someone else’s. But that ability, that super power if you will, isn’t always used intentionally or positively. 

See, The Pine Ridge Reservation is plagued by an astronomically high suicide rate amongst children and teens. In 2015 there were over 200 attempted suicides in this less than 19,000 population. The Oglala Lakota sub-tribe of Sioux Native Americans have had to witness this extreme uptick, over 150% greater than the national average, in self harm despite their effort to help prevent it. Now many of the elders in their community would attribute this extreme and dark shift as a plague cast by the Walking Sam, that modern version of those ancient stick men. They would say that their village is being plagued by that dark demon, luring their young away to be tormented beyond that which they could handle. But this demonic shadow has a much more tangible and relatable side. 

See, Pine Ridge isn’t like most of our towns. As a matter of fact, it’s not like anything you might even conjure up when you think of a first world country. These people have been beat down, taken advantage of, driven out, and forgotten by the rest of the country they inhabited long before settlers landed at Plymouth Rock. Now there is a lot and I do mean a LOT of history that has lead to the Pine Ridge Reservation ending up in the state it is in. I am not going to stand here and pretend I am an expert in the history so I just want to urge you to stop by the show notes and just read for yourself. There’s a lot to take in. 

But to summarize: when you are removed from your home and placed at the edge of an area literally called the Badlands, then given land to live on but are not allowed to own, that creates a headache for business to flourish. Add that to the Native’s communal nature in a world ran by business and it makes everything that much more messy. Vegetation isn’t the only thing that dies in the Badlands. Entrepreneurship can’t take root when most all of the land is still federally owned. Add in a bit of racism and a stigma that poverty is an and I quote, “Indian problem”… I think you can see where I’m going here. This storm of trouble has lead to Pine Ridge being the second poorest place in all of the entire western hemisphere, beat out only by Cité Soleil in Haiti. 

The average income in pine ridge is only $7,773 a year. Yes, a year. Over 80% of residents fall below the poverty line. Infant mortality is 300% higher. Heck, Tuberculosis infections are 800% higher. Many places here don’t even have the luxury of running water. 

So why don’t people just leave you ask? Well, some have but others find it hard to adapt. Many face racism and judgment for their impoverished state leading them to live in the familiar rather than face the rest of the world. And it takes money to up and leave your home, no matter what home is. If you allow yourself to look with your heart you’ll quickly see how helpless a situation like this could be. So what do people do? Well, many turn to the bottle. 4 out of 5 families are effected by alcohol in Pine Ridge. But many give in to that dark helplessness and seek a way out. The only way they know, suicide. 

And here we find the darker parts of this tale. The spiritual pain embedded deep in this very spiritual people, assimilating the hurt of a tribe and the pains of the land. Putting face and form to a very real darkness because if demons walk this earth, to me, the helplessness that would lead one to not desire life is by far the highest proof one could offer. Call it a boogyman, Walking Sam, Taku-He, or a stick man, either way, I think these elders are onto something. Because while this monster seems to be a blend of real sightings of something a bit more terrestrial mixed with a much darker undertone, the idea, the sentiment is as real as it gets. Because the only thing more horrifying than self harm is the hopelessness that leads one to it. 

This episode took a heavy turn and as someone who has personally been impacted by suicide, I just want you to know that self harm is never the answer. If you ever have feelings or thoughts of self harm or suicide I urge you to tell someone you can trust. Those dark thoughts grow in silence and there is no shame in asking for help. You can also dial 9-8-8 here in the states and speak with someone toll free. Don’t let Walking Sam win. Life is better with you in it. 

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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. 

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