On the American Northwest Coast lies the Queen Charlotte Islands, and this has been the traditional home of the Haida Indians for centuries. This particular Native American culture revolves around the water, which they derive their food and other resources from. The Haida hunt and fish, in both freshwater lakes and the sea. They traded with neighboring tribes, but they also had to defend themselves from those very same tribes at times. The Haida took naturally-occurring materials such as wood, stone, antler, bone, and copper and crafted them into death-dealing weapons like spears, daggers, clubs, axes, and bows and arrows. They made their armor from wooden slats and bone. In fact, their skills as warriors made it impossible for the early Russian explorers to colonize the islands. But like all other cultures, the Haida still fear the things that lurk in the dark at night. One of the most feared creatures in Haida mythology is the Ga-Git, a vicious demonic shapeshifter that was once human and feeds on the flesh and the blood of its victims.
According to Haida legend, the Ga-Git was human at one time, usually a fisherman. On occasion, these fishermen would have terrible accidents at sea that utterly destroyed their canoes, causing them to nearly drown. If the sea didn’t kill them, however, a fate far worse than death awaited them upon their return to shore. Horribly traumatized by their near-death experiences, these men would wander mindlessly into the deepest, darkest parts of the forests, where they would become little more than animals. They would roam around naked, choosing to survive on roots, tubers, berries, vegetation, and perhaps wild game instead of returning home to their villages and their families. Exactly why this happens is unknown, but it could be speculated that this is due perhaps to an encounter with evil spirits of the forest (Harrison 131). Sensing weakness in their minds and their bodies, these evil spirits would take possession of their bodies and slowly begin to turn those men into monsters that were less than human, and yet something more. Eventually, these men would gain shapeshifting abilities, supernatural strength, and limited powers of flight. At this point, the men are no longer considered to be human and are instead monsters that view humans as being little more than their food (Harrison 131; Jones 21).
By all accounts, the Ga-Git is a horrific-looking beast. The monster’s body is covered with heavy black fur or hair, while its hands and feet are pawlike and tipped with razor-sharp talons. It has dark, beady eyes not unlike those of an owl, and a mouthful of needlelike teeth (Harrison 131; Jones 20). The creature stinks of “filth, rot, spoiled meat, and dried blood” (Jones 20-21). It continuously lets out a deep, rumbling growl. The beast’s growls seem to be some sort of bestial language, but it is unintelligible to human ears (Jones 20).
The Ga-Git is said to be a nocturnal predator that hides and sleeps in the darkest parts of the forests and in dark, damp caves during the day, emerging to hunt for human meat at night (Harrison 131; Jones 21). The monster primarily preys upon travelers that venture too close to its lair, whereupon it slaughters the victim with its ferocious claws. It will then feed on the victim’s flesh and blood. The monster is especially fond of ripping out and consuming the hearts of its victims. However, the Ga-Git will occasionally make forays into villages and even small towns in order to abduct people or to commit random murders. If it is feeling particularly bold, the monster will break into private homes late at night and carry off sleeping humans, kept in their dreaming state by the Ga-Git’s magic (Jones 22; Harrison 132). The Ga-Git has only one thing in mind for these people, and that is to turn them into monsters like itself. In this way, they too will know the agony of the Ga-Git’s curse. If the creature so much as breathes on a human, the victim will become a Ga-Git themselves within days of the attack (Jones 22; Harrison 132).
Despite its cursed nature, the Ga-Git is said to command a number of supernatural powers. This monster is a shapeshifter that is able to take on any form that it wishes, up to and including its original human form. The Ga-Git is possessed of unnatural strength, and is able to uproot large trees, shake houses (if not outright destroy them), carry off large whaling canoes (and possibly modern-day fishing boats), and can even lift a horse without breaking a sweat (Harrison 132; Jones 22). Furthermore, the Ga-Git is imbued with the power of flight (Harrison 131). However, the creature is limited in that it is only able to fly about six feet off of the ground. Only a very powerful Ga-Git is able to fly at any greater altitude, like over the top of a house (Jones 22; Harrison 132 & 134). The monster also moves very quickly, making it nearly impossible to escape from the beast’s terrible ripping claws. The Ga-Git, with its sheer strength and speed, is just about impossible to escape from and is just as difficult to fend off.
There have been a few recent accounts of the Ga-Git causing trouble and misery for the Haida people. In his book Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific (Northumberland Press, Ltd., 1925), Charles Harrison recalls being told by an elderly chief that a number of the creatures had been seen flying around Massett, near Skidegate, in the early 1900s. A hunting party was able to capture one of the monsters in a deadfall trap. But instead of killing the beast, the hunters showed it mercy and took the monster back to their village and clapped the creature in irons. They kept the beast supplied with food and water, but it remained chained up for a number of years. Eventually this kind treatment prevailed, and the captured Ga-Git regained his senses and became human once more. In another case, one Ga-Git didn't get so lucky. It was impaled on the splintered trunk of a tree that had been blown down by the wind. The creature quickly died from the injury. In another story, one man had the audacity to fire at one of the monsters with his rifle. Angered by the man's stupidity, the Ga-Git flew after him, ready to tear the man apart for his insolence. The man panicked, and he jumped into the water (although whether it was the ocean, a lake, or a river remains unknown). The man was forced to swim for quite awhile before he was able to rejoin his friends (Harrison 132).
The last known panic attributed to the Ga-Git is thought to have occurred in August of the year 1897, the same year that Bram Stoker published his now-iconic novel, Dracula. A hunter by the name of Kil-tlai-ge had shot and killed a goose in Delkatla Slough, but the bird had landed too far out. Having no choice, the man stripped down and jumped into the water. But when he reached the middle of the channel, a powerful undercurrent knocked him off his feet and carried him away. The next day, his clothes and his rifle were found at the base of a spruce tree, but Kil-tlai-ge himself was never seen again, and was presumed dead.
Fearing the worst, Kil-tlai-ge's tribe became anxious and formed a search party in an effort to find the missing hunter. The men lit enormous bonfires and filled the night air with their shouting and the sounds of gunfire while they searched. This continued for a full three days and three nights. The men couldn't find any trace of their missing brother, and finally concluded that Kil-tlai-ge had become a Ga-Git. Two days later, the man's widow claimed that she had seen her husband in a monstrous form, trying to enter his former home. Some people were skeptical of her claims, and to test her story, they sprinkled sand in front of the doorway. In this way, the people would know if she spoke the truth. Little did they know that they would have their answers soon enough.
The next night, the widow surrounded herself with men for protection (and possibly pleasurable company). Early the next morning, they all heard the tell-tale sound of something lifting the door latch, trying to gain entry. The men quickly ran to the door, weapons at the ready. Outnumbered and frightened, the Ga-Git took to the air and flew down the inlet. The beast stayed about six feet off the ground in flight as they chased the monster, but they lost sight of the creature as it crossed the Hecate Straits towards a certain Alaskan mountain (which may or may not have been Mount St. Elias). In this mountain, the Haida believe, the Chief of the Ga-Gits is said to live. He rules over the good Ga-Gits, which are allowed to live within the mountain once they have fulfilled the Chief's orders. A fire burns constantly within the mountain, and the good Ga-Gits are able to keep themselves warm and comfortable in the presence of their Chief. The evil Ga-Gits, on the other hand, are effectively banned from the mountain and doomed to a miserable life of killing and transforming humans into Ga-Git. But needless to say, the Ga-Git that was once Kil-tlai-ge was never seen again. After this last Ga-Git was seen, the Chief of the Ga-Gits decreed that any Haidas wrecked at sea would die just like the white man. The Chief of the Ga-Gits no longer has any power over them and simply doesn't care what happens to them anymore (Harrison 134-135).
The Ga-Git has very few actual weaknesses, and there is no known way to actually kill the beast. One of the better defenses is to simply stay inside the house at night, but even that isn’t infallible. The best way to escape the Ga-Git is to jump into the nearest body of water, whether it is the sea, a pond, a lake, or even a swimming pool. Because the monster nearly drowned once already, the Ga-Git has an extreme aversion to water (Harrison 134; Jones 21). This suggests that water could be harmful to the creature, and it might even be possible to drown the beast. Of course, getting close enough to drag the thing into the water while avoiding its vicious claws and its overpowering strength is another matter altogether. Decapitation and burning the body to cinders afterwards are good bets as well. Because the Ga-Git flies so close to the ground, it is advisable to drop down to the ground in order to avoid its attack (Jones 22). But a man may have to repeat this tactic several times before the Ga-Git realizes that its would-be victim just isn’t worth bothering with.
In this day and age, most people view the Ga-Git as being nothing more than a scary story to keep children from wandering off into the forests all by themselves. But what if there is something more to the legends? The Ga-Git is such an obscure monster that even a casual Google search won’t turn up much of anything on the subject. An exception, perhaps, might be this blog entry. So, maybe people have just forgotten about it. In the end, maybe that’s just what the Ga-Git wants…
Harrison, Charles. Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific: The Haidas, Their Laws, Customs and Legends, With Some Historical Account of the Queen Charlotte Islands. London: Northumberland Press, Ltd., 1925. Pages 131-136.
Jones, David E. Evil in Our Midst: A Chilling Glimpse of Our Most Feared and Frightening Demons. New York: SquareOne Publishers, 2002. Pages 19-22.