Something’s not right around Port Chatham, Alaska

Port Chatham, a bay on the southern tip of the Kenai and a former village of the same name, hardly seems like a setting for inexplicable terror and fright.

But a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths where the Kenai Mountains narrow before plunging into the North Pacific gave birth to rumors that began in the 1930s and continue to this day. And the rumors all point the same thing: Something’s not right around Port Chatham.

Take for instance Andrew Kamluck, who had gone out logging in 1931. He was found dead in the woods from a blow to the head; a piece of log-moving equipment nearby may have been used as a weapon. Around the same time, elder Simeon Kvasnikoff of nearby Port Graham (present-day Nanwalek), said that a gold miner headed out for the day and just disappeared. No sign of the prospector was ever found.

Archive Photo

Sometime later, Tom Larsen went out to chop wood for fish traps when he saw something large and hairy on the beach. He ran back home for his rifle. When he returned to the water’s edge, the thing just stared at him. Larsen never could explain why he did not fire.

Then in 1973, an Anchorage newspaper ran a piece on a retired schoolteacher who had taught in Port Chatham during World War II. She told of cannery workers who went into the mountains to hunt Dall sheep and bear but never returned. Search parties found no trace of them. Then rumors spread that a mutilated body, torn and dismembered in a fashion that didn’t resemble wounds from a bear attack, had been swept by rains down the mountain and into the lagoon.

Other rumors include specifics of the beast’s features. Hunters following signs of a moose came across manlike footprints that exceeded 18 inches in length. As they closed on the moose, they realized that they and the owner of the big feet were tracking the same animal. The hunters soon came across matted-down grass that held indications of an apparent life-and-death struggle. Beyond the grass, the hunters found no moose tracks, but the large manlike footprints continued upward into the cloud-draped mountains.

The history of human habitation around Port Chatham is relatively short even though the crook of her sheltering bay offers protection from a turbulent ocean. Capt. Nathaniel Portlock, a member of the British Royal Navy, found sanctuary here in 1786 during his Alaska expedition and praised the site. Around 1900, an American firm brought in a fleet of fishing boats and built a cannery to take advantage of the calm waters and the healthy run of salmon. The Russian-Alutiiq village of Port Chatham grew around the cannery, and by all accounts, it was quaint, tidy and in a beautiful setting, nestled between the sea and vistas of snow-covered peaks. By 1921, residents established a post office.

In an interview that ran in the October 2009 edition of the Homer Tribune, Nanwalek elder Malania Helen Kehl, who was born in Port Chatham in 1934, gave insight into the demise of her hometown. She explained that her parents, along with the rest of the village, grew weary of being terrorized by a creature the Alutiiq called a Nantiinaq, meaning half-man, half-beast. She said that many of the residents refused to venture into the surrounding forests, and over time, abandoned their homes and the village school, and moved up the coast to Port Graham. Only the postmaster remained in Port Chatham, but the post office closed in 1950.

Earlier records made by Portlock cannery management showed that the site had been vacated once before. The cannery supervisor noted in 1905 that all the Native workers evacuated the area because of “something” in the forest, but they returned to work at the cannery the following year.

Port Chatham, Alaska

The stories did not stop with the abandonment of the village. A goat hunter in 1968 claimed to have been chased by a creature while he was hunting in the area. In 1973, three hunters took shelter there during a three-day storm and claimed that each night something walked around their tent on what sounded like only two feet.

In 1990, an Anchorage paramedic was called out to aid a 70-year-old Native who had suffered a heart attack but was incarcerated in the Eagle River jail north of the city. While treating the man, the paramedic happened to mention he had hunted in the area of Port Chatham. The elderly man suddenly sat up, grabbed the medic by the shirt and asked “Did it bother you? Did you see it?”

The mystery continues.



A Bigfoot Story – Port Chathams, Alaska

1990 – Alaska

I don’t belong to any UFO group or anything like that but this actually happened to me. I’ve told a few trusted friends about it but never bothered to write it down. I’ll try to relate it as accurately as memory allows.

“In 1990, while I was working as a paramedic in Anchorage, we got called out on an alarm for a man having a heart attack at the state jail in Eagle River. He was a native man in his 70’s and after I got him stabilized with IV’s, O2 and cardiac drugs, my partner and I began to transport him to the Native Hospital in Anchorage.

In route to the hospital, I had time to talk to this gentleman who was a Aleut from the native village of Port Graham, a remote village on the lower end of Cook Inlet. Well, as usual with me, the topic eventually drifted to hunting and fishing and I casually mentioned to him that I and two other hunting buddies where once weathered in at the upper lagoon of Dogfish Bay, only a few miles from his home in Port Graham. The lagoon was about as beautiful and wild a place as I ever seen in my 35 years in Alaska. Well, when I said that I had spent some time in Dog Fish, this old man sat up on the gurney and grabbed me by the front of my shirt. He got right up to my face and said, “Did it bother you?” Well, with that question the hair just stood up on the back of my head. I said “Yes!” “Did you see it?” was his next question. I said “No. ..Did you see it?” He said “No!…but my brother seen it! It chased him!”

This old Aleut and I were talking about the same thing but we never used the word Bigfoot or legend or anything like that. But we both knew what we were talking about. You see, in Aug. of 1973, three of us were bowhunting for goats and blackies in what was then the remote wilderness of lower Cook Inlet, when a storm forced us to take shelter in Dogfish Bay Lagoon. We beached our skiff and let the tide run her dry. After a dinner of broiled salmon we turned in to our tent. Back in those days, the best tent I had was a dark green canvas job with a center pole and no windows or floor. We left the fire burning and cleaned the pots and pans so as not to attract bears during the night and turned in.

The sky was clear but the wind was howling through the old growth timber that lined the shore. Sometime around 2 AM, my friend Dennis woke me up by squeezing my leg. I could dimly see his face in the tent. His finger was across his lips. I listened. Then I heard it. A step. A man was quietly walking outside or our tent, taking very deliberate steps. Not a bear! Scenes from the movie Deliverance flashed through my mind. We woke Joe, the third member of our party with the same leg grab and finger to the lips. The walking, or rather sneaking continued until it half circled our tent and then all was quiet, except for the wind. We had our bows and the ’06 leaning against a tree outside of the tent so somehow we talked Joe into belly crawling out the tent to get the rifle. We were scared s—less, I tell you.

The next day and night the storm continued to blow. We saw several black bears on the salmon stream at the head of the lagoon during the evening hunt but had no chance for a shot. We didn’t talk about what had happened last night. Too embarrassed I guess, to be scared by a black bear that sounded like a man. We got back to camp early, built a big fire, sat around it, and ate dinner until around midnight. In August, there is still some light in the sky until about 10 or 11. I recall that we all were embarrassed about being afraid about the coming night. We had a flashlight and the rifle in the tent between us, locked and loaded. I finally dosed off but woke right up when Dennis squeezed my leg. The illuminated hands of my watch showed it was 2:30. Joe was already sitting up and had the rifle in hand. I heard the first step, not more than about 10 feet from the back of the tent. Slowly. Then another and another. What ever this was, it sounded like it was walking on two feet. It made the same semi-circle around the tent.

When we finally got enough courage to crawled out of the tent and turn the flashlight on, we saw nothing. No tracks, nothing. The third night we decided if it bothered us again, we would come out of the tent shooting. We were actually scared. It never came back the third night and the following day we had a break in the weather and got the heck out of there.

Never told anybody about the experience for several years until about 1979 when I happened to be reading an old Alaska Sportsman Magazine published in 1935. In the Letters to the Editor, a woman wrote that she recently found a letter written by some distant relative of hers who was a schoolteacher at the cannery in Portlock Bay, a rugged fjord adjacent to Dog Fish Bay. The year was 1905. She quoted from the letter. It said that the cannery employed a small group of Aleuts from a small village in Portlock Bay during salmon season. Their camp was about a mile from the cannery buildings. One day all the Aleuts moved out of the village and paddled their bidarkas back to Port Graham. The letter said that the Aleuts claimed that a “hairy man” was “bothering” and frightening them to the point where they had to leave. I have since done some research into the subject and found written histories of natives from Seldovia to Port Graham being frightened and “bothered” by something. They even have a native name for it. It doesn’t translate into English very well.

These accounts mostly take place during the first half of the 1900’s and are native related. But not all I talked to one white guy who in 1968 got the bejebbers scared out of him while coming down an alder choked gully while on a goat hunt in Portlock, AK. Most of these accounts precede the Bigfoot hype that began to appear in the 60’s and 70’s in the Northwest. Well anyway, that’s my story… and I’m sticking to it! — Ed”