Ganö’sha’ – The Hairy Legs Creature

This story happened a long time ago, back when the Great Turtle Island was new…

Night was falling on the Haudenosaunee villages and the forest was darkening with each passing minute. Mothers and Aunties began gathering the young children to take them inside the longhouses, readying them for a night’s sleep safe in their beds. But one group of children did not heed the calls of their mothers, intent on continuing to make mischief around the entire village. They ran to the edge of the woods and were about to disappear into the darkness when some movement caught their eyes. Standing behind some trees was an old woman with a basket on her back. Her eyes glowed with evil, the faint light glinted off her sharp teeth, and her gnarled hand clutched a walking stick that looked as much like a war club as it did a cane. Her vicious grin made her look like she was waiting for someone to step into her lair.
The children slowed their steps and began to turn back toward the longhouses when suddenly powerful arms seized them from behind!! “Ahgey, didn’t you hear your mothers calling for you!!” chastised one of their uncles as the children shrieked in surprise and alarm. “You shouldn’t be out in the forest at night; you never know what might get you in the darkness,” he warned when the children had calmed a bit. “There was an old woman behind that tree!” said one girl as she pointed. But when everyone looked, there was no one to be seen. “It may have been the Basket Lady,” said the Uncle. “She looks for children who aren’t listening and carries them away in her basket.” The children looked on in disbelief but asked, “What does she do with them?” The Uncle shrugged and said, “No one knows because they are never seen again.” The young group looked around for the evil woman, but the Uncle said, “It is nighttime now so she should be back in her own lodge.” The children relaxed a little until Uncle said, “At night, the one you really need to fear is Ganö´sha´, the Hairy Legs creature! If he catches you, he will devour you and spit out your bones!” The children shuddered a bit but one of the boys seemed to not believe what he was hearing. “That sounds like a make-believe creature…there is no such thing as Hairy Legs!” he declared. “Oh, Ganö´sha´ is very real and he prowls the woods at night looking for children who should be home in their beds,” explained Uncle. “When I was a boy, there was a group of older boys who loved to cause trouble throughout our village – hiding in the forest at night, playing tricks on elders, teasing the young ones. One dark, moon-less night, they were in the forest planning mischief when they heard something rustling in the bushes. Thinking they were brave, they charged through the leaves and came face-to-face with a night prowler the likes of which they had never seen. It was short and compact; it looked like two legs without a body above them. It was covered in long, dark, gnarled hair but through the hair they could see beady, piercing eyes that were full of menace. The boys couldn’t see a mouth but could hear teeth grinding and gnashing together as the creature prepared to enjoy an evening meal. It howled an unearthly scream that nearly froze the boys with fear and then it charged at them with a blinding speed. Terror filled their hearts as the boys scattered and ran through the forest to escape Ganö´sha´. Painful screams filled the air and followed the group back to the village; when they were safe inside their longhouse, they realized that two of their friends had not returned. They were never seen again but pieces of bone were found that didn’t come from an animal of the forest.” Wide eyes looked up at Uncle as he finished his tale and the children all headed home to their beds.
As the group departed, one boy stayed behind with a very worried look on his face. Uncle asked him why he wasn’t going home like the others. “My lodge is in the next village and I must go through the forest to get home,” he answered. “Now, I am worried that Ganö´sha´ will get me if I walk home but my mother told me if I am out one more night, I will get the red willow switch when I do come back!” Uncle shook his head knowingly and said, “Red willow switch is the worst. You should hurry home before it is too dark.” So the boy took off through the woods, following a path toward his own village. But the farther he went, the more the darkness pressed in around him. Strange noises echoed off the trees. A bobcat screeched and an owl flew across his path casting a ghostly shadow on his feet. The boy felt lost in the thickening gloom. Suddenly, a rustling of bushes announced that some danger approached. He heard the gnashing of teeth just before a deathly wailed pieced the night. The boy ran as fast as his tired legs would carry him but out of the bushes sprang the dreaded Ganö´sha´! Uncle’s story was true about its terrible appearance – stout legs covered with a grisly hair, eyes full of hunger, and a mouth that could be heard but not seen. Hairy Legs came straight toward the boy and he realized that the monster could see very well in the dark, like a bat. Screaming and crying in terror, the boy found an extra burst of energy and his legs propelled him along the path faster than ever before! But he could hear Ganö´sha´ right behind, gaining with each stride of its ghostly legs. Suddenly, the boy felt a terrible crawling and itching across his skin, like worms or ants had infested his clothes. Looking down he saw the ghastly hair of Ganö´sha´ brushing against his arms and legs; the monster was almost upon him!!
With a final burst of strength, the boy jumped over a log that lay across the path and then ran toward his village which he could see through the trees. Behind him, the boy heard a stumbling and a thud as something fell against the forest carpet. A growl of rage and frustration made his blood run cold but, daring to glance back, he saw that Ganö´sha´ had tripped over the log; the creature had been so close behind, it did not see the obstruction across the path. Ganö´sha´ sprang up upon its stubby legs but the boy had been given a reprieve and was able to make it safely into his village. Stopping to catch his breath, the boy looked back at the forest. He struggled to make out anything in the darkness until he spied two glowing, menacing eyes staring at him; they appeared to promise great harm if the boy ventured into the forest at night again.
Suddenly, a sharp pain scorched across the boy’s shoulders as – WHACK! – his mother brought down the promised red willow switch. “I promise to never go into the woods at night again!” cried the boy as his mother prepared to rain down more punishment. “I will stay in the longhouse so Ganö´sha´ doesn’t get me!!” His mother stayed her switch and said, “Ganö´sha´? Ahgey, that is an old story Uncles tell to frighten children.” The boy objected, “No, Ganö´sha´ is real. It was just chasing me through the woods.” He pointed toward the spot where the eyes had been but now there was nothing be darkness. “Keep telling tall tales and you’ll really get it,” said his mother as she brandished the switch once again. The boy hurried to his longhouse, his mother close on his heels. Neither one saw the glowing eyes reappear, still looking for misbehaving children out at night rather than home safe in their beds. Da-neh-Ho!

Painting by Ernie Smith (Tonawanda Seneca, Snipe Clan)