Category Archives: Dakota
Also known as: Big Man, Stick Men, Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot, Tall Man, Walking Sam
The Tall Man Spirit is a dark figure from Native American beliefs, particularly of the Dakota and Lakota people in the state of South Dakota. The belief and stories surrounding the Tall Man date back decades if not centuries where it has become linked to the tragic history that many Native Americans have endured.
This tragic history is very prominently linked to 1890, when the U.S. cavalry came in to put a stop to the spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance. What would follow is a confrontation that led to U.S. soldiers open firing on unarmed Lakota Sioux, many of whom were women and children. This site would become known as the Battle of Wounded Knee. It would, a century later, be the site of a 1973 protest that would turn into a months-long standoff between Native American activists and law enforcement.
With this history, add to it the widespread poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, child abuse and other crimes such as rape and murder so prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s understandable that one of the most prevailing problems in Pine Ridge is that of suicide, especially among the youth, would, at the very least, see the personification of an entity called Tall Man Spirit or Walking Sam manifest.
The Tall Man Spirit has been described as having a similar appearance to Slender Man and is likely one of many sources for Slender Man’s inspiration. The Tall Man is said to be tall, exceeding seven feet in height, slender, long thin legs and arms, lacking a mouth and nose, and wears a black stove top hat. Much like Slender Man, Tall Man is said to have the ability to control people’s minds.
Other descriptions place the Tall Man as being between 12 and 15 feet in height, covered in hair, with red eyes and smelling horrific like a sewer. That sounds more like a classic description of Big Foot. Over among the Oglala Sioux, a very similar entity is mentioned, that has hooves.
Big Man – Going by the more correct translation of this entity, the Big Man spirit seems to be more of a local protector of the forest than any dark malevolent spirit tied to death. It seems to be more a spirit of the land. In that respect, it’s taking on a much darker aspect is likely just a reflection of the history and how it has affected the Lakota. As if a connection has deeply gone wrong and soured.
Slender Man – The figure of Slender Man is relatively new to the Urban Folklore landscape, making it a 21st century Bogeyman. This being’s first appearance was on June 10th of 2009, having been created by Eric Knudsen, using the name “Victor Surge” in the Something Awful forums for a photoshop contest. The idea had been to create an Urban Legend so believable it would take on a life of its own, which it certainly has. It has been noted, after researching The Tall Man Spirit, that Slender Man draws on a lot of the same imagery motifs.
Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot – This is one name for the Tall Man when people describe sightings of seeing it wearing clothing. Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot is notable for being mentioned around the Pine Ridge Reservation. As the name indicates, this is also people misidentifying Big Foot or Sasquatch with Tall Man.
Walking Sam – This is another name for the Tall Man Spirit as it is known around the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It did make local news and even the New York Times a few years back in 2015 with a high rate of suicides occurring on the reservation, especially among the youth. As a result, Walking Sam is considered a suicide spirit, one that is rather dangerous.
There is one notable incident where several teenagers were planning a mass suicide. They had planned to head out to an area where there were mostly trees where they would hang themselves. The local pastor, John Two Bears learned of what was to happen and was able to head off this group attempt.
More modern manifestations of this entity show it making appearances on the internet, taking advantage of vulnerable people, particularly youth, telling them to end their life. Situations have to be particularly dire if it can seem capable to do that.
Walking Sam is reported to have the ability take control of peoples’ minds, telling them to kill themselves so that it can collect their soul that will then join the others hanging from his long, spindly arms. One comment made is that Walking Sam was sent to earth as punishment and by claiming the souls of suicides, it is looking for company.
“In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse”: Written by Peter Matthiessen in 1983, he makes mention of Walking Sam as a supernatural entity that is both spirit and real, able to slip through the forest as if the trees weren’t there.
Folklore & Urban Legend
At first glance, yes some could approach the story of the Tall Man Spirit as some sort of spooky campfire story told in the same vein as that of Bigfoot and other Urban Legends. It could explain too one name of “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot” that I came across. That is a disservice to this entity and what it is. Unless you want to try diminishing it’s power by making light of it, to be less scary or intimidating.
It is very likely people have confused two different entities together based on possible mistranslations from the Sioux languages into English. In the Lakota or Western Sioux language, they call Big Foot by the name “chive-tanka” meaning Big or Great Elder Brother. In English, the term gets translated to be “the Big Man.” It’s easy to see why Big Foot hunters and enthusiasts would glom onto a potential mistranslation to embrace it.
On the Oglala reservation, sightings of Big Foot or Big Man are seen as ill omens and warnings of potential tragedies. Where there seems to be sightings and claims of more than one creature or entity, some have put forward the ideas that this entity is a local forest spirit and protector of the land.
Remembering to keep the two separate, Tall Man is found in older stories of bad spirits or giants that once wandered the Earth. They had become prideful and arrogant to the point that they challenged the thunder and lost to it.
Big Foot or Sasquatch by themselves are in an entirely different category belonging more towards cryptids and cryptozoology. The Tall Man Spirit fits more towards a broader category of supernatural beings like the Bogeyman and Shadow People. A portent of ill omen and tragedy.
This is one of the powers attributed to the Tall Man Spirit, to make a person or even a group of people do things they normally would not otherwise. One of which is to whisper to people, commanding them to commit suicide.
I don’t know if I’d call that a power, as this entity, particularly Walking Sam seems to prey on and target those already vulnerable, feeling the extremes of depression, despair, powerlessness and hopelessness. That all it seems to do is give people that nudge to push them over in that direction.
The belief in Tall Man is very prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While many will call it mere superstition that people use to blame the causes of suicide. The harsh reality is that even if the Tall Man is chalked up to superstition, what it represents or is a manifestation of, is not. Suicide is still a very real thing that many Lakota, especially their youth are having to confront with the deeply root despair, depression, and potentially overwhelming helplessness.
While it was easy to take apart Slender Man and analyze him, given how new to the folkloric and urban legend scene it is. Tall Man is harder as it’s had longer to seep deeper into a local region and people’s culture. Of course, it’s easy for the Tall Man spirit to seem as powerful as its portrayed when the helplessness and despair is that deeply rooted.
Nor does it help when some gruesome images associated with the Tall Man are that of nooses. Sheriffs, law enforcement and other people report having found them hanging from trees. Comparisons have been made to found footage films like Blair Witch Project. Even if we go with the simple explanation of someone leaving nooses to be found, another comparison is made to Japan’s infamous “suicide forest,” Aokigahara.
That is all rather disturbing.
The Tall Man Spirit makes an appearance in episode six when Willie Jack and Leon go hunting. This episode does lean more on treating Tall Man as a protector of the Forest.
National Suicide Hotline
If you’re in the United States and you need help or someone to talk to, there is this link,