BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — With Halloween on the horizon, plenty of people find this as the perfect opportunity to tell scary stories. Tales of the paranormal are always at the front and center around this time of year — but why tell tales of ghosts when there could be real-life beasts of terror nearby?
‘Cryptid’ is the term that’s generally used to describe creatures that people claim to exist, but haven’t been actually proven to. You’ve probably heard of at least a few in the past — some of the most famous cryptids include the likes of the Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabra, and every other name for Sasquatches under the sun (Bigfoot, Yeti, Skunk Ape, Yowie, etc.). The Great Plains are no stranger to the idea of these beasts, of course, especially considering that many believed to dwell in North America stem from native legends and tales. Stories of creatures like Wendigo, werewolves, and even Bigfoot himself originated in part from tribes in the northernmost parts of the United States, and all have their own place in superstition and the field of cryptozoology (a pseudoscience related to the study of unknown, mythical, or extinct animals who’s existence is up for debate). Despite these popular legends, though, there’s one North Dakotan nightmare that has slipped through the public eye.
You may know some of the world’s more famous cryptids, but are you aware of the beast that dwells in the depths of the Missouri River? It’s known as the Miniwashitu, or Missouri River Monster, and while it may not be as well-known as other cryptids, it’s certainly just as terrifying as all of them — and even more so, if the stories of its appearance and power are anything to go by. Join us as we descend into the mighty Missouri for a brief overview of one of ND’s most curious creatures.
Musings on the Monster
The earliest known references to the Miniwashitu in North Dakota culture come from tales predating even European settlements in North America, but the beast’s first appearance in actual media stems from a brief description of a Dakota plains myth written by author Melvin Randolph Gilmore, former curator for the ND State Historical Society and cultural anthropologist. As a lover of stories and a frequent collaborator with tribal nations, it stands to reason that he would have heard the tale passed down to him. In 1921, Gilmore wrote about his experience hearing the story of the creature, which is as follows:
It is said that in the long ago, there was a mysterious being within the stream of the Missouri River. It was seldom seen by human beings, and was most dreadful to see. It is said that sometimes it was seen within the water in the middle of the stream, causing a redness shining like the redness of fire as it passed up the stream against the current with a terrific roaring sound.
And they say that if this dreadful being was seen by anyone in the daytime anyone who thus saw it soon after became crazy and continued restless and writhing as though in pain until he was relieved by death. And it is said that one time not a very great many years ago this frightful being was seen by a man, and he told how it appeared. He said that it was of strange form and covered all over with hair like a buffalo, but red in color; that it had only one eye in the middle of its forehead, and above that a single horn. Its backbone stood out notched and jagged like an enormous saw. As soon as the man beheld the awful sight everything became dark to him, he said. He was just able to reach home, but he lost his reason and soon after that he died.
It is said this mysterious “Miniwashitu” (water monster) still lives in the Missouri River, and that in springtime, as it moves up-stream against the current it breaks up the ice of the river. This water monster was held in awe and dread by the people.
Cosmetics of a Cryptid
As one of its nicknames would imply, the Miniwashitu spends most of its time submerged in the Missouri River, only emerging on extremely rare occasions- but when it does, it seems like it would certainly be a sight to behold. Standing over seven feet tall, Its large frame is cloaked in red hair, making it look almost like a bipedal buffalo. The most notable of these is the single eye in the middle of its forehead, but it also sports a horn on its head and its spine grotesquely sticks out of its back. Its hands are humanoid, but its feet are hooves like those of an elk. Although it is understandably impossible to take a photograph of this beast to confirm any of this, artists have attempted to recreate the design. This example, for instance, stems from home security site Vivint, who created it using AI program Midjourney — and while it manages to capture the shaggy red fur correctly, it’s also missing the key features of the horn and single, solitary eye.
Surprisingly, despite its supposedly grotesque appearance, the creature is not necessarily a predator: most stories have it subsisting entirely on fish, plants, and grass, Although it may not truly intend to be threatening, the Miniwashitu is apparently very protective of its territory and will lash out at invaders. It would seem that the cryptid thankfully wouldn’t actively seek out and attack humans using its tremendous size and strength– but judging by the abilities it supposedly has, it doesn’t need to.
The Good, the Bad, and the REALLY Ugly
The Miniwashitu is reportedly so horrific in itself that just looking at it will shatter anyone’s mind and darken one’s vision, rendering them blind and mad before dying an agonizing death. And according to some stories, looking in its eye is even worse, as it’ll freeze you in perpetual fear for the remainder of your short, crazy existence. Even if you don’t look at it, you won’t escape an encounter with the Miniwashitu unscathed: the bellow the creature supposedly lets out when surfacing would also deafen those nearby who happened to hear it. The man who encountered the beast and relayed its existence to the tribes, according to legend, barely made it home and gave the description before passing away.
Despite all the intimidation, it does serve a purpose as well: in the springtime, the Miniwashitu used its massive strength to shatter the ice across the Missouri River, leaving it once again open to fishing and travel. This led to the beast being both feared and surprisingly respected by the Dakota tribes.
Do we here at KX believe the story? Not particularly, but it’s interesting to think about. There’s a lot to unpack with some of the more peculiar aspects of the story. It’s highly unlikely that he managed to retell the story while mad, deaf and blind, much less find his way home in the first place, and you’d think more people would have seen or reported going deaf all of a sudden with this thing showing up every so often. The idea of the Miniwashitu’s mere existence is enough to lead to plenty of theories, speculation, and entertaining imagery.
Still, there’s something very intriguing about the legend. Even the slightest possibility of a creature like this existing certainly brings intrigue and inspiration to many a creative mind. Perhaps the myth itself is more important than its existence, if not for the sheer amount of curiosity the rumor has brought upon the river than by the works of writing that stem from it.
We’d still advise against heading down to the Missouri to try and find it, though.