JACK AND JOSEPH FIDDLER: WENDIGO HUNTERS
May 26, 2021
Hailing from northwestern Ontario and leading the Sandy people of the Oji-Cree tribe, Jack Fiddler — or Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow, his given name — was trusted by his tribe for his healing abilities and knack for ridding the nearby forest of wendigos.
His brother Joseph, or Pesequan, would help on these ventures.
Wendigos were thought to be evil spirits that would possess a person, transforming them into humanoid creatures that craved human flesh. The only way to kill someone controlled by the spirit is through death, and the only person who could that was a tribe’s shaman.
Fiddler and Pesequan claimed to have killed about 14 wendigos, some of whom were suspected of being exposed to the spirit or just showed the symptoms of possession while not actually being possessed.
This piqued the interest of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in 1907. Skeptical of the existence of wendigos and the intentions of the brothers, the department launched an investigation.
As they traveled to the area the brothers hunted, investigators were told of a woman by the name of Wahsakapeequay. She was said to be a wendigo, and Fiddler and Pesequan choked her to death with a piece of string.
Pesequan was Wahsakapeequay’s father-in-law.
Upon hearing this and saying it was enough evidence, investigators arrested the brothers and charged them with murder in June of the same year.
Fiddler, who was likely in his late 70’s to late 80’s, escaped the prison for Norway House where he hanged himself.
Pesequan was left to stand the trial alone without any legal representation, which immediately sentenced him to hang.
During the trial, a local newspaper titled the Montreal Daily Witness ran headlines with the words “Devil Worship Among The Cree” on it, and White friends of Pesequan attempted to give testimonies about Cree beliefs and how the practice of wendigo hunting was seen more as a mercy than a heartless killing.
“What the law forbids, no pagan belief can justify,” RNWMP Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry, the magistrate for the case, replied.
Many more efforts from White supporters — who were well known within the community — of the Oji-Cree tribe petitioned against the ruling, once again attempting to educate the courts why wendigo hunting wasn’t exactly murder.
Some even brought up the fact that the Fiddlers weren’t familiar with Canadian law, but all efforts to free Pesequan were overturned.
In 1910, Pesequan died in prison from an illness instead of the hangman’s noose. Because of this, the Sandy people had to sign the Treaty Five, and it only lead to the Canadian government exploiting and forcing the tribe onto a reservation.
“I did not know what I was doing was wrong,” Fiddler stressed to the police with the help of an interpreter, “and if I had known, I would not have done the deed.”