The Red-headed Windego by Edward William Thomson
Big Baptiste Seguin, on snow-shoes nearly six
feet long, strode mightily out of the forest,
and gazed across the treeless valley ahead.
"Hooraw! No choppin' for two mile!" he
"Hooraw! Bully! Hi-yi!" yelled the axemen,
Pierre, "Jawnny," and "Frawce," two
hundred yards behind. Their cries were taken
up by the two chain-bearers still farther back.
"Is it a lake, Baptiste?" cried Tom Dunscombe,
the young surveyor, as he hurried forward
through balsams that edged the woods
and concealed the open space from those among
"No, seh; only a beaver meddy."
"Clean! Yesseh! Clean 's your face. Hain't
no tree for two mile if de line is go right."
"Good! We shall make seven miles to-day,"
said Tom, as he came forward with
immense strides, carrying a compass and
Jacob's-staff. Behind him the axemen slashed
along, striking white slivers from the pink and
scaly columns of red pines that shot up a hundred
and twenty feet without a branch. If any
underbrush grew there, it was beneath the
eight-feet-deep February snow, so that one
could see far away down a multitude of vaulted,
Our young surveyor took no thought of the
beauty and majesty of the forest he was leaving.
His thoughts and those of his men were set
solely on getting ahead; for all hands had been
promised double pay for their whole winter, in
case they should succeed in running a line
round the disputed Moose Lake timber berth
before the tenth of April.
Their success would secure the claim of their
employer, Old Dan McEachran, whereas their
failure would submit him perhaps to the loss of
the limit, and certainly to a costly lawsuit with
"Old Rory" Carmichael, another potentate of
the Upper Ottawa.
At least six weeks more of fair snow-shoeing
would be needed to "blaze" out the limit,
even if the unknown country before them
should turn out to be less broken by cedar
swamps and high precipices than they feared.
A few days' thaw with rain would make slush of
the eight feet of snow, and compel the party
either to keep in camp, or risk mal de raquette,—strain
of legs by heavy snow-shoeing. So
they were in great haste to make the best of
Tom thrust his Jacob's-staff into the snow,
set the compass sights to the right bearing,
looked through them, and stood by to let Big
Baptiste get a course along the line ahead.
Baptiste's duty was to walk straight for some
selected object far away on the line. In woodland
the axemen "blazed" trees on both sides
of his snow-shoe track.
Baptiste was as expert at his job as any
Indian, and indeed he looked as if he had a
streak of Iroquois in his veins. So did "Frawce,"
"Jawnny," and all their comrades of the party.
"The three pines will do," said Tom, as
"Good luck to-day for sure!" cried Baptiste,
rising with his eyes fixed on three pines in the
foreground of the distant timbered ridge. He
saw that the line did indeed run clear of trees
for two miles along one side of the long,
narrow beaver meadow or swale.
Baptiste drew a deep breath, and grinned
agreeably at Tom Dunscombe.
"De boys will look like dey's all got de
double pay in dey's pocket when dey's see dis
open," said Baptiste, and started for the three
pines as straight as a bee.
Tom waited to get from the chainmen the
distance to the edge of the wood. They came
on the heels of the axemen, and all capered on
their snow-shoes to see so long a space free
It was now two o'clock; they had marched
with forty pound or "light" packs since daylight,
lunching on cold pork and hard-tack as
they worked; they had slept cold for weeks on
brush under an open tent pitched over a hole
in the snow; they must live this life of hardship
and huge work for six weeks longer, but
they hoped to get twice their usual eighty-cents-a-day
pay, and so their hearts were light
But Big Baptiste, now two hundred yards in
advance, swinging along in full view of the
party, stopped with a scared cry. They saw
him look to the left and to the right, and over
his shoulder behind, like a man who expects
mortal attack from a near but unknown quarter.
"What's the matter?" shouted Tom.
Baptiste went forward a few steps, hesitated,
stopped, turned, and fairly ran back toward
the party. As he came he continually turned
his head from side to side as if expecting to
see some dreadful thing following.
The men behind Tom stopped. Their faces
were blanched. They looked, too, from side
"Halt, Mr. Tom, halt! Oh, monjee, M'sieu,
stop!" said Jawnny.
Tom looked round at his men, amazed at
their faces of mysterious terror.
"What on earth has happened?" cried he.
Instead of answering, the men simply pointed
to Big Baptiste, who was soon within twenty
"What is the trouble, Baptiste?" asked Tom.
Baptiste's face was the hue of death. As he
spoke he shuddered:—
"Monjee, Mr. Tom, we'll got for stop de
"Stop the job! Are you crazy?"
"If you'll not b'lieve what I told, den you
go'n' see for you'se'f."
"What is it?"
"De track, seh."
"What track? Wolves?"
"If it was only wolfs!"
"Confound you! can't you say what it is?"
"Eet's de—It ain't safe for told its name
out loud, for dass de way it come—if it's call
by its name!"
"Windego, eh?" said Tom, laughing.
"I'll know its track jus' as quick 's I see it."
"Do you mean you have seen a Windego
"Monjee, seh, don't say its name! Let us go
back," said Jawnny. "Baptiste was at Madores'
shanty with us when it took Hermidas Dubois."
"Yesseh. That's de way I'll come for
know de track soon 's I see it," said Baptiste.
"Before den I mos' don' b'lieve dere was any
of it. But ain't it take Hermidas Dubois only
last New Year's?"
"That was all nonsense about Dubois. I'll
bet it was a joke to scare you all."
"Who 's kill a man for a joke?" said Baptiste.
"Did you see Hermidas Dubois killed? Did
you see him dead? No! I heard all about it.
All you know is that he went away on New
Year's morning, when the rest of the men were
too scared to leave the shanty, because some
one said there was a Windego track outside."
"Hermidas never come back!"
"I'll bet he went away home. You'll find
him at Saint Agathe in the spring. You can't
be such fools as to believe in Windegos."
"Don't you say dat name some more!"
yelled Big Baptiste, now fierce with fright.
"Hain't I just seen de track? I'm go'n' back,
me, if I don't get a copper of pay for de whole
"Wait a little now, Baptiste," said Tom,
alarmed lest his party should desert him and
the job. "I'll soon find out what's at the
bottom of the track."
"Dere's blood at de bottom—I seen it!"
"Well, you wait till I go and see it."
"No! I go back, me," said Baptiste, and
started up the slope with the others at his heels.
"Halt! Stop there! Halt, you fools! Don't
you understand that if there was any such
monster it would as easily catch you in one
place as another?"
The men went on. Tom took another tone.
"Boys, look here! I say, are you going to
desert me like cowards?"
"Hain't goin' for desert you, Mr. Tom, no
seh!" said Baptiste, halting. "Honly I'll
hain' go for cross de track." They all faced
Tom was acquainted with a considerable
number of Windego superstitions.
"There's no danger unless it's a fresh
track," he said. "Perhaps it's an old one."
"Fresh made dis mornin'," said Baptiste.
"Well, wait till I go and see it. You're all
right, you know, if you don't cross it. Isn't
that the idea?"
"No, seh. Mr. Humphreys told Madore
'bout dat. Eef somebody cross de track and
don't never come back, den de magic ain't in
de track no more. But it's watchin', watchin'
all round to catch somebody what cross its
track; and if nobody don't cross its track and
get catched, den de—de Ting mebby get
crazy mad, and nobody don' know what it's
goin' for do. Kill every person, mebby."
Tom mused over this information. These
men had all been in Madore's shanty; Madore
was under Red Dick Humphreys; Red Dick
was Rory Carmichael's head foreman; he had
sworn to stop the survey by hook or by crook,
and this vow had been made after Tom had
hired his gang from among those scared away
from Madore's shanty. Tom thought he began
to understand the situation.
"Just wait a bit, boys," he said, and started.
"You ain't surely go'n' to cross de track?"
"Not now, anyway," said Tom. "But wait
till I see it."
When he reached the mysterious track it
surprised him so greatly that he easily forgave
If a giant having ill-shaped feet as long as
Tom's snow-shoes had passed by in moccasins,
the main features of the indentations might
have been produced. But the marks were no
deeper in the snow than if the huge moccasins
had been worn by an ordinary man. They
were about five and a half feet apart from
centres, a stride that no human legs could take
at a walking pace.
Moreover, there were on the snow none of
the dragging marks of striding; the gigantic
feet had apparently been lifted straight up clear
of the snow, and put straight down.
Strangest of all, at the front of each print
were five narrow holes which suggested that the
mysterious creature had travelled with bare,
claw-like toes. An irregular drip or squirt of
blood went along the middle of the indentations!
Nevertheless, the whole thing seemed of
This track, Tom reflected, was consistent
with the Indian superstition that Windegos are
monsters who take on or relinquish the human
form, and vary their size at pleasure. He perceived
that he must bring the maker of those
tracks promptly to book, or suffer his men to
desert the survey, and cost him his whole
winter's work, besides making him a laughingstock
in the settlements.
The young fellow made his decision instantly.
After feeling for his match-box and sheath-knife,
he took his hatchet from his sash, and
called to the men.
"Go into camp and wait for me!"
Then he set off alongside of the mysterious
track at his best pace. It came out of a tangle
of alders to the west, and went into such
another tangle about a quarter of a mile to the
east. Tom went east. The men watched him
"He's got crazy, looking at de track," said
Big Baptiste, "for that's the way,—one is
enchanted,—he must follow."
"He was a good boss," said Jawnny, sadly.
As the young fellow disappeared in the
alders the men looked at one another with a
certain shame. Not a sound except the sough
of pines from the neighboring forest was heard.
Though the sun was sinking in clear blue, the
aspect of the wilderness, gray and white and
severe, touched the impressionable men with
deeper melancholy. They felt lonely, masterless,
"He was a good boss," said Jawnny again.
"Tort Dieu!" cried Baptiste, leaping to his
feet. "It's a shame to desert the young boss.
I don't care; the Windego can only kill me.
I'm going to help Mr. Tom."
"Me also," said Jawnny.
Then all wished to go. But after some
parley it was agreed that the others should wait
for the portageurs, who were likely to be two
miles behind, and make camp for the night.
Soon Baptiste and Jawnny, each with his axe,
started diagonally across the swale, and entered
the alders on Tom's track.
It took them twenty yards through the alders,
to the edge of a warm spring or marsh about
fifty yards wide. This open, shallow water was
completely encircled by alders that came down
to its very edge. Tom's snow-shoe track joined
the track of the mysterious monster for the first
time on the edge—and there both vanished!
Baptiste and Jawnny looked at the place with
the wildest terror, and without even thinking to
search the deeply indented opposite edges of
the little pool for a reappearance of the tracks,
fled back to the party. It was just as Red
Dick Humphreys had said; just as they had
always heard. Tom, like Hermidas Dubois,
appeared to have vanished from existence the
moment he stepped on the Windego track!
The dimness of early evening was in the red-pine
forest through which Tom's party had
passed early in the afternoon, and the belated
portageurs were tramping along the line. A
man with a red head had been long crouching in
some cedar bushes to the east of the "blazed"
cutting. When he had watched the portageurs
pass out of sight, he stepped over upon their
track, and followed it a short distance.
A few minutes later a young fellow, over six
feet high, who strongly resembled Tom Dunscombe,
followed the red-headed man.
The stranger, suddenly catching sight of a
flame far away ahead on the edge of the beaver
meadow, stopped and fairly hugged himself.
"Camped, by jiminy! I knowed I'd fetch
'em," was the only remark he made.
"I wish Big Baptiste could see that Windego
laugh," thought Tom Dunscombe, concealed
behind a tree.
After reflecting a few moments, the red-headed
man, a wiry little fellow, went forward
till he came to where an old pine had recently
fallen across the track. There he kicked off
his snow-shoes, picked them up, ran along the
trunk, jumped into the snow from among the
branches, put on his snow-shoes, and started
northwestward. His new track could not be
seen from the survey line.
But Tom had beheld and understood the purpose
of the manœuvre. He made straight for
the head of the fallen tree, got on the stranger's
tracks and cautiously followed them, keeping
far enough behind to be out of hearing or
The red-headed stranger went toward the
wood out of which the mysterious track of the
morning had come. When he had reached
the little brush-camp in which he had slept
the previous night, he made a small fire, put a
small tin pot on it, boiled some tea, broiled a
venison steak, ate his supper, had several good
laughs, took a long smoke, rolled himself round
and round in his blanket, and went to sleep.
Hours passed before Tom ventured to crawl
forward and peer into the brush camp. The
red-headed man was lying on his face, as is the
custom of many woodsmen. His capuchin cap
covered his red head.
Tom Dunscombe took off his own long sash.
When the red-headed man woke up he found
that some one was on his back, holding his
head firmly down.
Unable to extricate his arms or legs from his
blankets, the red-headed man began to utter
fearful threats. Tom said not one word, but
diligently wound his sash round his prisoner's
head, shoulders, and arms.
He then rose, took the red-headed man's
own "tump-line," a leather strap about twelve
feet long, which tapered from the middle to
both ends, tied this firmly round the angry live
mummy, and left him lying on his face.
Then, collecting his prisoner's axe, snow-shoes,
provisions, and tin pail, Tom started with
them back along the Windego track for camp.
Big Baptiste and his comrades had supped
too full of fears to go to sleep. They had
built an enormous fire, because Windegos are
reported, in Indian circles, to share with wild
beasts the dread of flames and brands. Tom
stole quietly to within fifty yards of the camp,
and suddenly shouted in unearthly fashion.
The men sprang up, quaking.
"It's the Windego!" screamed Jawnny.
"You silly fools!" said Tom, coming forward.
"Don't you know my voice? Am I a Windego?"
"It's the Windego, for sure; it's took the
shape of Mr. Tom, after eatin' him," cried Big
Tom laughed so uproariously at this, that the
other men scouted the idea, though it was quite
in keeping with their information concerning
Then Tom came in and gave a full and
particular account of the Windego's pursuit,
capture, and present predicament.
"But how'd he make de track?" they asked.
"He had two big old snow-shoes, stuffed
with spruce tips underneath, and covered with
dressed deerskin. He had cut off the back
ends of them. You shall see them to-morrow.
I found them down yonder where he had left
them after crossing the warm spring. He had
five bits of sharp round wood going down in
front of them. He must have stood on them one
after the other, and lifted the back one every
time with the pole he carried. I've got that,
too. The blood was from a deer he had run down
and killed in the snow. He carried the blood
in his tin pail, and sprinkled it behind him.
He must have run out our line long ago with a
compass, so he knew where it would go. But
come, let us go and see if it's Red Dick
Red Dick proved to be the prisoner. He
had become quite philosophic while waiting for
his captor to come back. When unbound he
grinned pleasantly, and remarked:—
"You're Mr. Dunscombe, eh? Well, you're
a smart young feller, Mr. Dunscombe. There
ain't another man on the Ottaway that could 'a'
done that trick on me. Old Dan McEachran
will make your fortun' for this, and I don't
begrudge it. You're a man—that's so. If
ever I hear any feller saying to the contrayry
he's got to lick Red Dick Humphreys."
And he told them the particulars of his
practical joke in making a Windego track round
"Hermidas Dubois?—oh, he's all right,"
said Red Dick. "He's at home at St. Agathe.
Man, he helped me to fix up that Windego
track at Madore's; but, by criminy! the look
of it scared him so he wouldn't cross it himself.
It was a holy terror!"