The Pacific Northwest has its Bigfoot. Tibet has the Yeti. Northern Illinois has Seneca Man. Like the other legends, tales of Seneca Man can be traced far back into history. References can be found in historical records dating back to the 1850s, when Jeremiah Crotty first settled in the area. Even earlier, as far back as the late 1600s, the first European explorers and traders through the area related tales told to them by the Native American peoples that once lived in the area – tales of a ghost or pale spirit being who lived in the forests and prairies, and who protected the land. These tribes always connected sightings of this being with good fortune.
The area where this creature is reputed to live today is a ribbon of forest that runs along the course of the Illinois river, roughly from the Channahon and Des Plaines Conservation area, and west to at least Ottawa. Some contend that Seneca Man’s range extends as far to the southwest as East Peoria, but details of sightings in that area are sketchy.
Those who have spotted Seneca Man describe it as roughly human in form, between 5 and 6 feet tall, with considerable hair on the head and face, but only lightly furred elsewhere. Though older historical sightings don’t make reference to it, more recent sightings often note that Seneca Man is a thin creature. Some witnesses have even described it as “scrawny”, which crypto-zoologists have suggested may be a result of limited food supplies in its dwindling habitat.
This past Saturday I was out for a ride on my scooter, enjoying the good weather after previous rainy weekends. Just north of Channahon on West Shepley Road, I crossed over the DuPage River. Glancing down to the water below, I had the rare good fortune to spot a Seneca Man, in the flesh.
What I saw was very similar to other descriptions I’ve read. He was standing at the edge of the water line, leaning up against the old stone sides of the river. He was facing away from the bridge, but looking back over his shoulder at it with a definite look of concern, possibly fear, on his face. No doubt he was frightened at finding himself so exposed to human observation.
He had long, stringy hair and a similarly disheveled beard, and as others have reported was otherwise unclothed and hairless. What really startled me was how very pale he was – much like the ghosts described in those old Indian legends. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a safe place in time to pull over and take a photograph before he disappeared.
I suspect he had been driven from his normal hiding places in the forests by the recent torrential rains. With anywhere from five to ten inches of rain in the area over the previous weekend, rivers throughout the region had flooded. My ride followed along Cemetery Road between the I&M Canal and the Illinois River, and even a week after the storms, huge swaths of woods and fields were still flooded, with water more than a foot deep in many normally dry areas.
The flood waters continue to recede, and no doubt by now Seneca Man has been able to return to his regular haunts deeper in the woods, where he won’t be troubled by passersby. In any case, I feel blessed to have caught of glimpse of this rare, almost mythical creature.