One thing I recently realized was lacking in the blog? American Folklore! So, today we remedy that with a short tale about one of the little known creatures of 19th century American Folklore, the Hidebehind. Tales of this creature seem to spring up around lumber communities and particularly with lumberjacks. 19th century lumberjacks had a lot to worry about - physical injury, bears, falling trees...and, of course, the Hidebehind.
According to the lore, the Hidebehind got its name from how it stalked its prey - hiding behind it. It hid behind trees in the forest and stalked its prey as it concealed itself amongst the forest. Whenever someone’s back was turned, it would creep closer. When it finally was close enough to its victim it would instantly gouge out the stomach and intestines of the victim. The Hidebehind would then feast on the raw meat. Assaults by the Hidebehind were so instant that even if not completely deadly, the victim often died of fright alone.
The Hidebehind’s physical description is hard to nail down, as it is so rarely seen. However, those who have glimpsed this horrid creature describe it as wraith-like and vaguely humanoid. The body of this creature was undeniably slender, though, as it was able to conceal itself behind a whole variety of trees. Additionally, one would have to guess that it has fearsome claws in order to eviscerate its victims instantaneously.
How could one possibly evade the Hidebehind if it was fast, sneaky, and armed with claws? Well, drinking helps. No, seriously. According to most accounts, the monster hated the smell of alcohol. If it hated the smell, it sure didn’t want to eat something chock full of it. So, the lumberjacks drank as a way to protect themselves when they thought they might be on the hunting grounds of a Hidebehind. However, many saw this solution as an excuse to drink more.
So, where and why did these tales arise? As mentioned above, these stories took place in logging country in the USA (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan) which were pretty wild places in the 19th century. Being a lumberjack was a taxing job with a myriad of dangers to contend with every single day. Perhaps the Hidebehind was a story to keep men vigilant for bears and other wild animals that may be lurking in the woods. Or, perhaps, this isn’t an animal specific threat and just a grander reason and reminder for lumberjacks to stay vigilant at all times in order to avoid vulnerability.
However, it might also be a way to deal with mysterious disappearances and deaths of fellow lumberjacks. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth describes the creature as "A predatory cannibal beast that lurked around the loggers' camps until one was alone long enough to be grabbed and carried away to be consumed." Perhaps this creature was a way for logging camps to deal with the fear of accidental kills, lost men, and fallen friends.
The above is an image of Federal Forest Highway 13, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by Jim Toomey. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.