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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crime Tidbit (Sort of): Swift Runner

Swift Runner on the day of his execution
So this crime tidbit is a bit different than most that I post. It's different because who did the deed is not the mystery. But rather, why he did it.

In 1879, a Cree Indian man (age unknown) by the name of Swift Runner lived a fairly normal life in central Alberta. He had a wife and six children, traded with the Hudson's Bay Company, and served as a wilderness guide for the territory. At roughly six feet, three inches, Swift Runner cut an imposing figure, and was known for liking the whiskey smuggled into the territory a bit too much. And when he drank it, he caused all kinds of mischief.

Local police eventually grew fed up with his behavior and sent him back to his tribe, but when he caused trouble there, they kicked him out too. He retreated with his wife, brother, and six children into the wilderness. The following spring, rumors sprang up that Swift Runner had turned cannibal. The man turned himself into the police, telling them that his children had died of starvation over the winter and his wife had taken her own life in grief. Yet, Swift Runner himself didn't look emaciated for half-starved.

Remains of Swift Runner's victims (Source)
hen police went looking for the camp he and his family had stayed in over the winter, they found a pile of bones beside a cold fire, many of which didn't even have the marrow in tact anymore. It was obvious that Swift Runner had, indeed, cannibalized his family.

He was arrested, tried, and hanged for murder and cannibalism.

The real question was what had caused him to turn cannibal. It was reported that years earlier, Swift Runner had been forced to eat the remains of a starved hunter in order to save himself from starvation, and he had developed a taste for human flesh.

Others said he was possessed by Wendigo, a creature from Native American legend that is half-demonic and lends itself to cannibalism. On the one hand, being possessed by Wendigo might insight a human to participate in cannibalism, and Swift Runner claimed the spirit was giving him nightmares. But on the other hand, it was also said that human beings could become Wendigos if they participated in cannibalism. So which was it, according to Swift Runner?

No one could say for certain. He faced the scaffold with relative dignity and was hanged December 20, 1879 at Fort Saskachewan.

There is also something called Wendigo Psychosis, a culture-bound cannibalistic mania that was said to have been document among the Algonquian tribes.

So, what do you think? Why would someone like Swift Runner suddenly turn cannibal? Was it a culture thing, simply a result of starvation circumstances, or was their really a malevolent spirit involved?

Thoughts? Comments? Insights?

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