The Angry Mountain Theory

The Ide tribe originally lived in the area of Findlay until they were cleared off of their lands in the late 1880s during what were euphemistically termed the “Ide Wars” but which truthfully amounted to little more than forced marches, dumping the survivors in a reservation 500 miles away. Less than 100 Ide survived in 1909, when a group of researchers from California arrived to record their oral histories and language. The resulting report was published as no. 117 in the California Ethnological Survey series and remains an important document in the life of the handful of surviving people with Ide ancestry to this day.

Sagebrush Mountain was called Iichideeza in Ide, which in 1909 was said to mean “abode of the dead” but which later scholars variously rendered as “place of the spirit” or “home of ghosts.” According to CES no. 117, the mountain was the site of a disagreement between Naakshah, keeper of the living, and Ahsiy, keeper of the dead. After arguing fiercely for some time, they agreed to share custody, and for this reason it was said that the living might suddenly die and the dead might suddenly return to life on the mountain’s slopes. For this reason, and others set forth in the oral histories and tales collected in the CES, Iichideeza was considered to be both sacred and taboo to the Ide, and they rigorously avoided the area. In fact, as of this writing, a sign has recently been erected at the trailhead by self-identified Ide, still seeking federal recognition, beseeching hikers to stay off the trail to respect the cultural and religious history of the tribe.

All this is to say that there are some who consider the deaths of the Mercer group, along with the disappearance of one of their number, to be a supernatural event arising from the Ide beliefs about the region.

Ahsiy, the keeper of the dead in Ide oral tradition, will not suffer herself to be seen, nor will she suffer the utterance of a single word in her presence. Latter-day descendants of the Ide incorporate this into a ceremony of reverential silence, but CES no. 117 reports a more grim version: Ahsiy, when angered, would rip out the eyes of those who saw her and the tongues of those who spoke to her. And, of course, of the bodies that were recovered, all were missing their eyes and tongue.

Another oral history set down in CES no. 117 notes that Ahsiy rarely involves herself personally in mortal affairs, especially as daylight is taxing to her. As a result, the spirits of those she has claimed are given the opportunity to experience a taste of the quick and return to a sort of brief half-life in exchange for doing her bidding. There are seventeen different mentions of these spectral beings in the report; they are described as appearing like formless shadows who tirelessly hunt their quarry before bearing them away to Ahsiy’s realm. Again, the parallels with what Cassidy Daniels reported surrounding the disappearance of Carrie Mercer are quite obvious.

This theory holds that, by ascending Sagebrush late in the season and in foul weather, the hikers inadvertently angered Ahsiy, who in Idea tradition was give dominion over the waning of the year in addition to sharing the mountain with Naakshah. Thus angered by the intrusion, Ahsiy slew the weakest hikers before reanimating their bodies to attack the others, and tore out their eyes and tongues for their insolence. Cassidy and Carrie were spared as they had neither seen Ahsiy nor uttered a sound; they were later tracked and Carrie was taken after they failed to vacate the mountain, with Cassidy left as a sole, if brief, survivor for the sole purpose of carrying the tale to any other would-be infidels.

Of course, this interpretation relies almost entirely on a reading of CES no. 117, rather than speaking to any actual Ide. While no full-blooded Ide are alive today, the last having died in 1997, a number of people with significant Ide ancestry are still alive and have been making intense efforts since the 1970s to preserve what it left of their heritage. Crucially, the Ide Tribal Association (ITA) strongly disputes the characterization of Ahsiy, keeper of the dead, in the CES and in wild conspiracy theories. Ahsiy, they say, was one half of a balanced pair with Naakshah, and in most Ide stories it was Naakshah who, jealous of Ahsiy’s affections, lashed out at those who were insufficiently reverent of her. On a cold wet day in the fall and on a mountain that they both shared, Naakshah the keeper of the living would have been powerless to act.

Furthermore, the ITA points out that many other hiking groups have operated in the area–despite their request not to–and none have suffered the same fate, even in similar conditions. They find the whole notion to be based on a version of their history that was poorly recorded, biased, and sensationalized. The trope of evil, angry, ancestral Native American spirits is damaging to the rich culture they seek so hard to maintain, and its use as mere set dressing for a tragedy that involved no native peoples of the area at all is still more so.

Even from a purely credulous viewpoint, the story does not hold together. The Smithson tape has clear audio of Cassidy Daniels admitting that she saw and spoke to her fellow hikers as they died, which did not earn her a death sentence. Though hungry and suffering from exposure, both she and Carrie Mercer were making good-faith efforts to get off the mountain when Mercer vanished. And Occam’s Razor suggests that animal scavengers are a far likelier explanation for the victims’ missing eyes and tongues.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!