The Story Of Portlock, The Alaska Ghost Town Allegedly Abandoned Because Of A ‘Killer Bigfoot’

Published December 28, 2023
Updated December 29, 2023

Portlock, Alaska is rumored to be home to a Sasquatch-like beast known as the Nantiinaq that scared off the town's inhabitants in the early 20th century.

Portlock

Alaska State Library – Historical CollectionsPortlock, Alaska, as seen from above.

On the southern coast of Alaska, a mining tunnel, rubble, and rusted cannery equipment are all that remains of the village of Portlock.

The residents of this shipping and canning port abandoned Portlock around 1950 in favor of towns built closer to the new Alaska Route 1 state highway. Portlock, nestled on the southern edge of the Kenai Peninsula along Port Chatham bay, was no longer practical as a place to call home.

At least, that’s the official story.

Urban legends, on the other hand, claim the residents fled en masse from Portlock because of a a huge, hairy, half-man, half-beast who started stalking and attacking residents of the town. The beast, reminiscent of Bigfoot (or Sasquatch), was known to the locals as Nantiinaq.

The term Nantiinaq (‘non-tee-nuck’) came from the Native Alaskan Dena’ina word “nant’ina.” This literally translates as “those who steal people.”

Nantiinaq was rumored to be responsible for dozens of mysterious deaths and disappearances of town inhabitants from the early 1900s until the town was abandoned in the 1950s. So what actually happened in Portlock?

The Official History Of Portlock, Alaska

Portlock’s story begins around 1786, when Captain Nathaniel Portlock of the British Royal Navy passed through and praised the area. The town took his name. However, it didn’t start to grow until the dawn of the 20th-century when a cannery for salmon was built.

Nathaniel Portlock

Public DomainPortlock, Alaska, reportedly gets its name from a British sea captain named Nathaniel Portlock.

The village was small, with just a handful of residents made up of fishermen, lumbermen, miners, and cannery workers, largely of Russian and Alaska Native descent. By 1921, Portlock had grown enough to open a post office.

But within 30 years the town was abandoned as its residents moved to nearby places like Nanwalek and Seldovia. In 1950, its final death knell rang with the shuttering of its post office. Portlock became a ghost town.

Officially, people left because it was out of the way of the new highway. Unofficially, they fled a monster who had terrorized them for decades.

Inside Nantiinaq’s Reign Of Terror

Nantiinaq

Artist interpretation/Cryptid WikiThe Nantiinaq was rumored to be a half-man, half-beast, Sasquatch-like creature that stalked the village of Portlock.

Shortly after Portlock, Alaska was established around 1900, creepy stories about the town begin to spread. In 1905, all of the Native American workers at the cannery left the town because of “something” in the woods (though they returned the next year). And the next several decades saw a number of unsettling incidents in and around Portlock.

In the 1920s, Anchorage Press reports that rumors began to spread of a creature hanging around a nearby mine, as well as sightings of trees which apparently had been ripped out of the ground by their roots.

Then in 1931, a logger named Andrew Kamluck died a mysterious death. Kamluck was purportedly struck over the head with a huge piece of logging equipment — something far too heavy for a human to pick up. And though there was blood on a nearby crane, Kamluck was found 10 feet away from it.

There was also a reports of hunters who’d come across 18-inch footprints while tracking a moose. They reported that they found “signs of a struggle where the grass had been matted down, then only the deep tracks of the man-like animal departing toward the high, fog-shrouded mountains.” It was as if something had killed the moose and then dragged it off.

And it wasn’t only moose that seemed to inexplicably disappear. Alaska Magazine reports that a schoolteacher who taught in the area in the 1940s recalled that a number of cannery workers vanished while hunting sheep and bear. Eerily, one of their bodies was later purportedly found mutilated and dismembered in a local lagoon.

Over the decades, stories like these allegedly terrified the residents of Portlock. One by one, they began to flee the town for safer pastures.

“We left our houses and the school, and started all new here [in Nanwalek],” Malania Kehl, who was born in Portlock in 1934, told the Homer Tribune. Over a “long period of time” she explained, something had terrorized the town’s residents to the point that they fled.

So are these stories about the Nantiinaq true?

Debunking The Nantiinaq

Stories like these abound in articles and websites about Portlock, Alaska. But locals of the area often dispute their accuracy.

“Malania kind of made up a story, because she was getting tired of people asking if this [story] is true,” Sally Ash, Kehl’s cousin who served as her translator for the Homer Tribune article, told the Anchorage Press. “She made up this story about how Bigfoot was killing people. It wasn’t true. Everybody knows that, but it was not our place to say nothing.”

Ash grew up in Nanwalek, and her mother was born near Portlock. Portlock, she said was “a creepy place.” And despite her claim that her cousin made up stories, Ash seems to believe that the Nantiinaq exists.

“They’d tell us don’t go out on a foggy day. That’s when he’s walking around. You could run into him and you never know what he might do,” Ash said.

Abandoned Home In Portlock Alaska

YouTubeAn abandoned structure in Portlock, Alaska.

However, Ash claimed that the Nantiinaq was not dangerous, and that the locals had a sort of respect for him.

“I think he is part-human,” Ash said. “He lived with people and then didn’t want to be around them anymore so he moved to the forest; away from everybody. He started growing hair and he looked like a bigfoot — scary… My uncles, my grandfathers, they all talked about him. He’s old, he’s tall, he’s strong, he’s hairy. It lives in the woods and you can tell when he’s getting near. You can smell him. My mom used to talk about it a lot.”

She added: “Respect him. Keep distance… He moved around — he was quick.”

Thus despite Portlock’s status as a “ghost town” and the home of the “Alaskan Killer Bigfoot” — as seen in a new Discovery+ show — it’s more likely this small village simply couldn’t stand the test of time. Nantiinaq, if it exists, probably keeps to itself like its legendary cousin Bigfoot.

“People would see Nantiinaq, but that wasn’t the reason why people moved this way to Seldovia and Nanwalek,” Ash said. “They moved because of the economy, schools, and the church. There really was no killing of people.”


After reading about the legend of Portlock, Alaska and Nantiinaq, read about eight Bigfoot sightings that turned skeptics into believers. Or, check out 11 of the creepiest places on Earth.

Hannah Reilly Holtz
Hannah Reilly is an editorial fellow with All That's Interesting. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Press Association Scholar. Previously, she has worked for KCBD NewsChannel 11 and at Texas Tech University as a multimedia specialist.
Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.