Cryptid Corner – Bigfoot

The historical notes cover most of what I’m actually interested in researching in real life history, but cryptids and monsters have been a life long fascination for me. I absolutely adore monsters (and do have a Mothman tattoo on my leg) and I love stories, but I want the real life facts behind the cases. The main issue I’ve come across with researching cryptids (and I mean researching in an academic sense, rather than just looking up stories) is that nearly everything is anecdotal, and tracking down original information means going to places and talking to people. Unfortunately I don’t have unlimited time, money, or resources, so I’ll remain behind my computer screen, consolidating the research others have managed to do for me.

I’ve already discussed Bigfoot to some degree in the historical notes of the Tall Man, but I sort of skimmed the history there. I chose to start with Bigfoot because I think he’s the most famous of the American cryptids. He’s sort of the face of cryptozoology and seems to be preceded by a rising interest in science fiction. He’s a natural creature that sticks to forests, rocks, rivers, who is treated like an animal more than a man, but still seems spooky and supernatural.

I hesitate to discuss any indigenous legends that people relate to potential Bigfoots for two reason. One (1), I have very little reference for Native American legends or stories besides what I can read in Encyclopedia Mythica or on a Wikipedia page, and that information I find circumspect when dealing with indigenous beliefs and legend. Two (2), I find westerners often try to force indigenous myth into shapes they recognize. This is true in retelling stories. I have no doubt any Bigfoot researcher trying to find evidence would see an indistinct hairy man and claim Bigfoot.

“Wild man” or “hairy man” is the term I come up with the most in stories that predate the 20th century, but I find no concrete information on these, nor how they relate to any Bigfoot activity. The only other term I find closely related is “skookum”, a Chinook word that generally means “big and strong”. They also appear as large, hair men who are potentially cannibalistic monsters or benign folk. I see most places refer to them as skookum, but I’ve also seen Boq show up to be more distinctive of the creature. Because all I have to go on is small blurbs on websites dedicated to preserving Native American language, I will leave this topic here. I doubt any of these hairy men translate well to a Bigfoot, but I’m certain someone will try to prove it.

It does seem the earliest instances of a Bigfoot or Sasquatch appearing is in the 1920s with a series of articles in a Canadian newspaper, in which an “Indian Agent” (a bureaucrat who worked for the Indian Affairs office, I believe is what that means, though other sources list him as a teacher) writes about the Sts’Ailes people and their belief that the Sasquatch were real. Apparently this is the first time the term Sasquatch is in use, borrowed from a Halkomelem word. Their depiction of the wild men are different, closer to long-haired people, and the Chehalis natives spoke with, met with, and even had children with these wild folk. I hunted for a copy of these articles but only found transcriptions on websites. Unable to confirm any of the words on that page, I move on. It does seem Bigfoot prefers the Pacific Northwest, though this map of Bigfoot sightings also suggests he vacations in Florida.

Oh, but we’re not out of the 20s yet. In 1924 a group of miners were camping in Ape Canyon, a ridge on Mount St. Helen’s, named for it’s–you guessed it–apemen. During the day, one of the miners had seen a large hairy man watching them from a tree, and so they’d shot at it with a shotgun (an appropriate response), which is most likely why in the middle of the night they were attacked by apemen who threw large rocks at their cabin. The men had to brace the doors and windows to keep the apemen out, and they stayed vigilant throughout the night. Just before daylight the attack finally ended. The men left, informed a ranger of what happened, but could find no evidence of the apemen. Fred Beck is the only name I find associated with it, though four other men were involved, and he wrote a short pamphlet on the Siege of Ape Canyon, wherein he claims he is clairvoyant, and they were led through Mount St. Helen’s by spiritual creatures, and the apemen might be lower dimensional creatures sent to cause harm. I do know Bigfoots throwing rocks is something of a common thread in these stories, when he is not a benign creature.

Here is where I found the Yeti hype of the 1920s most likely led to the excitement over Bigfoot and the Sasquatch. Westerners were obsessed with the Yeti and proving its existence, and several expeditions were sent to uncover the beast, as well as bring home Yeti relics from Himalayan monasteries. The initial reports of apemen in America and the Sasquatch didn’t catch much steam, but a connect must’ve been made in the minds of Canadian and American minds, and they’ve both undergone a similar evolution from actual hair covered wild men to upright apes.

Bigfoot stays in British Columbia in 1957. The town was looking for a project to score a $600 grant from the British Columbia Centennial Committee, and they proposed a Sasquatch hunt. Even John Green, the confusingly named but rather well known Bigfoot investigator (I’m a YA librarian and I still double take when I read that) admitted it was entirely a publicity stunt. The Centennial Committee offered a $5,000 grand prize to anyone who could bring in the hairy man alive, and many of the investigators got in on it by creating hoaxes themselves. It brought the Sasquatch back in a big way, and soon William Roe came forward with a Bigfoot sighting from 1955. Until this point, the Sasquatch was mostly human, but he claimed he’d seen a creature, covered in brown, silver-tipped hair, breasts, thick armed, with a flat broad nose and a large chin. As far as I can tell, Roe mailed this sworn statement to John Green, and no one went to corroborate the story or talk to Roe himself, but it became the image of Bigfoot, and clearly inspired, well…

Possibly the most famous Bigfoot sighting is the Patterson-Gimlin film. Most people are aware that a bunch of bros rode out into the woods and accidentally caught the image of Bigfoot walking through the forest. What I found surprising was that Roger Patterson had an interest for several years prior to the sighting. In 1966 he published a book Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?, and then in 1967 he decided to film a pseudodocumentary on Bigfoot. In it, cowboys are led by a miner and a “wise Indian tracker” to hunt Bigfoot. Nine other volunteers came along with them, and they head out to the Six Rivers National Forest where large foot tracks had already been found. They brought with them supplies and three horses with which to shoot. Initially in riding out they saw a strange figure near Bluff Creek that seemed to be watching them. It was hairy, bipedal, reddish-brown, and had noticeable breasts. The boys got excited, trying to pull themselves off the horses and get the film out. The figure walked away from them, and the film is shaky as Patterson chases after it, until the creature turns to look at them. Patterson felt the creature looked at him with disgust. The creature continues to walk away, and they’re nervous to follow it in case a mate appears. They take a second roll of film to film to the footprints and make plaster casts of the two clearest footprints.

There’s some controversy over the film, of course. Several sources state that the creature’s walk would be impossible for a human to mimic, as well as the biology of the creature, while others found the anatomy circumspect and the shape of its footprints doesn’t quite match its height. Bob Heironimus (which is a rad name) has come forward claiming to be the man in the suit, with many of his claims substantiated by other sources. I find the most telling aspect of the story is “a bunch of filmmakers making a film about Bigfoot accidentally run into Bigfoot”, which is not hard and fast evidence but I think says a lot more about the mindset of the filmmakers than any anatomy tests.

I find most modern attempts at uncovering Bigfoot proof to be circumspect at best. The 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty is our most recent attempt at cashing in on such a phenomenon, and the prize money should tell you all anyone suspects at the probability of uncovering this creature. (It’s worth pointing out there are actual scientists and skeptics on the judges’ panel on that show, and they do try to teach a fair bit about the actual scientific process, to varying degrees of success.) I think of Bigfoot as an American icon, just as much eagles and apple pie (ironic, thanks to his Canadian origins), but he’s also something of a symbol of how silly many hardcore believers are in things like ghosts, aliens, and cryptids.

And yet…

I am skeptical of most things. I find myself wanting to believe more than I find myself believing, but I read at least three Bigfoot books and twenty articles, on top of Wikipedia pages and websites dedicated to this sort of thing (and absolutely terrible at sighting their sources). There is something absolutely haunting to me about this figure, and as a kid I would watch Bigfoot documentaries and be so terrified to look out my window because what if he was there watching me right now. Perhaps it’s because he comes out of the darkness of the woods, and you aren’t sure you can trust your eyes, and you realize he is much closer than you suspected and much taller as he stands his back straight, and he looks at you with strange, black, hollow eyes. He is not afraid of you. He does not run, but he turns, with a gait that is too wide and arms that are too long swinging at his sides. He hides in plain sight, he hides so well no one can find him, and it’s unclear if he’s man or ape, but the shadows are his friend, and the thick trees, and you cannot find him again after he gives you one last look, one of contempt or anger, and you leave knowing he may find you again.

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