Cryptid Corner – Chupacabra

I’m from Texas, and I think just about everyone knows about the chupacabra. Several of my Latino friends have told me they’ve been afraid of the chupacabra their entire childhood, and I certainly knew about it as a kid. It seems pervasive in the south, especially for those states on the border, which is why I was so interested to find out there are no reports of the chupacabra before 1995. I’ve also found no one knows the actual legend behind it.

In Puerto Rico, in 1995, an alien ship lands. It’s unclear the purpose of this ship, but on it is an alien creature, large, bent forward, with spines on its back. The best guess it’s some alien pet that got loose and proceeded to suck the blood from eight sheep, who all had three puncture wounds on their chest. In August, a few months later, Madelyne Tolentino saw the creature, describing the strange lizard, around the same time 150 animals were thought to be drained of blood.

The UFO connection to the chupacabra has always been part of the legend for me, and it seems a pervasive thread in sightings and legends. When the chupacabra appeared in Chile, UFO researchers there claimed the military had found three chupacabra eggs in Chile’s northern desert and were hatching new ones through genetic experimentation with the US government. Apparently they blamed NASA for creating them in the first place and arrived in black helicopters to steal a chupacabra family from the mines in Calama.

Like other UFOs, cattle and livestock mutilation is the staple of the chupacabra. Animals are sliced apart seemingly by a surgical knife with tender tissues removed. The most common skeptical argument given for cow mutilation is simply nature at work. A cow dies in a field. Instead of aliens or big predators, it’s flies and bloating. Blowflies lay their eggs in the tender tissues, which are then eaten by the maggots, and these are favored by scavengers as well. Internal gasses can split a stomach, leaving organs exposed and easily stolen by predators. Often times reports of animals being drained of blood are not entirely accurate.

Since then the chupacabra has made its way to Mexico and the American south. Once it reached the Mexican-American border, the chupacabra made a transformation. No longer was it long, lizard-like, alien. Now it it looked like a dog, with bat-like ears and a body so skinny its ribs showed. It looked very similar to a dog or coyote with mange, and the few animals caught and killed that were claimed to be chupacabras all have this in common. They’re actually feral dogs diseased or covered in parasites.

Because this cryptid is so new, there’s no long history to sort through, or ancient accounts to relate it to. Unlike Bigfoot, where researchers try to fit him into the puzzle pieces of an ecosystem, the chupacabra isn’t like that. It’s almost immediately recognized as a supernatural creature, not a natural thing. There is an interesting aspect to the chupacabra that is fairly common with UFO cases. Since Madelyne Tolentino is the first known sighting, she is the template future sightings would follow. Tracking the Chupacabra relates her sighting to the character of Sil from Species. Her detailed description matches the alien character to an incredible degree. Similar to this account of the chupacabra, arguably the most famous alien abduction case has a similar hypothesis. Barney and Betty Hill were followed by an unidentified object on a dark road late at night. They were chased and then stopped, and then experienced lost time, where they came to 35 miles down the road, still driving. Several strange things followed them the next few weeks, and eventually they went under hypnotic therapy. Their accounts were recorded, but the aliens they described matched the aliens that appeared on The Outer Limits (episode “The Bellero Shield”) only twelve days before Barney Hill sketched and described the aliens. Their account was also similar to a 1953 film Invaders from Mars.

Like many of these stories, we start seeing what we think we’re meant to see. Alone, late at night in your home, you think you see a shadow moves, and you think it’s a ghost. Even if you don’t watch scary movies, it’s likely you’ve heard the narrative of a ghost story or seen common imagery associated with it. Those searching for a yeti see a bear walking on two legs and see a yeti. If you had watched an alien movie two weeks ago, and you hear something rooting around in your garbage, or find a goat seemingly drained of blood, you start to think a chupacabra might be around. It’s why superstitious people see ghosts, and also why skeptics can’t. (Richard Strand would call this apophenia.)

It’s odd how the chupacabra is such a mix of cultural ideas. Interest in aliens and the supernatural was coming to its height during the 1990s, and strange attacks on livestock, distrust of the government, as well as local and cultural beliefs created a monster. In its infancy it was lizard-like, huge, with spines on its backs and glowing eyes, and as we struggled to fit into our experiences, it became dog-like and quick. X-Files started in 1993 and it is a similar growth of our interest in aliens, conspiracy, and horror, which died away as these things became culturally irrelevant (though horror has held strong). I don’t know if children are being told about the chupacabra now. I don’t know if my generation is relating to them the horrors of the bloodsucker. Secretly I hope so. Each region is filled with its own legends and folklore, and the chupacabra seems so perfect for the vast spacious land we inhabit, merging us with our neighbors to the south.

Unlike the Bigfoot article, in which I read a few different books and read a few dozen articles to piece out the information I wanted to share, there isn’t as much critical research on the chupacabra, so I used extensively Tracking the Chupacabra by Benjamin Radford, supplemented from cryptid themed websites. If you are unable to track down a copy, he discusses it at length here. It’s pretty much the only research and expedition I could find for the chupacabra, and so I recommend it. If you are interested in how folklore grows, it’s a good read.

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, 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 citing 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.