Bigfoot is unquestionably North America’s biggest cryptozoological mystery. But we have had to learn to share it with the world; the name Bigfoot is applied to any hairy unknown hominoid reported today anywhere around the globe. For our purposes, however, “Bigfoot” denotes those unknown hairy hominids reported in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and believed to leave large human-like footprints and to walk upright.
But it was not always so, even in North America. The Canadian version of Bigfoot, called “Sasquatch,” has an even longer history. According to researchers John Green and Ivan T. Sanderson, this Indian-sounding word was coined in the 1920s by J. W. Burns, a teacher who for years collected stories about wild, hairy giants from his Chehalis Indian friends. Burns combined several similar Native Canadians’ names for these creatures and created the word “Sasquatch.” In recent years, scientists and folklorists looking to bring respectability to the subject have been using that more sober-sounding name. But most North Americans still call these creatures “Bigfoot.”
The first use of the now widely used label did not occur until a quiet, churchgoing construction worker named Jerry Crew appeared at a northern California newspaper office with the plaster cast of one of many large hominid footprints he had found in the mud in Bluff Creek Valley. His widely reprinted account—and photograph holding the massive footcast, which stretched across his upper torso—first appeared in the Humboldt Times, along with the word “Bigfoot,” on October 5, 1958. The story was written by the paper’s “RFD” columnist and editor Andrew Genzoli, who introduced the word “Bigfoot,” as the road construction workers were calling this big-footed creature, to the outside world.
The naming of Bigfoot was a significant cultural event. To deny this would be to ignore how intrinsic Bigfoot has become in global day-to-day living, as evidenced in scores of examples. Today Bigfoot can be seen used as a name for skateboards, pizza, big trucks, and other commercial products. Since the advent of Bigfoot, the word has made it easier for law-enforcement officers, media reporters, and the general public to accept sightings of all kinds of unknown hairy hominoids.
The classic Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest is reported, in the most concentrated fashion, in the northern corner of the United States (northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho) and far western Canada (British Columbia and Alberta), with lesser activity up through Canada into Alaska. In the vastness of these montane forests, the idea that an undiscovered, extraordinary primate could survive, albeit fantastic, is at least imaginable.
Bigfoot is bulky and stocky, with an enormous barrel torso and a height, when mature, of six to nine feet. The creature has a small, pointed head, with no neck or forehead. Its eyes are small, round, and dark, and stare forward. The face is light in young, dark in older individuals, with a heavy brow ridge and a continuous upcurled fringe of hair on the brow ridge. The hair covering is shaggy. There is no difference between body and head hair. All of it is relatively short, with darker colored hair at younger ages, moving into red-browns with some evidence of silver at extreme maturity. The distinctive footprint, as the name implies, shows a track as left by a giant five-toed human foot. The average length is fourteen to sixteen inches long. When the first Bigfoot incidents, noted above, occurred in October 1958, the massive tracks in the mud near Bluff Creek, California, all measured sixteen inches long and were seven inches wide.
Bigfoot is generally nocturnal and mostly solitary, although some sightings have reported family groups. From their calls it appears that they have no language. They emit high-pitched whistles, calls, animal-like screams, howls, “eeek-eeek-eeek,” “sooka-sooka-sooka,” “ugh-ugh-ugh,” or “uhu-uhu-uhu.” According to Sanderson and other chroniclers, the creatures may on occasion kidnap human females (and, at least according to some folk traditions, males).
Californian and Canadian Indians have many folktales that arguably refer to the Bigfoot and Sasquatch. Sanderson believed that the description of the California hairy big man, oh-mah, closely matched those of Bigfoot.
One of the most often told, most spectacular accounts is Albert Ostman’s. Ostman, a British Columbia man, came forward in 1957 to recount an incident that he said had taken place in 1924. While on a prospecting trip at the head of Toba Inlet, opposite Vancouver Island, he was gathered up one night inside his sleeping bag and after many miles dumped out, to discover that he was the captive of a family—adult male and female, juvenile male and female—of giant ape-like creatures. Though they were friendly, they clearly did not want him to escape from their canyon home, and he managed to do so only after six days when the older male choked on Ostman s snuff tobacco. Those who interviewed Ostman did not doubt his sincerity or sanity, and Sasquatch investigator Green, biologist Sanderson, and Smithsonian anthropologist John Napier all separately wrote that his account was convincing and did not sound false.
Late in the 1950s, Sanderson wrote two articles for Argosy, a men’s adventure magazine, calling Bigfoot “America’s Abominable Snowman.” He caught the American imagination, and hundreds of people wrote him for more details. Sanderson followed up with his Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961), the first book to discuss Bigfoot/Sasquatch in any comprehensive manner, and linked the North American reports with worldwide traditions of other hairy hominoids such as Almas and Yeti.
Among those who went looking for Bigfoot after they read the first Argosy article was Roger Patterson, a rodeo rider and author of Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? (1966). Patterson’s searching paid off and he, along with companion Bob Gimlin, filmed the now famous Patterson Film of a large female Bigfoot on October 20, 1967.
Patterson died in 1972, swearing to the authenticity of both sighting and film. Gimlin, still alive, also sticks by the story. The first investigator on the site, Bob Titmus, found tracks corresponding exactly to the creature’s route as depicted in the film and made casts of ten of them.
Bob Titmus (center) with Bruce Berryman (left) and Syl McCoy (right) examine a collection of the unknown hairy primate’s footcasts. (John Green)
Intriguingly, the two most historically significant Bigfoot incidents—Crew’s first finds in 1958 and the Patterson Film of 1967—took place near each other at Bluff Creek, California. The sets of footprints from both events show similar but not identical creatures were involved. Unfortunately, as the years have seen copies of these two sets of prints mass-copied, hoaxers have employed plaster casts of these genuine tracks to create some confusing hoaxes throughout the United States and Canada. Most tracks of Pacific Northwest Bigfoot, however, show distinctive forensic features that to investigators indicate they are not fakes. The occurrence of tracks in remote, seldom-traveled areas also argues against the hoax hypothesis.
Other evidence consists of feces and hair samples associated either with sightings or with other indications of a Bigfoot’s recent passage. Some of these have been identified and linked with human beings or known animals. In a few cases the samples seemed to resist such identification. In one analysis by a Tom Slick-sponsored Bigfoot expedition, fecal matter was found to contain parasites that were unknown, thus indicating they were from an unknown animal.
If Bigfoot is out there, it is almost certainly a relative of ours.
Sanderson classified these creatures as Neo-Giants, giant unknown primates, an analysis echoed by Loren Coleman, Mark A. Hall, and Patrick Huyghe. (The truly huge Bigfoot is what researcher Hall calls True Giant.) Grover Krantz theorizes that Bigfoot is an example of a relict population of the long-extinct Ice Age giant ape-like creature, Gigantopithecus. In Big Footprints (1992), Krantz argues that no new name is needed for Bigfoot, since the animal responsible for Bigfoot sightings is already known, though thought extinct. Krantz holds that “we in fact have footprints of Gigantopithecus blacki here in North America.” Bigfooters, those currently hunting Bigfoot with guns and cameras, accept the Gigantopithecus argument because Krantz’s thoughts on the matter were widely disseminated in the 1980s and early 1990s.
However, with the publication of a new field guide to Bigfoot and similar creatures by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe, the idea that Bigfoot may be a man-sized hominid named Paranthropus is gaining new attention. The notion was first proposed in scientific journals in 1971, when anthropologically oriented cryptozoologist Gordon Strasenburgh wrote that Bigfoot would be found to be related to Paranthropus robustus. He proposed the name Paranthropus eldurrelli to be specifically used for the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot. Because of the apparent sagittal crest of the Bigfoot in the Patterson film, this candidate is getting a new look. If its existence is ever proven—and nothing short of an actual specimen will satisfy most scientists—it would, at the very least, provide revolutionary insights into human evolution.
All of these prehistoric fossil primates may have affinities to Bigfoot because of certain features, such as the overall size of Gigantopithecus and the body size and crests on the heads of Paranthropus. But until a body is scientifically examined, the riddle of Bigfoot will continue as one of cryptozoology’s biggest and most famous enigmas.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark
For hundreds of years, people have claimed to see a gigantic hairy creature which resembles a man. Known by many names- from Bigfoot to Sasquatch- the creature is infamous for its ability to escape capture while leaving little to no evidence.
Although seen by a multitude of people, the basic description of the creature has stayed consistent. Bigfoot is said to stand about seven and half feet tall with thick hair covering nearly the entire body- excluding the hands and face. An extreme stench usually accompanies the creatures as they slowly travel through an eerily silent forest. Most reports place the creatures alone, usually at the dead of night. This would help explain the creature’s ability to escape capture. John Napier, a professional Primatologist who researches Bigfoot, claims the average Bigfoot footprint is from fourteen to eighteen inches in length and about 7 inches in width.
Native Americans of the region of Pacific Northwest are known to fear the creature. Legends date back hundreds of years, and include the Witiko (Wendigo).
Perhaps one of the most celebrated cases involving Bigfoot was the infamous late night encounter with several loggers. While working in the Mount Saint Helens area around Lewis River in July 1924, several loggers noticed a strange whistling and thumping sound coming from a nearby ridge. After a week of strange and unexplained noises, two of the men saw a seven-foot creature standing on a ridge. Taking several shots at it, the men hit the biped and watched as it fell into the ridge. After fleeing back to the cabin, the men hid in the small wooden structure as rocks smashed against the walls and ceiling. Several times during the night, the creatures tried to break the door down. The attack lasted all nights, but the only evidence found by the Portland Oregonian newspaper was strange footprints. The canyon was dubbed “Ape Canyon” in memory of the strange event.
In 1967, one of the men published a booklet, entitled “I Fought the Apemen of Mount Saint Helens,” which described his experience with the creatures. In 1982, Rant Mullens, an eighty two year old man, explained the events during an interview. Mullens claims he was returning from a fishing trip when he and his uncle decided to play a trick on the loggers. Mullens claimed he and his uncle rolled several rocks over an edge of a nearby hill to scare the men.
The story is fairly hard to believe when considering the original account. The loggers claimed to see the creature several times, in broad daylight, and with distances of just a few feet. The loggers were also armed with a large assortment of weapons, which would make the prank even more dangerous.
The most amazing, and controversial, piece of evidence is a short film shot by Roger Patterson. The film helped change the way the world looked at Bigfoot, but it created as much mystery as it helped solve. Patterson, an amateur writer and Bigfoot hunter, went searching for the creature on October 20, 1967. Planning to make a documentary, Patterson filmed several locations for stock footage. At 1:15 PM, Patterson and friend Bill Gimlin were riding north in Bluff Creek, in Six Rivers National Forest when they saw a female Bigfoot squatting near the creek. The female quickly stood and walked to the tree line. During the sighting, the group’s three horses panicked and threw the men to the ground.
Grabbing his 16 millimeter camera, Patterson used the twenty-eight feet of film he had remaining to capture the creature. To the day he died, Patterson swore his story was true. Gimlin also holds the story as being entirely true. Bob Titmus, the first investigator on the scene, found large footprints that would have matched the creatures on the film. Titmus also found evidence that the creature walked up a nearby hill and sat and watched the duo as they collected their horses.
The speed of the film, however, determines if the film is really that of a large, hairy biped or of a man in a suit. Patterson could not recall the speed of the film- be it twenty-four feet or sixteen feet per second. If the film was shot in sixteen feet per second speed, then the swing of the creature’s arms and walk would be impossible for a man to mimic- so the creature on the film would be what the men claim. The creature on the film itself is also of controversy. Patterson claimed the biped stood about seven feet four inches tall but when reconstructing the film, investigators found the creature to stand about six feet six inches. John Napier claims either the footprints are a hoax, or the film is, due to the difference in the creatures stride. A Disney Studio chief, along with many others, feels that if the film was a hoax, it was “brilliantly executed.”
With so much evidence and so many reports of the strange creature, it appears it is only a matter of time before we reach a conclusive answer.
The names bigfoot in the United States and Sasquatch in Canada refer to a hairy manbeast reportedly seen in the forests of northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as well as British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Hundreds of people claim to have seen this creature; their descriptions are not only largely consistent but are also similar to descriptions of manbeasts reported in other locations around the world, such as the yeti of the Himalayas and the yowie of Australia. Generally, bigfoot/Sasquatch is said to be 6 to 9 feet (1.8m to 2.7m) tall, with a shaggy-haired reddish-brown, brown, black, white, or silver body; no apparent neck; and a coneshaped head. In most cases it is seen walking through the woods alone, but a few people claim to have seen what appeared to be a family of the creatures. Those who have heard the noise made by a bigfoot/ Sasquatch say that it does not speak in the human sense but instead makes sounds similar to an ape’s. Footprints that seem to have been left by a bigfoot are similar to human prints, but they can be 16 inches (40m) long and 7 inches (17.5m) wide.
Perhaps the first published account of a bigfoot/Sasquatch sighting appeared in 1870, when the Antioch Ledger newspaper in northern California offered the story of a man who claimed that he had seen a creature that seemed half-man and half-gorilla. No other such stories appeared until 1901, when the Colonist newspaper in British Columbia reported that a lumberjack had seen a manbeast with reddish brown hair all over its body. The Colonist reported other sightings in 1904 and 1907, and within a few years many British Columbians believed that an ape-man lived in their area. In 1920 a teacher name J.W. Burns called this creature “Sasquatch” in writing about descriptions of a similar creature in Indian folklore, and the name stuck.
The name bigfoot was popularized in the United States in 1958, after a group of construction workers saw strange tracks at their worksite near the northern California town of Willow Creek. One of these workers, Jerry Crew, made a plaster cast of a footprint and showed someone at the Humboldt Times, which then published a photograph of the cast alongside a story about the creature, which the construction workers called “Bigfoot.” Within days, this story had been reprinted throughout much of America.
Tracks, however, are the only physical evidence so far seen of bigfoot. In 1924 the Portland Oregonian carried the report of some miners in southwest Washington who said they had shot at an ape-man near their cabin, but they subsequently found only tracks there. Albert Ostman of British Columbia claimed to have been taken captive by a bigfoot family that same year while camping, although he did not report the incident until 1957. Ostman claimed that he had escaped from these creatures, who never tried to hurt him, after six days. Bigfoot investigators John Green and Ivan T. Sanderson subsequently interviewed Ostman and pronounced his story credible, but skeptics call it nonsense, suggesting that the man’s delay in reporting the event makes it likely that he made up the story.
The Patterson Film
Skeptics also ridicule a home movie that supposedly shows bigfoot. The footage was supposedly shot on October 20, 1967, by Roger Patterson, who, just the year before, had self-published a book titled Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? According to Patterson, he decided to search for physical evidence of bigfoot’s existence and to create a filmed documentary of his quest. Patterson explored various forests of the Pacific Northwest with a sixteen millimeter movie camera. Finally, at a site in northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest known for bigfoot sightings, he and a friend, Bob Gimlin, said they spotted a bigfoot beside a creek and caught it on film as it disappeared into the forest. Bigfoot investigators later found tracks at the site; however, their size and the distance between them cast doubt on the film’s authenticity. Specifically, some experts say that the strides made by the creature on the tape do not match the measured distance between the footprints. Also in question is whether the creature on the film is anything more than a human in some kind of costume: At least one photo expert claims that the trace of a zipper is visible on bigfoot’s back. Believers in bigfoot dispute such claims, arguing that Patterson lacked the skills to create a convincing bigfoot costume. Skeptics note, however, that because of his book, Patterson had a motive to go to some trouble to create a bigfoot hoax.
In either case, in the years since the Patterson film appeared, many other sightings of a bigfoot or its tracks have been reported in remote wooded areas of the Pacific Northwest. Researchers specializing in bigfoot have also found what they believe are bigfoot hairs and feces and have recorded what they think are bigfoot vocalizations. Consequently, some reputable scientists, like primatologist John Napier, suspect that bigfoot might be a real ape that has yet to be discovered by science.
- Abomiable Snowman
- John Green
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning