The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events

Tim Flight - November 9, 2018

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
Jerry Crew with a cast he took of mysterious giant footprints, Humboldt County, Washington, 1958. Chicoer

10. Bigfoot scared construction workers in Bluff Creek, California, in 1958, and earned his familiar nickname

Bigfoot owes his nickname to a single man, Andrew Genzoli. His report on giant footprints scaring men working on the construction of Bluff Creek Road immortalized the creature as ‘Big Foot’. On August 27, 1958, tractor driver Jerry Crew found tracks measuring a whopping 18 inches in length and seven in width, made by a creature which apparently had a 50-inch stride. Crew’s astonished work mates suddenly remembered other strange events on the site; a 450 pound oil drum thrown down a gully and a 700 pound tyre flung in a ditch suddenly made sense. A giant creature was in the area.

One worker wrote to Genzoli, and on a whim he decided to publish the letter. The overwhelmingly positive reaction prompted Genzoli to visit Crew in October, who by now had taken a plaster cast of the prints (above), more of which had appeared since August. The Humboldt Times carried 18 stories about the newly dubbed Bigfoot that October, and whilst many were unconvinced about the veracity of the tracks, there were plenty willing to take them at face-value. And soon people were seeing the creature responsible, which Genzoli had speculated might be ‘a relative of the Abominable Snowman [Yeti] of the Himalayas’.

The story became a national sensation. But in 2002, the family of Ray Wallace, the owner of a logging company working in the area came forward. Wallace died that year aged 84, but claimed responsibility for the tracks, which were supposed to be a good-humored practical joke on Crew. Wallace had apparently fashioned a pair of wooden feet and simply stomped around the site. But fewer than 10 years after Genzoli’s article, a remarkable piece of footage was taken in Bluff Creek, so puzzling that it has led many to discredit the Wallace family’s admission as, itself, a hoax…

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
Compelling evidence or a guy in a gorilla suit Either way, one of the most iconic images of the 21st century comes from the Patterson-Gimlin Film captured in Bluff Creek, California, in 1967. CBC

11. The most convincing evidence for Bigfoot is the Patterson-Gimlin Footage, shot in 1967

Here we go – the single biggest event in Bigfoot history. The story goes that Roger Patterson had been researching Bigfoot for several years, spending thousands of dollars in the process. In 1967, he began filming a docudrama about cowboys hunting for Bigfoot near Bluff Creek, California (see above). On October 20th, Patterson and Bob Gimlin (an actor) were riding horses alongside Bluff Creek when they spotted something unusual on the other side of the creek. Fortunately, they had cameras with them, and managed to shoot just under a minute of a creature walking away, and eerily turning to face them.

For Bigfoot believers, this is the single most important piece of evidence for the creature’s existence. They say that the physical characteristics, and especially the height and apparent weight of the creature, exceed that of a human, and certain experts have identified muscle definition and a mode of locomotion which indicate that the subject of the film was a real, unidentified biped. They also point to the many failures to recreate precisely the Patterson-Gimlin film. Indeed, the footage has never been conclusively proven a fake, and both Patterson and Gimlin went to their graves adamant that it was real.

Or it could just be a guy in a monkey suit. That was the astonishing claim of Bob Hieronymus in 2004, who claimed to be the film’s subject, and a host of other people in the movie industry. Since Patterson was making a film about Bigfoot, he presumably had access to a costume. The creature’s comically large breasts are also suspiciously reminiscent of sketches of female Sasquatches in Patterson’s Bigfoot book published in 1966, and Patterson has been described as a con man by close acquaintances. Whatever the truth, he undeniably made a huge sum out of his 1967 magnum opus.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The Minnesota Iceman, sketched by the cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in his 1974 book, L’homme de Néanderthal est toujours vivant. Ekladata

12. The Minnesota Iceman was a circus sideshow displayed in 1968 that had many experts scratching their heads

In 1968, the circus promoter Frank Hansen unveiled his new attraction to the world: an unidentified-ape preserved in a block of ice, found in deepest Siberia. Hansen exhibited his star-draw across the United States, and soon scientists were in a funk about what it could be. The cryptozoologists Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan Sanderson were eventually allowed to examine it during the winter off-season, and concluded it to be genuine. They triumphantly announced a new species, Homo pongoides (‘ape-like man’), to the world. Hansen subsequently changed his story, and said that ‘Bozo’, as the specimen was known, had been shot in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, not all scientists were convinced. John Napier, a primatologist at the Smithsonian Institute, was invited to examine it, and convincingly argued it was a latex model encased in ice. So convincingly, in fact, that Hansen agreed, albeit with the excuse that the original had become damaged, and he had been forced to substitute a replica for public exhibitions. Subsequent investigations found that Hansen had commissioned a single model from a specialist company, which he defrosted and re-posed between seasons. The Iceman mysteriously disappeared (until it appeared on eBay in 2013), and Heuvelmans and Sanderson looked extremely foolish.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The arresting poster for the 1972 movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek. IMDB

13. The Fouke Monster, the Arkansas Bigfoot, became a Hollywood star in the early 1970s

If it exists, Bigfoot presents itself as a very adaptable creature. After all, Sasquatch sightings have been recorded from the chilly climes of the Pacific Northwest to the humid swamps of Fouke, Arkansas. It was on May 2, 1971, that Bifoot made his appearance as the Fouke Monster in this Arkansas town. as it was known, attacked the home of Betty Ford (not that one), reaching through a screen window to grab her sleeping form. Her husband and brother-in-law chased it away, and the next day large footprints were found alongside massive scratch marks on the porch. Soon everyone in Fouke claimed to see the beast.

What would otherwise have remained an obscure, local legend was transformed by the release of The Legend of Boggy Creek in 1972, which grossed an astonishing $20 million at the box office. The film’s power lies in its eerie mixture of real interviews with eyewitnesses and dramatized events, including the attack on the Fords’ home. The boundaries between fact and fiction are blurred most effectively, in the same way as The Blair Witch Project decades later. With so many stories about Bigfoot coming in response to other peoples’ accounts, the importance of Boggy Creek to the legend cannot be overestimated.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
A contemporary sketch of the creature seen by teenagers and a cop on Abair Road, Whitehall, in 1976. Dread Central

14. The Beast of Whitehall, another local Bigfoot, terrorized a small town in Upstate New York in 1976

The Bigfoot type creature reappeared in the eastern part of the country shortly after the Fouke Monster events. The occurrence in 1976 Upstate New York remains much-lauded as evidence in the Bigfoot community. One hot, August night, a group of teenagers were listlessly driving around when they spotted a hairy, 7-foot tall creature standing by the side of the road. As they turned their truck around to get a better view, the beast began to scream at great volume, and ran towards the vehicle. The boys sped off, and reported the incident to a skeptical local police force in Whitehall.

One of the teenager’s brothers, Brian Gosselin, was a police officer on duty that night, and the following night decided to investigate in the company of another intrigued colleague. Tramping through the field where the beast had allegedly stood, Gosselin found it in his torchlight, just 35 feet away. ‘It was over 7-feet tall, probably around 400 pounds. When I put the spotlight on it, it raised its hands, they weren’t paws… to cover its eyes’, he later recalled. Trust in the eyewitness-account of a cop has made the area a hotspot for Bigfoot hunters (and thus, sightings) ever since.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Theresa Bier disappeared in 1987, allegedly murdered by Bigfoot. Sierra Nevada Musings

15. In 1987, Bigfoot was blamed for the disappearance of Theresa Bier in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

In June 1987, 16-year-old Thersa Bier went on a camping trip with Russell Welch, 43, to look for Bigfoot in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She has not been seen since. When Welch returned alone to Fresno, their hometown, Bier’s family had not heard from their daughter for days, and he was questioned by police regarding her whereabouts. Welch revealed that he had not seen her since June 1st, when she had run away from him into the wilderness. So far, so simple (if deeply suspicious). But Welch suddenly changed his story: Bier, he claimed, had been taken by Bigfoot.

Allegedly, the pair had been combing thick forest for evidence when they became separated. Welch then claimed to have seen Bigfoot grab Bier, and haul her off into the great wilderness around them. Unsurprisingly, Welch was charged with child stealing, but authorities dropped the charges three days before his trial, fearing that they would be unable to charge him with murder at a later date owing to the double jeopardy law. Multiple searches of the area where she disappeared produced no evidence, however, and the case remains unsolved. Welch’s ridiculous claims point the finger of suspicion squarely at himself.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The Skookum Cast, which purportedly shows where a Bigfoot had a bit of a snooze, USA, 2000. Richard Noll via BFRO

16. The Skookum Cast of 2000 purportedly shows where Bigfoot had a little rest in Washington State

Back to far less unsavory matters, unusual physical evidence for Bigfoot surfaced in 2001. After decades producing only casts of footprints, and a host of hoaxes, Bigfoot researchers announced that they had found startling evidence for the creature in Washington State. The Skookum Cast (above) may look like a shoddy bit of cement-work at first glance, but it allegedly shows where Bigfoot had a lie-down in the mud of a wallow pit. Bigfoot researchers believe that the cast bears the impression of an arm, hip, thigh, Achilles Tendon, and ankle of a hominid. Not everyone is so convinced, however.

Skeptics are happy that the cast is real, and shows where a large animal had a lie down, but believe that it was made by an elk. The Bigfoot hunters had used apples to lure whatever made the Skookum Cast to the area, which are a favorite food of the large ungulates. Elks also have gangly limbs, which might be mistaken for primate arms under the correct circumstances. Most indicative, was hair recovered from the wallow pit, but proved to be mostly elk when tested. And whilst elk-prints were found in the area, there were no Bigfoot tracks. Oh dear.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
The Skunk Ape photographed in Myakka City, Florida, in 2001. Azure Edge

17. The Florida Skunk Ape was caught on camera in 2001, and has been haunting dreams ever since

Like Arkansas, Florida has its own Bigfoot which seems to thrive in its humid climate. Known as the Skunk Ape, owing to its unbearable body odor, accounts in the Sunshine State appeared since the 1960s. Unconvincing video footage and the usual accounts of encounters were ably topped by the astonishing photos (above) which surfaced in 2001. That year, an anonymous woman found that apples kept going missing at her property, and managed to take a photo of the creature responsible. Sending them to the police with an accompanying letter, she pondered, ‘is someone missing an orangutan [sic]?’

The national media eventually got hold of them, and the Skunk Ape became of great interest beyond Myakka County, where the pictures were taken. Believers point to the photographer’s naivety about the creature’s identity and apparently pure motives in contacting the police: ‘why haven’t people been told that an animal this size is loose?’ The accompanying details about the creature’s behavior and ‘awful smell that lasted well after it had left my yard’ tally with accepted wisdom on the Skunk Ape, and so many in the Bigfoot community hail the Myakka photographs as conclusive proof of their existence.

The Skunk Ape is a controversial beast, and not without its critics even amongst the usually credulous Squatchers. As well as some Squatchers believing that Bigfoot could not survive on a biological basis in the Everglades, the man at the centre of Skunk Ape research, Dave Shealy, is a known hoaxer with a financial stake in people’s belief in the creature. As for the pictures, skeptics believe they show a man in a monkey suit, and gain credence from their grainy footage, which precludes forensic examination. But that won’t help you sleep at night after looking into the monster’s soulless eyes…

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
Supposedly a young Bigfoot caught on a trail camera by Richard Jacobs, Pennsylvania, 2007. Richard Jacobs via BFRO

18. In 2007, a young Bigfoot was allegedly caught on a wildlife camera in Pennsylvania

Perhaps because the grown-ups are so big and thus more likely to be spotted, there are very few reports of young Sasquatches. But if Bigfoot is a biological creature, as most believers claim, they must reproduce. Thus trail-camera photos purportedly showing a young Sasquatch taken in Pennsylvania in 2007 are seen as absolutely vital by Bigfoot researchers. Known as the Jacobs Photos after the owner of the trail camera which was triggered, they show a long-limbed creature with short hair crouching on all fours. So is this the best evidence since the Patterson-Gimlin film, 40 years before, or something mundane?

Science, again, provides a convincing explanation: a bear, or bears. A common explanation for people seeing Sasquatches is a bear with mange, emphasizing the length of its limbs, standing on two legs. An equally convincing explanation is that the images show a bear looking straight at the camera, or a mother-bear with a cub. Naysayers also point out the dark and grainy nature of the pictures, which they say has distorted and obscured the mundane subject to look like something else entirely. Then again, not everyone is convinced it isn’t a baby Bigfoot, and the pictures have their vociferous defenders.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
Professor Bryan Sykes prepares to test Bigfoot DNA, Oxford, 2013. The National

19. Bigfoot DNA was tested in 2013, and the results were not what you’d expect

In 2013, Bryan Sykes, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at the University of Oxford, sought to solve the Bigfoot mystery. For years, Squatchers had been meticulously gathering hair from the locations of sightings (and just collecting weird-looking fur lying around the woods), and Sykes risked his reputation by inviting these intrepid amateurs to send in hair samples for DNA testing. But what, argued Sykes, is science but the quest for the truth? Selecting 30 of the most convincing hair samples from those submitted, Sykes got to work. Would science solve one of the greatest mysteries of the modern world?

Unfortunately, all of the Bigfoot hair samples submitted were from known mammals, chiefly bears and dogs. But Sykes’s research still turned up some fascinating results, entirely justifying its aims. The project also received hair samples from Yeti Hunters, and two of these ‘had their closest genetic affinity with a Palaeolithic polar bear, Ursus maritimus‘. This amazing discovery suggests that a previously unknown species of bear roams the Himalayas, and that reports of the Yeti were not so fanciful after all. So is there hope yet for Squatchers? ‘I don’t think this finishes the Bigfoot myth at all,’ said an intrigued Sykes.

The Hairy History of Bigfoot in 20 Intriguing Events
After 9 seasons and 7 years, the Finding Bigfoot team pictured above completely failed in their task. Time

20. In 2018, Finding Bigfoot ended, without, ahem, finding Bigfoot

Though Bryan Sykes’s study pointed the way for Bigfoot Hunters to prove the creature’s existence by collecting DNA samples, a louder death-knell rang for Bigfoot with the end of Finding Bigfoot. Produced by Animal Planet, the long-running reality show followed the Bigfoot Field Research Organisation (BFRO) – self-described as ‘the only scientific research organisation exploring the Bigfoot/Sasquatch mystery’ – investigating encounters with the creature and field evidence. Armed with a plethora of fancy scientific equipment, the BFRO tried to make light of such phenomena as broken trees, vandalised property, and piles of vegetation. They blamed Bigfoot for all of the above.

Unfortunately, though, Finding Bigfoot never found Bigfoot in its 9-season, 90-episode run, earning itself the nickname, Not Finding Bigfoot. The BFRO researchers defended the show by highlighting their explanations for strange things found in the great outdoors and some unusual sounds they recorded. Critics have also pointed out that, from a critical thinking perspective, explaining things by reference to something that may not exist, and about which nothing concrete is known, is an absolute mess. Suspicions about the show being a semi-fictional piece of drama staged for TV weren’t helped by the BFRO’s founder being called Matt Moneymaker. Seriously.

So where does this leave us? For many, Bigfoot never existed anyway, so nothing has changed. For Bigfoot Hunters, many of whom believe they have seen Bigfoot themselves, the failure of one research group will not convince them otherwise. And despite not capturing Bigfoot, even on film, the BFRO remain convinced. ‘I personally think it’s a very compelling subject, that’s 100 percent real’, reflected Cliff Barackman, one of the Finding Bigfoot hosts. Few could argue with the first part of that sentence, and as long as there remain forests in North America, one thing’s for certain: Bigfoot isn’t going anywhere.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. Alien Animals: A Worldwide Investigation. London: Elek, 1981.

Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. The Bigfoot Casebook. London: Granada, 1982.

Buhs, Joshua Blu. Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Green, John. Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Surrey, BC: Hancock House Publishers, 2019.

Krulos, Tea. Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists, and Other Paranormal Investigators. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015.

Kunz, Keneva, trans. The Vinland Sagas: The Icelandic Sagas about the First Documented Voyages across the North Atlantic. London: Penguin, 2008.

Meldrum, Jeff. Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. New York: Forge, 2006.

Naish, Darren. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. London: Arcturus, 2017.

Nickell, Joe. Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More. New York: Prometheus Books, 2011.

Regal, Brian. Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Sykes, Bryan C., et al. “Genetic Analysis of Hair Samples Attributed to Yeti, Bigfoot and Other Anomalous Primates.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281, no. 1789 (August, 2014): 1-3.

Advertisement