Bigfoot: The Mystery Behind the Hairy Man – by Doug Ward
As a monster hunter, I have very little interest in Bigfoot; but as a researcher and historian of cryptid sightings, it is hard to ignore the big guy. A lot of times when I mention investigating a sighting, the first thing out of anyone’s mouth is “Bigfoot.” In the southeast we have several different cryptids that have little in common with the famous sightings in the northeast. I research Loup Garou and unknown “boogers”. Still whenever something unidentified is spotted in the woods, people assume it’s a Sasquatch.
Today, when someone claims to have spotted a hairy humanoid like thing in the woods, the jokes about Bigfoot will start flowing. That was not always the case. Up until the 1960’s Bigfoot was not as deeply embedded as a cultural icon. His story was around just not as popular as it is today. Legends of giant wild men inhabiting the woods have reportedly been told by the native Americans for centuries.
In 1838 a reverend by the name of Elkanah Walker and his new wife Mary left Maine on a 2,000 mile journey to work as missionaries among the Spokane Indians. In April of 1840, he wrote a letter to Rev. David Green telling him of the local Indian claims of giants living deep in the woods of Washington. The giants were said to travel at night and sometimes steal people away. The tracks left behind were said to be a food and a half long and the giants had a strong smell.
Ten years before in 1828, a group of hunters was reportedly killed by a hairy giant deep in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. The giants were said to have a footprint 18 inches long and 9 inches wide and have a horrible smell. Thousands of miles separated the stories but the monsters in question sounded pretty much the same.
While these things fit the same description, up until the 1920’s there was not a common name for the critter. The term Sasquatch was first used by a Canadian writer named J. W. Burns, who collected stories from the Chehalis Tribe. J. W. published a series of newspaper articles detailing the sightings of giant wild men in the woods. Sasquatch became very well known in Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
The next boost in the big guy’s popularity came from halfway around the world. In 1951 the famous mountain climber Eric Shipton took pictures of a large footprint attributed to a Yeti while on an ascent of Mt. Everest. The Yeti is said to be a hairy giant much like a Sasquatch, other than the assumption by most people that a Yeti has white fur. After the news reports of Shipton’s find on Everest, Americans were starting to pay more attention to the reports of sightings trickling out of the backwoods of the U.S.
The next important even in the history of Sasquatch lore came about in August of 1958. A heavy equipment operator named Gerald Crew was working on building a road deep in the woods of Northern California. As he arrived at work early one morning, he noticed a trail of footprints surrounding his bulldozer. The tracks were very human looking footprints, only the prints were about 16 inches long. The trail of prints went around his bulldozer and disappeared into the woods. When the distance between the prints was measured to determine the length of the stride, it was shown to vary between 46 and 60 inches. When Gerald showed his coworkers the prints, some told tales of seeing the same type prints on another site a few miles up the road. For a while that was as far as it went. After the next set of tracks was discovered weeks later, the story spread among the entire crew and their families about the ‘wild man’ tracks. On October 5th, 1958 the Humboldt Times published a story by the paper’s editor, Andrew Genzoli. The headline read “New Sasquatch found. It’s called Bigfoot.” The story had a picture of G. Crew holding a cast of one of the prints and “A Star Was Born.” The name stuck, but the image was not quite in America’s pop culture yet.
A rash of sightings in the 1960’s came to a head with one defining moment that forever made Bigfoot an icon. On October 20, 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed something in the woods near Orleans, California that they claimed was a Bigfoot. You have probably seen the footage of this famous little piece of cryptozoology history. It is commonly known as The Patterson Film. The authenticity of this has been debated back and forth for over 40 years. I will leave my take on that film for another day. Real or fake, the film helped to elevate Bigfoot into the position of the number one monster in America.
– Doug Ward