of reports from respected people, the finding of footprints in areas
too remote for pranksters to expect success, lends credibility to
the belief that something is out there. But What?
There was a downdraft
of cool mountain air following Virgil Larsen as he moved down the forested
slopes of Mt. Shasta. Even though weighted by a chainsaw and tools. Larsen
moved through the northern California woods with practiced ease. He was
a timber faller and had worked in the woods
for 30 of his 47 years. His partner, Pat Conway, was off to the left and
Larsen could no longer see or hear him. At the base of a towering Douglas
fir, Larsen sat down for a quick smoke. It was 8:30, Friday, September
3. As he smoked and enjoyed the cathedral solitude of the forest, he heard
the sound of someone moving toward him from above, the sound of feet breaking
the carpet of twigs and underbrush. Idly, Larsen looked up and saw a figure
moving easily toward him through the light-patterned woods.
"Must be the forest service guy coming down to check what we're cutting," he mused to himself. He glanced back at the figure which had closed to
30 feet bur was moving away at a tangent. Thinking the ranger had missed
him, Larsen yelled. At that, the figure turned his head toward Larsen
as if seeing him for the first time bur kept moving away in long, swinging
strides. Larsen yelled again at the tall figure as it dropped down the
ridge a little and disappeared behind a screen of trees. Larsen began
to get to his feet to see where it had gone. Abruptly, a few dozen feet
below him, the tall creature rose from behind a bush end stared balefully
at him for a long second before
"At that moment I realized I didn't know what the hell I was looking
at. And that's when I took off."
Larsen, a normally quiet and reserved man, ran in terror down the other
slope to his partner. Together he and Conway returned to where Larsen
had been sitting. That was when they first became aware of the stomach-churning
odor in the forest. "It smelled rotten and rancid, like
an old bear hide," Larsen recalled. To estimate the creatures size,
Conway went behind the bush where it had been. Only by pushing his hat
up on a stick could he be located behind the bush that the creature had
easily looked over.
"It had to be about seven feet tall, but I don't know what it was,"
Larsen said. "I can only remember it looking over the bush and I
knew it wasn't a bear. Bears don't walk through the woods on two feet.
I can only remember from the hairline up, just dark hair pushed straight
back. I can't remember the face at all."
Larsen studied the burning cigarette between his fingers and quietly admitted
he lies awake now wondering what he saw. Was it Sasquatch, the giant ape-man
that thousands believe stalks the vast mountainous forest regions between
northern California and British Columbia? Larsen just
shakes his head. The shock of seeing something so strange has blanked
his mind on the subject. Larsen's foreman, when questioned about the reliability
of his faller, was blunt: "Let me put it this way," said Ralph
Gant, "if Larsen told me he had seen Jesus Christ, I would believe
him" Sgt. Walt Bullington, the deputy sheriff who investigated the
sighting said. "I think he's telling the truth as he knows it. He's
not falsifying." Larsen is just one of numerous reliable men who
have spent years in the woods and have nothing to gain but scorn of fellow
workers, who admit to seeing that giant, hairy creature commonly called
Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Unquestionably there are mistaken sightings and
outright hoaxes. But the number of reports by respected men, the finding
of footprints in areas too remote for pranksters to expect success, lends
credibility to the belief that something is out there. And that something
is generally reported to be about seven feet tall, covered with dark hair
and virtually no neck. It has massive shoulders, obviously is heavy and
leaves man-like footprints 14 to 18 inches long and 8 inches wide The
reports are not just a new fad.
In April of 1840, the Rev. Elkanah Walker, missionary to the Spokane Indians,
wrote a long letter to his superior filled with misgivings on the future
of the Indians. "They seem as fated to fade away before the whites
as the game of their country." In closing, he added this surprising
note: "I suppose you will bear with me if I trouble you with a little
of their superstition. They believe in the existence of a race of giants
which inhabit a certain mountain off to the west of us. They say their
track is about a foot and a half long. They will carry two or three beams
on their back at once. They frequently come in the night and steal their
salmon from the nets and eat them raw. If the
people are awake they always know when they are coming very near, by their
strong smell, which is most intolerable. It is not uncommon for them to
come in the night and give three whistles and then the stones will begin
to hit their houses."
Since that early report, stories of Sasquatch have become legend. One
of the most controversial pieces of evidence surrounding the creature
centers on a short length of 16mm film shot in 1967 by a rancher named
Roger Patterson. Patterson, now dead, said he and his partner Bob Gimlin
were looking for Bigfoot along the rugged Bluff Creek in northern California
when their horses suddenly spooked. Patterson was thrown but struggled
to his feet with camera in hand to make a jerky film of what appears to
be a female Sasquatch moving away rapidly at an oblique angle. The creature
turns and looks toward the camera and her ponderous, hairy breasts are
visible. Precisely because she had hair on her breasts the film was rejected
by many scientists who note that even on gorillas there is virtually no
hair. Also, it walked in an upright manner that was unacceptable to most
scientists. It was a powerful, rolling gate of considerable speed yet
it did not run.
However, even the specialists at Disney Studios could not prove the film
a fake. A group of Soviet scientists, who are searching for their own
Bigfoot which they call more accurately a 'relic hominoid,' viewed the
film and agreed that because of the size of the muscles rippling visibly
beneath the hairy coat, it was not likely faked. Wrote Dr. Dmitri D. Donskoy,
chief of the chair of biomechanics at the USSR Central Institute of Physical
Culture in Moscow: "With all the diversity of the locomotion illustrated
by the creature in the footage, its gait as seen is absolutely non-typical
Apart from the film, footprints with the distinctive hourglass outline
are the only tangible evidence that such a giant creature may in fact
exist. And those footprints trouble the highly scientific mind of Dr.
John Napier, a visiting professor of primate biology at the University
of London. In his book, 'Bigfoot', Napier studied hundreds of samples
of the broad prints and said, "There is a curious and persuasive
consistency about the hourglass footprints. They present an aberrant but,
nevertheless, uniform pattern. This is hard to reconcile with fakery." Napier, a specialist in the anatomy of ape and human feet, also studied
casts from a set of prints in Bossburg, Wash., that stretched
half a mile. Napier was surprised to find that the right foot was a club
foot, possibly the result of a crushing injury in childhood. "It
is very difficult to conceive of a hoaxer so subtle, so knowledgeable
-- and so sick -- who would deliberately fake a footprint of this nature.
I suppose it is possible, but it is so unlikely that I am prepared to
Napier concludes by saying, "I am convinced that the Sasquatch exists,
but whether it is all that it is cracked up to be is another matter altogether.
There must be something in northwest America that needs explaining, and
that something leaves man-like footprints. The evidence I have adduced
in favor of the reality of Sasquatch is not hard evidence; few physicists,
biologists or chemists would accept it, but nevertheless, it is evidence
and cannot be ignored." This conclusion, even from such an eminent
scientist, sticks in the throat of Dr. William Montagna, director of the
prestigious Oregon Regional Primate Research Center. In a scathing denunciation
Sasquatch legend and its investigators, Montagna wrote in the September
'Primate News': "Fascinated by the unknown and goaded by his imagination,
man is forever fabricating devils and saints.... Nothing is to be gained
by arguing with believers. Incapable of sifting reality from fantasy,
they swear to have seen the footprints of Bigfoot or of the Abominable
Snowman (Yeh-teh) and to have heard their chilling roars.
Even the tricksters who perpetrate these outlandish hoaxes sometimes come
to believe in the reality of their creatures." Montagna appears unwilling
to at least keep an open mind on Sasquatch but other eminent scientists
are pursuing their investigations. Edward W. Cronin, Jr., a zoologist
who spent two years in the Himalayas looking for the Yeti, concluded it
had to exist after awakening one morning to find a clear set of prints
in light and unmarred snow outside his tent. The Yeti, which may be a
smaller, distant relation to the Sasquatch, passed Cronin's tent and proceeded
down a steep and dangerous slope that made it evident to the zoologist
that the creature was far stronger than he was. He concluded, in an article
for the November 1975 issue of 'The Atlantic', that "based on this
experience, I believe that there is a creature alive today in the Himalayas
which is creating a valid zoological mystery." As evidence mounts
that both a Yeti and a Sasquatch exist, the question of what exactly it
is becomes more pertinent. The leading contender in the minds of a few
scientists is Gigantopithecus, a massive creature that existed as late
as 500,000 years ago in the Himalayas and China. His few fossil remains
indicate he was more than seven feet tall.
Dr. Paul Simonds, the senior physical anthropologist at the University
of Oregon, told me in an interview that it is conceivable that Gigantopithecus
crossed the land-bridge at the Bering Strait just as man did some 50,000
"My basic feeling is there is no such thing, but I'm not willing
to rule it out," Simonds said. He then added a fascinating bit of
evidence that Gigantopithecus might have migrated while other primates,
like the gorilla, remained in the tropics. He noted that chimpanzees and
gorillas wear their teeth down similarly, and that Gigantopithecus and
early man wore their teeth down in the same fashion. "So it looks
as though there is a similar jaw action," Simonds said.
Does that mean they went looking for similar food? "At least it means
their dietary adaptation was not similar to the chimp and the gorilla
who stayed in the tropics. But it's hard to go beyond that," he said.If
there is something roaming the great Northwest forests, why hasn't someone
found conclusive proof -- skeletal remains, hair or fossils?
Such questions make thousands of skeptics react like Den Mott, a rancher
who has spent most of his 42 years hunting and fishing in the mountains
of California. "Bigfoot is just a bunch of crap. With all those hunters
out there every year someone would have found one or shot one by now if
it was really there."
One man who ardently believes both that Sasquatch is in fact out there
but should never be shot is Peter Byrne. A Britisher [actually he's Irish]
in his early fifties, Byrne has all the rugged good looks of a professional
game hunter, which is precisely what he was for 20 years in Nepal. Then,
beginning in 1962, he made two expeditions in search of the Yeti. Although
both failed, Byrne became convinced the Yeti existed. Then at the urging
of Texas oil millionaire Tom Slick, Byrne came to the Northwest to use
his hunting skills in finding Sasquatch. For six years Byrne has continued
his lonely search, what he terms the "ultimate hunt." But now,
instead of a rifle he carries a camera.
From the modest trailer he calls home in The Dalles, Oregon, Byrne points
at the dark coniferous forest that begins not far away. "Once you
go 50 feet into these forests you simply disappear. It is as dense as
any jungle. And we're dealing with a nomadic group, or individuals, who
stay in an area only one day before moving on. This adds to the difficulty
of finding them."
Byrne notes that the soil of the Northwest is too acidic for fossils and
that if a Sasquatch did die in the forest other animals would eat it and
scatter the bones within days. With only a handful of the creatures around
and thousands of square miles of extremely rugged mountains it is conceivable
for Sasquatch to remain largely invisible.
One only has to recall Ishi, the last of a stone-age Indian tribe who
remained hidden with his family in a canyon only eight miles from Oroville,
Calif., in the early 1900s until he voluntarily appeared. The Tasaday
tribe, another stone-age people, were found in the Philippine jungles
only in 1971.
The mountain gorilla was not proven until 1902. Byrne, who has never seen
or heard a Sasquatch, has seen 16 separate sets of prints that he, a veteran
tracker, believes to be the real thing. If he feels sure that the Sasquatch
are out there, why continue to hunt them down?
"It doesn't seem important except for one reason. We're not going
to get protective legislation for something that is not proven. When it
is known to exist there will be expeditions, and some scientific expeditions
can be awfully ruthless. We hope there will be full protection, to the
point where even a scientific expedition from the Smithsonian Institution
will not be allowed to collect a specimen."
Another veteran Sasquatch hunter is George Haas, a scholarly 70-year-old
man who lives in an Oakland, California apartment filled with books and
files on Sasquatch. Haas has the most extensive files on Sasquatch in
the country, 3,000 news clippings alone. Like Byrne, he is strongly opposed
to any talk of killing a Bigfoot just to prove it exists. "The
last thing we need to do is shoot or even capture a specimen. It is more
than a rare animal, it may be a primitive man. To kill him would be murder."
Indeed, why find him at all? To protect him, some argue. But if Sasquatch
is proven to exist there will be massive hunts by amateurs and professionals
alike. It seems all too conceivable that the pressure of organized drives
for Sasquatch, complete with helicopters and listening devices as used
in Vietnam, would force the creature totally out of the area or into extinction.
Find Sasquatch to what end? So he can spend his life behind bars in a
zoo? Or be constantly probed and prodded by scientists made cranky because
they will have to rewrite their concepts of evolution? If Sasquatch exists
-- and the weight of evidence that he does is too much to ignore -- then
it seems best to let him and our dreams continue happily apart. We may
find that we enjoy the legend of
Sasquatch much more than the smelly beast itself.
Copyright Argosy Magazine,
Article Courtesy Tom Cousino special permission for Bigfoot Encounters
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