Bigfoot Encounters

Argosy Magazine, December 1977
Bigfoot: Man, Beast or Myth
By Jeff Williams

The number 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 disappearing.

"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 of man."

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 discount it."

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 of the 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 years ago.

"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, December/January 1977
Article Courtesy Tom Cousino special permission for Bigfoot Encounters

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