Bigfoot Encounters

Bigfoot believers
Wildlife educator Larry Battson tours the country to share his theories

21 January 2008 --- Larry Battson has seen the smirks, the winks, the rolling of the eyes.

But that doesn't bother him in the least. When you profess to believe in Bigfoot, that comes with the territory.

"When I used to talk about Bigfoot at sports shows, I'd have skeptics," said Battson, a nationally known educator on wildlife, who was displaying rattlesnakes and other reptiles at the Kansas City, Mo., Sportshow recently.

"I'd have 'good old boys' come up and say 'What are you trying to feed us?' But I'd always tell them, 'You believe what you want to believe. I'm convinced it exists.'"

Call it what you like -- Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, the Abominable Snowman -- it's out there, Battson says.

He's convinced that secretive, mysterious, apelike creatures inhabit the deep forests of the United States. He and others describe them as 7 to 10 feet tall, weighing more than 500 pounds, with feet 20 to 25 inches long. They are covered in brown hair, walk on two feet and have a pronounced brow ridge, believers claim.

They are highly intelligent, keeping to themselves and offering only fleeting exposure to humans. That explains why they are so seldom seen and why scientific proof of their existence is so scarce, believers say.

But many, including the scientific community, remain unconvinced. If colonies of this Bigfoot creature do indeed exist, they say, get us the documentation.

There is a distant, grainy photo of a supposed Bigfoot taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, two men who say they ran across the creature in a remote part of northern California. But that's it.

Since then, there have been proven hoaxes and much skepticism.

"In all the time I've been with the Conservation Department, I've never heard an agent talk about a Bigfoot sighting," said Brian Bartlett, a conservation agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "With all the hunters we have out in the woods and with all the trail cameras that are set out these days, you'd think someone would spot one if they do exist.

"But we've learned to never say never."

Battson has heard such skepticism before. Be he remains undeterred.

He has been studying Bigfoot for about 30 years now, traveling the country to research alleged sightings.

He has taken molds of footprints, he has audiotape of the sounds the creatures make in the wild, he has read journals of families that had close encounters with them, and he has mountains of testimony from people who claimed to have seen the primate. He spotted what may have been a Bigfoot, but he isn't certain.

One of those testimonies came from his wife, who spotted what she believed to be a Bigfoot in the headlights of her car as she returned to the Battsons' home in rural Indiana one night.

That sighting came as no surprise to her husband. There have been other alleged spottings in Putnam County, Ind., where the couple lives.

"These aren't just a few crackpots making up stories," said Battson, 55, who lives in Clinton Falls, Ind. "There are literally hundreds of people across the nation who have reported seeing Bigfoot.

"In fact, the only states where there haven't been sightings are Hawaii and Rhode Island."

Battson first became intrigued with Bigfoot when he talked with noted wildlife researcher Jim Fowler of the "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" television show years ago.

Fowler was in Russia to tape footage of the brown bear, but all the guides wanted to talk about was Bigfoot.

"Jim said it was very convincing," Battson said. "These guides got a good look at this creature, and they were afraid of it."

Battson runs Battson Wildlife Educational Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about wildlife. He has a collection that includes everything from snakes and Gila monsters to tarantulas.

When he heard about this mysterious creature supposedly roaming the woods, it piqued his interest.

"I look at Bigfoot as just another form of wildlife," he said. "That's why I find it so fascinating."

Battson began looking into reports of Bigfoot sightings and was intrigued by what he found.

The creature was mentioned in early American Indian writings and in the journal of explorer Daniel Boone. Even President Theodore Roosevelt related in one of his books an account of Idaho trappers' encounters with a Bigfoot.

"I read one account of miners in the 1920s who encountered a Bigfoot and shot at it," Battson said. "That night, their cabin was just bombarded with rocks and boulders. They thought it might have been retaliation for what they had done.

"Anyway, they were so scared that they just took off and left."

But the modern-day accounts are just as fascinating to Battson.

He remembers one incident when a group reported being out searching for mushrooms when they heard some sounds in the brush. When the sounds grew louder, as if they were being followed, they made their way back to their vehicle. As they went to pull away, what they thought to be a Bigfoot pounced on the hood of their vehicle, made some menacing sounds and then bounded away.

But perhaps the most memorable sighting Battson has investigated involved a family that was building a house in a remote area where Bigfoot creatures had allegedly been seen before.

"When the house was being built, something kept vandalizing it," Battson said. "At first, this man thought it was kids.

"But one night he saw this big hairy creature out there on his land. He told me that it even came up and screamed in his window one time.

"Over time, I think things got better, and now they kind of coexist there. But that guy tells me he has his land lit up like Shea Stadium now."

Battson has read dozens of such accounts and has talked with many of the people who said they had spotted Bigfoot. He has seen the footprints in the woods and the way tree limbs have been thrashed at a level higher than any other animal could reach.

That's enough to convince him that this mysterious creature does indeed exist.

"People say, 'If this Bigfoot is out there, why don't we find carcasses in the woods?'" Battson said. "But think about it. There are millions of animals out there, but how many times do we run across a carcass?

"I believe that this creature is highly intelligent and able to sense danger. That's why we don't run across them that often.

"But I'm convinced they're out there."

Battson paused and added, "Either this is the greatest hoax ever pulled off, or there really is a Bigfoot."

McClatchy Newspapers

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