Bigfoot Encounters

By Don Davis (© 2002)

The headlines of the small November 1963 issue of the "S. F. Territorial News" screamed: "Story Behind the BIGFOOT MYSTERY complete in this issue".

How could anyone resist buying that? Especially as it seemed you could unlock the "mystery" with only a ten-cent purchase. Of course the fact that the November 1963 edition was on the newspaper rack in the spring of 1964 might discourage some from buying it.

The paper didn't unlock the Bigfoot mystery for me, but it was perhaps the best dime I ever spent. It pointed me to the Presidio Branch Library in San Francisco where an exhibit of Bluff Creek plaster tracks was on display. I had seen photographs prior to that time but never casts. It also beckoned me irresistibly to the Fisherman's Wharf Office of this newspaper were they had a few copies of Betty Allen's "Big Foot Diary" hot off the press and available for fifty cents each. At that time I was collecting anything I could find on Bigfoot and related creatures, so this "Big Foot Diary" was a priority.

Before I go on, please indulge me a personal flashback. A bit prior to this, in the late 1950s, I was living in New York City. An associate of mine told me one morning that he had seen a special on television the night before about a strange yeti-like creature living in California. Since I was the only person he knew that had spent much time in California he asked me if I had ever heard of it. At that time I was firmly convinced of the existence of the Yeti in Asia but had not yet heard mention of the names Sasquatch or Bigfoot. I assured him that any such thing was certainly impossible, but to his credit I didn't convince him. The special had impressed him enough to leave him with an objective open mind. I really can't defend the stand I took. In mitigation perhaps it's to my credit that I did think about what he was saying for a few minutes, and then told him that I believed that the one place in California where such creatures could best exist, if they did exist, would be in the far northwest comer of the State. He said that he thought that was the very area they were talking about.
Around 1960 1 moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York. A year or two later I came across Sanderson's "Abominable Snowmen" book which really began my education in Cryptozoology. Thus I was more than ready for and receptive to the November 63 edition of the "S.F. Territorial News".

The article in the Territorial News was an account of a visit to Willow Creek for their Bigfoot Daze celebration by George Wamsley, publisher of the paper. The article included an account of a trip out along the Bluff Creek road to see Bigfoot tracks. It wasn't very long before I was at the newspaper's office on Fisherman's Wharf purchasing a "Big Foot Diary" and meeting George Wamsley. It turned out that Betty Allen was George Wamsley's aunt and the person that had arranged his Bluff Creek outing. During our conversation that day I told him I was taking my family on vacation up the California coast and inquired about the possibility of viewing tracks. He encouraged me to contact his aunt and gave me her address in Willow Creek.

Up to that time I had hardly heard of Betty Allen. She is mentioned a couple of times in Sanderson's book but so casually her name did not stick in my memory. I certainly wasn't aware of the extent of her investigations and her other efforts that were bringing such widespread attention to Bluff Creek. She was about as unknown to me then as she seems to be to many of the Bigfoot investigators and authors of today.

I wrote to Betty. There was no reply for awhile, then just a day or so before heading out a letter arrived. It was dated July 17, 1964 and said in part:

"I would be glad to meet with you and though the news out of the area of Bluff Creek is very sketchy this year, I know earlier the tracks were seen. It would be a very interesting trip for you to take at any rate and there is a fine camping spot at the Notice Creek Bridge. Workmen are going and coming but with ordinary caution it is safe enough to drive. Loggers are very polite and careful in this area. I wish I had more recent news and more definite appearances this year but often I do not hear when they come in and the men are so busy they pay no attention."

A couple of days later I met Betty Allen at her home in Willow Creek. She looked very much like someone's favorite aunt, but I soon discovered there was a very capable level headed investigative reporter in this "favorite aunt image". I also found, as others have, that she was very hospitable and more than generous with advice and help. Early in our conversation I attempted to test her by casually bringing up another type crypto-creature living in the Klamath area. She paused for a few moments, seeming to consider possible implications, and then quietly asked who I really was. Her quiet but matter-of-fact attitude clearly set out the parameters. I had to satisfy her with some answers as to how I knew some of the semi-secrets of her area before we could continue with Bigfoot.

Betty told me that at first she tried to discourage people from going to Bluff Creek, or anywhere else, to search for signs of Bigfoot. She was afraid they would find nothing and spread the word it was all a hoax. Some insisted on poking around anyway and in time she came to realize that those that went into the field to search often found. She began encouraging those that wanted to investigate.
She told me of three general areas that were good places to look for tracks. One was on Notice Creek..I forget if she mentioned the location of a second one, but the one she recommended to me was an area on Bluff Creek near Louse Camp. She didn't tell me where to look but she did mentioned things to look for besides tracks. She also told me exactly, to the tenth of a mile, the best place to get down from the road into the steep-sided creek.

Among the most interesting parts of my visit was hearing her relate much of the historical Bigfoot investigations and experiences. She talked a bit about searches for Bigfoot evidence not only in the area of Bluff Creek, but as she put it "coming in from the other side". Incidentally, it appears the term Bigfoot had been used in the Klamath area by non-Indians for some time before the creature ever made the Eureka newspapers.

At the time of my first visit to Willow Creek, and for sometime previously, Betty was a string reporter for the Eureka newspaper gathering news and material from the areas near where she lived. The Yurok and Hoopa Indians had known for a very long time about the strange hairy man-like giants they called OhOhmah (my own spelling from verbal coaching of a Yurok friend). Incidentally, it is a Yurok Indian that probably should get credit for the quoted reaction when first informed about the white man's interest in Bigfoot by replying that it was interesting that the white man had finally gotten around to discovering this.

There are many accounts from loggers, female cooks at the logging camps, hunters, fishermen, ranchers, and other non- Indians in the area reporting sightings and tracks from long ago. I have seen and heard some of these accounts that go back at least as far as the early 1940s, and I have heard rumors of much earlier incidents. Betty told me about one very old Indian woman she took up to Bluff Creek to see the tracks. This woman carried the very old tattoos on her face that I understand were applied to young children of her tribe in the 1800s. The woman couldn't walk very far and then only with help. When she saw the tracks she excitedly exclaimed, "All my life I've heard about these things and now at last I finally get to see their tracks?

In the 1950s logging operations in Northern California were going full blast. The one best known to Bigfoot buffs is one that was located in the great "V" of the Klamath River where a new road was built paralleling little known Bluff Creek and stretching back more than 20 miles from the Klamath River. For much of the time that logging operations and road building were taking place near Bluff Creek and along Lonesome Ridge the workers camped out or lived in portable accommodations in the woods. They generally only went home on weekends leaving their woodsy campsites deserted. It didn't take long before strange large footprints started appearing, especially where new road grading had taken place. Soon other incidents began to occur which have been previously mentioned in various Bigfoot records. Betty told me that the Contractor was loathed to have any word of these strange happenings reported to the outside world. Partly for this reason, and partly not to be accused of being crazy, the workers were reluctant to speak of the strange events that were taking place. Some of the occurrences the workers found very alarming. At home on the weekends some of the workers would confide their uneasiness to their wives and, in time, some of these wives began to talk to Betty.

It is likely that Betty had heard about this Bigfoot creature prior to the time when these wives began to fear for their husband's safety. I do know that at some point Betty began her own investigation of whatever evidence she could uncover that might prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot. Her efforts eventually convinced her that Bigfoot roamed her area and his visits were not isolated or just occasional.

The reports from the worker's wives, coupled with information she obtained by other means, enabled Betty to gather a considerable amount of data. One time she was having dinner in one of the Willow Creek restaurants when she overheard a man at the table behind her talking about huge footprints. He had found these tracks around his snow bound construction equipment out in the woods. He was telling how he had followed the tracks for several miles in the snow in the dead of winter before mining back because of a new storm threat. She told me that when she overheard this conversation she turned around and politely asked a question or two. This led to an evening's dinner where she spent about as much time conversing with the table behind her as with those at her own table. She said that on the restaurant wall near her table was a map of the Klamath area. This map was used during this conversation to indicate various locations. Some years later, while having dinner in one of the Willow Creek restaurants, I noticed a map on the wall above my table. In looking closely at it I notice a circle and several other pencil marks drawn in the upper Bluff Creek area. I wondered if these marks were added to that map one evening by a contractor and/or Betty Allen. I'm not sure that same restaurant is still there, but I do know the map has disappeared.

With some of the information she gathered Betty began a scrapbook. As the reports from logger's wives and others accumulated she began to try to interest her Editor, Andrew Genzoli, in her material. She wanted to do an article for the Eureka paper. For some time Mr. Genzoli expressed no interest in such an article. Finally, after repeated efforts on Betty's part, he stopped putting her off. Betty sent a small sample portion of her material. Then she waited for his response.

Some days later, Betty opened the Eureka paper to see an article Mr. Genzoli had written using some of the material Betty had supplied. His article featured an illustrated cartoon caricature, probably so that no one would accuse the newspaper of seriously believing the Bigfoot material. Betty was disappointed. When she talked with her editor by phone she learned that he fully expected hoots and ridicule to result from the article's appearance but decided to publish anyway. When letters from readers slowly began to arrive, Mr. Genzoli was surprised that instead of ridicule the writers told personal stories of Bigfoot experiences. Betty was surprised at the extent of the readership reaction.

Later Mr. Genzoli got in touch with Jerry Crew regarding the casts he had made and wrote a second article. It just might have been Betty Allen that brought Mr. Genzoli and Jerry Crew together as she was there helping Jerry Crew when he made his first cast. She said she came back the next day to the casting site with her own material and made a cast from the same series of tracks Jerry used. The article featuring Jerry Crew and his cast was the one picked up by the Associated Press Wire Service that resulted in changing the scope of Bigfoot investigations forever. Betty had not gotten to write her article, but · her efforts to collect, examine, and her attempts to publish had launched the modern Bigfoot era.

In Canada John Green and René Dahinden read about the Bigfoot in Northern California and first John and later René came to investigate. Tom Slick saw the reports and shifted his attention from the Yeti of Tibet to the Bigfoot of California.

Betty didn't seem to have great admiration for Tom Slick's Pacific Northwest Expedition. She didn't approve of hunting Bigfoot with guns, especially since so little was known about it. She was relieved when the Expedition members left without a Bigfoot specimen. It also may be that she declined to share her information with the Slick Expedition. If this is so, it may explain why members of that group have pretty much ignored her contributions to the study of Bigfoot in their writings.

In 1958 Ivan Sanderson became aware of reported Bigfoot activity in Northern California. In his book, "Abominable Snowmen, Legend Come to Life" Sanderson, on page 129, makes the following statement referring to when he heard about the California Bigfoot for the first time:

"The point I want to make is that this whole bit did sound quite absurd even to us, who became immune to such shocks years ago. It is all very well for abominable creatures to be pounding over snow-covered passes in Nepal and Tibet; . . . but a wild man with a 17-inch foot and a 50-inch stride tromping around California was then a little too much to ask even us to stomach, . ."

In the forward to his "Abominable Snowman" book Mr. Sanderson also states "Three years ago" (his book was published in 1961) "I dismissed all such evidence" (ABSM) "as either hoax or legend,..." Of course that was before his trip to Willow Creek in 1959 and his meetings with Betty Allen. She said Sanderson stayed in a motel in Willow Creek for a week or two while she ran around lining up witness after witness for him to interview. She opened her files to him. She offered to accompany him to Bluff Creek but he wasn't interested in viewing anything for himself, neither locations nor tracks. By the time Sanderson left, Betty had furnished him with enough material for a book on the Bigfoot of Northern California, which she expected him to write. Instead he used only a small part of her material for a chapter or so in his "Abominable Snowman" book. She was disappointed once again.

It should be realized that the Bigfoot incidents at Bluff Creek in the 1950s and 60s were by no means unique. Similar happenings had been known in many places in and outside the United States. Sometimes the occurrences were, and still are, as frequent if not more so than at Bluff Creek. But thanks to Betty Allen's efforts, it was Bluff Creek that got the big play in the newspapers, thus attracting the attention of many investigators and researchers and eventually Patterson and Gimlin.

Betty lived very modestly when I knew her. She did not even have a car. She enjoyed going out into the field to investigate but to do this she had to get someone to take her as the trip from her home to the prime evidence areas was more than 50 miles over not the best of roads. Al Hodgson, who was later to be involved with the Patterson/Gimlin filming and who now is doing such a nice job of developing the Bigfoot Wing of the museum in Willow Creek, was one of those that accompanied her on trips up Bluff Creek.

Today Willow Creek seems to me to be about the same size as it was in the early 1960s. It is the southern gateway to the Bluff Creek area and is the place where "The Bigfoot Scenic Highway", State Highway 96, starts and proceeds north towards the creek Betty so loved to visit. _The Willow Creek Museum is well worth a visit as it houses Bob Titmus' Bigfoot cast collection and other interesting material. It is a shame that Betty's material is not there as well.

Willow Creek was Betty's home town until the mid 1960s when she moved to Alaska. She wrote me sometime after the big Alaska earthquake telling me of information she had received from Ivan Sanderson regarding Bigfoot happenings on the Pacific Coast near where Alaska and Canada meet. I think the idea of searching out Bigfoot in Alaska appealed to her.

I was at the dedication of the Bigfoot Wing of the Willow Creek Museum in 1999. I had been to the museum once before and have visited it several times since. The staff of volunteers is very helpful and polite, but with the exception of Al Hodgson, none that I talked with seemed to have any idea who Betty Allen was. I think it would be nice if her name was on the outside of the museum in big letters. Maybe something like: "The Betty Allen Bigfoot Museum and Research Center". What do you think?

There is a copy of Betty Allen's small booklet "Bigfoot Diary" locked up in one of the museum's display cases. Outside of that she seems pretty much forgotten in her home town and most everywhere else.

Don Davis was involved casually as a witness, investigator, and researcher in the field of Cryptozoology since before Bernard Heuvelmans coined the term. The article appearing here is the first draft for a chapter of a book he was preparing about some of his more interesting Bigfoot experiences. Sadly, Don died in February 2002 and this article was his last work to see print.

© Published in Craig Heinselman's CRYPTO
Hominology Special Number II 2002

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