Bigfoot Encounters

Bigfoot Lives
Washington Magazine

By Michael Schmeltzer


One by one, the strange-looking pieces of plaster are removed from the shelves of a specimen cabinet and laid ever so gently on a nearby tabletop. There is a mysterious sort of drama to all of this, a solemn formality with which these objects are presented that seems to demand a hushed respect, as if the Shroud of Turin were being placed before us by some mystical keeper of church secrets.

But Dr. Grover S. Krantz, the tall-bearded man making this presentation, is an anthropologist. And the curious display offered here in his cluttered second-floor research lab at Washington State University is not one of ancient theological artifacts but of modem scientific evidence.

Arranged side by side on the tabletop are six chalk-white plaster castings of footprints. At first glance, they appear as if they might have been made from human tracks, but their enormous size quickly rules that a preposterous conclusion. No man could have made these tracks-at least, not with his own feet.

They measure up to 18 inches from heel to toe and seven inches across at the ball of the foot. A person belonging to feet this big would stand eight feet tall and weigh in at a monstrous 750 pounds. He would wear a size 28 shoe.

Unusual? Highly so. But, quite frankly, so is this scientist and the subject to which he has devoted nearly two decades of profes- sional research.

An associate professor of physical anthropology at WSU, Krantz is a specialist in the study of human evolution. For the past 19 years, he has been working to scientifically document and iden- tify a creature that he believes may be the missing link between man and ape. There is no doubt in Krantz's mind that such a being exists. He is equally certain that it inhabits our own backyard. As evidence, Krantz offers these plaster footprint casts proof, he insists, that a species of giant bipedal primates dwells undetected in the mountainous wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

"Does the creature we call Sasquatch actually exist?" Krantz asks rhetorically. "Absolutely. Any reservations I have about it are along the order of whether the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. "

Krantz's belief that these huge hairy beings have life beyond the pages of the supermarket tabloids has made him something of a loner in academic and scientific circles, where Sasquatch gener- ally enjoys about as much credibility as the theory that Mars is populated by a race of little green men.

One WSU official describes Krantz's dogged devotion to the pur- suit of Sasquatch as "an embarrassment to the university." Many scientists say his theory has been bulk on hearsay and evidence supplied to him by kooks and crazies. Some portray him as a well-intentioned dupe taken in by a patently ridiculous hoax.

Krantz himself is well aware of his isolation from the mainstream on this matter. The school supports his research "only to the extent that I have not been fired," he says. Krantz admits that the professional slurs do sometimes sting, but they have not driven him from the creature's trail.

"Believe me, this is not a distinction I sought," Krantz booms, a sharp edge of irritation cutting through his deep voice. "My life would have been much simpler if I had just dismissed Sasquatch out of hand as everyone else does. The problem is, I have examined all of the evidence, considered the variety of possible explanations, and finally I have reached the conclusion that there is a valid scientific basis for this. Sasquatch is not an apparition from the bottom of a whiskey bottle. It is as real as you or 1. "

It is the WSU professor's studied opinion that Sasquatch is a direct descendant of the Gigantopithecus, a prehistoric primate that some evolutionary theorists have held out as an answer to the missing-link puzzle. Scientific knowledge of this creature, too, is sketchy, based on two skull fragments found in China. In the summer of 1982, Krantz traveled to China for a firsthand look at these ancient skull fragments.

After carefully examining them himself and comparing notes with others, he has determined that these skulls encased the brains of primates that walked the earth between one and four million years ago.

Krantz's estimate closely matches those of other scientists, and it fits the Gigantopithecus into the general time frame associated by many with the evolutionary split that marked the beginning of man's rise above other primates. The most common theory on Gigantopithecus, however, is that it became extinct a few thousand years after this split occurred. Here is where Krantz deviates from the accepted thesis.

The species did not die, he says. It has survived, evolved and migrated. At the contemporary end of this line, he maintains, is the North American Sasquatch.

Whether it is descended from Gigantopithecus, as Krantz the- orizes, or sprang whole from the imaginative human mind, Sas- quatch has made its presence felt here in the Northwest for as long as man himself has inhabited this part of the world. Such a creature can be found in the tribal mythology of virtually every native people from coastal British Columbia to Northern California.

Puget Sound tribes shared a knowledge of a race of hairy giants that came down from the mountains to steal salmon from their nets and drying racks. They called these creatures tse-at-ko.

The Indians of the Blue Mountain region of southeastern Washington told of the frightening stiya-hama-tall, smelly, manlike monsters that lurked deep in the mountain forests. The very word Sasquatch is an anglicization of sas-kets, the term used by the Salish-speaking tribes of southwestern British Columbia's lower Fraser River Valley to describe the hairy, manlike giants they believed lived nearby and communicated among themselves with shrill screams and whistles.

Perhaps the earliest recorded mention of Sasquatch can be found in a letter written in April 1840 by the Reverend Elkanah Walker, a Protestant missionary to the Spokane Indians. Preserved today in the archives of the Holland Library on the WSU campus, Walker's letter offers a skeptical but detailed interpretation of the Indians' lore:

...I suppose you will bear with me if I trouble you with a little of their superstition, which has recently come to my knowledge. They believe in the existence of a race of giants which inhabit a certain mountain off to the west of us .... The account that they give of these Giants will in some measure correspond with the Bible account of this race of beings.

They say their track is about a foot and a half long. They will carry two or three beams upon their back at once. They frequently come in the night and steal salmon from their 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. The people believe that they are still troubled with their nocturnal visits. We need the prayers of the church at home ...

John Green, a retired newspaper publisher who now makes his home in Harrison Hot Springs, BC, is an amateur Sasquatch researcher who has written five books on the subject. Although he has never seen one, Green believes that these creatures exist. The reason that conventional science doesn't agree, he says, is that "scientists have never been willing to took at this thing with open minds. They just dismiss it as a quaint bit of Indian lore," much as Elkanah Walker did in his letter nearly 150 years ago.

For the past 25 years, Green has been keeping a systematic record of Sasquatch sightings and footprint discoveries in the United States and Canada. He has files on more than 2,500 reported sightings, about half of which predate his record keeping and were found in books, old newspapers and other sources.

Since the 1960s, Green has been classifying new reports by state or province of origin, as well as other geographic and climatic categories. Washington, with 347 Sasquatch sightings in the past 25 years, leads his list, followed by California, with 325, British Columbia, 274, and Oregon, 199. Perhaps the most intriguing of Green's statistical categories is the one dealing with precipitation. Eighty percent of the sight- ings and footprint finds he has noted have occurred in areas receiving more than 17 inches of rainfall annually.

The Northwest, of course, is widely known for its rainy climate, yet large portions of the region's interior are quite desert like. In such parched areas, Green has found, the Sasquatch is rarely seen. He offers no explanation for this, just the numbers. "I'll leave it to someone else to say why man's need to imagine these monsters should mysteriously dry up where it doesn't rain," he says.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that indeed there might be something stomping around out there in the woods. The best of it has been collected by Krantz for scrutiny in his lab. A small network of Sasquatch enthusiasts scattered through ut the Northwest supplies him with a steady stream of materials for study, and although the purported hair samples they send him sometimes turn out to be chunks of black moss, he looks at everything that comes his way. That, Krantz says, is what a scientist is supposed to do: examine and analyze the evidence available to him.

Among the dozens of plaster footprint casts he has collected over the years, Krantz has only a few that carry any significant weight as evidence. Two of them were made from footprints found in 1969 near the town of Bossburg, in northeastern Washington's Colville National Forest. What makes these tracks so important is a crippling deformity found in the right foot.

It has only four toes-the middle one is either missing or somehow raised above the other four, which have spread to fill the gap. More significant is the distortion of the entire foot, which is bent radically inward from the heel. Krantz calculated the natu- ral adaptations in foot structure and stride necessary to enable a large, heavy animal with such an anatomical deformity to walk.

"It was right on," he says. "Such an animal would have had to walk exactly as this one did: stride, angle of foot placement, distribution of weight-it was all exactly as it had to be."

These footprints, in fact, were what converted Krantz from a Sasquatch skeptic to a believer. "Before I examined these prints, I would have given you ten to one odds that the whole thing was a hoax," he says. "But there is no way that everything could have been tied together so perfectly in a fake."
Perhaps even more important to Krantz's argument are two sets of footprints cast in the Umatilla National Forest southeast of Walla Walla. Both were discovered by the same man, a former US Forest Service ranger, one set in 1982 and the other in the summer Of 1987. These casts show remarkably detailed dermal ridges, the swirling skin patterns that make up toe and fingerprints.

Krantz convinced the head of the Lakewood, Colorado, police department crime lab, a fingerprint expert named Doug Monsoon to examine the older of these casts. Monsoon who says he considers the existence of Sasquatch "highly unlikely," nonetheless concluded after his 1983 analysis of the prints that they were genuine.

In a written report, Monsoon said: "The size, distribution and orientation of the ridge patterns are consistent with those found on the human foot. However, these appear to be casts of original impressions of a primate foot of a creature different from any of which I am aware .... If hoaxing is involved, I can conceive of no way in which it could have been done."

Monsoon stands by his conclusion, but admits that it troubles him. "I have 28 years in law enforcement," he says. "My credibility as an examiner is paramount to my career. The last thing a man in my position can do is leave himself hanging out on a limb. Yet after examining the casts provided to me by Dr. Krantz, I can reach no other conclusion than that they are authentic."

There is other testimony and evidence supporting Krantz's theory on Sasquatch. Even dismissing the crackpots and kooks, one is left with a number of honest, sober individuals who claim to have seen the creature. Many of these people have fat more to lose than gain by stepping forward with eyewitness reports of bizarre monsters.

Among those who claim to have seen a Sasquatch are Virgil Herrington, who was on duty as a Grays Harbor deputy sheriff at the time of a sighting, and Dr. Don Hepworth, holder of a doctorate in equine science and the director of the Ontario Humane Society, who says he saw two Sasquatches while vacationing in the Northwest.

Then there is the Patterson-Gimlin film, shot in 1967 in the mountains of Humboldt County, California, by two Yakima men. Of all the Sasquatch evidence that has come to light over the years, this 24-foot cellutoid strip is considered by many to be the most tangible piece of documentation ever produced. The film shows a large, fur-covered, human like creature walking along a creek bed.
It takes giant strides, swings its arms in natural rhythm and twice twists its massive torso to peer toward the camera, revealing what appear to be female breasts. Krantz, who has seen this film countless times, says he can detect subtle muscle movement in the creature's shoulders and buttocks. Bob Gimlin, the Yakima rancher, who was there that day, still denies that the movie is a hoax.

Even if substantial weight is given to this evidence, the real problem here is that no one has yet managed to produce the goods: a Sasquatch in the flesh, either alive or dead.

Until a genuine specimen is brought forth, conventional science-and perhaps most laymen as well-will continue to regard Sasquatch as nothing more than an imaginative bit of Northwest folklore.

"Science is not something that is built upon anecdotes, however colorful," says Philip Haldeman, a Redmond writer who is cochair- man of Northwest Skeptics, an organization that seeks out and challenges claims of paranormal activity. "We aren't here to poke fun at people who claim that they have seen something like Sasquatch.

It's very possible that they did see something. A bear? A tree in the wind? A shadow in the forest at dusk? But the more a claim goes beyond the bounds of common experience, of common, sense be the more evidence you're going to need to convince me that it's true - "

Krantz admits that eyewitness reports are often unreliable, and he acknowledges that it is impossible to prove that the star of the Patterson-Gimlin film is not just a big man in a well padded fur suit. But the footprints, he insists, are not so easy to dismiss.

"Without the footprints, we could probably dismiss this whole thing as a mixture of legends and lies, with perhaps some hallucination thrown in," he says. "There are only two possible explanations for the footprints. One is that a well-organized, well-financed and secretive group dedicated to leaving fake tracks all over western North America, from California to Canada, is responsible. The other is that the tracks were made by a creature that science tells us does not exist.

Now, both of these explanations seem pretty ridiculous, right? So I guess the only logical conclusion is that the tracks do not exist. Trouble is, they do exist."

Krantz aside, there aren't many legitimate scientists who have given more than a smiling nod of amusement to the subject of Sasquatch. "I don't know of a respectable scientist who would waste the time," says a colleague of Krantz's at WSU- "It's a dead end, from a researcher's point of view. You have nothing no bones, no blood, no DNA material-that could undergo an objective analysis in the laboratory. It's as pointless a pursuit scientifically as the man in the moon."

But is it? For the scientist who could prove the existence of a new and unknown species such as Sasquatch, the rewards would be great. Krantz understands this perhaps better than anyone. So he has gambled $9,500 of his own money on a computerized aerial sensor made to detect heat emanating from the ground below. The device is similar to those used by the Forest Service to find hot spots in burned-over areas that might threaten to rekindle forest fires.

Krantz believes this high-tech tool might enable him to locate the decaying body of a dead Sasquatch from a helicopter. It should work especially well in late March or early April, when a frozen body would thaw and put off heat against a cold high-country backdrop of Northwest snow.

Krantz had hoped to find a financial backer to pick up the $400-an-hour tab for chartering a helicopter last spring. A Japanese television producer had exhibited interest in the project, but then backed out. Unable to line up another backer, Krantz was forced to alter his plans. Rather than renting a helicopter, he decided to build his own ultra light model, using a $2,500 mail-order kit.

He expects to have the machine finished and flying by September, which will give him several months of practice air time before putting into the field next spring on an actual Sasquatch search. Krantz isn't saying where he plans to look. That would only bring more people into the area and doom an already difficult mission, he says.

If his aerial search fails to turn up the specimen that would change his life just as surely as it would alter the thinking of scientists the world over, Krantz has one last recourse.

"If I could come up with the money," he says, "I would hire a team of expert trackers and hunters and send them off into the mountains with very specific instructions: Bring me a Sasquatch, dead or alive.

Copyright: Michael Schmeltzer of Spokane is a frequent contributor to Washington.Michael Schmeltzer, "Bigfoot lives," Washington Magazine. V (September-October, 1988) p. 64-69

Source: Tacoma Public Library Online

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