Bigfoot Encounters

The Hoaxers
by Mark Sunlin, Fate Magazine
August 2002


On The Trail of Bigfoot

During the 1970s, books and movies turned attention to Bigfoot as never before. In 1979, on the heels of all of this, Rant Mullens, a Washington State woodsman who was born in 1896, stepped forward to tell how he had done much to promote the Bigfoot legend by his prankish hoaxing decades earlier. In fact, according to Mullens, he had all but created the Bigfoot character single-handedly ... literally, the way he described it.

It all started in 1924, before the names "Bigfoot" and "Sasquatch" had caught on, and the legendary primates were seemingly known as just "apes." Mullens and a friend were hiking back from a fishing trip in Washington's Spirit Lake region when they paused to prankishly roll some stones onto a miners' cabin in the Ape Canyon region. The miners "came the following to the Spirit Lake Ranger Station and said that hairy apes threw rocks at them," Mullens recalled with relish, adding, "they had all the lawmen up there looking for the apes."

A few years later, with this episode seemingly in mind, Mullens and friends decided to go a step further and "have some fun scaring a few city slickers from Portland who were out to pick some berries." Mullens craftily fashioned a pair of wooden "big feet" out of a split of wood made from an alder tree using his hatchet and pocket knife. One of his friends then put the big feet on his boots, snowshoe-style, and stomped a trail in the ground where the huckleberry pickers were foraging. Later, the berry pickers, upon finding the tracks, reported them anxiously to the ranger station, then hastily left the park.

Mullens eventually made eight pair of these wooden big feet, most of which he said he sent to California, and which all but kicked off the Bigfoot legend--at least by his way of thinking. Mullen's motive in his hoaxing was pure boyish pranksterism. And while this is what we might expect is usually the case, others have different reasons for the same antics.

Stepping on Toes

On several occasions beginning in 1971, Ray Dickens (a suitable name for a hoaxer) of Arden, Washington, similarly hoaxed Bigfoot tracks. But his motive was different from Mullens's as he explains: "Well, we were sitting there having coffee in this Arden cafe when two gentlemen came in and starting asking about Bigfoot. We said we didn't believe in it, and one gentlemen says, ' well, you hicks around Arden probably wouldn't.' I turned to my friend Harvey and said 'Harvey, we're hicks. What are we going to do about it? So I said 'We're going to show them who the who the hicks are.' Then I went home and made the boots. The boots turned out to be hiking boots with wooden "big feet" attached, a la Mullens (whom Dickens probably never heard of ).

Dickens donned the boots and took long, striding steps, leaving 18-inch tracks widely spaced in the woodlands which looked chillingly like the trail of some huge, bipedal ape. "By the next day there were 700 to 800 people from all over the country looking at the tracks," Dickens said with a smile. ( Take that city slickers!)

Bigfoot Goes to the Movies

In October 1967, Roger Patterson (who had authored a book on Bigfoot) and Bob Gimlin were on a Bigfoot-hunting trip on horseback in northern California, when they captured a one-minute film of what they said was a female Bigfoot walking off along a dry stream bed. To many Bigfoot believers, this film has become enshrined as proof, or at least as a logo or mascot of the Sasquatch's existence. Like a Hollywood starlet leaving signature footprints in cement at Graumann's Chinese Theater, there were even footprints allegedly left by this northern California film queen. But to many this analogy is apt, for they see it as nothing more than an act.

The film has been widely scrutinized and both attacked and defended. "There are two eyewitness; there are footprints," said the late Rene Dahinden of Richmond, British Columbia, one of the foremost veteran Bigfoot believers, who shared the film copyright. " We never had anything like it perviously, and anything like it since." However, this rationale is highly inconclusive, especially if it develops that the "eyewitness" had perpetuated the hoax.

Even some Bigfoot believers have criticized the film as a hoax. In 1999, Cliff Crook, a Seattle-area Bigfoot believer, announced to the media that "computer enhancements" made by fellow Bigfoot buff Chris Murphy of Vancouver, British Columbia, show what Crook sees as a costume fastener cinching a gorilla suit in place at the waist. "It was a hoax," said Crook, who nevertheless is a firm believer in Bigfoot himself, and whose home out side Seattle is a veritable museum filled with Bigfoot paraphernalia such as the obligatory plaster footprints casts and bumper stickers proclaiming I BRAKE FOR BIGFOOT. "Even though the Patterson film is a hoax," says Crook, "it doesn't mean Bigfoot doesn't exist."

Some skeptics have noted that the soles of this black-colored Bigfoot's feet are oddly white-colored, rather like '60s tennis shoes, while the palms of the hands, like the face are blackish. One observation I haven't heard noted is that the Bigfoot's head turns around to look at the cameraman while still walking forward. This is very surprising, since nonhuman animals, and naturalistic humans, virtually never look away from the direction in which they are walking. If they wish to look at something behind them, they will stop walking and then look. The reason, of course, is to avoid walking into something unforeseen like a tree limb. This Bigfoot's mannerism appears suspiciously like an actor in a costume giving a good showing for the camera. Likewise, most fleeing wild creatures will walk away from a threatening intruder, rather than at right angles, as this camera-friendly Bigfoot does. The Patterson-Gimlin film seems more reminiscent of a television beauty-pageant contestant or Bob Hope making a strange entrance than an evasive wild creature.

While some have maintained that only Hollywood special-effects props could have produced such an elaborate hoax, this is literally an example of viewers seeing what they wish to see. The film, as shown on television, and in books, has been greatly "blown up" to display the small image of the Bigfoot figure, and is consequently very hazy, for as a picture is enlarged it loses its sharpness and becomes increasingly grainy and hazy. This in turn compels viewers to fill in the details according to their own personal ideas. The figure is very unclear, and it would require no special talent to reproduce it. (Perhaps significantly, this film was made 11 days before Halloween, when all the elements needed to make such a costume were readily available for sale in drug and fabric stores--the artificial face-paint, puttylike face "appliances," and fake fur.) Although I believe it is probably Bob Gimlin in the suit, I also believe he is doing the right thing by not admitting to it and thus allowing the mystery to remain entertainingly intact and mysterious. But if the Patterson-Gimlin film is a hoax, what was the motive? Was Patterson ridiculed or frustrated because of his belief in Bigfoot, resulting in the desire to prove himself? (Then again, knowing this would take a mystery out of it, wouldn't it?)

When Is a Hoax a Hoax?

As we have seen there are many, often subtle reasons which compel hoaxers to bamboozle the anomalist (and everyone else for that matter). The anomalist's criterion of seeing an eyewitness as "reliable" ignores the possibility that the eyewitness could be a victim of a hoax, rather than a perpetrator. But hoaxing in itself is quite legal, and often entertaining--although I'm sure those on the receiving end of a hoax fail to be amused by it.

Copyright Fate Magazine, August 2002

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