Bigfoot Encounters

Professor wants answer to Bigfoot question
Endless topic for research and hook for his students
by Dan Gallagher - Associated Press

---> Updated 2006 November articles HERE

1996 -- Boise, Idaho: For most people in the Northwest, Bigfoot is a mythical figure, the stuff of hair-raising tales around the campfire. For Idaho State University anatomy professor Jeff Meldrum, North America's own great ape is a tantalizing possibility, an endless topic for research and an interesting hook for his students. It also would be proof of the first ape to walk upright."I acknowledge there are good questions that need to be answered,'' he said. " (But) if the physical evidence is there, you can't sweep it under the rug.''

Meldrum's proof is the dozens of plaster casts he and other Sasquatch enthusiasts have taken from tracks found out in the field. But footprints are not enough to convince other academics." I have to approach it that an organism which lives that long requires a breeding population of a certain size,'' said David Hyland, a biology professor at Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute in Erie, Pa. "There is no evidence but footprints and anecdotal accounts. It begs the question of whether they do exist.'' Meldrum has appeared as a Bigfoot authority on several television documentaries including "Into the Unknown,'' narrated by actor James Coburn.

Sasquatch has been part of Indian legends for many generations. The name is the English version of the Salish Tribe's word for wild man, or hairy man. Most modern accounts focus on the Northwest, although they have supposedly been spotted in nearly every state. Meldrum has spent several years collecting casts of tracks and considering how the foot muscles and bones would act in a primate described as tall as 10 feet and weighing 1,000 pounds.

"A significant number of footprints are not so readily explained away,'' he said in a December position paper written in cooperation with Richard Greenwell of the International Society of Cryptozoology in Arizona. "These tracks display anatomical details that a would-be hoaxer would be unlikely to have a knowledge of,'' Meldrum wrote. "These tracks are not simply enlargements of human feet. Rather, they exhibit distinctions in proportion and anatomy that are consistent with the size and purported gait of the Sasquatch.'' Hyland refuses to look at such evidence with anything other than a jaded eye, but he concedes Bigfoot's allure.

"These sorts of legends abound throughout the world,'' he said. "The evidence of most of them is greatly lacking to nonexistent.'' Memo: But even if it is a myth, Hyland said, "it still reflects the culture of the Northwest region of this continent. It's fodder for interesting research.''

Meldrum and Greenwell did just that several years ago when they camped in northern California's Siskiyou Wilderness. Memo: Sasquatch Central for sightings such as the famous 1967 footage of a supposed female filmed by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin at Bluff Creek. "We did find footprints there, as well as having a disturbance in camp,'' Meldrum said. "We found our food stolen and packs rifled without the typical signs associated with bears. A biped unmistakably left the footprints.''

He also documented a trail of more than 40 footprints, about 13 inches long and five inches wide, he encountered along a muddy road adjacent to the Umatilla National Forest near Walla Walla, Washington. Those footprints show the muscles and bones adjusted to the contours of the road, including marks where the toes slid in the mud, he said. The foot of such a creature would be much more flexible than the human foot with its high arch and would flatten out the track. It also would be better adapted for steep mountain terrain.

Memo: Some Bigfoot buffs think it might be Gigantopithecus, an ancient primate whose nearest cousin was the orangutan. Gigantopithecus could have migrated from Asia (home of Yeti) eons ago over the frozen Bering Strait and would have the huge dimensions that the Sasquatch tales describe, Meldrum said. It also would be a reclusive animal apt to hide in the dense forests of the Northwest and Canada.

Critics argue no one has turned up any Sasquatch bodies or bones. But Meldrum points out there were rumors of mountain gorillas in Africa throughout the 19th century, but it took until 1902 to find them. Memo: And it was not until much later that primatologists like Dian Fossey discovered they are largely passive animals. "Some say it's fine to have monsters over there, but it's less palatable that there might be monsters, or at least an unknown large animal, over here,'' Meldrum said.

Memo: Bigfoot trackers also have found hair in the wilds. Meldrum said it is hard to classify it, since there is no identified Sasquatch hair for comparison. But Henner Fahrenbach of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center concludes that 10 samples found in three states represent an unknown primate. Whether Meldrum ever finds a complete Sasquatch, his research piques the interest of his classes.

"We discuss the evolutionary aspects. Where would such an animal fit into the primate family?'' he said. "It makes the students stop and think and evaluate this subject through mainstream science. They are fascinated by the whole prospect.''

Coeur d'Alene Press, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.The Spokesman-Review - Spokane, Washington

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