Publication: The Salt Lake Tribune - Published: April 6, 1996 - By By Monte Whaley
SOUTH WEBER -- Huge gravel pits dot this city's landscape. Gravel is the biggest business in town, with 10-wheel trucks rumbling to construction projects in nearby Ogden and Davis County.
The pits have been here 50 years. But plans to widen and improve Highway 89 may spell their demise. In fact, the road plans threaten to wipe out South Weber's business district -- a boat shop, restaurant and a few storage sheds.
The city of 3,000 is facing the end of life as it has known it. Maybe that is why residents cling to the memory of the hairy apparition that ambled down the Weber-Davis Canal and into Pauline Markham's life 16 years ago. Yep. She saw Bigfoot. Sasquatch. A yeti.
Markham's reported encounter ignited several days of unconfirmed sightings, plenty of speculation and more than a few posses bent on lassoing the biped fuzz ball. Markham remains shaken by her experience to this day, and doesn't want to relive it. "She hates talking about it," said Dorothy Markham, Pauline's mother.
But Sterling Gardner will talk. He remembers the time with distaste. "Somebody put up a mock drawing of a Bigfoot in [nearby] Riverdale and a couple of rednecks blasted it with buckshot," said Gardner, South Weber's Justice Court judge. ``We had patrols of rednecks running around everywhere." Gardner had never seen anything like what descended on South Weber after what he calls the alleged sighting.
The judge clearly aligns himself with the ranks of nonbelievers. But even he acknowledges the Bigfoot story now is part of South Weber folklore. Most people in the city smile sheepishly when a stranger mentions the Bigfoot saga. It is as if they are embarrassed by the whole affair -- or harboring some family secret too juicy to divulge to the outside world.
According to local historian Lee D. Bell, here is what happened: Markham saw the creature about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, 1980, as it walked down from the ridge line just above the city, moving toward the canal. Early the next day, Ronald Smith had just arrived home from work and was walking back to his pasture to feed his horse when he noticed it was acting strangely. Smith heard someone walking across the snow and then saw what appeared to be a hooded figure in the pasture. Smith believed the person was a teen-ager up to no good. But then he heard several unearthly screams. Frightened, he decided to wait until sunrise to go out into the pasture. There, he found marks about six feet apart that looked like tracks of something with toes. But the horse had trampled the marks, making them difficult to read. During the next two days, more people reported unusual activity in South Weber. Several odd tracks were discovered and people complained of a stench that hung over their neighborhoods.
A horse became so frightened by something that it ran through two barbed-wire fences and dropped dead on South Weber Road. Walter G. Ray reported that his wife cooked up a heavy pan of stew during the same time and placed it on the back porch to cool. During the night something hauled the pan 100 yards to a garden in the Ray yard, where it was found in the morning, licked completely clean.
The tales hit the news, and Bigfoot hunters arrived en masse to chase down evidence. Even the state Division of Wildlife Resources launched a search for a Bigfoot, but found nothing to indicate it existed. Wildlife officials have declined to investigate further.
"If we had a bit more substantiation, we might put more of an effort into it," said DWR spokesman Steve Phillips. "Of course, if we had any kind of population of Bigfoot we'd have to manage them and hunt them."
Kathy B. Poll puts her faith in the people who say they saw something, mainly because she is related to most of them and is sure they would not pull her leg. "But I'm not that closely related, so I know there is no conspiracy," said Poll, the city's treasurer.
Smith says he never believed in Bigfoot before hearing the predawn screams from his pasture. "It made that noise, and to this day I've never heard the same sound," he said. And for the record, he is not sure exactly what he saw under the winter moonlight. "I guess you can make yourself believe just about anything," he said.
Former South Weber residents Steve Ukena and Michael Sanders followed the creature's signs and even found three strands of what they suspected was Bigfoot hair on a barbed-wire fence. The hair was later turned over the state for analysis. The two never saw the strands again.
"They just passed it off as cow hair or something," Ukena said. He and Sanders tramped through the woods bordering the Weber River for days in search of the legendary beast. Looking back now, Ukena considers the whole attempt folly. But fun.
"It was quite a deal, and I don't think we knew what to do if we had actually run across it," Ukena said. One night, deep in the darkened forest, Ukena and Sanders were spooked by a gaggle of geese. It was then they figured it would be best to leave Bigfoot hunting to someone else. "We looked at each other and wondered what would we do if this thing walked out on us," Ukena said. "We'd probably have to go home and change our clothes."
The woods that supposedly sheltered Bigfoot are long gone, surrendered to housing subdivisions. Two companies, Jack B. Parson and Geneva Rock, crush and extract gravel alongside nearby Highway 89 and South Weber Road, where the horse fell dead. If the state goes ahead with the highway expansion and the city's only businesses are destroyed, someone is going to have to come up with some new ways to make money. How about Bigfoot T-shirts? "Hey, that's a good idea," said City Manager-Recorder Ginger Miller. <end article>
Article submitted by Marlene Trask, 1996
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