The Reader's Digest Article, January 1969
Fantasy or Fraud, legend or evolutionary link,
the Sasquatch is one of the world's most intriguing mysteries

Does an "Abominable Snowman" Lurk in the Rockies?

Condensed from West Magazine by James B. Shuman

FOR MORE than a century, a strange legend has stalked the remote and rumpled mountains of Northwest America. It tells of huge, hairy creatures which walk erect and look more like men than apes. Is it truth, or is it fiction?

"It was in the middle of the night and I was groggy with sleep," 75-year-old Albert Ostman recalls. "Something grabbed my sleeping bag and lifted me off the ground. I reached for my sheath knife and couldn't get at it. The beast, or whatever it was, threw me over its shoulder like a sack of flour. I could feel it striding on two legs."

Ostman, a husky logger looking for gold in British Columbia in 1924, estimates that he was carried across wild and rugged terrain for three hours. "I was too scared to struggle," he says. Finally his captor stopped and dropped him to tile ground.

In the dim light of dawn, Ostman gazed up at a group of creatures circling him and chattering unintelligibly. "I had never believed in the Indian legends of 'Sasquatch,' but I knew that's what they were," Ostman explains. "They looked like a cross between a man and an ape. Their bodies were covered with hair, and they had bulging muscles. They were bigger and taller than human beings; one of them must have been nearly eight feet tall.

"For six days I was held captive. Only in the confusion when one (of the sasquatches) became violently ill from swallowing an entire tin of snuff that I had was I able to escape."

Ostman's bizarre story is but a single chapter in one of the world's most intriguing mysteries: Does there exist, in the Pacific Northwest, a subhuman creature, perhaps a North American cousin 0f the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas? Like that fabled Snowman, such a hominid could be a link between man and ape- a vital piece in the puzzle of man's evolution.

Scores of eyewitnesses have told of seeing giant, apelike creatures and their unique, oversized footprints - some measuring 16 inches and more in length- in the mountain areas of the Pacific Northwest. In Canada, they are generally called Sasquatch. In the United States, many call them Bigfoot.

The Case for Bigfoot. Although the stories of sightings are remarkably consistent and similar, there would appear to be little chance of people working together to perpetrate a hoax, since the reports have been so separated in time and location. No one knows how many people believe they have seen a Sasquatch, because many are reluctant to talk about it. As one witness put it, "It's better to keep your mouth shut than have everybody say you're crazy."

Even so, John Green, editor-publisher of the Advance, the newspaper serving the Agassiz-Harrison Lake area of British Columbia, has collected more than 250 reports of sightings, photographs of footprints and other evidence, covering an area from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Coast to northern Michigan. Like many others, Green started as a scoffer, changed to a believer as evidence mounted.

Here is a sample of that evidence:

The Daily British Colonist, published in Victoria, B.C., reported that on June 30, 1884, the crew of a train running from Lytton to Yale-about 80 miles east of Vancouver-had captured "a creature who may truly be called half man and half beast. His entire body, excepting his hands (or paws) and feet, is covered with glossy hair.

His forearm is much longer than a man's, and he possesses extraordinary strength" The creature whom the railway crew named "Jacko" was exhibited in Yale, but no one has been able to find out what happened to him.

In July 1924, near hit. Mt. St. Helens, in what is now Gifford Pinchot National Forest of Washington, five prospectors reported that their cabin had been attacked by a band of man-apes that hurled boulders onto the roof, tried to force the cabin door by ramming it with their bodies and screamed in loud wails at the men inside, who had earlier shot at two of their band. A posse of lawmen and reporters found the cabin badly damaged and hundreds of giant footprints all around it. The area came to be called "Ape Canyon," and scores of people have since reported seeing the man apes in the vicinity. Several men have disappeared there mysteriously, leaving no trace.

One mid-afternoon in September 194l, at Ruby Creek, about 30 miles up the Fraser River from Agassiz, Mrs. George Chapman saw a large, manlike animal emerge from the woods. She and her three children fled from their home in terror. Her husband and friends from the village later found evidence that the creature had entered a shed and scattered about some salt fish from a barrel.

In October 1955, William Roe was hunting on Mica Mountain near the village of Tête Jaune Cache in British Columbia. He said he saw an upright figure only 75 yards away, weighing perhaps 300 pounds and covered from head to foot with dark brown silver tipped hair. "The thought struck me that if I shot it I would have a specimen of 'great interest to scientists the world over. I leveled my rifle. But when the creature looked in my direction, I felt that it was a human being, and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it."

Other less subjective evidence has been collected over the years in the form of hair and droppings. Scientists who have analyzed hair samples say they "come from no known animal." The droppings, humanlike in form but large enough to come from a big horse, have contained vegetable matter and the hair of small rodents. No Bigfoot bodies have been found but nature disposes quickly of dead animal matter.

Perhaps the most intriguing evidence is a 16-mm color movie made in 1967 by Roger Patterson, a 34-year-old Yakima, Washington rancher. Long interested in Sasquatch-Bigfoot, Patterson had become convinced that the only w, ay to prove its existence was to get clear photographs. In October 1967, he heard of fresh tracks along Bluff Creek in northern California. Patterson and Bob Gimlin, an experienced animal tracker, set out to investigate.

They scouted the area on horseback for a week and a half. Early in the afternoon of October 20, they came to a bend in the creek where a gigantic stump, overturned by a flood, obscured the view ahead. Patterson's horse stopped and snorted, then reared and fell on its side. Moments later, Patterson saw what had startled his mount. "This creature was on my left, about ~ 95 feet across the creek," he recalls. "Its head was very human, though considerably more slanted, and with a large forehead and wide nostrils. Its arms hung almost to its knees when it walked. Its hair was two to four inches long, brown underneath, lighter at the top, and covering the entire body except for the face. And it was a female; it had big, pendulous breasts."

Patterson reached into his saddlebag and grabbed his movie camera. The creature, meanwhile, was walking across a sandbar toward the hillside. Patterson began trotting after it, shooting pictures. At one point, the creature turned and stared curiously at the camera. Then it went into the woods and out of sight. Gimlin began to give chase, but Patterson, who had used up all his film, told him to stop. "I didn't want to be there alone, without a weapon," he says.

Nine days later, Robert "Bob" Titmus, a former taxidermist who lives in Kitimat, B.C., examined and made plaster casts of ten of the creature's huge footprints. Titmus has studied Bigfoot intensively since 1958, and considers himself an expert at spotting the occasional hoax. Said he: "I can conceive of no method by which these tracks might have been faked. Tests indicated that the creature that made them would have to weigh at least 600 to 700 pounds."

Screen Test. Patterson has since shown his film to scientists. The somewhat blurred, 29-foot segment shows' the creature walking away with a manlike stride, swinging enormous arms. Although some scientists immediately branded the creature a hoax, questioning the manlike fluidity of its movements, others kept an open mind.

"The presence of unknown humanoid creatures ill the Pacific Northwest," says John B. Napier, director of the Smithsonian Institute Primate Biology Department, "is a possibility that should not be discounted." After all, scientific annals are littered with the tarnished reputations of men who dismissed initial reports of the existence of the giant squid, the gorilla, the okapi and the giant panda.

Donald Abbott, anthropologist on the staff of the Provincial Museum in Victoria, B.C., told me he had entered the investigation as a skeptic. He now says, "If the evidence of which I am aware has been the work of hoaxers, it would be one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever perpetrated. I find this possibility almost as incredible as that of the existence of such a creature."

All unclassified animal could be prowling the Pacific Northwest. For so rugged is the 150,000 square-mile area in which sightings of Bigfoot have been reported that major sections have never really been penetrated. In Washington, Oregon and California there are 70,000 square miles of national forest, and for some sections file only maps available are those based on aerial surveys. British Columbia is even less developed. Nearly 250,000 square miles, of its total of 366,255, are forest and mountain wilderness. It is the kind of wild terrain in which animals with only normal cunning easily remain out of sight of man.

The Search Goes On.

Perhaps by the time you read this, Sasquatch's existence will have been proved. Roger Patterson, financed by $75,000 from the Northwest Research Association, of Yakima, Washington a maker of documentary films, is continuing his search. This time he is using lures, dogs and tranquilizer guns hoping to capture a living specimen.

Others have tried before to capture a Bigfoot, without success. The most notable was Tom Slick, the Texas oilman who mounted an expedition shortly before his death in 1962 after becoming convinced that there was as much evidence for the Abominable Snowman in North America as he had found in two expeditions to the Himalayas.

"If such an animal exists, and is caught," W. C. Osman Hill, of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, has said, "it could well be one of the most important finds in history."

© The Reader's Digest, January 1969


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