Our Last Monster

Seattle Magazine (August, 1970) p. 29-33. © David Brewster


Kicked around for 50,000 years, mocked, driven into exile and pursued by eager bounty hunters how much more can the Sasquatch endure? Most Sasquatch stories end with a wild-eyed camper who runs screaming into town, but my own favorite is the one about a self-possessed man in Oroville, California. He recently spotted one of the gigantic, hairy ape-men (called Bigfoot in that state) sitting just across the slough in the man's back yard. The monster was holding his head in his hands, as if downcast over something. After watching the creature for a moment, the man went inside to catch the news on television.

It is heartening to see the Sasquatch, who now shows up along the West Coast about 100 times a year, becoming so commonplace he cannot compete with the evening news. And I was happy to see the Californian comport himself with all the aplomb of the husband in James Thumber's parable, "The Unicorn in the Garden." In Thumber's story, which recounts one of those small, satisfying victories of imagination over empiricism, the man notices during breakfast one particularly fine morning that there is "a white unicorn with a gold horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden."

When confronted with this story, the man's wife eyed him coldly, then summons a policeman and a psychiatrist. After she describes the unicorn carefully, the two men cart her away to the booby hatch; the man lives happily ever after.

Not so happy is the Sasquatch. Indeed, I imagine that the creature sighted in Oroville was most likely sunk in melancholy reflection over the coming demise of his race. And when he dies, the last great monster of the civilized world dies, too.

Of course, doom has always surrounded the Sasquatch during the hundred or so years of his recorded life, much like the thick fog of the coastal mountains in which he hides. To some of the Indians in British Columbia, the Sasquatch are the last of a race of giants who have nearly exterminated themselves in warfare. To a Mercer Island doctor who became one of the several Sasquatch scholars in this area, they are the pathetic, last descendants of the Neanderthalers, a race rudely pushed aside during the last Ice Age by Cro-Magnon man (who has always felt guilty about the whole affair).

I'm beginning to wonder how much longer the shaggy Sasquatch can hold out, pursued as he is from Northern California to Alaska. Not content to leave our hoariest myth well enough alone, the hunters have lately pulled out all the stops in their attempts to bring a Sasquatch back — dead or alive. An Oregon man, convinced that the Sasquatch are superior beings who confound scientific detection methods, is trying to convince them of his sincerity by using only meditation, love and ESP.

Near Hoquiam, a Seattle man is spending his weekends in a Sasquatch patch; his method is to remain unperturbed when a beast is crashing around in the woods nearby, thus building trust. Among standard weaponry are mace, grenade launchers and tranquilizing guns, along with such lures as salt pork, electronic noise-makers, and even used sanitary napkins.

A laudable humanitarian concern has grown up of late, in particular in Skamania County, where Sasquatch killing has now been made punishable by five years' imprisonment. Numerous hunters have balked before pulling the trigger, unnerved by the human expression and darting, terrified eyes of the giant. (More poetic woodsmen explain that any other Sasquatch within whistling distance would descend on a hunter who bags a solitary one.)

But I haven't noticed any society for the preservation of myths taking its stand. The agency most likely to transform this richly embroidered tale into cold fact is a Seattle organization formed by a 51-year-old investment developer named Gil Chandler. An organizer and past president of the Seattle Zoological Society, Chandler, I'm sorry to report, is finally going to the heart of the matter in the right way. Almost all the expeditions now in the field are made up of people convinced the Sasquatch exists and eager to cash in on their findings. The result is that practically nobody, especially the scientists, takes them very seriously, films, footprints, hair, and droppings to the contrary notwithstanding.

Chandler's non-profit organization is delving into the matter with considerable skepticism. Although its members will feed into a computer the data regarding all sightings back to 1909, Chandler expects the number of "strong" sightings to be only about 30. "I will be almost as happy to prove the Sasquatch doesn't exist," he says.

If Chandler, who is a whiz at fund-raising, is able to enlist museum backing and a budget he puts at "more than $100,000," his team will head for a computer-selected site in Canada sometime next month-to start a year's search effort. This approach should produce the first truly rigorous inspection of evidence so far.

One piece of evidence that has already been carefully inspected is the film purportedly taken in October, 1967, of a female Bigfoot in northern California. Like most of the experts who have studied it, Chandler is willing to rule out trick photography, "but not a masquerade."

Most other experts admit, however, that if the creature shown is indeed a man in a monkey suit, the hoax is quite a skillful job. It would have been easy to know what features the creature should have, since the Sasquatch has been so well publicized, but it would have been hard to make its long arms, heavy buttocks, blunt neck, long, loping stride on massive, human-like feet, and above all, its great bulk, all seem so authentic.

In other words, the masquerade would have been rather expensive, and the photographer, Roger Patterson of Yakima, was down and-out at the time, after years of two-bit promoting. Shortly after the film was first shown, Patterson, a former rodeo rider who is now 37 years old, was even tossed into jail for failure to return or pay for a camera he rented to film Sasquatch. (The camera was immediately returned.)

To be sure, the irrefutable evidence, such as bones or fossils, has never materialized — a glaring omission for a creature that has supposedly been around for millions of years. About the only such evidence we have to go on is some bones found in China and India which are thought to be those of a suitably large ape (now assumed to be extinct), called the Gigantopithecus.

According to one hypothesis, this ape migrated to North America, eschewed trees and developed a human foot (but without developing other human features, a most unlikely pattern), and then laid low for eons. "You could count on one hand the number of scientists who believe this happened," says Dr. Darius Swindler of the U.W. Regional Primate Research Center, one of the open-minded anthropologists who has interviewed people who claim to have sighted a Sasquatch. According to Dr. Swindler, the alternative explanation of a primitive man who grew very large and shy around 30,000 years ago when the diminutive Neanderthal man bowed out, is even less likely.

Faced with these odds, it is little wonder that some believers claim that the Sasquatch arrived from outer space. "I am getting reports now from a lot of other places in the country, particularly from the South," reports Roger Patterson, whose mail runs to 200 letters a day. "Sometimes," he adds, "the sightings are said to coincide with landings of flying saucers." (The possibility that Sasquatch are being exported from the Northwest via flying saucer has a nice irony to it, since the saucer craze started when nine UFO's were spotted over Mt. Rainier in 1947.) The explanation I prefer, however, is inner space — mixed up with a few hoaxes like the "ape-attack" in 1924 (now pretty well deflated) that supposedly drove five prospectors from Ape Canyon, on the east slope of Mount St. Helens. (Grisly tales about that area have circulated for years, owing to the lost gold mine supposed to be located there; the Greeks knew the same ruse, and they invented the griffin — the lion-eagle — to guard their mines.) The West's mythic imagination, now deprived of its tradition of tall tales, has seized upon the Sasquatch and fattened him up well.

Most of the stories involve only brief encounters, such as the recent one near Copalis, Washington, in which three teenage girls were out driving at night when one of them spotted a Sasquatch jumping up and down in a ditch. Sometimes, touches of character emerge. One Sasquatch was glimpsed wearing tattered old clothes. Another, speaking an Indian dialect, rebuked a man who had clubbed a 12-foot Sasquatch who lived in a tree. Others, in a role very engaging to modem environmentalists, pitch road-building equipment around or overturn camper trucks.

Out of these brief encounters, however, mythmakers of various sorts have managed to construct elaborate stories, creating a range encompassing the various ages of man. The Indian stories focus on children. Sasquatch believers claim that the old Indian tales prove that the giants have been well-known for centuries, but a U. W. anthropologist, Melville Jacobs, inclines to the view that "the Sasquatch is entirely a white man's myth, deriving from the European's greater anxiety about father figures."

Similarly, George Quimby, curator of the Burke Museum, suspects the Sasquatch could be traced to loggers' tales and pranks. Nevertheless, the Indian stories have certainly kept things alive. Don Smith, an Indian from Ariel, Washington, who is a close student of the tales as well as a carver and singer, says the oldest story pattern concerns a cannibal woman who likes to roast children.

She is called Tsunoqua (Dzu-na-kwa) by the Kwakiutl people of northern Vancouver Island, who, together with the more northern Tlingits, seem to have developed the most elaborate stories. The majority of these are variations on a single theme: the giant kidnaps some children (on occasion by disguising herself as their grandmother), seals up their eyes with red chewing gum, tosses them in a basket which she carries on her back (where Sasquatch have a big hump of fat for winter hibernation), and heads for her cabin in the woods.

The Tsunoqua people, according to the late George Boas, the distinguished Columbia University anthropologist, are black, twice the size of man, possessed of very deep-set eyes and loud voices, and are inland dwellers. All these traits correspond to those of the Sasquatch (a Chehalis word meaning "hairy giants"). Their characteristic noise is "u, u, u, u," — hence they are usually carved with puckered lips. At night, they imitate bird noises by means of a chain of whistles worn round their necks.

In the stories of other tribes, the giants are often merely renegades who have gone wild-"Stick Indians." But the Tsunoqua is more supernatural, a kind of earth-god matched against the heroic sky gods, like the Thunderbird, who sometimes turns Tsunoqua into giant stones. They cannot be killed — the name derives from a word meaning "to be alive" — because their source of life is hidden in a secret spot in the woods or sometimes in one ankle.

(Perhaps this explains why the three dozen hunters who have shot at Sasquatch have all failed to bring one back.) Nevertheless, says Don Smith, Tsunoqua is "a terrible dum-dum who is usually just about falling asleep." (Although a Sasquatch is able to hypnotize his prey, he can himself be put to sleep by circling a pointed finger in his face.) So Tsunoqua is usually thwarted, often by the hitherto despised youth who figures heroically in numerous folk tales of all nations.

In one Kwakiutl tale, a crippled boy whose warnings went unheeded cuts a hole in the basket, allowing all the captured children to escape. Tsunoqua then appears at a village feast, where her vanity and her desire for human beauty usually prove her undoing. (In stories of the Abominable Snowman of Asia, mimicry is a common feature.) She wishes to wear carrings like the pretty girls and asks to have her cars pierced-whereupon spikes are driven into her thick skull.

The body is then invariably shoveled into a large pit — as jack the giant killer did with his first victim — where a fire is started by hot rocks. A hollow voice sings from the ashes:

I have the magic treasure,

I have the supernatural power,

I can return to life.

When the ashes are stirred, they fly up and metamorphose into lesser, but far more bothersome, cannibals — mosquitoes. Potent and pathetic, attuned to nature and yet a stumblebum around the village, the Tsunoqua, like the Sasquatch, is a marvelous image of shaggy old humanity left behind, the natural way, strong but stumped.

The lore surrounding the creature is properly ambivalent: to hear the Tsunoqua brings good fortune; to see one is calamitous. Don Smith does not quite believe in the physical existence of Sasquatch; for one thing, he remembers that he once carved a pair of gigantic wooden feet for some practical jokers. But he suspects the myth goes very deep, if only because so many Indian mothers use the story to get their children inside at bedtime. A few years ago, he was at Neah Bay, looking at some Sasquatch tracks.

At dusk, Smith or Lelooshka, to use his Kwakiutl name, watched a father position his young son's feet in the giant prints. Then the boy put his palms in the track and rubbed them on his chest, "to get the power."

Among the longer stories told by white men, several recount an atavistic return to the family, where the teller lives again as a well-protected child. Probably the most detailed Sasquatch adventure on record is that of Albert Ostman, a recluse who went gold-prospecting 100 miles north of Vancouver 45 years ago. One night, while lying in his sleeping bag, he was picked up by a Sasquatch and transported to the creature's lair in a box canyon.

Much of Ostman's story details his Crusoe-like concern with mustering up a good cup of coffee in the mornings, but he also pauses to admire the "very practical and warm" blanket which the Sasquatch had made of cedar bark and moss, and to play some games with the two shy children. The old lady, he recalls, wore bangs and baffly needed a brassiere. The story ends when Ostman cut short his courtship with the daughter of the family (reasoning that she would hate city life, as he does) and tricked the old man into swallowing an overdose of snuff. Then he flew the coop as the father, squealing like a pig, downed a pot of coffee, grounds and all.

A similar story comes from Warren Scott, a 37-year-old Seattle man who works as a building superintendent. It was June of 1961, and Scott, who grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York City and spent several years bumming around after his release from the Army, was camping alone, 30 miles northeast of Vancouver. Late at night, a Sasquatch kidnapped him and carried him 70 miles. During the journey, Scott was almost suffocated by the creature's vice-like grip and uremic odor. Eventually, he was carried through a long tunnel and dumped in a cave.

Most of Scott's ordeal was spent in this hot, fire-lit enclosure. The mother took care of him, bringing him food (greens and inedible chunks of raw meat); the old man was seldom around. "I was treated like a pet," Scott recalls. He endured some good-natured whacking on the rump; he was watched intently when passing wastes, and he engaged in some rock-rolling with the kids. The noise and the smell were terrific. At night, father, mother and son Sasquatch would hold each other tightly, rock for 10 minutes, and then drop off to sleep on bough beds. One day, Scott wandered out of the momentarily unguarded cave and was terrified to see 50 or 60 Sasquatch wandering about in the canyon. "The female who fed me came up to me, grabbed me and held me to her bosom until I was calm. Then she put me down." Soon thereafter, Scott's protector took him, together with her own son, on a tour of the other caves, one of which proved to be a very busy nursery. A few days later, Scott located the densely curtained tunnel opening and made his escape.

These tender tales seem rather chaste my view of the fact that they deal with apes, which have been a symbol for male sexuality at least since the time of the phallic baboons of Egypt. Thus, I was pleased to discover a collection of robust stories collected by a Fairbanks contractor named Fred Clarke. For 12 years, Clarke, who is 50 and the father of four, has been collecting Sasquatch tales, mostly en route between Alaska and California. "You can pick up 100,000 of these stories on such a drive," says Clarke, who seems to find a thriving oral tradition at every remote town. This June, for instance, when he rushed off to check out the Gray's Harbor County story, an old woman at a service station told him that the local Sasquatch had been breaking pigs' backs for years.

A second woman topped that story with one about the day her husband, out cutting shakes, got slammed into the mud by a Sassy. Clarke's Sasquatch are gypsies at heart — one Indian name for them is "Wanderer" — who love to take long walks. They are guided by nose-radar, which explains why they swing their bodies (they have no necks) when they walk, as well as why people within range of the radar feel a prickling sensation. Supposedly, there are about two dozen Sasquatch left (other estimates go into the thousands), divided into four tribes: the Northern Californians, the Vancouver Islanders, the Tonpassers, and the Tweedsmuir Parkers (in this B.C. park, Clarke once sat alone for three weeks until he finally saw one). When they visit one another, the main activity of the men is combing each other's long hair, which falls to the shoulders and is colored either black, brown, camel or off-white.

Some of Clarke's tales are little episodes of stark terror, the kind that end up with a prospector taking to the bottle, and which recall the old tall tales of mutilated bodies and haunted valleys. (Sasquatch scholars have dug up one harrowing story told by Teddy Roosevelt in 1893, as well as reported sightings that date back to 1846. But that's nothing: Grendel was also a Sasquatch, and legions of them once fought for the Persians.) Clarke's best stories concern the coming-of-age of the young Sasquatch, an event that takes place at age 50. (This seems about right, since the life expectancy is 200 and breeding takes place only every 100 years.) Armed with an eight-inch penis, the young buck is sent on his first solo excursion. He normally warms up with an Indian squaw, who might pass a winter's hibernation with him, nestled against his warm breast and soft downy hair, or enjoying his low, amorous hooting. Then it is on to the Yucatan Peninsula, where the gods of fertility fore other in a lovely jungle park laden with huge mushrooms. Without the mushrooms, the Sasquatch cannot breed; with them, his lovemaking sets off earthquakes.

This version of the sexually fulfilled Sasquatch is contradicted by another expert, Richard Beyer, a Seattle sculptor who specializes in rough-hewn carvings of the beast. Sexual perversion has set in, dead-pans Beyer-witness those dalliances with construction machinery.

Beyer confines his belief in the Sasquatch to his imagination, where the creature displays a captured and defeated countenance, a bit like that of the downcast fellow in the Californian’s back yard. Beyer's first carving of the creature (a man-sized statue which stands near Neah Bay) was not intended to represent a Sasquatch at all, but merely to, portray animal aggression as a protest against the bombing of North Vietnam. Later, someone told Beyer the carving reminded him of a Sasquatch, and eventually the artist camc to agree. In subsequent carvings, Beyer began to express the pathos of the hunted, lonely outcast. "Some animals become alienated from life, "he explains. "They get disgusted, they clear out, driven to the barren grounds. Wolves, ravens, and Sasquatch area among those that withdrew."

I once listened to a recording of a simulated Sasquatch cry. It starts like the gruff laughter of a baboon, rises to a Tarzan wail, and then sinks like a siren back to the coarse grunting. I heard it at night on Roger Patterson's little farm near a remote creek where white Sasquatch occasionally fish. The recording had the desired, creepy effect. But Beyer hears a more celiac melody: "Their music heard in a wild canyon on a quiet evening can be quite beautiful, though sad."

The best study I've yet found on the subject of Sasquatch takes an approach similar to Beyer's, defining the Sasquatch as an exiled brother. The book is an unpublished monograph which, until his death last year, a Mercer Island physician named Howard C. Eddy was preparing for submission to the Carl jung Institute in Zurich. The work starts out with a review of the surprisingly abundant evidence for the existence of the Sasquatch, much of it deriving from the remarkable similarity of the descriptions of the beast, and from those pesky footprints. Even Chief Seattle turns out to have been a believer; he used to claim that Sasquatch hung out on the north end of Bainbridge Island. Dr. Eddy also stresses the enormous expanse of virtually unexplored wilderness in this area, pointing out that until 200 years ago, the Northwest was considered the most remote of all the habitable regions of the earth.

Then Dr. Eddy discusses the possible origins of the Indian myths. First of all, he says, many of the stories could have been brought here firom northeastern Asia, whose tribes have very similar tales. Dr. Eddy's own theory, however, postulates the evolution of a gigantic "Glacial Man" who, rather than evolving during the Ice Ages into the more socialized modern man, simply grew big (to produce more body heat) and shaggy, and developed his animal instincts to the highest degree-"one who took a regressive biologic road to survival."

"Even if this lost cousin does not exist" writes Dr. Eddy, he has an unshakable place in a universal myth that suggests an ancient parting of the race: the myth of the disadvantaged brother. Dr. Eddy interprets this myth according to Jungian psychology, in which the personality struggles for completeness by incorporating its "shadow" or darker aspects, which well up in man's middle age.

The many stories of the disadvantaged brother, writes Dr. Eddy, simply re-enact this psychological phenomenon. The dark brother is driven from the house, burdened with one's own devilish attributes and then set wandering (like Ishmael, Isaac's half-brother, or Cain, who like the Sasquatch was marked by God to be unkillable); later he returns to mock the falsely pure ideals of the favored brother. The best Biblical parallel is the story of Isaac's twin sons, Jacob, the smooth man of the tents, and Esau, the hairy man of the forest. In the story, Jacob deceitfully deprives Esau of his inheritance by dressing up in his brother's animal skins. After a long period of warfare, the two brothers are reconciled. It is this ancient pattern of guilt, repression, confrontation and struggle which makes the sighting — or even the rumors — of a Sasquatch "very upsetting to the psyche."

An ominous passage in jung's works may suggest why the myth is so prevalent now. In all his German patients after World War 1, Jung noticed recurrent mythological motifs which were not attributable to individual personality traits. These were "in the form of collective mythological symbols which expressed primitively, violence, cruelty; in short, all the powers of darkness." Jung attributed this occurrence to feelings of defeat and social disaster following the war, and added that they lead to a strong desire on the part of the individuals to join with others who have experienced the same thing. just as flying saucers started appearing at a time of anxiety over Russian nuclear attack, so the Sasquatch might reflect anxiety about an assault from within, about an age of mounting unreason.

The demise of the Sasquatch, then, may not be so certain. Science has dealt cruel blows to the imagination, but that old crime against our gigantic progenitors may be harder to extirpate.

The voice from the pit grows louder:

I have the magic treasure,

1 have the supernatural power,

I can return to life.

© David Brewster, "Our last monster," Seattle Magazine. p. 29-33.