Unsettling Events: SASQUATCH
By James Halpin
"The Sasquatch," Seattle Magazine


To hear some of the unlikely stories, the whole business sounds like a collection of tall tales, legends or just plain superstition: A shaggy humanoid roams the alpine heights of British Columbia, the coastal wilderness of Washington and even the lonesome reaches of California's Sierras.

For over a century, however, these stories of Sasquatch, Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, as the creature has been variously called, have continued to flourish, and wherever such an elusive and romantic quarry abides, there, too, will be modern-day Jasons in hot pursuit-dogged adventurers who are bent on capturing the prize.

Rene Dahinden is such a man. A native born Swiss, Dahinden has spent the last 14 years in quest of the Sasquatch. Recently he came to Seattle to drum up financial backing for a safari to take scientists and marksmen, armed with tranquilizer guns, through the mountain wilds of the West Coast, wherever the Sasquatch has been reported.

A dour, compact man with the corded muscles of a mountaineer, Dahinden failed to raise the money. One reason is that the most he has to show for his own years of searching is a briefcase full of newspaper clippings and some intriguing photographs, plus the plaster cast of a gargantuan footprint. His lack of evidence does not dismay him, however, and as he talked to SEATTLE, fresh conviction came to his voice, for this past summer had brought him, once again, within tantalizing reach of his quarry.

"I have yet to see a Sasquatch," Dahinden admits, "and I haven't even come across the tracks of one on any of my own expeditions. But I've talked to too many people who have seen the beast. I may be stupid, but I don't think I'm so stupid that I been letting my leg get pulled for 14 years."

The list of the dozens of people who claim to have seen a Sasquatch is indeed impressive, and includes doctors and scientists, as well as a Portland newspaper editor. Although many of these sightings have been reported in the last decade or so, the legend of the Sasquatch actually predates the arrival here of the white man.

Indians from Alaska to California claimed to have had many encounters with the humanoid, and it was they who christened him Sasquatch-a name that means "wild man of the mountain." There are several reports of Indian maidens being kidnapped by Sasquatches, and there were recognized Sasquatch hunting grounds to which the Indians gave wide berth.

The earliest report by a white man was recorded in 1846 when A. C. Anderson, a Hudson's Bay Company employee, referred in official correspondence to "the wild giants of the mountains." The most detailed of these references appeared in 1884 when a writer for the Daily British Colonist flatly stated that a gorilla-like creature, about 4 feet, 7 inches high and weighing 127 pounds, had been captured by a train crew in the Fraser Canyon.

The creature, according to this report, had long, black, strong hair and resembles a human being with one exception, his entire body is covered with glossy hair about one inch long. . . . He possesses extraordinary strength, as he will take hold of a stick and break it by wrenching or twisting it, which no man living could break in the same way.

Its keeper, the report went on, was a man named George Telbery, who "proposes shortly starting for London, England, to exhibit him"-and that was the last word on "Jacko," as the beast was dubbed.

Not all reports are quite so convincing. Some 40 years later, Albert Ostman, a recluse presently living in British Columbia, claimed that he was abducted by Sasquatches and held captive for six days above Toba Inlet near Lund, B.C. Ostman said he was not mistreated by either the Sasquatch couple or their two children, and that they even fed him some of the roots they gathered. In return he gave the Sasquatch father some snuff -which made the creature so sick that Ostman was able to escape.

One of the eeriest encounters with a Sasquatch may have taken place in 1950. One warm Sunday on Mountaineer St. Helens, a well known Seattle mountaineer named Jim Carter disappeared in an area where so many Sasquatch sightings have occurred that it has been named Ape Canyon. Carter's ski tracks indicated he had careened down the mountain, taking chances, as one searcher said, "that no skier of his caliber would take, unless something was terribly wrong or he would take unless something was terribly wrong or he was being pursued."

In his wild descent Carter jumped several yawning crevices before going right off a steep canyon wall. Neither he nor his equipment were ever found, and several members of the search party reported they had a weird feeling of being watched all the time they were there.

Among the searchers was Bob Lee, a mountaineer who subsequently led a 1961 climbing expedition into the Himalayas. Reminiscing about Carter's disappearance, Lee admitted that both he and Dr. Otto Trott, the surgeon for Seattle's Mountain Rescue Council, came to the same conclusion: "The apes got him."

An even more recent report of an actual sighting comes from William Roe of Edmonton, Alberta. He made a notarized oath claiming that, in 1955, he was hunting near Tete Juane Cache, B.C., when he stumbled upon a 300-pound female anthropoid eating leaves from a tree only 20 feet away. Roe described it as having a broad frame, straight from hips to shoulder, with arms reaching almost to the knees. It was covered with brown, silver-tipped fur and had breasts. When it walked, he could see grey-brown skin or hide on the soles of its feet. Its ears were human, but it had almost no neck.

"Finally the thing must have gotten my scent," stated Roe. "Still in a crouched position, it backed up three or four short steps ... and started to walk rapidly away, again turning its head in my direction. I lowered the rifle. I felt now that it was a human being, and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it."

Dahinden finds nothing remarkable about the Sasquatch's success in evading capture. He points out not only that there are more than 160,000 square miles of wilderness in the Northwest for these creatures to hide in, but that man is a long way from having identified all the creatures on the planet.

He cites, for instance, the research of Ivan T. Sanderson, an explorer-scientist-author, .who for many years has been collecting all sorts of man-ape reports. The conclusion 'reached by Sanderson is that yet-to-be discovered animals include at least a half-

dozen different types. He maintains these animals are well known to the natives of the regions they inhabit; in Mongolia, for example, there is even one variety which is said to engage in primitive trading with nomadic herdsmen.

As for the so-called Abominable Snowmen of the Himalayas, Sanderson stresses that natives, responsible scientists and explorers have sighted them. For example, A. N. Tombazie, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, reported watching through field glasses in Sikkim as such a creature dug for roots, and, making his way to the spot, Tombazie found its footprints.

Humanoid sightings have been taken seriously as far afield as the Soviet Union, where two scientists, A. J. Pronin of Leningrad University, and Professor V. K. Lentieve, chief of the Conservation Department of the Dagestan Republic, claim to have seen Snowmen. Lentieve, in a 40-page monograph, states that from a distance of only 50 paces he saw one that was seven feet tall, clothed in shaggy hair, and walking on wide toed feet.

Furthermore, claims Lentieve, when he fired a shot at its feet, the creature raced off up a steep slope with unbelievable speed. On the basis of this and other reports, the Soviet Academy of Sciences has appointed a special investigative commission.

But by far the most famous Snowman incident occurred in 1951, when Eric Shipton, a world-renowned mountaineer, came across a set of tracks while on a Himalayan expedition with Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest. Photographs of these clear tracks started a world-wide controversy and led to a number of subsequent Snowman expeditions.

Dahinden's own obsession with Sasquatches is closely tied in with these Snowman reports. Indeed, the start of his quest dates from the day, back in 1953, when he read a newspaper article about a group searching for this species in the Himalayas. "I was working for a farmer in Calgary at the time," recalls Dahinden, "and I mentioned to him that I'd sure like to go on an expedition like that. He told me I didn't have to go to the Himalayas to look for Snowmen, because there were supposed to be lots of them right in British Columbia."

A glint comes into Dahinden's eyes as he goes on: "Something clicked inside me then, and, looking back, it seemed that maybe I'd been searching all my life for a chance like that-a chance to really accomplish something."

Dahinden's search for a cause-any cause -had been a long and troubled one. Born illegitimately, he was placed in a Swiss or- phanage and remained there until his adoption by an elderly Swiss stationery wholesaler and his wife. The foster mother died a few years later, and soon the widower remarried. His new wife took an instant dislike to Dahinden who, when he was 11, was sent to boarding school for a year and then placed in the care of a farming family.

"Life was hard on the farm," says Dahinden without bitterness. "There was absolutely no time allowed for play. As soon as I got home from school, I had to start the chores, and I worked at them until bedtime. It wasn't that these people were cruel. They just had no time for affection."

Dahinden left the farm when he was 15 and started wandering through Europe. "I know now," he says, "that I was looking for a big enough challenge to spend my life on." At 23, he decided to emigrate to Western Canada, and, soon after his arrival, he took a wife.

Once Dahinden had set his heart on proving the existence of the Sasquatch, neither marriage nor the birth of two sons could keep him off the scent. Faced with the problem of providing for his family and still having time enough to hunt Sasquatches, he came up with an ingenious solution.

"At the time, my wife Wanja and I were operating a boat rental service at Harrison Hot Springs in B.C.," he explained. "One day, when I was watching the skeet shooting, I noticed that all the lead pellets were falling in the lake. I got an option from the hotel to recover the lead, took out ten tons with a dredge, and made a profit of $2,500."

Since that time, Dahinden has extracted lead from gun-club lakes and ponds all over the U.S. and Canada. In fact, he might well have made his fortune by now had he devoted all his energy to this curious enterprise. However, working only enough to meet living expenses, Dahinden devoted much of his time to trekking in the wilderness for his furtive prey. His most extended search occurred during the early 1960's when he took part in expeditions which, on and off for two years, fruitlessly combed the Humboldt-Del Norte region of California.

The jaunts were financed by Tom Slick, an oil multi-millionaire who had collected a large amount of "Bigfoot" material, including analyses of the creature's supposed fur and droppings. The quest took a major setback in 1962 when Slick was killed in an airplane crash, and all his material inexplicably vanish. (Sasquatch buffs theorize it was simply thrown away by Slick's family, which did not approve of his search.)

Inevitably, Dahinden's long absences from home put a great strain on his marriage. "One day Wanja just told me I was going to have to stop this Sasquatch thing or else," recalls Dahinden. "I answered that if it came to choosing between her and the Sasquatch, then she was the one who would have to go. So we split up. Of course I miss her and our two sons, but I couldn't knuckle under to an ultimatum like that. If you're not doing what you like to do, you're a prostitute, not a man, and your kids will realize it."

Now, with all his time free for his quest, Dahinden is busy fund-raising and keeping in touch with the half-dozen or so other huntsmen in North America who share his monomania. Taken in sum, the growing weight of evidence is becoming harder and harder to ignore, but even so, Dahinden is subject to almost as much ridicule as before.

"Of course the whole thing seems crazy," he admits, speaking in a heavy Swiss accent and puffing methodically on a cigarillo. "An 800-pound, half-human creature walking around practically in our backyards? But you can't just turn your back on the facts. Take those tracks I was looking down at last week......

The tracks in question had been discovered late this summer by Bud Ryerson, a building contractor, in California's Bluff Creek area between Reading and Eureka. Imbedded in the soft dirt of a logging road, they looked much like the prints of flat footed human beings - except that some were 15 inches long and seven inches wide.

In describing his find to SEATTLE, Ryerson spoke over a radio phone from his road building camp in Bluff Creek. "I'd seen similar tracks before, but never in this quantity," he said. "There were more than 1,000 of them, and the different sizes suggested they were made by at least three separate creatures. Their depth indicated they weighed more than 500 pounds. Whatever it was that made them had picked up some of my crates containing tractor parts. These crates weigh about 50 pounds, and the creatures had carried them several hundred yards into the brush before dropping them."

Alarmed because his equipment had been disturbed, Ryerson called in a sheriff's deputy who found large fingerprints on the cases, but, unfortunately, the prints proved too smudged to be conclusive. Meanwhile, Ryerson had also called John Green, the publisher of a British Columbia newspaper called the Agassiz-Harrison Advance, who is one of the continent's foremost believers in Sasquatches. Green, in turn, informed Dahinden, who talked the Vancouver Sun into chartering a small plane to take both men to Bluff Creek.

Arriving the day after the tracks were discovered, Dahinden took one look at them and telephoned the Provincial Museum in Victoria. Convinced that the tracks were no simple hoax, the museum authorities promptly dispatched Donald C. Abbott, the Provincial anthropologist, to study them scientifically.

Abbott frankly concedes that what he saw when he got there shook him. "I was laughing at the whole idea all the way down," he remarks. "Now I don't think it's a subject for mirth anymore. You realize that a scientist could ruin his reputation by going out on a limb and saying the creatures exist. So I won't say I believe in them, but I am genuinely puzzled."

One of the most perplexing aspects of the prints was their clear indication that whatever made them had a five-foot stride. Taking all possibilities into account, the Sasquatch hunters briefly wondered whether a practical joker on stilts might have been responsible, but a stilt walker, they concluded, would have had to carry about a quarter-ton of weight to have made such impressions.

Furthermore, the tracks went up high grounds that a stilt walker could never have negotiated. "Those prints," says Abbott, "were not made by any known animals. That leaves only two possibilities. Either someone is pulling one of the most complicated stunts ever, or the prints were made by a large bipedal primate that has never been described before. Both alternatives are close to being impossible." Abbott's report to his superiors led to a change of heart that Dahinden has been trying to achieve for a decade. At last the Provincial Government officials admitted to he possibility that the Sasquatches really exist. Shortly after the Bluff Creek finding, he recreation minister of British Columbia, Kenneth Kiernan, went further, and announced that the Provincial Museum was seeking all tangible Sasquatch evidence.

But despite their apparent open-mindedess, Provincial officials believe the evidence far is insufficient to warrant launching a full-scale Sasquatch hunt. This attitude infuriates Dahinden. "There are at least 300 people who have reported seeing either Sasquatches or their tracks," he says angrily, is voice rising and his eyes flashing.

"What in the hell more do they need? I suppose they will never really believe until someone brings them back a dead one."

Then Dahinden pauses and his mood turns pensive. "You know," he says quietly, in spite of all I've been through looking for the bloody things. I wonder if I could shoot them. When I finally come face to face with Sasquatch, as I know one day I shall, perhaps I'll figure to hell with what the world thinks. I'll have proved to myself that was right, and I may just turn around and walk away."
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© James Halpin, "The Sasquatch," Seattle Magazine. p. 31-34, 58-59

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