Are stories about Bigfoot, the
mystery ape-man of North America, grounded in fact, legend, hoax, or something
In the Fall 1994 SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, Hugh H. Trotti speculates
in his Forum column "Did Fiction Give Birth to Bigfoot?" that
the genesis of Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) may be found in English literature.
Trotti notes that in John Mack Faragher's biography of Daniel Boone, Daniel
Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer (Faragher 1992), Faragher
claims Boone told "tall tales" about "killing a ten-foot,
hairy giant he called a 'Yahoo.'" Of course, the Yahoos were large,
man-like creatures described in Jonathan Swift's classic of satire and
irony Gulliver's Travels (see the chapter "A Voyage to the Country
of the Houyhnhnms").
It was further noted by Trotti that Faragher
details Boone's familiarity with Gulliver's Travels. In fact, Faragher
states the book was
one of Boone's favorites and that Boone frequently carried the book with
him into the woods. These facts fueled Trotti's speculation that the Bigfoot
legend actually arose from Boone's retelling of the Swiftian saga as part
of his own exploits throughout the American frontier in the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries.
First of all, let me say that although I believe Trotti's hypothesis to
be potentially testable, it is insufficient to account for the multitude
of ape-man legends (including Bigfoot) in their entirety. The various
legends concerning Bigfoot-like creatures come from around the world,
and speculations about them range from the improbable-yet-possible (that
Bigfoot is an undiscovered animal or a remnant population of an ancient
primate species like Gigantopithecus) to the wildly bizarre (that Bigfoot
is an extraterrestrial being or an entity that can travel between dimensions).
Further, it appears that some of the legends originated in widely dispersed
indigenous cultures, and many of their myths apparently predate Swift's
Yahoos. And more specific to Trotti's claims, while Bigfoot reports come
in from a wide variety of locations within the United States, the Appalachian
region that Boone lived in produces nowhere near the number of reports
are filed from areas like the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains.
However, with these caveats in mind, there is some evidence that Trotti's
speculation could be right. Consider a research note by Leonard Roberts
from the journal Western Folklore (Roberts 1957). Roberts reported that
he had encountered "four or five versions" of what he called
"a curious and strange legend" he collected from an isolated
region of the Kentucky mountains.
The stories centered
around large, hairy wild people who lived in the woods. In one version
of the story, told by a Mr. Lee Macgard of Harlan County, Kentucky, the
cave-dwelling wild person is specifically called a "Yeahoh."
Could "Yeahoh" be a corruption of Swift's "Yahoo,"
and could this be evidence that Boone's tall tales survived over one hundred
years of retellings in the Kentucky highlands? Aside from the phonetic
similarity of the creatures' names, another interesting parallel between
the Kentucky Yeahoh and Swift's Yahoo is in the behavior attributed to
each. Most notably, Macgard describes the Yeahoh as repeatedly making
the sound "yea-hoh, yeahoh"; Swift described his
Yahoos as uttering their own eponymous sounds in a similar manner.
The idea that the tales of Maggard
and the other Kentuckians were orally transmitted (and corrupted) versions
of Swift's fiction that have survived the generations since the original
and impressive tale-spinning of the folk hero Daniel Boone is only one
possibility. Of course, it is also possible that the conversion of the
story from written literature to oral folklore did not involve Boone at
all, or that the similarities between Swift's writing and the Kentucky
folktales are only coincidental. However, I believe the similarities are
striking, and the possibility of a Swift-Boone
connection is strong in the light of facts from the Faragher biography.
Therefore, this anecdotal evidence may, in fact, provide support for Trotti's
hypothesis. So while Trotti may not have answered all questions about
Bigfoot or the origins of the Bigfoot legend(s), he may have
accurately fingered a literary connection that has contributed to the
Erskine-Hill, H. 1993. Swirl: Gulliver's Travels. New York: Cambridge
Faragher, J. M. 1992. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American
Pioneer. New York:
Henry Holt & Company.
Roberts, L. 1957. Curious legend of the Kentucky mountains. Western Folklore
Swift, J. 1961. Gulliver's Travels. New York: W. W. Norton & Company,
Trotti, H. H. 1994. Did fiction give birth to Bigfoot? SKEPTICAL INQUIRER
Hugh H. Trotti provides this addendum:
If the concept of Bigfoot originates in Swift's literature, there may
be a parallel line of belief descending from Carolus Linnaeus's "semi-human," since in 1758 the latter theorized that a from between man and ape existed,
which he named Homo troglodytes (see Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention,
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987, p. 304). Gulliver's Travels was
somewhat earlier, but the question arises: Could both authors have been
influenced by the tales of African explorers?
© Skeptical Inquirer, 1997
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