Stalking the Sasquatch
By David Gordon

"Sasquatch Investigation." These two words on John W. Christman's business card neatly describe his unusual line of work. For more than twenty years, the retired high-voltage electrician from Bremerton has made it his job to walk in the footsteps of the Peninsula's most elusive animal the presumably large, human-like inhabitant of our remote wilderness regions.

In pursuit of secretive hominoid, Christman says he's talked to more than 250 people who claim to have come face-to-face with a Sasquatch. An avid outdoorsman, Christman himself claims to have found over 1,000 Sasquatch footprints on roughly thirty separate occasions. In at least one instance, he maintains, he and a hiking companion have come astonishingly close to seeing a Sasquatch.

"I'm not out to prove anything to the world," he suggests. "You could say that I am just trying to convince myself that what I'm seeing does exist."

What exactly are Christman and other allegedly innocent observers reporting? Descriptions of the much-sought-after Sasquatch vary from one eyewitness to the next. However, the concise, generalized portrait of the beast can be found in, of all places, the Washington Environmental Atlas, a reference produced by the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers.

The Sasquatch, The WEA explains, is "an ape-like creature, standing between 8 and 12 feet tall, weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds and taking strides of up to 6 feet.... Reported to feed on vegetation and some meat, the Sasquatch is covered with long hair, except to the face and hands, and has a distinctly human-like form. Sasquatch is very agile and powerful, with the endurance to cover a vast range in search of food, shelter and others of its kind. It is apparently able to see at night and is extremely shy leaving minimal evidence of its presence."

Christman's interest in Sasquatch was piqued in the late 1950's, when the first mountain climbers' accounts of the Yeti or abominable snowmen of Tibet, appeared in the press. "But what really started me off," the blue-eyed, bearded investigator says, "was when I found my first set of tracks."

"That was in 1972 or 1973," he continues, his eyes glittering. "There were about 30 of them, pressed into the mud of a Mason County lake." The large, flat-footed prints were laid down in an area so far removed from urbanization that, Christman maintains, it's highly unlikely that someone would have taken the trouble to produce them as fakes.

Christman soon became a familiar figure to Bremerton's public librarians, requesting all literature on Sasquatch and its supposed relatives from around the world. When not searching the library stacks, he would hit the trail, looking for more signs of the Peninsula's mysterious man-ape. "I'm always looking for them, no matter where I am," he admits. "If I go deer hunting, I am not really hunting for deer, I'm looking for something else."

Since that life-changing discovery nearly twenty years ago, Bremerton's foremost Sasquatch sleuth has uncovered giant, human-like footprints, dark reddish-brown hairs and inordinately large droppings at a number of locales on the Olympic Peninsula outside Port Angeles, along the Pacific Coast, and in the forest behind Quilcene, to name just a few of the sites.

Sasquatch hunting has become a near-obsession for him, an enterprise to which he devotes an average of 20 hours a week.

Today, the investigator seldom takes to the woods without a small bag of cement or some other casting material to make impressions of any footprints he finds.

Although he often hunts by himself, Christman's hardly alone in his quest. His efforts are linked with those of other Sasquatch investigators-card-carrying members of an organization called the International Society of Cryptozoology, or ISC. Cryptozoology, a word coined by the French scientist Bernard Heuvelmans, is literally "the science of hidden animals."

A cryptozoologist's quarry, according to the ISC's published bylaws, includes "animals of the unexplained form or size, or unexpected occurrence in time or space." Far from being a collection of bug-eyed weirdoes, most ISC members are hard-working, degree-toting scientists. Among the ISC's most prominent Sasquatch authorities is Dr. Grover Krantz, a widely published physical anthropologist on the faculty of Washington State University. It is Krantz's theory that the Sasquatch is none other than the ten-foot-tall Gigantopithecus blackii, the largest species of ape known to science, traditionally thought to have died out 500,000 years in the past.

Another prolific ISC author, British Columbia's John Green, has written four best-selling books on the Sasquatch. One of these, The Sasquatch File, is a compilation of eyewitness accounts from 1840 to the present day. According to Green, the name Sasquatch first appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles filed by J.W. Burns, a teacher on the Chehalis Indian Reserve east of Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 1920s. However, centuries before the Canadian schoolteacher put pen, other outside observers paid heed to native tales of beings larger and shaggier than themselves.

Jose Mariano Mozino, for example, a naturalist who traveled with Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra to British Columbia in 1792, wrote of "inhabitant of the mountainous country, of whom all have an unspeakable terror." Its monstrous body, wrote Mozino, is "all covered with black animal hair; the head like a human; but the eyeteeth very sharp and strong, like those of the bear; the arms very large, and the toes and fingers with large curved nails. His howls fell to the ground those who hear them, and he smashes into a thousand pieces the unfortunate on whom a blow of his hands falls."

The first published accounts of backwoods encounters with "Skoocooms," "huge apes," or "hairy men" in Washington State date back more 100 years. Not surprisingly, with the gradual settlement Olympic Peninsula by homesteaders, loggers and gold seekers, Sasquatch sightings became more common.

Take the case of Jim Atwell, hired in the winter of 1927-1928 to work on large feeder line supplying Port Townsend with drinking water from the upper Quilcene River. A light snow had fallen - enough for most pipeline workers to knock off for the day. "I was twenty-five years young and payments of $1000.00 per month," Atwell stated in a letter to John Green, "so I hiked the several miles to the water line to check on the equipment." On reaching the water line via a small trail, Atwell discovered the barefoot tracks of large man.

"I did not measure the tracks," recalled Atwell, "but would guess from memory that they were made by a large man and were about a number 10 or 11. I had never heard of the abominable snowman at that time, so just guessed that it was some nut of a mountain man that one might find around Quilcene." The tracks came out of heavy brush, walked 100 yards of pipe and jumped up across a ditch onto a log---"something no logger could have done with caulked shoes."

From Green's massive database of 800 sightings and 2,500 footprint incidents in the greater Northwest comes the account of more recent run-in with a Sasquatch one that reportedly occurred at 2:35 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, 1969, near Hoquiam. Verlin Harrington, a deputy sheriff for Grays Harbor County, was driving to his home in Copalis when he saw a creature on the road north of Hoquiam.

"My first impression was of a large bear, standing in the middle of the road," begins Green's tape-recorded interview with Harrington. "I either had to stop for the bear or hit him, so I decided to stop, put on the brakes, came to a screeching halt, and coasted up the slight grade as far as I could without startling the animal."

Whatever Harrington saw that night was erect, very tall and covered in with brownish-black hair. Its face was dark and leathery, with a flat nose and eyes that reflected light. It had human-like breasts and long muscular legs. Framed in his patrol car's spotlight, the being---human or beast---walked off the road, down a bank and then, while Harrington aimed his revolver, vanished into the brush.

"I got back in my car and drove off," the rattled police officer added. " Reported the next morning back to the scene and went through the area, found where the animal had gone into the bush and where it had come back onto the roadway." Harrington found and measured several 18.5-inch footprints. He estimated that whatever crossed his path that night stood between seven and seven-and-half feet tall and weighed roughly 300 to 325 pounds.

"They were a little scared and were actually reticent to report their find," Christman confesses. "Fact is, their son phoned in the report, and I think the parents resented this."

Transcribed onto white paper, tucked neatly into file folders and stashed in a fireproof metal box, John Christman's personal collection Sasquatch stories rivals that of his Canadian counterpart John Green. People of all ages and from all walks of life told the stories he's collected. "I post my business wherever I can," he explains, adding that it's not in his job description to try to confirm or deny what he's told. Still, one gets the impression that Christman is well practiced in the willing suspension of disbelief. His most recent concerned a couple who spied a Sasquatch while traveling by automobile from Shelton to Wynoochee. The "thing" stepped right in front of their vehicle, remaining within their headlights' glare for about thirty seconds.

Like any seasoned adventurer, Christman usually saves his best Sasquatch saga for last. This one happened to him. One day, while he and his and a girlfriend were camping near the Graywolf River, they stumbled across a set of fresh Sasquatch footprints. His companion's initial reaction was disbelief. "She accused me of making them; she thought that I was trying to scare her. Then I said, ' Wait a minute--this is where you wanted me to go, not me.' She got to thinking, and went back to the tent. I picked up my day pack and said, ' We're going to follow them.' At first, she didn't want to follow. But when she realized that she'd be left at the campsite all alone, she went with."

The pair traced the to a large outcropping of stone. The maker of the tracks had evidently scrambled over this natural barrier with ease. Less agile, Christman and his cohort took the long way around. "Eventually, we came to a big half-dried-up-swamp," recalls Christman, "and, again, whatever it was that made these tracks went right through it. By the brush moving up ahead, I could tell we were starting to gain on it." As day turned to night, Christman gave up the chase. It took them nearly four hours to find their way back to camp in the dark.

The next day, he returned to the scene of discovery, casting mix at the ready. "I never did see the thing we were chasing...but I did come back with this," he concludes with a flourish, producing a perfectly sculpted impression of a 16 - inch - by 8.5 - inch - wide human sole. Resting on Christman's dining room table, the broad, size 21 foot cast is indeed a conversation stopper--solid proof that Christman and his fellow Sasquatch stalkers may be on the right track.

By David G. Gordon
© Peninsula Magazine
Winter 1993, Volume 8, Number 1
Seattle, Washington

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