“Looking for Bigfoot”
By Vincent Lizee, The Peak
Last month, I read a criticism of the famous Roger Patterson film showing a sasquatch walking along a sandbar.
The notion of sasquatches can be traced back to carvings made by pre-historic aboriginals, found along the Columbia River. Archaeologists found these carvings, made around 50,000 BC, depicting an ape-like face. But apes have not been proven to have ever lived in North America. What inspired the carvings is still a mystery but legends of bipedal ape-like creatures abound in aboriginal folklore. For centuries, the Hoopa aboriginals of Northern California have retold stories of Oh-Mah . The Salish aboriginals of BC have their own legend of " Sasquatch ". The Kwakiutls tribe have acknowledged sasquatches in their totem poles. There is considerable consistency in the descriptions of sasquatches. Some North American aboriginals thought they were spirits, while other tribes believed they were beasts. The Sioux aboriginals of the American Plains called their legendary ape-like creature Tuku , he that was not to be hunted on their territory. The Algonquian tribe of Ontario called their Bigfoot creature Wendigo and considered it a giant spirit-beast.
The first Europeans to encounter sasquatches were Leif Eriksson and his fellow Norsemen: in 986 they wrote of large, hairy monsters with great black eyes. The first encounter along the Pacific Coast was in 1792 when Jose Mariano Mozino, a naturalist, was accompanying Juan Bodega y Quadra during his exploration of the B.C. coast. Mozino wrote of human-like monsters living in the area that were hostile to humans. As more and more white settlers came to North America and the West coast, more recorded sightings continued. David Thompson in 1811 wrote of seeing large human-like footprints and Elkanah Walker, a missionary in Washington State, described large hairy human-like giants living in the mountains in 1840.
In 1884, a young sasquatch was supposedly captured near Yale, B.C. Named Jacko, it was 4 feet 7 inches tall but he mysteriously disappeared from a transport train. Sightings continued into this century, leading to the creation of the term 'sasquatch' to name these creatures. The term is an anglicised hybrid of several aboriginal names used in B.C. for the ape creature.
One famous incident occurred in 1924 around the Mount St. Helens area when a group of prospectors kept seeing large footprints around their camp. Aboriginals warned them that the sasquatches in the area were hostile and one was shot but it fell off a canyon cliff into the river before it could be recovered. That night, the cabin the prospectors stayed in was pelted with rocks all night and at daybreak they made their escape. They told their story to a local paper and a team went back to the cabin to investigate. They found the cabin destroyed by large boulders and since then the area has been known as Ape Canyon.
Sasquatch sightings declined as a news item for the following thirty years. But during the early fifties, accounts of the Yeti started to come back from adventurers trying to climb the peaks of the Himalayas, especially Mount Everest. These accounts got media attention around the world and began to encourage interest in the Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. Rene Dahinden, a Swiss immigrant to Canada, and John Green, a local newspaper owner from Agassiz, B.C. began continuous investigations into these sightings.
Sasquatches received media attention again in 1958 when Jerry Crew, a construction worker, saw large footprints around his bulldozer while working on a highway in a remote area. He ignored it at first but the footprints kept reappearing for the next two months and several of his co-workers claimed to have seen sasquatches. Crew reported his experiences to the local paper in Eureka, California and within days his story got national attention. The creature was named 'Bigfoot' after the large plaster casts made on the worksites and the name stuck ever since. Sightings continued, with the most famous encounter by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. While searching for sasquatches around Bluff Creek in 1967, they made their famous footage of a supposed sasquatch crossing a sandbar. The film got much press attention and analysis by experts and has spawned a cottage industry for Sasquatch novelty items, likely inspiring more people to search for Bigfoot.
Up until the 1980s, sasquatch sighting reports fell into obscurity. But there has been some serious research into the phenomenon. A conference was held at UBC in 1978 and scientists and laypeople presented their articles and findings. Several organizations have sprung up to continue the research and collect sighting reports. These include the Western Bigfoot Society, The B.C. Cryptozoological Science Club and The Bigfoot Research Resources Organization. A conference on sasquatch research was held in Vancouver in 1997.
So far, the best explanation for the sasquatch phenomenon is that it's a giant bipedal ape that survived the prehistoric era (when mastodons and other large mammals lived.) According to John Green, this ape could have evolved from the gorilla. If the male gorilla, standing about 6 feet tall, had a leg-spine length ratio of a human it would stand around 8 feet and would easily weigh over 700 pounds to accommodate the added muscles in the legs and hips for bipedal walking. If so, gorillas must have somehow ventured into North America when the Americas were connected to Africa and then evolved to bipedal motion for adapting to boreal rainforest living.
The other possibility is the sasquatch is the descendant of the now extinct Gigantopithecus, a giant bipedal ape that lived around the Himalayas at least 500,000 years ago. It then wandered into North America when the land bridge existed where the Bering Strait is located. Based on jawbone and other scant remains found in two sites in the area, Gigantopithecus is estimated to be 8-9 feet tall and weigh 700-1000 pounds. Both bipedal apes match the height and weight estimates of sasquatches based on sightings and footprint casts.
Sasquatch research still continues as do sightings, the most recent in November last year around Grays Harbor, Washington. There have been around ten in B.C. since 1988 and one was published in the Vancouver Sun in June 1997: a mill worker who was hunting around Spuzzum saw a sasquatch.
The other continuing feature of the Sasquatch phenomenon is the authenticity of the Patterson film. I'm no primatologist but I think the Patterson film is a hoax. According to Patterson, the creature scared the horses so much that he and Gimlin were thrown off. He then ran towards the creature to get a closer shot. I do not believe any wild animal, a sasquatch in this case, would still walk calmly along a sandbar after hearing frightened horses and seeing a man run towards it. The more likely reaction is to attack or run straight into the forest to hide. According to hundreds of sightings, sasquatches are shy, nocturnal creatures that will flee into the night time woods after a few seconds of human encounter.
The creature in Patterson's film defies all this by walking calmly in broad daylight, in the open after seeing Patterson stop his pursuit. Even if this sasquatch is not shy, an animal its size has no reason to be on a sandbar where there is no food to feed its massive physique. Analysis of the film says the creature moves with a shuffling motion with little foot flexing, similar to someone cross-country skiing. I don't agree with this since it shows the sasquatch can't break into a run, something eyewitness reports confirm and an inability to run means an easy meal for predators. I believe it's a man in a sasquatch suit with much back padding and rigid false feet so big that he has to shuffle his feet to walk. Looking at enlarged stills of the film show other clues of a hoax: a pillow shaped posterior, mismatched heels that protrude too far, suspiciously wide ankles, an unnaturally looking hindquarter and head along with foot soles that are too white to be the same skin covering the face and hands.
The Patterson film does not make the sasquatch phenomenon a debunked myth as some experts say. I think there is enough evidence to warrant continued investigation based on Aboriginal folklore, aboriginal artifacts, sightings, foot casts and sound recordings, blood and hair samples, especially given they have not been identified as any known animal.
Some sightings may be hoaxes, but it seems implausible to think all 3000 sightings, spanning some 200 years from various individuals throughout B.C. and the three Pacific Coast states are all hoaxes. Some animals now known to science were once known only by eyewitness accounts like the giant panda, the Komodo dragon, the okapi and the mountain gorilla. The myth explanation, although not proven, does not seem plausible. It does not make sense for aboriginals to sustain legends for centuries based on a creature that does not exist.
Citation: The Peak (Burnaby, BC) issue 7, vol 101 - February 22, 1999
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