Bigfoot Encounters

Writing on the wall:
Pictographs, tribal tales add to lore of Sasquatch

By Scott Sandsberry

June 19, 2012 -- YAKIMA, Wash. — Not far from the Tule River in Central California is a rock shelter used by tribal villagers long before the Sierra foothills began filling up with white settlers and gold miners.

The shelter is known as Painted Rock by tourists and archeologists for its colorful array of centuries-old pictographs depicting the animal spectrum from the small (lizard, centipede, caterpillar and frog) and the high-flying (condor, eagle) to the bigger beasts (coyote, beaver, bear and man). And man, of course.

Hairy Man as depicted in a Central California pictograph estimated to be 500 to 1,000 years old. (Photo courtesy KATHY MOSKOWITZ STRAIN/Stanislaus National Forest)

Almost all of the painted images are instantly recognizable as creatures that would have inhabited the Sierras 500 to 1,000 years ago, when the pictographs are believed to have been created.

Three of the animals, though, can only be described in today’s lexicon as an adult male, adult female and child Sasquatch.

The big male, according to Yokuts tribal lore, is Hairy Man, standing on two legs, its arms spread wide, with long hair and, writes Forest Service archeologist Kathy Moskowitz Strain, “large, haunting eyes.” Next to it, with the same hairy, two-legged aspect, are what appear to be the adult female, the “mother,” and her child.

None of the animals shown on Painted Rock are proportionally larger than one would expect; they’re all either life-sized or smaller, as if in the distance.

The painting of Hairy Man is 8 1/2 feet tall.

By the time the first white man saw the Painted Rock pictographs in the 1870s, earlier European settlers of the American west were already well aware of Native Americans’ historical belief in the animal the Central California tribes called Hairy Man.

This is a hand-drawn replica of Hairy Man as depicted — at 8 1/2 feet tall — in a Central California pictograph estimated to be several hundred years old.

(Photo courtesy KATHY MOSKOWITZ STRAIN/Stanislaus National Forest)

Many Native Americans, from the Cree people in Manitoba to the Cowichans in British Columbia to the tribes of central and northern California, have through the centuries taken a wide berth to avoid encountering a race or tribe of large, two-legged hairy beasts.

The account of a Methodist missionary found that the Salteaux Indians of Lake Winnipeg “living in dread” of what the missionary himself described as “these imaginary monsters.”

Anthropologists’ response to this has been mixed. Some believe the animals were a creation of tribal folklore meant to keep children in line and convince them not to stray too far from the villages.

But early white traders, settlers and miners often talked about the fervent belief held by the locals in what the whites invariably referred to as “mythical” creatures — which were described much the way Sasquatch is now described.

A 1790 publication related a Hudson’s Bay Company trader’s story about the North Saskatchewan River Indians’ belief in a giant, two-legged beast called the wendingo or windingo. The Indians, noted the trapper, “frequently persuade themselves that they see his track in the moss or snow.”

Two decades later a fur trader named David Thompson found a large footprint, described in historical journals as having been 14 inches long and eight inches wide, near what is now Jasper, Alberta. The print is often referred to as the first Sasquatch footprint found by a white man, though Thompson himself was said to have believed it to be the track of a large grizzly bear.

British Columbia periodicals in the late 1800s and early 1900s carried short news items referencing “the wild man of Vancouver Island” being seen by prospectors and others. And the region’s Kwakiutl Indians related tales of the “Woods Giant” which was routinely described the same way — much larger and hairier than humans, walking on two legs, with deep-set eyes under a thick, protruding forehead.

Which, again, is the same description applied to many Sasquatch sightings today.

While modern-day curiosity about Sasquatch was stoked by the 1967 film taken by Yakima County residents Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, an even more dramatic incident near Mount St. Helens predated that one by nearly a half-century.

In her book, “Myths and Mysteries of Washington,” prolific Northwest historical author Lynn E. Bragg wrote about Cascade and coastal tribal tales of a “band of renegades who looked like giant apes and lived like wild animals in secluded caves high in the Cascade Mountains.”

Tribal belief in the giant beasts — referred to by different tribes and dialects as Seeahtic (or Selahtic), St’iyahama, Stiyaha, Kwi-kwihai and Skoocoom — were related by missionaries as early as 1840. But it wasn’t until July 1924 that the non-tribal world sat up and took notice.

That year, a group of miners prospecting in the Mount St. Helens and Lewis River area reported that their pine-log cabin had withstood a night-long attack by a group of what they described to forest rangers and reporters as “mountain devils” and “hairy apes.”

The miners’ account was that the assault on the cabin came at night, several hours after one of the miners had fired several rifle shots at a seven-foot-tall, hairy animal. According to their story, which was related in numerous newspapers, several of the creatures attacked the cabin, pelting it with large rocks, shrieking loudly, battering at the front door and climbing onto the cabin, the latter prompting the miners to fire several shots through the roof.

The miners left the next day, so anxious to put distance between them and the creatures that one of them, Kelso resident Fred Beck, said they left behind some $200 worth of “supplies, powder and drilling equipment.”

Their revelations made the newspapers, and numerous reporters and curiosity-seekers returned to the site and found numerous large, bare footprints around the cabin — but no “apemen.”

The tale told by Beck and the others is considered evidence of Sasquatch by some while being dismissed by others as a hoax or a bad case of cabin fever.

According to the latter version, the “attackers” were a group of local youths pelting the cabin with pumice stones from the top of the canyon either intentionally or by accident, perhaps not knowing there was a miner’s cabin at the bottom.

Beck, though, later said he and the other miners were able to see the creatures through the gaps in the log walls. “Only three of the creatures (were seen) together at one time,” Beck recalled in a dictated statement to his son four decades later, though “it sounded like there were many more.”

Beck’s description of the shrieking, wall-banging experience bears an eerie resemblance to one that occurred Aug. 14, 2004, at remote Snelgrove Lake in the Canadian province of Ontario.

A group of people were staying at a lakeside cabin, including documentary filmmaker Doug Hajicek, who has produced more than 200 films for such entities as PBS, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Outdoor Life Network and ESPN.

For two hours in the early evening, Hajicek said, someone or something threw small rocks toward the group, though not in a threatening way.

“Fifty or sixty rocks, lobbed,” Hajicek said. “You could shine a flashlight in the woods but all you’d see is trees. I didn’t have the courage to stand up and walk into the woods.”

Later that night, Hajicek woke up hungry, went to the cabin kitchen and flicked on a light “that illuminated my head in the window. The back side of the cabin was attacked — screams, banging on the walls, things hitting the cabin and the entire cabin started shaking and rock, and (rocks) started hitting the ceiling and the walls.

“It was like being in a bad B movie.”

Neither Hajicek nor any of the others in the cabin dared go outside until long after the “attack” had abated. But Hajicek returned on the same date the following year with several other people including two research professors, one from Idaho State University and the other from the University of Minnesota. At 3 a.m., Hajicek said, “something huge hit the side of the cabin, so loud the cabin just resonated.”

Shocked and scared, none of the people in the cabin ventured outside.

So, just as the year before, nobody saw whatever it was that was out there.

Scott Sandsberry for Yakima dot com June 19, 2012

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