Search For Sasquatch is All Consuming Passion
By David Foster for the Associated Press Walla Walla, Washington


Even a Bigfoot believer like Paul Freeman concedes the supermarket tabloids get carried away with headlines like these:

"HUGE BIGFOOT MONSTER TERRORIZES THE ROCKIES! It stunk like a sewer, roared like a lion and clutched the leg of an animal in its hand."

"BIGFOOT ATTACKED US! Blood-Crazed Creature Savages Camera' Crew and Pounds 2-Ton Truck Into Junkyard Scrap."Paul Freeman smiles at the outlandish stories, which he collects in a cardboard box. There are some crazy people out there," he said. Freeman himself has been called the craziest of all. But he knows otherwise. He says he has seen Bigfoot. Four times. He swears it's true, and he is out to convince a doubting world that the legendary ape-monsters, perhaps a thousand strong, really do roam the dark woods of the Pacific Northwest. "I know they are there, and I know what I see," Freeman says. "Nothing has to be proven to me. But I'd like to prove it to the public, so they'll say Freeman's not really a kook." Bigfoot -- or Sasquatch, as the Indians called the beast -- is one of the Northwest's enduring legends. More than 750 sightings of the creatures or their oversize footprints have been reported over the past century, mostly in the evergreen forests stretching from Northern California to British Columbia. Yet no Bigfoot has ever been killed or captured. No carcass or bones have ever been found. A few purported Bigfoot photographs exist, including a picture taken in October by Freeman's son, but they always seem to be out of focus, too dark, or too far away. What looks like Sasquatch could be a misshapen tree stump or someone in a monkey-suit Skeptics point to hoaxes, like the time a Washington man created a whole Bigfoot family by stomping around with three whopping pairs of feet he had carved of wood. But if you want to believe, talk to Paul Freeman.Drive with him eastward from Walla Walla, where the fiat-lands of southeastern Washington rise into the Blue Mountains of the Umatilla National Forest. Listen to Freeman's tales of safaris into the forest's 177,000-acre wilderness area. Behold a lonely land of wind-bared ridges and dark, forested canyons.Bigfoot country, Freeman said: "You can go in there all summer and not see anybody."
Not that anybody sees you. Freeman tells of suddenly skittish horses, of normally docile dogs growling fiercely at the darkness."Your skin gets kind of crawly and the hair stands up on your neck," he said. "You know you're being watched, but you don't know from where." Freeman, 45, does not seem the type to spook easily. He is beefy, bearded and at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, approaching Sasquatch proportions himself. He's a meat cutter by trade, an outdoorsman and hunter by nature. He says he too was a skeptic --, until June 10, 1982, when he was' working as a watershed patroller for the United States Forest Service and met up with a shaggy, reddish-brown Bigfoot nearly 8 feet tall."He was 60 yards away," Freeman recalls. "I watched him walk the length of two football fields. He'd take a few steps, look back at me, and take a few more steps. Then he went up over a hill and disappeared." When word got: out, Freeman' became an instant celebrity, but the fame was spiked with ridicule. Newspaper reporters hounded him. His supervisors doubted him. Anonymous callers said he was crazy and threatened to take his three Children away. Freeman quit his Forest Service job and moved away, drifting, through a series of jobs. A gnawing need for vindication, he says, drew him back to Walla Walla in 1984. He has been on the spoor of Bigfoot ever since. He says he is in the woods three days a week and figures he has sunk $50,000 into the search.

© The Columbian, Friday March 3, 1989

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