Bigfoot Encounters

Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti
A Paul Stonehill Article

The furry man-monster of the North American continent has achieved such legendary status that the term "Bigfoot" is in danger of becoming a generic label applied to any big hairy creature that walks like a man. The following discussion will focus on the "original" Bigfoot, the seven-foot apelike beast sighted in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and in Canada, where it is traditionally known as Sasquatch.

Some Bigfoot hunters believe that the creature's earliest history can be found in ancient Native American legends, particularly in the tales of the Witiko, or Wendigo, a giant spirit-beast from the lore of the Algonkian tribe. Others argue that Bigfoot seems to be a 20th century phenomenon, and any earlier documentation of the creature's existence is tenuous at best. If Bigfoot has indeed been known to Native Americans for ages, it's only in the past hundred years that persons of European descent have begun to report seeing him.

During the 1900s, the Colonist newspaper in Victoria, British Columbia, ran several stories about people spotting "monkey-men" in remote wooded areas. In the 1920s, British Columbia schoolteacher J. W. Burns wrote extensively in newspaper and magazine articles about reports of giant hairy creatures. Burns's writings were responsible for popularizing the term "Sasquatch," which he identified as a derivation from the language of the Coast Salish Indians. Sasquatch quickly became known among the general public of western Canada, long before tales of such a creature ever found notoriety in the United States.

Following the publicity surrounding Eric Shipton's 1951 photograph of a Yeti footprint, interest in Sasquatch increased dramatically. John Green, a newspaper publisher in British Columbia, began reporting Sasquatch sightings in 1955. Green initially intended this coverage to be purely a circulation booster for his small newspaper, and some of his reports were completely fake -- such as an April Fool's story about Sasquatch kidnapping a young woman. But over time Green became genuinely captivated by the creature, and his extensive compilation of stories and sightings made him the leading Sasquatch authority of his day.

One Sasquatch spotter Green interviewed was William Roe, a trapper, who claimed to have a close encounter with a female of the species in 1955, while hunting on British Columbia's Mica Mountain.

"The thought came to me that if I shot it I would probably have a specimen of great interest to scientists the world over," Roe said. But he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger on his rifle. "Although I have called the creature 'it,' I felt now that it was a human being, and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it," he said.

The publication of Roe's account would later inspire another man to step forward with his own Sasquatch experience, which he said had happened more than thirty years before. Albert Ostman, a 64-year-old retired lumberman from British Columbia, went public in 1957 with a tale he had kept to himself since 1924, for fear of being ridiculed. Ostman's story was the most dramatic report ever in the history of Bigfoot studies: a first-person account of abduction by Sasquatch.

While on a camping trip near Vancouver Island, Ostman found that something had disturbed his supplies and food on two nights in a row. A Native American trail guide had warned him about the presence of local Sasquatches when Ostman set up his camp, and this was the first time Ostman had ever heard of the creatures, but he didn't think they could be the culprits messing with his gear.

Then one night Ostman was shaken awake to find himself being indelicately carried away inside his sleeping bag. The opening of the sleeping bag was held shut, and Ostman had no choice but to be dragged along the forest ground for what he estimated to be 25 miles, nearly suffocating. After what seemed like a three-hour ordeal, he was thrown to the ground in a heap, and emerged to find himself in the company of four Sasquatches. Ostman described them as a family, with a father and a mother and their pair of offspring, one male and one female. He indicated that the adult male, his kidnapper, was over eight feet tall and powerfully built, covered in dark hair all over. The children, though smaller, were still about seven feet tall.

Ostman said the Sasquatches chattered amongst themselves in a seemingly intelligent language, and although they did not hurt or threaten him, they were determined not to let him leave. Their lair was inside a small valley enclosed by cliffs, and the adult male stood guard at the only apparent entry passage. Ostman suggested that he may have been selected as a prospective mate for the young female.

Ostman claimed that he was held captive for a period of six days. In that time he formed a tentative bond with the younger male, who became fond of sampling Ostman's snuff. That gave Ostman an idea. He offered his snuff to the adult male, which impulsively dumped the entire container into his mouth. The tobacco rush incapacitated the big Sasquatch in short order, making him writhe on the ground in overwhelming discomfort. Ostman seized the opportunity to escape, and never told anyone his fantastic tale until three decades later, when it seemed the world might be ready to listen. As unbelievable as his story may seem, many of those who heard Ostman tell it firsthand remarked that his earnest demeanor made it come across as surprisingly convincing.

Ostman's "sleeping-bag snatch" remains the most elaborately detailed account of Bigfoot contact, but as any amateur Cryptozoologist knows, it is far from the most famous sighting of the creature. That honor belongs to 952 frames of 16mm film, shot one fine day in the California woods.

The Patterson Film

Capturing the fleeting sight of a seven-foot apelike creature retreating into the Northern California wilderness, the Patterson Bigfoot film is among the most renowned artifacts in the field of paranormal study. The footage has achieved iconic status even among the public at large, and forms the foundation of many Bigfoot hunters' beliefs.

The controversial reel of film was shot by Roger Patterson, a former rodeo rider who had become deeply fascinated with Bigfoot after reading press reports about the creature in 1957. He wrote and self-published a book in 1966 entitled Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? Patterson then set out to film a documentary about sightings of Bigfoot.

On October 20, 1967, Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin were riding on horseback in the wilds of California's Bluff Creek valley, with Patterson carrying a rented 16mm camera to shoot some atmospheric footage for his planned film. He ended up filming a lot more than just scenery. Patterson and Gimlin spotted a huge, dark-furred, bipedal creature hunched over in the middle of a creek. The beast rose to a full height that Patterson estimated at seven feet, four inches, and began walking toward the woods. Thrown to the ground after his horse reared up in fright, Patterson anxiously yanked the movie camera from his saddlebag and began shooting. The day's filming had left him with only 28 feet of film in the camera, but he managed to record the alleged Bigfoot's image briefly before it fled from view.

Patterson and Gimlin discovered that a number of footprints had been left behind, and they preserved them in plaster casts. The tracks were fourteen inches long and five inches wide. But these trophies were almost insignificant in comparison to the prize inside Patterson's camera.

In the ensuing three decades, the 952 frames of Patterson's Bigfoot film have been submitted to all manner of examination and analysis. (The famous "Frame 352" from the film is shown on this page.) The creature has been classified as female, because of its apparent breasts. Theorists have extrapolated descriptions of everything from its psychological bearing to its eating habits on the basis of its behavior in the film. Minutiae of the creature's physiognomy, such as the exact way in which it moves its neck, and its unusual method of distributing its weight as it strided, have led many to conclude that this could not be a man in a suit.

But many others feel certain that Patterson's Bigfoot was a fake. Being established in the "Bigfoot business," Patterson stood to profit from fabricating film footage of the creature. Bigfoot expert John Napier pointed out that the footprint casts were physiologically inconsistent with the height of the creature and the length of its stride as shown in the film. If the creature was a fake, everyone agrees that it was a remarkably skillful one. The only known source of such a high quality of costume and makeup in 1967 was the movie special effects industry, and in fact there is strong evidence that this Bigfoot came from Hollywood.

After lengthy investigations and interviews, journalist Mark Chorivinsky has found that the consensus among the movie-effects industry professionals is that the film depicts a prankster in a skillfully crafted costume. In fact, many state that the falsity of the Patterson film has been common knowledge in the business for years. The makeup artist Chorivinsky found most frequently associated with the Bigfoot film is John Chambers, a legendary elder statesman in the field of monster-making. Chambers is best known as the makeup mastermind behind the Planet of the Apes films. His innovative and highly articulated ape masks won him an Academy Award in 1968. Chambers created monster costumes for dozens of other movies and TV shows, including The Outer Limits and Lost in Space. Chorivinsky reports none of the makeup professionals he spoke with had firsthand knowledge that Chambers had created the Patterson Bigfoot, but a large number of them either felt that it was widely accepted that he was responsible for it, or else reasoned that Chambers was the only artist at the time skillful enough to have crafted such a costume.

Chambers, who currently resides in a Los Angeles nursing home in frail health, has recently told interviewers that he had nothing to do with the Bigfoot seen in Patterson's film. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence implicating Chambers's involvement is compelling. The Patterson film was shot in 1967, in the same timeframe that Chambers was working on Planet of the Apes. Chambers often did uncredited work, and would not have been opposed to a project in which his contributions would remain unknown. The Patterson Bigfoot shows evidence of having a water bag under the fur in the stomach area, a trick used to make a gorilla suit move like real flesh. This liquid stomach technique was developed by Charlie Gemora, with whom Chambers had worked at Paramount. Chambers created monster suits for Lost in Space in 1965 and 1966 which look very similar to the creature in the Patterson film, only with a different head. Chambers may have recycled them to fabricate the Patterson Bigfoot.

Perhaps the most striking evidence is the fact that Chambers is known to have participated in another Bigfoot hoax: The Burbank Bigfoot. This was a 7' 4" Bigfoot carcass painstakingly built in Chambers' Burbank garage over a plaster body cast of actor Richard Kiel, best known as the villain Jaws from the James Bond movies. It is unclear who commissioned the Burbank Bigfoot or what became of it, but one account explains that it was created to be part of a traveling sideshow.

In October 1997, upon the thirtieth anniversary of the Patterson film, new reports surfaced to confirm that Chambers had concocted the creature. This time, movie director John Landis stepped forward to verify what he said had been known among Hollywood make-up artists for years. "That famous piece of film of Bigfoot walking in the woods that was touted as the real thing was just a suit made by John Chambers," Landis said. The director said that Chambers had revealed this secret to him when they worked together on Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1970.

But the case is far from being closed just yet. A number of Bigfoot authorities, notably Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, vehemently refuse to accept the Chambers connection to the film, and insist that the creature might be real. A new study by the North American Science Institute has concluded that Patterson's Bigfoot is genuine, and computer enhancement analysis suggests that the creature's skin and musculature are that of a living animal, not a hairy suit.

Paul Stonehill

Back to Creatures?
Back to What's New?

Back to Newspaper & Magazine Articles?
Home/Main