The North American
equivalent of the legendary "Abominable Snowman" or Yeti of
the Himalayas, "Bigfoot," whether he exists or not, has been
a part of American popular culture since the late 1950s, with isolated
reports stretching back even earlier. Bigfoot, also known as "Sasquatch" in Canada, is the generic name for an unknown species of giant, hair-covered
hominids that may or may not roam the forests and mountains of the American
Northwest and the Alberta and British Columbia regions of Canada.
According to a synthesis of hundreds of eyewitness sightings over the
years, the creatures are bipedal, anywhere between seven to nine feet
tall (with a few specimens reportedly even taller), and completely covered
in black or reddish hair. They appear to be a hybrid of human and ape
characteristics. Also, they are omnivorous and usually solitary. On occasion,
they leave behind enormous footprints (hence the name "Bigfoot"),
measuring roughly between 16 and 20 inches. Cryptozoologists (those who
study animals still unknown to science) hold out at least some hope that
Bigfoot, hidden away in the last really undeveloped wilderness areas of
North America, may yet prove to be a reality and not merely a folk legend.
Hairy hominids have
been reported in nearly every state in the nation. However, classic American
Bigfoot sightings are typically confined to northern California, Oregon,
Washington, and Idaho. Additionally, sightings outside of this region
often involve some paranormal or supernatural overtones; by contrast,
the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot seems decidedly flesh and blood, if elusive.
Advocates of Bigfoot's existence often begin by pointing back to Native
American legends of human-like giants, such as the Wendigo of the Algonkians,
in the forests of these regions.
The alleged capture of a small Sasquatch (or escaped chimpanzee) named "Jacko" as reported in the British Columbia newspaper the Daily
British Colonist in 1884 marks the introduction of Bigfoot to the modern
mass media age. In the first few years of the 1900s, a spate of published
eyewitness reports of Sasquatches in Canada grabbed attention throughout
the Northwest. During the 1930s, the popular British Columbian writer
J.W. Burns wrote about a Sasquatch who was a giant, atavistic Indian.
However, it was not until 1958 that newspaper accounts of large, human-like
footprints discovered by a bulldozer operator named Jerry Crew near a
construction site in Willow Creek, California, popularized the term "Bigfoot" for the rest of America. At approximately the same time, a man from British
Columbia named Albert Ostman made public his story of being kidnapped
and held captive for six days by a group of Sasquatches back in 1924.
Ostman only managed to escape, he claimed, when the Sasquatches became
sick on his chewing tobacco. Over the years, in spite of skeptical questioning
by a number of renowned cryptozoologists, Ostman stuck to his seemingly
With the explosion of Bigfoot into public awareness, a number of investigators
took to the American northwest to find anecdotal or physical evidence
of the existence of the unknown hominid species. Some of the most famous
of these investigators were Rene Dahinden, John Green, and Ivan T. Sanderson.
The decade of the 1960s was somewhat of a "golden era" in the
hunt for Bigfoot, when the mystery was new enough to most Americans to
capture widespread interest and just plausible enough for many minds to
remain open on the subject.
Literally hundreds of eyewitness reports were collected and published
in the many popular books written by these investigators. One of the most
dramatic of the reports described a terrifying nocturnal attack by "apemen" upon miners in a remote cabin near Mt. St. Helens back in 1924.
But by far the most sensational--and hotly disputed--physical evidence
of that period is the 28-second, 16-millimeter film taken in 1967 by Roger
Patterson in the Bluff Creek area of the Six Rivers National Forest in
California. The film shows what appears to be a female Bigfoot striding
away from Patterson's camera. Patterson, accompanied by Bob Gimlin, had
taken to the woods in a specific attempt to find and photograph the elusive
Bigfoot--a fact which was not lost upon the film's numerous skeptics.
However, if the film is a hoax, no one has ever confessed or turned up
with a female Bigfoot suit. Frame-by-frame analysis and extensive investigation
of the site and the backgrounds of the men involved has so far failed
to provide conclusive evidence of deception. Patterson died in 1972, still
insisting that he had filmed the real thing. Other Bigfoot films have
surfaced from time to time, but unlike Patterson's, most of them have
been clearly bogus.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2002 Gale Group.
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