BOOK REVIEW by Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Ph.D.
"Bigfoot of the Blues"
Author Vance Orchard, 1993
197 pages $9.95 plus $2 S & H (p)
Earthlight Books
321 East Main,
Walla Walla, Washington 99362

In November of 1995, Richard Greenwell handed me a copy of Bigfoot of the Blues. as we flew from San Francisco to Eureka, California on our way to investigate the Redwoods video site. During lulls in the conversation I paged through the book. I was initially intrigued by what I did not find. Surprisingly, there were no illustrations - -no photos of footprints, no casts, no persons straining to match step length, no sketchy eyewitness renderings. There were few or no obligatory speculations about Gigantopithecus, migratory routes or extraordinary senses or physical prowess. Instead, there was a narrative, focusing on events in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington State spanning a ten-year period between 1982 and 1992. Occasional forays were made in time and space to lend context and continuity to the story line. But always the thread returned to the Blues and the activities of a band of witnesses, perhaps most prominent among them Paul Freeman and [the late] Wes Summerlin.

Vance Orchard is a journalist having covered the region for the Walla Walla Union Bulletin for some 40 years and for the Waitsburg Times for the past seen years. His interest in Bigfoot was kindled in 1966 when reporting on the discovery of big human-like tracks up Mill Creek Road. The book strings together a number of his outdoor columns that featured regional developments in the bigfoot saga. He presents the facts in a no-nonsense, matter of fact style with an amiable countrified tone that lends personality to otherwise obscure names, places and events.

It seems to me the only way to evaluate the merits of such a narrative was to gain a better appreciation of the people and events myself. There was no shortage of individuals eager to enlighten me about the character of Paul Freeman and incredibility of the Walla Walla evidence. Freeman had achieved notoriety in 1982, when he claimed to have encountered a bigfoot on the border of the Mill Creek watershed. The events that ensued focused national attention on the region. Dr. Grover Krantz, of the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University described the appearance of dermatoglyphics in the footprint cast, but received a cool reception from both the scientific and bigfoot communities. Joel Hardin, an acclaimed U.S. Border Patrol tracker pronounced the l982 tracts to be fakes. Later in l984, Rene Dahinden, a life long Bigfoot investigator, examined a trackway and declared it hoaxed. Then, in l989, Edward B. Winn "surreptitiously" removed fibers from a twisted tree branch presented by Freeman at the l989 Membership Meeting of the International Society of Cryptozoology and tested them for chemical composition and melting point. He later concluded that the fibers were a synthetic modacrylic fiber and he labeled the entire presentation as "scientific vandalism" (Edward B. Winn, l99l Physical and Morphological Analysis of Samples of Fiber Purported to be Sasquatch Hair, Cryptozoology, Vol. 10: 55-65) Others promptly hopped aboard the bandwagon.

I first contacted Vance Orchard in late l995, after my first read of Bigfoot of the Blues. He was very friendly and candid, providing me shortly thereafter with a long list of names, addresses and phones numbers and copies of his original column and related materials. I was impressed by his even-handed representation of the personalities and events. He was genuinely interested in the negative reports that had escaped his attention and more than willing to weigh them in the balance.

Orchard immediately laid to rest the assertion that there was no Bigfoot in the Blue Mountains until Paul Freeman arrived on the scene in l982, recounting incidents dating back to l900. Frequent reports of witnesses not connected with Freeman's involvement further contradicted such allegations. For example, incidents were reported to the U.S. Forest Service in the late l960's as described by USFS employee Wayne Long. This was further corroborated by additional reports from the files of John Green and from the newly-formed North American Science Institute (NASI) of incidents throughout the Blue Mountains in both Washington and Oregon.

On February l8, l996, I paid an unannounced visit to Paul Freeman who, after persistent questioning about the footprints, confided that he had located the first tracks of that spring that very morning. Too coincidental? I thought so until I examined the string of prints, numbering in excess of 40. They measured nearly 14 inches (35cm) in length. The ground was wet from recent rains that continued sporadically over the weekend. The last fleeting traces of dermatoglyphics were still visible in some tracks indicating they had likely been laid down the previous night. Variations in toe position, indications of mid-foot flexibility and dynamic interactions with the varying soil conditions were clearly evident. In one print, the splaying toes pressed the first and fifth toes into sidewalls of the deep impressions, producing profiles of the respective digits - - to my knowledge, the first time this had been documented. I personally cast seven footprints; further details will be the subject of a separate report. These tracks gave every indication of being "alive" as Vance Orchard puts it. Suffice it to say the incident spurred me on to further investigation.

During subsequent visits to Walla Walla, I examined and documented Wes Summerlin's and Paul Freeman's cast collections and interviewed them at great length, hearing firsthand many of the stories recounted in the book Bigfoot of the Blues. I eventually arranged for the procurement of the entire Freeman case collection, which is now on loan in my laboratory for further analysis and is accessible for the study to any seriously interested party. I have personally visited with or spoken to many of the personalities discussed by Orchard: Paul Freeman, Wes and Peewee Sumerlin, Swede Sumerlin, Phil Farnes, Bill Laughery, Dick Cockle and Kevin Lindley. I have encountered no discrepancies in the recounting of events by Orchard. In fact, with the second, more informed reading of his book, I was even more impressed by his succinct and incisive style of reporting.

However, in the penultimate chapter (chapter 14), Orchard undertakes an indulgent rambling through the dim corridors of the purported paranormal aspects of Bigfoot and explores a possible UFO connection. This chapter is decidedly out of character by comparison to the foregoing chapters. It begins with an account related by Sumerlin that draws a tenuous connection between "lost time" experience and a subsequent sighting of Bigfoot. From there, Orchard ranges far afield beyond the bounds of the Blue Mountains, citing incidents from the pages of the Bigfoot CO-OP and the MUFON UFO Journal. Finally (chapter 15) he offers an annotated bibliography of a variety of books, videotapes, and newsletters that will be of interest to the uninitiated reader.

In conclusion, Bigfoot of the Blues serves as an important chronicle of the events transpiring in this region of southeastern Washington. It is a significant and original contribution without the redundancy common to many contemporary book on the subject. The body of evidence tangential to this narrative is conspicuous, since it inclues among other things, the best documented (although not the first) case of dermatoglyphics, the first hair samples to be subjected to DNA sequencing analysis, long lines of tracks that were followed for miles by numerous witnesses and repeat appearances of recognizable trackmakers. These events represent perhaps the most intense and widely publicized activity since the Bluff Creek era of the 1950's and 1960's. Furthermore, much of the evidence has been studied extensively by three scientists, Grover Krantz, Wolf H. Fahrenbach and myself.

Admittedly, a few persistent perplexities remain, but much of the naïve criticism of the evidence is dispelled upon closer scrutiny. In my opinion, too many have been too quick to simply toss out the "baby with the bath water." As Orchard articulates it in his opening pages, the skeptics have attempted to refute the matter because they really know nothing about the subject and so can speak of it with the most authority.

D. Jeffrey Meldrum
Department of Biological Sciences
Idaho State University
Pocatello, Idaho 83209 USA

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