‘The Hoopa Project'
For Bigfoot believers and skeptics alike, a new book about sightings in the Hoopa area raises a number of challenging questions.
"The Hoopa Project" by David Paulides is the first major research report of North American Bigfoot Search, an organization formed in 2004 by a group of Silicon Valley executives curious about prior experiences they'd had in Northern California forests.
"One significant difference between NABS and every other Bigfoot organization is our dedication to stay on a regional project until every possible angle of every sighting has been researched, witnesses interviewed, locations and food sources understood, and an extensive list of variables answered," the NABS Web site says.
Paulides is the public face of NABS, which he says has members of the academic community who don't want to be exposed to ridicule by publically supporting
NABS' initial project was to gather every recorded report of a Bigfoot sighting in the four-county region of Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity and Siskiyou counties (as well as southern portions of Jackson and Curry counties in Oregon).
"We plotted those locations on a map," Paulides told The Triplicate. "This was to give us a sense of the population, migratory process, etc. When we showed this to people, they said this has never been done before."
The map helped NABS choose a location to focus its research efforts — Hoopa Valley in northern Humboldt County.
But with investigative skills developed over 20 years in law enforcement, Paulides brought a new approach to Bigfoot research — good old-fashioned detective work.
For three years, Paulides made frequent trips to Hoopa to interview locals who experienced sightings or significant interactions.
"It wasn't an easy thing to do. I originally went into the city and met a couple of Hoopa police officers. I think that former alliance helped me get my foot in the door at that level. One of these guys knew someone prominent in the community and directed me to them, and from there it took off very, very slowly."
One by one, Paulides gained the trust of his interview subjects, and often they were able to introduce him to others with Bigfoot sightings and incidents. Paulides also found reports by canvassing rural neighborhoods where sightings were more common.
He interviewed them not unlike witnesses to a crime are interviewed, eliciting as many details as possible and trying to assess their reliability. On later trips, Paulides revisited his subjects with written reports of their interviews and asked them to sign it as an affidavit affirming its accuracy.
Paulides brought in Harvey Pratt, an FBI-trained forensic sketch artist with years of law enforcement experience in Oklahoma. A member of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, Pratt's Native American background was helpful in gaining rapport with the primarily Hoopa tribal population in the valley.
The bulk of "The Hoopa Project" is detailed reports of 16 "incidents" and 33 sightings in the Hoopa area, as well as forensic sketches of most of the sightings.
The stories and pictures offer at least two important developments in Bigfoot research.
One, they demonstrate that probably the vast majority of potential sightings go unreported. Many reports in the book came from witnesses who do not make a habit of sharing their experiences. Often, these people were professionals in fields such as teaching and forest management and some were tribal leaders, including one former Hoopa tribal councilwoman. They did not approach Paulides — they were approached by others who had already come to trust him.
Paulides says he understands the hesitation to come forward.
"Coming from a police perspective, 50 percent of all rapes are not reported. Let's think about why that is," Paulides says.
"They're humiliated, embarrassed, intimidated by the legal process and don't want to come forward. A lot of the same issues apply to bigfoot. They don't want to be ridiculed or downtrodden by the community, so a lot of people shy away from anything that would draw ridicule. But the more you talk to people in the community, the more you see how prominent it is."
Paulides says he's discussed this issue with others members of NABS, and they estimate that as many as 80 percent of all sightings go unreported.
But for Paulides, the most interesting piece of information produced by the project was the overwhelming consensus about Bigfoot's appearance, which runs counter to popular modern depictions of the creature.
Crescent City newspaper articles in the late 1800s reported a 7 to 8-foot-tall biped with a hairy body and an almost human face, Paulides says.
But famous footage of a purported 1967 sighting on Bluff Creek showed something with a more ape- or gorilla-like face.
"If a witness was going to tell us a complete fabrication, they would tell it with a mindset to be accepted. It would be similar to something that has notoriety in the public," Paulides says.
But with only one exception, the forensic sketches showed hairless faces with more delicate, human-like features and large, seemingly intelligent eyes.
"That was a shocking revelation to all of us," Paulides says.
For their next project, NABS is using its investigative approach to survey sightings throughout Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity and Siskiyou counties.
"In the last year and a half we spent probably 90 percent of our time in Crescent City, Gasquet, Patrick Creek and the North Fork of the Smith River, going up to northern edge of the Siskiyou wilderness. We've spent a lot of time talking to the people of the area, delving into the historical perspectives of the region. We're doing a second round of sketches in that area with a similar group of witnesses, and I'll say that we're still very interested in stories, old or new, from that region."
For more information about NABS or to buy "The Hoopa Project," go to www.nabigfootsearch.com. If you would like to report a sighting or experience to NABS, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Published in the Daily Triplicate, Crescent City, California
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