Bigfoot Encounters

The O'Mah Carving at Willow Creek

few tidbits about the Bigfoot sculpture
greets the public on the main thoroughfare
by Bobbie Short, February 1, 2011
Photos are my own or courtesy Tom Muzilla, Peter Guttilla & two from the late Rene Dahinden

I am not a writer of tourist-type sight-seeing spots to stop and check out while traveling, but I remember my curiosity at seeing the impressive figure of a Bigfoot or O'Mah (as the Native American's call it) that greeted me the first year I drove into the focal point for all things Bigfoot, - main street Willow Creek, California. It is unmistakably the town's main attraction with its towering presence at the main intersection.

There was a gas station across the street there in Willow Creek's main intersection where I filled the tank and checked on the horse-trailer that day. People in the station were friendly and engaging and surprisingly asked if I was there to hunt bigfoot; I was and I wasn't.

Pointing to the carved Bigfoot sculpture across the street I asked if the attendant knew the man who carved it. "Jim McClarin," came his confident reply, “…in 1967, a long time ago.”

A young 21-year old dedicated Humboldt State zoology major from Sacramento, California by the name of Jim McClarin told the Times-Standard in a 1967 article by Al Tostado that he was convinced that these creatures really did exist and he hoped to lead a successful expedition into the area to capture one of the creatures.

At the time the McClarin name was not familiar to me. I asked what the attendant knew of the history of the giant redwood figure and if McClarin had carved it from memory or hopefulness? If anyone around there ever recorded the background of the carving he said, “Al Hodgson, over at the museum might know the history.” …but this was Sunday, the museum was closed…and I had miles to go and a horse-trailer to pull. This was, of course, long before the 2003 opening of the new Bigfoot wing; the late 1980's.

The Willow Creek O'Mah carving seemed to me to be one of McClarin's signature accomplishments, the one thing people see and will remember, especially after he moves to Ecuador.
That summed up all I knew about Jim McClarin at the time... aside from the widely known Patty reenactment he did, strolling along Bluff Creek for John Green's cameras in June of 1968. Photo: © Peter Guttilla 197o's...

In the 1980's, I only wanted to know what the Bigfoot beings were, I had no interest in the Patterson film or McClarin other than wanting to know if there was a story behind his carving that figure of the O'Mah. There was however, a sense that maybe the carver of the big redwood statue might know what was up with the Bigfoot in those mountains.

So it was that last year I messaged McClarin through Facebook, ever hopeful we could talk about the big O'Mah in Willow Creek for this article.

The history of the carving was all I was interested in and perhaps any related articles or photos. One might think Jim would be thrilled to talk about his work on the red wood carving, but in trying to get details of the carving's history, McClarin's process with the statue and how the statue came to be, proved a difficult task! McClarin became quite quarrelsome and defensive.  Where no clash needed to be, he responded with pointless accusations that surprised me.

Photo: Tom Muzilla © Peter Guttilla 197o -->
The exchange began easily enough, I thought... McClarin was quick to say that he launched the project in the summer of 1967. No date, just "summer" was all he was willing to say date-wise, but added quite clearly "that it was on the same day that summer that Roger Patterson filmed the creature in Bluff Creek." Of that McClarin was sure! An interesting remark I thought, because the Patterson footage was supposedly shot in late fall, not summer. At the time, McClarin was a student and was not supposed to know Patterson or Rene Dahinden.

In 1967 McClarin was a young student attending Humboldt State University; in the interview, McClarin said he would drive over to Willow Creek from Arcata and work on the carving on summer weekends.

From the outset, people stopped to admire the wood-working as it progressed and to this day, excited individuals continue to stop, read the sign, climb on it and gawk at the enormity, the sheer size of Jim's work and imagine the possibility of the creature's existence.

The large carving of Bigfoot has a daunting presence, and it appears to be striking in its impact on young imaginations. People love being photographed next to it. The first day I was there, brakes screeched and kids jumped out a VW bus in the middle of the hwy 96 and 299 intersection, blocking traffic, grabbing cameras, taking turns photographing one another and admiring what Bigfoot must look like.

No doubt, Jim McClarin's Bigfoot carving is a popular, impressive, welcoming ‘hello' for tourist, footers and home-folk alike, to which McClarin wrote: I'm not surprised about people's reaction to the statue because they were the same way while I was carving it. I don't recall the man's name who felled the tree and brought it over on his low-boy truck trailer, a logging contractor no doubt. Al Hodgson might know. I never regretted starting the statue but did feel mildly guilty about neglecting it as I sought to raise interest in a capture expedition.” Photo: © Peter Guttilla 197o...>

Adding that he (McClarin) …
“…Carved the statue to show what I thought BF looked like at the time. I'd lose the curly bangs (ala Ostman) and make other changes if I carved it again. I began the statue in summer 1967 and had come up from Arcata to work on it over the weekend on the same day Patterson shot his film. I didn't come back to finish it till 1969. Altogether I'd say it took me less than three months' worth of eight-hour days, though I can't recall if I really put in 40-hour weeks. Oh yeah, I carved statue in the rest stop across the street from where it now stands (or stood in 2003 at least)."

And about its origins, Jim wrote:
“It was a redwood tree growing across the river, planted 100 years or so earlier but dying from a beetle infestation, probably due to living outside its natural moister habitat. I don't know how it was moved or by whom but I wouldn't be surprised if a big nylon strap was put around it and it was lifted and carried via backhoe.”

In asking around for the loan of vintage photographs from various people still in bigfoot research or others who were around back when, it was thought at one time, that the left hand of McClarin's O'Mah had a club in its hand. Several footers wondered about that, but it turned out to be a rumor. McClarin addressed the notion that the statue at one time had a club in its hand this way: My statue never had a club unless some wag placed one in its left hand for a photo. Never seen such a photo though.

If you're up to microfiching in newspaper dungeons, there are a couple of 44-year old articles that note the progress of the carving that might add depth to the carving's history if you are so interested. According to McClarin, the articles are: P. B1 Los Angeles Times 8/2/67, which went world-wide. P. 99 & 100, Beyond Magazine, Nov. '68, it no longer exists. The Times Standard, Eureka, CA 6/27/68 and P. 7 Klamity Kourier, 7/9/69

…In the end, regarding what Jim McClarin evidently perceived was a book to be written in some part about him, (not) he penned these words:

“Now, as to your book effort, allow me to recommend a tack for you to take in your book regarding me. Basically you should write me off as an uncooperative crank who withheld vital information, sent you on a wild goose chase after documents that never existed, suffers delusional ideas of what role he played in the history of BF research, and has an obvious animus toward women, especially any named Bobbie.”
Wow, Jim, why the attitude?!

Other details of particpants who participated in the dedication of McClarin's caving of a Bigfoot in Willow Creek can be seen in this TIMES STANDARD article published July 1967; courtesy Scott McClean.

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