The Rocky Bemis Story With Old Articles

IN THE BEGINNING when “Bigfoot” had no name and was just a “tall guy with no shoes”, Jess Bemis, my Dad, was operating a bulldozer pioneering a logging road up Bluff Creek,  northern California.  This was in the summer of 1958 and I was 13 years old.  Since we lived in Salyer, CA. and the job was near  Orleans, CA., my Dad camped out during the week and came home on week-ends.  There were other guys on the job and many of them camped out also.  On one occasion when Dad came home, he told my Mom about some tracks that had been appearing on the job that were human in appearance but were very large. 

My Mom, Coralie Bemis, wrote a letter to Andrew Genzoli, a columnist for the Humboldt Times Newspaper, located in Eureka, California.  On September, 21, 1958, Mr. Genzoli printed in his column, RFD, the letter from my Mom.  This letter is what was to make the barefooted creature, later to be known as “Bigfoot”, become a household name around the world.  I would like to clarify that “Bigfoot” was around long before Mom wrote her letter but the media and the public wasn’t as aware of it.

The information to follow is not new but it is documented in issues of the Humboldt Times Newspaper.  I am submitting this information so that my Mom will not be known as “someone went to a newspaper with the story” (John Green’s book, “Sasquatch, the Apes Among Us, page 65) but as the person who started the Bigfoot ball rolling in northern California.
Excerpt from RFD, Andrew Genzoli’s column, printed in the Humboldt Times Newspaper, September 21, 1958.

SOMEONE, PLEASE ANSWER___This letter came to me in the mail yesterday from Mrs. Jess Bemis of Salyer...and I beg, someone, please give us the answer---quickly...

“I am writing regarding a queer situation my husband has encountered while at work.   I have read your column for a long time and have noticed that you often dig into things of various natures.  This happened when my husband recently took a land clearing job up on Bluff Creek, near Weitchpec.

The rumor started among the men at once of the existence of a “wild man”.   We regarded it as a joke and even added fuel to the story by passing on bits of information.  It was only yesterday that my husband became convinced that the existence of such a person (?)is a fact---

On their way to the job, the men found tracks going down to the road---he tracks measured 14 to 16 inches in length.  The toes were very, very short, but there were five to each foot.  The ground was soft and the prints were very clear.  In soft places the prints were deep, suggesting a great weight.  The tracks were quite wide as well as long---things such as fruit have been missed by the men camping on the job.  There are at least 15 men that will swear this is true, among them, my husband.  Have you ever heard of this wild man?” 

Well, honestly, no!  I wonder if  anyone else knows about this...Please help..maybe we have a relative of the abominable snowman of the Himalayas, our own Wandering Willie of Weitchpec...
Excerpt from RFD, Andrew Genzoli’s column, printed in Humboldt Times Newspaper, September 25, 1958.

NOW, ABOUT THOSE FOOT PRINTS...Sunday, when I printed Mrs. Jack (sic) Bemis’ letter in RFD telling about those tracks in the vicinity of Bluff Creek... near Weitchpec.. it set the old pot to boiling...

Mrs. Bemis makes her home at Salyer...and, it was her husband, Jess, who is one of the men working on a clearing job on Bluff Creek... She reported the workers has (sic) found tracks 14 to 16 inches in length...five toes and  all.  No one would guess out loud what they were, but Mrs. Bemis wanted to know if I had ever heard of a legendary wild man in that area...

Most of the “experts” around Eureka who can’t tell the difference between a cow track and that made by a turkey, swear that it is the work of a bear.. After all, they should know, for “don’t we have bears out at Sequoia Park..”  

But, Mrs. Bemis says that at least 15 men have seen the tracks..have experienced food missing from their camp on various occasions...So, she is wondering just what it is all about...

A phone call came in yesterday afternoon, quoting Larry Knudsen of Fieldbrook, who had heard of reports of a similar nature from a group of Simpson company employees...Last spring they had noticed the huge tracks about eight miles north of Korbel on the North Fork of Mad River...These observers have long been acquainted with the out-of-doors.
Excerpt from front page news story by Andrew Genzoli that showed Jerry Crew holding plaster cast of footprint, Humboldt Times Newspaper, October 5, 1958.

“While the tracks of old Big Foot have been in evidence for some time, and “rumors” have been received at the Humboldt Times office, the first new interest came to light with a note from Mrs. Jess Bemis of Salyer, on September 19.  Mrs. Bemis reported that her husband, Jess Bemis, while working on the Bluff Creek job had seen the tracks along with 15 other men...”
Column by Andrew Genzoli, Redwood Country, Humboldt Times Newspaper, September 21, 1977
Nineteen years after first Bigfoot story.

Bigfoot Story Captured the Nation 19 Years Ago

A letter sat on my desk for several days in September, 1958 waiting for space in my column, which was then known as “RFD”, with contents similar to that printed now.

The reason I didn’t rush the letter into print right away, was because I thought someone was “pulling my leg”.  And, then that thing that always happens to columnists--happened!  I had a “hole” in the column to fill and nothing to put in it, and then suddenly I remembered the letter.

The letter came from Mrs. Jess Bemis of Salyer, and what happened after I printed it you wouldn’t believe.  It was the thing that opened the flood of interest in what was to become known as “Bigfoot”.

Mrs. Bemis wanted to know if I had heard anything unusual from Bluff Creek near Weitchpec, and if I had, what did I think of it?  I had, but thought it was another one of those yarns that often follow “over-indulgence”, if you know what I mean.

She said:  “The rumor started among the men of the existence of a “wild man”.  

We regarded it as a joke and even added fuel to the story by passing on bits of information.  It was only yesterday that my husband became convinced that the existence of such a person (?) is a fact--

“On their way to the job, the men found tracks going down the road--the tracks measured 14 to 16 inches in length.  The toes were very, very short and the prints were very clear.  The tracks were quite wide as well as long--things such as fruit have been missed by the men camping on the job.  There are at least 15 men that will swear this is true, among them, my husband.  Have you ever heard of this wild man?”

Well, I said that I hadn’t, but I was willing to make light of it--something I was to swallow later.

Within a day or so, I had a half dozen calls from really reliable people who seemed to know something about this creature.  And, then gradually, I began to discover this was not anything especially new for the thing with the feet had been around quite awhile.   I had notes and letters, some fairly sensible.

Then, on a Saturday, Jerry Crew of Willow Creek, and who had been working up in the Bluff Creek area, showed up at the office with a cast of one of the footprints.  And he told us a story.  Photographs were taken,  a story written--I wrote it--and it made a good Sunday  morning story of The Humboldt Times.
The Beginning of a Stampede

The story was placed on the United Press and Associated Press wires, and I believe at the time we had International News Service.  The photos of Jerry Crew and the big foot cast went over the wire to  newspapers through out the Nation.

Sometimes editors will ignore a photo dispatch--but, not this one.  And on Monday, Tuesday, and for the rest of many days, we had reporters from all the wire services pounding on our door.  There were representatives from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Chronicle and Examiner, San Francisco, and many, many more.   Television cameras appeared from the networks and Humboldt County became a busy news source.

Fortunately, I got my “licks” in ahead of the herd when I dubbed the creature “Bigfoot”, which has held up quite well the past 19 years.  I felt it should be one word--and since it was simple it would be the easiest reference.  Since then, I have seen “Bigfoot” used on tires, a country club, clothing and other products.

In that first year I received more than 2500 letters--most of which I answered with form replies.  The story made Life, True Magazine, outdoor publications, serial books, numerous adventure magazines, nature magazines, French feature magazines, some from Australia, Italy and other parts of the world.  Numerous books have been written on our favorite subject.  I am proud to say that my name and that of ”Bigfoot” were always spelled correctly.  And, adding to that list we had the late Betty Allen, Tom Slick, the noted Texan who explored the “Bigfoot” country-side.  And we had many, many, not so honorable intruders.  I am sure no one has ever seen “Bigfoot”--including the man who said he made a “motion picture” of the big one.  The picture he made was a fluke and a fake.  And, after checking on the rest of the crowd who said they had seen “Bigfoot”, I found they were all phony.  I repeat--no one has honestly ever seen Bigfoot.
Worthy of Legend Status

While a lot of people have made money on the Bigfoot story--I have not for it was not my “moment”.  But I have had the honor of telling the story.  To Scoop Beal and a lot of other important reporters. Bigfoot meant a check--but, to me this was a lasting, living historical legend. 

Is there really a “Bigfoot”?  I don’t know, but it is something worth researching.  Asked:  Do I believe there is a “Bigfoot”? and I will not say “No”, but I will say “I don’t know”.  I hope there is.  Is the “Bigfoot” legend good for the countryside?  I insist legends and history are all good for our Humboldt-Del Norte country.  Legends never hurt anyone-and I am glad to see Willow Creek capitalizing on a celebration honoring “Bigfoot”.

Tourists from all over world have stopped to talk to me, and so have scientists, historians, authors and many more.  They have heard of “Bigfoot” in the remotest corners of the world--and that means they have heard of Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

I am always delighted with letters from children, who tell me they are doing a story about “Bigfoot” for their class project.  They write from Illinois, Maine, Washington, Florida--the last letters are from New York, Indiana and Texas.  Texans are especially excited about “Bigfoot” because they are in a big state where big things are pleasing.

After all the discovery of “Bigfoot”, this column received all kinds of unusual notes about the giant salamanders of New River; huge woodrats in the woods in the Wildcat area above Ferndale; the white breasted, red mice of the Kneeland area; the migration of the porcupine to the Humboldt-Del Norte coasts--these bore fact, while some of the other stories about coyotes singing a perfect scale of notes, and some other things left me with a doubt.

I heard Father Hubbard, the famous Santa Clara priest and volcanologist, talk in Fortuna one time, and he mentioned the giant salamanders of the New River country.  In the 1860’s there is a printed reference to huge waterdogs in the gold mining country which frightened miners.

Well, these 19 years with “Bigfoot” have been delightful.  And it has been fun weeding out the possible from the impossible. 

If you have a legitimate meeting with “Bigfoot”, take a snapshot, but don’t shoot him, for he’s a friend of mine.
Rocky Bemis