The Bigfoot Mystery

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Most people probably don’t consider Bigfoot to be a real mystery at all, just a kind of woodland urban myth that has grown over the years supported by the shameless exploitation of a few clever entrepreneurs. A kind of hairy Loch Ness Monster in fact. After all, surely it’s not logical to think that a large unknown creature could exist in somewhere as populated as North America without rapidly becoming known? Even to admit an interest in this subject is to invite scorn and sniggers in certain quarters.

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Skamania County, Washington passed a law in 1984 making Bigfoot a protected species.

But, here in Mystery Ink we laugh at scorn and sniggers and instead we assess mysteries based purely on the evidence, not on whether other people take them seriously. So, let’s head for the deep woods and see if we can see whether what we have here is an unknown animal or just an astute way of selling overpriced t-shirts and fridge magnets.

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Sightings

The idea of a large, hairy hominid living in the forests of what is now the northern USA and Canada has been around for a long time. Native American culture includes many references to a “hairy man” or “big man”. These seem to refer to something very similar to what we’d now call Bigfoot. However, while tribes such as the Hopi, the Sioux and the Iroquois clearly regard this creature as a supernatural or spirit being, those who live in the North West of America such as the Man and the Nez Perce tribes regard Bigfoot as a real creature with whom they share the forests. These tribes describe behavioural characteristics such as extreme shyness when confronted by humans, generally nocturnal activity which includes screaming or screeching cries, a diet which includes nuts, berries, fish and possibly game and a tendency to feed and forage in small family units. Native Americans also note that the presence of Bigfoot is characterized by a bad smell (“like rotting meat”) and that it keeps hidden by standing very still behind trees.

As white settlers moved into Native American lands, they also began to report encountering this creature. In the early 1800s accounts began to appear in newspapers of something often referred to as “The Wild Man of the Woods”. Contemporary reporting often ascribed these sightings to a human or humans who had taken to living wild in the forests but their description and characteristics seem to match closely the Hairy Man described by Native American tribes. Some of the accounts by settlers report aggression on the part of these creatures. However it is notable that these are often reported as following an attack or killing of one of the creatures by settlers – Native Americans generally did not hunt or attack these creatures and seem to have lived peacefully with them. In December 1851 a New Zealand Newspaper, the Wellington Independent, referenced to an earlier article from the Memphis Enquirer:

“The Memphis (U.S.) Enquirer gives an account of a wild man recently discovered in Arkansas. It appears, that during March last, Mr. Hamilton, of Greene County, Arkansas, while out hunting with an acquaintance, observed a drove of cattle in a state of apparent alarm, evidently pursued by some dreadful enemy. Halting for the purpose, they soon discovered, as the animals fled by them, that they were followed by an animal bearing the unmistakable likeness of humanity. He was of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair, and the head with long locks that fairly covered his neck and shoulders. The wild man, after looking at them deliberately for a short time, turned and ran away with great speed, leaping from 12 to 14 feet at a time, his footprints measuring 13 inches each. This singular creature, the Enquirer says, has been long known traditionally in St Francis, Greene, and Poinsett counties, Arkansas, sportsmen and hunters having described him about seventeen years since.”

Researchers in northern California in the 1920s spoke to Catherine, a woman of Tolowa Indian heritage whose father was an Irish immigrant. Catherine told several stories about Hairy Man recounted by her Tolowa grandfather and covering a period around 1870 – 1880.

“I remember my Grandfather telling stories of a large, hair covered man-creature. As a young boy, he was hunting and felt like he was not alone. He sat still near a bush, and waited to see who might be following him. Not 30 feet away was a tall, muscular hair-covered creature standing behind a tree. He watched it for a few minutes until it turned and walked away up the hill. He told his father about this and his father said that they were a quiet “people” who shared the bounty of the forests and rivers with the Indians.

Many had been seen, but it was considered evil to kill one, as they had never harmed the Indians. In the evenings, they could be heard screaming in the woods communicating with each other.

My brother Joe, 10 years my junior, saw what appeared to be a mother with a youngster in tow. The infant was playing with a stick near the creek while the mother stood stock still and watched. When she noticed my brother across the creek, she grabbed the young one by the shoulder, pulled him in front of her, and she herded him into the trees. She looked back a few times to see if Joe was following. He was amazed at how quiet and stealthy they were. The mother was dark and uniform in color, while the young one was more mottled, with lighter fur on the torso and shoulders.”

In 1929 MacLean’s Magazine, a weekly Canadian news magazine, published an article titled “British Columbia’s Hairy Giants” which included a letter from a reader who claimed to have seen a Bigfoot at close range in 1921.

 “Dear Sir:

I have your letter asking is it true or not that I saw a hairy giant-man at Agassiz last September, while picking hops there. It is true and the facts are as follows: This happened at the close of September (1921) when we were having a feast. Adaline August and myself walked to her father’s orchard, which is about four miles from the hop fields. We were walking on the railroad track and within a short distance of the orchard, when the girl noticed something walking along the track coming toward us. I looked up but paid no attention to it, as I thought it was some person on his way to Agassiz. But as he came closer we noticed that his appearance was very odd, and on coming still closer we stood still and were astonished – seeing that the creature was naked and covered with hair like an animal. We were almost paralyzed from fear. I picked up two stones with which I intended to hit him if he attempted to molest us, but within fifty feet or so he stood up and looked at us.

He was twice as big as the average man, with hands so long that they almost touched the ground. It seemed to me that his eyes were very large and the lower part of his nose was wide and spread over the greater part of his face, which gave the creature such a frightful appearance that I ran away as fast as I could. After a minute or two I looked back and saw that he resumed his journey. The girl had fled before I left, and she ran so fast that I did not overtake her until I was close to Agassiz, where we told the story of our adventure to the Indians who were still enjoying themselves. Old Indians who were present said: the wild man was no doubt a “Sasquatch” a tribe of hairy people whom they claim have always lived in the mountains – in tunnels and caves.”

There were sporadic sightings and newspaper reports in the US and Canada in the first half of the Twentieth Century but it wasn’t until 1958 that Bigfoot entered the modern popular imagination. In August and then again in October of that year a tractor operator named Jerry Crew was working on a remote construction site in northwest California when he saw a series of huge footprints in the muddy ground. On the second occasion he made a plaster cast of one of the footprints and took it to his local newspaper, the Humboldt Times. The newspaper ran a story that featured a photograph of Crew with the sixteen inch plaster footprint. The story was picked up nationally and internationally and suddenly “Bigfoot” was big news (common usage of the name “Bigfoot” seems to date from this period). However, although they were originally thought to be genuine, there is now good reason to believe that the footprints discovered by Jerry Crew may actually have been part of an elaborate hoax perpetrated by his boss, Ray Wallace.

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Jerry Crew with footprint – the picture which appeared on the front page of the Humboldt Times in October 1958.

After 1958 (and particularly after the release of the Paterson-Gimlin film in 1967, see below) sightings and the discovery of footprints became more often reported in the press. Sightings tended to be initially clustered in northern California, Oregon and Washington and in British Columbia in Canada. In years that followed, sightings spread right across the USA and currently there is barely a single US state that hasn’t reported some form of Bigfoot activity. However, the highest numbers of sightings are still reported from the northern west coast states.

The Patterson-Gimlin Film

In 1967 a man named Roger Patterson decided to make a documentary about Bigfoot. Patterson was very interested in this topic and had written a book on the subject after spending several years investigating sightings and examining footprints. Patterson hired a Kodak K-100 16mm film camera (one of the highest quality home movie cameras available at the time) and bought several 100 foot reels of Kodachrome color film. Patterson was aware of recent Bigfoot sightings in the Bluff Creek area at the northern tip of California, not far from the towns of Eureka and Arcata. He decided to go to this area and took with him Bob Gimlin, an experienced tracker and outdoorsman. As they would be spending time in forests and far from paved roads, the men undertook their expedition on horseback, each riding a horse and with a third pack horse loaded with camping equipment and supplies. Patterson began filming scenes of the forest landscape and Bob Gimlin on horseback and by the afternoon of the 20th October he had used around 77 feet of the 100 foot reel in the camera.

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Roger Patterson’s 1966 book about Bigfoot

The two men claimed that they then rounded a bend in a trail in the Bluff Creek area and saw a large animal which startled their horses. Roger Patterson jumped off his horse and filmed the creature as it walked away from the men and disappeared into the trees. Patterson continued to film until the reel in the camera ran out. After following the creature for a time, the two men returned to the area where they had first seen it and examined footprints which they found there. Patterson used a second reel to film the footprints. The men then returned to their base camp and truck and drove to the closest town where Patterson sent the films to his brother-in-law Al DeAltlay to have them developed. They then drove back to their homes in Yakima in Washington State and on Sunday October 22nd finally saw the developed film.

YouTube video showing the complete first reel of film shot by Roger Patterson. The part showing the alleged Bigfoot sighting begins at 2:35.

What became known as the “Patterson-Gimlin Film” (PGF) provided one of the most iconic images in cryptozoology and started a debate that still rages. Almost every “fact” quoted in the the story told by Patterson and Gimlin has been challenged at some point but the debate boils down to one central question: Was the creature in the PGF genuine or simply a hoax involving a man in some sort of Bigfoot suit? A number of eminent scientists have viewed the film and adopted diametrically opposite views. Some have maintained that the movement of the figure in the PDF could not be replicated by a man in a suit and that this proves that the film must be genuine. Others have equally vehemently claimed that the film is a laughably inept hoax.  Dr. Grover Krantz, Professor of Anthropology at Washington State University, said of the PGF:

“I went through it, frame by frame, measuring everything I could on it… what the body proportions were… and I can state flatly that there is no human being alive who could fit into a costume with the dimensions that are shown there.”

Dr Dmitri Donskoy, Chief of the Chair of Biomechanics at the USSR Central Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow agreed:

“…with all the diversity of human gaits, such a walk as demonstrated by the creature in the film is absolutely non-typical of man.”

But Dr John Napier, a physical anthropologist and former head of the primate program at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington disagreed entirely:

“There is little doubt that the scientific evidence taken collectively points to a hoax of some kind. The creature shown in the film does not stand up well to functional analysis. I could not see the zipper; and I still can’t. There I think we must leave the matter.

Dr. William Montagna, director of the federal primate center at Beaverton, Oregon, was even more certain:

“Along with some colleagues, I had the dubious distinction of being among the first to view this few-second-long bit of foolishness. As I sat watching the hazy outlines of a big, black, hairy man-ape taking long, deliberate human strides, I blushed for those scientists who spent unconscionable amounts of time analyzing the dynamics, and angulation of the gait and the shape of the animal, only to conclude (cautiously, mind you) that they could not decide what it was. Stated simply, Patterson and friends perpetrated a hoax. As the gait, erect body, and swing of the arms attest, their Sasquatch was a large man in a poorly made monkey suit. Even a schoolchild would not be taken in.”

Since 1967 the debate has continued, joined by people from the movie and television industry who had been involved in producing convincing primates for the large and small screens – Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey were both released in 1968 and both included humans wearing realistic ape (or ape-man) suits. You won’t be surprised to hear that some of these professionals have concluded that it simply wasn’t possible to create a convincing Bigfoot costume with the technology available in 1967 while others have equally confidently claimed that this was not only possible but would have been relatively simple. The fact that Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? had been published the previous year, and that this book included a sketch by Patterson of what Bigfoot might look like which showed a female with pendulous breasts (and the PGF seems to show a Bigfoot with breasts) was taken by some as further proof that the PGF must be a fake.

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Sketch of a female Bigfoot by Patterson from Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?

In the early 2000s a man called Bob Hieronimous “confessed” that he was the person in the Bigfoot suit in the PGF. He explained that he had accompanied Patterson and Gimlin on their expedition in 1967 and had donned a home-made Bigfoot suit for filming. Hieronimous certainly knew Gimlin – it was one of Hieronimous’ horses that Gimlin rode in October 1967. In 2005 National Geographic featured Hieronimous in a documentary about Bigfoot screened as part of the “Is it real?” series. On the show Hieronimous demonstrated the “special walk” that he had developed for the PGF and offered to replicate it in a new film which would demonstrate once and for all that the PGF was a fake. Unfortunately the film made by National Geographic looked nothing like the original PGF and the gait and movement of Hieronimous in the suit looked like, well, a rather stout man lumbering across the screen in a cheaply made Bigfoot suit. It later became known that witnesses who had met Patterson and Gimlin on their 1967 expedition were quite certain that no third man was present. Most people now accept that Hieronimous’ confession was false and nothing more than an attempt to obtain money through courting publicity. One of the few cases where the alleged exposure of a hoax appears itself to be a hoax.

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Bob Hieronimous demonstrates special walk and Bigfoot suit

Although many people have claimed that the PGF is an obvious fake, no-one has been able to replicate the bulk, proportions and movement of the original. In the late 1990s there was a BBC Television documentary series called “X Creatures”. One of the episodes looked at Bigfoot and the PGF in particular. The show purported to show how easy it would have been to fake the PGF by getting a Hollywood costume designer to produce a Bigfoot suit. What it actually did was to demonstrate how difficult this is.

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Bigfoot suit from X Creatures

The Bigfoot suit produced for the show looked laughably unlike figure in the PGF and an attempt to recreate the PGF looked so silly that this part of the show was quietly dropped in later versions (though the contention that it would be easy to replicate the PGF remained).

There are so many contradictory views on the PGF, many held by sensible, rational people with a high degree of expertise in their respective fields that it’s very difficult to know what to believe. For every “expert” who says one thing there seems to be another who says the exact opposite. When I first saw the PGF, many years ago, my initial reaction was: “It’s a man in a suit”. But I suspect that was simply a reaction to the sheer unlikeliness of someone actually having managed to film Bigfoot. I have watched it many times since, and I’m still not certain. There is certainly something about the gait and bulk of the figure that makes it seem unlike a human. But not enough that you look at it and it is immediately apparent that it can’t be a person. Though, if this is truly a film of a large hominid (i.e. a creature of the same family as Homo sapiens) maybe it would move rather like a human?

I guess my overall feeling is that, if the film is so clearly a fake (as lots of people confidently attest), why has no-one succeeded in convincingly replicating it? Every attempt that I have seen at debunking the PGF by replicating it ends up looking silly, or wrong, or both, even attempts made by Hollywood professionals who you’d expected to know how to do this. And simply saying that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, so the PGF must be a fake is a tautology which doesn’t move things on at all.

Other films and photographs

A vast number of alleged Bigfoot photographs and a small number of films and videos have emerged in the years since the PGF. Some are obvious fakes. Some are not obvious fakes, but have later proved to be hoaxes. A small number may be genuine, but none show a Bigfoot in sufficient detail to allow us to make any sensible deductions about what it may be. A selection follow, though you can find many, many more through the wonders of Google.

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Photograph allegedly taken in July 1995 by a Forest Patrol Officer in the Wild Creek Area of the Snoqualamie National Forest, Western Washington. Said to be one of fourteen photographs taken during a single sighting. The Forest Patrol Officer remained anonymous but sold seven of the photographs to Cliff Crook, a Bigfoot researcher. Good detail but there have been a number of allegations by other Bigfoot researchers that Cliff Crook is a known hoaxer.

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Photograph taken in June 2014 in Virginia near the Intracoastal Highway. The photographer was fishing when what he claims was a Bigfoot appeared on the opposite bank of the river. However, distance and relatively poor detail mean that it’s difficult to be completely certain what this photograph actually shows. The photographer also claimed that he had a Bigfoot encounter in the same area 25 years before.

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Photograph taken on shores of Table Rock Lake in Kimberling City, Missouri. Claimed to show a Bigfoot but detail is not sufficiently clear to be certain what we are actually looking at.

Video which is claimed to show Bigfoot in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in August 1995. The video was made by a film crew from Waterland Productions who were filming a pilot episode of a new show starring former Playboy Playmate Anna Marie Goddard (this clip was originally referred to as the “Playmate Bigfoot video” though it is now generally called the “Redwoods video”). Ms Goddard and other members of the crew were returning after a shoot when they took this film from their RV. Everyone present in the RV claimed to have seen the creature and confirmed that it was Bigfoot. Unfortunately, the video is very poor quality and it’s impossible to be certain what we are seeing. Following the release of this clip it was notable that Ms Goddard and her colleagues appeared on a number of television shows to discuss this sighting and video where they also took the opportunity to talk about the new show they were filming. Which led some cynical people to assume that the whole thing was a publicity stunt.

In recent years there have also been several reality television shows devoted to the search for Bigfoot or which feature Bigfoot as part of a series. The best known is probably “Finding Bigfoot” which began in 2011 and has now run for nine seasons (Season 10 will premiere soon) and over 90 episodes and has become one of Animal Planet’s most popular shows. Presented by the aptly named Matt Moneymaker, founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), this show claims to be a rational, scientific investigation of the Bigfoot story. It’s nothing of the kind. The show begins with the premise that Bigfoot is real and attempts to find evidence to support this view. The TV Special “Killing Bigfoot” (2014) featured the brave people of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization who are pledged to protect the residents of the Gulf Coast area from Bigfoot attack and to advance the cause of science by running around the forest in camouflage gear while carrying big guns and shouting a lot. Soon to be followed by Killing Bigfoot – the series. There are many other reality TV shows which have featured the hunt for Bigfoot, but I simply can’t muster the energy to talk about them in detail.

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You see, all these TV reality shows about Bigfoot have two things in common: 1. They’re utterly, abysmally crap, ignoring even the most basic premises of scientific enquiry in favour of what passes for light entertainment and, 2. None of them have found any credible evidence of Bigfoot. None. Zip. Just think about that for a moment. In around eighty hours of television (and who can guess how much raw footage was recorded in order to produce that 80 hours) Finding Bigfoot has actually found absolutely nothing. That’s a hell of a lot of people spending time in areas where Bigfoot is said to be seen with hi-tech, night-vision cameras and other equipment, and what do we have to show for it? Nada. At the very least, that’s kind of surprising.

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There are just three theories here:

  1. That all photographs, films and footprint casts are deliberate fakes and that all sighting reports are misidentifications and/or hoaxes.
  2. That Bigfoot is some form of supernatural being.
  3. That Bigfoot is a real animal and most likely some form of large, unknown hominid.

There is no doubt that some Bigfoot footprints, films and photographs are deliberate hoaxes. But, are there any that scientific analysis proves are 100% genuine and conclusively show an unknown animal? The answer, sadly, seems to be no (with the possible exception of the Elk Wallow footprints which are discussed in detail in the “My Thoughts” section below). It is very frustrating that for almost every footprint, photograph and video which isn’t an obvious fake there seem to be experts who will confidently state that these are absolutely genuine. And there will be an equal number of equally well qualified experts who will vehemently maintain that they are obvious hoaxes. If experts and scientific analysis can’t help us, we must use other methods to assess the validity of sightings, photographs and videos.

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The Photo on the right surfaced in 2014 and was claimed to show a hunter with a dead Bigfoot in the early 1900s. It didn’t take long for someone to find the original postcard on the left showing a hunter with a dead bear from which the fake dead Bigfoot image was created.

To do this we must assess not just a sighting, photograph or video but also consider its provenance – who reported the sighting/took the photograph or video and where and when did this happen? Is this person familiar with the area and its wildlife? Do they stand to gain from the sighting/photograph financially or in any other way? Are they predisposed to see Bigfoot or do they have a background of claiming to see or photograph other anomalous creatures? What were the circumstances of the sighting/photograph? If a city dwelling Bigfoot enthusiast visits the forest and interprets a dimly seen shape at dusk or strange noises in the night as a Bigfoot, this may be true. But it may also be something entirely known misreported by someone who wants to encounter Bigfoot. On the other hand if a hunter or forester familiar with the terrain and wildlife and who has no interest in Bigfoot reports a sighting, we will probably be more inclined to take this more seriously.

Using these criteria, are there any sightings, photographs or videos which stand out as likely to be genuine? There are certainly large numbers of reported sightings which meet the criteria. However, while individual sightings are persuasive, especially when they are made by those who have good experience of the outdoors and the creatures which live there, by their nature sightings aren’t replicable, testable or verifiable and for those reasons they cannot constitute irrefutable proof of the existence of Bigfoot. In terms of photographs, there are several which we have no valid reason to doubt. But none of them show anything but a vaguely human shape or simply a distant black blob. Certainly none show sufficient detail that we can be absolutely certain that we’re not looking at, for example, a practical joker in a gorilla suit playing a prank upon the photographer. Not that I’m suggesting that all known photographs are fakes or practical jokes – but if a photograph is to constitute proof of an unknown species, it’s going to need to show more detail than those Bigfoot photographs that have so far appeared.

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Still from “Snow Walker” video which was claimed to show a large hominid walking up a snowy hill. Many experts vouched for its authenticity before the makers of the television show on which it was to be used admitted that it was a fake.

The same thing applies to videos. Since the PGF, no-one has been able to film an alleged Bigfoot with the same clarity. The videos we have generally show brief glimpses of something that might be a large hominid. But none of them are good enough that we can be certain about what we are seeing. The lack of good photographic or video evidence of Bigfoot is a problem for those who believe that it’s a real creature. Over the last ten years or so ownership of mobile telephones which include high quality digital cameras and/or videos cameras has increased exponentially. Given that large numbers of Bigfoot sightings continue to be reported, why haven’t we seen any of these backed-up by detailed unambiguous photographs or videos taken with these cameras? Perhaps the answer is that the sightings aren’t quite as unequivocal as claimed – maybe, just like the photographs, these sightings are actually of distant, half-seen figures which may (or may not) be Bigfoot.

Misidentifications are also possible. I once encountered a black bear while I was alone in a remote area of the northern USA and I can confirm that in these circumstances, bears are a) Big, and b) Scary. I saw the bear very clearly (it was rummaging in a litter bin next to a road while I was standing by my car nearby) and I was in no doubt about what it was. However, I can easily imagine half seeing something large moving rapidly through trees and dense undergrowth and concluding that you might have seen a Bigfoot, particularly if you were predisposed to do so. I imagine that bears and other known animals account for at least some Bigfoot sightings. But, not for all of them. Some eyewitnesses report having a very clear view of Bigfoot and describe something that obviously isn’t a bear or any other known animal. Where these people are familiar with the environment in which the sighting takes place, it’s very difficult to write these off as misidentification. In these circumstances we can only conclude that these people are liars or fantasists or that they have actually seen an unknown animal.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the theory that Bigfoot is some sort of supernatural being. Briefly, some people suggest that Bigfoot is a ghost, or a spirit being of some sort or an extraterrestrial creature from another dimension which accounts for it only being intermittently visible to humans. Or it may possibly be some form of alien hybrid which is also associated with UFO encounters. This theory neatly explains why we don’t have any hard physical evidence of Bigfoot but cannot be subjected to any sort of rational analysis. Take for example this quote from an Internet forum discussing Bigfoot:

“There is actually a great deal of video evidence of Bigfoot displaying paranormal characteristics. I have seen them diffuse into a cloud of atoms. They can change their color to match the surroundings and blend in. They congregate with other “forest beings” some of which resemble dwarfs, and elves. Until you have seen them it sounds crazy, I know.”

Yes, it does. And just for the record, I am aware of precisely zero video evidence of Bigfoot displaying paranormal characteristics. If you believe that Bigfoot is an interdimensional space ghost, there is probably nothing I can say to dissuade you. I can’t prove that it’s not and you can’t provide any evidence that it is which would be understandable in terms of current terrestrial science. And I’m afraid I’d want some hard evidence before I’d consider moving this theory out of the “Pretty Bloody Unlikely” category.

Which leaves us with the theory that Bigfoot is a real animal. Unfortunately there are major problems with this theory too. Mainly, these are that no remains of a dead Bigfoot have ever been found and no hard evidence such as hair has ever been tested and proven to be from an unknown animal. In 2012 researchers at Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology called museums, scientists and private individuals to send in samples of hair share any samples they believed came from Bigfoot, the Himalayan Yeti or the Almasty, the legendary Russian ape-like creature. They received over 90 samples from around the world. Several were quickly discarded because they clearly weren’t hair – one sample turned out to be fibre-glass. Others did not yield enough valid DNA to be analysed but thirty hair samples were finally tested. One of these turned out to be human and twenty-seven were from known animals including bear, raccoon, tapir and sheep. In a bizarre twist, two of the samples (one from India and one from Bhutan – both claimed to be Yeti) provided DNA that was said to  match precisely with DNA extracted from the fossilized jaw of an extinct prehistoric polar bear that lived more than 40,000 years ago! This last finding has never been satisfactorily explained, but is notable is that none of the hair samples tested provided the DNA of an unknown ape-like creature.

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Oxford geneticist Brian Sykes, the man responsible for DNA testing claimed Bigfoot/Yeti hair

So, no Bigfoot hair. And no dead Bigfoot or Bigfoot skeleton either. Which is pretty strange when you think about it. If there is a viable community of Bigfoot living in the northern USA and Canada, there must be a fair number of these creatures; maybe hundreds, perhaps even thousands and according to reports they must have existed for at least two hundred years and probably much longer. Over the years, many, many Bigfoot must have died. Lots of people hike and hunt in the forests where Bigfoot is reputed to live and in many areas there are extensive logging operations. Yet as far as we know a Bigfoot has never been run down by a passing truck or car or been shot by a hunter or simply fallen of a cliff or into a lake and died. And if one has ever died of hunger, old age or illness, no-one has yet found its remains. One would have to expect that the bones of a 350-400kg, seven-eight foot tall creature would be massive enough to remain as evidence for quite some time. But nothing of this sort has been found and that’s a major negative for the theory that Bigfoot is real. Nor have any of the many, many expeditions which have set out to find, film or shoot Bigfoot ever produced anything tangible and unequivocal (apart from possibly Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, of course).

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Let’s begin by looking in detail at one sighting and the subsequent discovery of footprints. This certainly isn’t the only time a sighting has been backed-up by footprints, but this case is unusual because casts of the footprints were subject to a detailed forensic examination. On June 10th, 1982, U.S. Forest Service patrolman Paul Freeman was surveying elk in the Umatilla National Forest, on the border of Washington and Oregon states when he saw at fairly close range an animal which he described as being of roughly human shape and proportions, covered in hair and with a height of about eight feet. Freeman called in his sighting and additional Forest Service staff from the Walla Walla Ranger District Office joined him and all of them saw a number of unusual footprints which seemed to have been made by a single, large creature walking upright. A number of photographs were taken and a plaster cast was made of one of the footprints. The following day a search and rescue team on a training exercise in the same general area found more footprints. They took photographs and made a single plaster cast of one of the footprints. They also tried (unsuccessfully) to track the creature which had left the footprints.  One week later, on June 17th, Freeman and other Forest Service staff found more, similar footprints a few miles away at a place called Elk Wallow, this time apparently made by two creatures (one set of tracks seemed to match the initial set of tracks). Again, photographs were taken and plaster casts were made of three of the footprints.  During the following winter, Freeman and other Forest Service staff found additional tracks on several occasions. These footprints seemed to have been made by the two creatures which had been tracked at Elk Wallow plus two more individuals. Large numbers of photographs were taken of the prints and in all eleven plaster casts were made of footprints which appeared to have been made by four different creatures of the same type.

The plaster casts and photographs of footprints were initially subjected to a detailed examination by Dr Grover S. Krantz, an evolutionary anthropologist from Washington State University. Krantz also had these casts examined by a number of scientists with experience of examining fingerprint and footprint evidence for law enforcement agencies.

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Dr Krantz with a cast of one of the Elk Wallow footprints

Dr Krantz’ conclusion after his examination was that the tracks were genuine. The fine soil in the area where the footprints were found retained detail that allowed the observation of elements such as dermal ridges and even sweat pores. An analysis of the tracks noted that whatever had made them was flexible and articulated as a real foot would be (i.e. they were not made by a rigid object such as might be expected if fake feet were used). Dr Krantz noted:

The skin makes it a higher primate, without specifying monkey, ape, or man. It is bipedal (no hand or knuckle prints show), and thus with upright posture. The stride indicates a stature of almost 2.5 m if it has a human body-to-leg ratio, where stature is twice the striding gait. (If it has an ape or monkey ratio it must be somewhat taller.) A body weight of about 400 kg is consistent with the depth of impressions, and with the indicated sole cushioning pad. The stature and weight would indicate a body build much more heavy-set than is usual for humans. The short toes, nondiverging first digit, and transverse midsole ridges all indicate a hominid — a member of the zoological family Hominidae that also includes humans.”

Discussing the possibility that the footprints were faked, Dr Krantz continued:

“… the three plaster casts show a degree of detailed anatomy that cannot be dismissed so easily. The supposed track hoaxer somehow managed to include microscopic detail that matches the foot skin of a higher primate. There are clearly formed dermal ridges, with sweat pores, over large parts of these three imprints. These details are of the correct size, shape, and orientation in each area for gigantic hominid feet. Some peculiarities include arched toe-tip prints, and very short toes that lack flexion creases. All possible sources of primate friction skin have been considered, and none can account for these characteristics. In addition, the hoaxer had the ridge relief slightly worn down in exactly the areas where the most weight would be supported on feet of this size and design. Finally, the incomplete pattern formation of displacia occurs on just the areas where it would be normal for feet and toes of this size.

Our track maker is an excellent outdoorsman of incredible size and strength. He is able to move about, largely unseen, over vast wilderness areas, leaving many tracks. He does not depend on vehicles to get in and out of the areas where the tracks are found. He is able to imprint the ground with tracks that are anatomically correct for a gigantic hominid. And he is able to leave, on occasion, clear impressions of primate friction skin. Such a track maker is not really impossible — just not Homo sapiens.

The casts were also examined by Douglas M. Monsoor, a Supervisor at the Criminalistics Unit, Department of Public Safety, Lakewood, Colorado. Mr Monsoor commented:

“I see the presence of ridge structure in these track casts which, in my examination, appears consistent with that type of ridge structure you would find in a human. Under magnification, they evidence all the minute characteristics similar to human dermal ridges. The sizes, distributions, and orientations of the ridge patterns are consistent with those found on a human foot. Of the ridge structure visible in the impressions, I believe it was produced concurrent with the creation of the overall impressions, and not added later.

If hoaxing were involved, I can conceive of no way in which it could have been done. They appear to be casts of original impressions of a primate foot — of a creature different from any of which I am aware.”

Robert D. Olsen, Sr., a Criminalist at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in Topeka, Kansas also examined the casts:

“Based on everything I see, there is nothing in these tracks that is inconsistent with the impressions of an actual living primate foot. Ridges and pores are consistent with real primate skin. I’m convinced that this represents real friction skin and shows no inconsistencies in structure or orientation.

If they are faked, the individual would have to know an extraordinary amount about fingerprinting. I could not have done it. A faker would have to be an accomplished artist as well as an expert on dermatoglyphics. He would also need a knowledge of gross anatomy of feet. The amount of time needed to do all this work is beyond the realm of believability.”

And finally by Benny Kling, an Instructor at the Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas, Wyoming:

“These track casts show all the characteristics of real friction skin derived from a higher primate footprint. The ridge details, in all respects, duplicate that found in human feet. Parts of the pattern on right and left feet are near-mirror images; some displacia is indicated in the areas where it could be expected; smoothing by wear shows on the weight-bearing areas. In addition, the footprints indicate that an unusual proportion on the body weight fell on the front of the foot, and the arches are evidently flat.

This kind of print could not have been made by a human foot, nor that of any known animal. It could not have been manufactured by any hoaxer; the design is too dermatoglyphically correct, and the engraving job would be beyond the capabilities of the best forger. Descriptions of the supposed Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, are consistent with the traits found in these footprints.”

Other criminologists who were shown the footprints generally agreed. However, anthropologists and zoologists weren’t so sure. The problem seems to be one of approach. Zoologists started with the point of view that there is no such thing as Bigfoot (or at least, those who wanted to avoid ridicule and keep their jobs did) and that the footprints therefore must be fake, even if they couldn’t explain how or why this might have been done. The criminologists simply wanted to assess if the prints were genuine (after all, if someone can fake hominid footprints as well as this, they could presumably also fake human footprints which might impact the science of crime scene investigation) and had no professional reputation to risk if they assessed that they were. This problem was neatly summed up by Dr D W Grieve, a Reader in Biomechanics at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, one of a panel of scientists who were asked to review the Patterson-Gimlin film:

“My subjective impressions have oscillated between total acceptance of the Sasquatch on the grounds that the film would be difficult to fake, to one of irrational rejection based on an emotional response to the possibility that the Sasquatch actually exists. This seems worth stating because others have reacted similarly to the film.”

In 1996 another academic contacted Paul Freeman, this time Jeffrey Meldrum. Meldrum was an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, an expert on foot morphology and locomotion in monkeys, apes and hominids and someone who had studied the evolution of bipedalism and later went on to edit the standard academic treatise on the subject: Biped to Strider (2004). In short, the kind of person you would expect to know how to assess alleged hominid footprints. Meldrum had read Dr Krantz reports on the Elk Hollow footprints. He was also aware that Paul Freeman had become interested in Bigfoot since his encounter in 1982 and was still regularly reporting finding and casting footprints. Many of Meldrum’s colleagues suspected a long-term hoax and Meldrum later said that in talking with Freeman he didn’t expect to be shown real hominid footprints, but he was interested in finding out how the faked footprints had been produced. When they met in 1996, Freeman explained that he had actually found fresh footprints that very morning, but that they weren’t especially good and for that reason he had not bothered to take casts.

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Jeffrey Meldrum with a Bigfoot cast

Morgan asked to see these new prints anyway and what he saw changed his view completely. Freeman took Meldrum to see a number of 14-inch-long footprints not far from Walla Walla. Meldrum noted that some were turned out at a 45-degree angle, suggesting that whatever made them had looked back over its shoulder. Some showed dermal ridges, some were flat as if the creature was walking normally but the prints that Meldrum found most interesting were those that seemed to have been made by running feet – in these prints there was an imprint the front part of the foot only, with imprints of toes gripping the mud. With his knowledge of primate feet, Meldrum decided that it would be almost impossible to fake these footprints, “unless you had some device, some cable-loaded flexible toes.” Instead of uncovering a hoax, as he had expected, Meldrum became convinced that the footprints he had seen were real. In the following years he studied many more Bigfoot prints and went on to publish a book about his investigations in 2006: Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Of this book Meldrum later said: “My book is not an attempt to convince people of the existence of Sasquatch, rather it argues that the evidence that exists fully justifies the investigation and the pursuit of this question.

Paul Freeman and other Rangers in the Walla Walla area continued to report finding large Hominid footprints after 1996. Freeman became obsessed by Bigfoot and particularly by proving that his footprint casts and sightings were not faked. Over the years he reported so many sightings and finding so many footprints that some people began to ridicule the evidence that he claimed to have found. In 1994 he told a reporter that he sometimes wished he had never said anything about his original 1982 sighting. Freeman died of complications from diabetes in 2003.

Link to a video made by Paul Freeman in 1994. The video was being made to show some footprints that Freeman was casting when, during filming, he sighted and filmed what he claimed was a Bigfoot (the Bigfoot appears at around 04:00 in the video).

It seems to me that the Elk Wallow footprints highlight much that is common to the Bigfoot mystery. After all, there are only two options here: Either Paul Freeman actually saw a large unknown hominid in 1982 and he and his colleagues took photographs and casts of its tracks, or Freeman is mistaken or lying and the footprints were faked. By someone who was able to construct four pairs of articulated, flexible fake feet good enough to fool professional crime scene investigators and respected academics. And then presumably strapped these on to his (or her) own feet, took 1.2m strides while carrying at least 200kg of additional weight and maintained this for at least three-quarters of a mile going both up and downhill and crossing at least one six foot embankment (walking on the flat in large fake feet might just about be possible, but imagine trying to do this while walking up or downhill and carrying a heavy load on your back without falling flat on your face!). And to do this the hoaxer must have entered a watershed area that is closed to the public by the U.S. Forest Service without leaving any vehicle tracks or human footprints. With no guarantee that anyone would actually find the footprints he or she left because the area was not accessible to the public. And this must have been done four times (or by four different hoaxers) to account for all the tracks found.

There have been many documented instances of fake Bigfoot footprints over the years. However, these generally do not fool professionals for long. It’s just so difficult to get a fake foot to behave in the way that a real foot does that the fake prints are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. But there are a smaller number of footprints which are not obviously faked. Like the prints described above. The difference is that in this case, experienced professionals examined the prints, which almost never happens. The validity of the footprint evidence from Elk Wallow is very difficult to dispute given the number of experienced and knowledgeable people who inspected them. The presence of a large unknown hominid in the forests of North America seems pretty unlikely on the face of it. But then, so does the presence of a highly skilled hoaxer who goes to the time, trouble and effort of creating the fake footprints discovered in this instance with no assurance that anyone would ever find them. There simply is no option – one of these things must be true. And I’m not at all certain which is the least unlikely scenario.

The Bigfoot mystery is a difficult one to approach rationally. I just don’t know enough about, for example, footprint analysis or whether the creature in the PGF could be human to assess the available evidence accurately. In such cases I generally reply on the views of specialists who know far more than I do. But that doesn’t seem to work here – for every specialist who makes a pronouncement on any piece of alleged Bigfoot evidence there seems to be another who says the precise opposite. The Bigfoot mystery also seems to particularly attract hoaxers and it provides money for a variety of people in a number of ways – both directly through things like TV shows and indirectly through tourism. These things tend to cloud the waters when we are trying to see what’s really happening here. I mean, c’mon now: Mr Moneymaker the successful Bigfoot TV show producer and Mr Crook the Bigfoot hoaxer? You couldn’t make this stuff up!

So on one hand we have a number of sightings of Bigfoot by apparently sensible, rational and reliable people. We also have a small number of footprints of an unknown creature that appear to be genuine and stand up to detailed, scientific scrutiny and we have one short, clear film sequence that has never been satisfactorily replicated by those who seek to prove that it’s a fake. On the other hand we have known hoaxes and hoaxers, a complete lack of hard evidence for the existence of Bigfoot and the fact that in almost fifty years since Bob Gimlin and Roger Patterson appeared with their famous film, no-one else has been able get a photograph or video that is as detailed despite the fact that video cameras are now relatively common and that a large number of individuals and groups have set out specifically to look for Bigfoot.

The descriptions of Bigfoot from the Native American tales to the reports of the 1800s to the present day are remarkably consistent. If they were fantasies, hallucinations or just plain made-up, you would expect that they would change and be embellished over time. But this isn’t the case – most describe something which is actually pretty undramatic: just a large, hairy, human-like figure. This consistency might lead you to believe that we’re dealing with sightings of a real animal, but I’m not so sure. Overall, I don’t believe that the available evidence supports the idea that Bigfoot is a real animal. There are a number of reasons for this. For me, the main one is this: surely by now some-one should have found the remains or some bones of a Bigfoot? Over the presumed hundreds of years of this creature’s existence, many thousands of Bigfoot must have died. Bigfoot as described is a large creature which should leave identifiable and long-lasting remains. As humans encroach into the forest habitat in which Bigfoot is claimed to live, it is just not credible to me that someone would not have found at least some identifiable bones by now. The complete lack of incontrovertible hard evidence such as hair that could be confirmed by DNA testing is also surprising if we’re dealing with large numbers of real creatures. Also, why there isn’t a single, unambiguous, detailed, high quality photograph or recent video despite the extensive efforts of groups like the BFRO? We do know that many claimed Bigfoot photographs, films and footprints are faked. The lack of other evidence makes me wonder if things like the Elk Wallow footprints and the PGF are simply the work of more accomplished fakers?

No matter how persuasive some of the sightings, footprints and films and other circumstantial evidence may be, without hard, testable evidence to back them up, I don’t think that we can confidently say that Bigfoot is real. Mind you, I’m not completely certain about that. And I wouldn’t want to go camping alone in the remote forests of Washington State either. Just in case…

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SASQUATCH: LEGEND MEETS SCIENCE, 2007 by Jeff Meldrum. This book examines the evidence for the existence of Bigfoot and concludes that there is sufficient to justify further study.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/SASQUATCH-LEGEND-SCIENCE-Jeff-Meldrum/dp/0765312174?

Bigfoot!: The True Story of Apes in America, 2003 by Loren Coleman. Good introduction for anyone interested in finding out more about Bigfoot. Covers historical data (including Native American legends) as well as more modern sightings and photographs. Includes a fascinating section on the rivalries and disputes between the various Bigfoot research groups.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0743469755/ref=ase_cryptozoologi-20/

The Munns Report. Website by Bill Munns, Hollywood special effects and monster maker, which provides a very, very detailed analysis of all aspects of the Patterson-Gimlin Film. Munns concludes that it would not have been possible to fake the PGF.

http://www.themunnsreport.com/

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. Website for the BFRO which claims to be the “The only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery.” The group was founded by Matt Moneymaker, presenter of the Finding Bigfoot TV show.

http://www.bfro.net/

Bigfoot Evidence. Website which collects and collates reports of Bigfoot sightings and other evidence.

http://bigfootevidence.blogspot.com/

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One thought on “The Bigfoot Mystery

  1. Sightings of such creatures have been made for centuries aorund the globe. In this world there are only two possbilities either these creatures exist or this man made which leads to the question to why such a group is going through such trouble.

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