Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Myths And Legends: Bigfoot

Welcome to a new feature for 'Raz's Midnight Macabre' - Myths And Legends. We start off with one of the most well known legends, Bigfoot.

Bigfoot, also known as sasquatch, is the name given to an ape-like creature that some people believe inhabits forests. Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid. The term sasquatch is an anglicized derivative of the Halkomelem word sásq’ets. Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot and consider it to be a combination of folklore, mis-identification, and hoax, rather than a living animal, because of the lack of physical evidence and the large numbers of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population. A few scientists, such as Jane Goodall, Grover Krantz, and Jeffrey Meldrum, have expressed interest and some measure of belief in the creature.

Bigfoot is described in reports as a large hairy ape-like creature, in a range of 6–10 feet (2–3 m) tall, weighing in excess of 500 pounds (230 kg), and covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair. Purported witnesses have described large eyes, a pronounced brow ridge, and a large, low-set forehead; the top of the head has been described as rounded and crested, similar to the sagittal crest of the male gorilla. Bigfoot is commonly reported to have a strong, unpleasant smell by those who claim to have encountered it. The enormous footprints for which it is named have been as large as 24 inches (60 cm) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide. While most casts have five toes,like all known apes, some casts of alleged Bigfoot tracks have had numbers ranging from two to six. Some have also contained claw marks, making it likely that a portion came from known animals such as bears, which have five toes and claws. Proponents claim that Bigfoot is omnivorous and 

mainly nocturnal.

It is generally thought that Bigfoot is a recent addition to our mythology. Indeed the word ‘Bigfoot’ was first coined as late as 1958. However in actual fact the idea of hairy Hominoids goes back long before then and the reports are not limited to North America. Myra Shackley in her book "Still Living?, Yeti Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma", argues that the notion of ‘wild men’ has been with us for time immemorial - “The wildman, in various manifestations, forms part of the culture and mythology of almost every society since records began”, but she does concede that the problem is “ how to distinguish myth from reality?”.

The earliest wildman to appear in literature can be found in the "Epic Of Gilgamesh". The stories which are about 4000 years old were written on 12 clay tablets and were discovered in the Assurbanipal Library in the ruins of Ninevah. There is no evidence at all that the Epic of Gilgamesh was based on reality, but some do speculate that the stories were written around an actual king of the same name who lived in southern Babylonia, modern day Iraq. According to the story, Arura the Potter created the Wildman Enkudu from clay. He was shaggy with ‘hair that sprouted like grain’, and who ate with the gazelles and drank with the wild beasts at their waterholes.

Initially enemies, Enkidu fought alongside Gilgamesh and earned his respect and friendship to such an extent that when Enkidu is mortally wounded in battle, Gilgamesh cries out ‘Like a wailing woman I cry for Enkidu my friend.’ The important point here is that Gilgamesh viewed Enkidu the wildman as a man, saying ‘My friend who endured all hardships with me, has been overtaken by the fate of mankind’. In 500 BC, the Historian Herodutus spoke about Hairy Monsters in Libya and in the Greek and Roman traditions, there are stories of half man, half beast creatures known as Satyrs. They were often depicted as having horns and a tail and were seen undertaking some form of sexual activity. Other types of Satyrs were called Fauns, sileni and nymphs and according to professor Boris Porshnev, they were different ways of depicting surviving Hominids.

In Medieval Europe, according to Myra Shackley, “Medieval wildmen were generally hairy, with both human and animal traits. Often they were covered with hair except for the face, feet and hands”. But unlike the satyrs of the Greek Roman imaginations, the tail and horns are absent. However shackley makes the interesting point that “Although the wildman appears in an enormous range of medieval literature, he does not seem to occur in contemporary letters or semi-official documents”. So, perhaps the notions of medieval wildmen were grounded more in folklore and myth rather than fact.

The first written account of the North American ‘Wildman’ occurred in 986 AD when Leif Erikson and his men landed in the new world. (Several centuries before Christopher Columbus). In Samuel Eliot Morisons account of the Norse voyages, Erikson mentions creatures which were “horribly ugly, hairy, swarthy and with big black eyes”. Peter Byrne in his book, "The Search For Bigfoot - Monster,Myth Or Man?" However, concedes that “It is more probable that the creatures they encountered were simply Indians”. Byrne argues that the Norse word ‘Skellring’ which was used to describe these creatures/people, in actual fact means ‘Barbarian’, which may well have been used to describe the local Indians, but he is puzzled by the Skellring being hairy. “The Norse were a hairy people themselves, big men with matted hair and beards. Why did they remark on the ‘Skellring’ being hairy?”

However, the legend of Bigfoot existed long before the white man arrived in the New World. The Coastal Indians tribes of British Columbia and in Particular the Kwakliutls, had carved totem poles and face masks which clearly had references to a ‘manbeast’. Indeed, the face masks were carved in to an image of a ferocious looking creature known as 'Bukwas', or the wild man of the woods. In examining the Bukwas face masks, Don Hunter, a Highly respected Canadian Journalist says that “Each of the Carvings, in its stylised way, suggests a creature that is considerably more human in appearance than it is animal”

The Kwakliutis were not the only Native American Tribes to have legends involving ‘hairy’ wildmen. The Hoopa indians of Northern California tell stories of what they call ‘Omah’ - the boss of the woods. According to Hoopa legend, he lives out in the mountains and never comes down to the valleys. To be referred to as the ‘boss’ of the woods, the creature must be pretty domineering. The Shalish tribes of British Columbia referred to Bigfoot as ‘Sasquatch’ meaning ‘wildman of the woods’ and there are legends of the ‘stick men’ of the Washington mountains. Indeed, with minor variations in behavior and appearance, the creature under its many names plays a major role in western Indian lore from Northern B.C. to California, and a somewhat lesser though similar role in native culture across the continent.

As the early European explorers in the new world made contact with the Native tribes, their attitudes and beliefs were recorded in notes and diaries. And it is in these sources of information that we can understand more about the native American belief in Bigfoot. Jose Mariano Mozino in his book Noticia de Nutka published in Spanish in 1792 wrote :

“I do not know what to say about the matlox (Sasquatch), inhabitant of the mountainous districts, of whom all have an unbelievable fear. They imagine his body as very monstrous, all covered with stiff black bristle; a head similar to a human one but with much greater, sharper and stronger fangs than those of the bear; extremely long arms; and toes and fingers armed with long curved claws. His shouts alone (they say) force those who hear them to the ground, and any unfortunate body he slaps is broken in to a thousand pieces.”

Another early settler David Thompson, kept a daily Journal, and when he crossed the Rockies near the present site of Jasper, Alberta, in the winter of 1811 he came across what nowadays would perhaps be called Bigfoot footprints. He Writes:

“Continuing our journey in the afternoon we came on the track of a large animal, the snow about six inches deep on the ice; I measured it; four large toes of four inches in length to each a short claw; the ball of the foot sunk three inches lower than the toes, the hinder part of the foot did not mark well, the length fourteen inches, by eight inches in breadth, walking from north to south, and having passed about six hours. We were in no humour to follow him, its great size was not that of a bear.”

Another explorer, Paul Kane, also appears to make the point that the Native Indians appear to be frightened of a race of beings. His entry for March 27, 1847, reads:

“When we arrived at the mouth of the Kattlepoutal River, twenty-six miles from Vancouver (Washington), i stopped to make a sketch of the volcano,Mt. St.Helens, distant i suppose, about thirty or forty miles. This mountains has never been visited by either whites or Indians; the latter assert that it is inhabited by a race of beings of a different species, who are cannibals, and who they hold in great dread. These superstitions are taken from a man they say went in to the mountains with another, and escaped the fate of his companion, who was eaten by the “skookums”, or “evil genii.” I offered a considerable bribe to any Indian who would accompany me in its exploration but could not find one hardy enough to venture there.”

The Notion of Bigfoot being a cannibal is not widely accepted and apart from this entry by Paul Kane, there is no other reference to cannibalism. However, this does not mean mean that the creature is passive. Mammals have a habit of defending their territory from intruders and Bigfoot is no exception. A gruesome experience with a giant bipedal animal is related by a former US President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid big game hunter, in his book ‘The Wilderness Hunter’. The events occurred around the mid 1800's and involved the brutal killing of a hunter by a beast which had left huge footprints. In the late 1890's near the Chetco River in southern Oregon, a dozen loggers and their families encountered a great beast with disastrous results. Camping in tents by the river, the lumber men would awaken each morning to find their freshly cut timber, logs which required three men to move, carelessly scattered about like matchsticks. Huge human footprints left in the damp earth were the only clues. Since they had been having trouble with bears, the men followed the footprints through the torn shrubbery and uprooted saplings until they disappeared. That night, the loggers were awakened by shrill screams of something not quite human in the near underbrush. Seizing a rifle, one man lit a torch and headed into the darkness. He was quickly followed by several other men. In a very short time, the first man rushed back to collapse in terror at the feet of his tracking companions. He babbled incoherently about a hairy monster eight feet tall with yellow eyes, fangs, and hands like a man. His description put the camp in an uproar.

The next night, two men decided to track and kill the hairy intruder. They carried a small lantern and loaded rifles and disappeared into the darkness behind the tents. Back in camp, their friends heard screams and shrieks and the sounds of gunfire. Then...Silence. When the two men did not reappear, the other loggers grabbed lanterns and torches and, while firing their guns into the air, set out in search of their comrades. A half mile from camp, they found the scene of a desperate struggle. Broken and bleeding, arms and legs ripped from the torsos, their two friends lay scattered all over the place. They had been slammed against trees and torn into pieces by something with incredible strength. Blood dripped into small pools from branches high in the trees, as well as from the crushed greenery of the surrounding shrubs. But of the hairy creature responsible, there were only bloody footprints leading deep into the woods. The loggers struck camp and left the area the next day. Professional hunters entered the forest in the days that followed, but found no sign of the creature.

Skeptics, no doubt will not be satisfied untill they have a body. However, this was almost the case in 1884, when near the city of Yale, British Columbia, a strange creature was captured that some called a young Bigfoot. Jacko, as it became known was something of a Gorilla type Standing at 4ft 7inches tall and weighing 127 pounds.While being transported Jacko mysteriously disappeared and was never heard of again. The arrival of the twentieth century ushered in a new wave of bigfoot encounters. According to the Victorian Colonist, In 1901, Mark King, one of the best timber cruisers (men who search out good, accessible stands of timber for the logging companies) in the province and who was known as a fine man with an ‘enviable reputation for reliability’. Was working alone on Vancouver island as his Indian packers refused to accompany him, fearing what called the “monkey men”. It was late afternoon when King sighted the “man beast”. It was bending over a pool washing some roots. On seeing or hearing King, it gave a startled cry and ran swiftly up the hillside. King described the creature as: “covered with reddish brown hair, and his arms were peculiarly long and were used freely in climbing and in brush running; while the trail showed a distinct human foot, but with phenomenally long and spreading toes.”

A dramatic event was was reported in 1907 when the captain of the steamship 'Capilano', sailing up the B.C. Coast, suddenly found himself being hailed by a canoe load of Indians, frantic to get away from their small community of Bishops Cove. They had been scared away by a “monkey like wild man who appears on the beach at night, who howls in an unearthly fashion between intervals of exertion at clam digging”. It seems a rather funny image, that of a frightening beast, howling as it digs for clams. Nevertheless the Indians did desert their village. 1924 saw two of the most famous bigfoot encounters. The first involved the astonishing story of Albert Ostman, who claimed he was kidnapped by a sasquatch and held captive for a week. This story would no doubt have been ignored as the fanciful whims of a crazy man, but everyone who met Ostman are impressed by his sincerity and his descriptions of the sasquatch (in an age when there was no widespread information available) have been confirmed by subsequent sightings.

The second case is far more violent and involves the story of 4 miners attacked in their log cabin by several rock throwing ape like creatures, In an area of Washington state called Ape Canyon. Once again, their story checks out and witnesses who saw the men after their ordeal where absolutely certain that they were in such an emotional state that something pretty scary must have happened to them. One must bear in mind that these were tough, rugged, seasoned miners who were not disposed to show any emotions. Particularly that of fear. Subsequent decades saw many encounters and newspaper reports of sightings and footprint evidence, but as per usual they were regarded by most people as pranks and hoaxes and an over eager imagination.

May 1950 saw the disappearance of experienced mountaineer and expert skier Jim Carter, in Ape Canyon. He was part of a 20 strong climbing party from Seattle and search parties combed the area for weeks and found nothing. His tracks in the snow showed that he was running at great speed as if to evade capture and had even jumped over great crevices. Several members of the party did comment that they felt that they were being watched by something or somebody and could feel the hair on the back of their necks stand up. As to what happened to him, two members of the climbing party, Bob Lee a well known mountaineer and the 1961 Himalayan expedition leader and Dr. Otto, the surgeon for the Seattle mountain rescue council, concluded that “ The Apes got him”. Another significant sighting in the annals of Bigfoot lore occurred in 1955, when William Roe sighted a female Bigfoot near the town of Tete Jaune Cache, British Colombia. This case is significant because of the level of detail that the witness is able to remember about the creature. William Roe was so confident in the truthfulness of his story that he even signed a sworn avidavit in front of a commissioner for oaths.

However, it wasn’t until the remote Bluff Creek area of Northern California was opened up for logging in 1958, that Bigfoot really entered the mainstream culture. The loggers would turn up on site each morning and discover that the equipment had been disturbed and indeed 50 gallon fuel drums tossed around as if empty. About twenty miles of road had been built when the big tracks started to appear. They were were made at night, at intervals of about a week. Their basic route was across the road to get from the hillside to the creek bed, but sometimes they went for a short distance along the road and even circled the park machines. The tracks were all made by the same individual, and were roughly 16 inches long and eight inches wide.

These footprints impressed almost an inch in to the ground whereas the loggers boots barely made an impression on the surface. Logging Foreman Jerry Crew said “I’ve seen hundreds of these footprints in the past few weeks, every morning we find his footprints in the fresh earth we’ve moved the day before.” Jerry Crew made a plaster cast of one of these footprints and took it to the Local newspaper. The newspaper editor commentated on it being a ‘big’ foot, and ran the story with the word ‘Bigfoot’ used for the first time. The resulting news story was picked up by the associated press wire and Bigfoot was famous.

The mystery took another twist when 9 years later in 1967 at Bluff Creek, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin captured what they claimed was a Bigfoot. The film, known as the Patterson film is without exception the most controversial piece of Bigfoot evidence ever recorded. Entire Books have been written about it and many hours spent analysing the 952 frames of colour film and yet, even to this day. The story goes that they approached a large jumbled pile of logs lying almost in the centre of the stream beds. The logs, some of them very large and still carrying their roots, were the result of a sudden flood the previous year that had washed them out of the higher reaches of the creek. The pile was probably one hundred feet in width and fifteen width high. It effectively hid the approach of the horsemen from anything that might lie behind it to the north. Both horsemen came around the log pile together and according to their story, found a large Bigfoot squatting on the bank of the watercourse ahead and to their left. It immediately stood up and walked away. Things seem to have happened very quickly after that. All three horses panicked and both men were again, according to their story, shocked and alarmed at the sight of the huge creature. The pack horse reared, broke its trailing rope and bolted. Gimlin’s horse began to panic and he was forced to dismount in a hurry. He slid out of the saddle and took a firm grip on the reigns and managed to hold the horse. Patterson had less luck. His horse reared and fell over sideways, coming down on his right leg, crushing the metal stirrup on his foot and pinning him temporarily to the ground.

While Pattersons was struggling to get up, the Bigfoot was walking rapidly away. Then Pattersons’s horse was up and he rose with it, pulling the camera out of the saddle bag and shouting to Gimlin to cover him with a rifle as he ran after the Bigfoot. Patterson aimed his camera at the creature and kept his finger pressed on the trigger while he changed position three times until he ran out of film. There was, according to him, only twenty eight feet of film in the camera. The remainder had been used to shoot other subjects that were to be used as part of a general film on Bigfoot. Then the camera was empty, the Bigfoot was gone, and it was all over. They retrieved the horses, returned to the scene of the encounter and tied up the horses and set out to try and track the Bigfoot. They were unable to track it and instead made plaster casts of the footprints in the soft mud and then, with their horses, returned to their base camp near notice creek. They closed up camp, loaded the horses in the horse truck and drove to Eureka, on the coast, to mail the film to a relative in Yakima for processing. The Patterson-Gimlin Film is in effect the dividing line between the historical Sasquatch and the modern era of Bigfoot. And the mystery would never be the same again.

Bigfoot in the 1970’s was hijacked by the media and soon became a minor television and film star and was used in countless TV Commercials. Unfortunately, this also brought with it the usual crackpots, their stories in the tabloid press further reinforced the belief amongst most people that the Bigfoot mystery was just a silly Hoax. ‘I was raped by the abominable snowman’ was typical of many headlines. And with the fame, came the Hoaxers who no doubt muddied the waters as far as serious researchers were concerned.

This then was how the Bigfoot Phenomenon remained in most peoples minds. An implausible myth, silly stories and ultimately hoaxes. The mystery therefore was not taken seriously. Serious researchers however, knew the phenomenon as having a deep history stretching as far back as the arrival of the white man in North America and indeed rooted not only in myth and legend but possibly in reality.

Sightings of Bigfoot continue to this day with thousands pouring in from all over the world, the beast also remains a TV/movie star and has even become a feature of many comic books, novels and an abundance of fictional stories. Personally I like to believe that Bigfoot exists but opinion is split from hardcore skeptics to tenacious believers. As for Bigfoot being a star on screen, I have no problem with it and have enjoyed many films, TV shows and publishings based on the beast.

If you want to see the controversial "Patterson-Gimlin Film" just click on the video below:

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