Wild men, woodboogers, and Indian devils, are all terms that were applied to a phenomenon that can be traced back to the Woodwose of Medieval English lore. The antagonist of the earliest known epic in what we now know as the English language presents a hero who defeats a cave-dwelling wild man. The legend of Gilgamesh, the earliest known narrative epic, describes a hero who conquers and befriends the wild man who guards the sacred forests. Unlike other legendary monsters attested to by generations past, these phantom wild men were known to leave tracks. In the lore of the trappers and loggers who explored North America, all the regional names for these phantoms were gradually eclipsed by one that described the only evidence they left behind.
Big foot prints had been reported as far back at the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, the phenomenon persisted. Curiosity about an undiscovered species inspired two enterprising cowboys to take a handheld video camera into the mountains of northern California in search of the legendary Bigfoot. The footage captured by those talented amateurs on that day in 1967 remains the gold standard of evidence such creatures once existed in the wilds of North America. In 1998, a disreputable failed rodeo clown known as Bob Heironimus came forward claiming he was the man wearing the ape suit in the Patterson-Gimlin footage. This quick payday resulted in profound humiliation as both skeptics and believers aggressively fact-checked and debunked all of his claims. For starters, Heironimus stood less than six feet tall, making him puny compared to what is captured in the film. When asked to produce the suit he claimed to have worn in the film, he first offered up a travesty of a gorilla suit that clearly did not match the footage. When asked to walk like the animal captured on film, he could not reproduce the gait. When asked to identify the location where the hoax was perpetrated, he could not. By every possible metric he failed to prove he had any part in hoaxing the events documented at Bluff Creek in 1967.
Once you accept a reality where the Patterson-Gimlin film is documentation of a real animal, the debunkings come across as increasingly absurd. Special Effects masters who worked on The Planet of the Apes have attested that the technology to build such an accurate costume did not exist at that time. Over half a century later the alleged hoax has yet to be successfully reproduced, and the film continues to stand as irrefutable evidence of something that has yet to be explained. Few scientists who give any credence to the existence of such creatures are taken seriously. Like Grover Krantz before him, the late John Bindernagel complained that his colleagues simply refused to look at the evidence. The most compelling evidence we currently have comes from the work of Jeff Meldrum at the University of Idaho, who has cataloged thousands of casts of footprints collected across North America. Doctor Meldrum has even managed to document dermal ridge patterns on these casts, managing to identify at least one distinct individual in tracks found hundreds of miles apart. Esteemed primatologist Jane Goodall has expressed her belief that it is entirely possible such creatures could exist in the Pacific North West, endorsing Bindernagel’s hypothesis that they are awaiting official discovery.
Yet, to this day, there is a persistent taboo against entertaining the subject within the ivory towers of academia. Taxonomy demands a specimen, and no specimen collected to date has proven sufficient. The best results for DNA samples have identified a non-human hominid strain that doesn’t match any known species. If they are flesh and blood they can be killed; and if they are not temporal beings that can be killed, they are even more mysterious than previously supposed. This is the paradox of the Bigfoot mystery, on the very fringes of zoology, anthropology, and philosophy. Whether the hairy forest giants exist in physical reality, they are a persistent reality within the human imagination. This metaphysical theory of archetypal hallucinations might explain a certain number of the most common eye witness encounters. That does not explain the footprints.
Certainly, there is an underground cottage industry built on Bigfoot hoaxes. I’m aware of at least one land owner who perpetrated an extended hoax in the hope that the story could raise enough money to pay off outstanding property taxes. Other cases where outfitters will play pranks on campers to create a tourist trap for curiosity seekers. Professional “Bigfoot hunters” often resort to fabricating evidence to justify their endeavors which ultimately only serves to discredit the subject even further. This last variety of hoaxers have been elevated by reality television producers seeking entertainment value over valid methodology. Scripted productions will deceptively edit footage to create the illusion of dramatic tension. All of these modes of hoaxery are fairly easily exploded, and many are transparently fake.
Yet, there is a body of evidence which exists outside the category of definite hoaxes. Dr Meldrum has documented unique foot prints in highly unlikely locations. Attempts to reproduce evidence to prove a hoax have fallen flat. There remains a perpetual gap of uncertainty between what eye witnesses affirm and what scientists can verify. The figure filmed by Roger Patterson in 1967 and recordings made by Ron Morehead in the early 1970’s represent analog evidence that has yet to be falsified. Morehead’s “Sierra Sounds” tapes remain among the most compelling evidence captured to date, and his unwillingness to cash-in on revealing the location of his encounters only lends credibility to his claims. A common feature of all hoaxers is an eagerness to trade their knowledge of Bigfoot for cold hard cash.
I have been seriously involved in this area of research for over two decades now. My own opinions about the phenomena known as Bigfoot have changed considerably over that time. I started out believing that if such creatures ever existed, they were strictly confined to the remote regions of the Pacific North West and Alaska. Then I started studying the subject in earnest, and looking seriously at eye-witness reports from all over the globe. I advocated others get out and explore the woods, while believing there was no way such creatures could live near me. I’m still highly skeptical about many aspects of the Bigfoot lore. But, over the years I have learned enough to be much more fluid in my skepticism.
The late Grover Krantz was convinced that Bigfoot was a direct descendant of Gigantopithecus, a giant ape known to have existed in Asia during the same era that our own ancestors were migrating into North America via the Bering land-bridge. Opponents of Doctor Krantz have boldly insisted that no fossil remains of appropriate relic hominids have been found in North America. However, the assumption such evidence does not exist precludes discovery. Prior to his death, John Bindernagel insisted that the only way to conclusively prove that Bigfoot did not exist in the fossil record was to conduct comprehensive DNA testing on all presumed human specimens. This may not be possible, but, it raises an important question about how fossils of primeval Humans were classified by early archaeologists.
When we talk about the process of archaeological excavation in the American West, we must start by recognizing the problem posed by the American conception of property rights. In the United States the laws are constructed in such a way that the owner of any given lot of land has an almost unreasonable say over what can be done with scientific discoveries made on that land. Some of the most important dinosaur fossils excavated in the last half century have been lost to science in court battles over who can claim legal ownership of them. We know from the looting and destruction of the remains of the Mississippian culture, (along with their predecessor cultures), that landowners have violently erased our history as it was written in the earth.
I have often read that the official discovery of Bigfoot would somehow turn science on its head. In some ways this would be true, but, I’ve never talked to a proper scientist who was opposed to such a thing. As a group, scientists love new discoveries, and are delighted by those that invalidate past assumptions and require them to do more science. In that respect, a living fossil would be the greatest discovery any scientist could make. There might well be an academic bias in the allocation of funding, that is a very real impediment to effective inquiry. However, “talented amateurs” have been filling gaps in their own ways. It is often said that if professional scientists were more respectful toward professional hunters they would have accomplished this discovery already.
After my decades of experience in this field I have become certain of exactly one thing regarding the whole Bigfoot question: We have been deceived.
Somewhere between the hunters and foresters who claim to have been face to face with these mysterious primates, and the authorities who deny their existence there is an objective truth. Within the Bigfoot paradox there is a lesson about why we must question authority. Both in the form of ivory tower authorities who tell us a thing is impossible in abstract terms we can not comprehend, and in the mode of the muddy booted expert whom we must take at their word. Proper science is the business of balancing those two sources of information to gain an objective sense of what is true. So, why has this proper science failed to discover conclusive proof of these animals thus far?
That question has done my head in for decades. I wanted a rational answer, and that desire for an explanation that satisfied my own logical demands became an obstacle. I was trying to climb over the wrong hill, as it were. Because, as I have come to understand, the obstacle is not rooted in a lack of evidence. The late John Bindernagel made the objective case well enough in his book “The Discovery of Sasquatch” that the work of the future is to replicate Diane Fossey’s close studies of the mountain gorilla. From that point of view, the question becomes one of why there isn’t funding to accomplish what could be the greatest scientific accomplishment in the history of North America.
Over and over I have read theorists asserting that the proper discovery of Bigfoot would upend Darwin. It is claimed that the revelation of Bigfoot would overturn the whole concept of evolution, and effectively debunk science itself. These bold claims invariably route back to those who claim that the answer to the Bigfoot paradox is to be found in the Bible. To those who restrict their worldview to that one text, the mystery is solved in vague Biblical references to the Nephilim: the supposed descendants of the unholy congress between fallen angels and the daughters of Adam.
Compared to an unknown species of archaic hominid, the Nephilim claim is perfectly irrational. Right? There is no way that believers in the Nephilim hypothesis could ever get into positions of authority and actively impede natural science. Right? There is no way that religious fundamentalists could use political power to disrupt scientific discovery in the United States. Right?