Reports of a large apelike creature in the United States and the Canadian provinces are to be found in the oral traditions of native tribes, the journals of early settlers, and accounts in regional frontier newspapers, but wide public attention was not called to the mysterious beast until the late 1950s when roadbuilding crews in the unmapped wilderness of the Bluff Creek area north of Eurka, California, began to report a large number of sightings of North America's own "abominable snowman." Once stories of giant humanlike monsters tossing around construction crews' small machinery and oil drums began hitting the wire services, hunters, hikers, and campers came forward with a seemingly endless number of stories about the shrill-squealing, seven-foot forest giant that they had for years been calling by such names as Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Wauk-Wauk, Oh-Mah, or Saskehavis.
In North America, the greatest number of sightings of Bigfoot have come from the Fraser River Valley, the Strait of Georgia, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia; the "Ape Canyon" region near Mt. St. Helens in southwestern Washington; the Three Sisters Wilderness west of Bend, Oregon; and the area around the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, especially the Bluff Creek watershed, northeast of Eureka, California. In recent years, extremely convincing sightings of Bigfoot-type creatures have also been made in areas of New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.
Reports of Bigfoot-type creatures in California go back to at least the 1840s when miners reported encountering giant two-legged beastlike monsters during the gold rush days. Sightings of the Oh-Mah, as the native tribes called them, continued sporadically until August 1958, when a construction crew was building a road through the rugged wilderness near Bluff Creek, Humboldt County, and discovered giant humanlike footprints in the ground around their equipment. For several mornings running, the men discovered that something had been disturbing their small equipment during the night. In one instance, an 800-pound tire and wheel from an earthmoving machine had been picked up and carried several yards across the compound. In another, a 300-pound drum of oil had been stolen from the camp, carried up a rocky mountain slope, and tossed into a deep canyon. And in each instance, only massive 16-inch footprints with a 50-to-60-inch stride offered any clue to the vandal's identity.
When media accounts of the huge footprints were released, people from the area began to step forward to exhibit their own plaster casts of massive, mysterious footprints and to relate their own frightening encounters with hairy giants—stories that they had repressed for decades for fear of being ridiculed. Not to be outdone, Canadians began telling of their own startling encounters with Sasquatch, a tribal name for Bigfoot, that had been circulating in the accounts of trappers, lumberjacks, and settlers in the Northwest Territories since the 1850s. Long before the frontier folk discovered the giant of the woods, the Sasquatch had become an integral element in many of the myths and legends of the native people.
Perhaps the most remarkable and most thoroughly documented account of a Sasquatch from those early days in Canada occurred in 1884 and was recorded in the Daily British Colonist, July 4, 1884. In the immediate vicinity of Number 4 tunnel, 20 miles from Yale, British Columbia, a group of railroad men captured a creature that could truly be called half-man and half-beast. The men called him "Jacko" and described him as looking much like a gorilla, standing about four feet, seven inches and weighing 127 pounds. The only sound that issued from him was a kind of half-bark and half-growl. Jacko was described as having long, black, strong hair and resembling a human being with the exception that his entire body, except his hands and feet, were covered with glossy hair about one inch long. His forearm was much longer than a man's forearm, and he possessed extraordinary strength.
The man who became Jacko's "keeper," George Telbury of Yale, announced his intention to take the man-beast to London, England, to exhibit him. All traces of Jacko vanished after the rash of news stories recounting the details of his capture.
On October 20, 1967, near Bluff Creek, north of Eureka, California, Bigfoot hunters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin managed to shoot several feet of movie film of what appears to be a female Bigfoot. With its glossy black hair shining in the bright sun, the Bigfoot walks away from the camera with a stride that is human. It has pendulous breasts, and it looks back at the cameraman as it walks steadily toward a growth of trees. It does not appear to be frightened, but it is obvious that it wishes to avoid contact. Experts say that the creature in the filmstrip is over seven feet tall and estimate its weight at around 400 pounds. It left footprints 17 inches long, and it had a stride of 41 inches. Patterson and Gimlin felt that they had at last provided the scientific community and the world at large with proof of Bigfoot's existence.
After his examination of the Patterson-Gimlin film, Dr. John R. Napier, director of the Primate Biology Program of the Smithsonian Institution, commented that while he saw nothing that pointed conclusively to a hoax, he did express some reservations about the exaggerated, fluid motion of the creature. He also said that he thought the Bigfoot was a male, in spite of the pendulous breasts, because of the crest on its head, a signature of male primates.
Dr. Osman Hill, director of Yerkes Region Primate Research Center at Emory University, stated his opinion that the Bigfoot in the filmstrip was hominid (humanlike) rather than pongoid (apelike). If the being in the film was a hoax, Hill commented, it had been incredibly well done.
Technicians at the Documentary Film Department at Universal Pictures, Hollywood, agreed with the scientists' assessment and said that it would take them a couple of million dollars to duplicate the monster on the filmstrip. First, they stated, they would have to create a set of artificial muscles, train an actor to walk like the thing on the film, then place him in a gorilla skin.
Most scientists remained skeptical, and the controversy raged for 30 years. On October 19, 1997, just prior to a press release by the North American Science Institute that would announce their analyses that the creature depicted on the film was genuine, stories appeared in the media claiming that John Chambers, the academy award-winning makeup artist of The Planet of the Apes (1968), had been responsible for creating the gorilla suit that had fooled the monster hunters. According to Howard Berger of Hollywood's KNB Effects Group, it was common knowledge within the film industry that Chambers had designed the costume for friends of Patterson who wanted to play a joke on him. Mike McCracken Jr., an associate of Chambers, stated his opinion that he (Chambers) was responsible for designing the gorilla suit.
Roger Patterson died in 1972, never doubting that he had caught a real Bigfoot on film. And none of the individuals who allegedly asked John Chambers to design a gorilla costume in order to hoax Patterson have ever stepped forward and identified themselves. Chambers himself, who was living in seclusion in a Los Angeles nursing home when the story of the gorilla suit hoax broke, refused to confirm or deny the reports.
Chris Murphy, a Bigfoot researcher, told the Sunday Telegraph (October 19, 1997) that "very high computer enhancements of the film show conclusively that, whatever it was, it was not wearing a suit. The skin on the creature ripples as it walks."
Other Bigfoot experts have declared the Patterson-Gimlin film to be an authentic documentary of a genuine female hominoid. Two Russian scientists, Dmitri Bayanov and Igor Bourtsev, minutely analyzed every movement of the female Bigfoot on the controversial film and concluded that it had passed all their tests and their criteria of "distinctiveness, consistency, and naturalness." Who, they ask rhetorically in their chapter in The Sasquatch and Other Unknown Hominoids, "other than God or natural selection is sufficiently conversant with anatomy and bio-mechanics to 'design' a body which is perfectly harmonious in terms of structure and function?"
On September 22, 2000, a team of 14 researchers that had tracked the elusive Bigfoot for a week deep in the mountains of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State found an extraordinary piece of evidence that may end all arguments about whether or not the creature exists. There, in a muddy wallow near Mt. Adams, was an imprint of Bigfoot's hair-covered lower body as it lay on its side, apparently reaching over to get some fruit. Thermal imaging equipment confirmed that the impression made by the massive body was only a few hours old.
The team of Bigfoot hunters who discovered the imprint—Dr. LeRoy Fish, a retired wildlife ecologist with a doctorate in zoology; Derek Randles, a landscape architect; and Richard Noll, a tooling metrologist—next made a plaster cast of what appeared to be impressions of the creature's left forearm, hip, thigh, and heel. More than 200 pounds of plaster were needed to acquire a complete 3-1/2 x 5-foot cast of the imprint. Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University stated that the imprint had definitely not been made by a human getting into the mud wallow.
On October 23, Idaho State University issued a press release stating that a team of investigators, including Dr. Meldrum; Dr. Grover Krantz, retired physical anthropologist from Washington State University; Dr. John Bindernagel, Canadian wildlife biologist; John Green, retired Canadian author and longtime Bigfoot hunter; and Dr. Ron Brown, exotic animal handler and health care administrator, had examined the plaster cast obtained from the mud wallow and agreed that it could not be "attributed to any commonly known Northwest animal and may present an unknown primate."
According to the university press release, after the cast had been cleaned, "extensive impressions of hair on the buttock and thigh surfaces and a fringe of longer hair along the forearm were evident." In addition, Meldrum, associate professor of anatomy and anthropology, identified what appeared to be "skin ridge patterns on the heel, comparable to fingerprints, that are characteristic of primates."
While the cast may not prove without question the existence of a species of North American ape, Meldrum said that it "constitutes significant and compelling new evidence that will hopefully stimulate further serious research and investigation into the presence of these primates in the Northwest mountains and elsewhere."