The North American equivalent of the legendary "Abominable Snowman" or Yeti of the Himalayas, "Bigfoot," whether he exists or not, has been a part of American popular culture since the late 1950s, with isolated reports stretching back even earlier. Bigfoot, also known as "Sasquatch" in Canada, is the generic name for anunknown species of giant, hair-covered hominids that may or may not roam the forests and mountains of the American Northwest and the Alberta and British Columbia regions of Canada. According to a synthesis of hundreds of eyewitness sightings over the years, the creatures are bipedal, anywhere between seven to nine feet tall (with a few specimens reportedly even taller), and completely covered in black or reddish hair. They appear to be a hybrid of human and ape characteristics. Also, they are omnivorous and usually solitary. On occasion, they leave behind enormous footprints (hence the name "Bigfoot"), measuring roughly between 16 and 20 inches. Cryptozoologists (those who study animals still unknown to science) hold out at least some hope that Bigfoot, hidden away in the last really undeveloped wilderness areas of North America, may yet prove to be a reality and not merely a folk legend.
Hairy hominids have been reported in nearly every state in the nation. However, classic American Bigfoot sightings are typically confined to northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Additionally, sightings outside of this region often involve some paranormal or supernatural overtones; by contrast, the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot seems decidedly flesh and blood, if elusive. Advocates of Bigfoot's existence often begin by pointing back to Native American legends of human-like giants, such as the Wendigo of the Algonkians, in the forests of these regions. The alleged capture of a
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small Sasquatch (or escaped chimpanzee) named "Jacko" as reported in the British Columbia newspaper the Daily British Colonist in 1884 marks the introduction of Bigfoot to the modern mass media age. In the first few years of the 1900s, a spate of published eyewitness reports of Sasquatches in Canada grabbed attention throughout the Northwest. During the 1930s, the popular British Columbian writer J.W. Burns wrote about a Sasquatch who was a giant, atavistic Indian. However, it was not until 1958 that newspaper accounts of large, human-like footprints discovered by a bulldozer operator named Jerry Crew near a construction site in Willow Creek, California, popularized the term "Bigfoot" for the rest of America. At approximately the same time, a man from British Columbia named Albert Ostman made public his story of being kidnapped and held captive for six days by a group of Sasquatches back in 1924. Ostman only managed to escape, he claimed, when the Sasquatches became sick on his chewing tobacco. Over the years, in spite of skeptical questioning by a number of renowned cryptozoologists, Ostman stuck to his seemingly incredible story.
With the explosion of Bigfoot into public awareness, a number of investigators took to the American northwest to find anecdotal or physical evidence of the existence of the unknown hominid species. Some of the most famous of these investigators were Rene Dahinden, John Green, and Ivan T. Sanderson. The decade of the 1960s was somewhat of a "golden era" in the hunt for Bigfoot, when the mystery was new enough to most Americans to capture widespread interest and just plausible enough for many minds to remain open on the subject. Literally hundreds of eyewitness reports were collected and published in the many popular books written by these investigators. One of the most dramatic of the reports described a terrifying nocturnal attack by "apemen" upon miners in a remote cabin near Mt. St. Helens back in 1924. (The story has since been discredited.)
But by far the most sensational—and hotly disputed—physical evidence of that period is the 28-second, 16-millimeter film taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson in the Bluff Creek area of the Six Rivers National Forest in California. The film shows what appears to be a female Bigfoot striding away from Patterson's camera. Patterson, accompanied by Bob Gimlin, had taken to the woods in a specific attempt to find and photograph the elusive Bigfoot—a fact which was not lost upon the film's numerous skeptics. However, if the film is a hoax, no one has ever confessed or turned up with a female Bigfoot suit. Frame-by-frame analysis and extensive investigation of the site and the backgrounds of the men involved has so far failed to provide conclusive evidence of deception. Patterson died in 1972, still insisting that he had filmed the real thing. Other Bigfoot films have surfaced from time to time, but unlike Patterson's, most of them have been clearly bogus.
In the early 1970s, a series of popular books and documentaries about Bigfoot appeared and further ensured the cultural longevity of the phenomenon. Inevitably, Bigfoot became a tourist draw for some areas in the Pacific Northwest, and towns and businesses were quick to capitalize upon the name. A few highly publicized expeditions to find and/or capture Bigfoot met with no success. Since that time, the media furor over Bigfoot has subsided, but occasional reports still gain widespread publicity. For example, a sighting in the Umatilla National Forest in Washington in 1982 led to the collection of numerous plaster casts of alleged Bigfoot tracks. A respected anthropologist from Washington State University named Grover Krantz argued for the tracks' authenticity, although other scientists remained unconvinced. The skepticism of the scientific community notwithstanding, Krantz and primatologist John Napier still remain open to the possibility that Bigfoot is more than a legend and mass delusion. For the most part, however, the case for Bigfoot's existence has departed from the front pages and now remains in the keeping of a small number of dedicated investigators prowling through the Northwest woods with plaster and cameras and in some cases tranquilizer darts, ready to make cryptozoological history by presenting the scientific and journalistic world with irrefutable proof of America's mysterious apeman.
—Philip L. Simpson
Coleman, Loren. The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and other Mystery Primates Worldwide. New York, Avon, 1999.
Green, John. Encounters with Bigfoot. Surrey, British Columbia, Hancock House, 1994.
Napier, John. Bigfoot. New York, Berkley, 1974.
Sanderson, Ivan T. Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life. Philadelphia, Chilton, 1961.
Sprague, Roderick, and Grover S. Krantz, editors. The Scientist Looks at the Sasquatch. Moscow, Idaho, University Press of Idaho, 1979.
Bigfoot or Sasquatch, large apelike creature reportedly sighted hundreds of times in the United States and Canada (most often in the Pacific Northwest) since the mid-19th cent. Similar to Asia's abominable snowman, Bigfoot is variously described as standing 7–10 ft (2–3 m) tall and weighing over 500 lb (227 kg), with footprints 17 in. (43 cm) long. Sasquatch is a Native American name for the creature. Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot. Some supposed footprints of the animal are known to be hoaxes, such as those produced by Ray L. Wallace in Humboldt co., Calif., in 1958, and supposed hair samples that have had their DNA tested have been found to be from known animal species.
See R. M. Pyle, Where Bigfoot Walks (1995); J. B. Buhs, Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend (2009).
Big·foot / ˈbigˌfoŏt/ • n. (pl. -feet) a large, hairy, apelike creature resembling a yeti, supposedly found in northwestern America. Also called Sasquatch.