Frame 352 from the Patterson-Gimlin film, alleged by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin to show a Bigfoot, and by some others to show a man in an ape suit.
Bigfoot, also known as sasquatch, is the name given to an ape-like creature that some people believe inhabits forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid. The term sasquatch is an anglicized derivative of the Halkomelem word sásq’ets.
Scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot and consider it to be a combination of folklore, misidentification, 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 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. Self-styled 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. Some proponents have claimed that Bigfoot is omnivorous and mainly nocturnal.
Wildmen stories are found among the indigenous population of the Pacific Northwest. The legends existed prior to a single name for the creature. They differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community. Similar stories of wildmen are found on every continent except Antarctica. Ecologist Robert Michael Pyle argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history: “We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”
Members of the Lummi tell tales about Ts’emekwes, the local version of Bigfoot. The stories are similar to each other in terms of the general descriptions of Ts’emekwes, but details about the creature’s diet and activities differed between the stories of different families.
Some regional versions contained more nefarious creatures. The stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai were a nocturnal race that children were told not to say the names of lest the monsters hear and come to carry off a person—sometimes to be killed. In 1847, Paul Kane reported stories by the native people about skoocooms: a race of cannibalistic wild men living on the peak of Mount St. Helens. The skoocooms appear to have been regarded as supernatural, rather than natural.
Less menacing versions such as the one recorded by Reverend Elkanah Walker exist. In 1840, Walker, a Protestant missionary, recorded stories of giants among the Native Americans living in Spokane, Washington. The Indians claimed that these giants lived on and around the peaks of nearby mountains and stole salmon from the fishermen’s nets.
Various local legends were compiled by J. W. Burns in a series of Canadian newspaper articles in the 1920s. Each language had its own name for the local version. Many names meant something along the lines of “wild man” or “hairy man” although other names described common actions it was said to perform (e.g. eating clams). Burns coined the term Sasquatch, which is from the Halkomelem sásq’ets (IPA: [ˈsæsqʼəts]), and used it in his articles to describe a hypothetical single type of creature reflected in these various stories. Burns’s articles popularized both the legend and its new name, making it well known in western Canada before it gained popularity in the United States.
Frontiersman Daniel Boone reported having shot and killed “a ten-foot, hairy giant he called a Yahoo.” Folktale scholar Hugh H. Trotti has argued that Boone’s account may have been the inspiration for some of the Bigfoot stories told in North America.
In 1951, Eric Shipton had photographed what he described as a Yeti footprint. This photograph generated considerable attention and the story of the Yeti entered into popular consciousness. The notoriety of ape-men grew over the decade, culminating in 1958 when large footprints were found in Del Norte County, California, by bulldozer operator Gerald Crew. Sets of large tracks appeared multiple times around a road-construction site in Bluff Creek. After not being taken seriously about what he was seeing, Crew brought in his friend, Bob Titmus, to cast the prints in plaster. The story was published in the Humboldt Times along with a photo of Crew holding one of the casts. Locals had been calling the unseen track-maker “Big Foot” since the late summer, which Humboldt Times columnist Andrew Genzoli shortened to “Bigfoot” in his article. Bigfoot gained international attention when the story was picked up by the Associated Press. Following the death of Ray Wallace – a local logger – his family attributed the creation of the footprints to him. The wife of Scoop Beal, the editor of the Humboldt Standard, which later combined with the Humboldt Times, in which Genzoli’s story had appeared, has stated that her husband was in on the hoax with Wallace.
1958 was a watershed year not just for the Bigfoot story itself but also for the culture that surrounds it. The first Bigfoot hunters began following the discovery of footprints at Bluff Creek, California. Within a year, Tom Slick, who had funded searches for Yeti in the Himalayas earlier in the decade, organized searches for Bigfoot in the area around Bluff Creek.
As Bigfoot has become better known and a phenomenon in popular culture, sightings have spread throughout North America. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States have had many reports of Bigfoot sightings.
Prominent reported sightings
Distribution of reported Bigfoot sightings in North America.
About a third of all reports of Bigfoot sightings are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the remaining reports spread throughout the rest of North America. Some Bigfoot advocates, such as John Willison Green, have postulated that Bigfoot is a worldwide phenomenon. The most notable reports include:
- 1924: Prospector Albert Ostman claimed to have been abducted by Sasquatch and held captive by the creatures in British Columbia.
- 1924: Fred Beck claimed that he and four other miners were attacked one night in July 1924, by several “apemen” throwing rocks at their cabin in an area later called Ape Canyon, Washington. Beck said the miners shot and possibly killed at least one of the creatures, precipitating an attack on their cabin, during which the creatures bombarded the cabin with rocks and tried to break in. The supposed incident was widely reported at the time. Beck wrote a book about the alleged event in 1967, in which he argued that the creatures were mystical beings from another dimension, claiming that he had experienced psychic premonitions and visions his entire life of which the apemen were only one component. Speleologist William Halliday argued in 1983 that the story arose from an incident in which hikers from a nearby camp had thrown rocks into the canyon.There are also local rumors that pranksters harassed the men and planted faked footprints.
- 1941: Jeannie Chapman and her children said they had escaped their home when a 7.5 feet (2.3 m) tall Sasquatch approached their residence in Ruby Creek, British Columbia.
- 1958: Bulldozer operator Jerry Crew took to a newspaper office a cast of one of the enormous footprints he and other workers had seen at an isolated work site at Bluff Creek, California. The crew was overseen by Wilbur L. Wallace, brother of Raymond L. Wallace. After Ray Wallace’s death, his children came forward with a pair of 16-inch (41 cm) wooden feet, which they said their father had used to fake the Bigfoot tracks in 1958. Wallace is poorly regarded by many Bigfoot proponents. John Napier wrote, “I do not feel impressed with Mr. Wallace’s story” regarding having over 15,000 feet (4,600 m) of film showing Bigfoot.
- 1967: Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin reported that on October 20 they had captured a purported Sasquatch on film at Bluff Creek, California. This came to be known as the Patterson-Gimlin film. Many years later, Bob Heironimus, an acquaintance of Patterson’s, said that he had worn an ape costume for the making of the film. However, Patterson and Gimlin claimed that they sought various experts to examine the film. Patterson claimed to have screened the film for unnamed technicians “in the special effects department at Universal Studios in Hollywood … Their conclusion was: ‘We could try (faking it), but we would have to create a completely new system of artificial muscles and find an actor who could be trained to walk like that. It might be done, but we would have to say that it would be almost impossible.'”
- 2007: On September 16, 2007, hunter Rick Jacobs captured an image of a supposed Sasquatch by using an automatically triggered camera attached to a tree, prompting a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to say that it was likely an image of “a bear with a severe case of mange.” The photo was taken near the town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny National Forest.
Proposed explanations for sightings
Various types of creatures have been suggested to explain both the sightings and what type of creature Bigfoot would be if it existed. The scientific community typically attributes sightings to either hoaxes or misidentification of known animals and their tracks. While cryptozoologists generally explain Bigfoot as an unknown ape, some believers in Bigfoot attribute the phenomenon to UFOs or other paranormal causes. A minority of proponents of a natural explanation have attributed Bigfoot to animals that are not apes such as the giant ground sloth.
Photo of an unidentified animal the Bigfoot Research Organization claims is a “juvenile Sasquatch”
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said that photos the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization claimed showed a juvenile Bigfoot were most likely of a bear with mange. Jeffrey Meldrum, on the other hand, said the limb proportions of the suspected juvenile in question were not bear-like, and stated that he felt they were “more like a chimpanzee.”
Both scientists and Bigfoot believers agree that many of the sightings are hoaxes or misidentified animals.
Bigfoot sightings or footprints are often demonstrably hoaxes. Author Jerome Clark argues that the Jacko Affair, involving an 1884 newspaper report of an apelike creature captured in British Columbia, was a hoax. Citing research by John Green, who found that several contemporary British Columbia newspapers regarded the alleged capture as very dubious, Clark notes that the Mainland Guardian of New Westminster, British Columbia, wrote, “Absurdity is written on the face of it.”
On July 14, 2005, Tom Biscardi, a long-time Bigfoot enthusiast and CEO of Searching for Bigfoot Inc., appeared on the Coast to Coast AM paranormal radio show and announced that he was “98% sure that his group will be able to capture a Bigfoot which they have been tracking in the Happy Camp, California area.” A month later, Biscardi announced on the same radio show that he had access to a captured Bigfoot and was arranging a pay-per-view event for people to see it. Biscardi appeared on Coast to Coast AM again a few days later to announce that there was no captive Bigfoot. Biscardi blamed an unnamed woman for misleading him, and the show’s audience for being gullible.
On July 9, 2008, Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton posted a video to YouTube claiming that they had discovered the body of a dead Sasquatch in a forest in northern Georgia. Tom Biscardi was contacted to investigate. Dyer and Whitton received $50,000 from Searching for Bigfoot, Inc., as a good faith gesture. The story of the men’s claims was covered by many major news networks, including BBC, CNN, ABC News, and Fox News. Soon after a press conference, the alleged Bigfoot body arrived in a block of ice in a freezer with the Searching for Bigfoot team. When the contents were thawed, it was discovered that the hair was not real, the head was hollow, and the feet were rubber. Dyer and Whitton subsequently admitted it was a hoax after being confronted by Steve Kulls, executive director of Squatchdetective.com.
In August 2012 a man in Montana was killed by a car while perpetrating a Bigfoot hoax using a ghillie suit.
Fossil jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki, an extinct primate
Bigfoot proponents Grover Krantz and Geoffrey Bourne believe that Bigfoot could be a relict population of Gigantopithecus. Bourne contends that as most Gigantopithecus fossils are found in China, and as many species of animals migrated across the Bering land bridge, it is not unreasonable to assume that Gigantopithecus might have as well.
The Gigantopithecus hypothesis is generally considered entirely speculative. Gigantopithecus fossils are not found in the Americas. As the only recovered fossils are of mandibles and teeth, there is some uncertainty about Gigantopithecus’s locomotion. Krantz has argued, based on his extrapolation of the shape of its mandible, that Gigantopithecus blacki could have been bipedal. However, the relevant part of mandible is not present in any fossils. The mainstream view is that Gigantopithecus was quadrupedal, and it has been argued that Gigantopithecus’s enormous mass would have made it difficult for it to adopt a bipedal gait.
Matt Cartmill presents another problem with the Gigantopithecus hypothesis: “The trouble with this account is that Gigantopithecus was not a hominin and maybe not even a crown-group hominoid; yet the physical evidence implies that Bigfoot is an upright biped with buttocks and a long, stout, permanently adducted hallux. These are hominin autapomorphies, not found in other mammals or other bipeds. It seems unlikely that Gigantopithecus would have evolved these uniquely hominin traits in parallel.”
Bernard G. Campbellin wrote: “That Gigantopithecus is in fact extinct has been questioned by those who believe it survives as the Yeti of the Himalayas and the Sasquatch of the north-west American coast. But the evidence for these creatures is not convincing.”
A species of Paranthropus, such as Paranthropus robustus, with its crested skull and bipedal gait, was suggested by primatologist John Napier and anthropologist Gordon Strasenburg as a possible candidate for Bigfoot’s identity, despite the fact that fossils of Paranthropus are found only in Africa.
Michael Rugg, of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, presented a comparison between human, Gigantopithecus and Meganthropus skulls (reconstructions made by Grover Krantz) in episodes 131 and 132 of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum Show. He favorably compares a modern tooth suspected of coming from a Bigfoot to the Meganthropus fossil teeth, noting the worn enamel on the occlusal surface. The Meganthropus fossils originated from Asia, the tooth was found in the Pacific Northwest.
Some suggest Neanderthal, Homo erectus, or Homo heidelbergensis to be the creature, but no remains of any of those species have been found in the Americas.
One fringe theory, supported by paranormal investigator Jon-Erik Beckjord, theorizes that the lack of hard evidence supporting Bigfoot’s existence may be due to the creature being an interdimensional being that slips in and out of dimensions. Many Bigfoot advocates distance themselves from the paranormal position and regard it as an embarrassment.
Bigfoot is more than just a silly slice of history. The beast’s appearance on the national scene marked an important milestone: the first widely popularized example of pseudoscience in American culture. The debate over its legitimacy reached a zenith in the 1970s, with a slew of high-profile magazine stories and TV specials that gave prominent coverage to theories supporting the creature’s existence, concocted by self-styled Bigfoot “experts” spouting factoids cherry-picked from bona fide scientific research. The controversy led anthropologists and other scientists to run for cover to avoid being tarred by association with such specious ideas. As a result, the “evidence” in Bigfoot’s favor was presented essentially unchallenged, effectively legitimizing the pseudoscientific claims. Because the existence of the beast could not be disproved, many readers and viewers were left feeling that its existence was quite probable. By absenting themselves from the debate, the scientific community appeared out of touch and elitist. In the three intervening decades, the increasingly common use of pseudoscience—junk science, voodoo science, pathological science, or whatever you choose to call it—has transformed public debate.
The scientific community discounts the existence of Bigfoot, as there is no evidence supporting the survival of such a large, prehistoric ape-like creature. The evidence that does exist points more towards a hoax or delusion than to sightings of a genuine creature. In a 1996 USA Today article, Washington State zoologist John Crane said, “There is no such thing as Bigfoot. No data other than material that’s clearly been fabricated has ever been presented.” In addition to the lack of evidence, scientists cite the fact that Bigfoot is alleged to live in regions unusual for a large, nonhuman primate, i.e., temperate latitudes in the northern hemisphere; all recognized nonhuman apes are found in the tropics of Africa and Asia (although some smaller primates, such as Japanese macaques, are found in Asia up to the latitude of Northern California, and can cope with air temperatures to -20°C (-4°F)). Thus, as with other proposed megafauna cryptids, climate and food supply issues would make such a creature’s survival in reported habitats unlikely. Furthermore, great apes are not found in the fossil record in the Americas, and no Bigfoot remains have ever been found. Indeed, scientific consensus is that the breeding population of such an animal would be so large that it would account for many more purported sightings than currently occur, making the existence of such an animal an almost certain impossibility.
A few scientists have been less skeptical about the claims of the existence of sasquatch. Jeffrey Meldrum characterizes the search for Sasquatch as “a valid scientific endeavor”. and says that the fossil remains of an ancient giant ape called Gigantopithecus could turn out to be ancestors of today’s commonly known Bigfoot. pier asserts that the scientific community’s attitude towards Bigfoot stems primarily from insufficient evidence. Other scientists who have shown varying degrees of interest in the legend are anthropologist David Daegling, field biologist George Shaller, Russell Mittermeier, Daris Swindler, Esteban Sarmiento, and discredited racial anthropologist Carleton S. Coon. Jane Goodall, in a September 27, 2002, interview on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday”, expressed her ideas about the existence of Bigfoot. First stating “I’m sure they exist”, she later went on to say, chuckling, “Well, I’m a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist”, and finally: “You know, why isn’t there a body? I can’t answer that, and maybe they don’t exist, but I want them to.” However, the vast majority of evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and paleontologists completely dismiss the possibility of the existence of sasquatch.
There are several organizations dedicated to the research and investigation of Bigfoot sightings in the United States. The oldest and largest is the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The BFRO also provides a free database to individuals and other organizations. Their internet website includes reports from across North America that have been investigated by researchers to determine credibility.