Given the nature of this blog and my interest in the paranormal and the supernatural, it might come as some surprise that I haven’t done a post about Bigfoot yet. I can’t name one specific reason why that is the case. One might be that I feel Bigfoot is overdone in the paranormal community (but I guess that the same could be said about ghosts, vampires, and werewolves and they have all made appearances on the blog). Another and the more likely one is that I’m naturally attracted to the more bizarre aspects of folklore/urban legends, and to me Bigfoot is pretty mundane because I live in Bigfoot Country (so it’s said anyway.)
Whatever the case, I decided to finally give the big ape its due. In fact, I will be devoting the entire week to our hairy, oft sighted but never caught friend. Today is all about the legends that most if not all of us know (and love? I don’t know.) Also, I thought for fun I would toss in a speculative hypothesis that some in the Bigfoot community put forward to try and scientifically explain the phenomena. Friday, we’ll delve into some hard science and see how that hypothesis holds up to scrutiny, and learn some pretty cool stuff about a long extinct critter that some think could be Bigfoot.
For now though, let’s have a look at some of the history behind the myth. People have told stories of hairy wild men in the wilderness for as long as we’ve been able to tell the difference between ourselves and other apes. Stories similar to the Bigfoot story we in America are familiar with are told in every culture – the Epic of Gilgamesh comes to mind, where the hero Gilgamesh befriends a hairy wild man named Enkidu who joins in on his adventures.
The story as we know it has its roots in the folklore of the natives in the Pacific Northwest. They told stories of wildmen – some who were cannibals, others who would do nothing more than steal the salmon from your nets. Once culture dubbed the beasts sesquacs, which was later Anglicized to the word Sasquatch.
The modern legends, and the big ape’s status in pop culture, didn’t begin until 1958. That was when mysterious sets of gigantic humanoid footprints showed up around a road construction site near Bluff Creek in California. Gerald Crew was the man who made the discovery, but I seriously doubt he imagined the story would explode like it did. It made the local papers, and was eventually picked up by the Associated Press. All the buzz attracted some of the first bona-fide Bigfoot hunters. A brand new subculture was brought to life and an old legend was revived, all in one year.
It wasn’t until nearly ten years later though that the most famous image of Bigfoot was taken by Roger Patterson and Robert Gillman, near Bluff Creek. Most anyone who has watched a show about Bigfoot has probably seen the Patterson footage, which shows what appears to be a Bigfoot walking along a creek bank.
Here we can see the features typical to the creature. It walks on two legs, with a long, loping strides. It has broad shoulders and a high forehead, rather like a gorilla’s. The body is covered in fur from head to toe.
Some features less obvious in the film are the purported height and weight of the animal. Most accounts put it somewhere between 6 and 10 feet tall (between 2 and 3 meters for my friends overseas) and at a weight of about 500 pounds (230 kg). It’s eyes are supposed to be very large, and sightings have been accompanied by a strong, unpleasant smell.
Probably the most famous feature of the beast, the one for which it was named, are its five toed tracks. Tracks average 24 inches long (60 cm) and about 8 inches wide (20 cm). The probably height and weight I mentioned in the previous paragraph were likely calculated from a combination of eyewitness estimates and the size and depth of footprints.
So, we have a big hairy ape allegedly wandering around North America, leaving giant foot prints everywhere and occasionally scaring the unholy crap out of an unfortunate hiker or two. So what is it really? A giant ape? A giant misconception? Or something else?
There are a whole bunch of ideas floating around as to what our smelly friend is, but the hypothesis I mentioned seems to hold the most water, at least to those in the field of cryptozoology.
Around ten thousand years ago, sea levels were low enough that a land bridge between Asia and North America was exposed in the Bering Sea. The Bering Land Bridge acted as a kind of highway for migratory animals to pass into the Americas. The earliest ancestors of the Native Americans followed said animals into their new home.
Some researchers suggest that Bigfoot also migrated to the Americas over the Bering Land Bridge. There were a species of gigantic ape that lived in China named Gigantopithecus, who were thought to be similar in size and shape to modern descriptions of Bigfoot.
Those same researchers point out that the area of the Pacific Northwest and Canada where the vast majority of Bigfoot sightings occur could conceivably support a population of large apes.
Many apes, including us, are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meat and plants. These researchers claim that since populations of bear are supported by the vast forests of the Northwest, an ape of similar size and weight could conceivably be supported as well.
The forests also solve a problem often pointed out to Bigfoot researchers – if the things are out there, why hasn’t a body been found? Well, given the deep forests and the huge amount of land involved, coupled with the conceivably limited size of the Bigfoot’s population, it would be very difficult to find a body or bones. That coupled with the fact that animals who are sick or dying tend to go off on their own and hide when it is time to die would explain why there have been no bodies found so far.
Until then…what do you think? Are you a believer? A skeptic? Or do you have your own alternative hypothesis?