Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is an alleged ape-like creature purportedly inhabiting forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid.
The scientific community considers Bigfoot to be a combination of folklore, misidentification, and hoaxes, rather than a real creature. In general, mainstream scientific consensus does not support the posited existence of megafauna cryptids such as Bigfoot, because of the improbably large numbers necessary to maintain a breeding population, and because climate and food supply issues would make such purported creatures’ survival in reported habitats unlikely. Despite these facts, Bigfoot is one of the more famous examples of a cryptid within cryptozoology.
Bigfoot is described in reports as a large ape-like creature, ranging between 6–10 feet (1.8–3.0 m) tall, weighing in excess of 500 pounds (230 kg), and covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair. Alleged 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 have claimed to have encountered it. The enormous footprints for which it is named have been as large as 24 inches (61 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. Proponents have also 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.
The local legends were combined together 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, 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.
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 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.
The year 1958 was a watershed for not just the Bigfoot story itself but also the culture that surrounds it. The first Bigfoot hunters began following the discovery of footprints at Bluff Creek. 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.
Distribution of reported Bigfoot sightings in Anglo-America.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.
About a third of all Bigfoot sightings are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the remaining sightings spread throughout the rest of North America. Some Bigfoot advocates, such as cryptozoologist John Willison Green, have postulated that Bigfoot is a worldwide phenomenon. The most notable sightings include:
- 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. Beck claimed 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 incident was widely reported at the time. Beck wrote a book about the event in 1967, in which he argued that the alleged 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 claimed to have escaped their home when a large Sasquatch, allegedly 7.5 feet (2.3 m) tall, 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 been seeing 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 claimed 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, which is purported to be the best evidence of Bigfoot by many advocates. Many years later, Bob Heironimus, an acquaintance of Patterson’s, claimed that he had worn an ape costume for the making of the film.
- 2007: On September 16 2007, hunter Rick Jacobs captured an image of a possible sasquatch using an automatically triggered camera attached to a tree. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Game Commission challenged the Bigfoot explanation, saying that it looked like “a bear with a severe case of mange.” In 2008 scientists worked out the size of the Jacobs creature in an article written by Vanessa Woods that displayed the proportions were not similar to a bears. The sighting happened near the town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny National Forest.
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.
The reported size of Bigfoot approximates that of a bear standing on its hind legs, and bears have a high prevalence in regions said to be inhabited by Bigfoot; as such, they are likely candidates to explain some sightings. A recent example comes from a series of pictures taken in 2007, claimed by The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization to show a juvenile Bigfoot, which the Pennsylvania Game Commission has said show a bear with mange. Conversely, some question if the Pennsylvania Game Commission have misidentified the image. The broadcast organization MSNBC feel the hunter’s photo revived the lively Bigfoot debate. While Jeffrey Meldrum said the limb proportions of the suspected juvenile in question were not bear-like, stating he felt they were “more like a human.” A tale presented in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1892 book The Wilderness Hunter, describing an encounter between two hunters and a violent something, is sometimes presented by Bigfoot proponents as historical evidence of the creature’s existence.
Even proponents of Bigfoot admit that many of the sightings are hoaxes or misidentified animals. Cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Diane Stocking have estimated that as many as 70 to 80 percent of sightings are not real.
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 deceased 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.
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.
Some Bigfoot proponents suggest Neanderthal or Homo erectus to be the creature, but no remains of either species are found in the New World.[63
The scientific community overwhelmingly discounts the existence of Bigfoot, as there is little or 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 titled “Bigfoot Merely Amuses Most Scientists”, Washington State zoologist John Crane is quoted as saying: “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. 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, scientists insist 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.
John Napier asserts that the scientific community’s attitude towards Bigfoot stems primarily from insufficient evidence. Anthropologist David Daegling echoed this idea, citing a “remarkably limited amount of Sasquatch data that are amenable to scientific scrutiny.” He advises that mainstream skeptics take a proactive position “to offer an alternative explanation. We have to explain why we see Bigfoot when there is no such animal.”
A few scientists have offered varying degrees of support for Bigfoot study and beliefs. Field biologist George Shaller has spoken in favor of greater study of Bigfoot evidence while still expressing skepticism towards the possibility of its existence. Similarly, Napier has argued that some “soft evidence” is compelling enough that he advises against “dismissing its reality out of hand.” Other scientists who have expressed guarded interest in Sasquatch reports include Russell Mittermeier, Daris Swindler, and Esteban Sarmiento. Jane Goodall, in a 2002 interview, expressed her personal hope of the existence of Bigfoot, but allowed that there is no concrete evidence for the creature. Anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, whose theories on the evolution of race in humans have been largely discredited, expressed support for Bigfoot’s existence in a posthumously published essay.