What does Bigfoot look like?
What does Bigfoot look like? That’s a silly question, I hear you say. We know what Bigfoot looks like. He is a huge man-like non-human primate. That pointed conical shaped head, those large muscled body frames and all that thick hairy covering everywhere. All you have to do is look at the Patterson film and you’ll know. After all, if the film is genuine and not a hoax, then anyone who has ever seen it has seen what Bigfoot looks like. But has he always looked that way? That’s the question.
Recently I have been wondering this point after reading Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero’s new book Abominable Science. This recent book takes a look at a few of the most famous Cryptids such as Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and Mokele Mbembe as well as Cryptozoology as a whole and examines them in a skeptical manner. It’s an interesting read and they make a few really good points. One that got me thinking is that one of the most important modern Bigfoot/Sasquatch sightings, namely William Roe’s, might be much more influential than most people might have realized, but not in a good way. In/about 1955 Roe saw in British Columbia a creature very similar to what Patterson would film almost twelve years later. Both creatures are apparently female and the drawing Roe made based on his encounter looks just like the drawing Patterson would make in 1966 and what he would film a year later. Now the interesting point they make which I really hadn’t realized before was that even though a number of prominent Bigfoot researchers like John Green talked with Roe via letters, no one seemed to ever have a face to face interview with him. It really is quite amazing that a sighting has had so much weight put onto it by the modern Bigfoot community and no one ever so much as talked to Roe face to face. No pictures of him exist either. That seemed really curious to me.
Now the next idea Loxton and Prothero put forward is that that this sighting (Roe’s) is what has more than anything shaped what Bigfoot is supposed to look like. They make this assertion because of the fact that an amount of previous lore about wild men may have in fact just been about wild men. They cite John W. Burns as supplying one of the interesting pieces of the puzzle. If that name seems familiar, it should. He was a school teacher that collected reports of a number of strange local folklore about giants and hairy men. He is also credited with coining the term Sasquatch, by slightly changing the term from one of the local Halkomelem languages of the Salish Coast people. Burns was told by many natives in the area that these wild people where in fact just wild people living out in the woods. One eyewitness he met claims to have accidentally shot a young male “Sasquatch” only to then meet his mother who for all intents and purposes was just a women with really long hair. From this they conclude that the idea of Bigfoot looking like a wild ape is a modern invention and that, if Roe’s sighting is a hoax (which they freely admit they think it is), then all future sightings and evidence (including the Patterson film) depicting a creature like an ape is based on false assumptions.
Now this is a really interesting idea and it is something I wanted to explore more. It is very true that a number of native stories and legends from across America and Canada are just that - legends. Many describe these giants as having magic powers and wands. Some are even covered in stone or have spires growing out of them. This certainly doesn’t sound like a flesh and blood creature. Even factoring things like distortion with a myth, an example would be natives in Africa assumed gorillas were man eating ogres when in fact we know they are no such thing, they still seem very farfetched. Also a number of legends that I have seen some researchers try to justify as “proof” of natives' knowledge of Bigfoot really just do describe tall Indians. One such example is the Twahawbitts,which are described as gigantic Indian cannibals, are really just a myth about a race of fictional giant Indians. That being said I think there are some strong counter points to be made in this line of thought.
One is that Burns while important for gathering local legends and being very important to the Bigfoot lore (seriously when you give the world the name Sasquatch your importance to the culture in which it is used can’t be overstated) he was guilty of something that I have always had a pet peeve about. Like others Burns was guilty of lumping several unrelated things together and trying to assert that they all represent the same thing. In his database of legends and sightings, he in addition to stories about wild men, has reported sightings of creature that resemble what many modern researchers have termed Devil Monkeys, as well as very ape like looking creatures similar to what Roe, Patterson, and hundreds of others have claimed to have seen.
Second there might be accurate physical descriptions of large ape-like creatures in America long before Europeans arrived in the New World. Undoubtedly one of the (if not the best) of this kind of evidence can be found in the form of a stone painting on the Tule Indian reservation in outside of Porterville, California. Here a thousands of year old cliff paintings depict several life sized acute representing of several known animals, like foxes, eagles and people. Yet among them are three very striking figures, three large hair covered individuals. According to Anthropologist Kathy Moskowitz-Strain these are meant to represent what in the native language they call the “hairy man” and his family. The center on is the father - his painting is over eight feet tall. The second is meant to be his wife, her painting in about six feet tall. Finally the third is supposed to represent a child, he stands just a few feet tall.
Now what is so striking is that in overall form, shape and size they look just like what so many people claim to have seen, giant hairy apes. It is also worth noting that, as stated earlier, other known animals are represented not just anatomically accurately, but sizewise too. So the question that remains is, how would natives thousands of years ago know what giant hairy apes look like if no such animals officially live in America.
So how does this idea about the modern Bigfoot being retrofitted into looking like an ape stand? Well I’m torn on it. While I applaud Loxton and Prothero for shedding light on some interesting points, namely bringing to light how much some people put stock into unrelated legends and trying to pass them off as “evidence”, I cannot endorse the idea that the idea of Bigfoot looking like a large ape is a 20th century invention. The stone drawing and hundreds of historical newspaper articles and sightings prior to Roe’s famous sighting suggest otherwise. Is Bigfoot really real? I can’t answer that at this time. But one thing is for certain, as long as people go into the woods on camping trips, hunting trips, and nature walks some will return with new stories about strange things and unexpected sightings that will keep the debate going for years to come.
· Loxton, Daniel. Abominable Science!. Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. New York: Columbia UP, 2013. Print
· Green, John. Sasquatch: The Apes among Us. Saanichton, B.C.: Hancock House, 1978. Print.
· Strain, Kathy Muskowitz. Giants, Cannibals & Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture. Surrey, B.C.: Hancock House, 2008. Print