Sunday, April 3, 2005

Bigfoot Critique Part 1 (deblathified)

The following blog post has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen, to run in the time allotted and edited for blathering.

Legends of giant or diminutive people are popular in cultures from all over the world. And so, for the first three entries of My Blasted Idea, I'll start with a myth from up here in the Pacific Northwest. 
` In the late 1920's, a man named J. W. Burns spent years in the little tourist trap of Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, bugging the native Chehalis people to give him any information they had about a mysterious tribe of giants.
` The giants were generally said to be physically indistinguishable from a human other than their large size, and a covering of 'hair, not fur'. One Chehalis man, Peter Williams, told Burns that a six-and-a-half foot 'nude' giant chased him home and tried to knock apart his shack. This, he explained, was why the shack was in such bad condition that he and his family had to move.
` More stories came from a Skwah man by the name of Charley Victor, who claimed to have come across a giant's house in a cave, which he said was later sealed with a boulder. He also claimed that he'd had an encounter with one such giant, up close and personal:
` His dog began driving something out of a hollow tree, which looked like a bear, so he shot it. Unfortunately, he said, it was apparently a naked white boy who had long, 'black and woolly' hair. The boy yelled for help until this huge, hulking Native American-type woman came striding up, also with long hair, and with very dark skin.
` Seeing what had happened, she growled to Charley in Douglas-speak; "You have shot my friend." Terrified, he tried to explain what had happened, but she was apparently too furious to care as she began a medicine dance around the boy. She also told Charley that he would never kill another bear, he claimed, and tearfully added that he hadn't killed any animals since then.

An even wilder story comes from Serephine Long, who wrote that she was abducted by one of these giants, who stuck her eyelids shut with tree gum. He ran with her across rivers and up a mountain before clearing gum out of her eyes.
` She could see by the light of a small fire that she was in a huge cave with fairly nice animal hides as carpet, where she was held captive by the giant and his parents. She wasn't seen in her village until about a year later, when the giant supposedly carried her back (again, with her eyes glued shut), in a state of near-collapse.
` Apparently, she had become very ill and had argued with the giant (in his Douglas-like language) until he took her back so she could at least be surrounded by her own people when she died. Soon, she went into labor with what she claimed was the giant's child, and survived -- but the offspring did not.

` Really? Interbreeding with giants? Or some sort of cover story to explain the pregnancy, if there even was one?

None of these claims has ever been substantiated, and it is possible that some of them were invented to explain strange happenings, or even just to appease Burns. Nevertheless, he seems to have invented a name for the giants (possibly derived from Selish): Sasquatch.
` The public was introduced to this creature on April Fools Day, 1929, with the appearance of Burns' article, Introducing BC's Hairy Giants, in MacLean's Magazine. By the time the Great Depression had come and gone, and everyone was worried about nuclear weapons, most people had forgotten about the giants, even though the Yeti was a popular notion.
` For 1957, the centennial of British Columbia, the village council of Harrison wanted to spend $600 on a PR stunt, and decided on sponsoring a sasquatch hunt. If the people of the world liked legends of the Tibetan Yeti, why not Sasquatch?
` The editor of the local paper, John Green, remembered a Swiss man who was interested in Sasquatch, and so invited him back for the occasion. That enthusiast was Rene Dahinden, who, together with Green, became two of the first people to ever study Sasquatch.
` The idea was enormously popular, and the story was front page news across Canada and sensationalized on the radio. Green remarked at the time, "Perhaps never before has a tourist resort achieved such publicity without actually doing anything."
` Remember now, according to Green (in the 60's), "The Sasquatch with which Mr Burns' readers were familiar were basically giant Indians. Although avoiding civilization, they had clothes, fire, weapons...and lived in villages. They were called hairy giants it is true, but this was taken to mean they had long hair on their heads, something along the lines of today's hippies."

That all changed when a man named William Roe claimed that he had seen a female Sasquatch two years before before the snipe hunt. Although original reports have been lost, he is said to have described something like a muscular and upright-walking gorilla with large breasts.
` Roe, according to Green, "was the very first to describe a Sasquatch as an ape-like creature rather than a giant Indian."
` Immediately following this new description, another guy named Albert Ostman reported that decades before, he had been kidnapped by a family of these ape-people, and escaped days later after getting the father addicted to snuff.
` And why did he wait so long to tell anyone? Because, he said, he thought that no one would believe him. Considering that many of the details of his story don't even make sense, it really isn't taken seriously by most serious studiers of Sasquatch.

So here we have the first two descriptions of a furry ape-like Sasquatch, and neither of them have any corroborating evidence. (Granted, there are a few dubious/falsified reports of gorilla encounters before this time, as well as other Native American legends, but that's another discussion.)

By 1958, these Sasquatch legends had finally reached the United States, where a prankster and construction contractor named Ray Wallace was apparently inspired to make mischief. According to various accounts, Ray was the one who stamped a bunch of really fake-looking tracks around his Californian construction site as a joke (and/or to ward off vandals).
` Shortly after that, the Wallace Brothers hired a new bulldozer operator, and in August, Ray had a little fun with him: This new guy, Jerry Crew, returned to his bulldozer in the woods at Bluff Creek to find a trail of 7-by-16-inch, human-like footprints.
` Thinking that this was just a gag, Crew complained to his boss, Wilbur Wallace (who himself told stories that these creatures threw around the construction equipment).
` After a few weeks of working apart from the others, and finding new tracks all the time, Crew understandably became quite nervous. By this time, he wasn't so sure it was a gag, so he made a plaster cast of the footprint and sold his story to the Humboldt Times.
` The resulting newspaper article was a hit -- it used the word 'Bigfoot', and it mentioned that these footprints might be connected to the Sasquatch. Thusly, Bigfoot was born before the eyes of the masses.

As the Wallaces' construction sites were the only reported places of these tracks, many people (including police), had already suspected Ray of pulling a prank. In 1960, a witness even told one of the Bigfoot investigators that Ray's brother had explained how fake wooden feet were used to press footprints into the ground.
` So, what is more believable at that point in time? That there is a creature whose footprints are only known from the construction sites of a man who is said to have made them, or that he actually did make the footprints?
` While some Bigfoot investigators dismiss all of the tracks, some have differing opinions. For example, Loren Colemen concluded that although most are fake, as they "exactly match the 1960 Bluff Creek tracks," the ones found by Jerry Crew don't match the shape of the 'stompers' that are known and, in fact, must be made by a real Bigfoot.
` That's right, kids, because you should leap before you logic.

In 2002, however, it should be noted that Ray Wallace died, and in his obituary, Ray's son stated: "Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died." Yet, Bigfoot did not die in popular culture. This is partly thanks to Ray's making an entire career out of 'Bigfoot', going so far as to plant samples of feces and processed bison hair (from his farm) for Bigfoot investigators to find.

` Of course, Ray had plenty of stories, many of which were collected by John Green, and which would probably amuse most people. Let's look at several, starting with a letter to the Klam-ity Kourier, (October 1, 1969), in which Ray wrote:

"Big Foot used to be very tame, as I have seen him almost every morning on the way to work..I would sit in my pickup and toss apples out of the window to him. He never did catch an apple but he sure tried. Then as he ate the apples I would have my movie camera clipping off more footage of him..I have talked to several movie companies about selling my movies which would last for three hours. The best offer I've had so far is $250,000." 
 As far as Wallace's films go, they are not public knowledge, although many of his posters and photos are. In a letter to bigfoot enthusiast, Dennis Gates (May 4, 1978), Wallace explains that he wanted
" inform you Big Foot hunters that Big Footed creatures are people, they speak a language. I could tell you more about the Sasquatch or Bigfoot than anyone else, I told Roger Patterson where to go in California to see Big Foots. I made ten thousand feet of movies of the Big Foots before I told Roger Patterson where to go..I logged the Bluff Creek area for ten years and the whole crew has seen as many as 13 of the Big Foot people at one time..I could take you to a cave in Northern California where the Big Foots live in a very rich gold mine cave.Did you know that Tom Slick bought Big Foot skeletons for many years and turned them over to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.? legs bones four inches diameter, two and a half feet long between the ankle and knee.I have talked to the Big Foots many times..they didn't understand me and I didn't understand them, but their brown eyes told the story that they are very sad because the bear hunters are killing all their people." 
It is worth noting that he offered to sell a Bigfoot to Tom Slick, an oil tycoon, but Wallace changed his mind when Slick agreed to buy it. That would seem to have been a claim with no substance, as is his April 15, 1978 letter to John Green:
"Everyone says who has heard Big Foots screams in northern California, before all the Big Foots were killed and hauled down the Klamath River in a tug boat and out into the ocean 12 miles to where was a small ship anchored in international waters and frozen into a block of ice and then transported to Hong Kong and sold, so now there aren't any more left in northern California. or is there if they are being let out of flying saucers."
Green was not terribly impressed with these stories. Wallace also wrote to the University of British Columbia (Jan 26, 1981) about some sightings of Bigfoot even before the Sasquatch legend emerged from Harrison Hot Springs:
"Back in 1947 when I had my logging crew on a free moose hunting trip to Canada near Vanderhoof, B.C. we saw a family of six Sasquatches and they were as interested in us as we were in them.I have seen the Big Foots in Northern California and around Mt. Hood in Oregon and around Mt. St. Helens and they all look alike so I know that Big Foot and Sasquatches are all brothers or sisters..the largest BF I have ever seen at least four feet acrossed the chest and very large arms and carrying a large round rock in each hand. I have a movie of one throwing a rock and killing a deer."
He also claimed to have some really good photos, in his letter to Green on December 2, 1984:
"Please send me your correct address..I want to send you a picture of one of the male Mt. St. Helens apes that the loggers took this spring as they were feeding apples to an old pair of BFs and the female was carrying a baby, but she never came close enough for them to get a good picture, they got some close up pictures of this 9 foot tall male, I just borrowed the negatives..I want to send all of the BF researchers a picture." 
 Although Green sent him his address, he never received the pictures -- although I did find one of his pictures on the internetz, which he claimed to be of a pregnant female. On October 20, 1989, Green received this letter from Wallace, which is about as wild as one can get:
"I sent you a tape of the songs about Big Foot plus some of his high-pitched screams, I would like for you to set up a meeting with scientists from all over the world to listen to those screams.Our government thinks these Big Foots are being let out of flying saucers. In 1975 I was interviewed by some government officials for 4 hours.. This government official said to me 'Mr. Wallace we think these big foots are being let out of flying saucers' .. This Bob, I don't dare mention his name I don't think, anyway he got up out of his chair and came over to me and shook his fore finger in my face..I say why don't you tell the public that instead of lying to them and saying there are no such things as flying saucers. Bob called me several times after that meeting and he has retired now but he still sends me reports of flying saucers that are being seen all over the world..The last thing Bob said our government are really worried about what those flying saucers are here for. I said its nothing to worry about and its just the full filment of the Bible as it says there will be all types of objects in the skies in the last days."
Despite all the evidence that Wallace was suspected of faking Bigfoot from the beginning -- and of making up silly stories -- some Bigfoot enthusiasts insist that Ray's family has disrespectfully framed him as a hoaxer.
` After all, it seems convenient that they waited until Ray died, thus unable to refute their sullying of his good name. Or else, I'd guess, they didn't want him to suffer any embarrassment over this while he was still alive?

So, the first clear record of a furry, "ape-like" Sasquatch was during the publicity stunt of 1957, a sensation which gave way to Bigfoot, which appears to be a hoax. This is not looking good so far for Bigfoot's existence.

` In my next installment, we'll look at a famous Bigfoot film that appears to be based on William Roe's Sasquatch description, and more.

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