ELBE — He stands 9 feet tall with stringy brown fur all over his body and glowing red eyes, and if he truly does exist, he probably lives in a forest near you.
The ape-like beast known as Sasquatch is mere legend to skeptics, but to members of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, he is a legitimate scientific conundrum. The group regularly scours areas in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other wooded parts of the state in search of “squatches” — that’s right — plural Sasquatch.
Based on sightings reported by BFRO’s Web site, Washington state is effectively Bigfoot central, more specifically the densely covered Cascade foothills of Southwest Washington. The group believes Sasquatches live in complex communities with advanced social norms and complex forms of communication, including their own language.
“These people who live here, if you could get them to talk to you, they would tell you, ‘We hear them all the time,’” said Scott Taylor, a particularly active member of BFRO who led a group of eight people on a research trip near Mount Rainier National Park last Saturday. “We try to come out to places like this to meet the witnesses and sit and talk and let them get it off their chest, because many of them have been bottling it up for years.”
The group’s claim to fame is the “Skookum Cast,” a body impression of an ape-like figure found in the Skookum Meadow, in the southern portion of the Gifford Pinchot. It was unveiled in 2000 and studied by the late Washington State University anthropologist Grover Krantz, who dedicated much of his career to studying Bigfoot, along with the Kennewick Man — skeletal remains of a prehistoric man found on the Columbia River in 1996.
Taylor, a retired U.S. Marine and engineer by trade who lives in Spanaway, said Lewis County is one of his most common areas of investigation, and he experienced one of his five Sasquatch sightings while deer hunting south of Mossyrock in December. He said his attention peaked when he heard the characteristic Sasquatch “scream.”
“It’s high-pitched like a chimp, but with much more timbre, like a growl. You experience a primal sense of fear,” Taylor said. “I scanned the slope and saw a creature on all fours dart from one tree to another. And that’s common when they come into contact with people. They’ll get low to avoid being seen.”
Tyler Bounds, a Stanwood man also on the expedition, said he has spent time on old logging roads outside Morton, where he saw trees jammed into the ground with root structures facing upward. He said he heard a strange growl on the excursion.
“It sounded like a monster,” he said.
But in the world of Bigfoot, the believers are clearly outnumbered. A total lack of bones, plus purposeful attempts at Sasquatch hoaxing serve only to bolster the case for skeptics.
“It serves them no purpose to be seen by us. How often do we find bones of bears or cougars? They quickly decay,” Taylor said. “And it’s pretty easy to tell what’s real and what is a hoax.”
Another member of the expedition Saturday says he has never seen a Sasquatch. He said he’s a federally funded anthropologist, but declined to give his name.
“Once you start looking into the evidence and reading books and all .. the idea that it’s all hoaxing and misidentification, I don’t know, is it a collective hallucination?” he said. “It seems more reasonable to start looking at the idea that these things really exist.”
Bigfoot Hoaxer Ray Wallace Has Roots in Toledo
Perhaps the most famous Bigfoot hoaxer of all time hailed from Toledo.
Ray Wallace, apparently with the help of a Toledo friend, Rant Mullins, wanted to play a trick on Northern California miners in the 1950s when he was on a road-building project. Wallace made a wooden cast from an outline of a friend’s foot expanded by three times and left impressions in the ground near logging sites.
According to interviews with Wallace’s family, the hoax began as a way to deter people from vandalizing the sites but later developed into a lifelong hobby. The fake tracks helped coin the term “Bigfoot” in a headline of the Humboldt Times in Eureka, Calif.
Wallace died in 2002, but is survived by family still in the area. Bigfoot believers generally don’t buy the Wallace hoax because its announcement came after his death when family members found the foot pressings after sorting through his old junk. The Bigfoot faithful also take particular umbrage with what they say are fabricated quotes in a 2002 article by the New York Times calling Wallace’s passing “the death of Bigfoot.”
“He used to mess with us kids. Then he made those tracks at a camp down there in California — ‘course they got up the next morning real excited,” said Dale Wallace, Ray’s 76-year-old nephew who lives in Toledo. “Yep, he was a real character.”
The following are Bigfoot-related news snippets from The Chronicle’s archives:
April 12, 1982 — A retired Toledo logger said he helped create the legends of a Bigfoot creature around Mount St. Helens. Rant Mullens, 86, said he and his uncle were returning from a fishing trip in 1924 and decided to throw a scare into some miners in the area. They rolled rocks over the edge and hightailed away. Later the three miners from Kelso reported seeing huge, hairy, apelike creatures that hurled boulders down upon their cabin. The miners said they fought off the creatures with rifle fire.
Mullens said he built on the legend four years later, when he whittled giant feet out of green alder wood and a friend stomped around the banks of the Muddy River, leaving tracks for berry pickers to notice.
“I tell you, people will believe just about anything,” the solitary, retired logger said from his home in Toledo.
April 19, 1982 — H. Woodman, Napavine, wrote a letter to the editor saying he saw a Bigfoot creature in 1953.
“Going home one evening on the Rutledge Road in the Littlerock area, I drove around a corner and saw a single animal — I thought it was a bear standing on its hind legs in the road. It was taller than a 6-foot man and was brown in color. It ran across the road, leaped a split rail fence and was gone in four or five seconds.
“Sometime later, I read some literature and remembered this sighting. The animal had hind legs that were of human proportions. A bear’s hind legs are short compared to its body. When it ran away at great speed it did not run on four legs but ran erect as a man would. A bear would run on all fours... I know what I saw and the only proof I need is to remember that it was erect when it ran away.”
Feb. 10, 1997 — Ruth Steele, 73, was convinced that a Bigfoot creature was roaming the hills near her home in Dryad.
“No question about it, I seen it ... I’m not hallucinating — I’ve got a good mind.”
She believed she had seen either a Sasquatch or some kind of alien three times in six months. She didn’t carry a camera with her those times, but she had begun to. All the sightings took place near rural Doty and Dryad on the semiforested River Road.
The 7-foot-something tall humanoid was covered with gray, white and sometimes black fur, she said. The animal’s face appeared pink skinned. The furry creature walked upright and wore no clothing. In the most recent sighting, in January, the creature heard her car, turned and looked directly at her. Its eyes shone red.
“It shocked the devil out of me when I seen it,” Steele said. “I thought what in God’s name is that? ... He wasn’t no human. He’s never nothing I’d seen in the woods.”
During a recent sighting her daughter, Debra Steele, 41, also saw the creature. “It looked me right in the face — it scared the pants right off of me,” the younger Steele said.
Aug. 5, 2001 — The public had its first chance to see the Skookum Cast, a plaster casting of what might be Bigfoot. Wildlife biologist Dr. LeRoy Fish, Oregon, said the heel had what appeared to be a callus.
The 3½ by 5 foot chunk of plaster held the reverse imprint of what Fish and Kevin Lindley of Mossyrock said was an unknown primate.
The impression had been discovered in Skookum Meadow in Skamania County in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, between Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.
Bigfoot skeptics say Wallace could have been behind famous tracks found at the Ape Cave near Mount St. Helens.
Reported Bigfoot Sightings in Lewis County
Winlock — “The Brinson Monster” — Startled by a tall standing beast, high school kids who were out for a night of beer drinking at their regular spot return with a rifle and attempt to kill Bigfoot.
White Pass — A Washington State University student sees a roadside Sasquatch who was startled by his headlights and then stepped over the guardrail on U.S. Highway 12.
Packwood — Man reports a large scream from an animal running across the back side of the High Valley Country Club.
Morton — Two men cutting cedar shake blocks near a creek hear a peculiar scream on an old logging road.
Mineral — Two friends see a “dirty white” Sasquatch picking branches from a crab apple tree near a farm.
Morton — Two people spot a Sasquatch bathing in a pond and periodically slapping the water with huge hands.
Randle — Two hunters hear unusual “whoop howl” in stand of old growth forest.
Morton — Mother and daughter see “large animal with long reddish brown hair” cross the road.
Morton — Woman stops her vehicle to look at what she thinks is a bear in a roadside ditch, but when it stood up, she thought it was a gorilla. She said the Sasquatch appeared to be injured and bleeding and had a “sad look” as it crossed the road in front of her car.
White Pass — Family traveling from Tacoma report a Sasquatch standing in the road.
Mossyrock — Riffe Lake fisherman and his son see a Sasquatch walking in a clear-cut forest near the shore.
Randle — A man and his wife are awakened by a loud scream similar to a peacock, but louder and with more timbre. The man went outside and mimicked the call and was answered six times.
Packwood — Elk hunter is spooked to find giant footprints in snow.
Morton — Night watchmen for a logging company hear a strange short scream with a deep tone and two days later describe a figure “like Andre the Giant stepping over a rope.”
Doty — A dozen teenagers camping at Rainbow Falls State Park hear a strange scream after putting out their camp fire.
Mossyrock — A wife and her husband hear two strange screams while out elk hunting and camping near a clear-cut forest.
Salkum — A man driving down a dead-end country road sees a nondescript “gray patch” get up and move two steps into the woods.
Doty — A man hunting in a wooded area comes into direct contact with a Sasquatch, which screamed at him and then “said something” he couldn’t understand.
Winlock — A man lets his dogs run in his back yard when he hears a strange scream come from Olequa Creek.
Salkum — Three men sitting in a drift boat on the south side of the Cowlitz River hear a sound like a “chimp screaming” from dense brush directly across the river. They said the sound carried on wailing for a minute or more.
SOURCE: Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization