The History of Bigfoot

Living legend or imaginary beast?

The History of Bigfoot

Living legend or imaginary beast?

From the diary of Francis Beaumont Adee, November 18, 1956:

“Today at camp I woke to the strangest sight. Our bulldozer had been moved overnight, but no one will admit to running it. There are no tracks where it would have moved—only a set of the biggest footprints I have seen in my entire life. And our bear-proof food boxes were pried open, our rations ransacked. What sort of creature could have possibly done this?”

Do you believe that the journal entry above is true, real, verifiable? I won’t tell you, because I don’t need to—this is the magic of Bigfoot. Even without a shred of confirming evidence, there’s something in our collective psyches that wants to believe in the mythical Sasquatch.

What no one can seem to agree on, though, is exactly what Bigfoot might be. So in the spirit of cryptozoological exploration, today I’ll present to you a (probably mostly real) account of the history of Bigfoot, from his appearance in early mythic folk stories to his ascendancy to pop culture fame. I don’t expect you to be a believer by the end of the story—just to question whether your own thoughts and beliefs might have something in common with history’s most famous giant ape man.

Think of the names of other mythical creatures: Thunderbirds, the Chupacabra, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil. Each name has a decidedly sexy and lyrical quality to it. 

Where Does Bigfoot Get Its Name?

But Bigfoot? This conjures up images of the wild, the untamed, the crude and uncouth. And there’s a magic to this name, because it firmly plants the image of the creature it describes in your mind.

Before it was known by its large-footed moniker though, a creature like the Bigfoot had been described in dozens of indigenous cultures. To the Lummi of the Pacific Northwest, he is Ts’emekwes. To the Halkomelem of British Columbia, he is sásq’ec—the origin of our word Sasquatch. In Florida and the Southern U.S. states, the Skunk Ape is described just as bigfoot is, but with an added pungent odor. The Australian Yowie, or Hairy Man, also fits the bill. And the Yeti is said to stalk the Himalayas.

Suffice it to say, the Bigfoot phenomena is far from bound to a single location. But the name “Bigfoot” can be traced to one specific event, in 1958.

The employees of a logging company operating in the Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt County, California woke up to a strange sight. Enormous human-shaped footprints were embedded in mud all over the camp, and a 450 pound oil drum had been moved—but not by the loggers. Upon sharing their story, the workers found that similar tracks had been seen at dozens of other camps. To talk about their findings, the loggers began referring to “Bigfoot.”

After a quick call to the Humboldt Times newspaper, the Bigfoot name and legend had been born in the United States.

History of Bigfoot

Theories of Bigfoot’s Origins

Assuming that Bigfoot is real—not just the product of thousands of overactive imaginations over hundreds of years—there are four main theories as to its origins.

In the first, amateur scientists imagine Bigfoot as the fabled “Missing Link” between apes and humans. Its bipedal stature and language-like vocalizations place it firmly in the camp of human features, while its massive stature, enormous strength, and hair-covered body give credence to its origins in the great apes.

Older cultures seem to have a different explanation. The Bigfoot is seen in many indigenous stories as a force of nature, more akin to a minor god or mythical creature than a fully embodied species. When the balance of nature is threatened, these gigantic ape-men will show up to fix what has been made wrong—like the clear-cutting of an ancient forest, for example.

The strangest theory of all, though, has to be that Bigfoot is an alien or extradimensional creature. Modern proponents of this theory rest their case on Bigfoot being able to use interdimensional portals to travel in space and time, much like UFOs and other difficult-to-prove creature sightings. This is one of the few theories to account for the fact that Bigfoot bones have never been found—they simply zip away to another dimension, leaving no trace of their existence here on Earth.

And the last (and least exciting) theory for Bigfoot’s origins actually attempts to refute it. This rests on the fact that every Bigfoot sighting has actually been a misidentification (usually of a bear), or is a deliberate hoax.

The Best Evidence for Bigfoot’s Existence

You can’t talk about Bigfoot without the Patterson-Gimlin film. Recorded on October 20, 1967 in the Six Rivers National Forest, it is the most provocative piece of evidence for Bigfoot’s existence.

The 59.5 seconds of the film’s 954 frames have caused enormous controversy, converted legions of Bigfoot devotees, and become the target of scientists attempting to refute the Bigfoot myth dozens of times over.

Like any good Bigfoot fan, I encourage you to watch the video yourself and make your own conclusions:

The trouble here comes with the many known Bigfoot hoaxes that have been perpetrated for personal gain. Each instance of a media-greedy person has the curious effect of both diluting and increasing the myth of Bigfoot—bringing it to a wider audience, but casting doubt on the existence of the creature in the first place. 

Rick Dyer is the most famous of these hoaxers—a self-billed full-time Bigfoot hunter who previously worked as a used car salesman. In 2008, he claimed to have a dead Bigfoot body in his possession; 2012 saw a similar scheme, with the claim the Bigfoot’s DNA had been run and that he was in fact a human/ape hybrid.

All of which is to say: If you’re interested in Bigfoot, be prepared to turn a skeptical eye towards any claims made about him.

Bigfoot in Today’s Pop Culture

Because of this blend of sensationalism and seemingly profound evidence, Bigfoot has captured the American attention in the same way as any other major cultural icon. You can immediately recognize Air Jordan shoes by the splayed image of Michael Jordan about to dunk a basketball—and you can recognize the Bigfoot just as easily by the image of his loping walk.

There’s hardly an area of American pop culture where you can’t find Bigfoot at this point. He’s become the name of widely disparate enterprises, from medical companies to monster trucks to music festivals. His image has been featured in dozens of cartoons, movies, and television series, most notably Harry and the Hendersons:

And the search for Bigfoot has given rise to yearly conventions in just about any mountain town in the U.S. too. If you’re inspired to become a dedicated Bigfoot fanatic, your options for socializing with like-minded people are legion.

In Conclusion: Bigfoot Is Larger Than Life

Perhaps what makes the Bigfoot so infinitely fascinating is people’s strong reactions to its existence (or the lack thereof). It’s nearly impossible to be an impartial party when it comes to Bigfoot, and you’re forced to pick a side: Scientific rationalism and skepticism, or curiosity and the possibility of magic and mystery still existing in this world?

Either way, just like the animal itself, the legend of Bigfoot will always be larger than life. Happy Squatching, Bigfoot believers.

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