2. The 'Searching for Bigfoot' equipment trailer: 'Here Come's [sic] the Bigfoot Hunter!'
As I arrive at my hotel room (cost included in the online ticket purchased from parapalooza.com that allows me to participate in this Sasquatch safari), I notice two men hovering around my door. I am tired from my flight and the drive up from Dallas and am hoping to take a short nap before the action is scheduled to start later in the evening, but these guys seem to have a different idea.
'Come on - we need to get going before it rains. Can we take your truck?'
'Sure, just give me a couple of minutes to get my boots on.'
Boots on, we are soon driving out of town, with Paris in our rearview mirror.
My companions are T.J. and Andy. T.J. (Tom Junior) is the son of Tom Biscardi, leader of the expedition, or as he says, 'the man who put the "Big" back into Bigfoot!' Andy is a paying customer, like me. He has come to learn the tricks of the Bigfoot trade, hoping to catch his own view of the creature, and to become a part of history if we manage to achieve our mission as T.J. describes it - capture a Bigfoot. We are equipped, T.J. informs us, with sensitive tracking equipment, tazers, and a cannon that will fire an electrified net. A helicopter is on standby to transport the creature to an undisclosed location, where it will be studied and cared for, before being released back into the wild. This is going to be big.
T.J. directs me to take a left, then a right, then another right. As the road turns to gravel I see a truck and trailer parked on the shoulder. The trailer reads 'Here Come's the Bigfoot Hunter.' Superfluous apostrophe or not, this must be the place. We climb out of the truck and begin to pick our way across the mud into the woods. I try to call my wife to let her know that I have made it safely to Paris and that I am about to walk into the woods with total strangers, but I have no cell phone signal.
There are four or five people standing around a clearing in the woods, including one with professional video equipment. I recognize Tom Biscardi among them. He calls us over to examine a set of tracks that have been found earlier in the day. They have been waiting for me to arrive before they start making plaster casts and are in a hurry because of the threat of rain. T.J. begins mixing plaster as the rest of us gather around the prints.
There are four of them in a line, humanoid in appearance, but much bigger than any human footprint. The cameraman moves in for a close up of the tracks, then of Tom describing the tracks. Tom shows us how the creature had stepped into the muddy clearing, taken a few steps, and then moved back under the trees and on to solid ground. He explains how the tracks show 'dermal ridges,' those wrinkles and lines in skin that indicate a track is legitimate and not the imprint of a wooden mold. Tom is noticeably impressed by the size of these tracks and by the large stride indicated by the distance between the prints.
On October 6, 1958 a small northern California newspaper ran a story entitled:
New 'Sasquatch' Found it's Called Bigfoot
The story was accompanied by a photograph of Jerry Crew holding a plaster cast of a very large human-like footprint. Jerry's story began on August 27 of that same year. On the morning of that day Crew went to work as a heavy-equipment operator employed in the construction of a lumber road in the wilderness near the Oregon border. He was
4 THE TRACKS LOOKED LIKE BARE HUMAN FEET, employed by Ray Wallace, who was a subcontractor working for the National Parks Service.
EXCEpT THAT THEy were 17 Crew's equipment had been going to work, Crew discovered tracks leading up to the machine, all around it, and then back into the woods. The tracks looked like bare human feet, except that they were 17 inches long. Upon further inspection, Crew discovered that the tracks led down a steep incline, with the stride extending up to 60 inches in some places. Crew showed the tracks to his co-workers, who were just as perplexed as he was. About a month later, the tracks reappeared.
The story of what the men had discovered began to be circulated throughout the small communities in the region. The Humboldt Times of Eureka, California printed a letter from the wife of one of the work crew, describing the prints. A few letters followed, each confirming what had been reported. On October 2 the tracks returned, for three nights in a row. Jerry Crew, perhaps wanting to establish that there was indeed more to the story than just his fertile imagination, made a plaster cast of one of the tracks. While on a trip to Eureka a couple of days later, Crew showed the cast to a friend. When the newspaper heard that he was in town they asked to take a photograph of him holding the cast. The wire service picked up the story - 'Bigfoot' had arrived on the scene.
Soon, other reports came in from the construction site. Ray Wallace's brother Wilbur reported that a 55-gallon drum of fuel had been moved and thrown down into a deep ravine. In addition, a steel culvert was found at the bottom of another bank, and a 700-pound tire had been rolled a great distance down the road and then hurled into a ravine. A photographer and reporter from the Humboldt Times had gone to the site to photograph a series of tracks and had found a human-like, but incredibly large, pile of scat.
The Bluff Creek Incident, as it has come to be called, marked a turning point in the story of hairy hominids in North America. While the Sasquatch stories reported by Burns, Roe, and Ostman, as well as the early newspaper accounts of hairy giants, apes, and wild men, tended to focus on eyewitness accounts, the Bigfoot experiences of northern California introduced a piece of empirical evidence that had not been seen before. While the Sasquatch stories could be regarded as merely folklore or tall tales, footprints were quite another matter.
INCHES LONG }
parked overnight at the job site. Checking his equipment before
Crew's plaster cast and the catchy new name, 'Bigfoot,' guaranteed that focus would now be placed on the tracks of the creature in question. Physical evidence trumped eyewitness accounts and ancient legends. This new focus on empirical evidence meant that Sasquatch/ Bigfoot would become a different kind of phenomenon. The study of folklore, after all - whether the study of the myths of indigenous peoples, newspaper accounts from days gone by, or eyewitness reports and tales of local inhabitants - is basically anthropology. It is the study of human beings and what human beings believe or once believed. The analysis of tracks is quite another matter. Sasquatch had resided in the land of leprechauns and brownies; Bigfoot lived in the world of forensic science.
The pioneer in the field of Bigfoot track analysis was the late Grover Krantz, former professor of anthropology at Washington State University and the first 'academic' researcher to study the Bigfoot/Sasquatch phenomenon as a biological, rather than a cultural, subject. The heir to Krantz's legacy is Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. Meldrum's non-Bigfoot research is in the field of evolutionary biology and primate locomotion, making his interest in the hairy hominids of North America and their mysterious tracks quite understandable.
Meldrum's magnum opus is called Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, a companion to a documentary film of the same name. In this work, Meldrum seeks to gather together the best empirical evidence for the existence of Bigfoot. One of his most critical sections is an in-depth look at the footprint evidence. Meldrum begins:
Clearly, something is leaving enormous humanlike tracks on the backcountry roads and riverbanks of North America's mountain forests. With the potential for misidentification of bear or human footprints accounted for, the otherwise inexplicable footprints that remain must be either hoaxed or hominid. In the absence of bones or body, the tracks constitute the most abundant and informative data that can be dealt with by scientific evaluation. (221)
He describes the footprint evidence this way:
The sometimes-enormous size of the sasquatch tracks gave rise to the common American appellation of 'Bigfoot.' These footprints average between 15 and 16 inches in length, with a reported range of 4-27 inches. Their superficially humanlike appearance is largely the consequence of the inner big toe being aligned with the remaining toes, whereas an ape's inner toe diverges much like a thumb. The resemblance to human footprints largely stops there, however. In fact, the sasquatch footprints lack the principal distinctive features that set the human foot apart from its hominoid cousins. Sasquatch footprints are typically flat with no consistent indication of the true hallmark of the human foot - a fixed longitudinal arch. Additionally, there is little indication of differential weight bearing under a specialized 'ball' at the base of the big toe. The sasquatch foot is relatively broader and the sole pad apparently thicker, by comparison to human feet. The heel and toe segments are disproportionately longer. (223)
Sasquatch prints usually have an extremely long stride. The footprints are often found one directly in front of the other, unlike human prints that usually alternate to the left and right of center. Human footprints usually show a variation of depths, owing to the arched nature of the foot, while Sasquatch prints tend to be uniform in depth. Meldrum writes:
In all, the sasquatch footprint is not merely an enlarged facsimile of a human footprint, but appears to represent a uniquely adapted primate foot associated with a distinctive mode of bipedalism, one that may well have evolved independently through roughly a parallel to hominid bipedalism. (224)
And in addition:
The inferred architecture of the sasquatch foot is not only well documented, but seems well suited to the physical aspects of the terrain of its purported range. The retention of somewhat prehensile toes, combined with increased leverage of the heel, give it an advantage negotiating the steep and uneven mountainous forest landscapes of North America. The locomotor adaptation of an organism is a major element in defining its niche. The conformity of the inferred sasquatch locomotion to an overall hominoid/early hominid framework, and the anatomical distinctions correlated to its environmental specializations are plausible and compelling arguments for a real animal. (247-8)
In addition to his study of the morphology of the Bigfoot foot, Meldrum also focuses a good deal of attention on dermatoglyphics, the study of skin features, which includes the lines and ridges that are present on primate feet. Meldrum identifies Officer Jimmy Chilcutt as one of the leading experts in the study of these dermal ridges. Chilcutt is a crime scene investigator and latent fingerprint examiner employed by the police department of Conroe, Texas.
He also has extensive experience fingerprinting primates at zoos and research centers. He has developed quite a reputation in the Bigfoot community as an expert in the identification of legitimate the shape and size of a track, are THOSE OF HUMANS, COME
the ^most imp^a^ jndication °f ^ aLL SHAPES AND SIZES 5 authenticity. After all, Sasquatch feet, like those of humans, come in all shapes and sizes. They also can look an awful lot like bear tracks. But bear paws, human feet, and wooden hoaxer shoes do not have the distinctive Sasquatch dermal ridges, which are wider than those of humans and run the length of the foot. The surest scientific method for identifying Bigfoot tracks is thus to examine the lines and swirls left imprinted in the mud. Indeed, Meldrum argues:
If repeated independent occurrences of dermatoglyphics in sasquatch footprint casts spanning several decades, with hundred of miles of geographic separation, and displaying consistent yet distinct features of ridge texture and details of flow pattern can be confirmed, it would constitute compelling evidence for an unknown primate. (259)
As well as footprints, Meldrum also cites an important discovery, made in September 2000, of a partial body imprint of a Sasquatch. The imprint was found at a location known as Skookum Meadows in the Cascade Mountains of southern Washington by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). Placing a pheromone attractant and several pieces of fruit near a muddy turnout adjacent to a Forest Service road, the BFRO was rewarded the next morning with intriguing evidence. The pheromone attractant had been removed from the tree and most of the fruit was missing or partially eaten. Most important, however, was an imprint of some sort of creature found in a muddy depression. Meldrum describes what was found:
The impressions appeared to include that of a left forearm, buttocks, thigh, and heels . . . Apparently the sasquatch had approached the puddle, lain down across the halo of moist soil on the periphery of the puddle without stepping there, then leaned onto its left elbow and forearm to reach in with its right arm toward the puddle for a sampling of the fruit, while pushing against the mud with it heel.
tracks. According to Chilcutt, the dermal ridges, rather than
4 AFTER ALL, SASQUATCH FEET, LIKE
Upon close examination of a plaster cast made from the imprint, Meldrum found what he believes to be important evidence:
Of particular interest to me was what could only be interpreted as a distinct heel impression. As I meticulously removed the encrusting soil, it appeared that the heel bore skin ridge detail. Once the heel was thoroughly cleaned, a thin latex peel was made of the skin detail. Consultations over the apparent dermatoglyphics, or skin ridges, were had with latent fingerprint examiner, Officer Jimmy Chilcutt. He found them to be consistent in texture and appearance with other specimens of purported sasquatch tracks exhibiting such skin ridge detail. (117)
Meldrum, like Grover Krantz before him, believes that such empirical evidence is critical for the study of North American hairy hominids. Recognizing that eyewitness testimony will always be insufficient, physical evidence must be discovered and analyzed. In the world of Sasquatch research, legend must be corroborated by science. Footprints, constituting the largest body of evidence for the creature, must be subjected to scientific scrutiny and analysis. As Meldrum notes, once we rule out cases of mistaken identification - bear or human tracks - we are left with only two choices: hoaxes or hominids. The question then is one of proving that the Bigfoot prints are real and not hoaxes. It is in defense of the legitimacy of the tracks that Meldrum marshals his evidence. The latter half of the twentieth century was a time of plaster casting and track analysis in the Bigfoot world - from Jerry Crew's footprint cast from the Ray Wallace construction site, to the Skookum body cast. Bigfoot believers proclaimed the tracks to be real, skeptics proclaimed them hoaxes. Then in 2003 we heard once again from Ray Wallace.
Upon his death in November 2002, Ray's family proclaimed that he was the 'father' of Bigfoot and that the 1958 Bluff Creek tracks were made by Wallace as a practical joke. A photograph of Wallace's nephew with the oversized wooden feet used to fake the footprints was carried in newspapers around the world. Meldrum has noted that even if casts that might be associated with Wallace are removed from the inventory, there will still remain enough legitimate tracks to make his case for the existence of Bigfoot. It would seem, however, that even supporters of the authenticity of the tracks realize the need for other sources of evidence.
3. A Bigfoot print, near Paris, Texas: 'A place for dreams, A place for heartbreak. A place to pick up the pieces.'
As T.J. lifts the plaster cast from the mud, he turns it over and points out the pattern of ridges on the bottom. We are not dealing with a hoax, a bear, or a large barefoot Texan. This is a Sasquatch track.
The terrain looks nothing like the opening credits of Wim Wenders' film, Paris, Texas, all desolate and barren, where Harry Dean Stanton walks the land like a skinny Sasquatch in a business suit and red baseball cap. In the real Paris, Texas we are standing on the shore of a swampy lagoon that opens out into a rather large lake. Enormous lily pads dot the surface of the water near the shore, along with tall cat-tail reeds. T.J. has described the location as prehistoric, and that is certainly how it feels. I can easily imagine an encounter with something primitive taking place here. I expect to see a pterodactyl sailing overhead or the head of a long-necked dinosaur rising from the water.
T.J. is now telling the camera how the residents of the area have long protected the creatures that live here. They know of their existence and live in harmony with them but seldom make any reports of their encounters to the outside world. Driving along the roadway that approaches the lake I had noticed evidence of their folk-art tributes to their hirsute woodland neighbors. A plywood likeness of Bigfoot that stands in front of one home is perhaps meant as a sign of respect and honor, like some primitive carving of a deity meant to express devotion and to appease the god's anger. I am reminded of the movie King Kong where the natives of Skull Island live in fear of the great beast. Indeed, Biscardi has described our expedition as the 'Quest to Capture America's King Kong' and perhaps this too is what he had in mind. Of course, King Kong is only an image on film. The creature we are looking for leaves tracks in the Texas mud. That is not to say that film is not an important tool in the quest for Bigfoot, however. After all, our discovery and analysis of the footprint have taken place in front of a camera and Tom is now directing me to help place motion-activated cameras in trees all around the area. We have found his tracks, now we are going to take his picture.
4. A frame from the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage. Is this a female Sasquatch, 'Patty,' or a pal of Patterson's in fancy dress? The debate continues.
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