In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin went horseback riding along the Klamath river in Bluff Creek, Northern California. At around 1 pm, the pair noticed a large, uprooted tree along the riverbank and stopped to investigate. Shortly thereafter, the pair spotted a figure crouching beside the creek to their left. Luckily, Patterson had brought his 16mm camera and began to record what has become the most famous Bigfoot encounter in history. The film shows a large, hairy, bipedal creature walking across the riverbank before turning towards the camera, in frame 352 – the iconic image of Bigfoot. However, the story of Bigfoot didn’t start there. Legend of the creature has existed for years across cultures and continents.
All across the planet myths of giant humanlike apes appear. In China and Tibet, the yeti has stalked mountaineers for centuries. Many indigenous American cultures have long oral traditions of so called “wild men” – sasquatch being one name – which lived in the deep woods and left large tracks. Even in Australia, the tall and hairy yowie is said to roam over the earth at night. These beings are said to usually live on the outskirts of civilization, eluding the local peoples. However, there have been more intimate encounters with Bigfoot.
One of most unique written accounts comes from Canadian prospector Albert Ostman. In 1924, Ostman went camping in the Toba Inlet area of British Columbia. As he lay sleeping one evening, he purported being dragged in his sleeping bag by a large creature for three hours before being dropped off on a plateau. Assessing his environment, Ostman saw he was surrounded by 4 large, hairy, apelike creatures – including what appeared to be a child. Ostman describes being held captive by the “sasquatch family” for 6 days, surviving off of “sweet tasting grass” that they provided. He reports witnessing the female in the group passing time washing and stacking leaves. Oddly enough, Ostman had his rifle with him, yet refused to use it as the creatures had done him no harm. He claims to have escaped by inebriating the large male of the group by giving it snuff. Ostman did not report his story for 24 years out of fear of being thought of as crazy.
IS IT ALL A HOAX?
Although the Patterson-Gimlin film is synonymous with Bigfoot itself, it has not aged well. Even to the untrained eye the creature can easily be deduced to be a man in a suit. In 2002, Phillip Morris, owner of Morris Costumes, claimed that he made a gorilla costume that was used in the film. Morris claimed that he sold Patterson an ape suit which was mailed to him in 1967, allegedly told that it was going to be used in what Patterson described as a “prank”. Another blow towards the credibility of the film comes from a telephone interview in 1999 where Gimlin said that for some time, “I was totally convinced no one could fool me. And of course, I’m an older man now … and I think there could have been the possibility [of a hoax]. But it would have to be really well planned by Roger [Patterson].” That being said, both have officially stood by their claims to this day.
More recently, Todd Standing has made a name for himself in the Bigfoot community for his close encounters with the creatures in the Canadian wilderness. In his documentary Discovering Bigfoot, along with compelling circumstantial evidence of broken trees, missing apples, and compelling audio, Standing showcases crystal-clear, high-resolution footage of the creature’s face. His testimony is compelling, and the images are audacious – he definitely puts his reputation on the line – but judge for yourself.
Thanks to the privilege of the internet age, many amateur videos have surfaced of a whole range of Bigfoot experiences. One YouTube video from user Josh Highcliff titled “I think I saw a skunk ape – please help” is of particular interest. Given the foliage and name skunk ape, the encounter most likely occurred in the Southern United States. The video is shaky and not the best quality, but what is exceptional is the audio. From footage alone it could be discounted as yet another hooligan in a suit, but if you listen carefully you can hear the figure ripping at a tree with such force it suspends disbelief. Anyone can put on a gorilla costume, but how many people can rip whole chunks of bark off a tree in real time?
In the last hundred years, thousands of Bigfoot sightings have been documented in North America alone. However, believers and non-believers alike agree that most sightings are hoaxes or misidentified animals. The most consistent evidence has always been tracks, thousands of alleged footprints have been recovered. Yet more concrete data, such as hair, bones, or droppings have never surfaced any unusual DNA findings. In the most extraordinary cases where a body has allegedly been recovered, all resulted in in fraud, money schemes, or publicity stunts. Hoaxes have even resulted in death – a man in Montana was struck and killed by a car attempting a Bigfoot hoax, while wearing a ghillie suit in 2012.
The most rational explanation for Bigfoot would be the reality that an undiscovered great ape or hominid exists alongside human beings, so far eluding the scientific community. But Is there evidence for a giant ape in the fossil record? The answer is yes, and its name is Gigantopithecus.
First discovered in 1935 by anthropologist Ralph von Koenigswald, Gigantopithecus is an extinct genus of ape which lived from the early to middle Pleistocene (around 2-0.3 Million years ago) in China and southeast Asia. Given that only the animal’s teeth and mandibles have been recovered, its anatomy – including the possibility of bipedalism – is up for debate. This animal’s existence and location could explain the origin of the Asian myth of the yeti. Moreover, avid cryptozoologists posit that this animal could have crossed the Bering Strait, explaining sightings in the Americas. Although thought to have become extinct ~300,000 years ago, it is possible that this creature living alongside the earliest Homo sapiens.
Whether it be Gigantopithecus or another yet discovered species, evidence for a giant ape that existed side by side with humans would have impacted our species’ early collective subconscious. This could explain the near universal myths throughout the world of giant half ape, half human creatures.
Whether an elaborately orchestrated hoax by eccentrics or an astonishing reality, the legend of Bigfoot lives on. These stories hit upon ancient fears and memories of wild frontiers, of a time in the past when the woods had more to hide. It has even crossed the consciousness of the most famous primatologist in our lifetime, Jane Goodall, who in a 2002 interview with National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, stated: “Well, I’m a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist [but] you know, why isn’t there a body? I can’t answer that, and maybe they don’t exist, but I want them to.” In this saturated age of constant public exposure through smartphones, satellites, and social media, the world seems to offer little left to explore. So, perhaps it is a romantic notion to wonder where the wild things are – but I stand with Dr. Goodall.
Author: Liam Penn