|By James R. Harnock|
By far the most famous cryptid in North America, Sasquatch has become far more than just a simple mystery of nature -- it's more like a cultural phenomenon. It has spawned numerous segments of investigative television, immeasurable grist for the tabloid news mill, several Hollywood feature films and the big guy even had his own short-lived sitcom.
The name "Sasquatch" -- which I use instead of the rather child-like term Bigfoot -- originates with the Salish "Indians" of British Columbia and roughly translates as "wild man of the woods." Descriptions of the Sasquatch vary dramatically, leading some to believe that there is more than one species of creature roaming the forests of Western Canada and the USA's Pacific Northwest, but the majority fall within the following parameters: six and a half to eight feet tall; body covered in short reddish-brown or black hair; very large human-like feet; distinct and very foul odour, like a cross between skunk and wet dog.
IN THE BEGINNING
The first hint that there might be something unusual in the wilderness of western Canada presented itself in 1811, when Canadian trader David Thompson stumbled across several large footprints in the snow, reportedly measuring fifteen by eight inches, near what is now Jasper Alberta. The first ever recorded encounter with a Sasquatch-type creature took place in 1884, outside the small town of Yale, B.C., when a train crew came face-to-face with a long-armed manlike creature covered with coarse black hair. The Victoria Daily Colonist described Jacko, as the creature had come to be known, as "something of the gorilla type", about four feet and seven inches tall, and that but for the hair covering his entire body and for the length of his forearm, he looked human.
Though initially, Jacko seems to be our first introduction to the Sasquatch, on closer inspection, the report is almost certainly describing a chimpanzee... if there is any truth to it at all. Newspapers of the day often ran thrilling and astounding — and completely imagined — tales about all manner of strange things. See the infamous "Thunderbird" story of two cattle ranchers encountering a one-hundred and sixty-foot bird as a prime example.
However, let us, for the moment, give Jacko the benefit of the doubt — assuming he is not the figment of a bored editor's imagination, what is he? Sasquatch or chimp? As stated earlier, the case for Jacko being a chimp is strong, based on the creature's description, but as seems to be the cryptozoologist's lot in life, we will never know for certain — aside from this single report in the Colonist, Jacko is never heard from again.
Things were relatively quiet on the Sasquatch front for the next few decades -- or so it was thought. With the release of Eric Shipton's infamous photograph of the Yeti tracks on Mt Everest, interest in North America's own big hairy guy increased. However, interest in the Sasquatch literally exploded in 1958 with the publication of photographs and casts taken by construction worker Jerry Crew of immense footprints encircling a road construction site in Humbolt County, California. It was the photo of Mr Crew holding the huge plaster cast that forever cursed the Sasquatch with that name that's oh so hard to take seriously -- Bigfoot.
It was at this point that the flood gates really opened up. Sightings of the Sasquatch in Western Canada and the North Western USA became a regular occurrence, but one of the most amazing encounters -- as well as one of the most debated -- happened in 1924, but was not reported until 1957. That was the kidnaping of Albert Ostman.
While vacationing in 1924, Ostman was doing some gold prospecting near Toba Inlet, opposite Vancouver Island B.C., when one night he found himself being picked up in his sleeping bag and carried almost 25 miles. When finally set down and able to get out of the sleeping bag, he found himself surrounded by a family of Sasquatches. Ostman was never harmed, but he was prevented from leaving. After six days of being a guest of the family, Ostman made his escape by enticing the lead male to eat an entire can of snuff -- the creature immediately fell ill and Ostman escaped in the confusion. Hopefully the Sasquatch recovered, or Ostman may have knocked off one of the rarest creatures on Earth.
1967, as all monster fans know, was a big year for the Sasquatch. It made it's television debut that year, thanks to a shaky 24 feet of film shot by one Roger Patterson and his associate Bob Gimlin at Bluff Creek California -- coincidentally, not far from the location where Jerry Crew found his footprints. But ever since it first saw the light of day, this footage has been at the centre of a never-ending debate as to its authenticity. Supporters of the film say that it is conclusive evidence that a large bipedal creature does indeed inhabit the forests of Western North America. However, this response is generally based on emotion, as there is no way to know for certain if the footage is indeed real. As we do not know the speed at which the film was shot, we cannot make an accurate analysis -- if it was shot at 24 FPS it is most certainly a hoax, no different than filming a man in a monkey suit. At 18 FPS, possibly a hoax, possibly authentic, as the walk would be very difficult for a man to duplicate. At 16 FPS no human could duplicate the movement. (Note about FPS: FPS stands for Frames Per Second -- it's used with motion picture film to establish the number of film frames exposed to light in one second of shooting time. The lower the number, the slower the film moves through the gate, and thus the faster the action appears when the film is projected. Normal speed for film is 24 FPS).
That being said, there is one aspect generally overlooked when an attempt is made to evaluate the authenticity of the Patterson-Gimlin film — the weather. What does the weather have to do with it, you ask? In fact, temperature plays a major role. Motion picture film cameras are notoriously sensitive to weather, and temperature in particular — especially older, lower-end cameras, such as Roger Patterson would have had access to. Professional camera crews go to great pains in order to protect their cameras from the elements, as can clearly be seen in any "behind-the-scenes" footage or photos you see of outdoor film shoots, because temperate affects film speed. In college, I once had an entire can of film rendered useless because my crew and I weren't experienced enough to know this. The colder the area in which you are shooting is, the slower your camera will operate, and as a result, the film will move through the gate at a slower speed, no matter what your FPS setting is. In my example, despite having my camera set at the standard 24 FPS, my camera was actually shooting the action at between 18 and 20 FPS thanks to the outside temperature. As a result, when viewed, my footage looked surreal, and the movement of the characters was odd.
Though we can tell it was on a bright and sunny day that the P-G film was shot, we cannot tell what the air temperature was. If it was a warm day, or even just a slightly chilly day, the FPS would not have been affected enough to make a major change in the rate at which the film passed through the camera gate. My film was shot in below zero Celsius weather (below 32 Fahrenheit) and only encountered at most a six-frame variation, so I don't think it would be out of line to say that, given the lack of snow and lack of visible breath from the creature, the air temperature at Bluff Creek that day was not low enough to effect more than a one or two frame variation on Roger Patterson's camera. However, as stated earlier, without knowing the temperature for certain, it's difficult to say how it could have affected the film. If it were a very cold day, a man in a monkey suit shot at 24 FPS could easily end up a surreal 16 FPS film of a Sasquatch.
To this day, no one has conclusively proved it either way, though several individuals in the Hollywood film industry — including director John Landis — have stated that Academy Award-winning special effects wizard John Chambers (who created the facial prosthetics in Planet of the Apes) created Patterson's Sasquatch. None have provided any evidence of their claims.
1969 saw an intriguing development in the Sasquatch tale -- a disabled Sasquatch.
Footprints found near Bossburg, Washington were exceptional not just for their size of eighteen inches, but for the fact that their owner suffered from a severe club foot. While the right print was normal (relatively speaking, of course), the left was badly misshapen. Experts who analyzed the plaster casts noted that such a deformity would be exceedingly difficult to fake.
YEH-TEH PHONE HOME
Perhaps one of those most unusual items of discussion to come out of an already unusual pursuit is a claimed Sasquatch/UFO connection. There are a number of researchers and "fans" alike who contend that the reason Sasquatch can never be found is that he comes and goes as he pleases — either by spaceship, or by means of inter-dimensional travel. In other words, he can only be seen when he wants to be seen, and no one can track him because he isn't always in our dimension. Perhaps the most vocal supporters of the unearthly Sasquatch theories (online, at least) is Erik Bekjord, a Sasquatch researcher whose website proclaims that anyone with an IQ of under 180 will not understand his theories, which include his hypothesis that Sasquatch is actually an android from another planet.
Another theory has alien beings placing Sasquatch on Earth to teach the native peoples about herbal medicines, and respect of nature.
While many cryptozoologists and cryptozoology supporters find such theories ridiculous, and often laugh them off, we would all do well to remember that the so-called "mainstream" of science has much the same reaction when presented with the possibility of Sasquatch existing at all. If we hope for mainstream scientists to keep an open mind, we must lead by example, and not waste time and energy that would be better spent searching for evidence fighting amongst ourselves.
Many cryptozoology buffs are in agreement with Grover Krantz in believing the Sasquatch may in fact be a relict form of gigantopithecus — a large, extinct form of ape whose fossils have been found in China — however as John Napier points out in his excellent book BIGFOOT: YETI AND SASQUATCH IN MYTH AND REALITY, reports of Sasquatch encounters always stress that the creature is an ape-like man, not a man-like ape. What little fossil record we have of the creature indicates the gigantopithecus was very ape-like, and thus not a very convincing candidate for the Sasquatch. Another potential blow to the gigantopithecus theory is the fact that the creature is only know to have existed at all based on fossilized teeth and fragments of jawbone — which leaves us without critical information needed to compare it to Sasquatch reports, such as method of locomotion, skeletal construction and overall size.
Some believe that Neanderthal man is behind the Sasquatch legend, but if so, he has taken several major steps backward in both his physical and societal evolution to become the Sasquatch.
If the Sasquatch does indeed exist, it must be, by it's very nature, a migratory creature. The forests of British Columbia could not produce the amount of vegetation through the winter that a large herbivore such as the Sasquatch would require to even sustain a minimum amount of energy output. If the Sasquatch is a herbivore, then it must migrate to warmer climates in search of food for the winter -- which would account for sightings in the southern states such as Florida, which has sightings reported in over 30 counties. Just like many other Canadians, he goes south for the winter.
The widespread reports of sightings and encounters, which now reach just about every part of Canada and the USA have led many people to conclude that the Sasquatch is just another case of War Of the Worlds syndrome — people seeing things that aren't there, simply because they've been told that something is there. They argue that if the Sasquatch does have the massive range attributed to it, we would have a lot more than just some potentially hoaxed footprints as proof. And they're right. There is no question that many prints and many sightings are excrement from a male bovid. However, going back once again to John Napier, "if one track and one report are true-bill, then myth must be chucked out of the window and reality admitted through the front door."
Analysis of some bigfoot prints.