Why did Bigfoot grow up in the Northwest?

Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp

By Bellamy Pailthorp

It’s one of the most enduring legends of the Northwest – hundreds of people report sightings of Bigfoot every year. Native American stories also call it Sasquatch or “the Hairy Man.”

The idea of a giant, ape-like creature that hides in the woods and might be related to humans has been around for centuries.

Why has this “myth” endured in the Northwest? Is it because Bigfoot is really here? Or, is it because it’s the kind of wild alter ego Northwesterners love to imagine for themselves?


Legend continues to growNaturalist writer David George Gordon with his "Field Guide to the Sasquatch." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp

Now, the Internet has pushed the popularity of Bigfoot to new heights, with sightings compiled on dozens of websites. There is even a Sunday night cable TV show: Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” launched last spring and is now one of the channel’s top three series, ever.

But it’s not just ratings-driven TV shows that are drawn to this material. Respected Seattle naturalist David George Gordon has written a book about Bigfoot, “Field Guide to the Sasquatch.”

“Yeah. This is a field guide – you know, a guide to go out and seem ’em,” Gordon says, as he stifles a chuckle, “to a creature that I can’t really confirm or deny its existence. So, if you read the book, you’ll see a lot of ‘purportedly’ and ‘supposedly’ and ‘alleged’ … a lot of qualifiers.”

His guidebook surveys scientific arguments for and against the existence of Sasquatch.


Really? Yes!

The first modern “evidence” that there might really be an ape-like creature living in the forests of the Cascade Range appeared 45 years ago.

It’s a grainy, black and white film from 1967 of an alleged Bigfoot sighting at Bluff Creek in Northern California. It shows a female Sasquatch striding along a creek bed. At one point, she turns and looks at the camera.

The film has created a lot of believers. Others remain highly skeptical.

“It could be anything,” says Patricia Kramer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington.

“We can’t tell what it is because it’s so grainy and dark. I mean, I don’t know what it is,” she says.

But not all scientists so readily dismiss the possibility of a Sasquatch. Idaho State University Professor Jeff Meldrum first saw the Bigfoot film when he was a kid in Spokane. That planted the seed for his career in anthropology.

But it wasn’t till 1996 that he got really hooked. He found a fresh set of muddy tracks in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, near Walla Walla. The details were astonishing.

“I mean there was no mistaking. These were either cleverly hoaxed or they were the real thing,” Meldrum says. “There was no room for misinterpretation of some other animal – a bear or human walking around barefoot.”


Compelling evidence …

As he made casts of the footprints and took in the dynamics of the motion that must have created them, he says the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He came to the conclusion that he was in a place where a Bigfoot had walked, just that morning.  

“I sat there and contemplated, do I go down this path or not?” Meldrum recounts. “But I thought, How can I walk away from this?”

He had seen a colleague (Professor Grover Krantz) ostracized for researching Bigfoot. But Meldrum made up his mind to risk his career too, because he was so convinced by the evidence he was seeing.


… not for this scientistProfessor Patricia Kramer in a classroom where she teaches anthropology at the university of  Washington. She tells her students there is no real evidence to prove existence of a Sasquatch, "it's fiction." Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp.

Still, for skeptics like UW Professor Patricia Kramer, the plaster casts are just as murky as the old film footage.

And as for all the reported sightings of Bigfoot every year? She thinks people just like to believe.

“It’s a myth,” Kramer says. “It’s something interesting to talk about – over a beer at the meetings. Or on a field trip. Or on a backpacking trip, like talking about werewolves and vampires out on the Olympic Peninsula, right? I mean, it’s fiction.”


Why in the Northwest?

And for writer David George Gordon, having the Sasquatch as a kind of wild-man alter ego fits right in to the culture of the Northwest, with all its mysterious rainforests and unexplored wilderness.

“We have a real thing about the wilds and we like to think there’s lots of stuff out there that we don’t know about,” Gordon says. “So I think that’s part of our mythos, that there’s a whole wild ecology out there that we know nothing about.”

Modern science may soon be able to prove once and for all whether Bigfoot exists. A lab in Texas is working on DNA testing of alleged Sasquatch samples. The results are expected any day now.

But no matter what they show, the stories of a hairy wild man hiding in the woods of the Northwest are likely to endure.


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