Stories of large, hairy, bipedal ape-like creatures can be traced back across the centuries.
In Medieval Europe, these beings – consistently depicted in art as being completely covered in thick hair – were referred to as the Wild Man of the Woods. Before that time, in the writings of Herodotus, “wild men, and wild women” were said to have lived in the “densely forested” areas of Libya, alongside “a great many of other [fantastical] creatures”.1 Native American cultures have their own stories of the “big wild men of the mountains” and the “Big Man”. In modern Western society, these hair-covered beings are more commonly known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch.
“At the turn of the [twentieth] century, it was generally thought that there were no more big animals to be discovered, only little ones – and they didn’t matter. Yet, at the beginning of this year there was a new tree-kangaroo found in Papua New Guinea and a new kind of ox and a new kind of deer found in an area in Vietnam which had been bombed with agent orange. It makes you wonder.” – Bob Rickard, founder and editor of Fortean Times.2
Although science has not yet proven the existence of Bigfoot, anecdotal reports – including sightings, capturings and even a kidnapping – are a cultural universal. As such, here are five of the strangest supposed encounters with Bigfoot throughout history.
5 – The Ellisburgh “Wild Man”
The case which is widely thought to be the first official reported sighting of Sasquatch dates back to 1818.
It appeared in the newspaper the Exeter Watchman on the 22nd of September, and described an encounter which took place a few weeks earlier in New York.
“Report says, that in the vicinity of Ellisburgh, was seen on the 30th Ult [of August] by a gentleman of unquestionable veracity, an animal resembling the Wild Man of the Woods. It is stated that he came from the woods and then took his flight in a direction which gave a perfect view of him for some time. He is described as bending forward when running – hairy, and the heel of the foot narrow, spreading at the toes. Hundreds of persons have been in pursuit for several days, but nothing further is heard or seen of him. The frequent and positive manner in which this story comes, induces us to believe it.”3
Although, the article concluded by calling for “at least two direct eyewitnesses” to come forward to confirm this “naturally improbable” account, it did describe the original witness as a “highly favoured gentleman”, whose trustworthiness was renowned. Whether or not others came forward to confirm this encounter is not known.
4 – “Jacko”: half man, half beast
Another newspaper article possibly referring to a Bigfoot was published in the Daily Colonist on the 4th of July, 1884.
Described under the heading “What is it?”, is the recollection of several trainmen from British Columbia, who scaled the previously unexplored mountainside of Yale. It was there that they are said to have encountered – and captured – a creature described as “half man and half beast”. They did so by dropping a loose rock onto the beast’s head, before binding it in rope and bundling it into the baggage car of the train.
Said to have been similar to both a gorilla and a man, its captors named the creature “Jacko”.
“He has long, black, strong hair and resembles a human being with one exception, his entire body, accepting his hands, and feet, are covered with glossy hair about one inch long.”4
So confused as to the creature’s origin were they, that they could not decide whether to refer to it as having hands or “paws”.
Only four feet seven inches tall, the creature was thought to have been young. That being said, Jacko was claimed to have possessed “extraordinary strength” – beyond that of any living man. The sounds he made were described as “half bark” and “half growl”. Although Jacko enjoyed the berries and milk offered to him by his new caretakers, raw meat was strictly forbidden. A doctor who examined the creature feared that feeding him such food might make him turn savage – a danger indeed considering his colossal strength.
The article states that Jacko was destined for London, where he would be exhibited.
However, in the aftermath of the original report in the Daily Colonist, conflicting reports as to what happened to this “half man”, “half beast” circulated. Some claim that Jacko was on display for a time in another area of British Columbia that summer.5 Others have stated that he was sold to the politician and circus-owner, P.T. Barnum, and was exhibited across America as “Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy”.
Many decades after, in 1958, researcher John Green met with local people who remembered the Jacko story at the time news of it broke. One man, August Castle, revealed in an interview that whilst he remembered the tale, having been a child at the time, he never went to see Jacko – the creature having been housed at the local jail immediately after its capture. Others too recalled the story, but could not provide a detailed description of the beast, beyond what was mentioned in the original newspaper article.6
Rival newspaper outlets at the time also raised suspicions as to the story’s validity. One article published by the British Columbian described how some 200 people had gone to the jail expecting to see Jacko, only to be met with disappointment. The creature was not there, the “only wild man visible was Mr. Murphy”, Jacko’s supposed keeper, exhausted by answering so many questions.7
However, the truthfulness of these reports can also be questioned, and could very well have been rival newspapers’ attempts to discredit the Daily Colonist.
Regardless of these doubts, many present-day Bigfoot researchers continue to hail Jacko as an authentic Sasquatch.
3 – The kidnapping of Albert Ostman
One of the strangest Bigfoot encounters has to be that of Albert Ostman.
In 1924, Ostman, a Canadian lumberjack and prospector, decided to go camping near the Toba Inlet in British Columbia. In the middle of the night, he was woken suddenly, as he – still inside his sleeping bag – was lifted from the ground and slung over the shoulder of a large, hair-covered creature. Carried cross-country for around three hours, Ostman was eventually placed down in a canyon. Looking up, he was shocked to see four, naked, hair-covered humanoids. Ostman claimed that they were a family of Sasquatch.8
The creatures kept Ostman prisoner for the next six days. Unable to leave, he co-existed with the Sasquatch, allowing them to feed him sweet roots. During this time, the “old man” Sasquatch became increasingly addicted to Ostman’s snuff – which had been inside of his sleeping bag at the time of his abduction. It was on the seventh day that the “old man” swallowed the remaining contents of the lumberjack’s snuffbox in one gulp. As the creature ran off to the nearby stream, screeching, Ostman sensed a chance to escape. Startling the “old lady” Sasquatch with his rifle – also, presumably, carried with him inside his sleeping bag – he was able to flee unharmed.9
A fantastical story by any standard. One which, at first glance, is very easy to dismiss. However, Ostman’s abduction was something which he kept a secret for 33 years. Despite the events allegedly taking place in 1924, it was not until 1957 that he revealed his encounter to the public.
On 20th August of that year, a police magistrate wrote an affidavit in which he confirmed Ostman’s mental stability.
“…I found Mr. Ostman to be a man of sixty-four years of age; in full possession of his mental faculties. Of pleasant manner and with a good sense of humor. I questioned Mr. Ostman thoroughly in reference to the story given by Mr. Green [the researcher]. I cross-examined him and used every means to endeavor to find a flaw in either his personality or his story, but could find neither…”
Not only did his story withstand professional scrutiny, but Ostman himself signed a Solemn Declaration indicating that his encounter with the Sasquatch family was true under oath and by virtue of the Canadian Evidence Act.
To his dying day, Ostman maintained that his story was true, and that he had indeed lived with Sasquatch for six days.
2 – The Bigfoot of Ruby Creek
Although reports of Bigfoot have circulated for a very long time, it was in the mid-twentieth century that such reports entered public consciousness.
The case often referred to as ushering in the modern history of Sasquatch is that of the Chapmans, an Amerindian family who lived in Ruby Creek, British Columbia.
It was a sunny afternoon in September 1941. George Chapman, the head of the household, was at work. His family were at home, his children playing in the field behind the house which bordered a railway track. It was about 3 o’clock when their eldest child, a nine-year-old son, ran to the house calling for his mother. Clearly disturbed, he told her that there was a cow coming down out of the woods, at the foot of the nearby mountain.
Mrs Chapman knew that it must have been something more than a cow to have panicked her son so. She went outside to look. It was then she saw the creature.
At first she thought it was a very big bear, moving through the bushes which bordered the field where her children were playing. She quickly called for her children, a boy aged 7 and a girl of 5, to come to her. Her call alerted the creature. It stepped out onto the tracks. It was then that Mrs Chapman realised that it was not a bear.
In an interview many years later for True magazine, she provided a detailed description of what she saw. It was, she claimed, a gigantic man – covered with hair. Hair – not fur like a bear or other animal.
“The hair seemed to be about four inches long all over”, and light brown in colour. Using the fence posts of the field for comparison, she estimated that the creature was about 7 and a half feet tall. She described it as having a “rather small head and a very short, thick neck. […] Its body was entirely human in shape except that it was immensely thick through its chest and its arms were exceptionally long. […] the naked parts of its face and its hands were much darker than its hair, and appeared to be almost black.”
That Mrs Chapman was able to give such a detailed description of the beast was due to her standing her ground against the creature whilst her children ran to her. Advancing directly towards the house, it was only 100 feet away from her before she was reunited with her children. In her own words, she had “much too much time to look at it”.
Grabbing a blanket from inside the house, she shielded her children as she led them down to the river beach away from the creature. From there they were able to escape downstream to the village.
When Mr Chapman returned home later that day, he found the door to the woodshed had been smashed inwards. Enormous, humanoid footprints littered the floor. Inside, a 55-gallon barrel of salt fish had been smashed open, the contents spilled across the outside. The height of the creature was as Mrs Chapman had estimated, confirmed by her husband, who found a “number of long brown hairs stuck in the slabwood lintel of the doorway, above the level of his head.”.
After finding his wife and children’s footprints leading to the river, the Chapman family were eventually reunited – shaken, but otherwise unharmed.
In their later interview, Mr Chapman explained how he, like all of his people, had heard since childhood, stories of the “big wild men of the mountains”. He had, however, never expected to have encountered one.
Every night for the following week oversized footprints were found around the property. On two occasions, Mr Chapman described hearing the creature make a strange sound at night. He replicated it during the interview. Although the journalist was unable to replicate the sound in print, he noted how it “defied description” and was “unlike anything I have ever heard given by man or beast anywhere in the world.” He referred to it as a “strange, gurgling whistle” – a sound which he described as identical to those made by other eyewitnesses of a similar creature.
So disturbed by the beast were the Chapmans, that they abandoned their house not long afterwards, never to return. [footnote]“The strange story of America’s Abominable snowmen.”
1 – The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage
The article in which the story of the Chapman family featured was titled, “The Strange Story of America’s Abominable Snowmen.” It would go on to have such a profound effect on American cultural consciousness, that the term Bigfoot would forevermore become a part of the fabric of modern culture.
In particular, it was the actions of one of the article’s readers, Roger Patterson.
An ex-rodeo rider from Washington, Patterson was greatly affected by the content’s of the article. In his own words:
“I know for sure there was one American who was shocked and that fellow was me […] the more I thought about it, the more interested and excited I became”.10
It was in 1963, a couple of years after the article’s publication, that Patterson conducted his first investigation. Following the lead of the Sanderson’s, another case covered by the journalist, he made his way to Bluff Creek, California. Over the next few years Patterson investigated other locations, in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. However, he could not get Bluff Creek out of his mind.
In 1967 he returned, with a rented Kodak camera and his friend and fellow rodeo rider, Bob Gimlin. For several weeks Gimlin and Patterson searched for the elusive creature, determined to capture it on film. Their patience was to be rewarded.
It was late one October afternoon, near Bluff Creek, when their horses became spooked. Patterson’s protested, rearing and kicking. It was then that Gimlin realised why. Less than 100 feet away, a large creature, covered from head to toe in dark hair, walked – upright on two legs – along the creek bed. Its head was sloped forward, its upper back hunched over. Its frame muscular. Its arms long.
The footage they captured shows how Patterson scrambled from his horse and across uneven ground. When he was closer to the creature, he stopped and steadied the camera. What he captured next has gone down in history, claimed to be the first time Bigfoot was captured on film.
Seemingly undisturbed by the men’s presence – casually looking over its shoulder at them mid-stride – the creature lumbered away into the trees.
In the fifty years since that day, no one has been able to conclusively disprove the authenticity of the film, despite being – arguably – one of the most heavily scrutinised pieces of video footage in history.
Whilst many have, and will continue, to dismiss it as simply a man in a gorilla suit, the Patterson-Gimlin footage no doubt marked a change in our cultural approach to Bigfoot phenomenon. In the decades which followed, the elusive Sasquatch has been tracked, hunted and investigated all across the world. However, like a celebrity one, oversized, step ahead of the paparazzi, a perfect, indisputable, image is yet to manifest.
As such, Bigfoot remains one of the most researched, and widely encountered, cryptozoological beings in history.
- Bigfoot!: The True Story of Apes in America, by Loren Coleman (2003)
- Best of Sasquatch Bigfoot: The Latest Scientific Developments, John Green (2004)
- The Bigfoot Book: The Encyclopedia of Sasquatch, Yeti and Cryptid Primates, by Nick Redfern (2015)
- Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, by C. D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken and J.O. Baker (2011)