Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bigfoot Critique Part 1

` Legends of mythical races of people abound in Europe, from massive giants to diminutive leprechauns. Any Westerner could tell you that. But did you know that the same types of stories are popular from cultures all over the world? For the first three entries of My Blasted Idea, I'll start with a myth from close to where I live...

` In the late 1920's, a man named J. W. Burns went around in the little tourist trap of Hot Springs, British Columbia for years, bugging the native Chehalis people to give him any information they had about a mysterious tribe of giants.
` The giants were said to be extremely tall and sturdily-built, often with very noticeable body hair. One Chehalis man, Peter Williams, told Burns that a six-and-a-half foot giant chased him home and tried to knock apart his shack, which, he exaplained, was why it was falling apart so badly that he and his family had to move.
` Another story Burns dug up concerned a Skwah man by the name of Charley Victor. He said that his dog began driving what he took to be a bear out of a hollow tree, so he shot the emerging quarry. But, he said, it was apparently a twelve-year-old white boy who had long, 'black and woolly' hair. The boy yelled for help until this huge, hulking Native American-type woman came striding up - she also had very long hair.
` Seeing what had happened, she growled to Charley in the Douglas tongue; "You have shot my friend." He tried to explain what had happened, but she was apparently too furious to care; she put a curse on him (so that he could never kill another bear) and did some kind of medicine dance to help the boy.

` Yup, just giant stories. I'm reading 'em right now.

` An even wilder story came from Serephine Long, who wrote that she was minding her own business when one of these giants grabbed her and stuck her eyelids shut with tree gum. With her in tow, he ran for a really long time, across rivers and up a mountain, when finally, he cleared the gum out of her eyes.
` She could see by the light of a small fire that she was in a huge cave with very nice animal hides as carpet, where she was held captive by the giant and his parents. She wasn't seen in her village until about a year later, when the giant supposedly carried her back (again, with her eyes glued shut), in a state of near-collapse.
` Apparently, she had become very ill and had argued with the giant (in his language) until he took her back so she could at least be surrounded with her own people when she died. It was not she who didn't survive, however, but the giant's offspring, which she was soon in labor with.

` Of course, none of these claims is substantiated, and it is possible that some of them were invented to explain strange happenings, or even just to appease Burns. Nevertheless, he seems to have invented a name for the giants (possibly derived from Selish): Sasquatch.
` The stories of the 'Hairy Giant' were soon forgotten by the locals, until 1957, when Hot Springs decided to pull a huge publicity stunt. They had a pretend 'Sasquatch Hunt' - in other words, a Snipe Hunt, except they were after giants.

` Shortly after, a guy named William Roe wrote to the papers that he saw one of these giants! Although original reports have been lost, the basic story is that he described a woman that looked more like a gorilla! That was a new one. (Did he do it for a practical joke? Possibly, but no-one knows what his motives were!)
` Immediately following this new description, another guy named Albert Ostman reported that decades ago, he had been kidnapped by a Sasquatch and was held captive by a family of them for several days! He got away, he wrote, because he got the father to eat some snuff.

` In other words, people have turned a story of a tribe of giants into some kind of Gigantopithecus-like-creature. (Gigantopithecus is only known from Asia, however.) They were actually the first reports on the subject. However, in 1884, the Victoria Daily Colonist did have one, isolated article in British Columbia about Jacko, a creature 'of the gorilla type', who was found sleeping on some train tracks and then captured.
` A few days later, other newspapers actually exposed this as a hoax - the Colonist itself probably just made it up, as this type of tall tale was common practice, probably as part of a popularity war between it and another paper. Well, people gotta make money.

` In 1958, the 'new Sasquatch' legends had finally reached the United States, where a construction contractor, Ray Wallace (of the Wallace Brothers), began to make mischeif. That spring, Ray (apparently) stamped a bunch of really fake-looking tracks around their construction site as a joke.`
A little after that, the Wallace Brothers hired a new bulldozer operator, and in August, Ray had a little fun with him: This new guy, Jerry Crew, came back to his bulldozer, which he had left in the woods at Bluff Creek, to find that it had huge, 7x16 tracks all around it! Immediately thinking it was a gag, he complained to his boss, Wilbur Wallace (who himself told stories that Bigfeet threw around construction equipment).
` But prints kept showing up. After a few weeks of this, he became quite nervous, as he worked apart from the other men. By this time, he wasn't so sure it was a gag, so his taxidermist friend told him how to preserve a track - via plaster cast - which Crew hauled into the newspaper office.
` The resulting article was a hit - it used the word 'Bigfoot', and it also mentioned that it might be connected to Sasquatch! Being that Americans were just learning of reports of Sasquatch, and getting the idea that these might be similar to the Yeti, it became very popular.

` That was when Bigfoot was really born.

` Sadly however, it should be noted that in 2002, Ray Wallace died - in his obituary, Ray's son stated: "Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died." In fact, ol' Ray made an entire career out of 'Bigfoot', spinning all kinds of yarns including; "Big Foot used to be very tame...I would sit in my pickup and toss apples out of the window to him. He never did catch an apple but he sure tried."
` You think that's ridiculous? He also said that they came from flying saucers and guarded caves full of gold, but a conspiracy resulted in all of them dead, their bodies being sold to Hong Kong.

` Pretty straightforwardly honest guy, huh?

` Well, at this point, these Wallace contruction sites were the only reported places of Bigfoot tracks. Also, police already suspected Ray of this prank, as did many other people in the community. In fact, in 1960, a witness actually told one of the Bigfoot investigators that one Wallace Brother had told them how Ray had actually done it.
` In the 2003 book Bigfoot!, I should note that author (and Bigfoot investigator) Loren Coleman does agree that Ray certainly perpetrated a whole lot of footprint hoaxes around the workplace. Comparing Ray's fake wooden feet to plaster casts made at Bluff Creek in 1960, he concludes that they are a perfect match.
` They are fake, he says, and so were other tracks found on his construction site from 1958 through the 60s. However, for reasons I cannot comprehend, Coleman concludes that the Jerry Crew tracks specifically were made by a real Bigfoot, even though the ones at other Wallace sites were not!
` I mean, it's not like any other evidence for Bigfoot has ever been particularly convincing.

` To name a conspicuous example, in 1967, the Patterson Film was shot. I have much to say about it, but as I don't want this stupid entry to go on and on more than it has to, I'll just state the bare, basic facts: According to Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, they were riding around Bluff Creek, when all of a sudden, this furry ape-woman appeared.
` In one version of their story, the horses didn't react badly to it, though in another version, the horses were very spooked and Patterson's horse fell on top of him. In either case, he quickly managed to get his camera rolling.
` Right at the beginning of the film, there is an obvious bigfoot-figure standing still some distance off (as if waiting for a cue!), which quickly begins casually strolling from left to right across the frame.
` It appears to be a female, with large breasts, and 'she' takes a look over 'her' shoulder - during which, if one looks closely, there is a glint of light coming from one eye that is actually bright enough to show up on film. After a few seconds, the 'Sasquatch' is out of sight.

` Now, first, though, I think some things out to be known about Patterson. If we consider material such as The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story by Greg Long, then it is clear he was nothing but a swindler, always after big money - as many people have said.
` Long managed to track down witnesses all over the Northwest who told him of various scams, cheats, and check frauds that Roger had wrought upon them. In fact, the film which 'Bigfoot' had been shot with had been bought with a bad check! Patterson was also arrested for stealing the camera that it had been shot with.
` Bigfoot researcher/anthropologist Dr. Grover Krantz wrote that Roger Patterson himself had told him that he faked bigfoot tracks "in order to get a movie of himself pouring a plaster cast for a documentary he was making. (A few days later he filmed the actual Sasquatch...)." He... what? Doc! You're a-sayin' this wasn't part of his plan?

` But I'm getting ahead of myself - the point is that ol' Rog was apparently obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes - many of these happened to have involved Bigfoot. After all, he wrote the world's first Bigfoot book, and when people sent in money to buy his books, he would take their money, but not send them the book!
` Uh, that's called 'mail fraud!'
` He also did several low-budget Bigfoot re-enactments, so we know he had experience 'filming Bigfoot'. As for the 'Patteron film' itself, he and Gimlin formed a company to promote it, playing it at movie theaters across the country.
` His own brother said that he had shown him "a check for $100,000 that he got for the movie." Patterson's financial backer involved in the scheme said that the night after the opening show, both he and Patterson were in a hotel room with "a trash can full of money, and we were throwing it on each other on the bed and stuff!"

` I don't know about you, but warning signals are going off in my brain!

` The testimony of colleagues, neighbors, friends - even bigfoot supporters! - only tells us that he was quite untrustworthy. However, Bob Heironimus, who had done Bigfoot re-enactments with Patterson, claims that he had been the 'Sasquatch' in the film, saying that he had even stood still until given a cue!
` It is worth noting that Heironimus' glass eye would explain the very bright gleam I mentioned above, and his unusual gait is apparently similar to that of the creature in the film.
` Other witnesses back him up: For instance, the costume-guy who said he made the suit and sold it to Patterson, telling him how to modify it in specific ways, reported that he was shocked to see someone wearing his modified gorilla suit on TV, advertised as a real Bigfoot!

` This type of thing regularly makes many Bigfooters cringe at the prospect of swallowing this swill. For example, anthropologist and pro-Bigfooter Dr. John Napier concludes: "There is little doubt that the scientific evidence taken collectively points to a hoax of some kind. The creature in the film does not stand up well to a functional analysis."
` Some other Bigfooters don't agree with this conclusion, but largely, I ignore them anyway - their opinions don't mean a whole lot in the scientific world, as they are definitely not 100% scientific.
` I could go on and on about this instance, but I think I'll stop there.

` Moving on, it should be blatantly clear that I don't buy such reports of Bigfoot. I suppose anything is possible, but the first record of, specifically, an 'ape-woman' (or man!) was during the publicity stunt of 1957.
` Since then, any seemingly halfway-decent evidence for such a creature has usually smelled very strongly of 'hoax', or is actually revealed to be a hoax.
` There is more to it than that, of course, but one should note that actual Cryptozoologists really do think that out of all the evidence for Bigfoot, most of it is bunkum. What is curious though, is that they widely disagree about much of it, some saying that such-and-such a case is fairly convincing, with others saying; 'are you crazy? It's obviously not!'
` And why? They don't use the same criteria for what is 'good' evidence and what is 'bad' evidence.

` Now, I am one of the most open-minded people you will meet, but I keep my brains from falling out by using a thing (which, surprisingly, most people actually don't seem to understand very well!) called 'critical thinking.'
` While, for example, Roger Patterson was not conclusively shown to be a hoaxer, there are not only many good reasons to think that he really could have done this - there actually is no evidence that the film is real! But there is also no conclusive evidence that it was faked, either! In other words, the claim has not been falsified, as scientific procedures demand - but even if Bigfoot was shown to be a real animal, it would still not 'prove' the Patterson film was not a hoax.
` What if Bigfoot looks a lot different than it does in the film? Even if it doesn't, that still might not make the matter any clearer. Why? We don't have any solid evidence, such as a gorilla suit, or any Bigfoot hair from the site.

` That's because I make sure of something before I accept it. Plain and simple, that's the scientific way. Such a philosophy is called; 'skepticism.' Sure, we'll accept anything anyone says - purple seamonsters caused a shipwreck, you say? We'll believe it as soon as boat-smashing purple seamonsters are found!
` It's pretty simple, actually. Without critical thinking, it is too easy to become duped, scammed, and in-general made a fool of.

` In my next Bigfoot Installment (which is located here), I shall go into everyday, casual sightings of Bigfoot. Yeah, yeah, they still don't amount to anything really convincing.
` But in fact, there is indeed another legend of a human-like species for which genuine physical remains matching its description actually do exist! (The only thing really dubious about the remains are not their authenticity, but whether or not the legend is based on this species.)
` I will write about that soon enough!

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