Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is the name of a phenomenon which has polarised people around the world, being either the product of vivid imagination or a creature that has somehow avoided close observation or capture by man.
Bigfoot is described as a large, bipedal hairy humanoid creature living in remote wilderness areas of the United States and Canada, specifically those in southwestern Canada, the Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, the forests of the U.S. Northeast, and the U.S. Southern states. Some claim it is a creature which may be found around the world under different regional names, such as the Yeti, or is at least a closely related species. Sightings have allegedly occurred in Malaysia, China, Russia, Australia, South America and Hawaii.
Wildmen stories are found among the indigenous population of the Pacific Northwest. The legends existed prior to a single name for the creature. They differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community. Similar stories of wildmen are found on every continent except Antarctica. Ecologist Robert Michael Pyle argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history: “We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”
Members of the Lummi tell tales about Ts’emekwes, the local version of bigfoot. The stories are similar to each other in terms of the general descriptions of Ts’emekwes, but details about the creature’s diet and activities differed between the stories of different families.
Some regional versions contained more nefarious creatures. The stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai were a nocturnal race that children were told not to say the names of lest the monsters hear and come to carry off a person—sometimes to be killed. In 1847, Paul Kane reported stories by the native people about skoocooms: a race of cannibalistic wild men living on the peak of Mount St. Helens. The skoocooms appear to have been regarded as supernatural, rather than natural.
Less menacing versions such as the one recorded by Reverend Elkanah Walker exist. In 1840, Walker, a Protestant missionary, recorded stories of giants among the Native Americans living in Spokane, Washington. The Indians claimed that these giants lived on and around the peaks of nearby mountains and stole salmon from the fishermen’s nets.
The local legends were combined together by J. W. Burns in a series of Canadian newspaper articles in the 1920s. Each language had its own name for the local version. Many names meant something along the lines of “wild man” or “hairy man” although other names described common actions it was said to perform (e.g. eating clams). Burns coined the term Sasquatch, which is from the Halkomelem sásq’ets (IPA: [ˈsæsqʼəts]), and used it in his articles to describe a hypothetical single type of creature reflected in these various stories. Burns’s articles popularized both the legend and its new name, making it well known in western Canada before it gained popularity in the United States.
In 1951, Eric Shipton had photographed what he described as a Yeti footprint. This photograph generated considerable attention and the story of the Yeti entered into popular consciousness. The notoriety of ape-men grew over the decade, culminating in 1958 when large footprints were found in Del Norte County, California, by bulldozer operator Gerald Crew. Sets of large tracks appeared multiple times around a road-construction site in Bluff Creek. After not being taken seriously about what he was seeing, Crew brought in his friend, Bob Titmus, to cast the prints in plaster. The story was published in the Humboldt Times along with a photo of Crew holding one of the casts. Locals had been calling the unseen track-maker “Big Foot” since the late summer, which Humboldt Times columnist Andrew Genzoli shortened to “Bigfoot” in his article. Bigfoot gained international attention when the story was picked up by the Associated Press. Following the death of Ray Wallace – a local logger – his family attributed the creation of the footprints to him. The wife of Scoop Beal, the editor of the Humboldt Standard, which later combined with the Humboldt Times, in which Genzoli’s story had appeared,has stated that her husband was in on the hoax with Wallace.
1958 was a watershed year for not just the bigfoot story itself but also the culture that surrounds it. The first bigfoot hunters began following the discovery of footprints at Bluff Creek, California. Within a year, Tom Slick, who had funded searches for Yeti in the Himalayas earlier in the decade, organized searches for bigfoot in the area around Bluff Creek.
As Bigfoot has become better known and a phenomenon in popular culture, sightings have spread throughout North America. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States have had many reports of Bigfoot sightings.