By Ivan T. Sanderson.
California is a huge state and an immensely varied one. It is nearly 800 miles long and it contains everything from barren deserts to lush tropical jungles. It is full of oddities and enigmas, ranging from almost-active volcanoes to places where commercially-minded proprietors assure travelers that something has gone wrong with good old reliable gravity itself. California is always good for a story, and the rest of the nation is always willing to indulge in a big laugh at its expense. But there is one story that nobody is laughing at any more. And it may turn into the biggest thing to come out of that fabulous state since they found something yellow at John Sutter’s mill.
On August 27, 1958, a tractor drive named Gerald Crew drove out to his job, which at that time was working with the crew pushing a new lumber-access road into the uninhabited and only loosely surveyed territory near the borders of Humboldt and Del Norte counties, in north-west California. Jerry Crew is a native of Salyer Township in Humboldt County. He is an active member of the Baptist Church, a teetotaler, and I have talked to enough people up there to state flatly that his reputation for honesty, level-headedness and just plain common sense is an excellent one.
The area where this road was being built is, surprisingly enough, an almost trackless wilderness. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Oregon on the north: Highway 299 runs along its southern border, and it stretches some 130 miles inland to highway 99. It is crossed by one winding blacktop road and some lesser roads, plus an assortment of logging trails and “jeep-roads” which are used very rarely. While California is thought of as a heavily populated state, this particular section — encompassing some 100,000 square miles — has no known inhabitants at all. Almost anything could be living there, and nobody would be the wiser.
If this sounds far-fetched, remember that it was only a relatively few years ago that a Stone Age Indian named Ishi — the last survivor of a race of men long believed extinct — walked out of the forest and surrendered himself to a startled slaughterhouse butcher in Oroville, California. Oroville is only about 65 miles north of the state capital of Sacremento, and a good deal closer to civilization than the remote spot where Jerry Crew found the first evidence of the “snowman.”
Crew’s crawler-tractor had been left overnight at the head of a new road, about 20 miles north of the point where it branches out from the narrow blacktop that runs through the Hoopa Indian Reservation from Willow Creek to a p[lace with the delightful name of Happy Camp up near the Oregon border.
Jerry was an older member of the crew employed by a Mr. Ray Wallace, a sub-contractor to the firm, Block and Company, which had contracted with the Public Works department on behalf of the National Parks Service to build the road. Jerry is a local man. Most of his fellow workers were also local men and included, among others, a level-headed young nephew, James Crew, and two experienced loggers of Hoopa Indian origin.
“Almost anything could be living there, and nobody would be the wiser.”
The country is extremely mountainous. As a matter of fact, in most places it is almost vertical, so that you can only go up on all fours or down on your bottom. It is clothed in a close-canopy of enormous spruce and other conifers beneath which is a spreading sub-canopy of broad-leaved bushes and small trees, while the ground below is covered with a mat of mosses and beautiful ferns. No matter how high you climb, the dense foliage and mountainous geography make it impossible to see, at best, more than about four square miles.
The road on which Crew was working crawls laboriously up the face of the western wall of a valley that encloses the stream known as Bluff Creek. All along this mountainous trail there are the stumps of vast trees cut and hauled out, and the great dozers and crawlers clank and roar in the hot summer sunlight as they gnaw their relentless way into this timeless land.
Those employed on this work live, during the week, in camps near the road-head. Some have their families with them and stay there all week; others go home to nearby communities on Friday nights and return on the following Monday morning. Jerry Crew’s practice was to return to his family over the weekend, leaving his machine parked at the scene of the current operations. He had been on this job for three months before the eventful morning of August 27.
What Crew discovered when he went to start up his “cat” that morning was a series of footprints that formed a continuous track to, around, and then away from the machine. Such tracks would not have aroused his curiosity under normal circumstances, because there were three dozen men at that road-head and the newly scraped road-bed was covered with soft areas of mud alternating with patches of loose shale. What did startle him, however, was that these footprints were of a naked foot of distinctly human shape and proportion but, by actual measurement, a whopping 16 inches long!
His first reaction was to consider them a hoax. Crew had heard of similar tracks found by another road gang working 8 miles north of a place called Korbel on the Mad River earlier in the year, Jim Crew, had also mentioned having come across something similar in this area. Being a practical, matter-of-fact person, he felt considerably annoyed that some “outsider” should try to pull such a silly stunt on him.
He told me that he suspected an outsider because, while his fellow workers liked a harmless joke as much as any man, he knew that this job made them far too tired to go clomping around in the dark making silly footprints in the dirt. Then he got to thinking about this outsider, and wondered just how he could have gotten there without being spotted passing the camps farther down the road, and how he had gotten out again, or where he had gone to. Jerry followed the tracks, and that is where he got his second shock.
Tracing them backwards, he found that the tracks came almost straight down an incline at about a 75 degree angle onto the road ahead of the parked “cat,” then proceeded down the road to one side, circled the machine, and finally went on down toward the camp. Before getting there, however, they cut across the road and went straight down an even steeper incline and continued into the forest with a measured stride that varied only when an obstacle had to be stepped over or a bank was so steep a purchase had to be obtained with the heels only.
The stride was enormous and proved, on measurement, to range from 46 to 60 inches and to average almost twice that of his own.
Crew’s fellow workers refused, at first, even to go and look at this preposterous nonsense that he said he had found; but eventually some of the men, who had to go by that way, agreed to take a look. Some of them, Jerry tells me, “looked at me real queer,” but there were others who reacted differently.
All of them, it developed, had either seem something similar in that general area, or had heard similar tales from friends and acquaintances whom they regarded as reliable. Only the Indians present said nothing. Then they all went back to work.
Nothing further happened for almost a month. Then, once again, these same monstrous footprints appeared overnight around the equipment and also farther down the road toward the valley and around a spring. Still, however, the matter remained a purely local affair for another three weeks, the details known only to the men working on the road and their immediate families.
Then in the middle of September, a Mrs. Jesse Bemis, wife of one of the most prominent and outspoken skeptics among the road crew, wrote a letter to the leading local newspaper, the Humboldt Times of Eureka, which said in part: “A rumor started among the men about the existence of a Wild Man. We regarded it as a joke. It was only yesterday that my husband became convinced that the existence of such a person (?) is a fact. Have you heard of this wild man?”
The editor of the paper, Andrew Genzoli, says that at first he regarded this letter with a thoroughly jaundiced eye. But the longer he saw it lying about his desk the more it intrigued him, and finally he decided to publish it.
He expected a storm of derision, instead, a trickle of confirmatory correspondence began to come in from the Willow Creek area.
Then, on the second of October, “Bigfoot,” as the creature was now being called, appeared again on his apparently rather cyclic route, leaving tracks for three nights in succession, and then vanishing for about five days. This time Jerry Crew was prepared with a supply of plaster-of-Paris, and he made a series of casts of both right and left feet. Two days later he took time off to drive to Eureka on personal business and he carried the cats along with him to show a friend. While he was there somebody told Editor Genzoli about him.
When Genzoli met Jerry Crew and saw his trophies, he realized he had some real, live news on his hands. He ran a frontpager on it with photographs the next day. Then the balloon went up. The wire services picked it up and almost every paper ion the country printed it, while inquiry flooded in from abroad.
The first I heard of the affair was a cable from a zoologist in Paris, who sounded slightly hysterical. I have done a good bit of writing on this general subject, and so I get a lot of esoteric cables about all sorts of things like sea-monsters, abominable snowmen, two-headed calves, re-incarnated Indian girls, and so forth, the majority of which I am inclined to look into because the world is, after all, a large place and we don’t know much about a good deal of it. I rather naturally assumed the location as given (California) must have been a complete error of misquote.
It is all very well to have abominable creatures pounding over snow- covered passes in Nepal and Tibet; after all, giant pandas and yaks, an antelope with a nose like Jimmy Durante, and other unlikely things have come from thereabouts. And it is even conceivable that there might be little hairy men in the vast forests of Mozambique, in view of the almost equally unlikely but more or less hairless Pygmies of the eastern Congo that are there for all tourists to see. But, a wild man with a 16- inch foot and a 50-inch stride tromping around California is a little too much to ask even Californians to accept.
Of course, there have been similar reports of a like creature called Sasquatch from all over British Columbia for a century but then, Canadians are still sort of foreigners, and also there are far too many Indian legends mixed up in their stories.
The amazing thing in this California case was that the world press actually took it seriously enough to carry it as a news item. Not so for the rest of humanity. One and all (apart from a few ardent mystics and professional crackpots) rose up in one concerted howl of outrage. Everybody connected with the business, and notably Editor Genzoli, was immediately smothered in a storm of brickbats.
In the meantime, however, a number of other things had happened. Most notable among these was the reappearance of Bigfoot the night before the contractor, Ray Wallace, returned from a business trip. Wallace had heard rumors that either his men were pulling some kind of stunt up in the hills, or somebody was pulling one on them. And he was apprehensive, he told me, because skilled and reliable workers were not plentiful and, under the best conditions, the remote location was not conducive to the staying-power of anyone. he suspected that someone might be deliberately trying to disrupt his operation, and he was determined to solve the mystery.
Now, it so happened that Ray’s brother, Wilbur Wallace, was also working on this job and he — in addition to seeing the tracks many times — had witnessed three other startling occurrences. These he described in detail to his brother.
“…a mass of Mr. Bigfoot’s tracks in the soft mud…”
First, it was reported to him by his men that a nearly full 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel, which had been left standing beside the road, was missing and that Bigfoot tracks led down the road from a steep bank to the place where it had stood, then crossed the road, continued on down the hill, and finally went over the lower bank and away into the bush. Wilbur Wallace found the tracks exactly as the men had stated, and he also found the oil drum at the bottom of a steep bank about 175 feet from the road. It had rolled down this bank after having been thrown from the top. What is more, it had been lifted from its original resting place and apparently carried to this point, for there were no marks in the soft mud indicating that it had been either rolled or dragged.
Second, a length of 18-inch galvanized steel culvert disappeared from a dump overnight and was found at the bottom of another bank some distance away. Third, a tire for a “carry-all” earthmover, weighing over 250 pounds, had likewise been in part carried and in part rolled a quarter of a mile down the road and hurled into a deep ravine.
Even after hearing these things from his own brother, Ray Wallace remained skeptical. However, on his first on the job he stopped for a drink at a spring on the way down the hill and himself stepped right into a mass of Mr. Bigfoot’s tracks in the soft mud around the outflow.
Ray Wallace is a hard-boiled and pragmatic man, and he was already experiencing trouble keeping his men on the job. Hand-picked as they were, quite a few had simply packed up and left. Wallace was convinced now that somebody was trying to disrupt his work, and this made him furious.
In fact, he got so angry he brought in a man named Ray Kerr who had read of the matter in the press and who had asked for a job on the road in order to be able to spend his spare time trying to track the culprit. Kerr brought with him a friend by the name of Bob Breazele, who had hunted professionally in Mexico and who owned four good dogs and a British-made gun of enormous caliber which considerably impressed the local people. Kerr, an experienced equipment operator, did a full daily job. Breazele did not take a job, but only hunted.
Tracks were soon picked up and followed by them. Then one night in late October, they saw it. They were driving down the new road after dark and came upon what seemed to be a gigantic humanoid or human-shaped creature, covered all over with 6-inch brown fur, squatting by the road. They say it sprang up in their headlights, crossed the road in two strides, and vanished into the undergrowth.
They went after it with a flashlight but the brush was too thick to see anything. They measured the road and found it to be exactly 20 feet wide from the place where the creature had been squatting to the little ditch where it had landed after those two strides. Spurred by this encounter they redoubled their hunting forays, but their dogs disappeared a few days later when they were following Bigfoot’s tracks some distance from the road-head. The dogs were never seen again, though a story was told that their skins and bones were found spattered about some trees.
All this was, of course, taken with hoots or derision by everybody, including those in Willow Creek who had not seen the tracks. There was one notable exception — Andrew Genzoli of the Humboldt Times. He, accompanied by his senior staff photographer, Neil Hulbert, visited Bluff Creek personally, found some fresh tracks, and photographed them. he also found something else. In following the tracks down the road, they came across a pile of feces of typically human form but, as they put it, “of absolutely monumental proportions.”
They contemplated going to fetch a shovel and some container and taking this back to Eureka for analysis, but it was a very hot night and there was a five hour drive over a dangerous road ahead of them, and, while they did not say so, it would not be surprising if they were a little shaken by the night’s events.
Later, however, Ray Wallace also stumbled upon a similar enormous mass of human-shaped droppings. He shovelled them into a gallon can and found they occupied exactly the same volume as a single evacuation from a 1,200-lb horse!
Further foot-tracks and other incidents are continually being reported. Later last spring two fliers — a husband and wife in a private plane — were flying over the Bluff Creek area. It was April and there was still snow on the mountain tops, some of which are bare of trees. It is alleged that they spotted great tracks in the snow and that, on following these up, they sighted the creature that had made them. It was enormous, humanoid, and covered with brown fur. I am still trying to locate this couple, but at the time of writing, have not identified them.
Other recent reports are more easily pinned down. Among these are alleged statements by two doctors of having met a Bigfoot on Route 299 early in 1958, and a lady of great integrity who, with her daughter, saw two — one smaller by far than the other — feeding on a hillside above the Hoopa Valley. This lady, who does not wish her name to be used, also told my partner that when she was a young girl people used to see these creatures from time to time when they went fishing up certain creeks leading into the Hoopa Valley, and that she once saw one swimming across Bluff Creek when it was in flood. She also states that people did not go above certain points in these valleys because of the presence of the creatures.
More pertinent, however, were a positive flood of further alleged discoveries of similar foot-tracks by all manner of local citizenry over a wide area and extending back for many years. These all came to light as soon as the local press began to take this matter seriously.
A Humboldt Times reporter named Betty Allen did some talking to the Hoopa and Yurok Indians about these matters, and added more to the growing picture.
One middle-aged Hoopa man merely reacted: “Good Lord, have the white men finally got around to that?” More information came from a Mr. Oscar Mack, an older gentleman of the Yurok clan of the Klamaths. “The Bigfoot,” he told Mrs. Allen and one of my partners, “were run out of this country by the miners in the 1848-49 gold rush. Before that there were quite a number of them.”
It is further reported — and this by an engineer now residing near Eureka — that in the 1890’s on the Chetco River in what is now extreme south-western Oregon, a pair of Bigfoot once infested a mining camp, stole and wrecked equipment. Three men were later found mutilated and virtually pulverized near the camp, but in open ground where they could not have fallen or been fallen upon by anything other than an animal.
There is a strange rider to this story: namely, that the local Indians said that active volcanoes had broken out in the area to which the Bigfeet fled, in the not to distant past, and that all the game had been killed but that the Bigfeet had survived. Similar stories are numerous; I have transcripts of two dozen, many from old newspapers.
The most recent development came to my attention as I was writing this story. On August 16, 1959, two men, John W. Green of British Columbia and Bob Titmus of Berkeley, California, found more Bigfoot tracks 23 miles up the new road.
They also found a great number of long, dark hairs, ranging from one to 10 inches in length, stuck on the trunks of fir trees at a height up to 6 feet 4 inches above the ground, plus many piles of droppings which contained small bones, fur, and the residue of various vegetation.
So what are we to make of all this? Obviously, there is something very strange going on around Bluff Creek in Humboldt County. There seems to have been something very similar going on, for a century at least, in this general area. Crazy as it may seem, the whole thing cannot simply dismissed as a lie, and nobody has yet been able to think up any way in which such a thing could have been perpetrated as a hoax or publicity stunt; or how, or why.
Not even a machine, and certainly nobody on stilts, could have navigated the inclines the “wearer” of these feet negotiated. Besides, it altered its stride, dug its toes 6 inches deep into steep banks going up, and thumped its round heel equally far into them coming down. Something left enormous piles of dung, quite unlike those of any bear thereabouts, and something seems to have toted 50-gallon steel drums full of fluid, iron culverts, and truck-tires for considerable distances.
“Something in that area makes a high-pitched, whistling growl.”
Something in that area makes a high-pitched, whistling growl. I have had this noise imitated for me by three different people who have heard it in the forest; it is always the same but I cannot describe it.
Forgetting the past and all those who said they have seen the perpetrators, let us examine the possible explanations for these foot-tracks. They were seen and existed. Of that, there cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt; the first-hand witnesses are too many, too varied in background, and too honest for anybody short of a complete idiot to any longer suggest questioning their statements. There are many very good reasons for stating that the tracks could not be made by a normal man nor by a machine. Therefore, there are only three alternatives. They must have been made either by an abnormal man, an animal, or a creature somewhere between the two.
For the abnormal man theory there is something to be said, though I would like to stress that a story published in the local press to the effect that a 7-foot youngster ran away from a C.C.C. Camp at Salyer in 1933 is not true. I have interviewed the now-retired head of that camp who states that there never was such a boy but that a tall lad was lost for four days in the forest but was finally found.
There is, however, a factually confirmed story from Idaho, dated 1868, of a 6-foot-8-inch Indian-Negro-White man with a chest measurement of 59 inches, named Star Wilkerson, who was shot for a number of murders by one John Wheeler acting on behalf of the community. His feet measured 17½ inches and he was almost completely wild. The casts of the Bluff Creek Bigfoot measure 16 inches and are completely human except that the toes are relatively small, are somewhat rounder, and are arranged more squarely to the long axis of the feet than in the average human being.
Thus, it is possible that there could be some runaway human individual of large but not excessive stature and of considerable bulk and weight — for engineers affirm that the prints he left indicate a weight of at least 750 pounds — residing in the large uninhabited area of north-west California. But there is nothing in the records to indicate who such a person might be or where he came from, and the records have been most carefully searched. (And, there is nothing everybody — the press, the public at large, the few scientists who have deigned to read the accounts, and especially the local inhabitants — would like more than to find out there is such a runaway human being.)
The suggestion that these tracks are made by an animal need hardly be discussed. The only animal that might be suspected is a bear, of which there some of the Black (Euarctos) in the surrounding areas (but not, strangely, in the Bluff Creek valley) and just conceivably some grizzled-brown Dishfaced (Arctos) bears, commonly called “Grizzlies.” The latter is most unlikely. Further, no animal has a human foot.
The third and last alternative is a Humanoid; an intermediate creature between Man and what we call an animal. the existence of any such creature today is, of course, almost unthinkable. Yet the bones of just such intermediates — and of several grades from the bent-legged Neanderthal sub-men to the stunted-brained Pithecanthropines of China and Java and the pygmy Australopithecines of South Africa with their half-simian, half-human anatomy, and the gigantic 8 to 12 foot, human- like ape called Gigantopithecus of southern China — have now been unearthed. There were “giants in those days.” Could some have survived? Above all else, could they have ever lived in North America and survived in, of all places, California? The astonishing thing is that they could well have done both.
We now know there were men on this continent before the last ice- advance. And during the last million years, during which man evolved, many large and less competent mammals crossed back and forth between the Old and New Worlds in the northern hemisphere — the elk, mammoth, brown or dishfaced bears, and lesser folk like the beaver, marmot, mink and others. Why should not have Sub-men or Ape-men that were resident in what is now northern China, have done so?
And if they did, why should not they, like the moose and elk, have survived the southward ice advances; even if mammoths, mastodons, the giant beaver, and a large lion did not? After all, some Ape-men made tools and they may have made fire. They would have been better equipped to survive the cold, even if they did not emigrate southward during the ice ages. If they survived, moreover, to where would they retreat? Obviously, to those highly inaccessible areas not populated by modern man.
And one such place, strangely enough, is the north-western tip of California.
Before you are tempted to scoff and put this story down, bear a few things in mind. This area extends over one hundred thousand square miles, and nobody lives there. Apart from the higher ridges and mountain peaks, the ground area is completely concealed from the air by forest. It has never been properly surveyed or mapped. yet, for all this, the area is well watered, overgrown with berries, full of small game, and never completely snowed in. Though it nestles in the midst of civilization, it is completely uncivilized.
Almost anything could be living in there. From the evidence, something is. Will somebody please do something about it before it is too late?
Copyright 1959, Fawcett Publications, Inc