SEATTLE — When you’re a Bigfoot believer in Washington state — for some, the epicenter for the creature — you don’t get discouraged.
Not even by this summer’s scientific results that sparked headlines like, “DNA analysis indicates Bigfoot may be a big fake.”
It turned out that this region was a major contributor of hair samples to the study done at the University of Oxford, hairs thought to come from the elusive being.
Washingtonians sent in half of the 20-some samples from the U.S.; there were a total of 57 samples worldwide from alleged yetis and others, and 30 were found good enough to test.
After two years of work, out came the results in July, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B (“B” for biological sciences).
The hairs were from raccoons, horses, bears, cows, wolves — not some unknown mammal.
But try shaking the belief of Bigfoot believers. Not going to happen.
Their stories are of having seen one, heard one, had one surreptitiously move things around their campsite while they slept. They know it lives.
“I have seen two of them, and have had hundreds of interactions with them,” says Rhettman Mullis, a Bellevue psychologist who founded a site called Bigfootology.com that lists numerous team members and a section devoted to field reports.
He says “a very rough estimation” is that there are 100,000 Bigfoots in North America.
You can understand why the skeptics are skeptical. If there are 100,000, where is just one body? The search has spawned numerous Bigfoot groups, and the cable show “Finding Bigfoot,” where they’re always on the verge of tracking down the creature but never quite do it.
But Mullis believes.
Mullis even helped collect samples for the Oxford study and is listed as its co-author.
The primary author is Bryan Sykes, 63, a professor of human genetics at Wolfson College in Oxford. With his main interest being human evolution, Sykes says he had always been curious about the Bigfoot stories.
Sykes is well aware of the ridicule that Bigfoot enthusiasts face, and says, “I’m in the late stage of my career. I wouldn’t have done this when I was young. Your colleagues will think you’re a bit eccentric.”
He says the DNA analysis totaled about $40,000, which he has paid for himself, because “I don’t think it’s appropriate to use public money for this kind of work.” He says, “I’m gambling I can cover my expenses” through a book he’s writing on “The Yeti Enigma.”
Sykes says he always figured the odds of making a Bigfoot hair match at 5 percent, “a risk worth taking.”
He says that even though the tests came back negative, all that means is that these particular hairs weren’t from a Bigfoot, not that Bigfoot doesn’t exist.
Sykes has visited this state five times and has become good friends with Mullis.
Mullis remembers vividly what he saw at age 10, when he became a believer.
It was the summer of 1977, and he was on a family ferry outing in Puget Sound. He says he saw a massive creature, all black, “literally four times the size of a regular man, his arms coming out of the water,” swimming in the wake of the ferry.
“When you see something like that,” he says, “it changes your life.”
Mullis is telling his story at the Granite Falls home of Pearl Prihoda, 56, who works for the local school district in the kitchen and as a janitor. She’s listed as Bigfootology’s official historian.
She displays her beliefs to all with a 12-foot, 2,000-pound chainsaw carving of a Bigfoot in her front yard.
Prihoda grew up around the Granite Falls area and remembers when she was 16, skipping school with her boyfriend, and the two had driven on an old power-line road and parked.
Then they caught sight of a nearly 8-foot creature walking through the woods, she says.
“It was blackish-charcoal, covered with hair, and had these really long arms. It scared the daylights out of me. We tore out of there,” remembers Prihoda.
She also says, “I was hooked. There was no doubt in my mind that what I saw was absolutely real.”
Why so many sightings in this state?
“We have the three main pillars,” Mullis says.
“We have cover, as in forests. We have plenty of water with creeks, rivers and lakes. And we have plenty of food. They’re omnivorous and eat berries, nuts. And farmland — they’re constantly raiding farms and they find cattle with hind legs ripped off and finding cattle carcasses in trees.”
Uhh, wait a minute. Cattle carcasses in trees?
Says Mullis, “Mostly the media ignores these types of things.”
A relative who’s stuck?
That certainly would be unusual for the media, to ignore cattle carcasses in trees.
For example, here is a front-page story from July 16, 1924, in this very paper:
“Explorers on Mount St. Helens find cabin with roof smashed by rocks, said by prospectors to have been hurled by mountain devils.”
That issue also contained this story: “Clue to ‘Gorilla Men’ found may be lost race of giants. Clallam Indians tell of eight-foot Seeahtiks who killed game by hypnotism — existence kept secret by other tribes.”
These days, hikers around that area on the east side of Mount St. Helens might wonder why it’s called Ape Canyon. Now you know the rest of the story. Back when that incident happened, the term “Bigfoot” hadn’t even been coined.
That happened in 1958 in a story in the Humboldt Times in California about a construction crew finding 16-inch tracks.
The term “Sasquatch” had been coined around that time, but wasn’t yet in wide use. It was conceived by a Canadian Indian agent (the individual authorized to interact with a tribe on behalf of the federal government) and schoolteacher who wrote articles about the creatures and used a mispronunciation of a tribal word for “hairy giants.”
We’ve always needed our mysterious creatures.
“I think of Bigfoot as a sort of protohuman, a relative stuck in a primordial state,” says Jim Clauss, a professor of classics at the University of Washington, who knows his mythology. “People have been fascinated by that concept since antiquity ... creatures that existed before that were larger and more ferocious.”
Answering the skeptics
As for you skeptics, point-by-point, Mullis answers your questions.
Why only grainy, fuzzy photos and videos of the creature?
“There are plenty of good photographs. Look at the Patterson film. The copies of the film look grainy. I’ve seen the original digital copies, and you can see the muscle tone, that’s how clear it is.”
That would be the 53-second film made in 1967. Depictions from a famous still from the film can be found on mugs, air fresheners, T-shirts, postcards, posters and pretty much anything else.
You decide whether it’s real or a guy in a gorilla suit. Why has no hunter ever shot one, or trapped one?
Well, one guy said he had a female and her young one in his rifle sights, and he “could not pull the trigger.” Another said he did shoot a Bigfoot, but when he returned weeks later after a snowfall, the body had been dug up.
Why have no giant skeletons been found?
“They live in an environment in which a bear, an elk, that’s been killed, predators rip out what they want, muscles, organs. Then the smaller predators take the bones.”
Really, fellow Washingtonians, why not just embrace the Bigfoot legend?
Skamania County down by the Columbia River has.
In 1969, it passed an ordinance making it a felony punishable by five years in prison for the premeditated killing of a Sasquatch, later amended to a gross misdemeanor because the county “may have exceeded” its authority.
The commissioners did add a section, however, saying that “suffering from insane delusions” was not a defense in killing a Sasquatch.
The county prominently mentions the Sasquatch as a tourism attraction. Recently, the city of North Bonneville even hosted its annual “Bigfoot Bash & Bounty.” To help things along, it also featured a “Yeti Yard Beer Garden.”
Embrace the Bigfoot.
Says Professor Sykes, who has gotten to know the creature’s believers:
“It’s almost like a religious conversion when they think they’ve seen one. They’re absolutely sure what it was. Then they either keep quiet for fear of being made fools, or they spend the rest of their lives trying to prove what they saw.”