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Pilgrimage to Bigfoot Country

Aug. 05, 2015 by | Comments (15)

Last month I was doing geologic field work in northern California, and I had the opportunity to travel across the Klamath Mountains. Naturally, I saw many of the signs of Bigfoot Country. There’s a tacky “museum” and store down in Garberville near the Humboldt Redwoods, right off Highway 101, and there are Bigfoot merchandisers everywhere in the Klamaths. But the epicenter of Squatcher country (as the hunters of Sasquatch call themselves) is the Willow Creek-Bluff Creek area, in the central Klamaths.

Willow Creek is a tiny little town deep in the forests of the Klamath Mountains, with a population of only 1743. Logging has been its main source of income in the past but today it is tourism. And Willow Creek is truly Bigfoot Central. Almost every business in town caters to Bigfoot tourism. There is a Bigfoot Motel, Bigfoot Books, Bigfoot Contracting Supply, Bigfoot Rafting Company, and Bigfoot Restaurant, just to mention a few with “Bigfoot” in their business name. Every Labor Day weekend (this year on Sept. 5, 2015), Willow Creek hosts its annual “Bigfoot Daze” festival. Most famous of all is the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum, with a room dedicated to its collections about Bigfoot. The exhibits are not that impressive: mostly hand-typed signs and labels, lots of fading newspaper clippings and fuzzy photographs, various casts of “Bigfoot prints,” and so on. The town also boasts numerous sculptures of Bigfoot in many places, including a more than twice-life-size statue outside the Bigfoot Museum, and redwood carvings outside the local Patriot gas station and the Visitor Information Center. There’s a Bigfoot Avenue and Little Foot Court, as well as a Patterson Avenue (and this town only has a few streets). Just like the areas around Loch Ness, and Lake Champlain (home of “Champ”), and other places in the cryptozoology lore, cryptid-tourism is big business, and supports a significant portion of the economy in a town as remote and tiny as Willow Creek.

Giant-bigfoot-statue-510px

Standing next to the super-sized Bigfoot statue at the Willow Creek Bigfoot Museum

What makes Willow Creek “Bigfoot Central”? As Daniel Loxton and I detailed in our book, Abominable Science!, it is the starting point for many of the modern ideas about Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Most of the early Bigfoot tracks and sightings were discovered at Bluff Creek, about 30 miles up the Hoopa Valley, and then the news reached the rest of the world through Willow Creek, the nearest town. Many of the legendary Bigfoot hunters stayed in the Bigfoot Motel and ate at the Bigfoot Restaurant while making their plans, as do most of the modern Bigfoot tourists. Although the first modern Bigfoot accounts came from British Columbia starting in the 1920s, and then with the influential William Roe account in 1957, the Klamaths became the heart of Bigfoot sightings after that. In 1958, a legendary prankster called Ray Wallace first reported Bigfoot tracks near Bluff Creek, and brought the news to Willow Creek. Several more trackways followed, but they have all been debunked as hoaxes made by Wallace himself. Wallace’s “Bigfoot shoes” that he used to make the tracks were even found in 2002, after his death. Yet the Wallace footprints are proudly exhibited at the Bigfoot Museum, along with all the clippings from the track sightings beginning in 1958.

human foot beside supposed bigfoot track

My size-9 shoe next to one of the Wallace “tracks” outside the Bigfoot Museum.

But the most important event in the area was the making of the Patterson-Gimlin film in 1967. Two cowboys, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, went down into the Bluff Creek drainage, not far from Wallace’s “track sites”. On their first and only try, they filmed the shaky, handheld, but iconic footage of a “Bigfoot” seemingly walking away from the cameraman across the logs and gravel in the creek. This footage has become the most important—and most controversial—evidence concerning Bigfoot yet. True believers argue that it can’t be a man in an ape suit, while most neutral observers agree that it’s another hoax. As Daniel points out in our book, however, the evidence around the film itself is very suspicious. First of all, Patterson was a well-known prankster. By all accounts (even according to his friends), he was a hustler and con-artist who seldom held a steady job, had a long history of get-rich-quick schemes,  and was constantly ripping people off and borrowing money and never repaying it. Shortly before the making his legendary film, Patterson even demonstrated how he faked Bigfoot tracks and casts for filming. In 1967, he had no steady income and needed something to provide for his family after he died (which happened less than 5 years later)—and the royalties for the use of that film has paid Patterson’s heirs handsomely for many decades. Suspiciously, Patterson loudly announced to everyone he was going to get film of Bigfoot, and then promptly did so on his first try—and no one has since gotten anything (except for terrible, blurry ambiguous film and still images). Even more damning, the Patterson-Gimlin film follows the “script” of the 1957 William Roe account in British Columbia, right down to the details of how the figure walks, turns its head to look at the camera, and its physical characteristics with the prominent breasts. Finally, the alleged accomplice in the suit (Bob Heironimus) has confessed, as has the wholesale costume manufacturer who claimed he provided the costume.

There are now a host of good reasons why Bigfoot/Sasquatch does not exist, and they are all detailed in our book. But the famous hoaxes in the Willow Creek-Bluff Creek area were the starting point for much of the Bigfoot mania in the United States—and today they are cashing in on that fame.

Donald Prothero

Dr. Donald Prothero taught college geology and paleontology for 35 years, at Caltech, Columbia, and Occidental, Knox, Vassar, Glendale, Mt. San Antonio, and Pierce Colleges. He earned his B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa, College Award) from University of California Riverside in 1976, and his M.A. (1978), M.Phil. (1979), and Ph.D. (1982) in geological sciences from Columbia University. He is the author of over 35 books. Read Donald’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

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