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The furry man-monster of the North American continent has achieved such legendary status that the term "Bigfoot" is in danger of becoming a generic label applied to any big hairy creature that walks like a man. The following discussion will focus on the "original" Bigfoot, the seven-foot apelike beast sighted in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and in Canada, where it is traditionally known as Sasquatch.

Some Bigfoot hunters believe that the creature's earliest history can be found in ancient Native American legends, particularly in the tales of the Witiko, or Wendigo, a giant spirit-beast from the lore of the Algonkian tribe. Others argue that Bigfoot seems to be a 20th century phenomenon, and any earlier documentation of the creature's existence is tenuous at best. If Bigfoot has indeed been known to Native Americans for ages, it's only in the past hundred years that persons of European descent have begun to report seeing him.

During the 1900s, the Colonist newspaper in Victoria, British Columbia, ran several stories about people spotting "monkey-men" in remote wooded areas. In the 1920s, British Columbia schoolteacher J. W. Burns wrote extensively in newspaper and magazine articles about reports of giant hairy creatures. Burns's writings were responsible for popularizing the term "Sasquatch," which he identified as a derivation from the language of the Coast Salish Indians. Sasquatch quickly became known among the general public of western Canada, long before tales of such a creature ever found notoriety in the United States.

Following the publicity surrounding Eric Shipton's 1951 photograph of a Yeti footprint, interest in Sasquatch increased dramatically. John Green, a newspaper publisher in British Columbia, began reporting Sasquatch sightings in 1955. Green initially intended this coverage to be purely a circulation booster for his small newspaper, and some of his reports were completely fake -- such as an April Fool's story about Sasquatch kidnapping a young woman. But over time Green became genuinely captivated by the creature, and his extensive compilation of stories and sightings made him the leading Sasquatch authority of his day.

One Sasquatch spotter Green interviewed was William Roe, a trapper, who claimed to have a close encounter with a female of the species in 1955, while hunting on British Columbia's Mica Mountain.

"The thought came to me that if I shot it I would probably have a specimen of great interest to scientists the world over," Roe said. But he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger on his rifle. "Although I have called the creature 'it,' I felt now that it was a human being, and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it," he said.

The publication of Roe's account would later inspire another man to step forward with his own Sasquatch experience, which he said had happened more than thirty years before. Albert Ostman, a 64-year-old retired lumberman from British Columbia, went public in 1957 with a tale he had kept to himself since 1924, for fear of being ridiculed. Ostman's story was the most dramatic report ever in the history of Bigfoot studies: a first-person account of abduction by Sasquatch.

While on a camping trip near Vancouver Island, Ostman found that something had disturbed his supplies and food on two nights in a row. A Native American trail guide had warned him about the presence of local Sasquatches when Ostman set up his camp, and this was the first time Ostman had ever heard of the creatures, but he didn't think they could be the culprits messing with his gear.

Then one night Ostman was shaken awake to find himself being indelicately carried away inside his sleeping bag. The opening of the sleeping bag was held shut, and Ostman had no choice but to be dragged along the forest ground for what he estimated to be 25 miles, nearly suffocating. After what seemed like a three-hour ordeal, he was thrown to the ground in a heap, and emerged to find himself in the company of four Sasquatches. Ostman described them as a family, with a father and a mother and their pair of offspring, one male and one female. He indicated that the adult male, his kidnapper, was over eight feet tall and powerfully built, covered in dark hair all over. The children, though smaller, were still about seven feet tall.

Ostman said the Sasquatches chattered amongst themselves in a seemingly intelligent language, and although they did not hurt or threaten him, they were determined not to let him leave. Their lair was inside a small valley enclosed by cliffs, and the adult male stood guard at the only apparent entry passage. Ostman suggested that he may have been selected as a prospective mate for the young female.

Ostman claimed that he was held captive for a period of six days. In that time he formed a tentative bond with the younger male, who became fond of sampling Ostman's snuff. That gave Ostman an idea. He offered his snuff to the adult male, which impulsively dumped the entire container into his mouth. The tobacco rush incapacitated the big Sasquatch in short order, making him writhe on the ground in overwhelming discomfort. Ostman seized the opportunity to escape, and never told anyone his fantastic tale until three decades later, when it seemed the world might be ready to listen. As unbelievable as his story may seem, many of those who heard Ostman tell it firsthand remarked that his earnest demeanor made it come across as surprisingly convincing.

Ostman's "sleeping-bag snatch" remains the most elaborately detailed account of Bigfoot contact, but as any amateur Cryptozoologist knows, it is far from the most famous sighting of the creature. That honor belongs to 952 frames of 16mm film, shot one fine day in the California woods.