Immortal Sasquatch still immune to cynics

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on December 7th, 2008

Field researcher Thomas Steenburg is B.C.’s go-to guy regarding Bigfoot, having spent 30 years investigating the elusive beast. Jon Healy photo.

Ridiculous is a meaningless word until you’ve seen Thomas Steenburg, Bigfoot field researcher, taking giant strides across Harrison Lake’s beach wearing replica creature tracks moulded to a pair of Chuck Taylors. He is conducting an experiment, see, to find out whether or not convincing Bigfoot tracks can be easily faked. They can’t. Even in the softest sand, Steenburg’s tracks—replicas of the 1958 Bluff Creek, California, prints that catapulted the term Bigfoot into public consciousness—mark only an eighth of an inch of the surface. The tracks he claims to have discovered at Ruby Creek the week before, in late September this year, were three times that deep, indicating a foot structure designed to carry a very heavy animal. He says.

Here’s the story: a man from Chilliwack went hunting in the forests around Ruby Creek, about 50 kilometres up the Fraser River from Agassiz. He was in very difficult terrain, a bog so moist and so deep that Steenburg later sank waist-deep while exploring the area. The hunter told Steenburg that something threw a rock at him. When he turned to look, he saw a manlike creature covered in hair walk into a thicket of trees. He believed it was a Bigfoot (also widely known in this part of the world as Sasquatch, which means “hairy man” in Halkomelem, a Salish language).

So the hunter was spooked, of course, and called Steenburg. After 30 years in the field, Steenburg has become B.C.’s go-to guy for this sort of thing. Fellow trackers Bill Miller and Christine Marie went with Steenburg to investigate and they found a few tracks in the forest where the hunter saw the creature wander. They cast one of the prints in plaster and unveiled it, placed upon a trash bin, at the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club/West Coast Sasquatch conference on the shore of Harrison Lake on October 4—the event at which Steenburg was taking giant strides across the sand. Harrison Hot Springs is a hotbed of Sasquatch activity, and the creature is ever present in the locals’ psyches: there are Sasquatch murals and statues and a restaurant and a provincial park named after the elusive (many say mythical) animal.

The cryptozoologists were crowding around the nine-inch cast. It was a mediocre print, at best, covered in bog gunk, and hardly proof that Sasquatch is alive and kicking. Then again, there’s more to it than just this print.

“There are two facts,” says veteran B.C. Sasquatch tracker John Green, sitting in the living room of his Harrison Hot Springs house. “There is something out there making those prints.

“Second, thousands of people, including university professors, have said they have seen a large, bipedal animal covered in hair. If we get a team together, we’ll discover that humans have been faking it throughout history—an interesting human activity—or there’s really something out there.”

Green is a pioneer in Sasquatch field research and was one of the first to investigate the location of the famous and controversial 1967 so-called Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film shot at Bluff Creek. There have been more than 3,000 sightings in B.C. since 1920, by his count. (In July this year, two people separately claimed they saw a Bigfoot on Mt. Archibald near Chilliwack within three hours of each other.)

Green has written three books during his half-century search. He says he has seen many footprints but has never seen the animal, something he chalks up to “bad luck” but something that cynics use as proof that he’s running a fool’s errand.

“People don’t believe because they have not actually delved into the subject themselves,” says John Kirk, chair and cofounder of the BCSCC and author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters. “They have never done any research; they have never done any comprehensive analysis of the evidence there. They’ve never really looked into it.”

Kirk says that when he began investigating British Columbia’s unclassified species, or cryptids, in the 1980s, he faced “incredulity from the public at large”. He got used to it a long time ago. He finds value in his work, even if most think he’s nuts—new species are discovered all the time, after all. The Congolese mountain gorilla inhabited the same mythical realm for westerners as Bigfoot until it was officially discovered in 1902, Kirk says. Cryptozoologists have a long list of such creatures, and Earth is a big place. Just because we don’t know it’s out there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The scientific community has refused, Kirk says, and still refuses to tackle a “fringe” subject that could compromise careers. There are superstars in Bigfoot’s corner, however: such highly regarded wildlife experts as Jane Goodall and George Schaller have acknowledged publicly that Sasquatch may exist and that science should invest more resources in looking for it.

But they’re a very small minority. Most scientists find the hunt pointless: why not devote our research to helping animals that are known to exist instead of dedicating time and resources to an animal that, if it exists, hasn’t affected humanity in any way?

“Well, humans want to understand our environment and we want to understand nature as best as we can. It’s like any other animal that hasn’t been discovered yet,” Kirk says.

“I’m not out to prove that it exists,” says Gerry Matthews at his home in Chilliwack. Matthews is the founder of West Coast Sasquatch, an on-line forum where Bigfoot enthusiasts share information. “I wouldn’t be terribly heartbroken if it was proven not to exist.

“But the mystery is still out there. There’s enough going on to say, ‘Ya know, there’s something happening here; there’s something on the go.’ It would be nice to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.”

The more one looks into it, the deeper the mystery gets. The Sasquatch conundrum defies logic. The creature’s potential existence is about as baffling as the lengths that presumed hoaxers will go to so they can fool what is, essentially, a very small cult following. One thing is clear, however: anyone who does a little research soon learns there’s a lot more going on than media reports of hoaxes.

“A lot of Sasquatch tracks are found where nobody goes; it’s simple as that,” Kirk says. “I always get very doubtful when they’re found close to human habitation, and I quadruple-check those to ensure that the footprint shows flexibility, otherwise I’m out of there in two minutes flat. It’s a waste of time. If every print is exactly the same, thanks but no thanks.”

There have been plenty of hoaxes over the years, the latest by three men from Georgia who claimed to have a Bigfoot carcass stored in an icebox. It turned out to be a gorilla suit stuffed with possum guts. But that doesn’t mean all sightings and tracks are fabricated.

The reason Bigfoot field research continues is that convincing tracks are found every year around the world—tracks that change with each step, indicating that something organic, not rigid, is making the impressions. The Willow Creek Museum in California has a $100,000 reward for anyone who can demonstrate how to replicate footprints in dense terrain that reflect the gait and girth of a heavy, bipedal animal. So far, no one has come forward to demonstrate how convincing, organic-looking prints can be fabricated.

“Whenever I hear that [footprints are impossible to fake], my bells go off,” says B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry chair Lee Moller. “Impossible to fake? People are very, very smart. If they want to see a toe that seems to splay, all it takes is a spring, a little bit of intelligence, and they can do it. Don’t underestimate people’s ability for fakery.”

Moller, a software designer by trade, wonders why, in an age when “just about everybody and their dog” has a digital camera or a camera phone, not a single convincing photograph has been taken.

“It’s virtually impossible to believe that an 800-pound primate…could have not [only] gone unnoticed, but could have left no evidence behind. We have fossils from our predecessors that are three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half million years old,” Moller said. “This leads me to believe that it’s a figment of our collective imagination.”

Stanley Coren, a UBC psychology professor, says, “If you believe there’s a Sasquatch, then you’re going to find more material out there that would suggest to you that you really did see the Sasquatch than if you don’t believe it.” Coren explains that in the 1950s, UFO sightings were a hot topic. Not surprisingly, reports of UFO sightings skyrocketed during that time but have since tapered off as public interest in the phenomenon wavers. “If you didn’t have the idea of a Sasquatch in your memory then you wouldn’t have the Sasquatch to interpret something you weren’t expecting.”

Science, of course, requires a dead body or, better, a live one. Even bones or hair will do. Moller says that anything would be better than “cheesy footprints” or a video of what he describes as a man in a furry suit that could easily have been faked. He says that the likelihood of finding any previously unknown bipedal land-going mammal weighing more than 100 pounds is “slim to none, and slim just left town”.

Vancouverites tend to have this skeptical attitude, but the farther one gets from the city, the more one finds people inclined to believe in Bigfoot. For them, the creature appeals to that childlike belief that fantastic possibilities do exist on our planet. Bigfoot is the cryptid mascot. And if it really does exist, Earth is a very different world than we know.

But as with any other puzzle, we’ll never know the answer unless society keeps an open mind about it.

“There’s no place in the universe for cynicism,” Kirk says. “Skepticism, yes. As we say in the Bigfoot world, when you’re out in the field, keep your ‘skepticals’ on.”

Bill Miller swears he’s seen one. He took a picture of it, too, in broad daylight, back in 2003, about 4,200 feet up a mountain near Harrison Lake. The picture shows something hairy standing upright, half obstructed by the surrounding trees, about a half-mile away, across a valley. The figure’s arm is extended behind it, indicating it’s in mid-step. Miller points out the sunshine gleaming off the arm. The picture is blurry, of course—Bigfoot photos always are—but it’s sharp enough to show that it’s not a bear. He’s spent the past five years investigating what that furry blur was.

“I want to get close,” he says. “Not so close that I can feel its breath in my face—I don’t want to be that close. That’s a nervous thing to even think about.”

He’s steering his Polaris Ranger six-wheel-drive up Mt. Archibald—the site of the double sightings back in July—scanning the trail for tracks or anything out of the ordinary. There’s no special skill set for what he does: just be in as many places as possible as often as possible and hope for the best. The truck bed is loaded with rope, some tarp, his camera. There’s bear repellent in the cup holders.

He pulls over and stops where one man claimed he saw a Sasquatch cross the forest service road in front of his truck, coming from terrain so steep and so dense that any man roaming around in there wearing a monkey suit is about as plausible as a Sasquatch actually crossing the road.

Miller has been hunting Bigfoot for more than 10 years, but he says not to call him a hunter. That would imply that he has caught something. It’s tireless, thankless work, and the minute Miller catches a good picture or a video, he says, he’s retiring for good. He’ll let the scientists handle it from there.

“I have other things I would love to do,” he says. “I would love to get it over with tomorrow. When I get a film, I’m done. I am done.”

Steve Smysnuik
Vancouver Free Press

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

8 Responses to “Immortal Sasquatch still immune to cynics”

  1. Richard888 responds:

    Excerpt 1:
    “The Willow Creek Museum in California has a $100,000 reward for anyone who can demonstrate how to replicate footprints in dense terrain that reflect the gait and girth of a heavy, bipedal animal.”

    Excerpt 2:
    “Impossible to fake? People are very, very smart. If they want to see a toe that seems to splay, all it takes is a spring, a little bit of intelligence, and they can do it, says B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry chair Lee Moller.”

    If these people are very very smart then wouldn’t they be doing it for $100K instead of for free? Great article!

  2. Bob K. responds:

    And a truly great mystery it is. To the unbiased, there is more than enough evidence – though much of it is anecdotal [which does not render it invalid, by the way, especially due to the huge volume of it, spanning a vast amount of time]- to prove that a large and powerful, bipedal, hirsute man-like ape [ape-like man? neither?] exists in North America.

    But in the 40+ years since the Patterson footage was filmed, we are still not a lot closer to solving this mystery than we were then. Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way disparaging the sweat and toil of the Sasquatch researchers. It would just seem that we should be about at the point time-wise that this mystery was solved.

    This is just a personal opinion, though I’m not the only one to postulate this; I think the US government has a stake in keeping this beast an unknown. WHAT exactly is at stake, I cant say. There seems to be enough activity going on at federal government installations that if this was simply a matter of cataloging a new animal, the means necessary to secure a specimen would have been brought to bear on the matter, and, case closed.

    So we wait, and look, and pick up pieces evidence. And I, for one, extend my very best wishes for success in solving this mystery to everyone involved in the hunt.

  3. springheeledjack responds:

    Once again, the scoffers use partial arguments to try to shore up their “evidence” against BF and other cryptids.

    My favorite is the idea that concerns digital cameras and cell phone cameras, and since there are so many, why haven’t we had a convincing photo taken. ONE, more people do have those on them, but cell phones are not that great at capturing split second photos, and even digital cameras are not fool proof–most people encounter BF as a surprise–sure it’s easy to take a decent picture of a tiger in a zoo when your poised and ready. But if you’re out in the wilderness and happen upon something (or it happens upon you), it’s a whole lot more difficult to fire off a picture, let alone a good solid one (and even if that has happened, there is so much skepticism on photos, that it is going to be hard to verify a fake from a real photo with today’s technology…well except for the Georgia bunch:)).

    TWO, People always assume that since we’re talking about a 7-9 foot tall humanoid, and since people live in the U.S. and Canada, we’d see these things all the time. EVen though we have several hundred million people living in the U.S., most are in denser populated areas. There are still hundreds (actually more like thousands) of square miles of ground where people do not live or step foot in on a regular basis. That theory is a fallacy. There is still plenty of country for large things to hide in. AND the idea that you are looking for something like a big deer or moose with animal intelligence–the BF have shown better than animal intelligence, especially when it comes to getting close around humans, so that also gives the BF an advantage in avoiding us. There are a large number of accounts of people having things thrown at them or feeling something close by without ever seeing what is doing it.

    Add that together and it does not surprise me at all that we haven’t put this to rest yet.

    As for faking tracks…could it be done? The tecnology is there, BUT most people could not create tracks that intricate (even with springs and special to features), and certainly the idea that a handful of people are wasting time putting down tracks all over the U.S., Canada, and even in other countries just to pull one over on the cryptozoologists, is just plain silly. Only a handful of people would even want to waste that much time for no real gain, and the novelty would most certainly wear off after a few afternoons.

    That is a place where Occam’s razor comes into play…all other things being equal, the simplest answer is the best.

    So, is the idea that there are a whole group of people who spend many hours, much money and effort to pull off an elaborate hoax across an entire country (only counting the U.S. ), or is it simpler that there is an unknown, as yet undiscovered creature tromping through our wildnerness.

    Seems that simple to me too…go BF

  4. corrick responds:

    Understand, I am a Bigfoot non-believer so no comments by me on it’s possible existence.
    However, there’s a quote in the article by John Kirk that always bothers me. I am not singling John out, because the gist seems to appear in just about every single cryptozoology book.

    “…even if most think he’s nuts—new species are discovered all the time, after all. The Congolese mountain gorilla inhabited the same mythical realm for westerners as Bigfoot until it was officially discovered in 1902, Kirk says.”

    People, Orville Wright took the Flyer for a 12-second, sustained flight on December 17, 1903, the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history, and the first commercial radio program wasn’t even broadcast until August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan. Technology in the world has changed radically in the past 106 years. Citing the mountain gorilla, the okapi or the giant forest hog, imho, has very little relevance today.
    Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense for cryptozoologists to finally start citing the Saola, Vu Quang ox or even the Iriomote cat? Afterall, it’s now 2008, not 1908.

  5. DWA responds:

    I was going to quote snippets, but the guys above me have responded pretty well.

    That never-underestimate-human-fakery schtick is like belief in Santa Claus. What you believe in would be cool, if it made sense. It is so childlike in its naivete that when I hear it I immediately deduce that the speaker (1) is virtually unacquainted with the evidence and (2) is totally unacquainted with the fakes. Not a single so-called skeptic I have read has any idea how difficult a good fake of something like this would have to be.

    But the author does seem to get it. What I really like about this article is its open-minded attitude. Yeah yeah there’s the line in there about “that childlike belief that fantastic possibilities do exist on our planet.” But in this case, it’s almost offered as a see-I’m-keeping-my-skepticals-on aside rather than as the (always implicit) central thesis of the piece. I have almost never – maybe four exceptions come to mind – seen a mainstream article capture the essence of the evidence so neatly. Kudos to the writer.

    All that having been said: corrick, good point. Some of us who think there could be something to this don’t even have to refer to cryptids-made-real; I’m not sure it’s helping the proponent case much at all (even though I have been guilty of using it a few times myself, with the saola of course always on the list).

  6. DWA responds:

    I should have added this to the above post:

    And once again, the skeptical side shows itself to be both ignorant of the evidence and unable to interpret its own disciplines correctly when the sasquatch is the subject:

    – Moller doesn’t understand how little he understands biomechanics; how much specialists in the subject who vouch for trackways do understand it; and how the absence of a publicly-known or –available photo means nothing to how many have been taken. (I need to ask the skeptics one question, and they need to answer it: Just where is this gold mine to which the discoverer of the sasquatch will get the keys? And Moller: we have a movie, dude.) Moller’s other statements are just the kind I’d expect of “a software designer by trade,” i.e., somebody in pretty deep conversational water for him.

    – Coren suggests that the spike in UFO reports when they were, in the article’s words, a “hot topic” suggests that they have no basis in fact. I am no UFO apologist; not even interested in the topic (mainly because of lack of evidence as to what they could be). But when something is a “hot topic,” any psychologist *should* be able to tell you that more people file reports because they feel that they are more likely TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. I hope I don’t even have to address his assertion…OK, I will. To say it’s a natural human reaction to see something unclearly and to immediately and vehemently assert that what you saw is a phenomenon not only not recognized to exist but ridiculed by the public is…well, it’s an untenable proposition for a psychologist. It goes against everything he learned in school!

    Never mind that sasquatch reports have come in a steady stream over decades – hot, or not.

    I need to remind the skeptics, yet one more time. YOU CANNOT ENTER A SCIENTIFIC DEBATE UNARMED AND EXPECT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. That they are says more about public ignorance than it says about their non-argument.

  7. Richard888 responds:


    A very cogent comment you made about those who scoff, “not a single so-called skeptic I have read has any idea how difficult a good fake of something like this would have to be.”

    Most skeptics talk the talk but how many times have they actually walked the walk? Moller for example calls the footprints cheesy and suggests that the Patterson film could easily have been faked. Here, “cheesy” and “easily” are nothing other than the straw man technique being used to exhaust the opponent into having to explain why it is not so easy afterall.

    The general impression given to the public is that the BF researcher is the softhead and the doubter the hardhead. Clearly, it is time for this stereotype to become reversed because the researchers have a much better relationship with hard facts than the skeptics these days.

  8. DWA responds:

    Richard888: and a cogent comment you made:

    “Here, “cheesy” and “easily” are nothing other than the straw man technique being used to exhaust the opponent into having to explain why it is not so easy afterall.”

    In my opinion, the proponents rise to this bait too readily, invent bad stuff (they can disappear! They bury their dead!) to justify themselves when they simply haven’t devoted enough thought to this, and should really cut it out. I’ve said it many times here: the scofftics ARE IGNORANT. They should be treated that way. They have performed a double arrogance:

    – They have presumed to step into a scientific debate – one on which noted experts in relevant fields take decidedly different positions, based on careful analysis of evidence – with nothing to back their own case;
    – They have entered the argument *not even knowing what their case is*, much less how to make it.

    Let me help the scofftics, because my do they need it.

    – Here is your case, OK? “All of the evidence for the sasquatch adds up to a false positive.” There. Wasn’t that easy? Ah, but now you can’t say that you can’t prove your case because “anyone knows one can’t prove a negative.” False positives *can* be proven; you must now back your case with evidence.
    – Nothing you have offered so far amounts to evidence. Sorry. You must DEBUNK pieces of evidence, that is, prove them to be of artificial origin (hoax/lie/fabrication/misidentification), so many of them that the authenticity of the remainder is called into serious question. You must at least do that.
    – If you don’t do the above, no proponent – no true skeptic – owes you the time of day on this topic.

    If you cannot conduct this discussion like a responsible adult: Please step back, way back, and STOP OBSTRUCTING A SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY.

    Thank you.

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