Bigfoot: Man, Myth or Monster?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 31st, 2008

Paul Bartholomew (above) is co-author, with his brother, Robert Bartholomew, of the new book Bigfoot: Encounters in New York and New England. Photo & video: Rich Alcott, Rutland Herald.

Our friends and associates, Paul and Bob Bartholomew have been engaged in Bigfoot research for decades. Bob, who emails us from Australia, has just passed along full permission to reproduce his new, following essay on Cryptomundo.

It wasn’t until 1803 that a majority of scientists were forced to accept the existence of meteors. Until then, stories of stones falling from the sky were widely ridiculed as tall tales by the ignorant and impressionable.

Could Bigfoot be another example?

A hulking hair-covered figure, initially thought to have been a prankster in a gorilla suit, is spotted by scores of people near Bennington. If you think we are referring to the now famous case of the Bennington “Monster” in the fall of 2003, you would be mistaken. It’s actually a series of sightings from 1861. That’s right, 142 years earlier, during August, a gorilla-man scare swept through southern Vermont as hunting parties were formed to track it down. Several residents reportedly shot at the creature, but it managed to elude its pursuers as if it had supernatural abilities. No zoo animals were reported missing and no body was ever found. Rumors circulated that the beast was a college student in a suit. If it was, he was taking an enormous risk by continuing the escapade even after being shot at.

A similar series of sightings occurred near Glastenbury Mountain in the autumn of 2003, when Ray Dufresne reported seeing a huge hairy creature lumbering into the woods while he was driving on Route 7. His first thought was that it was someone in a gorilla costume. He estimated the weight at 270 pounds. Other witnesses soon came forward with descriptions of a similar creature in the area. Again, if it was a man in a suit, he was taking a big risk. The parallels between these two cases, separated by nearly a century and a half, are eerily similar.

Indian lore, early pioneers

Readers may be surprised to learn Vermonters have a long history of sighting large, hairy human-like monsters. In his book “The First Vermonters,” former University of Vermont anthropologist William Haviland observes that the Abenaki recounted stories of “The Forest Wanderer,” a giant humanoid creature that occasionally left footprints behind. These accounts parallel Algonquin tales of the windigo or “giant cannibalistic man.” The windigo legend of hulking, hairy man-beasts can be found throughout New England in all Algonquian-speaking people. According to one modern-day Native American description of the windigo, it is “a giant thing, swift … and covered with hair, and has eyes like two pools of blood. And there’s this smell, like rotting meat.” This description is similar to Bigfoot reports today.

During the latter 18th and early 19th centuries, European settlers in what is now northern Vermont heard tales of “Slippry Skin,” an extraordinarily large bear that always walked on two legs. Tales of this Bigfoot-like creature figured prominently in many oral and written traditions of the region, especially Essex and Orleans Counties. As early as the 1750s, a scout for Roger’s Rangers wrote that Native Americans of the region were known to have described this legendary creature as “Wet Skin.” Also referred to as “slippryskin” and “Old Slippry Skin,” his nickname was apparently given on account of its remarkable ability to elude hunters. In her book, “History of Lemington,” Vermont historian Marion Daley writes that the creature moved about in a swift, ghost-like fashion that bordered on the supernatural. “Before a hunter could lay his gunsights on him, the old bear would vanish into the woods silent and swift as a drift of smoke.”

The creature was described as an extraordinarily large bear that always walked on two legs. Slippryskin was more mischievous than malevolent and routinely teased the inhabitants of the Essex county towns of Lemington, Victory and Maidstone, and was credited with ripping up gardens, pulling down fences, stampeding cattle and trampling cornfields. Its calling card: a trail of huge prints in the snow and mud. “Wet Skin” was said to have been especially adept at throwing hunters off its trail. Historian Paul Rayno recounts the story of a party of hunters who left the town of Morgan in Orleans County, with the intention of killing the creature. As they were walking along a logging road leading to the top of Elon Mountain, a loud thumping noise could be heard from above. The men quickly hid in some nearby bushes in expectation of ambushing Slippryskin. The creature backtracked on his prints, then rolled a large tree down the mountainside, narrowly missing the hunters as they were lying in wait. Shaken, the hunters promptly abandoned the chase — or so the story goes.

Modern-day accounts

Similar accounts of Bigfoot-like creatures abound in Vermont today. For instance, in 1983, a middle-aged Vermont couple reported an extraordinary encounter while on a leisurely drive in rural Tinmouth. The husband noticed a giant human-like figure walking swiftly along a rocky ridge. He said, “The man was very nimble. I couldn’t believe how quickly he was moving among the rocks toward the high point on the ridge … My wife and I were suddenly stunned when he stopped and turned facing us. His arms were much longer than a normal man’s and he appeared to be much bigger — especially taller — than any man either of us had ever seen.” The man was so moved by what he saw that he wrote a letter to the late Castleton State College anthropologist Warren Cook. He told Cook that at first he tried to rationalize away what he was seeing as a prankster in a suit, but quickly ruled it out after what happened next. “Suddenly he raised his giant arms above his head and waved them several times … (then) turned and continued along the ridge with the agility of a gymnast. I was convinced that this was no ordinary man.” The sighting lasted for several minutes before the figure disappeared over the ridge.

In October 1986, three Castleton State College students were traveling on Route 4A on their way to West Rutland when their vehicle nearly struck a huge creature on the roadside. Everyone saw the figure which stood 6-1/2 to 7 feet tall. After the driver, Kerry Bilda, swerved to avoid hitting it, the trio looked back to see the creature still walking west. By the time they had turned around and went back, it was gone. A passenger, John Bradt said if his window had been down, it was close enough to reach out and touch. He said the body was covered in collie-length hair, but the face itself was nearly hairless. It had deep-set eyes, high cheekbones and a white skin tone. The trio also made a curious observation that is common in Bigfoot reports: The creature seemed oblivious to them and didn’t flinch or attempt to get out of the way of their car. The encounter happened just 100 yards from an incident that was reported the previous year, almost to the day.

A more recent sighting occurred on the evening of Oct. 8, 2005, when a father was “moose spotting” with his two daughters near Ludlow. Suddenly, a huge creature crossed the road 50 feet in front of their vehicle. He said it was about 8 feet tall, covered with hair, and crossed the road in only two strides. It had a cone-shaped head, a heavy build and was “covered in short dark hair.” The arms had a pronounced swing as it moved, and the hand that was visible was massive.

When it comes to assessing whether Bigfoot exists, one is faced with the lack of physical evidence: a body, fossils and bones. Somehow, it always manages to elude capture. On the other hand, perhaps an even more important questions is: Are there precedents in nature? There are many remarkable examples of adaptations enabling creatures to survive. Chameleons change color to blend with their surroundings and become seemingly invisible. The peregrine falcon can spot small animals up to 5 miles away. Most incredible of all is the sooty tern. This small bird can stay aloft for more than three years without landing and sleeps while flying. Is it too far-fetched to think Bigfoot could have evolved unique mechanisms that allow it to elude humans?

In recent years, over two dozen Bigfoot organizations have even been formed across the country in hopes of proving the creature’s existence. New England groups include: The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization and The Northeast Sasquatch Researchers Association. Bill Brann, the president of the Northern Sasquatch Research Society based in Hudson Falls, N.Y., has conducted frequent investigations in Vermont, writes on his Web site that his goal is to determine “what its purposes are, how to contact and communicate with it and to ultimately obtain an indisputable photographic or video record of its existence.”

Whether real or imaginary, Bigfoot is a legitimate part of Vermont history: a kind of living folklore that continues to frustrate and fascinate.

As new sightings are recorded, the question remains: what should they be recorded under — folklore or zoology?

Time will tell.

Source: “Bigfoot Man, myth or monster?” by Robert Bartholomew and Michael Pluta, The Rutland Herald, Rutland, Vermont, October 31, 2008.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

10 Responses to “Bigfoot: Man, Myth or Monster?”

  1. Ann Unknown responds:

    I vaguely recall an old pre-1970(?) “B” rate horror movie, that must have been based on the legend of “Old Slippery Skin” in Bob Bartholomew’s essay. (Can anyone else remember the movie I’m thinking of?) Though, the bear in that movie was certainly far more “malevolent” than “mischievous”, and appeared to be skinned, but still alive. The original Vermont legend sounds a hole lot more more interesting.
    And wasn’t there a reference to a mutant, gelatinous looking bear on an old “Night Stalker” episode as well? A misinterpretation of the 1700s “Wet Skin” legend must have inspired more than one story. (Hmmm? Now, I wonder if that is where the idea for “Gummy Bears” came from? 😉 )

  2. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    Well whatever Bigfoot is.. It’s going to be caught one day ALIVE.

  3. fossilhunter responds:

    Ann Unknown-
    Would that be “The Legend of Boggy Creek”, 1972? Based on the “Fouke Monster” of southwestern Arkansas, the one scene I remember was a man sitting down on the toilet, taking a break from looking for the beast, when a hairy hand and arm crashes through the window grabbing for him!
    I was camping in this area of Arkansas earlier this week, but couldn’t even find an armadillo! If there was a bigfoot around it wasn’t out in the quartz mines!

  4. BugMO responds:

    Ann Unknown- I think I know the movie your talking about. I don’t think its based off of the “Old Slippery Skin” legend. The movie was about how pollution was destroying this forest and this big bear lost all it’s hair, became really sick and went nuts and started killing people including these researchers who came to the forest to study the pollution’s effects on the local wildlife. I’ve only seen it once and I can only remember bits and pieces. I hope that helps

  5. gridbug responds:

    The afore-mentioned mutant bear movie is called “Prophecy” and starred Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire and Armand Assante. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and -for me at least- still holds up as an effective, old school creepfest and a shocking example of just how far a PG rating could be pushed in 1979. Granted, I was a kid when I first saw it when it debuted on Showtime back in the day, but I think it was the whole “killer monster in the woods” angle that really worked me over, especially since that was about the time I started to really delve into the Bigfoot/Sasquatch thing with flicks like “Legend of Boggy Creek” and “Mysterious Monsters” etc. In “Prophecy” the creature was a mama bear mutated by methyl mercury which had been introduced into the upstate Maine ecosystem by a paper mill. There are some pretty shocking kills (the helicopter pilot, the repentant paper mill guy, the exploding sleeping bag) and a couple genuinely suspenseful sequences that still give me the willies. Worth another look if you haven’t seen it in a while!

    And yes, the classic “Legend of Boggy Creek” scene where poor Bobby Ford is hassled by the Fouke Monster while on the toilet is a total showstopper. 🙂

  6. mrbf2006 responds:

    Having recently read Paul and Robert’s new book, and in light of a new article on Paul and his research from a couple of weeks ago, it is great to see some objective and accurate reporting on Sasquatch sightings in the Northeastern U.S. Paul and Robert also contributed to an excellent book in 1992 titled Monsters of The Northwoods, along with Bill Brann and Bruce Hallenbeck. Great to see these guys highlighted here. Thanks, Loren.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    Interesting piece, although I find some of the comparisons to other animals somewhat odd and reaching a bit. The sasquatch is not a chameleon, or a falcon, or a sooty tern. It is an 8 foot tall hairy biped. There is only so much it can do to elude humans other than just be smart, hide, live in remote areas, and certain other behaviors. Besides, the animals mentioned did not evolve in this way to specifically avoid humans, so the comparisons to Bigfoot adapting similar mechanisms expressly to elude human detection don’t really stick in this case. The animals mentioned wouldn’t be precedents for an animal evolving to elude capture by humans. These animals evolved in certain ways to help them survive in their habitat which in some cases just happen to have the added effect of making them harder to spot for us. And none of the physical mechanisms involved such as flight or changing color, apply to an animal like the sasquatch.

    The sasquatch may have adopted certain behaviors to help it to avoid detection, I just think that comparing the physical evolution of a large, bipedal ape to what the chameleon or a falcon can do is pushing it a bit. It might have been better for the author to focus on some of the factors and adaptations that make some other great apes so elusive. The comparisons with the sasquatch to those other animals just fall short and to me don’t fit in with this otherwise excellent essay.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Then again, I could just be misinterpreting what the author wanted to say. If that is the case, I apologize!

  9. Ann Unknown responds:

    I think you’re right BugMO. But IMHO, I still suspect that they may have heard of “Old Slippery Skin”, and just completely misinterpreted the legend.

    That was it, gridbug. Thank you. Prophecy! – That one gives me the screaming hee-bee-jee-bees to this very day! I can only recomend it for people who have nerves of steel, or have had A very sheltered live – preferably both. I would rather go out into the Rocky Mt. darkness on any night of the year to deal with a panther in the pasture, than to ever watch that movie again!

    The “Legend of Boggy Creek” would be my pick, as the perfect Halloween flick (for kids, and chicken gr’ups – like me! 😉 ). More suspense, less gore. The arm comes in the window – and everybody watching scre-e-e-e-ams! But no character’s head gets squished, so no one watching “heaves”.

    What I have always found interesting about Bigfoot, and camouflage, is that The Hairy One is one of the few forest entities that would have a vertical stance. What an advantage, as opposed to deer, coyotes, javalines, mountain lions, etc. My own first awareness of most forest denizens, is that “peripheral vision flash” of something horizontal, moving among the generally vertical trees.

  10. Bob K. responds:

    “Also referred to as “slippryskin” and “Old Slippry Skin,” his nickname was apparently given on account of its remarkable ability to elude hunters”

    And the beat goes on…..

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