Can Bigfoot Hoaxers Be Messy?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 26th, 2007

Bigfooter Roger Knights wanted to post his counter-argument to my recent posts on the Wallace tracks being in the mix here, and I have allowed him to do so. Below, you will find his essay, as he sent it in, unedited.

Roger asked to post this with his third revised title, “What Trickster Would Tramp a Terrible Trackway?” That’s too long for a blog listing, but that’s what he is calling it. It serves as a little break from the anti-Wallace-fakes-in-the-record camp. Here’s Roger with his point of view.

John Green pointed out that a hoaxer needs to make an outstanding statement: “A built-in pitfall for people with fake stories is that they have to make them sound too good. Reports of ordinary sightings are a dime a dozen. They don’t attract the kind of attention that would justify bothering to make them up.” (Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us, p. 182)

This applies to footprints too. A photo of a faint or blurred or partial print won’t wind up in the local newspaper. (Imagine the media’s indifference if Jerry Crew had had only a half-print to show the camera.) Nor would a cast of such an item be featured in a museum’s collection or a Bigfooter’s book. So a hoaxer wouldn’t plant fuzzy or fragmented prints at a site. (Aside perhaps from a few as substantiating elements or accidentals at a full-track site.)

And yet most footprint sites DO contain nothing but marginal “3F” prints (Fuzzy, Faint, or Fragmented). For instance, T. A Wilson wrote, “The striking thing about the tracks was that ninety-nine out of a hundred people would have overlooked them.” (In Pursuit of a Legend, p. 35) And John Green wrote in 1973, “In the past five years … I haven’t seen a good, fresh, unmistakable Sasquatch track anywhere.” (The Sasquatch File, p. 48) Therefore few of them were hoaxed. Therefore many were authentic. (Putting aside a few “blob-prints” that were wishfully imagined to be more foot-like than they were.)

(It might be objected that faint, fuzzy prints would have resulted from the “snowshoe effect.” And yet all hoaxers would first have made test-prints in their backyards before trying to “make an impression” elsewhere. And, if they’d found they couldn’t make clear test-prints, they’d have used a heavy hammer to pound them in, or restricted their track-hoaxing to mud or soft sand (near bodies of water), or to snow. (Prints in snow are the easiest to hoax and the most likely to be noticed; therefore their rarity—only 25% or so of total track-finds—indirectly supports the proposition that print-hoaxing is rare.))

This is a neat paradox. The unremarkable cases (many, anyway), seen in this new perspective, suddenly become the remarkable ones. It’s like looking at an optical illusion in which, when one shifts ones attention, the “field” swaps places with the “figure” and becomes the significant element.

It’s characteristic of us Westerners to focus our attention on things that stand out, like “good” footprints: Salience = Significance. (According to Richard Nisbett’s book The Geography of Thought—e.g., pp. 90 & 109.) It rarely occurs to us to shift gears mentally and consider that the “good” prints might be the worst (the most likely to have been hoaxed) and the “bad” prints might be the best (unlikely to have been hoaxed). Only rarely do we see that insignificance or non-salience might be highly significant. Exceptions: Holmes—“Only one important thing has happened in the last three days, and that is that nothing has happened”; Luke—“Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.”

(This off-centered viewpoint is, however, characteristic of East Asians. They’re too polite to say so, but maybe everything we know is wrong. (Whee!))

PS: Reports of Bigfoot encounters also “shade off” in a similar fashion. There are a few good sightings, then a multitude of marginal sightings, and then an even larger number of near-encounters: cries, noises in the bush, smells, disturbances in the environment, etc. Here again, the “good” cases, precisely because they’d attract attention, are the ones a hoaxer (or hysteric) would be most likely to have created, and the unremarkable, undramatic cases, considered as a whole, are the least likely. The unremarkable cases in turn give some support to (most of) the good cases, because if Bigfoot is real then there should be a humdrum matrix of fleeting or fuzzy encounters from which they emerge. If encounters were the work of hoaxers in ape-suits looking to make an impact or attention-seeking witnesses, there’d be far fewer “marginals” among the reports. – Roger Knights, February 25, 2007.

I think, for example, half-print hoaxes exist within the record, as the people running alongside the roads, being pulled behind the trucks, stamping around deep in the forests, and using other methods to create fake trackways or individual prints do make less than perfect imprints sometimes. After all, well, the fakers are only human.

During points in Roger’s essay, some of his arguments confused me, and I asked if he had any specific tracks in mind (based somewhat on an earlier title he was thinking of using)? He answered:

I’m glad you can find a spot for this. I wasn’t thinking of any particular print, I was just thinking “globally”– inspired by reading “The Geography of Thought.” I haven’t really got into the details of footprints because I know so little about tracking, foot physiology, casting, etc. – Roger Knights, February 25, 2007.

For me, from looking at the tracks for almost five decades and now at the tools we know were used, I see hoaxes in the midst of a majority of footprints that appear to be genuine Bigfoot tracks. Among the apparent faked imprints, I do not see just perfect hoaxed tracks, however, but a variety of representations of the tools used. I would expect this of a human using alder-wooden fakes. My thinking and view of all of this does not work in absolutes.

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.

23 Responses to “Can Bigfoot Hoaxers Be Messy?”

  1. DWA responds:

    From this quote

    John Green pointed out that a hoaxer needs to make an outstanding statement: “A built-in pitfall for people with fake stories is that they have to make them sound too good. Reports of ordinary sightings are a dime a dozen. They don’t attract the kind of attention that would justify bothering to make them up.” (Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us, p. 182)

    comes a question:

    Wouldn’t this thinking tend to boost the stock of ‘ordinary’ sightings, as the people making them wouldn’t go to the trouble of “bothering to make them up”?

    Just asking.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    Seems like a good point to me, DWA.

  3. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: and it’s not just the theoretical point, but what appears to be happening with sighting reports, that has me wondering.

    Once again making the presumption – not too huge but a presumption, i.e., secondhand observation on my part – that I’m reading real people’s experiences when I’m reading sighting reports, I gotta wonder who among all these people would do this the way they do if they’re trying to hoax, lie or mislead.

    Here are some common themes of reports:

    1. People who have said nothing to anyone until this post on this website. (They frequently find the site by chance; either running across it or seeing a TV program that intrigues them about their experience, then hitting the web.)

    2. People who told coworkers (!?!?!?!?! but I’m not kidding), family and friends; got The Treatment; and then shut up about it until they found the site and posted.

    3. Multiple witnesses (MANY reports, frequently corroborated by all the witnesses independently).

    4. A witness who told someone who could see and hear, unequivocally, that this person had had An Experience. More than once, someone who didn’t want to post was urged to, and strongly supported, by someone who didn’t see the animal. If this individual was present at the sighting, they stood by the witness even though they didn’t personally see it.

    Hoaxers go to the authorities. They go to the press. They go public.

    What are all these people doing, other than seeing something that hasn’t been explained yet?

    That there are no Sasquatch Ate My Love Child stories on internet websites says something. Nothing conclusive, but food for thought.

    And not that I should need to add this but: these witnesses are in no way fuzzy about what they’re seeing. They’re all over the country. And they’re describing the same animal.

  4. ShefZ28 responds:

    He makes a valid argument, I like to spend some of my free time at work towards the end of my shift to read some of the reports online and some of them are vague enough that the people could be mistaken. But some of the stories are solid enough that these people have nothing to gain, or even better, do not try to gain anything from telling their story. Oh well, good read.

  5. DWA responds:

    ShefZ28: I might not have read those “vague enough to be mistaken” reports yet. I may get to them eventually.

    But every one I’ve read that involves seeing the animal describes something that’s:

    1. Bigger (considerably) than the average adult human…or, smaller than the average adult human but…

    2. Possessing one or more “classic” sas characteristics (these are frequently people whose entire Bigfoot experience, prior to the sighting, was hearing “Bigfoot,” one of these words – UFO, Elvis, and hoax – and laughter in the same sentence);

    3. Bipedal.

    I’ve never read a report that could have been a bear. And bear is really the only other North American possibility.

    And if these website folks are cooking stuff up, well, in the hoax tradition, I’d think they’d cook up sexy stuff. These reports – with few exceptions – aren’t. And many of them don’t describe visual encounters at all – something that I’d coonsider very unusual for someone hoaxing them.

    That’s so far. But that is EVERY one so far.

    And yes, now we will tend to hear “never underestimate the ingenuity of a hoaxer.” Which sounds, to me, peculiarly like: when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

    But this may just be me. I like to stick to evidence, not wishful thinking.

  6. DWA responds:

    Oh. On topic:

    I think Bigfoot hoaxers – like all hoaxers – always ARE messy.

    Unless everything sas out there is a hoax. YOU try putting your arms around that one.

  7. kittenz responds:

    Well, to be fair, I suspect that Sasquatch themselves are not neatniks :).

  8. DWA responds:

    True, kittenz.

    But one messy earmark of the hoaxer is that it’s TOO neat.

  9. Daniel Loxton responds:

    I have to agree with Roger Knights that footprints which seem too good to be true probably are. The same goes for sightings, with star cases more liable to be hoaxes (Albert Ostman, for example) and weak cases more liable to be misidentification errors.

    But it seems to me that Knights and other crypto folks misstep when they assume that all fake sasquatch tracks should be either very good or very bad.

    Imagine for a second that all Bigfoot tracks are created by independent hoaxers, who are all independently inspired by media reports. What would we see in that case? I think we’d see a broad mix of track designs clustered around a media consensus (a bell curve of “classic” tracks flanked by a minority of more creative tracks with, for example, a lesser or greater number of toes).

    If all “Bigfoot” tracks were hoaxes, I think we’d also see a broad mix of quality exhibited in those footprints. Yes, all hoaxers would try to achieve something convincing, but many would fail. Many—perhaps most—hoaxing attempts would be pretty half-assed: poorly thought out, one-time weekend larks. A subset of smarter or more experienced hoaxers would achieve a more satisfying sort of cookie-cutter result, but most newbies would run up against the same problems Green and others have long argued tend to prevent faking: awkward tools, difficulty making decent impressions, and so on.

    Nor will every day prove equally successful for hoaxing. Even for an experienced hoaxer, some days will result in poorer tracks than other days, varying with soil conditions, available working time, available light, level of drunkenness and other factors.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    On what was said earlier about the sightings, I do think it is curious. You have these people that probably have nothing to gain and a lot to lose coming forward and reporting essentially the same thing. Now, one could argue that the image of Bigfoot is so ingrained in popular culture that of course everyone would be giving the same general description, but I don’t buy that. Some of these people have to be really coaxed into conveying their experience and I’m sure a lot of people out there have never come forward. What would be the point of all these people to hoax sightings or lie? Could they all be “seeing things”? I think not. I’m not saying the amount of sightings are conclusive evidence of anything, but I feel something is going on there. The same with the footprints. Why would so many people go through so much time and effort to fake tracks, often in places where it is likely noone would even neccessarily find them?

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry to get off the tracks there a little. Don’t want to turn this into another debate on the value of witness testimony!

  12. DWA responds:

    Mystery_man: I’ll try to be good too. Bear with me, folks, I’ll get there.

    You say “Now, one could argue that the image of Bigfoot is so ingrained in popular culture that of course everyone would be giving the same general description, but I don’t buy that.”

    I don’t either. I’ve made the point on this board at least once that the image of Bigfoot in the popular mind is huge, lumbering knuckle-dragger. (The P/G subject with its deliberate gait actually somewhat reinforces that.) People all over the country, though, are seeing something that’s not always so huge, and that (while it does have very long arms) is frequently unbelievably (to them) fast and athletic. And (in vocal reports) LOUD. One report I read yesterday had all the witness’s neighbors (they were long term, she had recently moved in) chalking up sounds like nothing she’d ever heard in her life to local dogs and the like. And it was clear from the report that she had more than enough experience to know they weren’t dogs. Or the like.

    Back to sloppy hoaxers. 😀

    Daniel makes the point that hoaxers aren’t all going to hoax identically, and of course he’s right. If this were a hoax, hoaxers would probably be able to rely on people (like the witness’s neighbors above) applying what’s called continuity and closure, or in laymen’s terms, basically seeing what you want to see. The neighbors can’t categorize the sounds….so they DO…as local dogs. Hey, what else could they be? I will see in different Bigfoot trackways not monolithic sameness, but shading and nuance (like subtly different shapes, and varying numbers of toes, hey YOU go around barefoot all the time) that I’d expect from different members of the same species – something that I have used to buttress my claim that it very likely ISN’T all hoaxing.

    Obviously there would have to be other things buttressing my claim, like the sheer numbers of trackways, their appearance in conjunction with sightings, their appearing so often in the manner one would expect from an authentic animal making authentic tracks, their frequent appearance in remote areas where a hoaxer would have little more than a prayer that someone might come across the tracks, and the painfully few hoaxers that have come forward. But for the reasons Daniel points out, I have to hold open the possibility that trackways could indeed be showing the infinite variety one would expect among the different members of a species.


  13. mystery_man responds:

    Well, I think that anyone who would claim that all of the tracks are faked are making about as much of a scientific statement as “Bigfoot is an extradimensional traveler.” It just doesn’t add up.

  14. DWA responds:

    As many of you know, I get very impatient with track discussions. (We need to find what made them.)

    But I have a question.

    Many trackway reports describe prints much farther apart than any human could manage, with none of the fore or aft ground disturbance which would indicate a leap or an unusually long stride.

    My question: as it appears unlikely (if not impossible) for someone to create such tracks with prosthetic foot attachments, how would a hoaxer create these tracks without leaving any of his own?

  15. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I know very well how annoyed you get in this sort of topic! About your point, I have thought about the same thing myself. Some of the fakes with no other human tracks around them could be explained by the ground being hard enough to not leave imprints from human feet, but allow hammered down fakes to show up. I don’t really buy that and it would not explain all cases, but it is a theory.

  16. Loren Coleman responds:

    One explanation by those that say they did it was that with the fakes on their feet, they were pulled (holding on with a rope) at an angle to a truck going down a rough road. The vehicle would slowly, but faster than a walk, pull the faker along, while the faker would leave deeper impacting prints with a wider than normal (human) stride.

    Fake Bigfoot tracks would go up one way, with no human tracks next to them and with no returns. The faker would merely get into the car or truck, and get a ride home.

    Two misconceptions are creeping into this discussion. All Bigfoot tracks are not deeply pushed into the ground. You will note that the dust or dirt in some of the pictured trackways and roads around Bluff Creek, Blue Creek Mtn, and Onion Mtn is lightweight, fluffy, and easily to mistake as “deep.” Same goes for sandbars. Secondly, “hammering down” is relatively easy to spot. Hammering down does not seem to be part of what is going on with the 1967 tracks, for example.

    Look at the old photos. See the vehicle tracks? See where the “Bigfoot tracks” are? Look at how rigid and faked they appear, upon reexamination. They are not hammered down fakes; they are impressed fake feet worn by someone, no doubt assisted by the vehicle that tracks have been in the photos all these years.

  17. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: a reasonable point you make there.

    Which adds (if it isn’t already there) another factor to track analysis. If a human can’t match the stride, and a human can leave tracks here…HOW DID A HUMAN MAKE THESE if there are no human tracks?

    In the lawyerly tradition of asking no questions to which you don’t know the answer – and NO I’M NOT A LAWYER – I know of at least several reports of such tracks, made in snow, where a man will ALWAYS leave his own prints.

  18. DWA responds:

    And in response to Loren’s post, which I saw after my last one: At least one such report was in a roadless area in Alaska, miles from the nearest vehicle. (And to add the unnecessary point: there were no vehicle tracks. And the witnesses were a Special Forces unit of about 11 men.)

    And I’m not sure Loren’s rendition of their explanation provides for why there aren’t those front and back messes in the track, because that guy getting towed is STILL not performing a normal stride. But I can be enlightened if I’m wrong, tracks not being my specialty. 😀

  19. mystery_man responds:

    Interesting info, Loren. I was not aware of that technique. Hoaxers can be pretty resourceful, eh? I wasn’t aware about the hammering down either. I just thought that was what a hoaxer might do to make it appear that a very heavy animal had made the track.

  20. Loren Coleman responds:


    And in response to Loren’s post, which I saw after my last one: At least one such report was in a roadless area in Alaska, miles from the nearest vehicle. (And to add the unnecessary point: there were no vehicle tracks. And the witnesses were a Special Forces unit of about 11 men.)

    I have no idea how this is revelant. I am not saying all Bigfoot tracks are faked, so of course any matter of distractions from the record can be pulled out to show that “no human prints” are next to trackways, or that “no vehicle tire marks” are either.

    I was discussing the specifics of the Wallace hoaxing model as a case example for how this could be done, not as a global explanation for all tracks.

    Am I missing something by coming into what has turned into a seemingly private conversation?

  21. DWA responds:

    My point, in what is a very public conversation, is this.

    Any trackway that exhibits a longer than normal stride for a human – whether he’s being towed by a jeep, a truck or the space shuttle – has to exhibit the earmarks I mention if a man made it.

    Until a tracker tells me different.

  22. mystery_man responds:

    Loren, this was not a private conversation at all. Of course not. It’s just that nobody else happened to be joining in and I enjoy hearing what DWA has to say about these matters. I also think that of course not all tracks were obviously faked but it may be hard at times to differentiate the two. It seems that hoaxers can be quite rescourceful and we have no real, definitive holotype, so I am very interested in these ideas on which tracks are faked and which are potentially the real deal.

  23. Roger Knights responds:

    When I wrote, “the ‘good’ prints might be the worst (the most likely to have been hoaxed) and the ‘bad’ prints might be the best (unlikely to have been hoaxed),” I should have used the term “trackway” rather than “prints.” (This is the reason I changed my title to include the phrase “terrible trackway,” from its earlier incarnation as “Who’d Hoax a Half-Print?”)

    (NOW a better title occurs to me: “Faking a Poor Impression?”)

    As has been pointed out above, and as I mentioned myself, at a hoaxed site there may be “accidentals” that are poor quality, and/or there may be a few smudged prints thrown in to add authenticity, but few hoaxers would leave NO good prints, if they wanted to “make an impression”–and they would. And yet, as John Green mentioned in “The Bigfoot File,” years can go by without a trackway being reported that contains a “good” print.

    When one thinks of a terrible trackway, one thinks of a set of prints that lacks even ONE clear, whole specimen. Of course there may be incompetent hoaxers–but I don’t think there’d be many of them who couldn’t even make a distinct and complete track outline. It’s easy to make a basic stomper to create an impression in soft soil (sand, mud, loam) that a hoaxer could subsequently sculpt with hand-tools, as clay might be sculpted, to include dimpled toe-marks, etc. Just photocopy a footprint picture from a Bigfoot book, enlarge it on a photocopier, cut along its outline, lay the cut-outline on plywood (or neoprene—thanks for the tip, Matt), trace its edges with a marker, and cut along the line with a saber saw.

    Hoaxers have easy opportunities to practice in their backyards and nearby, so they could do at least a half-decent job. They could then make tracks simply by pressing down on them by hand in soft sand or mud or snow. They would look good enough at first glance to attract enough attention to maybe make the newspaper–or at least to “get a rise” out of the initial passers-by, even if they failed to stand up to analysis, when the paper called in a local Bigfooter to critique them. Getting one of those reactions is what a hoaxer would want.

    Daniel Loxton wrote, “But it seems to me that Knights and other crypto folks misstep when they assume that all fake sasquatch tracks should be either very good or very bad.” That’s a bit of a straw-man, at least in my case. My claim wasn’t that hoaxed prints should all be “very good,” but that they shouldn’t all be terrible. Why should nearly all trackways found include nothing but 3-F prints (faint, fuzzy, or fragmented), if they are being hoaxed? One would expect a higher percentage of such trackways to contain at least one print that was unambiguous, or even half-decent. Many hoaxers would TRY to achieve something that would “make an impression”—and the only way to do that is with at least one unambiguous (non-faint, non-fuzzy, non-fragmented) print.

    Having said all that, it’s just occurred to me that there’s one set of circumstances where a hoaxer might deliberately create smudged or partial prints: Where one of his neighbors is a known Bigfooter who “follows the creeks” looking for tracks. A hoaxer who didn’t want to go to a lot of trouble, and/or who suspected that he couldn’t create a “good” fake, might make only blob-prints with the sole intention of getting a rise out of his neighbor, and maybe setting him off on a snipe hunt.

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