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Folklore

Bigfoot on the Mountain

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What is Bigfoot? When did the local supernatural legend start? How does the Legend function?

What is Bigfoot?

Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as he is sometimes called, is a supernatural legend that shares a sub category with such creatures as the Loch Ness monster, the werewolf, and even the elf. Usually described as being between 7-10 feet tall and weighing somewhere between 500-1000 pounds, belief in Bigfoot is almost as widespread as belief in ghosts and flying saucers. According to Brunvand, "Supernatural legends generally take the form of supposedly factual accounts of occurrances and experiences which seem to validate folk beliefs and superstitions" (1986; 161). It is these "supposedly factual accounts" that keep the Bigfoot legend very alive, and Mount Shasta has had it fair share of gigantic footprints and interaction with hairy giants.

When did the local supernatural legend start?

While Wintu narratives do mention Mount Shasta as being home to "little people" (Theodoratus 1991), I could uncover no early Wintu, Shasta, Modoc, or Achumawi narratives mentioning a Bigfoot-like creature. The earliest Native American reference to giants on Mount Shasta occur in a narrative attributed to Wintu Grant Towendolly in the Spring 1953 Siskiyou Pioneer. Towendolly told Marcelle Masson that evil giants, the Shupchets, once lived up Flume Creek and would travel via subterranean passages to the top of Mount Shasta. Ken Goehring, a College of the Siskiyous anthropology instructor who has looked over the early Wintu, Karuk and Yuruk literature, believes that the Bigfoot phenomena is "predominately Western in origin, entirely western in character." Melville Jacobs, a University of Washington anthropologist from 1928-1971, also argues that "Sasquatch is entirely a white man's myth, deriving from the European's greater anxiety about father figures." On the other hand, Native American narratives that refer to man-like giants do exist, and one of the earliest narratives come from the Blue Mountain region of southeastern Washington. The reference can be found in an April 1840 letter written by the Reverend Elkanah Walker, a Protestant missionary to the Spokane Indians. Preserved in the Holland Library archives on the Washington State University campus, the letter states that a Washington tribe believed "in the existence of a race of giants which inhabit a certain mountain off to the west of us." Still, based on the above information, the legend of Bigfoot appears to be a fairly recent addition to our local lore. For example, although a 1955 San Francisco Examiner article claimed that gigantic three-toed footprints were found at the 11,000 elevation on the mountain, large Lemurians were viewed as the obvious culprits. It was not until 1962, when a woman reported watching a female Bigfoot give birth on the mountain, that Bigfoot was linked by name to our local peak. Some fourteen years later, a September 9, 1976 Mount Shasta Herald article claimed that a logger came across "A huge, strange, bad-smelling creature...just south of Cascade Gulch." Later, an undated report surfaced that two men drinking beer at Bunny Flat were given a crystal by Bigfoot before he disapeared into the forest. While such sightings are certainly interesting, they offer little in the way of worthy evidence, and my cursory research turned up more hoax than substance. The actual origin of American Bigfoot lore is still in question, but there is no doubt that folklore, from the biblical account of Goliath to modern day Paul Bunyan, is certainly rich with references to giants. Most importantly, as an amateur folklorist, I have learned that nothing in our folklore is truly meaningless. Whether joke, custom, or supernatural legend about Bigfoot, we can use each bit of lore to interpret culture or the needs and desires of the human race.

How does the Legend function?

Bigfoot, at least from a folklore and literature standpoint, is a supernatural monster. Like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk or the creature in Shelly's Frankenstein, he is perhaps symbolic of the chaos and crude animal desires that live just beneath the surface of civilization. While the literary monster can force us to confront our unwarranted fears of others who are different, such monsters are just as commonly shown as a serious threat to what it is to be human. Subsequently, the monster is portrayed as a less-than-human part of us--a link to our Fruedian Id or dark side. Like the domesticated dog that howls back at the wolf, we are dimly aware that part of our past calls from the forest. Unfortunately, when combined with the human hope that much more should exist than what science acknowleges, this hunger for a "simpler existence" can take the form of anti-intellectualism or foster anti-science conspiracy theories. I have little doubt that it is our enigmatic human existence that creates the overwhelming desire for explanatory myths and causes us to believe in wonderous legends that break the boundaries of possibility. While I remain quite skeptical about the physical existance of Bigfoot, I do not fear that science will ever limit imagination. In fact, I agree with Ralph W. Sockman's observation that "The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder."

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