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January 23, 2012 / Charlie McNabb

May 2011 Bigfoot Article

Witnesses and Enthusiasts: Bigfoot Lore and the Creation of Community

This article is but the beginning of an ongoing research project investigating Bigfoot sighting narratives and the community of witnesses and enthusiasts.  My research explores the behavior and beliefs of “Bigfooters” or “Squatchers,” as they call themselves.  Located where I am in Oregon, Bigfoot lore is ubiquitous.  The natural environment, with its lush forests and mysterious caves, lends itself to large hairy hominid beliefs and sightings.  Casual conversation with local forestry workers often yields admission of sightings or “friend-of-a-friend” narratives.  Bigfoot is represented with chainsaw carvings and cement statues, and his image adorns taverns and burger joints.

My fieldwork will take place primarily in Portland and surrounding areas, with some trips as far north as Seattle, WA and as far south as Crescent City, CA.  My interest in Bigfoot began years ago when I moved to the Pacific Northwest and noticed the fantastical representations in popular culture.  I started casually collecting articles and reports and then took a themed road trip in the summer of 2010.  During this trip, I traveled with a friend to Mount Saint Helens, WA and Cave Junction, OR to see enormous statues and camp in sighting locations.  Speaking to the gift shop employees, we heard a wide variety of sighting narratives.  Roasting marshmallows by the campfire, I day-dreamed about the possibility of a Bigfoot joining us.  I was captivated and decided to continue research in a more deliberate manner.

My library and field research focuses on the following questions: What kind of people make up the community of witnesses and enthusiasts?  Can any generalizations be made in terms of class, ethnicity, gender, and employment?  Further, are there divisions within the community in terms of beliefs and behaviors?  For those individuals who have experienced sightings or other kinds of encounters, what commonalities can be analyzed within their narratives?

Literature varies widely between pop-metaphysical speculative fiction and peer reviewed scientific texts.  The more serious scholars include physical anthropologists, folklorists, and biologists.  My first foray into library research was Janet and Colin Bord’s Bigfoot Casebook[i], which contains dozens of encounter reports from 1818 to 2004 in the United States and Canada.  I supplemented these with sighting narratives from undergraduate fieldwork projects in the Randall V. Mills Archives of Northwest Folklore.  A definite pattern emerges when analyzing such a large quantity of narratives over space and time.  Wayne Suttles’s work with indigenous taxonomy is quite interesting, as well[ii].  It seems that stories about large hairy hominids are widespread, if not universal.  Bacil Kirtley analyzed several such texts and determined that unknown hominid legends have many motifs in common.  Motifs include reversed feet, supernatural contagion, wild men as guardians of nature, and abductions of women[iii].

Physical anthropologist Grover Krantz produced a large body of work speculating about the existence of the Sasquatch.  Although he never personally had a sighting, he believed that the physical evidence was overwhelming.  His analyses of footprint and handprint casts[iv] are widely discussed within the Bigfoot community, and are the basis for other cast research.  Prints and the controversial Patterson-Gimlin film are the foundation for speculation about anatomy, bipedal behavior, feeding and sleeping behavior, height and weight.

Besides these texts, I am also exploring folkloric and anthropological analyses of the culture surrounding Bigfoot believers.  I am seeking to understand why Bigfoot is meaningful and what the functions of these narratives are.  I am also locating and analyzing representations of Bigfoot in popular culture, including statues, children’s books, posters, mugs, T-shirts, and across the internet.  I plan to pursue fieldwork with witnesses and enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest.  My field research will incorporate participant-observation, in depth interviews, and narrative analysis.

At this point, field research is just beginning.  I have been attending local events and speaking casually with community members.  One such event is the monthly Bigfoot and Beer meeting, where a group gets together to enjoy pizza and beer and talk about sightings.  Another event is the annual Sasquatch Brewfest, which is mostly focused on local breweries but includes some discussion and art related to Bigfoot.  There are also several individuals and groups that go squatching, or hunting for Bigfoot, with some frequency.  It is my hope that I can gain trust and rapport with community members and attend as many of these events as possible.  I will interview people as I am able.  This will likely be difficult, as many witnesses are understandably hesitant to talk “on the record” with an outsider.  I will need to outline my plans clearly and provide detailed consent forms.  It is important that I explain that I am not looking to prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot, but rather am interested in the culture surrounding Bigfoot.

I foresee this field research taking place over the next several months to a year.  I plan to write a longer article detailing my findings.  I am interested in creating some kind of physical exhibit, perhaps including photographs, casts, popular culture representations, and sound clips and transcripts of interviews.  This information and visual material could also be displayed online at some point.  Until then… happy squatching!

[i] Bord, Janet and Colin. Bigfoot Casebook Updated: Sightings and Encounters from 1818 to 2004. Pine Woods Press, 2006.

[ii] Suttles, Wayne. “On the Cultural Track of the Sasquatch.” The Scientist Looks at the Sasquatch II, eds. Roderick Sprague and Grover S. Krantz, pp. 39-76. Moscow: University Press of Idaho, 1979.

[iii] Kirtley, Bacil F. “Unknown Hominids and New World Legends.” Western Folklore, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1964), pp. 77-90.

[iv] Krantz, Grover. “Anatomy of the Sasquatch Foot.” The Scientist Looks at the Sasquatch II, eds. Roderick Sprague and Grover S. Krantz, pp. 77-93. Moscow: University Press of Idaho, 1979.


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