By JENNIFER K. BAUER
Despite indisputable scientific proof, people continue to argue the creature’s existence with stories of sightings, tracks and unexplained noises.
North central Idaho meets eastern Washington and Oregon over some of the most remote territory in the U.S., including thousands of forested, roadless acres. As one might expect, Bigfoot tales abound in what seems like the ideal habitat for a large, shy mountain creature.
The stories began long ago, ages before the Internet united the world’s believers and film footage injected doubt into the minds of skeptics.
Among the Nez Perce, the area’s original inhabitants, Bigfoot stories are not uncommon.
“The Nez Perce describe him as the spooky man of the woods,” said Aaron Penney, 43, a Bigfoot enthusiast and tribal member who manages the hatchery complex at the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery.
“They were a people known to have inhabited the high mountain ranges. … They were elusive. You just couldn’t go out and track them down and find them. They stayed away from people.”
Penney said even in the last century there have been numerous tribal sightings in areas like the Blue Mountains and along the Salmon and Selway rivers. Descriptions of the creature are pretty much the same — tall, covered in hair, smells bad, reddish-colored eyes.
“Part of Nez Perce legend is that they live in the high mountain country, way up high. They won’t hurt you if you don’t harm them. Some believe they have the power to call upon the weather to conceal themselves, like a fog or a rainstorm, so they can disappear or escape.”
In the oldest story Penney remembers hearing, a long time ago a fisherman on the South Fork of the Salmon River was having a hard time catching salmon. He was searching along the river bank when he came upon a Bigfoot carrying salmon. The Bigfoot showed him an area where the salmon were congregated so the fisherman was able to catch fish for his family.
“They’ve just always been here. They’re part of the landscape like everybody else, all the other animals,” Penney said.
In another recorded Nez Perce legend, the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington were the home to seven child-eating giant brothers before Coyote turned the giants into the Seven Devils Mountain Range. Stories of giant men persist in the Blues. In 1982, Paul Freeman made headlines when he reported seeing a Bigfoot while on patrol for the U.S. Forest Service in the Mill Creek Watershed east of Walla Walla. In the ensuing debate about whether the incident was a hoax, Freeman quit his job and left the area but later returned to prove he was telling the truth. Before his death in 2003, he collected foot and hand print casts, hair samples, photos and video. Late Washington State University professor and Bigfoot researcher Grover Krantz said he believed the footprint castings were real because of the appearance of dermatoglyphics.
In 1996, Ken Steigers of Juliaetta, along with his son and wife, bought the Freeman collection, which included about 40 different casts. Steiger turned them over to Idaho State University anthropology and anatomy professor Jeffrey Meldrum for research. Meldrum has also supported claims of their authenticity.
“It’s been 18 years and he still has them. I guess he’s still researching,” said Steiger, a semiretired farmer with a keen interest in Bigfoot.
Some of the casts were duplicates that Steiger keeps at his home. Besides huge hand, foot and knuckle imprints is an imprint of a large set of buttocks. Photos of some of the casts will be on display at Culdesac’s Shebang Days Saturday where activities include a Sasquatch calling contest.
Steiger caught Bigfoot fever from the world’s most famous Bigfoot footage, the Patterson-Gimlin Film. After being shot in 1967 the film traveled the country showing in school gymnasiums and auditoriums. Steiger, who remembers going to Moscow to see the film for the first time around 1968, said he’s known Gimlin for nearly 40 years and believes the footage is real.
When Freeman put his collection up for sale in 1996 because he needed money for medical reasons, Steiger saw an opportunity to get closer to the mystery.
In the past Steiger has gone on expeditions with others into the woods to seek proof. He’s heard the chatter and whoop call associated with Bigfoot but he’s never seen one.
“Who are they? What are they? I don’t know,” Steiger said.
IF YOU GO
What: Turkey Calling, Elk Bugling and Sasquatch Calling Contest
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 11
Where: Culdesac city park
Of Note: Trophies and prizes will be awarded. The contest is part of Culdesac’s 17th annual Shebang Days.