The primary constituents of this phenomenon are testimonial claims, and the relevant majority of those claims involve a purported visual observation of a large, hair-covered, upright animal that defies categorization within the extant (living) zoological or biological catalogue of known species. Elements of these claims suggest that the closest living analogues within the known biological realm are hominoids (apes), in that they describe a large, flat-faced, hair-covered, tailless animal, devoid of claws. As such, we can reasonably discount the possibility of another mammalian order (such as a novel bear species) when assessing the potential category of the animals described.
Claims of secondary experiences also exist; hearing loud, powerful vocalizations that defy categorization amongst known North American animals, the discovery of large, hominoid-like tracks (footprints) that are larger than human tracks, and yet cannot be attributed to other large mammals. Claims of experiencing stone or wood projectiles hurled through the environment in contexts that rule out human aggressors also comprise some of the phenomenon. A more ambiguous subset are the claims of percussive sounds (wood on wood, or rock on rock, etc.), purportedly generated by these animals.
Much rarer than the claims are the physical objects and impressions said to represent the evidence of the corporeal existence of the animals described. The most numerous examples are tracks that have been either cast or photographed. Other physical items attributed to the phenomenon have been (but are not limited to) damaged vegetation, damaged/manipulated manmade objects or structures, and nests or bedding sites that appear to have been constructed and used by a large animal.
No one with any exposure to this subject could responsibly say that the claims do not exist, nor could they say that the objects touted as evidence do not exist. The unresolved issue relates to whether or not at least some of the claims and/or evidence warrant the consideration and pursuit of the physical reality of an as-yet-unrecognized hominoid species, or whether they're the result of a combination of misidentification, hallucination, or outright lying/fabrication.
A great deal of the claims and evidence can be responsibly interpreted as misidentification. There have also been many fabrications of claims and evidence. Regarding the most detailed, least ambiguous testimonies and physical evidence, the only worthy conclusions to consider would be that some either represent the physical reality of a hominoid species, or that (in the absence of such a species) they were all entirely fabricated by humans. No other reasonable explanations exist.
Given that the claims and evidence that constitute the phenomenon do exist, the fundamental question is: “What is responsible for this phenomenon?”
Exploring that fundamental question has been the most challenging cognitive task that I have undertaken in my life. After pursuing this for nearly two decades, I take the position that the most parsimonious answer is that there is a biological reality at the core of the sasquatch phenomenon. That position is based on my personal experiences and my interpretations of the cumulative amount of information that I have engaged. Admittedly, I am an amateur, and not a scientist.
This will not be a defense of the claims and evidence as “proof” of the existence of North American apes. At present, there is no "proof"; only data that is open to multiple interpretations. Much has been written in defense of that data, and I won't retread that heavily explored territory here. This is a defense of my choice to pursue this question.
Regarding the fundamental question, I have not yet answered it conclusively for myself, much less to the satisfaction of others. I am, at present, convinced of a biological reality responsible for the mythos, but have yet to observe it directly.
Since I do take the path to answering this question by attributing it to a biological reality, it's crucial to inform the interested reader that this is at least possible. Without an awareness of the possibility of the existence of such an animal, it would be easy to assume that I am trying to defend the impossible. As such, it's important to construct the informational framework necessary to pose the question in biological sense that makes the consideration of this possibility viable. I will briefly lay out that information here.
We know that a line of large apes existed in Asia from roughly 8.5 million years ago until roughly 100,000 years ago. These apes were the descendants of an ape called Sivapithecus, which was also an ancestor of the orangutan. The lineage of apes (often referred to as the Asian wood ape line) constituted what has been recently defined as a “sister clade” of the orangutan line, diverging from the common ancestor 12-10 million years ago.
The earliest form in the fossil record is Indopithecus giganteus; formerly Gigantopithecus giganteus. These apes were roughly the size of modern gorillas, but occurred in Asia (with fossil teeth and jaws having been recovered from the Potwar Plateau of Pakistan, and the Siwalik Hills of India). The younger, much larger form is Gigantopithecus blacki; the largest ape species represented in our incomplete fossil record.
G. blacki had a large geographic distribution. The fossil record for G. blacki represents a temporal span from roughly two million years ago until roughly 300,000 years ago. The G. blacki fossils currently available were preserved by two key processes; the formation and opening of karst topography (which has the proclivity to preserve bone and other organic material), and the intervention of accumulating agents (porcupines) who consumed the bones, and often dragged them into the preserving karst features.
It's worth considering that G. blacki had an even larger geographic distribution than is currently indicated by the fossil record, as karst doesn't occur everywhere that viable G. blacki habitat occurred, and that accumulating agents like porcupines also didn't occur everywhere that constituted viable G. blacki habitat. Without those two components, G. blacki remains might not have been preserved for later discovery and study.
For these reasons, it is not at all implausible that G. blacki had a larger distribution that we're currently aware of, and might have extended into more temperate montane regions.
Another set of considerations would be that a given clade will produce a radiation of genera, and a given genus will produce a radiation of species. Currently, this sister clade to the orangutan is only represented by two genera; Indopithecus and Gigantopithecus (previously thought to represent the same genus). Within those two genera, only one species each is represented at present; I. giganteus and G. blacki.
It isn't at all likely that these were the only two genera produced by this clade, and it's not at all likely that each genus only produced a single respective species. As such, we can responsibly assume that the Asian wood ape line took many forms over the large temporal and geographic spans that we're currently aware of, and that they likely extended in both time and area.
Moreover, the idea that G. blacki might have extended its distribution into North America (much like other Asian mammals that it was sympatric with) isn't impossible. In fact, it's been described by various authorities as possible and plausible.
G. blacki was also contemporaneous with our ancestor Homo erectus, having co-occurred for at least one million years. One leading expert in G. blacki stated that we must consider the possibility that H. erectus “engaged in the wholesale slaughter” of G. blacki, contributing to their apparent extinction.
Given that data, we can easily accept the possibility that there would have been many more forms of giant Asian apes than we're currently aware of. We can easily accept the possibility that they may have had a much larger distribution than we're currently aware of. We can easily accept the possibility that one of the selection pressures that they might have faced would have been predation upon their populations by the genus Homo.
Those possibilities pose the following relevant questions:
- What other forms might these apes have taken?
- If they were hunted by our ancestors, what adaptations would the survivors (if any) of that specific selection pressure possess?
- Could there be a large, upright ape genus or species that radiated from these known genera (or from the greater clade) that were selected for avoiding human detection and confrontation?
- Could members of that ape line have distributed their populations by following resources across Beringia and into (and across) North America?
If the answers to those questions have any possibility at all of being answered in the affirmative, then we should at least consider that some of the claims and evidence which constitute the corpus of the sasquatch phenomenon have a real biological potential.
If it were entirely impossible for these possibilities to exist, then it would be much easier to dispense with the claims and evidence altogether. Given that these suppositions are quite possible, I choose to evaluate the claims and evidence individually as each being a potential representation of modern-day observations and encounters with surviving members of this line of apes or their sign.
In my opinion, this information serves as an intermediary lens through which to view the sasquatch phenomenon.
Prior to my decision to evaluate the phenomenon, the impetus to pursue the question was an experience consistent with many of the claims that occur within the phenomenon. This experience occurred in 1999, when I was 17 years old. It involved loud vocalizations, branch-breaking, loud percussive sounds, and tree-crashing. I was accompanied by four other individuals, and none of us visually confirmed the identities of the multiple entities making the sounds. We were certain that they weren't bears, deer, and very likely weren't other humans.
As such, my original motivation in seeking information was to explain or illuminate an experience, rather than to pursue an intellectual challenge. I later modified the quest to explain my experience into an endeavor to explain the entire phenomenon.
My pursuit has varied in scope and scale, and I will try to illustrate that chronologically. The first data that I encountered containing testimonies that described experiences similar to my own were sasquatch encounter reports, which I found online in 2002. Despite my initial rejection of the concept of sasquatches, the consistencies with my experience were too similar to dismiss. That constituted the first time that I had ever considered that undiscovered hominoids might exist, and that perhaps my experience was a result of encountering them. That began the search for other references to sasquatches in the region where my experience occurred.
Initially, that information came in the form of historical records (specifically from the southern Appalachian region) related to other claims of observations and encounters with large, hair-covered, upright animals. I searched through archival information under the supposition that, if these animals were real, they should be represented in history. I aggregated over three dozen such reports which had been circulated in regional print media prior to the year 1900.
The next steps that I took were to attempt to find other residents of the area who had either experienced the same or similar events, or who claimed to observe sasquatches directly. I found many, and that prompted more curiosity and further exploration. During this period, I also began reading everything that I could related to the subject; gathering the most highly-touted books published on the topic, and the limited information that existed online at that time.
After seeking out and interviewing local witnesses, I began conducting field surveys of viable southern Appalachian habitat in the search for evidence of the existence of sasquatches. My first trips into these areas started in 2004, and began with visiting the sites of some of the most compelling observation reports I had received in northeastern Georgia. After seeing sasquatch researchers employing elicitation techniques on a TV series called “Mysterious Encounters”, I began emulating sounds attributed to the phenomenon in an attempt to provoke or elicit responses from the phenomenon. This process exposed me to two more experiences with elements characteristic of the phenomenon, but didn't result in a visual observation, nor a clear track find, nor the documentation of evidence that was as compelling as the most highly-regarded evidence attributed to sasquatches thus far. These two unidentifiable experiences emerged out of many days and nights of effort over those two years.
In 2006, I began to make connections with other individuals who were trying to explore the same phenomenon. That process exposed me to a host of other hypotheses, conclusions, assumptions, etc.; many of which were supportive of the reality of the sasquatch, but rooted it in metaphysical, supernatural, or spiritual terms. As I do not personally subscribe to a belief in the existence of the physical, objective reality of any of those realms, I have elected to maintain a course of exploration of the phenomenon as a biological pursuit.
The connections with those diverse individuals helped me to expand my field surveys, and I began spending more time in other areas in the southeastern US (primarily in Tennessee and North Carolina) which yielded encounter reports. One result of that networking and travel was an invitation to join the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in May of 2007. The BFRO had the largest online presence of any sasquatch-related entity, and as such, received many encounter reports. As a consequence, I became increasingly exposed to more claims and witnesses.
From 2007 on, I was interviewing witnesses at a much higher rate, and began increasing my areas of study. In 2008 I moved from Georgia to Washington state in an effort to be closer to the bulk of the data, as the majority of claims historically have radiated out of the Pacific Northwest. During those years, I conducted extensive field surveys in the region. I also made numerous trips back to Georgia to follow-up on reports there. I had a small number of somewhat compelling experiences during those years, with two highly compelling experiences in Washington (one in 2009, and one in 2010). None of those experiences yielded a visual observation of a sasquatch, but each event was experienced by multiple individuals, and defied conventional categorization.
In late 2010, I moved to Oklahoma, and began conducting research there. Around this time, the TV series “Finding Bigfoot” began production. The show aired in 2011, and its success exposed a lot of people across the country to the BFRO and its website. I spoke with many more witnesses as a result. I was fielding reports from many places across the continent. There were many days when I would spend hours on the phone speaking with witnesses, taking copious notes, and processing those reports.
In 2012, I moved back to the southeastern US. That summer, I was afforded the opportunity to conduct field efforts in a full-time capacity for one year, with the goal being to obtain clear visual evidence of sasquatches. The effort consisted of hundreds of days and nights in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in the pursuit of evidence. During that year, I only had three experiences that I could describe as consistent with the phenomenon; one in North Carolina, and two in North Georgia. The North Carolina experience consisted of a large animal exhibiting characteristic behaviors that infiltrated our camp two nights in a row. The Georgia events both primarily consisted of characteristic vocalizations. During that year, I didn't find any clear, unambiguous tracks, nor did I have a visual observation that was consistent with the sasquatch claims.
When that project ended in 2013, I was completely exhausted with the pursuit. I took a hiatus from investigating reports, and eventually resigned from the BFRO altogether.
I also experienced a total paradigm shift. I had gone from full-blown, unbridled optimism and naivety in the early years, to a growing caution and skepticism with each new exposure to claims, and then to utter rejection of the possibility that there was any biological reality behind the phenomenon. After years of being fully engaged in that endeavor, I got progressively burnt out by negative elements of the pursuit. Moreover, I had a series of defeats that I hadn't properly prepared myself for mentally and emotionally. I consequently became bitter, cynical, and resentful of the whole phenomenon.
I can see now that my cynical and resentful stance was an emotional response to being wounded by what I perceived as the failures of my efforts. I had spent many years, had made many sacrifices, and I had nothing to show for it in terms of conclusive data. I subsequently looked at the entire subject cynically as a result.
I questioned my own beliefs, and wondered if I'd just been duping myself all along. For a time, I became fairly convinced that I had been. That is not a very enjoyable thing to put yourself through, and it made me pretty miserable.
Those frustrations were further compounded by my interactions with people on both sides of the skeptic/proponent divide. During each transitionary phase, there were people I interacted with who couldn't accept that a mind could or should change. It was seen as a weakness of character to waver, as if it was wrong to question data, it was wrong to doubt certain claims, and it was wrong to re-evaluate a previously held position.
The unwillingness and/or inability to consider an opposing perspective are ideological pitfalls that get people into trouble. It gives rise to the cynic who can't consider the possibility that an unrecognized ape species could exist. Inversely, it gives rise to the “true believer” who can not, and will not, consider any alternatives to any bit of purported "bigfoot evidence", and for whom every claim is absolutely true.
I had to take about a year away from even thinking about the subject at all to begin to have a fresh perspective. I resigned myself from any involvement with the topic altogether. I started a new life. I focused on my health, on expanding my knowledge base, on my personal growth, etc., and the positive outcome of all of that allowed me to see my previous endeavors related to the phenomenon more clearly.
I chose to engage the subject again from a new perspective; one informed by having inhabited conflicting or opposing positions regarding the final answer to the fundamental question. I would posit that anyone who tries to tackle such a complex subject as this will experience various perspectives in an effort to figure out what they truly think, or know, or believe to be true. However, I don't think that I would have arrived at the perspective that I have today without having gone through that admittedly painful period of deconstruction and reconstruction.
After taking apart all of my thinking and perspectives on the phenomenon, I was left with these issues to contend with:
- There is a very real possibility that large apes might have made it into North America.
- There exist many claims of observations and encounters with large hominoids made by people of otherwise unimpeachable character.
- While many of these claims can be dispensed with, a subset exists that aren't easily dismissible as misidentification, hallucination, or fabrication.
- Some of these claims are accompanied by physical evidence that isn't easily dismissible.
- There exists real stimuli that I have personally experienced, albeit rarely, that is consistent with many of these claims.
- The fundamental question “What is responsible for the sasquatch phenomenon?” has not been conclusively answered to my satisfaction.
Of course, the biological reality of the sasquatch hinges on the possibility that an ape like this could exist. Without that starting point, the other data is much more difficult to consider. As such, the first thing that I poured my energy into was gathering and reading through all of the available literature about the Asian wood ape line, and the best arguments for their possible distribution into North America. As far as I can tell, the hypothesis that sasquatches (if extant) are the descendants of that line is still the most parsimonious one.
Coming to a point of greater understanding of that hypothesis prompted me to read through all of the sasquatch data again, and to re-evaluate what I perceived to be the most compelling and credible witness claims and physical evidence.
Once I re-evaluated all of the information that I'd aggregated, assessed my own personal experiences, and began confronting and absorbing a lot of new information related to other relevant biological and zoological studies, I decided that I couldn't stay uninvolved any longer. I had to accept the fact that I am inherently and deeply compelled to try to answer this fundamental question. I began my pursuits anew, and began looking into the efforts of people engaged in the endeavor.
I was highly intrigued by the North American Wood Ape Conservancy and their output. Their ranks were composed of individuals who were trained biologists, scientists, and observers; the roster was made up of very credible people. The group was structured in a functional manner, and was devoid of the pitfalls that many other previous efforts had suffered from in their hierarchical organization. I was also impressed by the group's precisely articulated mission, and the application of their efforts into a single area.
In late 2016, I joined the NAWAC as an Associate Member. In 2017, I made two trips to their study site. During my second trip there, I experienced characteristic vocalizations which were also heard by another member.
Since that time, I have devoted of all of my focus on this endeavor to the NAWAC's efforts. Given my exposure to the subject, my intimate familiarity with its history, and my contact with hundreds of people involved (claimants and other researchers), I can confidently say this: The NAWAC constitutes the strongest effort that's ever been made in the history of this subject to conclusively address the possibility of a biological reality at the core of the sasquatch phenomenon. Their mission is to answer the question to the satisfaction of the world, and not to the satisfaction of any single individual. They're adhering to the same standards and operating within the same value structure as the institutions that we entrust to officially recognize new species.
I view the NAWAC as simultaneously the “last hope” of discovering the reality of the subject, but also as the “first hope”, since their effort is truly the first of its kind. I trust what their members have told me about their observations. I trust their analyses of the data that they've collected thus far. I trust their interpretations of those analyses. I trust that they operate truthfully, morally, and ethically. As such, I have entrusted every bit of available energy that I have for this pursuit to them. If I hadn't joined that organization, I would still pursue the phenomenon; likely to only answer the question for myself. Given the quality and scope of their efforts, I am compelled to contribute what I can to their mission, and to attempt to resolve the conundrum to the world at large.
That's where I stand with this endeavor in 2020. I've gone from having never considered engaging this subject, to “true believer”, to doubtful skeptic, to vitriolic cynic, and now to increasingly-informed and optimistic contender. I have interviewed hundreds of witnesses, conducted countless field surveys across the continent, have had a very small handful of experiences that defy conventional explanation, but are consistent with the sasquatch phenomenon. Nonetheless, I still haven't conclusively answered the question.
I personally find meaning and value in this pursuit. There are a great many people who do not, and who think that it isn't a valid use of time or energy. Who could blame them? It's been over sixty years since “Bigfoot” infiltrated the American mainstream, and yet, the subject is still relegated to the fringe and taboo. The claims associated with the phenomenon have only gotten more and more outlandish, and numerous hoaxes have plagued the subject for years. The mainstream media treatment of this subject favors sensationalism, and often the most entertaining, outrageous, and zany personalities dominate any coverage. The “community” of proponents is anything but communal; a large plurality of warring factions and camps devour each other more ruthlessly than any critics ever could. A glance into the online discussion of the topic finds only jabs traded back and forth between tribal groups like the “pro-kill vs. no-kill” camps, the “forest friends vs. killer monsters” camps, and the “paranormal vs. flesh-and-blood” camps, to name a few. After reviewing a few of those exchanges (which probably outnumber any thought-provoking exchanges 1,000 to 1), the cynical position is the easiest one to take. It doesn't require much (if any) deliberation. The unidimensional analysis that “it's all bogus” is the most efficient one to offer.
For me, though, there has been no other intellectual challenge in my life that has compelled me like this one, and as such, I am obligated, if only to myself, to pursue it. That is reason enough for me to justify my involvement with the sasquatch phenomenon. If my optimistic position is correct, perhaps it will serve to help make progress with answering the fundamental question conclusively.
If I am incorrect in my position, then I've met a lot of interesting people, forged some indispensable relationships, experienced a wide range of personal challenges that prompted growth, learned more about the natural world than I would've otherwise, and have seen many beautiful places as a direct result of this pursuit. That wouldn't be too bad in the final analysis.
I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. I have had to learn a lot about human nature, and even more about my own nature. It hasn't all been fun, but I'd say that it has been worth it.
While I have experienced many of the elements of the sasquatch phenomenon, I cannot claim that I have had a clear visual observation of the sort that comprises the most tantalizing elements of the phenomenon. I also cannot claim that the impressions that I have personally discovered were detailed enough to stand up against the best footprints collected thus far. I am still pursuing both of those elements, and have been preparing myself for years to document them, should I encounter them. I've not yet been successful in either experiencing or documenting them, but I'm not ready to give up.
In closing, I do find this to be a defensible pursuit. I do not expect anyone else to. I still haven't seen a sasquatch, and there's no guarantee that I ever will, whether they exist in biological reality, or solely in the realm of fantasy and myth. If I ever do, though, I'll let you know.