Episode 6: The Biggest of the Cutie Pies

Updated: Feb 19


Part 1 ~ Stacie: The Yeti

They say that the uncanny valley is where you will find depictions of humans that don’t look like cartoons, but also don’t look like humans. People become uncomfortable by seeing creatures that are not fully human but have a resemblance to them. What exactly do we have to fear, and why? Perhaps it has something to do with a primitive species thought to be brought to extinction either naturally or by the hands of homo sapiens. It’s possible that lurking in the caves of the Himalayas there is a small tribe of strong survivors that are daring us to make the first move. Today, I will tell you the story of a creature with an unknown background and two names: The Abominable Snowman or the Yeti.


History

If the Yeti is truly a primitive species thought to be extinct, then why is it considered a cryptid? Well, that can be summed up by stating simply there is no confirmed origin of the Yeti. Some will say that it is a gentle creature that’s minding its own business in the mountains, not harming humans. Others say that it is easily threatened, and it will attack and even hunt down humans if confronted. Some will even blame the disappearances on mountain climbers on Yeti interference.

Annapurna Peak by Raimond Klavins via Unsplash

Before I move on, I would like to first call out that some portrayals of the Yeti might be misinterpretations and appropriations of Nepalese and Tibetan culture. In fact, the names “Yeti” and “Abominable Snowman” come from misinterpretations. The people that live in the Himalayas are known as Sherpas. When mountaineering became popular, the Sherpa people would guide the tourists on their journeys up the mountains. As cultures collided, misunderstandings began to take place. For example, the Sherpa word “Yeh teh” was misquoted as “Yeti”. “Yeh teh” means “That thing”, which could contribute to the mysterious nature of the Yeti. “That thing” is so vague, that if you couldn’t quite tell what something was from afar, then it could be scary to you, even though it may be familiar to the natives. So, if someone were to point to a dog and call it “that thing”, you might mistake it for something more sinister had you never seen that breed of dog before.


The name Abominable Snowman comes from a similar misunderstanding. Henry Newman, a newspaper columnist, coined the phrase in 1921. The story goes that a group of people were hiking, accompanied by Sherpas. The group saw some large, shadowy figures, and later discovered footprints that were “three times those of normal humans.” The Sherpas told the group that these tracks were left by the “mehtoh-kangmi”, which loosely translates to “man-sized wild creature.” One of the hikers misspelled the word, and it was therefore mistranslated. This mixup led to the translation of “filthy snowman”, but Newman thought “Abominable Snowman” sounded better.


One of the earliest mentions of what might today be considered the Yeti is the ancient Himalayan God of the Hunt, or the “Glacier Being”. Descriptions of the Yeti seem to match that of the Glacier Being, which may be why the stories have overlapped. Furthermore, early religious Tibetan texts and stories include mentions of the Yeti. In the 17th century, a religious leader called Lama Sangwa Dorje decided to live in a cave for spiritual purposes. While he lived in that cave, he claimed to have befriended a tribe of Yetis that would give him resources. One of the Yetis died, and he ended up keeping the scalp in a temple that he built later on in his life.

Characteristics

There have been many sightings of Yetis, or more often, its footprint. However, it is said that you are more likely to hear a Yeti than see one, as it emits a high-pitched screech or whistle noise. Like I had mentioned earlier, it is possible that the Yeti is actually a group of primitive humans that have survived extinction. There are many theories as to which it could be, but it seems most connect it to the Gigantopithecus. However, this particular ancestor walks on all fours, which some have described as Yeti behavior, but most would disagree.


But here is a more classic description of a Yeti, and this is coming from my Cryptozoology A-Z book by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark. "Its body is stocky, apelike in shape with a distinctly human quality to it. In contrast to that of a bear. It stands five and a half feet tall,” which is shorter than my boyfriend and only an inch taller than me.


In one case, a man by the name of Gerald Russell claimed to have examined the droppings of a smaller Yeti. From his findings, he was able to determine the creature enjoyed a diet of small animals - particularly frogs.


Pop Culture

The legends of the Yeti have saturated pop culture and inspired many contemporary stories. For kids movies, and ironically, sometimes horror movies, the Yeti is depicted with having white fur. However, as I had mentioned earlier, the original version had brownish-reddish fur. The fur is more like shorthand for snow. In the case of children’s media, it’s just to illustrate its relation to the cold, like a polar bear. For horror movies, it represents a monster being able to camouflage itself in with its surroundings, able to attack at any time.

D.C. Characters in front of a Marvel booth. No Yeti in the picture, but this is the best we could do with a creative commons license. Plus, these women rock!

Interestingly enough, the Yeti has made appearances in both DC and Marvel comics. Batman has had a run-in with the Abominable Snowman in Batman #337, but this is not to be confused with Hu Wei, the Yeti. In his story, Wei is kind of like the Hulk, in that he can turn himself into the Yeti at will, possessing superhuman strength, but is unable to control himself. The Marvel side of things has the Abominable Snowman showing up in Tales to Astonish #13. The story goes that Big Carl Hanson was sitting in a bar in Calcutta when he overheard a person talking about this photo he had obtained of the Abominable Snowman. Hanson later ambushes the guy and steals the photo, but it is cursed. Overcome with an intense drive to find the creature, Hanson searches the Himalayas for the beast, until he, himself, slowly becomes the Abominable Snowman.


Conclusion

Whether or not the Yeti exists, there seem to be a lot of similar cryptids described throughout the world. Perhaps there is more truth to the legend of the Yeti if it is so universally known by other cultures such as Americans with Bigfoot. In the end, the lines between the Yeti and Sasquatch are as blurry as the photographs of the creatures themselves.


Part Two ~ Rachel: Bigfoot

The Pacific Northwest is often referred to as “Wonderland” both because of the magical quality of its scenery and in the way so many hikers exclaim, “I wonder what that 6 to 9 foot tall, humanoid, hairy creature is???” Well, my friends, that would be Sasquatch or, as many Northwesterners affectionately call him, Bigfoot.


A note on pronouns: most sightings of Sasquatch are of the biologically male of the species, although the most famous footage is of a female sasquatch. However, because the vast majority of descriptions are of the male Bigfoot, I’ll be using the male pronoun. This is a reference to his biological sex, not an indication of gender.


Bigfoot isn’t exclusively a Northwest cryptid, but more than one third of the over 3,000 sightings of him have been concentrated in this area, with the rest scattered throughout the states. Additionally, most of the newsworthy events, particularly when we first started taking note, occurred in the Northwest. He’s therefore seen as inextricably linked to Northwest culture, like flannel, beards, and hoppy IPAs.


Who is Bigfoot?

I can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t know what Bigfoot is, but just in case, here is a rundown: he’s a very tall humanoid, covered in hair that ranges from a rusty brown to black; he is ape-like in nature (but his arms don’t drag on the ground), and he has a distinct stink. His footprints are big, duh, and have been seen up to 24 inches long! That’s the length of two rulers! He also frequently makes sounds, ranging from vocalizations to intentional stick snapping and rock throwing.


Who has Seen Bigfoot?

I’m not going to get into the over 3,000 sightings of Bigfoot since 1924 because that would take at least 55 hours, but I will go over a timeline of the major events. 1924 is the first time print media got ahold of a story, but Native American reports of Sasquatch date back from long before the colonizers took over the conversation; in fact, the name Sasquatch is an anglicized version of the native Sasq’ets [sess-k-uts], from the Halq’emeylem [hal – kuh – may – alm] language spoken by First Nations peoples in southwestern British Columbia.


The Tshimakain Mission, 1933ish.

In 1840, the colonizer Reverend Elkanah Walker established the Tshimakain Mission in Spokane, Washington, where he (I’m quoting from Wikipedia) was “studying the local language and bringing their Protestant faith to the Spokane People.” This is a pretty white-washed version of what mission builders did, but we do know that Walker spoke with Natives and published a Salish language primer. He recorded stories the Natives shared about “giants” among them who stole salmon from their nets and caused other sorts of mischief.


In 1847, artist Paul Kane, who traveled the Northwest to paint First Nations and Metis [may- TEE] peoples, reported stories of “Skookum” in Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in southern Washington. “Skookum” is a Chinook word that has a range of meanings, including “strong” or “monstrous,” and the Natives who shared their tales with Kane used it to name the wild, cannibalistic creature they had encountered.


In 1888, a cattleman in Humboldt County in northern California claimed that some Natives showed him a big humanoid creature covered in black hair. They told him that three of these “Crazy Bears” had fallen out of a moon that had then zipped back up into the air.


In 1904, settlers in the Sixes River area of Oregon reported sightings of a hairy “wild man,” and by the 1920s there was a compilation of stories of the Sts’Ailes [tsuh AY-less] tribe, which noted that Sasquatch preferred to avoid white men and spoke the Lillooet language. These tales were largely kept from the public until one particular event blew the story wide open: The Ape Canyon Attack of 1924.


On July 16, 1924, The Oregonian reported on this harrowing tale of five prospectors moseying about several miles from Spirit Lake, just southeast of Mt. St. Helens. They happened upon a group of four, 7-foot-tall ape-like creatures—sasquatch! The sasquatches were aggressive, and they attacked the men with rocks. In self-defense, one of the men shot and killed a sasquatch, whose body tumbled over the canyon edge.


Big mistake. Big. Huge!


The remaining sasquatches were pissed, and apparently tracked the men back to their cabin. That night, they waged war against the prospectors, hurling small boulders and other rocks at their cabin, eventually doing so much damage that they tore the roof off. The Oregonian reported that, “Many of the rocks fell through a hole in the roof, and two of the rocks struck [one of the prospectors], one of them rendering him unconscious for nearly two hours.”


At daylight, the sasquatches ran off, and the terrified and injured group of guys ran out of the woods to find a reporter.


The story gained so much traction that the U.S. Forest Service was like, “Okay, we’ll have a look at this” and opened an investigation. They found nothing—no body of the slain sasquatch, and no evidence that the rocks and boulders at the scene weren’t just put there by the prospectors themselves. They also said the imprints of the footprints could have been created by humans pushing knuckles and palms into the earth.


Still. This story resonated with people, and this is when many members of Native tribes came forward to share their own oral histories, including Cowlitz Tribe member Frank Wannassay, who told the Oregonian that the elders of his tribe often spoke about “peculiar creatures” who were “between nine and ten feet tall, correspondingly large in stature and their bodies covered with long hair. …They were… traveling only at night.”


Intermittent sightings continued, and in 1958, another huge story made a splashy headline for a newspaper. The Humboldt Times in northern California ran a story of a road construction crew who came across massive humanoid footprints. This is where the name “Bigfoot” was coined.


1967 is when shit got real. On October 20th of this year, filmmakers Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin caught video of a female sasquatch that became known as “Patty.” This video has been analyzed for over fifty years, and it still cannot be definitively ruled as a hoax. I have seen it, and it is actually pretty compelling, especially if you consider what film and costumes were like for even high budget studios in the late 60s.


This dog is an FBI agent.

In 1976, the FBI opened a file on Bigfoot at the request of the Director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition in The Dalles, Oregon, Peter Byrne. Byrne had sent in hairs to be analyzed, and the FBI eventually agreed to investigate Bigfoot. They determined that the hairs sent in were from a deer, but apparently this information never got back to Byrne until the FBI declassified their Bigfoot file in 2019.


Since the 1924 attack at Ape Canyon, the reports of Bigfoot sightings have remained constant, and Sasquatch has firmly planted himself in American pop culture. In 1976, he was featured in a few episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, and that launched him into the American conscience nationwide. He’s been featured in ads, t.v. shows, movies, games, and of course podcasts. I’d say he probably has the biggest PR presence of all the cryptids, and is certainly viewed with the most affection. And it’s this aspect of him that I find the most fascinating. Why do people love him so much? Why do so many people dedicate so much time and money in search of him?


Why We Can't Quit Bigfoot

The first reason is a matter of sheer number, and this is what makes him a hard thing to let go of. Not only can you not prove a negative—in other words, you can’t prove that something doesn’t exist--there are so many thousands of positive identifications that even the most skeptical of people at least take pause. It’s not only tin-foil-hat-aficionados with Bigfoot run-ins. Hundreds of reports have come from reputable, credible sources. I mean, even if only one percent of the sightings weren’t completely fabricated, that would leave almost 40 instances that can’t be explained. And I know that people are jerks a lot, and there are certainly many out there who have tried large-scale hoaxes, but all of them?


Here’s an example of what a gray area the credibility of Bigfoot sightings can be. Do you remember the footprints that the construction crew found in 1958? The ones reported by the Humboldt Times? Well, in 2002, the children of one Ray L. Wallace, who was a logger in Humboldt County, revealed that their dad had told them it was a prank—and he knew it because he had done it. He even had the plaster casts he had used to make the footprints.


But looking at photos of the footprint and of the plaster cast the Wallace children provided reporters, it’s clear that they don’t match! So yes, there’s a hoax here—but what is it? That Wallace planted the prints, or that he told his kids he did to seem cool? Or did the kids, who, by the way, tried to have his story-as-hoax auctioned for a movie, see a new, profitable angle? I’ll admit that a lot of sightings have been determined as being made up, but many of the explanations don’t fully answer all the questions.


Another reason Bigfoot holds so much interest is for what he has come to represent. Many native cultures include him in their pantheon of spiritual beings, something akin to the shapeshifting Skinwalker of Navajo lore, but usually much more benevolent. The Oregon Historical Society said it well: “Sightings and stories continue on reservations today, representing a spiritual connection to the pre-contact past and the resilience of Indigenous cultural heritage.”


For non-native Americans, too, Bigfoot represents in many ways a connection to nature. He has become an excuse for hikers to become researchers. He’s a constant way for people to explore nature in a world that is constantly changing. What’s more, he can also be a gateway for future scientists! I watched a really cool webinar from Virginia Tech by a professor called Darby Orcutt called Science & Sasquatch in Popular Belief, and one of Professor Orcutt’s tenets was that what we call paranormal is only paranormal in relationship to our lack of understanding of it. A lot of the times, credible scientists laugh off even the idea of studying the paranormal, when we should just be applying the scientific process to it. He believes, and I do, too, that a fascination with Bigfoot can encourage a lot of people to get into science. Ultimately, he says we should be skeptical, not dismissive—and I love that! And I think Bigfoot hits a lot of the right chords that would allow us to be skeptical while remaining curious.


Bigfoot's Origin Story

So far we’ve covered a timeline of Bigfoot public record and why he is so important, so now we should talk about what the heck he is. There are basically three different ways to categorize his existence: evolutionary, alien, or spiritual.


Neanderthal model from the Natural History Museum, Vienna. He is not an ambiturner.

The evolutionary theory posits that Bigfoot is a divergent evolution from homo erectus or neanderthal, or a parallel evolution. So either we all started from the same hairy dude and Bigfoot evolved differently, or we started from different hairy dudes, but evolved next to each other. Either way, Bigfoot’s evolution would have focused more on survival and camouflage while the rest of us were focusing on managing anxiety and technological learning curves. This could explain why Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) are so tough to find. I mean, if they’ve spent millions of years learning how to hide, they are obviously pretty good at it. And when you consider that in Portland, Oregon, a hiker discovered two humans who had been living undetected in Forest Park for over four years, a Bigfoot being able to hide seems perfectly reasonable. Furthermore, if Bigfeet practice cannibalism, as is often reported, that would explain why we haven’t found any corpses.


The alien theory comes about due to the convergence of UFO sightings with Bigfoot sightings. If you remember, one of the earliest recorded sightings in 1888 claimed that the “crazy bear” was dropped off by a moon, and there are many reports since of sightings immediately following a UFO sighting. Bigfoots could be alien scientists testing out our terrain or just e.t.s on vacation! My favorite theory is that they are criminals being deported to Earth as punishment.


Bigfoot has also been known to have psychic abilities, such as communicating with individuals through ESP, becoming visible to only some members in a group, and changing his scent at will (but apparently never to anything pleasant). These could indicate alien origins or a more spiritual or interdimensional side of Bigfoot. Most Native Americans believe he is non-physical, and many of those who have sighted him have reported that he has the ability to transform into a wolf. He also seems to be able to appear and disappear, which is definitely a spirit ability. Plus, there’s the frequent reports that breaking sticks and throwing rocks are common indications of his presence—which are certainly poltergeist behaviors.


In Conclusion

Whether Bigfoot is our Great Uncle Joe, an alien who got busted for robbing a liquor store, or a shapeshifting apparition, there are explanations as to why he has remained so elusive. And with his presence in our culture, the question is no longer whether or not he exists, but how we choose to see him. The search for Bigfoot will indeed continue, but I think it’s clear that we already know where he is. He is in our hearts.



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