Back in the summer of 2003, I met - for the first time - a man named Rob Riggs. Like me, Rob had a fascination for the Bigfoot mystery. To the extent that he wrote a full-length book on the subject. Its title, In the Big Thicket: On the Trail of the Wild Man. On the day in question, Rob proved to be very generous: he drove me through and around the Big Thicket, showing me the various Bigfoot "hot-spots" and places of historical significance.
As I wasn't living too far away from him at the time (in Nederland, Texas), Rob and I stayed in touch and met up on a fairly regular basis. Then, in 2005, Rob organized the "Texas Ghost Lights Conference," which was held in the city of Austin, Texas. It was followed by a road-trip to - and a night-time vigil within - the Big Thicket. Unfortunately, I have just heard the very bad news that Rob has passed away. So, here's a few words about Rob, his work, and that mysterious, heavily wooded area he loved and was so drawn to.
For many people, any mention of the words “Texas” and “the Lone Star State” provoke imagery of vast plains, cactus, tumbleweeds, and scalding hot deserts. In reality, however, the traditional image of Texas is very wide of the mark. Yes, much of West Texas is noted for its massive amounts of cotton fields. However, the desert environment that often springs to mind is far more applicable to New Mexico and Arizona. On top of that, most of east Texas is very heavily forested. Indeed, one only has to drive east out of the city of Dallas, to soon be in the heart of dense forest land. All of which brings us to a place called the Big Thicket, an undeniable magnet for mysterious apes and savage wild men.
To demonstrate just how heavily wooded Texas is, the Big Thicket alone – which is situated not at all far from the city of Houston – is more than 80,000 acres in size. It’s dominated by near-endless numbers of oak trees, beech trees, pines, and swamps and rivers. By day, the Big Thicket looks like pretty much any other large, sprawling mass of forestland. It’s after the sun has set, however, and darkness has fallen on the Big Thicket that things begin to change – and to a significant and creepy degree.
Much of the high-strangeness of the Bigfoot variety is focused in the vicinity of a six-mile-long stretch of fairly primitive road that runs through the woods and which is called Bragg Road. While that’s the road’s official title, it also has an unofficial name, too: Ghost Light Road. It takes its curious name from the fact that, for centuries, people have reported seeing, strange, eerie, floating balls of light flitting around the woods – balls of light that vary from the size of approximately a tennis ball to a soccer ball. And, it’s against this weird background that the Big Thicket Bigfoot dwells.
No-one did more research into the strange creatures of the Big Thicket than Rob Riggs. A journalist and the former publisher of a series of award-winning newspapers in Texas, Rob uncovered a massive amount of data and witness testimony demonstrating that wild, monstrous things inhabit the darkest regions of the Big Thicket. As with so many other encounters across the United States, the phenomenon of the Big Thicket man-beast existed before the term “Bigfoot” was coined. Rob, himself, confirmed this:
“The first I heard of the Big Thicket’s Wild Man was in the mid-1950s as a ten-year-old boy growing up in Sour Lake. My grandpa had been planning for weeks to take me and my older brother, Mickey, on an overnight camping and fishing trip. Just days before we were to leave, rumors began flying around Hardin County that a wild man, wearing no clothes, but covered with hair, had been seen in the northern part of the county in the dense bottom land forests along village creek – the very place we intended to go.”
Rob's research dated back to 1979. He said: “I have been investigating the Bigfoot phenomenon for over 30 years. I’m reluctant to use the word ‘Bigfoot’ because I can’t say for sure that what we’re investigating here is the same animal that’s seen in the Pacific Northwest.” Rob continued to uncover data on encounters with huge, ape-like animals, as well as highly controversial – but deeply intriguing – accounts suggesting a connection between the wild men and the Big Thicket’s resident ghostly lights. And even stories of isolated pockets of Native Americans living deep in the most dense parts of the woods.
The Houstonia noted: “When Riggs ran a notice in the paper calling for stories of unusual sightings in the woods, he was deluged with letters. A teenage girl claimed that a giant ape had chased her away from a cemetery. A couple in a car on Ghost Road—the local lovers’ lane—reported that Bigfoot jumped on their hood, forcing the man, who fortunately had his shotgun handy, to scare the creature away by firing at it through the front windshield.”
The last time I saw Rob was in October 2014, at the annual Original Texas Bigfoot Conference. It was clear Rob wasn't well, but he was as upbeat, chatty and friendly as he always had been. Rest in peace, mate.