For centuries, there have long been stories in the remote corners of North America that tell of a sort of "lost "or hidden group of native inhabitants. These legends, which attribute a variety of names to these beings, have occasionally described them as "Indians without fire," in reference to their manlike, but mostly primitive lifestyle and mannerisms.
Today, the creature in question is known as Sasquatch, or more often, by the relatively crude nickname "Bigfoot". Belief in their existence has persisted, thanks in large part to reality television programs that make the case for the creature's existence by following the exploits of "weekend warriors", who utilize loads of equipment in remote areas, with hopes for tracking the animals and their mostly nocturnal activities.
As with much reality television, very little "reality", let alone much responsible research or good science, is appears to take place on such programs. Still, perhaps these kinds of shows are not entirely without merit; after all, they do help keep alive, in some form or another, the same long tradition of adherence to witness reports of these creatures, which do appear to involve a manlike animal said to exist in the remote regions of America.
Let's step back for a moment and consider such a prospect carefully: that something large, and manlike, could not only exist, but also remain largely hidden, and thus unrecognized by science. Opinions on this have been extremely divided, and remain so today: on one end of the spectrum, there are those for whom debate over the existence of such a creature is no longer a question. On the other side, there are hard-lined materialists who won't even allow for such a possibility. Somewhere between these extremes, however, is a very unique and storied tradition of observations of something that alludes science, and yet which remains consistently enough in our culture that its possible existence must be given, at very least, some consideration... whether or not that entails outright "belief."
Consider narratives like the one that follows, which is based on an email I received some time ago. In it, an individual shared their own unusual experiences with something they couldn't easily explain; it is a recollection which resonates well with the existing American mythos of the Sasquatch:
I live in Charlotte County, Florida. Here in the south where I'm from, they refer to this creature as a "skunk ape."
About a year ago, I was riding my bike home one night on a back woods trail, and in the distance, I could see what appeared to be something the shape of a very large man. This "person" -- or thing -- was standing near a concrete power pole. As I was on my bike, I wondered why a person would be in the woods at this time, with no light. I'm certain this creature or person was six feet tall, maybe larger.
As I watched, it walked off the trail into the thick of the woods. There wasn't a sound, and there was no evidence of anything else in the area afterward. Honestly, I still wonder what I saw that night; though I heard no noise, I am sure I saw a large, human-like "thing" in the woods, that walked off into the night more like an animal than a human.
Stories like these leave much to the imagination. And yet, despite their ambiguity, the details they bring appear to be rather consistent, again, in the broader body of lore associated with the allege creatures. Once again, consider the following example, shared with me by a former soldier who had been stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, several decades ago:
One day, my friend and I went in search of a stream to fish deep in the forest, which we felt might have been only lightly fished (if at all). Our map-reading classes served us well, apparently, as we became totally lost that afternoon.
As we followed a game trail, we came upon a series of huge, barefoot prints and followed them to where it looked like he or she squatted at a downed trunk, and had dug underneath with some branches. As we arrived at the trunk ourselves, we smelled the unmistakable "death" scent, and heard something large move off into the forest. We went back the other way.
Never did get to even wet a line, and I'm sure we could never find that spot again, since after becoming lost, we didn't know where we were in the first place!
A similar story to the one above was related to me years ago by an elderly Native American named William, who resides in Western North Carolina on the Cherokee Reservation. It was during the middle 1950s, and William had been hunting squirrel on Soco Mountain in Haywood County, when he came upon a clearing where a logging operation had been underway. There, in the exposed earth, William saw a similar set of large, bare footprints that looked human, though much bigger than the typical human foot.
"They were big," he told me. "Looked just like you or I, but barefoot. No shoe."
William followed the footprints up the mountain, to where the clearing ended. During this time, on several occasions he spotted squirrels, which he tried to shoot with his shotgun, but missed on every occasion. As he came over the ridge and started down the opposite side of the mountain, he saw two squirrels together on a branch; a single shot from his .410 bore brought them down. When asked about this, William told me that he felt the animals couldn't be shot as easily anywhere near the large footprints had been.
One Cherokee word associated with the creatures had been Chikly-Cuddly, while some have similarly interpreted the Cherokee god of the hunt, Tsul 'Kalu, as being a variation on the Sasquatch legend. Interested in whether William might have known of these, I inquired about the name he gave to animal responsible for the prints he observed that day.
"Do you have a name for this creature?" I asked William, hoping not to lead the conversation, but interested to see which of the regional variants he might use.
"Yeah," he said, eyes widening. "We always called 'em Bigfoot!"
The creature, of course, seems to have gone by many names over the years, and elusive though it remains (if it exists, of course), the stories of those who have had their own personal encounters remain compelling, if not troubling, and for a number of reasons. If true, what does this tell us about the limitations of modern science (and the resulting blind faith of its proponents)? In equal measure, how must we react to the possibility that a large, manlike creature exists in the Americas, and of greatest importance, how can such a potentially endangered animal be protected, especially if they are so seldom seen?
I often like to ask readers to share their own experiences and stories, and here again I invite anyone with stories, thoughts, or perspectives on the matter to email me with your stories. In the long run, it is my hope to be able to help foster and organize rational, reasonable discussion of the Sasquatch enigma, which examines the legends and persistent Native American mythology pertaining to this subject, as well as the ongoing reports of encounters in modernity.
Neither dismissal, nor blind faith alone will solve the mystery. However, I do hope that dialogue will remain a key toward the furtherance of our understanding this unusual, and very complex subject.