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The “Cripplefoot” Affair: A Tale of Strange Footprints and Shady Dealings

Just below the Canadian border in Stevens County, Washington, is the ghost town of Bossburg. Situated along the east bank of the Columbia River, the town was a mining hub at the end of the 19th century, once so fruitful and promising that the town had been called “Young America” for a time. However, with the passing of years, the mining operations dwindled, and Bossburg was lost in the haze of history, like so many other frontier towns of days past.

Despite being a hollow shell of the mining outpost it had once been, Bossburg wasn’t entirely forgotten, for it was a peculiar set of circumstances that occurred between 1969 and 1970 that not only put Bossburg forever on the map, but also linked it to the strange saga of “Cripplefoot,” one of the most perplexing sagas in the history of Sasquatchery.

Ivan Marx was a man of many faces. A hunting guide and mediocre tracker with a sense of adventure, he also enjoyed nature photography and film. But above all else, Marx was a mixed bag, and this was never more evident than with regard to his involvement in the field of Sasquatch research. For it was Marx that produced what is, arguably, among the most perplexing examples of alleged Sasquatch evidence: a set of footprint castings that appear to depict a specimen with an injured or “crippled” foot.

The fact that evidence for a crippled or injured Sasquatch might have been discovered is not in itself controversial. What is perplexing is the fact that many reputable Sasquatch proponents were convinced by Marx’s discovery, despite the fact that man himself was widely regarded as a hoaxer and opportunist.

The story that put the ghost town of Bossburg back on the map is a strange one. It all began in the early winter of 1969, when a butcher named Joe Rhodes observed a long set of footprints in the snow (most sources give the date of Rhodes’ discovery as being November 24, 1969, although John Napier wrote that they were “first seen in October 1969”). The prints were generally like those of a human, albeit larger, and with obvious injury or deformities present on what would have been the right foot, which included toe displacement and large, protruding bulges on the lateral extremities, along what would be the metatarsal area of a human foot.

“The sighting was reported to Ivan Marx,” Napier wrote in 1972, “whose interest in the Sasquatch was well known. Marx made casts of the footprints. Subsequently in the same area Marx and Rene Dahinden discovered a set of tracks and followed them for half a mile. Rene Dahinden has told me that he counted 1,089 prints in all.”

As a resident of Bossburg, Marx would have been the ideal individual to have first learned about the strange set of tracks. Alternatively, one might consider the convenience of these circumstances, and entertain the notion that Marx’s learning about them was perhaps a little too convenient. 

Ivan Marx in 1969, displaying one of the alleged “Cripplefoot” castings.

What ensued in the coming weeks became a veritable who’s who of Sasquatch research at that time, with everyone from the notably skeptical anthropologist Grover Krantz arriving on scene to make castings of the Bossburg prints, to Roger Patterson–already famous for his own film purporting to show one of the creatures in Bluff Creek, California–also arriving to aid in the search effort.

Most were impressed by the clarity and authenticity of the Bossburg discoveries, but that isn’t to say that everyone had held such views. In the weeks that followed, researcher Rene Dahinden began to express concerns about what he felt may have been questionable circumstances under which Marx had managed to discover further footprint evidence of the allegedly “crippled” creature that was said to be hobbling around Bossburg.

Things would only get stranger. In January of the following year, a man named Joe Metlow approached some of the researchers that were now swarming the area claiming to have captured a Sasquatch in a mine shaft, which he had sold. Several potential buyers attempted to intervene, no less among them John Green, a newspaper editor who became renowned in the field for his written works on the subject of Sasquatch. However, it became evident with time that Metlow was pulling everyone’s leg; just one of the many questionable circumstances to arise during the entire “Cripplefoot” affair.

Months would pass before the next big break in the case, when in October of 1970 Marx placed an urgent call to Rene Dahinden: now, in addition to tracks, he claimed to have captured clear footage of the “Cripplefoot.”

Enter Ivan Marx the filmmaker.

Smithsonian primatologist John Napier noted in 1972 that, “In early November 1970, one Ivan Marx of Colville, Washington State, talked to a reporter of the Vancouver Daily Province about the occasion the previous October when he had filmed a seventy-foot sequence of a crippled Sasquatch 9 ft. high and weighing 800 [pounds].”

“The authenticity of Marx’s film has still to be confirmed,” Napier rather generously noted at that time. However, Marx’s IMDB page entry tells a different story: “Although widely derided as a fraud by many Sasquatch experts, Ivan always insisted that his movies and photographs of Bigfoot were real.”

The film can be seen in the clip below, an excerpt from the 1974 film Monsters, Mysteries or Myths? produced by David Wolper and Robert Guenette:

Indeed, by the time the film had surfaced, many researchers who were following the Bossburg affair were growing suspicious of Marx, no less among them Peter Byrne, who became acquainted with Marx in 1971. At that time, Byrne had been working in the northwest on a Bigfoot research project spearheaded by wealthy oil tycoon and philanthropist Tom Slick.

“Discussing [the making of the film] with Marx, he told me that the place where he got the footage definitely had more Bigfoot living in it,” Byrne recalled in 2006. “He had, he said, seen several sets of fresh footprints while tracking the injured one and that as soon as it was spring and the snowdrifts melted off, he would lead me in there and we could get more footage.”

Conveniently, Marx advised that the area he had captured the footage was inaccessible in the winter months, even on snowmobiles (a point that was very likely true, considering the winter climate in northern Washington). Byrne agreed and offered to hire Marx to work for him as a salaried employee on the 1971 Bigfoot Project in the meantime.

During this time, Marx attempted to negotiate a price for the film, which he intended to sell to the sponsors behind Byrne’s project at that time. “As to the footage itself,” Byrne recalls, “which he wanted to sell to the Bigfoot Project’s sponsors for $25,000, I guaranteed him this amount, to be paid after we had thoroughly examined it and were satisfied with its authenticity.”

Byrne further summarized the arrangement with Marx as follows:

“In return, as a guarantee of good faith, [Marx] agreed to let us hold the master copy. He gave this to me in a sealed metal film container and I immediately sent it by registered mail to Washington DC, to the offices of my attorneys there, to be held in trust, unopened, until such time as we made a positive decision about the work. He also gave me, on request, a working copy of the footage, for study and analysis, allowing me to take selected 8X10 prints from this for the same purpose; in addition, he gave me enlargements of the still pictures he said he had taken of his film subject.”

It wasn’t long, however, before questions began to emerge. “The first cracks in the authenticity of the footage appeared when I was about two and a half months into the project,” Byrne said in 2006, “and they surfaced one evening during a study showing of the work copy of the footage at the home of Don Byington at his ranch about a mile to the east of Marx’s Bossburg home.” As Byrne viewed the film with his hosts, Byington’s son Stephen said he recognized the location being shown in the film, expressing confusion about the fact that it was not six miles away from where Marx lived, as the filmmaker had claimed.

“I kept thinking about what the boy had said,” Byrne remembered thinking. “And I found myself bothered by it.” The following day, Byrne returned to the Byington home and arranged to have young Stephen lead them to the location he said he had recognized from Marx’s film. “Using the two 8×10 enlargements, from the footage and the still pictures, we were quickly able to positively identify it via objects clearly seen in both the pictures and the site itself.”

Still frame from Marx’s “Cripplefoot” film from 1970.

Don Hunter and Rene Dahinden later recounted in their book Sasquatch/Bigfoot: The Search for North America’s Incredible Creature how Byrne came to believe the subject in the film was far from being any kind of unidentified North American ape:

In the film the creature brushes its head against a tree limb. The limb was located and was found to be less than six feet from the ground, shaking Marx’s estimate of nine feet for the creature’s height. And a comparative film indicated that certain features on the Marx film could not have appeared as they did if he had filmed from the spot he said he had filmed from and with the equipment he said he had used. It was then established, through Peter Byrne’s persistent probing, that Marx’s camera on the day of the filming was equipped with a telephoto lense and not, as he had said, a regular one.

Adding insult to injury were the reports that began to surface which involved how Marx had gone to Spokane to purchase several pieces of fake fur only months earlier. Byrne and his company decided to confront Marx about all of this, but by the time they arrived he was nowhere in sight.

“Alas, we were too late,” Byrne recalls. “In the night, as was clearly indicated by the discarded personal belongings strewn across his front yard, our quarry had got wind of our plans and, as they say, had upped and run for cover.”

The unfortunate story of Ivan Marx’s Bossburg fakery wouldn’t be the last of his involvement with the subject. According to the IMDB page for Marx, “In 1976 Marx narrated, co-produced, and appeared as himself in the lively and enjoyable documentary ‘The Legend of Bigfoot.’ (Ivan also was a cinematographer on this picture.) He subsequently followed this feature with two more documentaries: ‘In the Shadow of Bigfoot’ and ‘Bigfoot: Alive and Well in ’82’.”

In addition to documentaries like those listed here, Marx would also continue to produce what he alleged were authentic films of Sasquatch, in which a silhouetted “creature” displaying an absurd, conical head and protruding ears could be seen lurking around in various wilderness settings, as can be seen in the humorous video compilation below:

In light of all the information that shows Marx to have been a hoaxer–and not just that, but one who would seek to profit from such hijinks over the years–the alleged “Cripplefoot” castings recovered at the outset of the Bossburg affair remain widely regarded among the Sasquatch research community. Among their proponents have been the late Grover Krantz and, more recently, Dr. Jeffery Meldrum of Idaho State University, each of whom maintained that despite Marx’s checkered past, the evidence in the footprints cannot so simply be ignored.

John Napier (who had been willing to reserve judgment on the authenticity of the Marx film, as we saw earlier) had also commented on why he felt that a hoax had been unlikely. “It is very difficult to conceive of a hoaxer so subtle, so knowledgeable–and so sick–who would deliberately fake a footprint of this nature. I suppose it is possible, but it is so unlikely that I am prepared to discount it.”

If we are to allow for the possibility that a creature like Sasquatch might exist at all, then it is conceivable that prints like those found at Bossburg might have been genuine, providing an entry point for an opportunistic con-artist like Marx to become involved in the first place. Had this been the case, the discovery of the “Cripplefoot” prints also became a catalyst for further opportunisms on Marx’s part, who would seek other ways to capitalize on the situation.

Or, following Occam’s razor we might conclude that the entire affair was simply a hoax… a possibility which, all things considered, seems far more likely. The question is, in light of all this, what can we really make of the Bossburg prints? After all, no matter how good they look, they share one thing in common with many similar pieces of evidence that have emerged over the years: they have a shady history, and one that places them forever on shaky ground as far as “good evidence” is concerned.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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