Sep 18, 2022 I Nick Redfern

When the Bigfoot Creatures Were Called "Wild-Men" - 19th Century Encounters

Although the Bigfoot creatures are the most famous monsters in the field of Cryptozoology and in pop-culture, there was a time long gone when the Bigfoots were described as Wild-Men. And, with that said, let's have a look at some of those 19th century cases. One of the most thought-provoking theories for Bigfoot’s overwhelming elusiveness suggests that the creatures spend a great deal of time living in natural caves and caverns, as well as abandoned, old mines. In the early 1900s, a number of stories surfaced in the Oregon press that, upon careful reflection, just might offer a degree of support for this particularly intriguing theory that Bigfoot is very much a creature of the underground. The reports are made all the more significant because they reference in excess of a decade of sightings of large, hair creature, all in a specific vicinity where underground digging was known to be widespread.

In 1900, the Curry County, Oregon newspaper reported on an amazing story: “The Sixes mining district in Curry County has for the past 30 years glorified in the exclusive possession of a kangaroo man.’ Recently while Wm. Page and Johnnie McCulloch, who are mining there, went out hunting McCulloch saw the strange animal-man come down a stream to drink. In calling Page’s attention to the strange being it became frightened, and with cat-like agility, which has always been a leading characteristic, with a few bounds was out of sight.”

(Nick Redfern) Wild-Man and Bigfoot: Just the same thing

Despite having been given the extremely odd nickname of the “kangaroo man,” the newspaper’s description of the beast is actually far more Bigfoot-like, as the following extract from the article clearly demonstrates: “The appearance of this animal is almost enough to terrorize the rugged mountainsides themselves. He is described as having the appearance of a man – a very good looking man – is nine feet in height with low forehead, hair hanging down near his eyes, and his body covered with a prolific growth of hair which nature has provided for his protection. Its hands reach almost to the ground and when its tracks were measured its feet were found to be 18 inches in length with five well formed toes. Whether this is a devil, some strange animal or a wild man is what Messrs. Page and McCulloch would like to know.”

Demonstrating that beasts such as Sasquatch are not the creations of 20th century movie-makers, and hoaxers, are the surprisingly large number of newspaper accounts on the subject that date from the 1800s. A classic, and perfect, example, is a fascinating feature that appeared in the pages of the Sacramento, California-based Daily Union newspaper on November 1, 1879. It was titled, very appropriately, A Strange Creature: Two Hunters Chased by a Wild Man in the Antelope Mountains, and begins as follows: “William Shegan, who came in from Antelope Valley last evening with a load of produce, tells a Leader reporter a very strange and startling story of the experience of two men who were hunting in Antelope Valley last week. He says that Peter Simons and John Gore had been out all day hunting ducks and such other game as they came in their way, and as evening came on they took a short cut across the mountains on their way back to the ranch. The mountain over which the trail led them was a very rugged one – in fact, the wildest place in the Antelope range of mountains – and a few years ago used to be infested with the larger species of wild animals.”

The story continued that as the pair made their careful way around what was described as a “large chasm,” they heard a strange, animalistic noise coming from the vicinity of a nearby cliff-face. As they looked to see the source of the chatter, both men were shocked by the sight of a large, hairy, manlike animal that sprung from behind the cliff-face, and headed towards the mountains with “the speed of the wind.” Realizing that the beast was something distinctly out of the ordinary, and being hunters, Simons and Gore did what hunters to best of all: they opened fire on the animal. Gore managed to clip the creature on one of its arms, which was more than evident when the beast came to a sudden, screaming halt and grabbed its arm, clearly in severe pain. The wild-eyed creature wasn’t just in agony, however; it was also enraged to the max: in seconds it charged both men in violent fashion. Hardly surprising, Simons and Gore didn’t try and get a better shot; instead, they dropped their rifles and fled for their lives. It was only due to their ability to outrun the animal that they didn’t finish up as the hunted, rather than as the hunters.

The Daily Union noted, of this almost-fatal affair, that it did not stand alone. There were additional reports of the creature, and perhaps of others of its savage kind, roaming around: “Mr. Shegan’s story revives a long forgotten but now distinctly-recalled yarn, to the effect that many years ago a lunatic, then a young man, escaped from his keepers in California and gained the fastness of the Sierra Nevada, where he evaded pursuit, and, it is thought, subsisted on the flesh of small animals killed through some means best known to himself.” Shegan had more to say, too, about additional encounters with the hairy wild things of the woods, as the newspaper noted:

“Several months ago, says Shegan, a strange creature answering the description of the being recently seen, with the exception of the grizzle beard, was discovered by a party of men who were hunting on the mountain some fifteen miles from Antelope, and it is thought that this may be the same. The hunters say they are positive it was no optical illusion, but a genuine wild man, and a very fierce one at that.” It seems to have been much different to a person who had simply descended into a wild lifestyle in the forests, however. That much is evident from the physical description presented in the newspaper: “The creature’s arms, they say, were long and hairy, and it looked very much like a full-grown gorilla. They aver that it ran with remarkable swiftness, all the time uttering loud cries, as though in pain and enraged.” Despite assertions that “there is talk of organizing an armed force in Antelope Valley to go in search of this creature,” the wild man that came close to taking the live of a pair of petrified hunters back in 1879 was never identified or caught.

The following account, which appeared in the pages of the January 23, 1869 edition of the Minnesota Weekly Record, sounds as bizarre as it does unlikely. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, however. Under the eye-catching headline of A Gorilla in Ohio, it reads thus: “Gallipolis is excited over a wild man, who is reported to haunt the woods near that city. He goes naked, is covered with hair, is gigantic in height, and ‘his eyes start from their sockets.’ A carriage, containing a man and daughter, was attacked by him a few days ago. He is said to have bounded at the father, catching him in a grip like that of a vice, hurling him to the earth, falling on him and endeavoring to bite and scratch like a wild animal. ”The story continues:

(Nick Redfern) 19th Century cryptozoology

“The struggle was long and fearful, rolling and wallowing in the deep mud, suffocated, sometimes beneath his adversary, whose burning and maniac eyes glared into his own with murderous and savage intensity. Just as he was about to become exhausted from his exertions, his daughter, taking courage at the imminent danger of her parent, snatched up a rock and hurling it at the head of her father’s would be murderer, was fortunate enough to put an end to the struggle by striking him somewhere about the ear.” Evidently that worked, and the terrifying incident came to a sudden halt in decidedly docile fashion: “The creature was not stunned, but feeling unequal to further exertion, slowly got up and retired into the neighboring copse that skirted the road.”

In 1870, a California-based newspaper, the Antioch Ledger, published the fascinating account of a man named de Groot, a hunter who may very well have had a close encounter of the large and hairy kind. The incident reportedly occurred in the previous year, 1869 at Orestimba Creek, Stanislaus County, California. As with many of the accounts cited in this book, it clearly demonstrates that sightings of anomalous, large apes in the United States are nothing new. de Groot said: “Last fall I was hunting in the mountains about 20 miles south of here, and camped five or six days in one place, as I have done every season for the past 15 years.  Several times I returned to camp, after a hunt, and saw that the ashes and charred sticks from the fireplace had been scattered about. An old hunter notices such things, and very soon gets curious to know the cause.  Although my bedding and traps and little stores were not disturbed, as I could see, I was anxious to learn who or what it was that so regularly visited my camp, for clearly the half burnt sticks and cinders could not scatter themselves about. 

“I saw no tracks near the camp, as the hard ground covered with leaves would show none. So I started in the circle around the place, and 300 yards off, in damp sand, I struck the tracks of a man’s feet, as I supposed, bare and of immense size.  Now I was curious, sure, and I resolved to lay for the barefooted visitor. I accordingly took a position on the hillside, about 60 or 70 feet from the fire, and, securely hid in the brush, I waited and watched. Two hours and more I sat there and wondered if the owner of the feet would come again, and whether he imagined what an interest he had created in my inquiring mind, and finally what possessed him to be prowling about there with no shoes on. The fireplace was on my right, and the spot where I saw the track was on my left, hid by the bushes. It was in this direction that my attention was mostly directed, thinking the visitor would appear there, besides, it was easier to sit and face that way. Suddenly I was surprised by a shrill whistle, such as boys produced with two fingers under their tongues, and turning quickly, I ejaculated: ‘Good God!’ as I saw the object of my solicitude standing beside the fire and looking suspiciously around.  It was the image of a man, but could not have been human.

“I was never so benumbed with astonishment before. The creature, whatever it was, stood fully 5 feet high, and disproportionately broad and square at the fore shoulders, with arms of great length. The legs were very short and the body long. The head was small compared with the rest of the creature, and appeared to be set upon the shoulders without a neck. The whole was covered with dark brown and cinnamon colored hair, quite long on some parts, that on the head standing in a shock and growing close down to the eyes, like a Digger Indian’s. As I looked he threw his head back and whistled again, and then stopped and grabbed a stick from the fire. This he swung round, until the fire at the end had gone out, when he repeated the maneuver. I was dumb, almost, and could only look. Fifteen minutes I sat and watched him as he whistled and scattered my fire about. I could easily have put a bullet through his head, but why should I kill him? Having amused himself, apparently, as he desired, with my fire, he started to go, and, having gone a short distance returned, and was joined by another - a female, unmistakably when both turned and walked past me within 20 yards of where I sat, and disappeared in the brush."

And there was more: “I could not have had a better opportunity for observing them, as they were unconscious of my presence.  Their only object in visiting my camp seemed to be to amuse themselves with swinging lighted sticks around.  I have told this story many times since then, and it has often raised an incredulous smile; but I have met one person who has seen the mysterious creatures, and a dozen of whom have come across their tracks at various places between here and Pacheco Pass.” Of particular interest in this case is the height of the Bigfoot. Or, rather, its profound lack of height. At just around five feet tall, it hardly resembled the classic, seven to eight feet tall Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest. Unless, of course, what de Root encountered was a juvenile Bigfoot. That the creature seemed to enjoy playing with the fire, and whistling at the same time, is, perhaps, an indication it was, indeed, a youngster, roaming around and having a bit of fun.

What all of this tells us is that, despite what the skeptics say, the Bigfoot creatures were not "created" in the 1950s. Rather, they were around for a long, long time. They just had a different name way back then: Wild-Men.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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