In a web exclusive posted in anticipation of the new season of America Unearthed, Scott Wolter is going hunting for Bigfoot! Why? Because every fringe show must eventually descend into an eclectic mix of random strangeness. And what is a more marketable topic than multimedia, multi-network superstar recluse Bigfoot? Will Wolter have better luck than Giorgio Tsoukalos, who similarly sought Bigfoot only a few months ago, or Ancient Aliens, which sought him two years earlier? (How many times can one channel fail to find Bigfoot?) Or how about Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot? Or 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty on Spike? Not if this video is any indication.
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Roosevelt, Wolter says, “was the only president to publicly endorse the idea that Bigfoot could be real.” This is false. Bigfoot was not so named in Roosevelt’s time, nor did he ever describe the creature as a large ape-like being. What Roosevelt actually said about “Bigfoot” is too long for met to paste in here, but I’ve added it to my Library for your reading enjoyment. The long and short of it is that in 1890 an old backwoodsman told Roosevelt a tall tale about something that he said had happened to him decades before, which even Roosevelt implies might well have been a bear walking on two legs. There is no mention of Bigfoot, nor is there any indication that the story involved an ape. Roosevelt himself called it a “goblin story” and attributed it to the superstitious belief of the backwoodsman:
He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore. So that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the specters, and the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk. It may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.
Roosevelt also recorded bits of Native American lore, but that doesn’t make those stories true either.
According to Wolter’s narration, he was skeptical of Bigfoot’s existence until he heard Roosevelt’s account, which he deems excessively credible because it was recorded by a president of the United States. By that token, Wolter must also believe in UFOs because Jimmy Carter claimed to have seen one (it was the planet Venus) and a lost race of giants because Abraham Lincoln claimed to hold that belief (writing in 1848 or 1850 of “that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America”), and a lost race of Mound Builders because Andrew Jackson did… Hmm… We seem to have a pattern. Well, the one thing we know is that Wolter won’t disbelieve in the lost race of Mound Builders just because Thomas Jefferson, another president, determined from firsthand observations that there was no such thing. That’s just crazy talk.
A second video shows that Wolter plans to tie Bigfoot to the Yeti and other ape men. Among the other evidence for Bigfoot Wolter will examine is the “Hairy Man,” a roughly 500- to 1,000-year-old shamanic Native American drawing known since the nineteenth century and often cited as resembling Sasquatch, even though it could equally depict a bear, Swamp Thing, a shaman in fringed suit, or any number of other things. A Victorian drawing of the petroglyphs differs a bit from the way the image appears today; the “hair” today extends above the shoulders.
What’s interesting is that when the image was published in The Beginning of Writing by Walter James Hoffman in 1895 (and described before that, in 1889), no one pronounced it evidence of a giant man-ape, or even of Roosevelt’s “unknown beast-creature.” Hoffman recognized these pictures for what they were, though he was perhaps over-hasty in attributing to them proto-writing:
The figures are those of human beings, the largest approaching life-size, the remaining ones being relatively smaller. The largest figure, that on the right (a), represents weeping, the arms with hands pendent, being extended as when making the gesture sign for rain, while the lines extending downward from the eyes denote tears, signifying, literally, eye-rain or weeping. It is evident that the recorder intended to convey the idea of sorrow, on account of the suffering expressed in the gestures and attitudes of others of his band shown in connection herewith. The six figures (designated by c) appear to be persons of different degrees of rank or social standing in the tribe, as indicated by the various lengths of the plumes. […] The Indians who now occupy this valley know nothing whatever of the origin of the record, nor the tribe that made it. (emphasis in original)
Hoffman wasn’t just making that up. The Tule River Indians, band of the Yokuts, identify that so-called Hairy Man was a weeping figure from their creation myth—though at a distance of 1,000 years, it’s impossible to determine the original intention of the artist.
It’s fascinating that the image only became associated with Bigfoot after the Bigfoot myth developed in the middle twentieth century. In fact, it was only in 1973 that the identification was made. By rights, were there anything to the Bigfoot myth, we ought to have clear indications much earlier—surely someone would have argued that this picture was a giant ape-man sooner. Bigfoot enthusiasts point to oral traditions that identify Hairy Man with Bigfoot-like behavior, but these stories were collected only after the Bigfoot myth became popular (it calls Bigfoot by name); versions collected before featured a more mythological and godlike character. Some anthropologists feel that the original intention may have been to depict a shamanic bear-man figure, or even a simple depiction of a rearing grizzly.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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