October 20, 2008

Origin of Sasquatch and Bigfoot

Did you know that the concept of a single species of ape-man, as well as the names "sasquatch" and "bigfoot," were Western inventions? I didn't until I looked it up.

BigfootBigfoot descends, more or less, from wildmen stories of the indigenous population of the Pacific Northwest. Its origins are difficult to discern as the legends existed prior to a single name for the creature. The legends differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community. Similar stories of wildmen are found on every continent except Antarctica. Ecologist Robert Michael Pyle argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history: "We have this need for some larger-than-life creature."

The local legends were combined together by J. W. Burns in a series of Canadian newspaper articles in the 1920s. Each language had its own name for the local version. Many names meant something along the lines of "wild man" or "hairy man" although other names described common actions it was said to perform (e.g., eating clams). Burns coined the term Sasquatch, which is from the Halkomelem sésquac meaning "wild man," and used it in his articles to describe a hypothetical single type of creature reflected in these various stories. Burns's articles popularized both the legend and its new name, making it well known in western Canada before it gained popularity in the United States.

The notoriety of ape-men grew over the decade[s], culminating in 1958 when large footprints were found in Humboldt County, California by bulldozer operator Gerold Crew. Sets of large tracks appeared multiple times around a road-construction site in Bluff Creek. After not being taken seriously about what he was seeing, Crew brought in his friend, Bob Titmus, to cast the prints in plaster. The story was published in the Humboldt Times along with a photo of Crew holding one of the casts. The article's author, Andrew Genzoli, titled the piece "Bigfoot," after the 16 inches (41 cm) footprints. Sasquatch received a new name and gained international attention when the story was picked up by the Associated Press. Ray Wallace, who was at the site at the time the footprints appeared, was later attributed with making the namesake footprints by his family shortly after his death.
Comment:  So until C.W. Burns's article, there was no concept of a single species of creature known as a "sasquatch." Interesting.

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