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  Cover Story July 22nd, 2010     
Untitled Document

The Hairy-Handed Gents


by Kent Ballard

This is what Hollywood would like us to think the legendary Bigfoot may look like.  Taken from “Harry and the Henderson’s,” this lovable character was the product of the makeup department, headed by Rick Baker, who won an Oscar for Best Makeup in 1988.  Distributed by Universal Studios.  But is this really what Bigfoot, if he exists, would look like?

Or does he look more like the figure at the left? 

Do you believe in Bigfoot? If you don't, I'll bet you know someone who does. “MonsterQuest” and a variety of other television channels have recently aired specials about the creatures, and along with some rather blurry photos they've also given enough serious evidence to at least make many wonder if something's not really out there. And if you like to read, you can become an “armchair expert” very quickly. The Internet is full of sites containing  photos, films, recordings of their vocalizations, and databases of reported Bigfoot encounters.

And, as one fellow pointed out, of all those photos, plaster casts of footprints, hair samples, films, and sound recordings—if just one is real ... folks, we have a strange situation on our hands.

For those who are interested in what little is factually known about the hairy-handed gents, I suggest you open a soda and spend a free evening surfing the net about them. What you find may well surprise you. There is just something about the idea of seven to ten foot tall apelike humanoids being reported by folks everywhere, from all walks of life, that intrigues people. Common sense says they're surely folklore, or the results of an overworked imagination, or sheer hoaxes. And many of them are just that.

But some persons have also written sworn affidavits attesting to their sightings, easily passed polygraph tests while describing their encounters, and in extreme cases—and great expense--literally moved themselves and their families completely out of the areas where they bumped into one. That's going pretty far for just a gag.

America is not a densely populated nation. We still have plenty of wild places all throughout the States. There are many forests scores of miles in diameter, cut through here and there by lonely roads. We've plenty of habitat across the country for big wild things to live off the land. Even black bears are making a spectacular comeback in areas where they were long thought gone forever. Feral hogs are trying to take over half the South. But many people see things that cannot be explained away as hogs or bears.

Let me share with you what I saw with my own eyes one night in June, 2000.

I was driving back home after dark. I'd just made a short trip into the nearest town, fourteen miles away,  for some paint. The particular road I was on was very sparsely populated, maybe a house every mile or so, with thick old-growth woods on both sides. The road was hilly and full of curves, but in one spot there's a straight and flat run about three city blocks long.

At the very extent of my headlights, I saw the vague silhouette of somebody standing close to the road's edge ahead on my left. This would have seemed unusual, but I happened to know a raccoon hunter who hunted that area at night, and I assumed it was him. I slowed and gradually began to pull over in order to say hi and ask if he'd had any luck.

While still slowly approaching my “friend,” braking for a stop, the shadowy figure walked directly out in front of my headlights about 30 yards from me. It was jet black, covered in longish hair from head to foot, and walked at an unhurried pace completely across the road in front of my high beams.

I slammed both feet on the brake pedal, locked them up, and came to a dead stop. I felt as if somehow the universe had turned inside out, as if I'd been whacked in the head with a baseball bat. I sat there in mild shock, staring at this thing about forty feet away as it strode across the road, upright on two legs. The dust from the gravel road swirled about us both, but once near the other side it turned its head and looked directly at me. The eyes glowed a brilliant, eerie green in the reflection of my lights. Then it turned its head back, and kept walking into the woods on the other side, disappearing into the dark wilderness.

I simply sat there for a few seconds. Then, realizing I was alone, unarmed, with both truck windows fully down, and out there with something I could not explain, I floored my truck and spun the tires. It's amazing I kept the thing on the road. I drove like a madman all the way home, rushed in the door, locked it behind me, and woke up my wife. I was babbling like a loon.

When she finally got the first coherent words out of my mouth they were, “I ... I just saw a Bigfoot!”

Are these the eyes of Bigfoot?

Your award-winning publisher, Lyle Davis, and I have exchanged emails for years. He thought what followed this would be of interest to you, the good readers of The Paper. Because from that moment, I'd unwittingly become a Bigfoot researcher myself. Any doubts I had were ripped away on that black and lonely country road. I knew they were real. I'd seen one close enough to speak to it in a conversational voice. It even looked directly at me, as if wondering if I would give it chase or offer any kind of trouble. (The farthest thing from my mind at the time, I can assure you.) Lyle knew I had been a Bigfoot researcher for some length of time, then retired from that odd hobby several years ago. When I did, I did so completely, abandoning the several Bigfoot Internet chat rooms I'd been on, giving away all my books and notes on the subject. I just walked away from it all and never looked back until Lyle persuaded me to write a few words about my experiences. Lyle is very persuasive, and talked me into it.

For days after my sighting, I was profoundly unsettled. I found myself always inside the house before dark, doors locked, all outside lights on. I no longer took pleasurable hikes in my forest. I had trouble sleeping. It had effected me that deeply. I had a casual acquaintance who'd once told me he believed in Bigfoot, sometimes going as far as to seek out people who had seen them and take their reports. I contacted him. He came over with a partner and together they did much to put me at ease. The Bigfoot I saw was just going along, minding its own business when I saw it. It made no threats, offered no violence. But the fellow told me in no uncertain terms I'd become a prisoner of my own mind, and that there was only one person who could restore my normal, everyday personality. Following his advice, I began to stay outside later and later in the evening. I started with short walks just inside the forest, then longer ones, then solo hikes deep into the woods, just like I'd used to do. And he was right. Facing my fear conquered it. It took me over two months to do so, but I became my old self again. Better, in fact. The deep dark woods no longer held any fear for me. Bigfoot might be out there, yet I had a right to be out there too. How I would convince a Bigfoot of this, should I bump into another one, remained an unanswered question.

I began to read and write on Bigfoot websites maintained by various research organizations. I discovered “Bigfoot walking in front of your car” reports were pretty common, and in their eyes, nothing at all remarkable. I didn't know whether to be relieved or angered. It had certainly been remarkable to me!

One day I got an email from a researcher on one of these sites. They'd had a fairly interesting report from a man and his wife about 20 miles from where I lived. Since no one else was available to interview them to add pertinent information to their website's database, would I mind taking their contact information, giving them a call, and arranging an interview?

And that's how it happened: I became a Bigfoot field researcher. Over the next many months I'd interview over a score of people, see things I still cannot explain, and hear accounts that were perplexing, spooky, and in many instances, downright funny. For I learned one thing never mentioned on all those television specials, something I had never expected: Bigfoot have a sense of humor. In many cases a keen and almost human—if quirky—appreciation of humor. Some things I did expect, like strange examples of phenomenal strength and speed, that Bigfoot have the capability to chirp like birds, bark like dogs, laugh, whinny like horses, and yet never get the sound exactly right. But usually when making racket they give out the most spine-chilling howls, cries, and shrieks imaginable. I've heard these myself, always off in the distance, over the next two or three heavily-wooded hills. I never had one creep up and roar right behind me, which explains why I never had a heart attack in this strange hobby.

Footprints? I saw dozens of them. Frequently I wondered if they'd been painstakingly faked by whoever called. But if that was the case in every instance, we should instead be investigating people who would do that for a long distance, faking them right through thorn bushes and saw briars. I often came out of the woods looking as if I'd found a Bigfoot, wrestled it, and lost.

Looking back, the innocence I approached this with seems astonishing. My goal was simple: to help bring these creatures into the light of public and scientific knowledge. That was it. That was all that drove me. I had yet to find out many things about Bigfoot—and even more about some human beings.

There was the elderly woman and her adult daughter who lived in a remote farmhouse. Not every night, but often, they would see three to five extremely tall bipeds leave one portion of woods, walk across an open field a couple of hundred yards away, and disappear into the woods on the opposite side. Winter had set in and a bulldozer wouldn't have left much of a track out there. I summoned up all my courage, gathered my camera, tape recorder, spotlight, and hiked out there to hide in the opposite woods, where (I hoped) I could get a good photo of them in the open as they approached. By this time I'd learned the best weapon against a Bigfoot was a simple flashlight or bright spotlight. They hate the things.

I made a blind and hid in it. When the sun sat I began to question my own sanity. Things are a lot different in the dark, and I could never completely forget that one look back at me, those huge green glowing eyes. I wondered if these particular Bigfoot had read the same articles I had about them being chased away by unexpected bright lights. On two different nights I hid out there, freezing and teeth chattering, each time hearing farm dogs bark furiously in the direction the Bigfoot were to come from, then about forty minutes later hearing another set of farm dogs barking wildly behind me a half mile or so away. But I never saw a thing. To this day I believe if they were out there too they somehow detected me and simply took the long way around. The dogs barking noted the time, and I was always in place when I should have been.


What Bigfoot, if he exists, might look like

Because in repeated sighting instances, Bigfoot seem to follow a set pattern when it comes to their roaming. More than one person told me “you could set your watch by them.” Even more perversely for your average monster, Bigfoot are a very neat creature. They unscrew lids from food jars left on picnic tables, empty the contents, and then screw the lids back on. They're tidy and clean. One guy who'd seen big footprints in his yard left a ripe, unpeeled banana on each of a line of fence posts, then sat in a folding chair in his garage with the door down and locked, camera at the ready, to look out the windows and get a photo of whatever was lurking around his property at night. He did this a grand total of once.

He sheepishly told me days later he fell asleep in the chair during the wee hours of the morning. When he awoke, he could see the yellow bananas still lying on top of the line of posts. It took him a minute to realize they looked a little ... different.

In the morning sunlight, he went out to discover each of them had been peeled and eaten, and the banana skins placed neatly back where they'd been picked up. His wife told me their tiny dog entered their bedroom sometime that night while she was sleeping and only came out from under the bed when she got up.

At times like that, if you have arrived to investigate and catalog such phenomenon, people just look at you as if expecting some kind of learned answer and explanation for all these weird events. And I had none to give them. They thought I was the “Bigfoot expert” and often I had to disappoint folks by telling them the simple truth—there are no Bigfoot experts. None. There are people with volumes of information they've learned about Bigfoot behavior, there are even accredited scientists now who cautiously admit there's been enough physical evidence collected to “merit further investigation.” But while we have experts on zebras, bluejays, or whales, there's still no one who can factually claim to be an expert on Bigfoot. They remain too elusive.

Further complicating matters are the differences in witnesses. They run the spectrum of  personality types themselves. Some eyewitnesses to Bigfoot activity almost drag you in the door, talking all the way, and gush with gratitude that someone has shown up who will finally listen to them. Others offer a more typical welcome, inviting you in, offering a cup of coffee, and sit you at their kitchen table. The husband and wife will sit together opposite you, already expecting an interview, and generally one or the other will do most of the talking, interrupted only periodically with small corrections by their spouse. Some talk freely, others are extremely nervous, as if you were an IRS investigator who had arrived to go over their taxes. I saw many instances where children were ordered to leave the room.

There were those who, verbally reliving their encounters, would begin to literally tremble. Some would experience trouble with their voices, trying to keep the fear out of them and lamely claim they had a cold. I saw one woman, in mid-conversation, get up and turn the kitchen lights on although it was full daylight outside. She clearly thought of them as a “security blanket,” flooding the room with light. 

Another man agreed to walk out through the little field behind his house with me to the line of woods visible from their home. This wood line was where they had seen their Bigfoot. He paused at a hallway closet, glanced at his wife who merely gave him the briefest of nods, then he opened the door to pull out a .30-06 rifle. Outside, he loaded it without saying a word, jacked a round into the chamber, put the weapon on safety, and only then led the way back through the field. It was broad daylight. He had another grown man with him. But he would not open that gate, or make one step towards that woods, without a high-caliber rifle ready to fire in his hands. I especially remember one man I truly pitied. We were talking in his front yard on a blisteringly hot summer day, yet he shivered and trembled like a man freezing to death. Unaware of doing it, I'm sure, he kept shooting nervous looks down the hill of his pasture towards a small creek. Two weeks before he'd seen a Bigfoot strolling along that creek bank, as if looking for something in the water just at dusk. Two weeks. And still the man had to struggle to maintain his composure. Eventually he actually teared up, wiped at his eyes, and apologized. He said he wasn't a coward or afraid of his own shadow. It was simply that what he saw down there was so ... so ... he trailed off, searching for words. Eventually he said what I heard from many eyewitnesses: “I just wish I'd never seen the damned thing.”

And there is a considerable difference in the type of “researchers” themselves. Some will arrive at a home where the occupants have made a report, usually via the Internet, and interview all witnesses, jot down notes while sipping the offered cup of coffee, ask a few questions, then thank them all for their time and simply leave. His notes are then entered into his organization's database where people can access them, but that's all the effort he will make. Others arrive with backpacks and all sorts of gear and insist on going out into the fields and woods to take a look around for themselves. I was in the second category. More than one family expressed astonishment that I would actually go “back there” alone. Some thought I was incredibly brave. Some may have thought I was crazy. The truth was, I knew whatever they'd seen was either two counties away by now, or would elude me no matter what I did to seek it out. I've often wondered how close I came to one of them, perhaps hidden in thick brush or up a tall tree, hidden by the multiple canopies of leaves. And sometimes I'm glad I don't know.

I once worked with a family that suddenly found themselves living in a “hot spot” of Bigfoot activity. My best guess is a wandering family band of Bigfoot simply moved into the area, found their surroundings satisfactory, and settled in for a while. The people living on that lonely road had multiple, repeated sightings of one to as many as four Bigfoot coming out of the forest behind their home, crossing the road in front of their house, and reentering the forest on the other side. I drove there often enough to be on a first-name basis with the entire family. Over a period of nearly a month, I'd go there when I had the time and hike back into the forest, returning with nothing save for a few of their grandchildren's toys I'd found far out in the woods, apparently picked up by a passing Bigfoot, examined and played with while it was walking along, and then dropped when they became boring. I was certain I'd get a photo there, possibly even other evidence. And I was wrong, although I became something of a hero to the grandchildren who always thanked me for returning their toys.

One day the matriarch of the extended family told me they appreciated all that I had done, and they respected me for my honesty and openness, but they had had enough. They had contacted one of the largest Bigfoot organizations in the United States to send an “expert” Bigfoot researcher to spend several days at their home. He'd be there around the clock, ready to rush out and take still or motion picture films of their unwanted visitors, prove they weren't all crazy, and perhaps be able to suggest several ways they could rid themselves of their unwanted visitors. She was kind and apologetic, but asked me to back off and let the “expert” take over. I agreed that I'd been something of a flop, although I'd given it my best shot, and shook her hand and left. I couldn't really blame them.

Two weeks later, the same woman called and asked me to return. I told her I could come over the next day.

I won't give the name of the national research group they'd called. There's no way the fellow they sent could be representative of the entire organization. I imagine they invited him to leave after getting that older woman's fiery email concerning their “expert researcher.”

The fellow showed up, nearly 300 pounds of him, and he struggled and wheezed getting his luggage into their home, satchels, briefcases, boxes of papers, other odds and ends. Once he was settled, the family expected an initial interview, or at least some background questions. He didn't interview them, but they chatted about Bigfoot in general the first day. That night, they asked if he'd like to go out and sit on their porch or on their back patio, keeping watch for any possible activity. No, he had paperwork to do and that could wait.

Long story short, they noted their guest spent his days doing his income taxes at their table, running up long distance phone call charges on their telephone, and seemed completely uninterested in the subject of Bigfoot—until nightfall. When a dog would give even a short bark, this fellow would move to a chair in the center of their living room, as far away from the windows as possible. If he needed something from his vehicle after sunset, he would ask one of the grandchildren to get it for him. If a suspicious sound was heard outside, he would move away from all windows and doors. He never went into the woods, and only gave the yard around their home one cursory examination. He was always inside long before nightfall and checked himself to make sure the doors were locked. It wasn't long before even the children realized the man was scared of the dark! Realizing even their grandkids had more courage, and tired of the “researcher” eating them out of house and home, in a few days they gave up on their disappointing guest and he was invited to leave.

I went over a few more times, and kept in telephone touch with the family. After a period of time passed, the Bigfoot seemed to move on to greener pastures. At last the family found peace again. During my last visit with them, however, I learned their “expert researcher” was still a subject they never found humor in. They're still mad at him. And I can't say I blame them, but that man was the only one of his kind I heard of while pursuing my odd hobby.

While talking with other Bigfoot researchers, I also heard what I came to call “the campfire stories.” These were Bigfoot tales, passed quietly from friend to friend, researcher to researcher, that were not funny at all. These led me to always advise people, “no matter what you see, never try to harm a Bigfoot!”

Despite even a single Bigfoot being capable of disassembling a car—or a human being--with ease, there's evidence they often travel in groups. Should you own some kind of terribly large rifle and draw a bead on one, there's a chance that the other three or four Bigfoot in the area which you haven't noticed are moving quietly towards you. And many reports from hunters high in deer stands claim they had a wandering  Bigfoot directly in their sights, only to nervously lower their weapons and allow it to pass. They felt it was too human to shoot. Huge, frightening, and unexplainable—but still too human to merely gun down.

Does Bigfoot, if he exists, live and interact with other animals?

There were other “campfire stories” of men who did not share that concern, who envisioned becoming instant millionaires and celebrities by bringing in the first dead Bigfoot. When they came up missing, worried relatives notified authorities and search parties were summoned. Some were never found, most were. Their coroner reports claim their deaths were caused by “bear attacks” or other unlikely causes and gave few, if any, details. Missing from these formal reports were notes of huge footprints found all around the bodies, or that their rifles had been shattered, in one case the steel barrel having been bent into a pretzel. The body of one would-be millionaire was found with few puncture wounds, but every bone in his body was shattered. He'd either been grabbed  and slammed back and forth like a rag doll, or he'd been jumped up and down on repeatedly by something very large and heavy. You'd hear things like that every now and then, but never see them in print. You simply can't find any evidence whatsoever they're true. But even in these stories told late at night among just a few I never heard one where a Bigfoot ever attacked a human without serious provocation.

There are statewide and nationwide Bigfoot investigative organizations, probably many more than you ever realized. These can all be found easily on the Internet. Among the members I corresponded with they share one universal hatred—hoaxers. Some hoaxers are just dull-witted enough to think by faking a Bigfoot they'll somehow prove they're smarter than the average guy. Others are more devious, thinking they'll make a quick buck out of the commotion and then everybody will just have a good laugh and go away with their wallets lighter. They never think it all the way through to the civil lawsuits, criminal charges for filing false police reports, and the permanent destruction of their reputations once exposed as sheer liars and troublemakers.

Eleven months after I saw that Bigfoot walk across the road in my headlights, I received an anonymous letter in my mailbox. It wasn't even in an envelope, just a neatly folded sheet of lined paper covered with writing. It told how one local man, for reasons unknown, decided to scare the daylights out of me by making me see a Bigfoot. The letter explained how he'd recruited another man to help him, claiming he'd let me in on the “joke” in a few days. It told how they watched the road, expecting me to make that run into town that night, and both men went to that dark and lonely spot in the road, one helping the other into a borrowed full-body gorilla suit (with reflective eyes), and the perpetrator's wife watched for my return from their home. Both parties were equipped with two-way radios. When the wife saw me returning, she radioed the men the next headlights they saw would be me. The whole thing was laid out in detail in that letter. I'd been had.

I called the man who the letter identified as “the helper” and asked if this was true. There was a long, embarrassed sigh, and he said yes. He told me if I wanted, I could drive to his house and punch him right in the nose and he would make no attempt to stop me. He was deeply ashamed of the whole thing. The real culprit had lied to him. I was never “let in on the joke” as he'd been told I would be and after enough time passed, the helper became afraid to tell me himself, thinking I might just go upside a few heads with a shovel. We talked a long time, him apologizing every thirty seconds, and in the end I forgave him. I knew him to be a good man, and he'd told me the truth when confronted.

The real scoundrel behind my hoaxing was not home when I called him. So I left an email. The next day I got a flimsy email reply claiming they never thought I would be “upset” or “take it so seriously,” as if they'd  merely stuck a “Kick Me” sign on my back at a party. No apology. No guilt. In fact they claimed to be surprised I was concerned at all. In other words, what they did was pretty funny and it was my fault for taking it so seriously.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. I showed that letter to all my neighbors, everyone in the community. Most were aghast that this couple would do such a thing. Within a couple of weeks everyone around here knew I'd been victimized by a cruel “joke,” and took my side immediately. The other guy? His standing in the community fell into the basement. Word spreads quickly in rural areas, and many asked themselves what if they had been the target of this evil scam? His local reputation, even long years later, never fully recovered. That's a very big deal in small communities.

Oddly enough, by that time I'd became so engaged in Bigfoot research that this didn't stop me. I'd been too many places, too far away, and seen things that only fired my curiosity harder. And like the men who had first visited me, I felt as if I'd become something of a “medic” for people who were badly rattled by their experiences. Just listening to their stories, letting them get it all out, giving them an understanding person to talk to and, probably most important, not laughing or making fun of them was of tremendous importance to these people. Yes, I told them, they'd seen something, but they had to remember it offered them no harm or violence, that they'd merely glimpsed it on its way elsewhere, probably out looking for food, deer most likely. I reminded them they'd never seen one before, and very probably would never see one again. I talked to them for hours. Usually by the time I would leave, just getting it off their chests to a sympathetic listener seemed to calm them greatly. I understood how they felt. What little good I ever did in that field of research, I believe my best contributions were those—just giving people someone to talk to. Just being human.

Is this closer to what Bigfoot, if he exists, looks like?

I followed up on reports for some time afterwards. Then one afternoon, slogging back to my truck in a drenching rain, I realized I could spend a lifetime doing this and still prove nothing.

So I finally quit. There were many reasons, among them lack of time and, eventually, even a lack of interest. I came to believe there would be no solid answers in my lifetime. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people worldwide are investigating Bigfoot (known as “Almasty” in Russia, where they too investigate them) and I became tired of being discovered myself, usually by foul-tempered farm dogs unused to people roaming about. Also, like so many before me, I grew disgusted and achingly tired of hoaxers. I did my part, made absolutely no real contributions to the sum of knowledge about Bigfoot, froze nearly solid, was rained on more often than not, got lost, chased by cattle and circled by a coyote pack once, and spent too much of my time and money. And I ran into too many snakes. I bloody hate snakes. I retired from that field and all forms of research years ago and have never regretted it once. And please don't write me with your Bigfoot story. Write to a research group.

What do I think they are? Beats me. That's for someone else to discover. But something is out there. You're welcome to go look for yourself. There's no license required to be a Bigfoot researcher and it's not against the law, although you might draw some strange looks now and then. And who knows? If you can talk one into following you back to town, you just might become that millionaire. But if he seems reluctant, I advise not pressing your luck.

In the end, we each have to make up our own minds—unless they're made up for us on some lonely stretch of road, or while camping in the remote areas. Should that happen to you, don't bottle it up. Tell friends you can trust, make a report to one of the many Bigfoot research outfits, talk it out. And allow me to leave you with one final “campfire story,” because Bigfoot can be amazingly human at times.

At a state park in Ohio, so I was told, a group of Girl Scouts were having a camp out. One of their activities, after dark, was to line up at their dwindling campfire and sing a song. After each verse, they would clap their hands in unison. Another verse, then they'd clap again, faster this time, repeating this until they were clapping as quickly as possible. Everyone was laughing and clapping themselves silly until one girl heard something shuffle behind her in the darkness. She turned and looked up. Just a few feet behind them, at the edge of the firelight, stood an eight foot tall Bigfoot, gleefully clapping along with the girls in perfect timing. It seemed to be enjoying itself immensely.

Girls screamed and ran in every direction, the last few to flee from the campsite noting that the Bigfoot actually looked disappointed when the fun was over. It turned and lumbered back into the forest, leaving behind what they always do; terror, wonder, sheer bewilderment, and a story that is no less than amazing.

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