The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Living

April 23, 2011

Bigfoot: Fact or fiction?

PALESTINE — Under the piney wood canvas of East Texas, mysterious legends give way to area folklore. East Texas folklore has passed along the mythical tales of the strange and unusual for over 250 years, including the legend of the elusive creature known as Bigfoot.

For two-and-a-half centuries, East Texas has been reporting sightings of a massive, hairy, ape-like creature that is believed by some to dwell in the Pine Belt.

Before the early settlers began to tame the once wild East Texas, tales of a wild man or giant hairy creature were passed down through Native American Indian tribes, such as the Caddo Indians.

The history of sasquatch activity in the area has been documented since the 1830s, and the area has become a hotbed for Bigfoot believers hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious East Texas legend. Native American folklore dating back hundreds of years described tribes of hair-covered giants that lived in the forests.

Bigfoot, also known as sasquatch, the forest giant, or wild man, has been a topic of discussion for several centuries. Sighting of the elusive creature have reached the thousands, and many of those reports have come from East Texans. The piney woods are believed to provide the perfect conditions and plentiful food sources that would allow the creature to not only survive, but thrive in the area. Regardless of whether or not you are a serious Bigfoot hunter, the piney woods are a prime destination for the chance of an encounter.

According to the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy (TBRC), East Texas is home to the majority of reported sightings, 80 percent or more, within the Lone Star State. The area boasts of nearly 12 million acres of forestland and is home to four national forests and five state forests. Daryl Colyer, a TBRC researcher, attributes the numerous sightings in East Texas to the densely forested and sparsely populated land, which receives ample rainfall annually.

The first documented encounter that occurred in Texas was that of “The Wild Woman of the Navidad” in 1837, according to J. Frank Dobie, author of “Tales of Old-Time Texas.” The Texas Folklore Society recounted the tale of the wild woman in 1924 in “The Legends of Texas.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Bigfoot was a popular subject in East Texas newspapers and the source of many nightmares. East Texas history is rich with folklore and culture, and the legendary Bigfoot is deeply connected to the piney woods.

According to the TBRC, many witnesses who spot the upright walking creature hesitate to share their stories of the animal for fear of becoming the subject of much ridicule in their community and even among family and friends, and presumed to be the subject of a hoax or practical joke. Therefore, it is a popular belief among Bigfoot enthusiasts that many sightings occur but go unreported. There are many Bigfoot sceptics with many legitimate concerns, but at the end of the day, you either believe a highly intelligent, feral ape-like creature is roaming about in East Texas, or you do not.

One area resident, who agreed to comment on their encounter under the condition of anonymity, is a firm believer in Bigfoot. The witness has been in contact with the TBRC and facilitated searches near the Trinity River for the hairy giant. Her encounters allegedly occurred approximately three to four years ago. She claims to have laid eyes on the creature on two different occasions. The witness also said she had not only encountered one of the creatures but also knew others who have had similar encounters.

“I know people who have seen them, and on two occasions I have seen something that I cannot explain. I’m not stupid. I understand the concept of matrixing, but what I saw wasn’t that,” said the witness.

The long-time area resident then explained that her encounter was not at all uncommon and said, “Rumors and stories about Bigfoot have been around for centuries. Presidents have even reported sightings.”

The local witness is waiting for the day hard evidence surfaces that will eliminate doubt of the creature’s existence. According to the TBRC and other wildlife specialists, there are many reasons that remains have not yet been found. It is rare to come across the remains of a large animal in the wild. The decomposition process is much faster than most realize, and there are plenty of scavengers who are looking for an easy meal.

“I firmly believe it is just a matter of time before there is scientific evidence to support this claim,” she said.

Four reports of Bigfoot sightings in Anderson County have been documented by the TBRC. Neighboring counties have also seen their faire share of the creature. Cherokee County has produced two documented sightings, and Rusk County has reported a whopping nine encounters. Closer to the Texas-Louisiana border, Harrison County, which is considered to be a hotbed for Bigfoot sightings, has reported eleven sightings. Though each sighting that does get reported varies in some form or another, the details of the creature are always similar, if not the same.

The last two Bigfoot sightings that are documented from Anderson County both occurred in 1998. The first Bigfoot sighting that year was during the cold winter months of February. Two young men, approximately 16 years old, were rendered speechless after encountering what they claim could have only been a Bigfoot. While on a camping trip near the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area in Blackfoot, Texas the two teens allegedly got a look at a massive upright creature from roughly 20 yards away.

According to the interview conducted by the TBRC’s Craig Woolheater, the two young men were spotlighting for rabbits at approximately 2 a.m. The two teens were slowly fanning the spotlight across the property when they saw something much, much larger than a rabbit. Just ahead of the light they noticed something big, reportedly eight feet tall, and moving quickly, trying to avoid the light. The boys said the creature appeared to have grayish-brown hair covering its body and long arms. The creature then allegedly crossed a five-strand barbed wire fence with no hesitation and great ease. The witnesses reported hearing no sound in the event of the crossing, according to Woolheater’s investigative report. The report said that after the sighting, the two young witnesses sat “in stunned silence” for a few moments before leaving the area as quickly as possible.

A few months later in October, another local had a brush with Bigfoot. The Palestine resident told the TBRC that he was headed to Wolf Creek Lake outside of Palestine. According to TBRC Investigator Daryl Colyer’s report, the witness said before arriving at the lake he had to make an unexpected stop in order to relieve himself. The witness stepped from his truck over to the edge of the woods, approximately 20 yards away. As he began to take care of business, the witness reported to Colyer hearing "leaves crushing and heavy footsteps." Colyer also noted that the footsteps sounded “bi-pedal.”

The nervous witness moved quickly away from the woods back towards his truck. The witness reported that the footsteps became louder and faster the closer he came to his truck. According to Coyler, the witness said when he stopped, the heavy footsteps belonging to the creature that was “stalking” him would also stop.

As the witness finally reached his truck, he heard the heavy footsteps begin to run toward him, according to investigative reporter Colyer. As the witness sped away, he looked in his rearview mirror. The witness told the TBRC that he saw a “big dark figure” standing in the middle of the road on two legs. He also described the creature as appearing to be “taller than his truck” and “wide and thick.” Colyer’s investigations said the witness was unable to discern any further details about the creature as he fled the scene.

Other Bigfoot sightings in Anderson Count y took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both encounters were documented over twenty years later with the TBRC. One report details a hunter’s encounter with the creature, and the other tells of a group of children that had a close encounter with the hairy giant.

In 1978, a hunter witnessed Bigfoot from just a few feet away. The witness, who is a minister according to the TBRC investigative report conducted by Mike Hall, had been hunting with a group of friends on the Neches River bottom, just south of Highway 84.

According to Hall’s report, the group bedded down for the night. The witness explained that another member in his group began to complain that something was touching his head through the tent wall. After the individual made multiple claims that something was touching him through the tent wall, the group of men went outside to investigate what could be disturbing their friend. The witness described a strong odor permeating in the air after exiting the tent and related it to “something dead mixed with a strong sweet smell,” according to Hall.

The group dismissed the smell and went back to bed. The witness later left his tent to relieve himself approximately 20 yards away from the tent. That is when the witness claimed to have encountered a hairy nine-foot-tall creature, weighing in at 500, maybe 600 pounds. The witness described locking eyes with the creature for what seemed like an eternity until he eventually turned and screamed for the others who were still sleeping in the tent. Just as mysteriously as the creature had appeared, he had disappeared. The witness described the sounds of the creature barreling off through the heavily wooded area, breaking limbs and snapping trees.

A few years later in 1983, a group of children were riding their bikes through the piney woods around dusk between Highway 84 and FM 323 outside of Palestine. According to the report filed by one of the eyewitnesses two decades later, when the peddling youngsters reached the top of one hill they agreed to take a break. As they took in the lay of the land from the tall hilltop, their eyes were met with amazement. According to Colyer’s investigative report, the witness “knew what he saw, and there was no mistaking what he saw for anything else.”

The group locked eyes with the creature, and neither party ever broke eye contact. The witness recalled the deadlock staring to have lasted approximately thirty seconds. According to the witness, the creature then bent at the waist, careful to maintain eye contact the entire time, and picked up a hickory nut. The creature allegedly stood straight up, cracked the nut between his finger and thumb, and then ate the nut, all the while staring at the group of children. The creature chewed the nut for a few seconds and then began to venture back off into the forest. The witness said the creature walked away from the area very slowly, glancing back at the group over its left shoulder until he disappeared into the dense East Texas piney woods.

Colyer also noted during his investigation that the witness described the subject’s face as “creepy” and “not human-like, but kind of human.” Colyer’s report also stated the children hurried home to inform their parents of what they had witnessed in the woods. According to Colyer, the adults “ridiculed” the children. The witness told Colyer the group convinced two of the adult males to return to the area of the sighting. The witness claimed tracks were indeed visible;however, the adults dismissed the tracks as well.  The witness also told Colyer he has never returned to the area of the sighting to this day.

Anderson County residents, just as most East Texans, are not sure what to make of the claims that Bigfoot is roaming about. Most do not acknowledge the claims, and those who do are convinced it is nothing more than wild imaginations running away from a wooly booger derived from a cockamamie myth told to scare children years ago. Others believe the government is conducting experiments with gorillas deep in the bottoms of the piney woods.

Other areas prone to Bigfoot sightings, such as Uncertain, Sabine, and Caddo Lake, are also popular areas frequented by Bigfoot enthusiasts. According to TBRC’s Woolheater, Caddo Lake is a land of Bigfoot.

Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas. It consists of 25,400 acres of wetland located between the Texas-Louisiana border. The lake is full of lush vegetation, sloughs, bayous, and creatures of all kinds. It is also home to the world’s largest cypress forest.

Angie, a tour guide of Caddo Lake and long time Uncertain resident, said she has never seen the creature but did not rule his existence out.

“If there is such a thing as Bigfoot, this is where he’d be,” Angie said.

What would it take to prove the East Texas Bigfoot is more than a myth? That question is moot for anyone who has claimed to encounter the creature; they already have their proof. The TBRC is actively attempting to obtain compelling photographic or video evidence of a large undocumented primate species that lives in the piney woods.

This June, the TBRC will begin conducting a forty-five day continuous research operation known as Operation Endurance. The lengthy investigation will involve multiple small four-person teams of TBRC investigators. Then in August, the TBRC will conduct a shorter research operation. Operation Long Arms will last seven days and take place at a remote location deep within the Rocky Mountains.

Throughout East Texas history there has been something “out there” in the piney woods.

If you or someone you know believes you have encountered an East Texas Bigfoot, you are encouraged to call and report your sighting to TBRC.

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Dana Goolsby can be reached for comment at dana.n.goolsby@gmail.com.

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