Presidential Bigfoot

This story is important for acouple of reasons.  It is dated from the1880’s and recalls an event taking place in the 1830’s before either thesignificant advent of Europeans or their rifles quite able to make anyintelligent animal wary.  This ispossibly the earliest rep0ort of a bigfoot and it is told long before a mass ofreports shaped the story itself or even made such knowledge available.

More importantly, the observer isa class A observer.  I have read hundredsof individual reports and can include only a half dozen or so class A observers.  By this I mean the observer must have livedyears directly in the environment as part of his occupation and must depend onhis observation skills for his livelihood making error implausible.  My list includes a grizzly hunter and guide whobagged over 300 bears and made two separate observations and a senior guide in Yellowstone who made one observation.

Please note that these individualsmade at best two such observation in a lifetime of opportunity.  That is the norm.  In fact the best observations made by othersalso occur when the observer surprises a creature.  The creature is seen before he has a chanceto retire.

As may be deduced from this it ishardly surprising that the creature was nearly legendary to the natives.  This animal largely used the forest andgeneral cover as a matter of course to avoid contact and this continues intothe present were we now have thousands of individual reports.

The earliest reports show ananimal less shy of human contact than at present.  This report shows us an animal angered byintruders in his domain.  It may wellhave considered these strangers some form of competition and reactedaccordingly.  Later reports have stone throwingepisodes, again possibly a result of intruding on home ground.

In the event, this reportconforms to our expectations and other similar reports.  This observer’s good fortune was to beinterviewed by Teddy Roosevelt who was both sympathetic and a competent reporterprepared to stare down naysayers.  Howmuch has been lost for the lack of such?


Teddy Roosevelt during his time as a rancher.

Just 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt was the country’s chiefexecutive and favorite son. His personality was larger than life. His exploitscaptured people’s imaginations worldwide. After the death of his first wife in1884, Roosevelt spent two years as a rancher and hunter on his ranch in theBadlands of Dakota Territory. He climbed downfrom the saddle long enough to pen three books during this period. In 1893, hepublished a lengthy and most entertaining narrative entitled The WildernessHunter: An Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase withHorse, Hound, and Rifle, a memoir of sorts of his days in the territories.Among the stories recorded here is what seems to have been a 19th-centuryBigfoot encounter.

The Frontiersman’s Tale

The report came to Roosevelt from thelips of a grizzled old mountain man named Bauman, who had spent the entirety ofhis very long life on the frontier. As he recollected the details of the event,Bauman had difficulty controlling his emotions. The event was very real to him.

Bauman was a trapper as a young man. His strange encounter occurredsometime between 1810 and 1840 when he and a partner were trapping in an areaaround the forks of the Salmon and Wisdom rivers in the BitterootMountains, near the border of Idaho and Montana.The trapping business was rather lean so the two frontiersmen decided to trytheir skills in a remote area around a small mountain stream that seemed tohave a lot of beaver signs.

This area had a rather sinister reputation. A year earlier, a lonehunter had wandered into the area and been slain by a wild beast. Hishalf-eaten remains were discovered by a prospector. People who knew of thestrange killing gave that area a wide berth, but this did not deter the twoadventuresome trappers.

Bauman and his partner rode to within a four-hour hike of the areawhere they were going to trap. They hobbled their mountain ponies in a beavermeadow and set off on foot into the underbrush of the Bitteroot Range.

The trappers hastily erected a lean-to  where they stowed theirpacks, then hurried upstream to set a few traps and explore for signs beforenightfall. When they returned to their makeshift camp at dusk, they made anunpleasant discovery. Their packs had been vandalized, and their gear thrown inevery direction. Whatever attacked the camp had been vigorous in its assault,churning up the ground and completely destroying the lean-to.

Such vandalism was completely out of place. Frontiersmen knew of thehardship of survival. Lean-tos might stand for years as hunter after hunterused them and passed on their way. Packs were far too valuable to be recklesslystrewn on the ground; they might be purloined by the unscrupulous, but nevervandalized. Bears and other creatures might be drawn to food, but this wasevidently not the case. It appeared someone was bent on destroying their packs.

As the unfortunate trappers gathered up their possessions, they noticedfootprints in the ground that were “quite plain.” The urgency of salvagingtheir goods and rebuilding the lean-to required their immediate energies. Thefootprints, plain or otherwise, would have to wait.

Two Long Nights

When the camp was restored, Bauman began cooking a meal while hispartner examined the footprints by torchlight. Returning for another firebrand,he remarked that the attacker walked on two legs. Bauman broke into laughter atthe idea of a marauding bear walking upright as it demolished the camp. Hispartner insisted the bear must have walked on its hind legs and took a largerfirebrand to examine the tracks in more detail. The prints clearly indicatedthat they were made by a creature that walked upright, having been made by twopaws or feet.

Around midnight, Bauman was awakened by a noise. An awful stench filledhis nostrils, the strong odor of a wild beast. By the opening of the lean-to,he saw the menacing shadow of a great body lurking in the darkness. He firedhis rifle. The shot either missed its intended mark or did little harm to thetowering form, but whatever it was ran off. The curtain of night could notobscure the sounds of something very large forcing its way through the thickunderbrush surrounding the camp.

The second half of the night passed slowly as the trappers watchfullytended the fire. Nothing more of the great thing was heard, seen, or smelledthat night.

When daylight came the two men set out to check their traps and makeadditional sets. Both were experienced mountain men, but instead of separatingand covering twice as much area, they worked together all day. The events ofthe previous night obviously impacted them enough to alter their behavior.

As the last light of the afternoon began to give way to the ensuingnight, the men reached their camp. It was déjà vu: again the camp had beendestroyed. All their possessions had been rummaged and tossed about. The earthwas churned up, indicating a great deal of furious activity. In the soft, dampearth near the stream were found clear footprints as crisp as if made in snow.The tracks were made by a creature that was obviously bipedal.

As darkness surrounded them, the trappers restored their camp as bestthey could, concentrating their efforts on building a roaring fire. That night,they could hear branches breaking in the underbrush, indicating that it wasnear. Occasionally it emitted long, drawn-out groans and moans, sounds thatproved to be terrifying to the two men.

With the arrival of the new day came a decision. Although the areashowed signs of an abundance of game, very little had been taken so far.Combined with the harassment of the unwelcome camp follower, the trappersdecided to leave.

As the two men collected the traps they had set the day before, theyfelt the presence of someone or something watching them, dogging them. Theirawareness of this phantom seemed to intensify their resolve to leave the area.

A Fatal Decision

But the light of day began to work on their manhood. They feltembarrassed about sticking so close together. Both men were experienced inwilderness survival. Both had faced danger from man, beast, and the elementsbefore and had prevailed. Perhaps this reasoning influenced their next move.They decided to separate. Bauman was to check the remaining traps while hispartner returned to camp and pack. They would meet at the camp and movesomewhere else.

Fortune blossomed at the wrong time: each of the three remaining setshad caught a beaver. One of the poor creatures had fought with the trap andtangled the chain in a beaver lodge, requiring extra time to untangle. By thetime Bauman had skinned the beaver carcasses and stretched the pelts, most ofthe afternoon was gone. As the last moments of daylight were disappearing, heneared the camp.

An eerie silence seemed to envelop the site. No birds could be heard.Bauman’s steps were muted by the pine needles and even the perpetual breeze ofthe mountains was still. He whistled, expecting a reply from his partner. Noacknowledgement was heard. All was silent.

Within sight of the camp, Bauman saw that the fire was out, a thin bluesmoke trailing from the dying embers. His partner’s lifeless body lay stretchedon the ground by the trunk of a fallen tree. The body was still warm. The poorman’s neck had been broken. Four fang-like incisions marked the throat.Footprints indicated the attack was from an animal that walked on two legs.

Upon completion of packing, the unfortunate trapper must have sat onthe tree trunk facing the fire waiting for Bauman to return. Reaching out frombehind the resting man, the unknown creature must have wrenched the trapper’sneck. Evidence indicated that whatever killed the lone trapper had thrown thebody about and rolled on it.

Bauman abandoned the camp, taking only his rifle. He made his way downthe mountain pass to the hobbled ponies in the beaver meadow, then rode beyondthe point of pursuit.

Roosevelt noted that Bauman was of German ancestry,and would have heard many a ghost and goblin story as a child. In his years onthe frontier he would have heard tales of the unexplained and of the magic ofthe Indian medicine man. As a hunter and trapper he would have learned thetrack of every animal in the area. Roosevelt did not doubt that an incidenttook place, but he gives the impression that a psychological explanation wouldaccount for the unexplainable part of the story.

According to this report, a large, foul-smelling creature that appearedto be bipedal repeatedly attacked two young frontiersmen in the region of the Bitterroot Mountains. What was it? Roosevelt did not say. However, something about the storyof the old mountain man must have impressed the future president deeply for himto include it in his great narrative of the frontier West.

Written by Gary W. Hemphill, a writer living in Greenville, Pennsylvania.Story published in FATE Feb/Jan 2009.

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