Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 13th, 2008
Saga Magazine December 1973
“In Pursuit of the Legendary Sasquatch” by William Childress
Bigfoot, Sasquatch, O-Mah — call it any of a dozen names-the legendary half-man, half-monster has haunted North America for the last 200 years. And although they have been sighted, heard, and tracked, not one has ever been captured. Now, two men have decided to solve the mystery of Bigfoot once and for all, and they’ve succeeded in doing what no one has ever done before -mount a methodical campaign to bring one of these strange creatures back alive.
The pursuit of this legendary creature has led Tom Biscardi and Gene Findley to some of the most hazardous terrain in the country. They have battled treacherous air currents flying low over Alaska as they scanned mountains and valleys with sophisticated electronic equipment trying to locate Bigfoot. They have uncovered hoaxes-but they have also come across evidence that cannot be denied. And they will continue their search until their ultimate goal is achieved-the actual capture of a Bigfoot! To show that they’re on the right track and have narrowed down their search to the most promising area, here is their proof — Saga Exclusive
The deep, throaty hum of the Cessna 172 cuts through the pitch-dark night. Hunched over the controls, his nerves strung like barbed wire, blond-bearded Gene Findley tries to master the powerful mountain currents that buffet the tiny plane.
It’s 3 a.m. of a cold, gray morning, somewhere over the wilds of Alaska. It is no time for a pleasure flight. “O.K., hold her steady now,” says Ivan Marx, a veteran hunter and tracker. “I’m starting the electronic sweep.”
Tanned and toughened, famed as an outdoors man who knows the wilderness like the palms of his hands, Marx keeps his eyes glued to a flickering blue-white screen. Though it looks like a television receiver, the device converts animal heat into an image of the beast being pursued.
In this case it’s Bigfoot–the legendary half-man, half-monster that has haunted North America for almost 200 years.
“If he’s out there,” Findley mutters grimly, eyes straining to spot jagged peaks in the inky darkness, “we’ll find him!”
The slender electronics expert, who works for a California firm, has spent long months perfecting his device. Beneath the belly of the plane juts a heat sensor rigged to a special camera. This is connected to the complex electronic unit in the rear of the Cessna. “It works on a heat-seeking principle,” he said over the roar of the engine, jabbing the air with his pipe stem and exhaling a cloud of smoke. “We think Bigfoot will have a body temperature different from most animals. The device — I call it simply my BF Analyzer–will pick up his body heat and transform it into an image on the screen. Reading that image will tell us whether we’ve got a moose, a bear–or Bigfoot.”
“Sounds like infrared light,” I ventured, recalling the sniper scope of my Korean War days.
“Infrared is used in my machine,” Findley smiled, and I knew he was not going to reveal any secrets. “The entire theory would take too long to explain. Suffice it to say we’re onto something, and with it we mean to prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot.”
This is quite a challenge for any man because Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Mountain Devil, Hairy Monster–call it any of a dozen other names–has never been captured, and has rarely been seen. And the expedition by Gene Findley and his partner, Tom Biscardi, is a serious long-range attempt to find the “monster.”
“And we’re going find him,” says stocky, black-haired Tom Biscardi, grimacing as he rubbed his still-swollen ankles. We are back in his luxurious San Jose, Calif., apartment, waiting for the latest word on any sightings from Ivan Marx and the other six members of the Alaskan expedition.
“I’m the drum beater,” Biscardi says. “Hell, somebody’s got to do it. I’ve sunk so much money in this thing now–so has Gene — that I have bad dreams at night. There’s this huge bill collector dressed up in a Bigfoot suit…”
He pauses, grinning, and takes a gulp of red wine. “The more interest we can get in finding this creature, the better. It takes a lot of cash to keep a specially-equipped plane flying over some of Alaska’s roughest country.”
Interest has been high. National news agencies have sent reporters to talk with Findley, Biscardi, and Marx. The reporters even went on the trail with them. “We lived in sleeping bags,” grunts Biscardi. “And snakes? Man, we were wrapping blankets around our legs and feet to guard against bites by timber rattlers. That terrain up there is so bad, so rough, I’m amazed someone hasn’t fallen into a crevice or canyon !”
Asked where the hunt was centered, Biscardi answered crisply, “Can’t tell you that. The place would be a Bigfoot circus in a matter of hours. Maybe you don’t know it, but there are thousands of people trying to find this creature all the time. The reason we’ve had better luck is because we’re better organized to stay in the field longer. This last time, we spent almost a month. I had to come back to raise money. The others are still up there, still on the alert. We’re close, too–damned close! Here, take a look at these.”
Two large, glossy color photos encased in plastic with the bluish tinge that comes from dim light were placed before me. The blowups, taken from 35mm color slides, showed a dark, furry creature remarkably resembling a man resting himself on–or perhaps climbing down–a cliff ledge. The cliff was almost sheer and composed of great, vertical slabs of stone.
“Ivan Marx took those early one morning, near dawn,” Biscardi said.
“He shot them at 280 yards with a telephoto lens. What do you think of them?”
“Could be a…”
“A man in a monkey suit?” Biscardi smiled. “I knew you were going s to say that. It’s one of the first comments we get. People are afraid not to be skeptical; they’re afraid of being laughed at.”
He paused, and finished the glass of red wine at a gulp. “But I agree-~it could be. But it’s not. You’re looking at the clearest pictures of a Sasquatch ever taken.” His eyes sparkled with the importance of his discovery. It was easy to see that Biscardi was convinced of Bigfoot’s existence. “Only one other photograph has come as close.” he went on. “And that was Roger Patterson’s 12-second film. That got folks pretty excited, especially when they blew up one of the frames and distributed it to the newspapers.” Regardless of what anyone feels about the Sasquatch, it is a durable legend. History is studded with sightings, shootings, and attacks by the gigantic furry beasts. First reports began about 1831, and have continued off and on ever since.
“Several hundred people have reported sightings just in the last century alone,” says Dr. Grover Krantz, Univ. of Washington anthropologist, who has studied plaster casts of Sasquatch foot and hand prints for years. “Possibly 10 times as many have failed to report sightings to newsmen or law officers, for fear of ridicule. But if this animal really exists, it would probably be man’s closest living relative and a member of the zoological family Hominidae.” Krantz examined the only known hand prints of Bigfoot brought to him by Ivan Marx and pronounced them genuine.
In Washington state, where numerous sightings have occurred, at least one county — Skamania–takes the beast’s existence seriously “enough to pass laws against killing it. Ordinance No. 69-01; passed in 1969, states: “Whereas there is evidence to indicate the possible existence in Skamania County of a nocturnal primate mammal variously described as an ape-like creature . . . willful and wanton slaying of any such creature shall be deemed a felony punishable by $10,000 fine and imprisonment for 5 years.” Pretty stiff penalties for a “myth.”
The years have brought both kooks and serious investigators to the Bigfoot scene–and more than one con artist. “We scared hell out of one faker,” Biscardi grins, recalling his early days as an investigator of Bigfoot sightings. “Some clown in a hair suit came leaping out of his skin when we fired a shot over his head.”
Bizarre myths have sprung up about the creature, which is supposedly a dark-colored “man-ape” eight feet tall, weighing close to 1,000 pounds. Almost brutally strong, it reputedly throws huge boulders as though they’re marbles. Although it has been sighted at least once in almost every state in the union, the Sasquatch is most often seen in the Cascade Range from Northern California to British Columbia.
“We’ve pushed it one farther,” Biscardi says, “into Alaska. We think it’s much more wide-ranging than previously thought.” Despite innumerable sightings, at least two films, and the Biscardi/ Findley photos, the only tangible evidence of Bigfoot’s existence are huge footprints cast in plaster by the finders. Those plus a few droppings, which, according to Biscardi, tend to decompose rather quickly.
“We get asked why no Bigfoot bodies are ever found,” he says. “The reason is simple: how long would a dead human body last in the woods? It would rot, or be scattered by animals. The same is true of Bigfoot corpses.” [sic]
Findley, along with many others, thinks the creatures retrieve and bury their dead. But since no “tombs” have been found, this idea merely adds fuel to skeptical fires. “If we can find million-year-old fossils of our ancestors,” says one archaeologist, “why can’t we locate a few Bigfoot bones–if indeed there are any.” Such skepticism does not daunt believers, and thousands have made Sasquatch-hunting a weekend sport. “We know the creatures are out · there,” said one hunter from the shelter of a camper, “and we think we’ll eventually see one. You have to realize, these beasts walk only at night. And they’ve eluded man for decades! It’s easy to be a skeptic, but I’ve seen proof enough for me, and that’s all I care about.”
Most of these Bigfoot hunters have seen–or claim to have seen–at least one footprint, usually deep in a remote section of wilderness. Another tells of the time when, late at night, he was coming back from a small mountain settlement near Lake Tahoe and saw “this huge, dark shape in bushes beside the road, with eyes glowing red as fire.” Biscardi claims the creature does have red, glowing eyes that see very well in the dark. “How else would it get around, leaping fallen logs and boulders, without some sort of cat-sight?”
But the footprints–and many apparently exist–are the most unique aspects of the Bigfoot legend. The most common size, 16 inches long, is found in snow, soft earth, mud, or even firm ground. Invariably, they show that the maker was extremely heavy. “This in itself might indicate the existence of Bigfoot,” says E. V. Griffith, of Eureka, Calif., where several Bigfoot hunts have taken place. ” I do believe in Bigfoot and in the reports the Hoopah [sic] Indians–and others–have turned in.” Griffith knows many Hoopahs, and I remember one trip with him to Willow Creek, Calif., near their reservation.
Beside the road, in a tiny park, stood a huge statue–half-man and half-beast–carved from a single redwood log by a local sculptor. A placard at its base read simply Bigfoot, and it is a prime attraction for people traveling through the area.
“I think this indicates that quite a few folks are pretty interested in the Sasquatch,” Griffith said. Eerie, often bizarre events seem to follow in the trail of Bigfoot hunts. Like the curse of ancient Pharaohs, the strange creature appears destined to take his toll.
“I’m not saying bad luck accompanies those who hunt the beast,” says Biscardi. “But it’s a little odd that no less than five people who were hot on Bigfoot’s trail have died?” Not only did they die, but except for the Russian investigator Porshnev and Ivan Sanderson, all were under 46 years of age.
Roger Patterson: This veteran Bigfoot hunter astonished the world by taking the only known color film of a running Sasquatch. The film, only 12 seconds long, spurred renewed interest in the search for the legendary creature.
Tom Slick: A millionaire Texas oilman from San Antonio, he grew intensely interested in the Bigfoot legend. He financed a major Bigfoot expedition–and shortly thereafter, for no explainable reason, his private airplane disintegrated in mid-air;
Ivan Sanderson: Sanderson was an author vitally interested in all phases of the Bigfoot “myth,” and painstakingly amassed huge files of information. In 1959, he put it all into a book. A decade later he was dead;
Prof. B. F. Porshnev: This noted Russian investigator shared his files with Americans, claiming that similar creatures existed in Russia. He went on many Bigfoot hunts, and amassed much material before returning home to Russia to study it. He died there recently;
Dr. Clifford Carl: Owner and operator of a Bigfoot museum in Washington (and a noted researcher into the legend of Bigfoot), his death at such a young age came as a shock to all who knew him.
Coincidence? Accidents? Natural causes? The cause of death is not in question. What is in question is the common denominator that each of these late investigator-hunters had begun to zero in on the Sasquatch. “You take Patterson and his movie,” Biscardi points out. “The man had experts view it and analyze it. He was getting too close–and he was struck down.”
Exactly how Patterson was “struck down,” Biscardi isn’t elaborating on. Asked if he was worried about something happening to his expedition, he suddenly grew morose.
“We’ve talked with hundreds of people, uncovered fakes, and explored hundreds of square miles of territory. All I can say is that when Ivan Marx took these pictures early one morning, and showed me the results, I had a feeling of foreboding.” And will it influence any decision to keep searching? “No way. First, our expedition isn’t a charitable one. Why should it be? We want to be the first to find Bigfoot because he will be worth millions to the finder. For that kind of potential wealth, I’m willing to take a few risks–and so are the other members of my expedition.”
Findley, the man of science, remained dispassionate during the discussion. “I want to prove my machine,” he says. “That’s my big reason for hunting Bigfoot. I also fly the plane on these searches. The only time we can get good, clear a reading on the screen is when the earth is cool. Remember we’re trying to track a creature by its body heat. Now, a man’s heat and an animal’s heat are different. Animals–large ones–usually run several degrees higher.”
He jabs the air with his pipe. “We’ll know whether we’ve got a moose, a bear, or a Bigfoot by the patterns thrown on the screen from our scanning device,” he says.
The blond, bearded, blue-eyed Findley is in sharp contrast with his stocky, black-haired partner. He is the scientist-calm, cool, detached. Biscardi is the entrepreneur—the man dedicated to getting the story known.
“Our biggest problem,” Findley adds, “is waiting for the earth to cool. Hocks, trees, anything that receives light gives back heat. That’s an elemental rule. It means our best flying time is in the wee hours of the night.”
In the rugged, sudden-death mountains of Alaska, Findley pilots his tiny craft at the dangerously low altitude of 600 feet. “The scanner can cover a wider area from a higher altitude,” he says, and gives a simplified explanation of a camera-lens device: like the U-2 flights, his lens expands coverage the higher it is from the target area. “Trouble is, for details we must get down closer to the target — much closer. Add to that our flying times — 2 a.m. to about 6 a.m.–and you get a pretty good picture.”
A pretty good picture of disaster perhaps. On a recent flight, the little Cessna 172 almost climbed a mountain the hard way. It has no supercharged engine and cannot develop “instant” power. Findley saw the darker mass rushing out of the blackness, made an immediate calculation from his mental flight pattern, and all but ripped the wings off pulling up and away. “That one shook us up a bit,” he recalls sheepishly.
Tales of giant-footed creatures have been around for more than a century, and of course the granddaddy of all “hairy giants” is the Yeti, or “Abominable Snowman” of the Himalayas. The staid Encyclopedia Britannica makes short shrift of this beast, calling it “… a mythical monster supposed to inhabit the Himalayas,” and adding that marks made by bounding boulders have been mistaken for “footprints.”
The Encyclopedia. Americana is more charitable. “It is said to have long, fine hair and the facial features of an ape,” the book says. “The first and second toes of the creature are large and widely opposed, while the third, fourth, and fifth toes are small and close together.”
The Americana does add that Sir Edmund Hillary led an Everest expedition in 1960 that did much to disprove the existence of the beast. Still, interest has never waned for long and throughout the centuries Man has shown keen belief in strange or supernatural beings.
The incredible number of tracks–in 1972 alone–is worthy of note: 102 were found on beaches or creek banks; 88 on mountainsides; 88 on cleared lands; 30 on trails or old abandoned roads; 16 in or near water; 12 in or near swamps; and seven in other varied locations.
The matter of the creature’s color is also of interest: brown is most frequently reported (58 times), and shades range from light to dark. Black was reported 40 times; another 45 were described merely as “dark” (understandable since most sightings are at dusk, at night in moonlight, or near dawn). There exist 26 sightings of gray Sasquatches, 20 of white ones, and eight “silver-tipped” or “light.”
Says one researcher and long-time Bigfoot chaser, “Bigfoot is no bear. Bears can’t make those types of tracks. What’s more, for years the theory has been advanced that some practical joker in a hair suit was making all the Bigfoot tracks. Yet no one has ever shown how it could be done, any way at all, while on the sides of mountains, or back in the wilds!”
Most authorities say Bigfoot eats berries, roots, and rodents, making the beast omnivorous in his dietary habits. Some “juvenile” Sasquatches have been seen (and one shot but not recovered), but female Sasquatch sightings are rare. There have been hundreds of adult male sightings.
Yet it is the historical records that furnish the most fascinating insights into this legendary half-man, half-monster.
Take the report of Patrick C. Flournoy, of Jessamine County, Kentucky, in 1831:
“Whilst descending the cliff on the north side of the Kentucky River I encountered a being whose visage was most horrible. He was lying upon the ground, his tail tied to the limb of a tree. The tramping of my horse frightened him and he bounded up a tree, climbing by his tail. Nearing the tree I surveyed his appearance. His hair was long and flowing, and he had but one eye, in the center of his forehead, which was white and near the size of a silver dollar…”
Either Flournoy had literary gifts of extraordinary scope, or he was potted–or he actually saw some bizarre creature and merely embellished slightly as any good~ Kentucky frontiersman would.
And what about the report that appeared May 7, 1831, in the New York Evening Post? An extract from the letter of Benjamin Harding to a Dr. Mitchell follows:
Respected Sir: — Permit me to commune with you on the subject of a natural American relic of great antiquity. It is the skeleton of an individual of the human race, measuring nearly 10 feet, which I have discovered in the western country…
This was several years before the “discovery” of a gigantic, buried fossilized man, later called The Cardiff Giant (and after fooling some of the finest scientific minds of the 19th Century, declared a hoax).
Judging by the weight of the world’s tallest man–called “giant” by medical definition–the tracks of Bigfoot might well have been made by a barefoot man of immense size. Such a man was Robert Pershing Wadlow, listed in the Guiness Book of Records, as the tallest human of whom there is irrefutable evidence. He was nine feet tall when he died in 1940, and weighed 491 pounds on his 21st birthday. His shoes were 18 I/4 inches long!
Acromegaly–a disease causing great enlargement of the hands and feet–is common among giants. Perhaps this, too, could have helped give oversize individuals the large extremities that seem so much a part of Bigfoot sightings.
I brought these topics up with Biscardi. He grinned and said, “I can see you’ve done your homework. Well, I’m not here to say whether there is or is not a Bigfoot or Sasquatch. All I want to do is prove it, one way or another. If there’s one thing skeptics and believers alike want, it’s for someone to get the hell out there and prove or disprove the creature’s existence!”
Nonetheless, both Biscardi and Findley — after investigating countless hoaxes–are convinced there is a Bigfoot.
So is Peter C. Byrne, Executive Director of the International Wildlife Conservation Society in Washington, D.C. In a recent letter to Biscardi he wrote:
“I and a small team have been in the field now, full time, for two years and five months on a search and investigation of the Bigfoot phenomena, and have learned a great deal…” Byrne has worked the northern Washington area, and now has his crew in The Dalles, Oregon, “which has produced some very convincing evidence within the last few years.”
Despite all the searches, pictures, and eyewitness reports, what shapes up so far is a “possible” but not yet a “probable.” Evidence indicates Bigfoot is hairy, dark-brown, huge, strong enough to toss 50-gallon oil-filled drums like baseballs, and nocturnal–the pure stuff and makings of mythology.
Various sightings have also had him as one-eyed (Cyclopean). 10 feet tall (gigantism), and weighing a ton, In spite of huge size, though, he lopes along as gracefully as a gazelle. He has been shot at, shouted at, stoned, and tossed into canyons. Yet no corpse has ever been found·
For almost 200 years, he has beleaguered, beguiled, bewitched, and bewildered the American imagination. At least once, in British Columbia, a “miniature” Sasquatch was captured. But those early reports make “Jacko” (as he was called) sound very much like a chimpanzee with mange.
He has — apparently pushed to the brink of madness–thrown great rocks at a cabin full of terrorized miners, knocking slabs from walls and roof–then bringing his buddies back to do more of the same. Yet no tracks were ever found. He has been sighted from the far Northwest to Florida, almost always at dusk or dawn, and often in winter. But when tracks have been found, they have been found in isolated areas away from the usual human habitations–although some mining and lumbering camps have their Sasquatch legends.
His names are as legion as he is legendary: Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Snowman, Smy-a-Likh, Giant Hairy Ape, Mountain, Devil, Dsonoqua, Bushman, O-mah, See-a-tik, Creek Devil, Wild Man, Yeti, and Abominable Snowman. And always, we have tried to kill him. “If we spot him from the air,” says Findley, “we won’t shoot him. We’re setting up an elaborate network to surround the area and capture him, if possible without harm. We plan to use a new type of tranquilizer gun. Our sole aim is capture, not kill. A dead Bigfoot is of no scientific use whatsoever.”
Finally, in an attempt to utilize every possible method of discovery, Biscardi recently confided he also has an expert in ESP on hand. “The guy is convinced he can communicate with the creature and assure it we mean no harm,” he grins. “Who am I to doubt it? Hell, J. B. Rhine of Duke University proved the existence of ESP decades ago! I’m giving him a crack at it, and gladly. Maybe he’ll turn up some data on the creature’s thought processes that will astound the world.”
Biscardi’s dark eyes gleam as he envisions the results. “And,” he murmurs, “I’d love to be the one to astound the world!” Biscardi may beat the drums, but he is seriously pursuing a legendary animal that, if it exists, could add untold knowledge to man’s still-limited awareness of himself and his origins. And as scientific ballast, there is Findley.
So if you happen to be driving in Alaska some dark night in late winter of 1973, and you hear the hard, determined drone of a plane echoing from distant crags, think of a slender 24-year-old electronics technician, his golden beard glinting in the light of instruments and scanner-screen. And think of Ivan Marx, who has hunted Bigfoot since 1951. And lastly, of Tom Biscardi, at 25 a young man who just may be closing in on one of the greatest discoveries of the century.
Whatever transpires, SAGA will be there to investigate it.