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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > September October 2017 > BIGFOOT AS BIG MYTH: 7 PHASES OF MYTHMAKING

BIGFOOT AS BIG MYTH: 7 PHASES OF MYTHMAKING

During its history, the hairy man-beast has evolved through at least seven mythical embodiments.

Dedicated to the memory of Michael Dennett, on the fiftieth anniversary of "Bigsuit."

The hairy man-beast known as the “Sasquatch” or “Bigfoot” is now ever present in North American culture. Supposedly a throwback to our evolutionary past, it is an “ape-man” version of us just as the little-bodied, big-headed, humanoid extraterrestrial is a futuristic one. Together they represent powerful mythologies for our shrinking planet—Bigfoot as the very symbol of the endangered species and ET as the promise that we are not alone in the universe.

1 Reporting ‘Wild Men of the Woods’

In early North American accounts, the antecedent of today’s Bigfoot was typically called a “wild man of the woods”—a European term from as early as the sixteenth century (Nickell 2011, 44). From 1818, when the earliest known newspaper account (in the Exeter, New Hampshire, Watchman) referred to an animal “resembling the Wild Man of the Woods,” accounts over the next century used that term or variants, such as wild man, wild child, wild boys, or the like (Bord and Bord 2006, 3–24).

Typically the terminology described actual humans—including genetic oddities covered with hair and long-haired hermits and deranged people—but also the orangutan or other apes (thought perhaps escaped from traveling menageries) and real or imagined mystery woodland creatures. One creature, reported in Kansas in 1869 and referred to as a “wild man or animal,” had “a stooping gait” and “very long arms with immense hands or claws”—“generally” walking “on its hind legs but sometimes on all fours” (Bord and Bord 2006, 10). It was likely a bear, since bears often stand on their hind legs and even walk when in their “alert” mode (Nickell 2013). As cryptozoologist Jeff Meldrum (2006, 204) concedes, “In behavior and appearance, no other animal is more subject to anthropomorphism than is the bear.”

In the late 1830s, a “wild child” was reported swimming in an Indiana lake. In the 1860s, a Nevada creature was spotted carrying a rabbit and a club. A few others were similarly armed, including a six-foot bearded “wild man.” Another “wild man” had “long matted hair and a beard,” and so on. Such cases were reported well into the twentieth century (Bord and Bord 2006, 218–229). A few were allegedly captured—notably “Jacko,” a hairy “half man, half beast” who stood only four feet seven inches tall. It was supposedly apprehended in 1884 by railway men and kept in an area jail (as reported in a Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, paper), but the story appears to have been a reporter’s hoax (Nickell 2011, 57).

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Politicization of Scientific Issues: Looking through Galileo’s Lens or through the Imaginary Looking Glass Bigfoot as Big Myth: Seven Phases of Mythmaking The Fallacy Fork Why It’s Time to Get Rid of Fallacy Theory The Fakery of Electrodermal Screening
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