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Articles and Scientific Papers...

Bluff Creek

By Ivan T. Sanderson

In August of 1958 — on the morning of the 27th to be precise — a very sane and sober citizen by the name of Mr. Jerald Crew, of Salyer township, Humboldt County, northwest Califonia, an active member of the Baptist Church, a teetotaler and a man with a reputation in his community that can only be described as heroic in face of certain almost unique pensonal tragedy, went to his work with heavy-duty equipment at the head of this new lumber access road being pushed into uninhabited and only roughly surveyed territory near the borders of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. This huge block of territory is crossed kitty-corner from the south at Willow Creek to the northeast by a winding blacktop road, and from east to west by only four other roads of lower grade. Logging trails and some "jeep-roads" now finger into it from these roads and from the main arteries that enclose it to north, west, south, and east, but these are of very limited extent and are hardly used at all. Jerry Crew's crawler-tractor had been left overnight at the head of the new road about 20 miles north of its digression from the narrow blacktop that runs north through the Hoopa (as it is on maps) Amerindian Reservation from Willow Creek to a place with the delightful name of Happy Camp up near the Oregon border.

Jerry was an older member of a crew bulldozing this new road into virtually unexplored territory for one Mr. Bay Wallace, subcontractor to Messrs. Block and Company who had, in turn, contracted with the National Parks Service to carry out the work. He is a local man. His fellow workers were for the most part also local men and included a nephew, James Crew, a very level-headed young chap, others whom I shall mention by name in a minute, and two experienced loggers of Huppa Indian origin. The crew had considerable heavy equipment at the scene of operations and had started work in late May as soon as what little snow there is in this area had melted and the much more deadly mud had firmed up. The road had been under construction for two seasons already. The country is mountainous; though this is the understatement of the year, being to most intents and everywhere almost vertical so that you can only go up on all fours or down on your bottom. Unless you make an exaggerated and exhausting climb you cannot see more than about four square miles of the country because you are always on the side of something going either straight up or almost straight down and unless a tree has fallen or been cut out, you can't see anything because bare rock is confined to the uppermost summits of the peaks and ridges. The road crawls laboriously up the face of the western wall that encloses a stream known as Bluff Creek. It is still unsurfaced and when I visited it in 1959 was ankle-deep in ultra-fine dust that surpasses anything the deserts of Arizona can produce at their damnedest. All along this mountainous trail there are the stumps of vast trees cut and hauled out, and great slides of friable shales, gray, brown, blue, or even green that have been sliced out of the sheer valley side. The great dozers and crawlers clank and roar in the hot summer sunlight as they gnaw their relentless way into this timeless land. The great trees seem to recoil a little from their mechanical jangling and screeching, but day by day these bright yellow and red monsters munch away ever deeper into one of the last of America's real wildernesses.

Those employed on this work lived during the work-week in camp near this road- head. They had trailers or tents or prefabricated houses and some of them had their families with them and stayed there all week. Others with families resident in nearby communities normally went home on Friday night and returned on the following Monday morning. The younger fellows usually did likewise, for the drive to Willow Creek took only about 2 hours for those who knew the road. Jerry Crew's practice was to return to his family over the week end, leaving his machine parked at the scene of current operations. He had been on this job for 3 months that year before the eventful morning which blew up the storm that literally rocked Humboldt County, California and made the pages of the world press but which then sort of folded in upon itself and was heard of no more for a year.

What Jerry Crew discovered when he went to start up his "cat" was that somebody had inspected it rather thoroughly during the previous night, as could be plainly seen by a series of footprints that formed a track to, all around, and then away from the machine. Such tracks would not have aroused his curiosity under normal circumstances because there were three dozen men at that road-head and the newly scraped roadbed was covered with soft mud areas alternating with patches of loose shale. What did startle him was that these footprints were of a shoeless or naked foot of distinctly human shape and proportions but by actual measurement just 17 inches long!

Of these, Jerry Crew took an extremely dim view. He had heard tell of similar tracks having been seen by another road gang working 8 miles north of a place called Korbel on the Mad River earlier that year and his nephew, Jim Crew, had also mentioned having come across something similar in this area. Being a pragmatic family man he felt, he told me, some considerable annoyance that some "outsider" should try to pull such a silly stunt on him. He at first stressed an outsider because, although his fellow workers liked a harmless joke as much as any man, he knew they were far too tired to go clomping around in the dark after the sort of working day they put in on that job, making silly lootprints around the equipment. Then, he tells me, he got to thinking about this outsider and wondered just how he had got there without passing the camps farther down the road and being spotted, and how he had gotten out again, or where he had gone over these precipitous mountains clothed in tangled undergrowth. He followed the tracks up. And that is where he got his second shock.

Going backward he found that they came almost strain down an incline of about 75 degrees on to the road ahead the parked "cat", then proceeded down the road on one side, circled the machine, and then went on down the road toward the camp. Before getting there, however, they cut across the road and went straight down an even steeper incline and continued into the forest with measured stride varying only when an obstacle had to be stepped over or the bank was so steep purchase could be obtained by digging in the heels. The stride was enormous and proved on measurement to be from 46 to 60 inches and to average about 50 inches or almost twice that of his own. Jerald Crew was not only mystified; he was considerably peeved. He went to fetch some of his colleagues. Then he received his third shock that morning.

The majority of them, stout fellows and good friends that they were, refused to even go and look at this preposterous phenomenon that he told them he had found and he had a hard time persuading any of them that even the tracks were there. Eventually, some of the men, who had in any case to go that way to their work, agreed to go along with him and take a look. Then they got their shocks and, Jerry told me, some of them "looked at me real queer." But there were others who reacted differently, and it then transpired that all of them had either seen something similar thereabouts or elsewhere, or had heard of them from friends and acquaintances whom they regarded as totally reliable. The only Amerinds present said nothing at that time. Then they all went back to work.

Nothing further happened for almost a month, then once again these monstrous Bigfeet appeared again overnight around the equipment and farther down the road toward the valley, notably around a spring. About that time, Mr. Bay Wallace, the contractor, returned from a business trip. He had heard rumors on his way in that either his men were pulling some kind of stunt up in the hills or that some "outsider" was pulling one on them. He paid little attention to these reports but he was, he told me, somewhat apprehensive because the job was a tough one, skilled and reliable workers were not plentiful, and the location was not conducive to the staying power of anyone. When he reached the camp and heard the details of the Bigfeet he was more than just skeptical. He was downright angry. Moreover, all he encountered was more talk which he at that time suspected was some sort of prank but just possibly one prompted by more than mere high spirits or boredom.

The matter was until then and for a further 3 weeks a purely local affair known only to the men working on the road, and their immediate families for they did not care to speak about it to casual acquaintances or even friends. Then, in the middle of September a Mrs. Jess Bemis, wife of one of the men working on the road and one of the skeptics among the crew, wrote a letter to the leading local newspaper, the Humboldt Times of Eureka, which said in part "A rumor started among the men, at once, of the existence of a Wild Man. We regarded it as a joke. It was only yesterday that my husband became convinced that the existence of such a person (?) is a fact. Have you heard of this wild man?" Mr. Andrew Genzoli of that paper told me that he regarded this letter with a thoroughly jaundiced eye but that the longer he saw it about his desk the brighter grew the clear blue light of his built-in news-sense, until he could restrain himself no longer and ran the letter in a daily column that he writes.


Jerry Crew with one of the footprint casts (from The Province newspaper, 6 October 1958)

There was little response where he had expected a near storm of derision; instead a trickle of tentatively confirmatory correspondence began to come in from the Willow Creek area. This was continuing sub rosa when, on October 2, the maker of the tracks appeared again on his apparently rather regular round leaving tracks for 3 nights in succession and then vanishing again for about 5 days. This time Jerry Crew had prepared for his advent with a supply of plaster of Paris and made a series of casts of both right and left feet early one morning. Two days later he took a couple of days off to drive to Eureka on personal business and carried the casts along with him to show to a friend. While there somebody mentioned to Andrew Genzoli that a man was in town who had made casts of the prints and he was persuaded to go and fetch Jerry. Andrew Genzoli is an old newshand but of the new school; he can sense a good story as fast as any man but he is properly averse to too good a story. When he met Jerry Crew and saw his trophies he realized he had some real live news, not just a "story," on his hands, and he ran a front-pager on it with photographs the next day. Then the balloon went up.

The wire services picked it up and almost every paper in the country printed it while cables of inquiry flooded in from abroad. The first I heard of it was a cable from a friend in London: he seemed to be slightly hysterical. I get a lot of esoteric cables during the year about sea monsters, two-headed calves, reincarnated Indian girls, and so forth, the majority of which I am constrained to do something about because the world is, after all, a large place and we don't know much about a lot of it as yet, but this one I frankly refused to accept mostly because I rather naturally assumed that the location as given (California) must be a complete error or a misquote. I wracked my brains for any place name in Eurasia or Africa that might have nine letters, begin with "K" and end in "ia." The best we could come up with was Corinthia but this was even more unlikely. Then somebody suggested Carpathia, the country of Dracula and other humanoid unpleasantnesses, and we actually spent 6 dollars on a follow-up. There are few people interested enough in such abstruse matters as to spend that sum in pursuit of truth but I fancy there were many on the morning of October 6, 1958 who doubted what they read in their morning papers just as fervently as I did this cable.

The point I want to make is that this whole bit did sound quite absurd even to us, who became immune to such shocks years ago. It is all very well for abominable creatures to be pounding over snow-covered passes in Nepal and Tibet; after all giant pandas and yaks, and an antelope with a nose like Jimmy Durante, and other unlikely things come from thereabouts; and it is even conceivable that there might be little hairy men in the vast forests of Mozambique in view of the almost equally unlikely more or less hairless pigmies of the eastern Congo which are there for all tourists to see, but a uild man with a 17-inch foot and a 50-inch stride tromping around California was then a little too much to ask even us to stomach, especially as we had not yet got the news-stories. The amazing thing in this case was that the world press took it seriously enough even to carry it as a news item.

Not so the rest of humanity. One and all, apart from a few ardent mystics and professional crackpots, and including even the citizens of Humboldt County itself rose up in one concerted howl of righteous indignation. Everybody connected with the business, and notably poor Mr. Genzoli, was immediately almost smothered in brickbats. In the meantime however, a number of other things had happened. Most notable among these was the reappearance of "Bigfoot" as he was called one night before Ray Wallace returned to his operationans. Now it so happened that a brother of the contractor, Wilbur Wallace, was working on this job and he, besides seeing the foot-tracks many times, witnessed three other annoying and to him most startling occurrences, which he had reported to his brother. I will repeat these roughly in his own words which appeared to me not only straightforward but most convincing.

First, it was reported to him by one of his men that a nearly full 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel which had been left standing beside the road was missing and that Bigfoot tracks led do the road from a steep bank to this spot where it had stood, then crossed the road, continued on down the hill and finally went over the lower bank and away into the bush. Will Wallace went to inspect and found the tracks exactly as the men had stated. He also found the oil drum at the bottom of steep bank about 175 feet from the road. It had rolled down this bank and had apparently been thrown from the top. What is more, it had been lifted from its original resting place and apparently carried to this point, for there were no marks in the soft mud of its having been either rolled or dragged all that distance. Second, a length of 18-inch galvanized steel culvert disappeared from a dump overnight and was found at the bottom of another bank some distance away. Third, he reported a wheel with tire for a "carry-all" earth-mover, weighing over 700 pounds, had likewise been in part lifted and in part rolled a quarter of a mile down the road and hurled into a deep ravine. Ray Wallace, however, still remained skeptical even after hearing this from his own brother. However, on his first morning at the location he stopped for a drink at a spring on the way down the hill and stepped right into a mass of the big prints in the soft mud around the outflow. Then, I gather from him, though he is a man with a wonderfully good humor, he got "good and mad." There was for him no longer any question about the existence of these monstrous human-like tracks but there remained the question as to who was perpetrating them, and why. Ray Wallace is a hard-boiled and pragmatic man and he was already experiencing trouble keeping men on the job. Handpicked as they were not a few had just had to leave for one apparently good reason or another. Only later did he learn that almost all of them did so not because they were scared by the Bigfoot, but either because their wives were or because of the ribbing they had to take when they went back to civilization, even for the evening to nearby Willow Creek.

Ray Wallace said he at first thought somebody was deliberately trying to wreck his contract and he was not alone. However, the local representative of the Humboldt Times, Mrs. Elizabeth (Betty) Allen, set about to investigate the possibility on her own, and discovered beyond a doubt that neither good nor bad publicity, nor any kind of "scare" actually made any difference to Mr. Wallace's contract. First he was a subcontractor; second he was more than up to schedule; third there was no time set on the job; and fourth, it was basically contracted by Messrs. Block and Company with the Forest Service on a performance, not a time, basis. Ray Wallace got so angry he brought in a man named Ray Kerr, who had read of the matter in the press and asked for a job in order to be able to spend his spare time trying to track the culprit. Kerr brought with him a friend by the name of Bob Breazele, who had hunted professionally in Mexico, owned four good dogs, and a British-made gun of enormous caliber which considerably impressed the locals. Kerr, an experienced equipment operator, did a full daily job: Breazele did not take a job but hunted.

Tracks were seen and followed by them. Then one night in late October, these two were driving down the new road after dark and state that they came upon a gigantic humanoid or human-shaped creature, covered with 6-inch brown fur, squatting by the road. They said it sprang up in their headlights and crossed the road in two strides to vanish into the undergrowth. They went after it with a flashlight but the underbrush was too thick to see anything. They measured the road and found it to be exactly 20 feet wide from the place where the creature had squatted to the little ditch where it had landed after those two strides. Spurred by this encounter they redoubled their hunting forays but their dogs disappeared a few days later when they were following Bigfoot's tracks some distance from the road-head. They were never seen again though story was told — but later denied by its teller — that their skins and bones were found spattered about some trees. Though this story was denied, there is as much reason to believe that this was done to obviate ridicule as to clear a conscience.

All this was, of course, taken with hoots of derision by everybody even in Willow Creek who bad not seen any tracks — but with one notable exception. This was Andrew Genzoli and he sent his newspaper's senior staff photographer to Bluff Creek. The party saw fresh tracks at night and photographed them. They also found something else; as did Ray Wallace later. (I have this first hand from these professional skeptics.) At first, the photographer told me, he was more than just skeptical but when he found the tracks and inspected them he not only was convinced that they were not a hoax or a publicity stunt but, as he put it, "I got the most awful feeling that I can't really describe, but it was nearer fright than anything I ever felt when in service." But worse was in store for the newsmen for, in following the tracks down the road, they came across a pile of faeces of typically human form but, as they put it, "of absolutely monumental proportions." He then added, "I can only describe it as a 2-ton bear with chronic constipation."

They contemplated going to fetch a shovel and some container and taking this back to Eureka for analysis but it was a hot night and a 5-hour drive over a dangerous road and also, as they readily admitted, that strange laziness that so often intervenes in offbeat and rather alarming cases of this nature took over and cast the die. Press coverage had gone far enough, and they were not ecologists. Later, Ray Wallace stumbled upon a similar enormous mass of human-shaped droppings. He shoveled them into a can and found that they occupied exactly the same volume as a single evacuation of a 1200-pound horse.

Further foot-tracks and other incidents continued all that fall and throughout the winter until the spring of 1959 ending in February. However, later in the spring, two fliers, a husband and wife in a private plane, were flying over the Bluff Creek area. It was April and there was still snow on the mountain-tops some of which are bare of trees. It is alleged that they spotted great tracks in the snow and that on following them up they sighted the creature that had made them. It was enormous, humanoid, and covered with brown fur, according to secondhand accounts. I tried, and am still trying to locate this couple, with the co-operation of local fliers, several of them having heard of the report, and despite the praiseworthy clannishness of fliers and their willing offers to help, I have not at the time of writing been able to identify this couple. The story may be a rumor or wishful thinking. So also may, three other recent and a whole host of past, old, and even ancient reports of actual meetings with one or more Bigfeet in this area.

Among these are alleged statements by two doctors of having met one on Route 299 earlier in 1958; and of a lady of much probity who with her daughter saw two, one smaller by far than the other, feeding on a hillside above the Hoopa Valley. This lady, to whom a partner of mine talked but who does not wish her name publicized, also stated that when she was a young girl, people used to see these creatures from time to time when they went fishing up certain creeks, and she once saw one swimming Bluff Creek when it was in flood. She also stated that in the olden days people did not go above certain points up the side valleys, due to the presence of these creatures.

More important was a positive flood of further alleged discoveries of similar foot-tracks by all manner of local citizenry over a wide area and extending back for many years that came to light as soon as the local press began to take this whole matter seriously. But as these came in, public resentment and ridicule mounted so that the reporters became ever more cagey. Finally, Betty Allen, who as an old-time resident with experience as an Assistant U.S. Commissioner in Alaska, started talking to the Huppa and Yurok Amerinds about these matters and, little by little, an amazing picture emerged In August of 1958 — on the morning of the 27th to be precise — a very sane and sober citizen by the name of Mr. Jerald Crew, of Salyer township, Humboldt County, northwest Califonia, an active member of the Baptist Church, a teetotaler

From: Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life by Ivan T. Sanderson.