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Bigfoot News Stories...

JULY 9th 2002

Nevada's Early Bigfoot Sighting

By Eugene M. Hattori, Curator of Anthropology
Nevada State Museum

During the 19th century, notable scientists from the California Academy of Sciences attributed a set of footprints discovered at the Nevada State Prison to an extinct race of giant humans. The prison contained a sandstone quarry that provided building material for many noteworthy Carson City structures, including the State Capitol building. The prison site's connection with state government, however, extends back to 1861 when the prison's predecessor, the Warm Springs Hotel, hosted the first Territorial Legislature.

In the late 1870s, Ice Age animal footprints were uncovered in one layer of the quarry. These fossil impressions included birds, mammoths or mastodonts, deer, elk or buffalo, native horses, dire wolves, big-toothed cats, and supposed giant humans. The latter footprints were shaped like human footprints, but they were fully 19 inches long and 8 inches wide!

The prison footprints eventually attracted the attention of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which studied the find in 1882, and their scientists authenticated the tracks as those of giant human beings. To partially account for the large size, they hypothesized that these people were also wearing large sandals. Discrepancies remained, however, as the

Left: Sandstone impression from the Nevada State Prison 
(Courtesy Keck Museum, UNR);
Right: Bigfoot cast from northeastern Washington state 
(Courtesy Prof. Grover S. Krantz).

left and right footprints were spread over 18 inches apart, a much wider span than expected for even giant humans. Professor Joseph LeConte from the California State University, countered that the tracks were most likely those of a large quadruped, such as the giant, Ice Age ground sloth. Both sides had their proponents, and the debate continued for decades. Scientists often differ in their opinions, and their arguments are presented at conferences and in professional journals, often spanning decades and generations of students. And that was the case with the prison footprints, with one noteworthy interjection.

Not one to take all this science too seriously, Mark Twain entered the fray in 1884. Writing in The San Franciscan newspaper, he settled the question of the footprints' origin based on direct, participant observation:

"Part of it I saw.... [T]hey were made by; the first Nevada Territorial Legislature. It had rained rain all the evening outside, and it had rained whiskey all the evening inside. The menagerie was wholly local. The Speaker went first. He made the large tracks - the ones that are eight inches broad and eighteen inches long. He was a prime man in two or three ways, and evil in forty, but he was not the Primeval Man. These scientists are in an ill-concealed sweat because they cannot tell why there are so many tracks, and all going one way, all going north. It was a large legislature, dear sires: and the saloon was north. Such is history. Such are the Carson Footprints. They are not fossiliferous they are legislative.

The scientists, having had too little exposure to Nevada's early-day legislators or too much exposure to Mark Twain, apparently ignored Twain's explanation, and they continued on with their debate over the track's origins. The non-human origins for the Nevada State Prison tracks was proven to even the skeptics' satisfaction when, in 1917, Dr. Chester Stock of the University of California carefully reconstructed the giant ground sloth's foot and matched its imprint with the details exhibited by the prison tracks, confirming LeConte's earlier conclusion.

State of Nevada, Department of Cultural Affairs