Amateur versus professional: the search for Bigfoot
Brian Regal, PhD, FLS
Assistant Professor for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Also see: Entering Dubious Realms: Grover Krantz, Science, and Sasquatch
the Yowie-Ocalypse
Revelation in the Age of Bigfoot
A Naked Yowie Project Initiative
My current writing is an historical analysis of the lives of mainstream scientists--particularly the controversial paleoanthropologist Grover Krantz (1931-2002)--who believed anomalous primates like the Sasquatch and Yeti were real animals, not just relics of folklore or hoaxes. I have been ransacking the archives and libraries of North America and England using long forgotten letters, correspondence, diaries, and notebooks of scientists who researched humanoid monsters. The results of this research will be published in March of 2011 as Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads and Cryptozoology by Palgrave-Macmillan.
Brian Regal
History Department, Kean University, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083, USA
Those who would seek monsters not as metaphors, but
as flesh and blood organisms have gone largely overlooked
by the history of science. Starting in the 1950s
and 1960s a group of amateur monster hunters and
physical anthropologists began to pursue such creatures
as Sasquatch, Bigfoot and the Yeti as living species.
Whether or not such creatures exist, the monster hunters
themselves are fascinating subjects for study, illustrating
the tensions that are all too common between
amateur naturalists and professional scientists.

The Bossburg incident

On a cold morning just before Thanksgiving of 1969, a
small group of residents from Colville in Washington, USA
headed to the community garbage dump at nearby Bossburg,
a site close to the Canadian border. Ivan Marx, a local
wilderness guide, had seen strange tracks at the site not
long before and the previous spring a woman had seen a
strange creature lurking about the area. Once at the dump,
the group was astonished to find several shoe-less footprints
in the icy snow. Who would be walking barefoot
through the snow around the town dump on Thanksgiving?
What’s more, the tracks were enormous, almost 17 in. long.
Word spread quickly and within a few days people were
flocking in from around the region to see the curious prints.
Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as it is also commonly called, already
had a long running reputation in the forest cathedrals of
the Pacific Northwest.

Along with the gawkers at Bossburg, there was also a
group of men who were more than just curious. John
Green, Rene´ Dahinden and others formed the core of a
loosely affiliated gathering of amateur naturalists dedicated
to the search for the legendary and elusive creature.
These serious-minded men fanned out over the area
around Bossburg and Colville and found a further 1000
tracks. Besides their size, what set these tracks apart from
other Sasquatch tracks was the left foot, which had a pair
of unusual protrusions on the outside edge and the toes of
which seemed oddly misshapen. With these distinguishing
features, the creature that made these prints became
known as Cripplefoot [1].

A few weeks later a professor of anthropology from
Washington State University joined the fray. For years,
Grover Krantz had been researching the Sasquatch in
particular and anomalous primates in general. He had
never actually seen Bigfoot tracks in the wild and with
this sighting practically in his backyard he headed out to
take a look. This was a watershed moment in the study of
anomalous primates. The common narrative for discoveries
of Sasquatch evidence was that amateurs claimed
support for the beast’s existence only to be dismissed by
scientists interpreting the same evidence as a hoax or a
misidentification. But not on this occasion. At Bossburg,
the exact opposite occurred.

Although a true believer in the existence of Bigfoot,
Rene´ Dahinden soon came to believe the Cripplefoot tracks
had been faked [2]. Krantz, however, saw in the tracks
anatomical details he felt could not be faked and his
skepticism began to turn to belief (Figure 1). Later, Smithsonian
Institution scientist John Napier agreed it unlikely
the tracks a hoax because of their morphological details
arguing they were an example of the condition known as
clubfoot. More than any other scientist, Grover Krantz
would argue for the reality of Bigfoot to the point of his
career becoming inextricably linked to it.

As they stood in the freezing snow and ice of the
Washington woods, arguing over the Cripplefoot, John
Green, Rene´ Dahinden and Grover Krantz were engaging
in one of the longest running discussions in the history of
science in America and indeed the West: not over the
existence of monsters, but over the relationship between
amateur and professional scientists. They had tapped into
tropes and traditions about scientific authority. Who had
the right to claim it? The experts or the people?

The reign of the amateurs

In the early part of North American history there were no
professional scientists. There was a cadre of men of means,
landed gentlemen, clergy, doctors and lawyers who roamed
about the countryside collecting and classifying the virtually
endless array of new species that frolicked about the
landscape of the New World. This was a tradition that
began in England in the late 1400s and eventually crossed
to the Americas. Because of their efforts these amateur
naturalists were the prime source of scientific knowledge
about the North American continent. Men like Cadwallader
Colden, John and William Bartram, Constantine
Samuel Rafinesque (who in 1819 was the first to assign
a scientific name to a North American monster, the Massachusetts sea serpent Megophias monstrosus), Ephraim G. Squier, even Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin became models of the best aspects of the young Republic
applied to science: serious, self-made amateurs thinking
their own thoughts, unfettered from establishment or
hierarchy. Not a secret priesthood, but open to all. It
was democratic science [3].

After the revolution, the US government entered the
science business by making funds available for exploration
and publication. Government officials saw a need to use
and support the latest scientific undertakings, not only to
explore the new territories that were rapidly coming under
their control but also to keep up with rival powers abroad.
How could America be a leader in the world if it was not a
leader in science? By the end of the nineteenth century,
government-sponsored organizations like the Smithsonian
Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, US Geological
Survey as well as a burgeoning museum and university
system were creating a new role: the professional scientist.
These individuals were not upper-class dilettantes or
dreamy explorers, but academically trained, full time
workers and they were taking charge. They did not just
collect and tag specimens; they followed established rules
of procedure in laboratories and employed theoretical
models and techniques to work out answers about the
workings of the natural world. The amateurs were still
of use in collecting and surveying life forms, but scientific
leadership was now firmly in the hands of the professionals
[4]. The Victorian naturalist tradition was giving way to
the theoretician and laboratory experimentalist.

The monster hunters

By the turn of the century, the reign of the amateur
naturalist was over in America. Where they had once been
at the center of scientific discourse, the amateurs now
found themselves on the margins. By the second half of
the twentieth century, however, a new character in the
pantheon of amateur naturalists had begun to emerge. Out
of a number of guises, including birdwatchers, rock hounds,
and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, the monster hunter
was born. That is when the relationship really went sour.
The modern interest in anomalous primates began in
the 1920s, when reports of such creatures began to come
out of the region of the Himalayan Mountains. Some
British anthropologists commented on the possibility of
the Yeti, but with little more than reports there was not
much to discuss. Then in 1951 mountaineer Eric Shipton
took a photo of a ‘snowman’ footprint that caused great
excitement with the public and interest in the scientific
community. In an article for Nature, Wladimir Tschernezky,
a professor of zoology at Queen Mary College in
London, published a short article on Yeti tracks. His
conclusion was that the snowman walked like a human
and was similar to the fossil primate Gigantopithecus [5].
Journals like Nature and Science soon had a steady flow of
Yeti-associated articles and letters in their pages as scientists
discussed the phenomena. Monsters had briefly
acquired an air of scientific respectability.

With all the interest in the Yeti, attention soon shifted
across the ocean. While reports and legends about hairy
humanoids in North America preceded the arrival of Europeans,
it was in the 1950s that a rash of sightings occurred
in the US Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. This,
along with the excitement being created by the Yeti helped
inspire a group of amateur naturalists to begin a new field
to search for the Abominable Snowman’s American cousin.
The members craved scientific respectability and recognition
for their work, despite being wary of academics that
employed the theoretical techniques of modern laboratory

Monster hunting appealed to rugged individualists comfortable
with a free and unencumbered life tramping
through the vast expanse of the wilderness. With few
exceptions, they had little formal higher education in
the sciences, but were passionate about wildlife (eventually,
the amateurs were joined by a small coterie of forest
rangers and government wildlife agents). Some saw the
pursuit of the Sasquatch as a road to riches, some as a road
to intellectual attainment formerly closed to them, and
some were in it just for the adventure. They tried to apply
high-tech devices to the search, but had no uniform organizing
research principles. They did, however, have one
shared ideal.

Men like Roger Patterson (1933–1972) and Robert Gimlin
(whose infamous film bears their names), John Green,
Peter Byrne, Rene´ Dahinden (1930–2001) and others did
not hesitate to go look for creatures the professionals told
them did not exist. They reveled in their amateur status,
wearing it as a badge of honor. Patterson and Gimlin were
struggling Washington ranch hands, John Green was a
journalist and newspaper editor from British Columbia,
Peter Byrne was a British big game hunter who came to
America at the behest of Texas millionaire and Yeti enthusiast
Tom Slick. Rene´ Dahinden, a Swiss-Canadian immigrant,
was the model of the amateur naturalist Bigfoot
hunter. An orphan with no formal education, he threw
himself into anomalous primate studies with an intensity
that would have given Captain Ahab pause. Far from being
intimidated by the academics, these men argued that the
lab-bound eggheads were woefully ignorant of what was
going on out in the woods. They tried hard to interest
mainstream science, but mostly to no avail. They were
routinely told Bigfoot couldn’t exist, no matter what their
evidence was.

These characters were, however, inspired in part by a
two academically trained men who straddled the line
between the amateur and professional. Scottish naturalist
Ivan Sanderson (1911–1973) and Belgian zoologist
Bernard Heuvelmans (1916–2001) had higher degrees
but no institutional affiliations. They also believed the
animals did exist. Heuvelmans wrote the first influential
book on the subject of anomalous wildlife On the Track of
Unknown Animals (1958) and Sanderson wrote the central
work devoted completely to what he called ABSMs,
Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961) [6].
Both the amateurs and semi-amateurs like Sanderson
and Heuvelmans sniffed contemptuously at the professionals,
countering their skepticism with thousands
of eyewitness reports, hundreds of plaster casts of footprints
and even a photograph or film or two, daring them
to explain these away.

Few professional scientists were prepared to take the
possibility of anomalous primates seriously. But some did,
at least for a time. American anthropologist Carleton Coon
(1904–1981) and archaeologist George Agogino (1921–
2000) were interested in the Sasquatch and Yeti and
investigated sightings. William Charles Osman-Hill, a
noted British primatologist working in America, was sent
artifacts and other materials for comment, while another
British-born scientist working in America, John Napier
(1917–1987) who had worked on African hominids like
Homo habilis wrote Bigfoot: the Yeti and Sasquatch in
Myth and Reality (1973) [7]. Agogino generally kept a low
profile; Coon was a Harvard-trained scientist and established
senior faculty member who enjoyed being controversial;
Osman-Hill was always circumspect in his
pronouncements; and while Napier went out on a limb with
his book, he waffled so much that it was not clear where he
stood on the matter. They all drifted from the search,
however, when little more evidence was forthcoming.

The lone professional

The only scientist to go all in on the subject was anthropologist
Grover Krantz (1931–2002). Born into a family of
Utah Mormons, Krantz abandoned religion for science
early on. After serving in the military he went to the
University of California at Berkeley to study physical
anthropology, eventually being awarded a doctorate with
a focus on human evolution. He became interested in
anomalous primates when he would read reports of the
Yeti at high school. His interest grew as he heard of and
collected reports of Yeti-like creatures roaming the North
American wilderness. He also read the works of Sanderson
and Heuvelmans. In 1964, he traveled to Bluff Creek in
California to visit the spot where the famous ‘Bigfoot’
tracks had been found by a logging crew in 1958 [8]. He
did not see the creature – or any tracks – but found himself
increasingly intrigued by the idea of Sasquatch, though not
much by the available evidence.

The period between 1967 and 1970 was a turning point
for Krantz. It was in October of 1967 that Patterson and
Gimlin took their film, which hit pop culture the following
January when the widely circulated men’s magazine
Argosy ran a cover story on it which included a number
of stills from the film [9] (Figure 2). The article was a
sensation and helped give a face – albeit a dark, hairy and
blurry one – to the Bigfoot legend. When Krantz saw the
article he was rather disappointed, saying it ‘‘looked to me
like someone wearing a gorilla suit’’ (which was exactly
what most scientists said) [10].

Then, in the summer of 1968, Krantz was offered a
position as assistant professor of anthropology at Washington
State University in the heart of Sasquatch country. He
took advantage of his new location by going to a few places
where people had claimed to have seen the creature. He
then saw the entire Patterson film at a local theater and
had a change of heart. Unlike the grainy stills from Argosy,
the film revealed anatomical details which captured
Krantz’s imagination. About the same time, he read Sasquatch
researcher John Green’s On the Track of the Sasquatch,
published a year earlier [11]. Green’s compendium
of eyewitness reports and use of Gigantopithecus as a
possible source for the creature impressed the anthropologist.
Then that Thanksgiving holiday came along.
In December of 1969, Krantz saw the Cripplefoot tracks
in situ. The morphology of the foot appealed to Krantz’s
anatomical training. He concluded that no simpleton
hoaxer would think to forge such a convincing fake. He
also saw Sasquatch hand prints from the same area. These
too had details only someone well versed in primate
anatomy could have imagined. Krantz was now convinced
the creature was real [12].

While at Bossburg, Krantz met John Green and began a
long and amiable friendship. He also met Rene´ Dahinden,
though while their relationship was long it was to be far
from amiable. Dahinden was already suspicious of the
Cripplefoot prints (Figure 3). This was in part because
nobody had actually seen the beast itself, in spite of
hundreds of fresh footprints and many people tramping
excitedly around in search of the creature that had made
them. Dahinden was also suspicious of the man at the
heart of the discovery, Ivan Marx. A veteran of an aborted
Sasquatch hunt in California a few years earlier, Marx
lived in Bossburg [13]. It was Marx who called John Green
about the tracks at the dump. Green in turn called Rene´
Dahinden and the ball began to roll. A year after the tracks
were found Marx earnestly produced a laughably fake film
of the creature scampering about the woods.

That Krantz felt the Cripplefoot tracks genuine peeved
Dahinden no end, increasing his already finely honed
distaste for academics, who he enjoyed calling ‘boffins’.
Though they would go through brief periods of relative
peace, Dahinden would spend the rest of his life hounding
Krantz with insults and threats in his broken, often vituperative
English speech and prose. ‘‘I will pull you down
and blackball you in the Sasquatch research,’’ he once
sputtered to Krantz in one of their disagreements [14].
As a scientist, Krantz knew he needed two things: one
was a theoretical model to explain how such a creature
might come to inhabit the Pacific Northwest and the other
was a body. His answer to the first was to follow John
Green’s lead in choosing the extinct Asian primate
Gigantopithecus as a likely progenitor. The second was to
promote the idea of shooting a Bigfoot and dissecting it
(a proposition that appalled most amateurs). Krantz threw
all his professional training and knowledge – and the rest
of his 30-year career – into proving the connection between
Bigfoot and Gigantopithecus. He collected footprint casts,
arguing for the existence of dermal ridges in their detail, he
worked out biomechanical data for the creature and
attempted to establish scientific names for it, which
included Gigantopithecus canadensis. Despite his credentials
and effort Krantz met with as much resistance from
scientists as the amateurs had.

Conflicting positions

Following the initial attention, mainstream science soon
lost interest in anomalous primates. Those professional
scientists who sneered at Bigfoot argued that the amateurs
had no idea what they were doing. They lacked the requisite
methodologies and theoretical models to understand
why the creature made no sense from a biological, behavioral
and evolutionary standpoint. The amateurs believed
the creature real not based on any evidence, but on blind
belief and wishful thinking. Some scientists thought it
beneath them to consider the ramblings of backwoods
crackpots or excited campers misidentifying other creatures
for monsters.

Ironically, there was an element of resentment of professionals
among amateur ranks for some of the same
reasons. The amateurs accused the professionals of being
laboratory- and library-bound eggheadswith no idea what
things were like in the field. Their academic training had
blinded them. Their fancy degrees and titles made them
too smart for their own good. Their use of theoretical
models did not take the reality of the ‘evidence’ into
account, and their reliance on university and museum
appointments made them beholden to their masters,
ready to toe the corporate line and squelch opposition
from the people. Disgruntled amateurs, tired of the treatment
they were receiving, used terms like ‘so-called scientists’
and ‘narrow-minded scientists’ when referring to
their rivals. Their real-world experience showed them,
for example, that contrary to professional pronouncements,
there was obviously plenty of room and food to
support Bigfoot populations in the wild. The amateur’s
also argued contemptuously that those who called themselves
scientists were misusing the word. It was the dedicated
amateur naturalists who were more scientific than
scientists. It was an old animosity held deep in the American
psyche about theoretical science and suspect ‘intellectual

1 Krantz, G. (1999) Bigfoot/Sasquatch Evidence. Hancock House, (BC)

2 Hunter, D. and Dahinden, R. (1993) Sasquatch/Bigfoot: The Search for North America’s Incredible Creature. McClelland & Stewart, (Toronto)

3 Daniels, G. (1968) American Science in the Age of Jackson. University of Alabama Press, (Tuscaloosa);
Slaughter, T.P. (1996) The Natures of John and William Bartrum. Alfred A. Knopf, (New York)

4 Kohler, R.E. (2006) All Creatures: Naturalists, Collectors, and Biodiversity, 1850–1950. Princeton University Press

5 Tschernezsky, W. (1960) A reconstruction of the foot of the ‘Abominable Snowman’. Nature 186, pp. 496–497

6 Heuvelmans, B. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Wang Hill, (New York); Sanderson, I. (1961) Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life.
Chilton, (Philadelphia)

7 Napier, J. (1973) Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. EP Dutton & Co., (New York)

8 Coleman, L. (2003) Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Paraview Pocket Books, (New York)

9 Sanderson, I. (1968) First Photos of Bigfoot: California’s ‘Abominable Snowman’. Argosy 29 (February)

10 Anon (1968) U Lecturer From West Has Hunted Snowman. Minneapolis Star (25 January)

11 Green, J. (1968) On the Track of the Sasquatch. Cheam Publishing, (Agassiz, BC)

12 Krantz, G. (1972) Anatomy of a Sasquatch foot. Northwest Anthropological Research Notes 6 (1), pp. 91–104

13 Green, J. (1981) Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Hancock House, (BC)

14 The Krantz Papers Collection is at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archive, Suitland, Maryland, USA

15 Meldrum, J. (2006) Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Tom Doherty Associates, (New York)
elites’. It was the dark anti-intellectualism of American populism.

Krantz, inparticular, washeld in contempt by some of the
amateurs because they said he fell too easily for evidence
they considered fake. Dahinden, for example, had a high
standard for accepting evidence. There was also something
else. Far fromtrying to bring the two worlds of amateur and
professional together, Krantz was interested in taking Bigfoot
out of the hands of the amateur naturalists and putting
it into the hands of professional anthropologists while at the
same time leaving amateurs like Dahinden behind. Both
men perceptively realized that once Sasquatch was proven
to exist it would fall into the realm of anthropology and the
amateurs would lose their prize forever.

Not much has changed since those cold months in
Northern Washington in 1969 when the Cripplefoot tracks
were found. The battle lines are in the same place: enthusiasts
still head out into the woods like birdwatchers, now
armed with infra-red cameras and lures soaked with
primate pheromones. A few scientists take it seriously
while most of their colleagues scoff at them [15]. Belief
in Bigfoot has become a part of the rejection of knowledge
all too many Americans engage in over the pronouncements
of ‘experts’. While the search for Sasquatch is a
relatively benign form, more sinister examples have grown
in the creation/evolution debate and arguments over global
warming. As historians of science look into the controversy
over the footprints and other evidence of Bigfoot it will tell
them less about big hairy monsters that lurk in the woods
than the big hairy monsters that lurk in us.
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