Bigfoot & Sasquatch: History, Sightings, Legends & Symbolism

Bigfoot

Bigfoot, also known by his Native American name, Sasquatch, is a figure who has fascinated people around the world for centuries. Of all the mythical beings who have appeared in legends and folktales over the centuries, what is it about these hairy, ape-like giants that continues to fascinate so many of us today?

In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of Bigfoot and Sasquatch, from the history and Native American legends to similar creatures in different cultures and more. We’ll also delve into Sasquatch symbolism and meanings and what this archetype could mean in your own life.

Bigfoot Warning Sign

Who or what is Bigfoot?

Bigfoot is a large, primate-like creature who stands on two legs, like a human, but is covered in brown, black, or reddish hair. As the name implies, Bigfoot is big compared to humans, standing anywhere from 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall and, as the name implies, he has very large feet. In addition, aficionados of Bigfoot and Sasquatch claim these creatures weigh in at around 400 to 500 pounds (181 to 227 kilograms).

Bigfoot is said to be very muscular, with long, strong arms like a gorilla’s or chimpanzee’s. In addition, his facial features include a large, protruding brow, not unlike a Neanderthal’s, and a broad, flat nose. He’s also reported to have a wide mouth with big, sharp teeth. Furthermore, some say his eyes glow amber or red in the darkness.

The Odor…

Forest Bigfoot

Another notable quality about Bigfoot and Sasquatch is that they’re said to emit a strong body odor that is sulfuric in nature and reminiscent of a skunk or rotten eggs.

While Bigfoot’s legs are shorter than the average human’s relative to his torso height, he reportedly runs very fast. In fact, a U.S. park ranger I know personally claimed he saw something that appeared like a Bigfoot running away from him in the woods. He said the creature ran with its arms swinging behind its torso in an ape-like manner.

While the name sounds like Bigfoot is an individual, believers say that he belongs to a species with multiple members, both male and female.

Bigfoot’s habitat is generally comprised of remote, mountainous wooded regions, particularly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. However, as we’ll go into in more detail below, people throughout the continental U.S. as well as other countries also tell stories of Sasquatch-like creatures in their locales.

Is Bigfoot real?

Sasquatch in Trees

The combination of centuries-old folklore coupled with enigmatic sightings have generally placed Bigfoot and Sasquatch into the realms of mythology and folklore. Nevertheless, many people still ask the question: “Is Bigfoot real?”

Today, there are people who believe that Sasquatch-like creatures still roam in remote forests. While others believe they once did but are now extinct. Still others think the stories told about these creatures are based on other primate species who are now extinct but scientifically-proven to have existed.

While there has yet to be undisputed scientific evidence of Sasquatch’s existence, the fields of paleontology and anthropology, coupled with stories that have been passed down for generations, lead us to believe there must be something real about the Bigfoot legends.

Sasquatch and the History of Bigfoot

Myths and legends about giant, hairy, ape- and human-like creatures exist in many cultures around the world. We’ll get into more details on some of those later in this post. But first, let’s zero in on Bigfoot’s most direct North American roots.

Pictographs at Painted Rock

Roughly 1,000 years ago, a group of Indigenous People called the Yokut lived along the Tule River in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Like other ancient peoples, they took it upon themselves to tell stories of their existence by painting pictures on the walls of caves.

The Yokut’s cave artwork is unique in that it’s the only of its kind ever discovered in the western U.S. states. The pictographs show a family of hairy giants, including a large male figure, a female, and a child. Next to these beings, the Yokut also painted pictures of humans, who are much smaller than the hairy giants. In addition, there are drawings of animals, including a coyote, bear, frog, caterpillar, eagle, and others.

Today, members of the Yokut tribe call the male giant depicted on the cave wall Mayak datator sunsunut, which translates to “Hairy Man.” The Yokut also say that the lines descending from Mayak datator sunsunut’s eyes in the drawing are tears – because he was a sad being.1

These unusual pictographs depicting the hairy giants are the oldest-known evidence of Sasquatch-like creatures in North America, other than the oral stories that have been passed down for generations.

Sasquatch in Native American Culture

Sasquatch

The Yokut aren’t the only Native American tribe who tell stories about giant, hairy ape-like creatures. Indeed, a number of tribes across North American have such legends. The name Sasquatch has come to be a catch-all name for Bigfoot as described by Native Americans. However, the various tribes have slightly different descriptions of Sasquatch. For example, some, like the Yokut, describe him as sad, while others say he is friendly and possessing supernatural powers. Still others describe him as a malevolent spirit with cannibalistic proclivities.

Sas’qets and the Sts’ailes First Nation

Historians believe that the name Sasquatch was coined by a man named J.W. Burns in the 1930s. Burns had been assigned by the Canadian government to act as a teacher to and intermediary with the Sts’ailes First Nation People. He recorded stories told by the Sts’ailes about a creature they called Sas’qets, which translates to “wild man” or “hairy man.” Thus, the name Sasquatch is the Anglicized version of Sasq’ets.2

For the Sts’ailes People, Sas’qets is a gifted being who has the power to move between the physical and the supernatural worlds. They feel a deep kinship with Sas’qets and see him as a benevolent spirit.3

The Lummi and Ts’emekwes

For the Lummi People of the Puget Sound area, Sasquatch is more dangerous. They call him Ts’emekwes. According to their stories, Ts’emekwes is pale in color with light fur. Thus, his pale, hairy face is easily camouflaged in the snow. The Lummi describe him as nocturnal and dangerous. In fact, they warn their children not to wander off alone at night for fear that Ts’emekwes will get them.4

The Iroquois and Genoskwa, the Stone Giant

Stone Giant

The Iroquois of the Lake Ontario region tell stories of a creature they call Genoskwa, whose name translates to “stone giant.” According to their tales, Genoskwa is massive, at 11 feet (3.4 meters) tall and 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms). They say you can tell when he is near even if you don’t see him because of the pungent odor that emanates from his armpits, smelling of skunks and rotting food.

Genoskwa is aggressively territorial and dangerous. When provoked, he will raid camps and even kidnap people. He is so strong, the Iroquois say, that he can decapitate humans by twisting off their heads. And he is not above eating human flesh.5

The Seminole, Esti Capcaki (the Cannibal Giant), and the Skunk Ape

Skunk Ape
An anonymous photo of the alleged skunk ape given to the Sarasota, Florida police, 2000. Source: Tarbtano35.

While depictions of Sasquatch-like creatures vary slightly among Native American tribes, one aspect that pervades each myth is the noxious body odor they emit. In fact, in Florida, locals tell tales of a skunk ape that lives in the swampy mangrove forests of the Everglades. The skunk ape is aptly named for his skunk-like aroma and primate-like appearance.

The Seminoles in the region call the skunk ape Esti Capcaki, or cannibal giant. Like the Iroquois’ Genoskwa, Esti Capcaki is territorial and, if provoked, will attack and eat people.6

A number of other Native American tribes, from the Shoshoni in the American west to tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest and California tell similar tales of big, hairy, bipedal giants who are cannibalistic.

The Sioux, Walking Sam, and Stick People

In South Dakota, the Sioux have legends about a creature they call the Tall Man, or Walking Sam. According to their stories, Walking Sam is what a number of tribes describe as one of the Stick People, or Shadow People.

The Stick People are said to be responsible for a range of evils perpetrated on human beings. For example, they will cause paralysis and insanity, prey upon children and molest women, and they are even known to put negative thoughts into people’s heads. Walking Sam and other Stick People are also blamed for negative self-worth in young people and an epidemic in suicides.7 The more mild of the Stick People make strange and eerie sounds to terrify people.

Like Sasquatch, the Stick Person called Walking Sam is large and hairy. He is also a forest spirit and is malevolent.

Some Native Americans are reluctant to talk about Stick People because they are known to be spiteful. And while there is no guaranteed protection against these creatures, it’s generally believed that people should be cognizant of the negative thoughts in their heads and to not wander off alone into the deep woods.8

The Kwakiutl and Dzunukwa

Dzunukwa
Carving of Dzunukwa, or Kwakwakawaka. Ca. 19th century. Source: Musée du quai Branly.

While Sasquatch stories often refer to the male of the species, one Native American legend in particular references a female Sasquatch. The Kwakiutl People of British Columbia call her Dzunukwa, or the Wild Woman of the Woods.

According to Kwakiutl accounts, Dzunukwa is a mother who lives with her children in the far-reaches of the forest. Her den is allegedly guarded by sisiutl, which are part-serpent and part-fish creatures.

Like other Sasquatch creatures, Dzunukwa is large and hairy. She also has deep-set eyes and a wide mouth. While Dzunukwa is cannibalistic, with a preference for eating human children, she can also be benevolent. According to Kwakiutl legends, she hoards treasure in her den and will share it with humans as she sees fit.9

Sasquatch and Bigfoot Creatures in Other Cultures

There are legends about Bigfoot- and Sasquatch-like creatures throughout the U.S. Yet what makes theses stories even more fascinating and somehow plausible are the legends about similar creatures in other cultures around the world. Here are some of those stories:

The Yeti and the Abominable Snowman

Yeti

While many Bigfoot and Sasquatch experts insist on their differences, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Bigfoot and the Yeti, otherwise known as the Abominable Snowman.

Like Bigfoot, the Yeti is described as a large, hairy, bipedal, ape-like creature. In addition, as with many Sasquatch myths, the Yeti is said to be reclusive yet aggressive if provoked, thus dangerous.

The key difference in the two creatures is their habitat. The Yeti is said to roam in the snowy elevations of the Himalayas. Some accounts say the Yeti is gray or white, thus camouflaged in the snowy alpine environment. However, other accounts describe the Yeti as brown or reddish. Locals call the Yeti metoh-kangmi, or “man-bear snow-man.”10

There are many people who believe Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the Yeti are related. They theorize that the ancestors of Sasquatch crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North American tens of thousands of years ago. (Now covered in water, the Bering Land Bridge connected what is now Russia and Alaska 30,000 years ago to 16,000 years ago.11

While scientists, anthropologists, and even mountaineers have long searched for irrefutable evidence of the Yeti, its existence still remains a mystery.

Almas of Mongolia

Elsewhere in Asia, the people of Mongolia tell stories of creatures they call the Almas. The Mongolians describe the Almas in a similar way that North Americans describe Sasquatch: large, hairy, and ape-like.

For the Mongolians of old who lived in the southern desert, the Almas had supernatural abilities and were so powerful that it was verboten to even say their name out loud. Instead, the Mongolians referred to them as Akhai, or “Uncle-Brother.” For the locals, the Akhai were benevolent, lending their spiritual powers to help humans in times of need, such as when they were hunting.

Lord of the Earth, Genius of Nature

Near Lake Khövsgöl in the northern part of Mongolia, local shamans tell tales of Almas khara Tenguer, a deity whose name translates to “Almas the Black God.” Out of respect for Almas khara Tenguer’s wildness, locals make offerings to him of wild fruits, plants, and animals in order to win his favor. (Giving domesticated animals and other manmade food offerings would be considered an offense.) Indeed, a Mongolian tribe called the Altai Uriankhai call him and other Almas Altain Sabdak, which translates to “Lord of the Earth, Genius of Nature.”12

Bigfoot in China: The Yeren

Yeren
Illustration of the mythical Chinese Yeren. Ca. 1506. Source: 1596 edition of The Classic of Mountains and Seas.

In the Shennongjia Forestry District of Hubei Province in central China, locals tell stories of the Yeren. These legends have endured since at least as far back as 300 BCE. According to local yore, the Yeren are wild, ape-like people who live in the mountainous forests.

The Yeren are said to be so strong that they can easily lift cattle off the ground. By some accounts, the Yeren have demonic aspects. In other descriptions they are like ogres. According to some stories, the Yeren are only male. So, they will steal female humans in order to procreate. In addition, it’s believed that if you drink the blood of a Yeren, you will develop the ability to see spirits.13

Australian Yowie

The Yowie
The Australian Aboriginal Yowie, or Yaroma by R.H. Matthew, 1907.

The Aboriginal Australians also tell stories of a Sasquatch-like creature, whom they call the Yowie. Inhabiting the Outback, the Yowie is another hairy, large, ape-like creature, standing as tall as 12 feet (3.7 meters). Like Bigfoot, the Yowie’s feet are over-sized. By some accounts he is shy and reclusive, while others say he is aggressive and dangerous.

The Maero of New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Māori People tell tales of a breed of creatures who also bear a striking resemblance to the North American Sasquatch. According to the Māori, the Maero are giants who inhabit mountainous and forested areas of New Zealand, with the largest population in the South Island.

The Maero are said to be covered in body hair and have wild dispositions. In addition, they have sharp teeth and long fingernails and are aggressive towards humans. In fact, like the cannibalistic Sasquatches of the Americas, the Maero are maneaters.

As the Native Americans and Mongolians describe their giant, ape-like creatures, the Māori also say that the Maero have supernatural abilities. According to one legend, a Māori man successfully fought off a Maero. At the end of the battle, he cut off the Maero’s limbs and then its head. He then picked up the Maero’s head, intending to bring it back to his village as a trophy.

Supernatural Powers

However, he was appalled to realize the chopped off head was still alive, and it was yelling, possibly to the other Maero for help. In horror, the man dropped the head to the ground. And to his shock, the limbs of the Maero moved towards its body, where they reconnected with it. The Maero then picked up its own head off the ground and put it back on the stump of its neck before retreating into the forest.14

Bigfoot Sightings

Bigfoot Sightings

In addition to Native American oral stories about Sasquatch, there are countless other stories of Bigfoot sightings.

1700s

In the 1700s, North American explorers, fur trappers, miners, and gold prospectors all told stories about seeing large, bipedal ape-like creatures. Besides the Yokuts’ cave drawings, one of the other earliest-known recorded sightings of Bigfoot was in a journal written by a Mexican explorer and naturalist named Jose Mariano Mozino.

Working for the Spanish government, Mozino took part in an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. In an entry in his journal, dated to the year 1792, Mozino wrote about a creature called the Matlog. The Matlog lived in the forested mountains of the Pacific Northwest and would regularly terrorize local Native American tribes. According to his account, the Matlog was large, resembling a human except that it was covered with coarse body hair.

Mozino’s journal wasn’t discovered until 1913, after which it was published as a book15 entitled Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792.

1920s

Decades later, in the 1920s, a fur trapper named Muchalat Harry told the story of seeing similar creatures to the Matlog.

Harry had been living with a tribe of Nuu-chah-nulth Native Americans near the Conuma River in British Columbia. On a trapping expedition, he stopped to make camp for the night. Then, during the night, he was shocked to awake when a large beast picked him up and carried him away.

Unable to break free, Harry was taken to a den of some kind where what he described were 20 Matlogs, including males, females, and young. Harry feared for his life, but then realized the Matlogs wanted only his blanket and some other clothing items. Once they had them, he was able to break free. The Matlogs did not pursue him, and he made it back to the Nuu-chah-nulth village.16

Another sighting occurred in the 1924 when a group of prospectors were exploring Mount Saint Helens in Washington. The men said that a group of seven-foot-tall “ape-men” attacked their cabin. They confessed that one of the men had shot at one of the creatures earlier that day, thus the attack was provoked.17

1950s

Sasquatch Footprint

By the mid-20th century, Sasquatch sightings persisted. In fact, in 1958, a group of California loggers discovered some unusually large footprints in a redwood forest. Aware of the many Sasquatch legends, they couldn’t help drawing the obvious conclusion. It was theses loggers who bestowed the mysterious creature with a new nickname: Bigfoot.18

By the 1960s, Bigfoot had become a household name. This was largely due to Ivan T. Sanderson’s 1961book Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life. The book presented numerous anecdotal accounts, along with examples of extra-large footprints and mysterious bone samples, as evidence of these creatures’ existence. The book also noted examples of Sasquatch’s many counterparts around the world.

Captured on Film

The first ever film footage of a Bigfoot-like creature happened in 1967. Rodeo riders Bob Gimlin and Roger Patterson were riding horses and filming their adventure as they rode along Bluff Creek Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California.

In the film, a large bipedal creature is seen coming out of the trees into a clearing. It looks towards the camera before disappearing back into the woods.

While the film is extremely grainy, it was compelling enough to have countless cryptozoologists and other Sasquatch aficionados analyze it and present it as evidence of Bigfoot’s existence.

Here’s the film, published by the Sasquatch Channel:

Bigfoot Sounds

While Bigfoot is known for his scent, many Bigfoot trackers also say these creatures make interesting sounds. In fact, in the early 1970s, two men claim to have recorded Sasquatch creatures in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Al Berry and Ron Morehead hung microphones connected to a tape recorder from trees in mountainous areas where there had been alleged sightings. What they recorded is disturbing to listen to. The sound is primate-like and yet other worldly.

Sasquatch as a Descendent of Primates: Gigantopithecus

Gigantopithecus
Statue of Gigantopithecus or King Kong made from hay at Huay Tueng Thao Lake, Chiangmai, Thailand.

As Bigfoot fans search for scientific evidence of these elusive creatures’ existence, it’s natural to consider evolution. Indeed, even from a folkloric perspective, it’s impossible not to wonder what could have inspired these enduring, centuries-old legends.

When it comes to the authenticity of Bigfoot, the scientific community is hard to convince. After all, conclusive forensic evidence, such as bone fragments and DNA, has yet to surface. However, some cryptozoologists have made the case that Sasquatch descended from other primates, notably one called Gigantopithecus, that is now extinct.

Dr. Grover Krantz

One such researcher was a professor of physical anthropology at Washington State University, Dr. Grover Krantz. Krantz was renowned for his studies in hominid evolution and primate bone structures. And, he was convinced that Bigfoot exists.

In studying alleged Sasquatch footprints, he noted they reflected a creature with open sweat pores. He also took the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film seriously.

Furthermore, Krantz made the case that Sasquatch had descended Gigantopithecus.19 The giant primate stood at about 10 feet (3 meters) and weighed around 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms). However scientific evidence shows they went extinct about 100,000 years ago due to changes in the climate when food became scarce.20

Yet, Krantz had another theory. He believed descendants of Gigantopithecus had survived and made their way across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America, as did many other species. Thus, Krantz theorized that Sasquatch had descended from Gigantopithecus, becoming a new species. However, this theory has never been proven with scientific evidence.21

However, scientific evidence does suggest that humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America. Thus, we can only theorize that they brought their legends with them.

Sasquatch and Neanderthals

Neandethal

Another theory about Bigfoot creatures’ ancestry is that they descended from Neanderthals. While the last-known fossil records we have of Neanderthals existing date to 40,000 years ago, there are new theories that some groups of them lasted longer. One such theory is that they existed in Eurasia as recently as 31,000 years ago.22 While that theory is yet to be proven, we can’t help wonder if somehow, Neanderthals made their way to North America as well. Though that theory has also yet to be proven.

Bigfoot and Sasquatch Today

Bigfoot Walking Sunset

Today, Bigfoot and Sasquatch seem as popular as they ever were in terms of stoking our fascination. In fact, a group called the Bigfoot Lunch Club created an interactive map that displays the dozens of different local names for Bigfoot- and Sasquatch-like creatures around the world. Clicking on the foot icons in different regions will reveal details about local lore around the resident Sasquatch creatures.

There is also a wiki database, created by the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, that logs Sasquatch sightings around the world.

Bigfoot Symbolism and Meanings

View of Stars Through Forest

Despite the lack of conclusive scientific evidence that Bigfoot or Sasquatch exists, there are many of us, from diverse cultural backgrounds, who have an ongoing fascination with these creatures. Sasquatch has profound meanings for many of us. Here are some Bigfoot symbols and meanings:

  • Wildness – Bigfoot represents the primordial human that is in all of us. While we many no longer live in caves or the forest, our DNA has not forgotten a time that we did. Sasquatch reminds us to not get too disconnected from our wild selves.
  • Nature – Living in open nature, Sasquatch reminds us our connection to the natural world. When was the last time you walked silently in the woods? Perhaps it’s time to take that stroll.
  • Power and Greatness – A common thread in nearly every Sasquatch legend is that they are giants, looming over us. Thus, Sasquatch reminds us to overcome our own fears of inferiority and to strive to become something better than we are. Don’t just settle for what you think you’re capable of. Reach higher for the tallest branch in the forest.
  • Authenticity – Bigfoot is naturally hairy and he doesn’t wear clothes. He reminds us to get over our inhibitions so that we can be our authentic selves.
  • Mystery and Imagination – The elusive Sasquatch reminds us to never stop wondering and wandering. The forest of life is large, deep, and full of magic.

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