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Bigfoot Roundup: Some Regional Variants Identified as Bears

Investigative Files

Joe Nickell

Skeptical Briefs Volume 25.2, Summer 2015

Having long observed that many Bigfoot sightings seem consistent with bears, I have for some time been expounding on the subject—showing that, when bears stand upright on their hind legs, they become North America’s foremost Bigfoot lookalikes (other than for people in Bigfoot suits). Bigfoot also 
usually behaves like a bear and is typically found in bear territory (Nickell 2013a).

The resemblance is sometimes made especially clear when we look at regional subtypes of Bigfoot—the Skunk Ape of Florida, for example, or a unique “bluish” creature seen in the Yukon. As it happens, the former, together with its bad odor, is consistent with the black bear (Nickell 2013b), and the latter is illuminated by the fact that black bears of a bluish color may be found in the southwest Yukon (Nickell 2014; Gloia 2011).

Here we look at several more of these regional variants of Bigfoot—such well-known creatures as Old Yellow Top, the Traverspine “Gorilla,” the Fouke Monster, Big Muddy, and others—to compare their appearance and behavior with those of bears.



Old Yellow Top

In 1906 at a mine near Cobalt, Ontario, a group of men saw a creature that would become known as Old Yellow Top because it was described as having a light-colored mane.

Seventeen years later, in July 1923, two miners working on their claims in the Cobalt area saw “what looked like a bear picking in a blueberry patch” (Green 1978, 248–249). One stated: “It kind of stood up and growled at us. Then it ran away. It sure was like no bear that I have ever seen. Its head was kind of yellow and the rest of it was black like a bear, all covered with hair” (qtd. in Green 1978, 249).

Actually, Black Bears (Ursus americanus) love blueberries, are indeed completely covered in hair—which may be all or partially blond—and often stand on their hind legs to better sense something that has attracted their attention (“Black Bears” 2013; Herrero 2002, 87). (A photograph of such a blond-maned bear—although a brown bear in this instance—is shown in Herrero 2002, 133.) This ability of bears to stand upright “no doubt influenced some people’s perception of them as being humanlike . . .,” according to Herrero (2002, 139).

A similar creature (not the same one of course) was seen again in the same area—in April 1946, by a woman with her son, and another in August 1970, by a bus driver. “At first I thought it was a big bear. But then it turned to face the headlights and I could see some light hair, almost down to its shoulders. It couldn’t have been a bear,” he concluded.

A passenger on the bus stated that it “looked like a bear to me at first, but it didn’t walk like one. It was kind of stooped over. Maybe it was a wounded bear, I don’t know” (qtd. in Green 1978, 249). Both men’s first thoughts were no doubt correct, as they themselves would probably have recognized had they been more familiar with bears’ stances and color phases.

Traverspine ‘Gorilla’

A famous 1913 sighting of the Traverspine “Gorilla,” named after a community in Labrador, occurred when a little girl saw a huge, dark-haired creature come out of the woods. “It was about seven feet tall when it stood erect, but sometimes it dropped to all fours.” It left tracks in the mud, and later in the snow, “twelve inches long, narrow at the heel, and forking at the front into two broad, round-ended toes” (Merrick 1933).

Again, this is consistent with a black bear. Yes, such bears have five rather than two toes (as do most “Bigfoot,” based on their alleged tracks); however, we learn that “in mud a black bear’s toe separation may not show” (Herrero 2002, 178). Given the clue that the “two” Bigfoot toes were “broad,” the likely explanation is that separation only appeared between the second and third toes. That would give the appearance that there were just two notably broad toes. That the heel was described as “narrow,” characteristic of a bear’s hind foot (Napier 1973, 61), also helps to further identify the tracks as probably a bear’s. (The estimated twelve-inch length of, presumably, the hind foot is uncommonly large, but the tracks may have been overlaps of front and hind feet or the size could have been overestimated.) Besides, size can vary, that of the same foot impression being “different in the mud, in snow, or dry ground” (Herrero 2002, 175). The estimated standing height of the “gorilla” seems about right too, since a black bear can easily be seven feet tall—with or without a little girl’s misperception or exaggeration.

One account tells of two creatures, one supposedly smaller than the other, yet contradictorily stating, “They sometimes stood erect on their hind legs at which time they looked like great hairy men seven feet tall” (Wright 1962). Another indication that the creatures were indeed bears came from reports that the first creature “ripped the bark off trees and rooted up huge rotten logs as though it were looking for grubs” (Merrick 1933). Indeed, the Black Bear, in spring “peels off tree bark to get at the inner, or cambium, layer” and “will tear apart rotting logs for grubs, beetles, crickets, and ants” (Whitaker 1996, 705).


The Fouke Monster

Probably the first sighting of what would become known as the “Fouke Monster” after Fouke, Arkansas, near where it was sighted, was in 1953. It was not seen again until 1955 when a squirrel-hunting fourteen-year-old boy fired at it with birdshot.

He described the monster as covered in reddish-brown hair or fur, standing upright at a height of some seven feet, and having very long arms. It also had a flat nose that was dark brown. The creature “stretched, sniffing the air,” then started toward the boy, who shot at it. That seemed to have no effect, and the youth ran away. In 1971 hundreds of three-toed, thirteen-and-a-half-inch tracks were found in a bean field and attributed to the monster (Green 1978, 189–191). The Fouke Monster was the inspiration for the Legend of Boggy Creek movies (Coleman and Huyghe 1999, 56–57; Fuller 1972, 24–28). (As an example of careless research in some quarters, one source [Matthews 2008, 110] places Fouke in “Kentucky.”)

Be the tracks as they may, the boy’s description is a pretty good fit for an Ursus americanus (black bear) of cinnamon color. States one bear expert (Herrero 2002, 131–132): “An individual [black] bear’s coat color may range from blond, cinnamon, or light brown to dark chocolate brown or jet black.” (See also Van Wormer 1966, 21.) Significantly, the Fouke Monster stood and sniffed the air; that is common behavior for a bear “trying to sense something” (Herrero 2002, 139), as the creature obviously was attempting in this instance.


Momo

In 1972, “Momo,” short for “Missouri Mon­ster,” appeared near Louisiana, Missouri. A huge creature covered in black fur, it stood upright on two legs. Reports of such monsters date back to the 1940s, and a year prior to “the Momo scare” two women had encountered a hairy ape-man on River Road near the town (Green 1978, 194–195; Coleman and Huyghe 1999, 50–51).

Then, on July 11, 1972, an incident occurred that received national attention, with many eastern U.S. newspapers sending reporters to cover the story. About 3:30 pm on that sunny Tuesday, a fifteen-year-old girl heard her younger brother scream. Looking out a window, she saw a blood-flecked monster holding a dead dog under one arm; then it “waddled” off (Coleman and Huyghe, 1999, 50; Green 1978, 195). According to John Green (1978, 195), “after the fuss started several other people claimed to have seen something similar, generating even more excitement, and a lot of people spent time monster hunting, but nothing came of it.”

I have compiled this composite description of the creature: It stood about six or seven feet tall, was neckless, and was completely covered in long black hair—even its face, according to one source. It appeared to be bipedal yet “waddled” or walked awkwardly. It had a foul smell and was, at least in part, carnivorous, capable of killing and carrying away a dog (Green 1978, 195; Coleman and Huyghe 1999, 50–51).

I submit that this is a convincing description of a black bear standing upright with its waddling gait a corroborative detail. Of course we should read “arm” as “front leg.” (See Nickell 2013a.) As to the hair-covered face, a feature not reported by all witnesses, it may be that the creature was actually seen from the back. In this light, an artist’s conception of Momo, reproduced in Coleman and Huyghe’s The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (1999, 51), strongly resembles a black bear viewed from behind.

Big Muddy

In the vicinity of the Big Muddy River near Murphysboro, Illinois, came reports of a seven-foot Bigfoot described as “dirty white” or white “with muddy body hair,” or even as a “big white ghost”—from three sightings in two nights, June 25 and 26, 1973 (Bord and Bord 2006, 270). Two of the witnesses, teenagers, thought it had been covered in mud or slime from the river. Later that summer it was seen “three or four” additional times (Green 1978, 204).

"The Big Muddy Monster"—as it was now known—was seen again the following year, July 9, 1974, and again in July 1975, both times in the vicinity of Murphysboro (Green 1978, 204; Bord and Bord 2006, 270, 277, 281). On its way to legendary status, “Big Muddy” has also been styled the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” in that learned tome, Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America (Francis 2007, 107), which tells us that it is “Seven to eight feet tall, weighing over two hundred pounds,” that it is “omnivorous,” and “may be dangerous if cornered or startled.”

I do not doubt it. Big Muddy sounds for all the world like a tall black bear—one not black in color however. Black bears can be off-white and even white—as shown in Whitaker (1996, 703, color plate 337)—and albino ones are also known (Herrero 2002, 132).

Sister Lakes Monster

This Michigan creature eventually attracted others—including some faux monsters. In May 1964, something that seemed to lurk in the swamps nearby caused frightened fruit pickers to abandon their fields near Sister Lakes, a rural community in the state. For two years there had been reports of a mystery creature, but now they had escalated until they dominated the headlines in local newspapers. The entity was described as very tall, covered in black fur, and having eyes that “glowed with reflected light” (Bord and Bord 2006, 77). That is, the creature merely exhibited animal eyeshine, reflecting light from such sources as car headlights.

Indeed, two fruit pickers, brothers from Georgia, saw the creature in their headlights on June 9, standing upright at an estimated nine feet tall. It appeared to be a cross, they said, between a gorilla and—a bear. What this characterization probably meant was that it looked like a bear if (as they perhaps did not know bears did) one stood on its hind legs. Over the next couple of days, what is now called the Sister Lakes Monster had presumably returned to its lair (Bord and Bord 2006, 77–78; Brandon 1978, 115; Coleman and Huyghe 1999, 50).

Nevertheless, would-be monster hunters and sightseers flocked to the area, where cafes served Monster Burgers, a theater played horror fare, and the radio station interrupted its Monster Music with monster updates. One enterprising storekeeper marketed a monster-hunting kit, complete with a light, net, baseball bat, and—just in case—a wooden stake and mallet. All in good fun, but when the teenagers began to don old fur coats and imitate the monster, the sheriff stated, “I had to order hunters away because it’s getting mighty dangerous—three thousand strangers prowling about at night with guns . . .” (Bord and Bord 2006, 78).

It would hardly have been safe for people or bears. Allowing for a little understandable exaggeration (monsters tend to loom larger, rather than smaller, in frightened witnesses’ eyes), I think the Sister Lakes Monster was likely to have been, once again, a black bear.


Dwayyo

In Maryland, near wooded Gambrill State Park in 1965, one John Becker claimed that he went outside his house to investigate a strange noise, and on his way back, he said, he saw something approaching. “It was as big as a bear, had long black hair, a bushy tail, and growled like a wolf or a dog in anger.” Moving toward him, it stood upright and began to attack, but Becker fought it until—with his wife and children looking on in horror—the creature ran away. He subsequently claimed to have filed a report with the Maryland State Police (“Dwayyo” 2013).

Now, this account of a four-footed creature “as big as a bear” sounds just like a bear (save perhaps for the “bushy tail”—a black bear’s being only about six inches long), but in what is described almost like hand-to-paw combat, surely one would recognize a bear. Actually, this story was almost certainly a hoax. A state police spokesman denied they received any such report, and “Becker” proved to be a pseudonym.

An opportunistic reporter for the Frederick News Post, George May, who cranked out several articles on the creature, is implicated: Someone had used the Becker name to apply for a “Dwayyo License” from the county treasurer’s office and the return address was in care of George May at the Frederick News Post ! (“Dwayyo” 2013; Chorvinsky and Opsasnick 1988; “Big hairy monsters” 1973) Whatever the truth, some earlier and subsequent sightings of a creature in the area could well be those of bears.

Summary and Conclusions

As these several examples show, not only does Bigfoot most resemble an upright-standing bear generally, but certain well-known regional subtypes—both past and present—seem to tally with black bears: Florida’s Skunk Apes (smelly black bears); a “bluish” Bigfoot in southwestern Yukon (a blue-gray or “glacier” variety black bear); the blueberry-picking Old Yellow Top of Cobalt, Ontario (a blond-maned black bear); Labrador’s bipedal/quadrapedal traverspine “Gorilla” (a typical large black bear); Arkansas’s reddish-furred Fouke Monster (a familiar cinnamon-colored black bear); Momo, the Missouri Monster, with “waddling” walk (an upright-walking black bear); Illinois’s “dirty white” creature known as Big Muddy (a white, possibly rare albino black bear); the nine-foot Sister Lakes, Michigan, monster with “glowing” eyes (the exaggeration of a black bear with normal eyeshine); and the Dwayyo of Maryland lore (a hoax with occasional bear sightings).

Many other examples could be given, but these should be sufficient to show that indeed, not only do bears often double as Bigfoot but some specific subtypes are mimicked by particular bear behavior, varieties of coloration, or other traits.



Acknowledgments

Librarian Lisa Nolan, of the CFI Libraries staff, provided considerable assistance with the research for this article.

References

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell's photo

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.