USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bigfoot’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Bigfoot and the Zodiac Killer

“So we went on a scout trip near Bodega Bay, and the campfire talk was all about Bigfoot. Bigfoot is a huge hairy creature that lives in the woods. We kept arguing about whether he was real and whether he would come into a camp with a fire or not. So we all decided that the fire had to be big enough to scare him away. So, of course, you can imagine the size of the fire. The kids wanted to cut down trees and put them into the thing. This was also during the time of the Zodiac Killer, so we were even more paranoid and jumpy. We slept with the fire burning, and Bigfoot never bothered us. After that, I always made my campfires as big as possible because I was taught it would keep people safe from whatever is in the woods.”

Context: The informant grew up in Sacramento, and was a member of the Boy Scouts.

Interpretation: The act of making a campfire with fellow scouts is in itself a unifying activity, but claiming it is in defense against a common enemy strengthens the bond of the troop even more. Whether the threatening creature in the woods is Bigfoot or the Zodiac Killer, the thought distracts scouts from the much more tangible threat of nature itself. In fact, the troop arguably put themselves in more danger by creating a larger fire, but their fears were focused elsewhere. The parallels drawn between the Zodiac Killer and Bigfoot are particularly interesting. Both figures are predatory and shrouded in mystery, but they are viewed very differently by the public. 

Legends

Bigfoot

Data was collected in a noisy classroom near the end of a discussion session. Dr. Mayfield was my TA, and had told me the previous week that she had witnessed a “strange occurrence,” which she was willing to share with me for the folklore archives.

This memorate was recalled from a trip in 2013 in Wisconsin Dells, a vacation spot around Lake Michigan. The informate grew up in Chicago, then moved to Tennessee at the age of 8, where she was told about Bigfoot – or the “skunk ape” or “swamp ape” – by other children in middle school. She first heard about it at a camp sleepover in the woods, and since then, heard about it many times.
“I saw Bigfoot. I smelled Bigfoot, actually. Yeah I think I may have smelled Bigfoot. So we were in Wisconsin, um, Wisconsin Dells. Um, and I was sitting outside, uhhm, smoking a cigarette, which is why I was outside by myself at like 3 o’clock in the morning, and I thought I saw somebody walking around? And then I smelled this terrible, terrible smell. And then I heard a noise I’d never heard that sounded kind of like gurgling and yelling at the same time? And kind of howling, but it definitely wasn’t a dog, and it wasn’t a bear. And then I heard it lumber off…. But I definitely saw the shadow of something, like, on the other side of a tree that was… I guess it could’ve been a bear on its hind legs, but it definitely, to me, looked like, like a, a really hairy Chewbacca. It was a full moon – and it was a full moon. So I could see pretty well. It was probably about 50 to 60 feet away from me. But it smelled different than I’ve ever – that was the other thing, is it… it smelled like…. Like a ho-, like [smacks licks, thinking]… a horse barn that had never been cleaned out. Like hay and mold and it was the weirdest thing. There was a like, super strong smell. Um, again, I guess it could’ve been a bear, but it really did not look like that to me. So that’s, that’s my story, but… I definitely have no idea what it was. It, there are bears in that area, but they’re also smaller bears, probably 7 to 9 feet tall… I don’t know if other people have seen Bigfoot, or have smelled Bigfoot. I would say that the biggest that was different was I smelled it, and I grew up in the country for at least part of the time, and I’d never heard anything like that, and I’d never smelled anything like that. Um, but it definitely, um, it had a different… if it was a bear, it was almost like its voicebox was messed up or something, cause it definitely did not sound like that… The only thing that I ever smelled like it, just to kinda add to the story, is, I’d been living in Tucson for a while, I actually commute, and, um, they have wild pigs there, and they have a similar smell. So you don’t, you don’t see them, but you start to smell them, and you’re like, ‘Okay there’s these, these wild pigs around.’ So that’s the only thing that at all has smelled like anything like I smelled. Which sounds like the weirdest thing, you would think it would be seeing it, but there was this smell. I guess I was downwind, which is probably good if it was a sasquatch [laughs]. It didn’t come get me.”
This is not the only account of (what people assume is) Bigfoot having a distinct smell. According to the Animal Planet show Finding Bigfoot, “about 10 or 15 percent of witnesses report some sort of smell associated with sasquatches. A lot of times it’s described as ‘rotting meat.’” (https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/finding-bigfoot/videos/the-smell-of-death-is-in-the-air)

Legends
Narrative

Bigfoot: A Legend

Okay so Bigfoot is this big giant black human ape furry creature. I don’t know what it eats, and I don’t know what it does but -um- Oh! I heard that it creeps up to people’s homes at night and watches them sleep and it doesn’t like to hurt people, but it seems to be really curious.

I’m not so sure about the Yeti, it’s like the thing – the abominable snowman – is the snow version of Bigfoot so it’s like big and white and scary. Much more violent and dangerous. I don’t really know where it lives, but it’s not the Pacific Northwest like Bigfoot. Honestly, if I had the time, I would probably go searching for Bigfoot.

The Informant is Vietnamese. She was born in the US and grew up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County. She is an Economics and Mathematics student at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, revealed her staunch belief in Bigfoot (and skepticism of the Yeti) as I distracted her from her own schoolwork on 4/22 at around 2am.

Bigfoot is a legendary legend. The mysterious creature has nearly become a pop-culture icon. Though Bigfoot is thought of as an American folklore mainstay, depictions of similar creature preexist the United States and even exist in other countries, a possible example of polygenesis.

The legend of Bigfoot can be traced back to Native tribes throughout the United States. In fact, accounts of similar looking and behaving creatures exist in the oral traditions of many Native American tribes. Even more interestingly, if we look at linguistic groups of native languages, each one has a different name for what is now known as Bigfoot, further suggesting that the legend is not one of monogenesis.

In Māori mythology, the Maero, a large and hairy wildman would prey on humans using stone tools and sharp claws. The Maero is a devil creature in Māori folklore, with the creature a sworn enemy of the people. Whereas Bigfoot is rumored to peer into people’s homes at night, tainting their feeling of privacy and security, the Maero is said to have ruined the tapu (sacredness) of the Māori’s homes.

I had no idea how old the legend of Bigfoot was or that various versions existed in other continents. I’m not a believer in the legend nowadays. It is theoretically possible that a species inhabited the forests thousands of years ago, but I believe they are long gone now.

For a more in-depth folkloric analysis on Bigfoot, see the article ‘”The “Truth” about the Bigfoot Legend”‘ by Linda Milligan posted here.

Folk Beliefs

The Hodag

In western Wisconsin lives the Hodag, a creature of folk legend native to Stephen’s Point that the informant described as their version of Bigfoot, but more evocative of a mongoose-like creature. It lives in the woods, and people frequently report sightings.

The informant claims most people don’t truly believe in the Hodag, treating it more as a tongue-in-cheek part of the culture. I suspect folk proliferation of the creature thrives largely due to the way the informant told me it bolsters the local tourism industry, with the Hodag plastered all over merchandise and used to entice outsiders to give the town a closer look and, by proxy, help out their business. Informant seemed dismissive of the local superstition, but still amused by it, as most Wisconsin natives probably are.

A bit of independent research revealed the Hodag is actually most closely associated with Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where it was “discovered.” That the informant didn’t know exactly where the creature is most popular despite living in Wisconsin indicates that general awareness of the creature greatly diminishes the farther out of Rhinelander one travels. I suspect it started out as some sort of hoax and proliferated from there, with locals becoming attached to the first accounts of the creature’s existence.

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