There are strange sights seen on the Hoh River in winter.
“I saw a monkey sitting on a log,” my fancy friend said one day as we floated through the rain forest.
“Was it a big monkey?” I asked.
“A very big monkey!” he said.
“That’s just Harvey the brush ape. He doesn’t mean any harm,” I lied. There was no time to explain to the poor person sitting in the front of the boat that we had to get out of there before something bad happened, again. We were in mortal danger of being casualties of a primate behavior research project gone berserk.
Bigfoot or Sasquatch, also known as Stick Indians, Skookum or Seatco, are part of a tradition of large hairy ape-like creature that has haunted this land since before the beginning. Every tribe of Native Americans on the Olympic Peninsula has an oral tradition of these creatures.
They tell of a village wiped out by Skookums on Hood Canal, a war above what is now Blyn on Sequim Bay with a cannibal ogress that was stealing children. There was a battle between the S’Klallam and the Quileute when the giant buried them under a landslide to form Lake Crescent.
A gathering of Quinault, Cowlitz and Chehalis were wiped out at Enchanted Valley up the South Fork of the Quinault River. The same thing was supposed to have happened up the Wynoochee River.
The Press Expedition spent the winter of 1890 lost up the Elwha River. They had been warned of Seatco, by Washington’s former Territorial Governor Eugene Semple.
Seatco had a bad reputation for causing landslides and knocking over giant trees with a stick. That’s how they got the name “Stick Indians.”
The Press Expedition met a party of S’Klallam hunters up the Elwha Valley near what is now the Olympic National Park boundary. The hunters told the explorers they had no idea what was upstream.
Of course this might have just been a S’Klallam story to keep the hunting and fishing for themselves. Their traditions say the Sasquatch had their own territory where the S’Klallam did not go.
In 1924 S’Klallam journalist George Totsgi wrote in the Olympic Tribune, a Port Angeles newspaper in July 18, 1924, that “Indians would not go up the Elwha River without many white men along because of their fear of the Stick Siwashes.”
History records another example of the Native American dread of what lurked in the rugged, unknown interior of the Olympic Mountains.
In July of 1885 Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil hired an “old Indian guide,” for his U.S. Army expedition south of Port Angeles. That was until the guide found out where they were going, up Ennis Creek.
O’Neil describes how once the guide saw where the expedition was camped and where they were going, no amount of pay or death threats would detain him. The guide ran out of camp the very first night. O’Neil chalked it up to a native superstition, a fear of the Thunder Bird, the mythical monster bird large enough to catch whales, said to nest in the Olympics but it might have been something else. Maybe it was just a coincidence but O’Neil also mentions a lot of screaming at night around their camp. The mules were stampeded into the timber.
This camp was on Skull Creek, a small tributary of Ennis Creek, named for the discovery of a well preserved human skull the expedition turned up while cutting a trial.
Native Americans did travel up into the interior of the high Olympics. The Stick Indians obviously didn’t kill everyone who went upriver.
The S’Klallam hunter, Boston Charley, was the last medicine man of the Clallam. He hunted the high Olympics. Boston Charlie told of breaking his leg in the headwaters of the Elwha and being cared for by a Sasquatch who brought him berries and water. Maybe it was the same Stick Indian that followed him home one autumn down at the mouth of the river and took all of the fish out of his smokehouse and left a calf elk in trade.
Many people have seen the Sasquatch since that time. Many more have heard calls and screaming around their camps in the woods at night. That’s normal in these hills but you should have heard the scary noises at night around camp once my hunt for Bigfoot started.
There was the chest beating, posturing and eating noises coming not from the surrounding wilderness but from the nightly buffet at the Bigfoot hunter’s camp. The terrifying scream of the Sasquatch seemed tame by comparison.
I’d be the first to admit I was only in the hunt for Bigfoot for the money and possible future product endorsements. I could have been a contender. A lot of folks claimed to be hunting Bigfoot, but I had Bigfoot hunting me. He was always hanging around, knocking over coolers, raiding the garbage can and removing the 100-pound metal screen that was over the compost pit so he could get at the fresh salmon parts inside.
He liked to push trees over for fun. Or just stand there and watch me chop wood. You always knew when he was around when you heard the calls of ravens and other birds that were too loud to come from a bird.
You generally see a raven when he calls. They want the world to look up and take notice. Anything that doesn’t is liable to be the raven’s next meal. The fact is some bird calls in the woods weren’t made by birds at all. Harvey was a mimic who could sound like anything from a bugling bull elk to a police siren. He liked to scream around the camp at night when he ran out of beer.
That was a mistake, leaving bowls of beer on the riverbank at night. I thought I could lure the creature in and get him drunk enough for a quick ride to the zoo. Instead it was just another failed experiment in primate research.
For whatever reason I failed to find funding for my hunt for Bigfoot. I had to cut costs. Expenses were mounting.
Accidents will happen. Like when the plaster of Paris used to make impressions of the creature’s track was dumped into the pancake batter. Or when alcohol intended to preserve stool samples was dumped into the punch.
Then, a series of large footprints with a stride about six feet apart that were found in the mud along the edge of a pond. It looked like a human foot except it was large enough for my size 12 boot to fit inside with room to spare.
This called for expert analysis. I called Professor Grover S. Krantz, a physical anthropology professor from Washington State University who retired in Agnew, near Sequim. He has been called “the father of cryptozoology,” that is the study of animals that have yet to be officially “discovered” by modern science.
Dr. Krantz was one of the few scientists who not only researched the existence of Bigfoot; he believed the creature existed based upon physical evidence. Hand and foot prints of the creature exhibited dermal ridges and the physical mechanics of a large creature that walked on two feet and did not have an opposable thumb. Krantz found that suspected Sasquatch hair did not resemble the hair or fur of any known animal. Sasquatch dung was found to contain a parasite found in pigs in Northern China.
For his research Dr. Krantz was denied grants and promotions. He could not get his research published in peer-reviewed journals. It took him 10 years longer than normal to become a tenured professor.
Dr. Krantz had never seen a Sasquatch himself but he thought they existed based upon tracks, hair, dung and a fossil record that stretched back a million years or so.
He made a cast of the track I had found. While he was mixing up his special plaster of Paris solution, Dr. Krantz revealed that the goal of his research. He wanted to collect one of the creatures so it could be protected. I asked the Professor how he planned on “collecting” a Sasquatch. He said it would have to get shot. By then we were sitting in the kitchen of the lodge which was packed to the rafters with elk and deer horns with some bear and varmint hides thrown in. I told Dr. Krantz that I was a was a fair shot with a .338 magnum with hand loaded two hundred grain boat tails going 3,000 feet per second that will blow a hole in an elk a half a mile away and kill the one standing behind it, but I wouldn’t have the guts to shoot a Sasquatch. Besides, I told him.
“That would be murder.”
Dr. Krantz disagreed. No matter, he was one of those guys with whom you could disagree and still have a conversation. It was one I’ll never forget.
Dr. Krants left the lodge with a cast of the print that he would subject to a series of measurements, the details of which he would not reveal. He called a week later and said the track was a fake. That was the last time I talked to Grover S. Krantz. I felt terrible; to think he thought I was lowdown enough to make a fake Sasquatch track. Like I needed another chore!
The possibility that the track was a fake created a far more terrifying possibility. The prospect of a large hairy ape stalking the camp was one thing, the idea of some obviously deranged person walking around bare foot in the middle of hunting season when the woods were full of hunters shooting at anything that moved 24-7, was really scary. The hunt for Bigfoot sort of fizzled after that. It was OK.
Dr. Krantz wanted to collect a specimen of this undiscovered ape species to prove it really existed. That’s what got me wondering, who the real savage beast was. Except for knocking over a few trees, throwing some rocks Harvey had never done anything to me to get shot over. Meanwhile the human race had plundered the natural resources of this land into economic extinction in just a few short years.
I told Harvey he was lucky he was a fake and a fraud and didn’t exist. He’d stay that way if he knew what was good for him. Many creatures from the hundred pound salmon to the Olympic Mountain Moonshiner have gone extinct shortly after they were discovered. I was through studying Bigfoot. I cut off his beer ration.
Harvey just moped around the woods near the camp, moaning. Once in a while he’d yell “Hey!” like he was ordering another round. I could tell he was depressed but I had my own problems. Once you discover Bigfoot, how do you get rid of him? I thought he was one of those problems you could ignore and they would just go away.
The run of fall salmon had started running. The Eagles moved upriver to hunt the salmon. They are the fishermen’s friend. Eagles sit in the trees and watch the fish. Once you figure out the eagles it’s like having your own private bird dog for fish. I thought it was only fair if I fed them the heads and guts. I started cleaning the fish at the same spot along the river. Some days the eagles seemed to be waiting, some days they weren’t. I threw the fish heads and guts on the same stretch of beach anyway. I figured the eagles would get them eventually but I was wrong.
Something else started hanging around that stretch of beach. It smelled worse than a dead skunk. There were no more eagles or any other birds on the gut pile. We heard a raven calling from back in the woods. We never saw the raven.
“That sure is a loud raven,” my fancy friend said from the front of the boat.
“It sure is,” I lied. “I rowed down river as hard as I could.
We hadn’t caught anything that day. Fishing is like that. Some days only sure way to get a fish is to go to a supermarket.
Harvey did not understand this concept of not catching fish. It was my fault. I had violated the prime directive of wilderness travel. I fed the wildlife. I was the supermarket. The shelves were bare. Harvey registered his displeasure.
When were kids we used to play “sink the navy.” That was a game where we threw a stick in the river and threw rocks at it. Whoever hit the stick, “sunk the navy.”
Before I knew it Harvey was trying to sink my navy.
“Kersploosh!” A big rock sailed out of the woods and landed with a splash five feet of our stern.
“What was that?” my fancy friend asked.
“A fish jumped!” I lied.
“Why don’t we try to catch it?” He asked.
“Oh, it was just an old spawner,” I lied, launching into a guide yarn about how no real sportsman would try to catch fish off their spawning bed.
“Yes I would!” my fancy friend said. “I’d like to catch … something.”
“Let’s go downstream. This hole has a lot of snags.” I lied again. He made a cast anyway and wouldn’t you know it, caught a big bright steelhead. He wanted to catch another one but it was starting to get dark.
I cleaned the fish, threw the guts on the beach. It was way past time to get out of there.
There are strange sights seen on the Hoh River in winter.