By RENEE FITE
CNHI News Service
He’s a legendary figure who’s been sighted in northwest Canada, all the way south into the bogs of Louisiana. His cousins have been spotted in the Himalayas and in parts of Africa. And several northeastern Oklahoma residents will swear he’s tramped through their backyards.
Bigfoot was king of the day at a new event that focused on the creature some claim to have seen, and others consider mythical.
A life-size replica and drawing of Bigfoot greeted visitors to the Oklahoma Bigfoot Symposium on Saturday. In the back of the room, photos and imprints made from giant footprints and knuckles were on display.
Sponsored by the Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center, the event was held at the Stilwell Community Center. Darren Lee, executive director and founder of Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center, has put on conferences since 2007 in Hanobia, near Talihina, and decided it was time to do one here.
“When people move trailers out in areas where we’ve never been before and something gets beat up, like the air conditioner, it’s common for Bigfoot to show that you’re not welcome by slapping it,” Lee said. “We’re going to have more encounters.”
Lee began doing research on the creature in 1991.
“I started meeting more and more people who had the same interests and same perceptions I did,” Lee said. “Now, we have 300-plus members.”
They work with researchers from all over the world – including Australia and New Zealand – who are looking for their own versions of Bigfoot, Lee said.
“We haven’t broken into China and Russia yet, but they have their version of Bigfoot, too,” he said. “The importance of turning in sighting reports, is that the more documentation we have, the better the research is. We keep the identity of people confidential, because not everyone likes to talk about it.”
Lee said many people who claim to have seen the furry, ape-like creature are traumatized afterward.
“Some people actually have traumatic experiences with it, like (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms, from the size and the fact something can be out in the woods with them,” he said. “As a Boy Scout, I used to run through the woods without a flashlight. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that. It’s kinda scary thinking about a Bigfoot out there.”
Lee said research indicates the species don’t appear to be dangerous.
“But people disappear out in the woods, and we never know if it’s Bigfoot or a bobcat,” he said. “I’ve seen close to 21 sightings, most in Adair, Cherokee and Sequoyah counties. We found knuckle prints just last night.”
He knows one man who had a sighting and searched 10 years before his next encounter.
“You see your first one and get hooked,” Lee said. “We have recordings of the whoop they do.”
Lee’s grandson, Izzy Gutierrez, 10, has been a part of field research since he was 4 months old, sleeping in the car while family members waited in the woods. Now it’s hard to hold him back, Lee said.
“It’s fun, because I get to hang out with other researchers and my grandma and grandpa,” Gutierrez said. “I like to go four-wheeling and camp out overnight and for a week.”
He’s seen a lot of wildlife, waterfalls and beautiful scenery, and met many people, but hasn’t seen a Bigfoot year. At least, not clearly.
“I saw one run across a field; that got me pretty excited,” Gutierrez said.
Presentations varied from conducting and documenting research, using special electronic equipment, to Laughsquatch, a collection of cartoons about Bigfoot, Bigfoot lore and sounds. Vendors had a variety of items for sale, including survival bracelets and Bigfoot jewelry, surveillance equipment and books on the topic.
Robert Swain, presenter of Laughsquatch, showed slides of his Bigfoot cartoons.
“Old newspapers are rich with history,” Swain said. “There are 300 to 400 sightings a year, many from October through December, which corresponds with deer season, when so many people are out in the woods.”
Swain has always had an interest in Bigfoot. While he was growing up in Missouri, he heard stories about Momo, the Missouri Monster. Now he shares his interest with his son.
“It’s good for a hobby,” said Swain. “We find footprints, and audio sounds and the search is fun. When I started taking my son camping, I began drawing Bigfoot cartoons for him.”
Jean Jones came with daughters Peggy Ross and Carissa Schulze. Schulze volunteers as a field researcher.
“I think it’s awesome, all those Bigfoots. I haven’t seen one, but I’m still looking,” Jones said. “Some of these pictures (of Bigfoot research) were taken on my property on Arkansas Highway 59, up on Workman Mountain.”
Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center Eastern Oklahoma State Director Roy McClish got involved eight years ago after he retired and was looking for something to do.
“I was surfing the Internet, and ran across the MABRC site. I love the outdoors, and the more I read, the more interested I was,” McClish said. “I applied for membership and was accepted.”
He most enjoys the camaraderie and thrill of research.
“Most people don’t believe in Bigfoot. We’re trying to learn something about their habits, how they’ve survived unnoticed,” McClish said.
One night, while camping, he thought he heard the other men talking, then realized it wasn’t them.
“I’ve had vocal contact,” said McClish. “We had tents set up about 30 yards apart. About 2 a.m., they began to have a conversation between themselves that sounded like gibberish.”
The conversation went back and forth, McClish said. Then he heard footsteps walk away, and splash through the creek.
“It sounded like a large group jabbering, and then they moved away,” he said. “I really want to see one.”
He’s done castings of prints.
“We found some knuckle prints last night,” he said Saturday. “One knuckle section was 4 to 5 inches long.”
Arkansas State Director Mike Hartsell said he’s always wondered about Bigfoot since he saw the movie, “Legend of Boggy Creek.”
“There are sightings all the time around my house south of Fort Smith,” Hartsell said. “Everybody thinks Bigfoot is a fake, but you can’t find him on a computer; you have to be in the woods.”
He’s had two sightings, both in southeast Oklahoma, in the Washita National Forest.
Simple curiosity has researcher Carissa Schulze searching for proof.
“Darren was in my dad’s Boy Scout troop. So I called him to ask about Bigfoot,” Schulze said. “I know there’s been lots of animals found they didn’t know existed anymore.”
She’s heard the vocals and had rocks thrown at her during her first time to do field research.
“The rocks came flying out of the woods at me; I was out in a clearing in the Nicut area,” Schulze said. “I like the things I cannot explain, like the noises, and I like being outdoors.”
Abe Del Rio, director of the Minnesota Bigfoot organization, came to support his friends. He’s been doing research for 12 years.
“My interest first got piqued when I was camping and heard a Bigfoot,” Del Rio said. “Most people don’t come forward, but I’ve seen footprints, heard audio, had rocks thrown at me and been paralleled, followed when I walked.”
Hailing from Georgia, the “Bigfoot Chicks” — Angela Martindale and Melissa Adair — sold survival bracelets, made from paracord that can be used for a variety of needs in the woods. Their presentation was “Three Centuries of Bigfoot Lore.”
“I grew up hearing Bigfoot stories from my dad, and I got into it with him,” Adair said. “I’ve heard the tree knocks, where they seem to communicate with each other. I haven’t had a sighting, but I’ve had other experiences, like the keen sense of being watched.”
Adair said she found footprints in North Carolina.
Martindale loves being outside and got interested with her friend.
“I love searching for the mystery and searching for the unknown,” Martindale said. “When camping, I’ve heard the howl responses and tree knocks.”
TO LEARN more about the Bigfoot symposium and other research, visit Bigfootchicks.com, www.mid-americabigfoot.com, www.mid-americabigfoot.com/forums and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups.mabrc.