Playing the Field — The Bigfoot All Stars

To me the “Golden Age” of Bigfootery is one enjoyed as one would enjoy a good theatre performance. I’ve mentioned many times the difference between the real life comic strip some topics become as opposed to legends. The classic age is a mixture of both and is thoroughly entertaining. In Recasting Bigfoot I do not assess the character of the great performers. I don’t see how it is relevant to the topic. Recasting Bigfoot is about reassessing the evidence and moving forward from there. The actions and views of the respective Bigfooters were relevant insofar as these had bearing on significant moments in Bigfoot history or theories about Bigfoot.

However much some might berate the players, the players are the ones who made Bigfootery such an entertaining legend that it lasted long enough so that a new generation can probe deeper. I’m not being cynical. I’m being quite praiseworthy of the “unique character” ingredient, so please hear me out. Every subject needs strong and interesting personalities involved, whether they be coarse, crude, egotistical or buffoons. Without them the subject will only remain a subject. Legends, even comic strip garishness, need personalities. Gotham cannot stand on its own. It must have Batman and Robin.

That’s a pretty tall order in real life.

So let’s dig into the spice of classic Bigfootery’s characters and their tangible contributions in terms of evidence and their intangible contributions as great players who gave momentum to a legend that America and Canada, and perhaps the whole world, still loves. This is not a negative or personal assessment. These men played on a public stage, and they played their part well, even if that part was sometimes not so likeable. A critique is also necessary as education for prospective Bigfooters. “It’s no game!” as Rene Dahinden adamantly asserted. Both then and now it can be a ruthless pursuit. Politics don’t change. Only the players. Let’s see why some made it big and why some did not.

The best beginning is with some unsung heroes. There was a group of players who were often behind the scenes but they helped build the stage.

The Bay Area Group

News of the vandalizing of Harrison Hills (1934) and eventually the Blakeney Expedition stirred the interest of a San Francisco Bay Area man named Arch Buckley. From his statements he was the first Bigfooter, long before we ever heard of Bigfoot and long before Californians took Sasquatch to heart and suspected one might reside here. After Bigfoot reality in 1958 he would become more active and finally with George Haas, an Oakland gardener, would co-found The Bay Area Group.

Arch Buckley on In Search of, 1978.
Arch Buckley on “In Search of,” 1978.

Archie Buckley was relatively unknown to the world at large until In Search of featured him and The Bay Area Group in “Monster Hunters” in 1978. He leapt to momentary stardom. When he died in 2007 Loren Coleman wrote that after the In Search of episode Buckley “melted back into the forest.” Media wise, yes. However, through George Haas, Buckley had some enduring influence behind the scenes. George published the Bigfoot Bulletin, which was a private newsletter for those serious in Bigfoot research. He did it for free, requesting only information and reports in return. It was published monthly, starting January 1969. The Bulletin was influential. At its height it went to about 40 Bigfooters in North America and about the same number was eventually mailed to Russia. Altogether it must have had a circulation of about 100, but it was a significant 100 who were active in the field.

Due to the Patterson Film, this was a popular time for Bigfoot across North America.  With Buckley and Haas having been involved since 1958 they were in a good position. In fact, The Bay Area Group was probably the best poised to be a leading influence in all aspects of the hot pursuit of Bigfoot as his decade (1970s) truly dawned. Bigfoot had begun at Bluff Creek, California, after all.  They were The Bay Area Group, the closest to northern California’s mysterious forests and to local media outlets. Unfortunately, a few things happened. Ironically, though northern California had been the center of the Bigfoot craze– indeed its cradle– it would almost entirely be forsaken for the pursuit of Bigfoot in Washington State and Canada. The reason?

Well, there are a few. For starters, the characters involved further north were the strongest, most outspoken and most self-aggrandizing. Bigfootery would come to surround 4 nodal points– John Green, Rene Dahinden, Grover Krantz and Peter Byrne. They, with their varying opinions and politics, would become the Four Horseman of Sasquatchery. In truth, they upstaged all other players.

In the early 1970s Robert W. Morgan was also making headlines basing his search around Mount St. Helens. He had grants from the National Wildlife Federation, no less. This would culminate in controversies and in his charming 1976 In Search of Bigfoot.

By contrast, The Bay Area Group’s searches in the Trinity National Forest and in the High Sierras went uncovered except in the Bigfoot Bulletin. They remained visible within Bigfootery, but not within the nation.

The upshot is that the center of Bigfootery had moved north. Despite getting the Bigfoot Bulletin (and contributing thereto), the most influential Bigfooters viewed The Bay Area Group as naïve at best and at worst as cranks.

Arch Buckley expounds the BAG's no kill philosophy to Alan Berry.
Arch Buckley expounds the BAG’s no kill philosophy to Alan Berry.

They were the most likeable Bigfooters. They were sincerely out to document Bigfoot and film him. And that was it. There was no self-aggrandizement. They hunted with only camera and tape recorder. This equals Zero media command. Easy to upstage.

But most of all, the reason why The Bay Area Group faded was the truth of Bigfootery’s appraisal– they were cranks. They were likable cranks, but they were cranks nonetheless.

Arch Buckley’s claims to have been in the pursuit since the 1930s was dubious since not even Canadian Whites really knew what Sasquatch were at this time. It is also clear from Buckley’s own articles in the Bigfoot Bulletin and from his episode on In Search of that his whole image and approach to Bigfoot was obsolete. In substance, Buckley and Haas held the old “Man Animals” view of the Northwest, as it was crystalized in the San Francisco Chronicle’s articles in 1965 by George Draper. This really didn’t mix with the Patterson Film amalgam, but they could accept both.

The modern legend in the San Francisco Chronicle 1965
The modern legend in the San Francisco Chronicle 1965

Arch Buckley also took to heart Albert Ostmann’s claims about having been kidnapped by 4 Sasquatches in 1924. In this rather fanciful event Ostmann claims that these Sasquatches, which he described quite different from the Patterson Film image of Bigfoot, could speak such exhilarating words as soka soka and ook.

It is “ook” which captured Buckley’s imagination. In 1970 he was sure he finally had his Bigfoot encounter at Basin Gulch, near Platina, California. He recreated it for In Search of in 1978. He hung rotten fish from a tree (salmon) and called out lovingly “ook, ook, old friend, ook old boy,” sure he was endearing himself to Bigfoot. “This is a word I picked up some time ago.” Well, the producer certainly couldn’t afford to challenge that with the obvious question: “You have a word from Bigfoot’s vocabulary? How did you get that?”Buckley5

Of course, it was from Albert Ostmann’s tale of the odd and cro magnon, and of Bigfeet women who needed bras.

Although Buckley’s ultimate encounter was declared to be the high point of a 40 year pursuit, it really happened only a month after they had first camped at Basin Gulch with his brother Delmas and his brother-in-law. One night in May 1970 they had heard heavy footsteps. Arch described them as sounding like a 200 pound man stamping down hard. The next morning the trio searched and found what they were sure were Bigfoot tracks. Buckley described the tracks as having headed toward their camp (attracted by the rotten fish) and then veered away.

Buckley would return in June by himself and have his encounter.

Calling out lovingly
Calling out lovingly “Ook, ook, ook old friend.” Arch Buckley recreating his June 1970 encounter.

But because of the write-up in the Bigfoot Bulletin about “Buckley Expedition Encounters Footprints” the Foster family came to the same area and had experiences that were, to say the least, stupendous if true, including sighting Bigfoot and Bigfoot even coming up and tweaking the aerial of their car.

Haas, Buckley and Warren Thompson arrived to investigate a couple of days later. However, while they were there no more sightings were had. The encounters had stopped with their arrival, but they nevertheless seemed to believe the Fosters accounts. Warren Thompson would do a sketch of the Bigfoot. It is clearly inspired by Patterson’s Bigfoot with the cone head.

There was another problem with The Bay Area Group. Being back with the troglodyte theory crowd, they had some extreme views. Bigfootery had moved on to Gigantopithecus and shoot one at all costs. The Bay Area Group was strongly opposed to this. George Haas even made it clear they would only with great reluctance agree to a capture. There was argument throughout all Bigfootery about shooting one, but Haas’ views about no capture were pretty extreme, and along with Buckley, Haas  anchored The Bay Area’s Group’s philosophy. Yet, amazingly, Arch Buckley held to this humanoid view despite insisting that the Bigfoot he saw had nocturnal eyes (those that reflect light) which no human or ape has.

Buckley spies his Bigfoot at Basin Gulch.
Safely ensconced in his Bug, Buckley spies his Bigfoot at Basin Gulch.

After Bossburg (The Cripple Foot fiasco, 1969-70) ripped the entire Bigfoot community apart, the Bigfoot Bulletin and Haas’ attempt to bring unity to Bigfoot’s pursuit was obsolete. This was now the era of no shared information. No community attempts. It was get one at all cost. The Bigfoot Bulletin failed. The Bay Area was now far from the center of a ruthless pursuit and the Group had conflicting philosophies that spelt only one thing: failure.

Without the Bulletin, The Bay Area Group became nothing but some old homeboys going on camping trips in certain areas of the Trinity National Forest or High Sierras, hoping that Bigfoot might stumble over their sleeping bag. They maintained personal contact with the others. John Green always tried to be polite, but it is clear from his publications and letters to others that he viewed the “no shoot” philosophy and those who espoused it as dangerous to the pursuit.

The BAG still played a role in significant events. In 1972 Alan Berry, an ephemeral member of the Group, while camping in an area of the High Sierras recommended by Warren Thompson, recorded unusual sounds that were like some kind of deep throated ape. This landed his tape on the granddaddy of documentaries– David Wolper’s Mysterious Monsters (a recreation used actors)– and then Berry himself was also on In Search of (1978) recreating his own experience. He was also briefly seen on Alan Landsburg’s 1978 documentary Manbeast, which was largely centered around Peter Byrne. Powerful influence, for the tape anyway.

Securing his microphone.
Securing his microphone.

The tape remains, but time has not be good to The Bay Area Group’s theorizing. Haas, of course, wrote of their expedition to Basin Gulch. They found a half eaten deer. They were sure Bigfoot had killed it. They also thought there was a family of Bigfeet. It looked as though one Bigfoot lurked behind a tree by the deer run and reached out and grabbed the deer as they ran past. Naturally, the other Bigfeet in the family were the ones scaring the deer into a stampede so that they would run past the tree. Everything was Ostmann’s concept of the subhuman Sasquatch family.

The road to Basin Gulch.
The road to Basin Gulch.

George Haas also needed stories to keep the Bulletin on track. This desire naturally caused him to not be so discriminating in what he published. The idea of Flying Saucers with Bigfoot cycled first through the Bigfoot Bulletin, and also the reports of Sasquatch from such unfounded places as Illinois.

Alan Berry would bring these to Bantam’s pocket sized paperback in his Bigfoot book in 1976. It must have been hard to base a book around a trip to the Sierras and recording some interesting warbling. No doubt why the book was expanded with some of the worst misinformation to cycle through the Bulletin. Out of friendship with Haas, John Green must have agreed to write the introduction to the book before realizing what would be in it. It’s one of those rare introductions that thinly skirts the line of declaring ‘this book is full of shit.’ Berry introduced aliens, 3 toed Bigfeet and psychic encounters. Green didn’t want to consider one and wished the other would go away. Interestingly, in neither In Search of or Manbeast was Berry credited as an author of a Bigfoot book.

Time indeed has not been good. It has been 45 years since Buckley’s much immortalized experience at Basin Gulch and The Bay Area Group’s speculation a whole family lived there. Who goes there today to look for Bigfoot, and who believes that a subhuman family is living there? There has been no evidence.

Buckley was promoted as a footprint expert, but his encounters with prints he thought were from Bigfoot were from the 1930s and then in 1970 at Basin Gulch, undoubtedly the latter a hoax from a 200 pound man making stamping sounds like Buckley described. Upon this he wrote his theory as to how Bigfoot walks. He walked in such a way that he didn’t make deep impressions or mostly not at all. This explained why there really was no evidence for Bigfoot. He also walked in a way that made his arms look longer than they really were.

Arch Buckley and George Haas deeply wanted Bigfoot to be the subhuman caveman. After Haas died in 1978, Buckley carried it on, but except for In Search of largely in deserved obscurity.

The next installment we see how personality is really key, for the same views as espoused by The Bay Area Group would find high and lasting profile in another  Bigfooter much further north.

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