“I saw Bigfoot once. 1951, back in Sequoia National Park. Had a foot on him thirty-seven inches heel to toe. It made a sound I would not want to hear twice in my life.”
Those are the words of the old anonymous character that completely derails the Air Force conference scene in the iconic film Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, in which Roy Neary is desperately trying to convince the authorities and the media that what he and other witnesses saw wasn’t a misidentified planet, a hoax or a figment of their imagination. I don’t know if Spielberg was aware of it at the time or not, but that scene and Roy’s embarrassing expression after the old man’s tale of a Bigfoot encounter steals his thunder, is a perfect encapsulation of the vitriolic feud between UFOlogists and Cryptozoologists, with each camp claiming THEY are the serious researchers worthy of all the attention, while the other guys are the ones who believe in crazy stories.
What’s ironic about this ‘paranormal tribalism’ — aside from both fields sharing a similarly common grudge against ghost hunters!– is that UFOlogy and Cryptozoology are equally guilty of using the same tactics in their goal of attaining an unattainable air of respectability in the eyes of Academia and other social institutions. Both types of researchers, in their trying to make their case that behind all the unconfirmed sightings and scarce evidence there’s a real, physical phenomenon deserving of more scientific study, often weed out those cases stories that run contrary to the narrative they are trying to sell; in the case of UFOlogy, that we are dealing with structured craft piloted by extraterrestrial visitors, and in the case of Cryptozoology, that the sightings are evidence of flesh-and-blood animals that have so far eluded proper taxonomic identification.
But the real enemy of Squatchers are neither UFO detectives nor ghost hunter. Their real enemy is High Strangeness. The cases which seem to indicate there’s more to the mythos of Bigfoot than an undiscovered primate roaming the woods of the Pacific northwest.
That is the focus of my friends and colleagues Josh Cutchin and Tim Renner’s upcoming book “Where the Footprints End” which will tentatively be released by the end of this year. Which is why Josh asked me to dig up one of my oldest books in search of what undoubtedly is one of the strangest and evocative Bigfoot stories I’ve ever come across with.
The book in question is “Sasquatch: Enigma Antropológico”, written by Renzo Cantagalli in 1979. Googling the name of the author doesn’t bring up any kind of biographical information, and although it seems Cantagalli only published a handful of books during his career (not all of a paranormal/esoteric nature) Enigma Antropológico was probably his most popular one –the copy I have was printed in Mexico that same year, and I remember I acquired it at a very young age during a family trip at some small flea market. To my knowledge this book was never published in the English language.
The extract I’m about to present is part of Enigma Antropológico’s chapter 6, titled “The Abominable Man of the Rockies is a Woman.” The story my friend Josh was interested in was gathered by the legendary Bigfoot researcher John Green (1927-2016) (although according to my friend Micah Hanks, it was collected by J.W. Burns, a teacher at the Chehalis Indian Reserve in Vancouver, British Columbia), and originally published in an old magazine during the early XXth century –unfortunately Cantagalli wasn’t too fond of providing a lot of details in his writing. Also bear in mind that not only was this text originally translated from Italian to Spanish (and now from Spanish to English by me) but that it comes from a VERY old book, published at a time when political correctness wasn’t invented yet, so I apologize beforehand if I hurt someone’s modern sensitivities…:
“Charley Victor lived at the Skwah reservation near Chilliwack, in the same area than Sasquatch researcher John Green[…] The “Old Charley Incident” was from 1914, but when the Mac Lean’s magazine dedicated two illustrated pages to it in April of 1929, few were willing to give it any credit, hence the only remains of this account lie in John Green’s files.
Charley Victor was known as one of the fastest rifle shooters in all British Columbia, but that was before the ‘incident’ that marked him for the rest of his life. His memory remained lucid, though; his gaze was lively and his expression serene with a tinge of irony. Charley was a friendly old indian with a great deal of adventurous memories under his Lobbia hat, which he did not abandon even during sleep.
“I had gone out hunting with my dog to the mountains near Hatzic. When I reached the plateau where some tall cedars grow, the dog stopped under one of those trees and without any apparent reason started barking and growling. I looked to see what was upsetting it and I saw a big lair inside the trunk a couple of meters above ground. Meanwhile, the dog was taking impulse and trying to reach the hole while scratching the bark with its paws. It seemed to ask me to help it. I lifted it to the entrance of the burrow and it got inside.
A moment later I heard a suffocated wail. “Great,” I happily thought, “my dog has captured a young bear.” With the gun ready I called the dog coaxing it to push the bear toward the entrance. Out of the burrow came something that gave me the impression of being a bear. I didn’t think twice and I shot immediately. It felt to the ground with a dull thud.
“I wish I were dead, I killed him!” I thought immediately after I realized what I’d fired at was a white boy. He was completely naked and seemed to be between twelve and fourteen years of age. He was lying spread across the grass and bleeding, as if he were dead. But when I came closer he yelled; it sounded like a distress call for help. Far away, from the other side of the mountain, his calling was answered by a similar yell, like an echo. The voice came nearer and nearer as the boy kept repeating the call, probably to indicate his whereabouts.
Not half an hour had passed when out of the woods bordering the clear came a terrible being. I took the rifle but I wouldn’t have had the nerve to shoot. I just wanted to be ready to defend myself in case I needed to. The creature was totally covered in hair and it moved toward me without the slightest sign of fear or hesitation. I could see it very clearly: it was a female; her face was almost black and her head had long, straight hair that reached down below her waist. She was approximately 6 feet tall, but her thorax and shoulders were much broader than a human being’s.
I’d seen a lot of wild things in my life when I was out in the forest, but nothing like this creature which really frightened me. When I was young –and not to brag– I had to strangle a bear with my bare hands; it was it or me. But I’m sure that if that hairy being had laid a hand on me not a single one of my bones would have remained in one piece.
She took a quick glance to the still boy, and her expression turned fierce when she realized he was losing blood and his cries grew weaker. Then she turned as if ready to pounce on me, and talking in the dialect of the Douglas indians she said:
–“You have shot my friend.”
I’m half Douglas and so I tried to explain to her in the same dialect what happened, and how I had confused the boy with a bear.
–“I’m sorry,” I kept saying. “I’m sorry.”
But she didn’t answer and started some sort of wild dance around the boy, accompanied by a chant in a high-pitched voice, that lasted a couple of minutes. From afar in the woods, a similar voice in the same tone answered to her chanting.
The hairy creature had in her hand something that resembled a snake of a couple of meters long. Later I thought about it and convinced myself they must have been the entrails of some animal she had slaughtered, instead. Whatever it was, she kept beating it against the ground, furiously. She then lifted the boy with one hand, like he was a wax doll.
Now, everytime I tell this story, nobody wants to believe what happened to me next. And yet it’s exactly how it occurred.
Her eyes were distrustful and menacing; she had an unforgettable, terrible expression. She turned to look at me for a second time, and what she said filled me with terror. She pointed at me with the snake-like thing and spoke through her teeth:
–“Siwash, you will never kill another bear in your life.””
At this point of the narration, Old Charley looked agitated. He lowered his head and remained quiet and pensive. At his feet was his faithful dog which had faced so many fierce bears in the woods around Hatzic. Now it lied there, trembling, without the strength to even move its tail, never moving from Charley’s side.
“I felt as if they had emptied me from the inside out, taking out my heart, liver and everything else. The rifle slipped through my fingers, but by the time I noticed it was already on the ground and I knew I could not bend over to pick it up. But that creature had not even touched me.
That happened fifteen years ago and now I’m here and I cannot move. That wild woman had something to do with it.”
A sudden paralysis affected the old indian and had kept him nailed at the foot of a wooden sidewalk for years. From time to time came someone from Vancouver expressly to listen to his tale of the encounter with the female Sasquatch, and each time he could relive the same emotion and the same terror.
“The indians,” he explained, “always knew that among these mountains lived wild men, but I’d never seen them before. The creature that spoke to me must have known how to deal with indians, because she spoke the Douglas dialect. But the boy was different; surely he didn’t belong to the Sasquatch people because he was completely white and she called it “my friend.” Maybe she kidnapped him from some town or isolated farm house.””
Thus concludes the tale of how Old Charley Victor was ‘cursed’ by that ‘wild woman’ in a remote area of British Columbia. But what are we to make of it?
Alas, although the inclusion of such a high-strangeness account is to be commended, Cantagalli unfortunately fell into the typical intellectual arrogance present in most cryptozoological researchers of the past –or the present– and cautioned to his readers how ‘natives’ tended to mix fable with reality in their chronicles according to their worldview. Although surely such a bizarre story is not devoid of embellishment (either by the original witness or the subsequent re-tellings of it) and there are questions that immediately arise when analyzing the account –how the hell did Old Charley manage to return home after being suddenly paralyzed?– there are, nevertheless, several tantalizing elements that make it such a great and unusual Sasquatch story:
- The support of the hypothesis that these ape-like creatures regularly abduct humans, in ways that strongly resemble ancient fairy lore. The young white boy Charley shot by mistake, it seems, had been in the presence of the ‘wild woman’ for so long, he was able to effectively communicate with her.
- The size and features of the ‘woman’ lead no doubt this was not a regular human being that had simply ‘gone feral’ out of loss of contact with Civilization. Does her height (6′) suggest this was a juvenile specimen, perhaps?
- The sight of it caused instant fear even in a seasoned hunter like the protagonist of the story. Guy brags about fighting with bears with his bare hands, and yet can barely lift rifle when the ‘wild woman’ appears. Again, this supports those aspects of the Bigfoot mythos used to explain why to this day we’re being unable to obtain the body of a Sasquatch scientists and skeptics vociferously demand.
- The creature yelling with a high-pitched voice, again, aligns itself with the standard narrative of Bigfoot encounters.
- What does not align with the standard narrative is Bigfoot being able to speak in a human dialect intelligibly. In my Spanish book the phrase of what the female being told Charley was translated as “has herido a mi amigo” (you have hurt my friend) but in Micah’s version of the story the sentence is “you have shot my friend” which –if accurate– seems to imply an understanding of firearms. Clearly this aspect of Old Charley’s story deviates significantly from the stereotypical interpretation of Bigfoot as nothing more than a giant, bipedal animal just smart enough to evade definitive detection.
- And lastly, the pièce de résistance: the spell or curse the resentful female Sasquatch cast, rendering poor Charley crippled and forcing him to renounce his bear-hunting ways. Trying to find alternate explanations for the sudden malady –some kind of nocebo effect caused by the shock?– is really moot, since the story is already fantastic enough even if we leave this part aside. Whatever the cause of Old Charley’s paralysis, his belief that ‘the wild woman’ was somehow responsible for it fit perfectly with his autochthonous worldview.
Among the first Nations of British Columbia, the D’sonoqua is considered to be a terrible black ogress of great power who would steal the children foolish enough to venture too deep into the forest. Definitely someone you shouldn’t mess around with –nor disrespect by considering her as a simple animal…
Should ‘serious’ researchers give merit to stories as outlandish as that of Old Charley, or should it just be considered nothing but a ‘tall tale’ of an old, uneducated man in search of attention, like the character in Close Encounters? What would have happened, one wonders, if the hunter who had accidentally shot the boy had been a ‘white man’ instead of a Native American? Perhaps a person of Celtic descent would have seen a ‘troll’ instead of a female Sasquatch. Does our ‘cultural baggage’ filter and co-create paranormal events, as suggested by authors like Greg Bishop?
In the highly recommendable book “The Super Natural”, professor Jeffrey Kripal admonishes UFOlogists to use the tools employed by academicians in social sciences, like Anthropology and the comparative study of Religion. Tools such as Phenomenology, which allows the researcher to ‘make the cut’ and study a given subject –a sighting report, an old article or an ancient text– without believing or disbelieving it. I not only think this is a great advice for UFOlogy, but that it should be heeded by Cryptozoology, too. Because the story of Old Charley’s curse, as outlandish and improbable as it may sound, is not the only case of high strangeness involving ‘wild men of the forests’ (my friends Josh and Tim will have PLENTY to show in their upcoming book) and if Squatchers are only determined to place trail cameras and rig their traps with the hope of bagging themselves the trophy of the century, they do so at the risk of overlooking what could be vital aspects of these elusive creatures –and possibly, ourselves.
UPDATE (29-01-19): Loren Coleman, a living legend in the world of Cryptozoology, has written a lengthy piece on his blog CryptozooNews with regards to this article, which you can read here.
I’ve interacted online with Loren for a long, long time, ever since he was involved in the website Cryptomundo. I have nothing but the highest respect for him and his work –not just in the field of Cryptozoology, but also in other topics like ‘synchromysticism’ and his study of mass shootings, which is the topic of his book “The Copycat Effect.”
On his piece, Loren points out some valid observations regarding the Charley story and what I wrote about it. He also wrote other things I respectfully disagree with, which I pointed out in a lengthy reply I left on the comment section, still waiting for approval as per this update. Among the things I disagree with, Loren wrote Charley claimed to have found “a young white Sasquatch and a female Sasquatch;” and yet in both my copy of Cantagalli’s book AND Micah Hanks’ article on Mysterious Universe, the creature Charley mistook for a bear and shot was a ‘white boy’. Also, Charley’s dog found the boy inside a tree trunk and not a cave, as Loren wrote; that was part of another story Charley shared, which happened earlier in his life –again, Micah’s article does point this out, yet I choose to omit that part on my text because it was already TL:DR big.
Ultimately, this is a (courteous) difference in opinion. Loren has a more grounded take on Cryptozoology and he’ve always reminded us it’s not a good idea to try to explain an unknown with another unknown. And while I wholeheartedly agree with that, I however am of the opinion that it doesn’t hurt to take a look at the so-called high-strangeness cases –of which there are quite a few, NOT just the Charley story– to see if we have perhaps overlooked something important there.
In the world of the Bigfoot supporters, on the one side there’s Loren and people like Jeff Meldrum, who advocate for a scientific search of these bipedal creatures, and on the other extreme are the ‘New-Agey’ types like Kewaunee Lapseritis, with claims of telepathic Bigfoots capable of turning invisible and jump between dimensions.
As always, I’m merely advocating for ‘the excluded middle’ road.