Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Bobcat, a Lynx and Occam's Razor

As I mentioned in a previous post, I captured an image of a large cat on one of my game cameras recently. The cat is larger than a typical bobcat and a golden color. It is also very muscular and robust. When I first came across the image I was initially very excited and thought I might have captured an image of one of the two big cats the property owners claim to have seen over the last two years (one tawny-colored cougar and one large, black, long-tailed cat of unknown species). I thought, “I got him!”


My enthusiasm dampened when I was able to get home and look at the photo on a larger monitor. The cat was, indeed, large and bulky and a tawny color but other characteristics seemed to clearly point to this being a bobcat. The backs of the ears are black and, though it is hard to tell due to increased pixellation in the enlarged image, appear more pointed than the ears of a mountain lion. Too, the coat, while golden in color, appears to have spots and markings typically seen on a bobcat. The markings are not as bold and distinct as those seen on a typical bobcat but they do appear to be there, nonetheless. The clincher is the lack of a long tail. While viewing the original image, I could not tell if the tail was absent or merely curled around the body of the cat or hidden behind foliage. I think it is clear in the enlargement that the tail is present but short and typical of that seen in a bobcat. The case seemed closed.


Still, this was an exceptionally robust specimen. The shoulder area is thickly and massively muscled, much more so than I am used to seeing in a bobcat. The bobcats I have photographed over the years, even the bigger ones, are all pretty lean. This guy looks like he is on steroids. The head shape did not seem quite bobcat-like to me, though I admit this could be due to the angle at which the cat was photographed. I decided to show it to some of my fellow NAWAC members and get their opinions. These are men and women who know the woods and the creatures therein. Several are wildlife biologists by trade. They know their stuff. The majority of them felt this was a bobcat, an unusually bulky and robust bobcat, but a bobcat nonetheless. There were a few, though, who felt the bobcat identification was most likely correct but the possibility that this was a mountain lion with its tail obscured by brush, down between its back legs or wrapped around on the opposite side of the body could not be absolutely dismissed due to the musculature exhibited. They were in the minority, however, so I had pretty much settled on this being nothing more than a big bobcat. As is often the case, however, something occurred next that got me rethinking things.


One NAWAC member, with whom I had shared the photos, visited a big cat rescue sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. He showed the photos (he had them on his phone) to several staff members. In all, six staff members were present and viewed the photos. Two of them said this was a bobcat right away but four, the majority, said that this cat looked far more like a lynx to them. One went so far as to say that if they had not known the photo had been taken in Texas they would absolutely say this was a lynx. It should be noted here that this facility houses a lynx as well as several bobcats and the staff is well versed in the differences between the two animals. It brought to mind a story the property owners told me when I first made their acquaintance. They had told me that the previous owner had related to them stories about the wildlife that they occasionally caught glimpses of on the property. They related to me that the previous owner specifically told them to keep an eye out for a lynx. When asked if he meant bobcat, the man said he had those on the property as well but there was a lynx occasionally seen there too. I did not really think much about that story until my friend related the opinion of the staff at the big cat sanctuary.


Is it possible? Could a lynx be roaming this part of north-central Texas?

Let’s start with the fact that the word lynx is often used universally to describe any one of two medium-sized wildcats in North America. One, as we have already established is the bobcat (Lynx rufus), the other is the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). The bobcat is basically found everywhere. They range from southern Canada, the continental U.S. and northern Mexico. The Canada lynx inhabits forests and tundras across Canada, into Alaska and some northern states. At one time these cats roamed much farther south but were extirpated by human hunting and trapping. Bobcats and Canada lynx are similar in appearance (pointed black-tipped, tufted ears and short “bobbed” tails. The coats of both species vary quite a bit with cats from more forested areas generally being darker while desert dwelling or tundra dwelling specimens are generally lighter. Both species exhibit a wide range of dark spots, bars and markings though the markings on lynx are usually less pronounced. The average lynx is larger than the average bobcat and has much larger and broader feet than its southern cousin. The larger feet help the lynx support its weight on snow. Since the two species look so much alike, it is easy to see why some people use the term lynx interchangeably with both animals.

But could a true Canada lynx be present in Texas?

The answer to that question should be, and probably is, no. There is no population of Canada lynx in Texas; however, they may be closer than many think. In 2010 the Canada lynx was reintroduced in the remote San Juan Mountains of Colorado where they had been absent since the 1970’s. Recovery has been slow. It is estimated that only 141 lynx litters were born between 2003-2010. Even so, wildlife officials have stated that the survival rates of these cats are outpacing the mortality rate. Possible evidence of this is a recent lynx sighting in southwest Colorado. A passing motorist snapped the photo below of what are clearly two Canada lynx. The San Juans are roughly 800 miles from the property where I have my cameras but only 300 miles from the Texas Panhandle border. Could a lynx have made its way into the panhandle and then meandered all the way to north-central Texas? Unlikely but, I suppose it is possible, if just barely so.


What about the old standby for anomalous cat sightings? The “it is an escaped or released exotic pet” explanation? Normally, I loathe this reasoning, as it is the most common line heard from wildlife officials when a mountain lion or black panther is reported. In the case of a possible lynx sighting, however, I must entertain it as a possibility. Both lynx and bobcat kittens are not hard to come by or acquire. They are also relatively cheap and cost less than some domestic cat and/or dog breeds. The average price I found was in the $1500-$1700 range. These are medium-sized animals and do not necessarily have to have the large enclosures of exotic big cats. They are billed by these kitten brokers as being “loving, loyal and, when tamed properly, extremely tolerant of other animals.” Personally, I do not approve of owning any sort of wild animal as a pet; however, many others do not share this opinion and the trade has thrived. Ownership of bobcats and lynx is much more common than ownership of larger cats like leopards or cougars. I suspect some of these owners have found their pets to be less “loving and loyal” than they expected and have turned them loose. It would be easier to justify dumping a bobcat or lynx than releasing a true exotic cat like a leopard or tiger. They are, after all, native to North America and far less dangerous to people. It is not implausible, to me at least, to think a pet lynx was released in or near my study site. Again, maybe not likely, but not completely out of the question.


All of that being said, I will paraphrase Occam’s razor and say that the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation. The theory that a wild Canada lynx found its way to Texas requires a whole lot of faith. The escaped pet theory, while more plausible in my mind, still is a bit of a stretch. No, the most likely answer, requiring the fewest assumptions and least amount of speculation, is that I photographed a bobcat. It is one heck of a bobcat, bigger and more muscular than most but, still, a bobcat. There is plenty to eat out there and this cat is in his prime and reaping the benefits of a healthy environment.

My cameras remain in place, documenting the wildlife of this remarkable piece of land. Until, and unless, I get another photo of this cat that changes my mind, a bobcat it is. I just cannot go out on that lynx limb right now no matter how exciting it would be to document the species here in Texas. It is just too big a leap.

Darn that Occam and his razor.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ellis County Camera Project: The Texas Zoo

This past weekend, I was able to get up to Ellis County and check on my game cameras. The property on which the cameras are placed is a very rich environment where all manner of wildlife is thriving. The property sits on the banks of Waxahachie Creek and is a combination of hardwood forest and pasture land. The property owners have had a couple of encounters with large cats, which is what led me to the property originally. I have had cameras on site on and off for the better part of two years now. I have captured all manner of wildlife in photos here. The property is almost like a zoo featuring animals native to Texas. I think this will be made clear with the photos featured in this post.

Before I get to the photos, however, I want to let it be known that I am holding one photo back for the time being. Do not get too excited as I do not have a photo of a wood ape or a black panther. The animal in question is, no doubt, a cat but the identity of this feline is something that is being debated. I had pretty much settled on the species of this animal when I received a phone call yesterday from a friend of mine who had visited a big cat rescue facility on business. I had shared the photo of this cat with him, along with others with backgrounds in wildlife biology, and he showed it to the staff of this facility. What they told him was surprising. I am hoping to get in touch with the staff of this facility personally to get their full opinion on what sort of cat might be roaming this section of Waxahachie Creek. Once I do, I will post the information and the photo.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos below.









Saturday, January 31, 2015

'Drumming' Chimps and the Wood Knocking Connection

Thwok! Thwok!

The sound of wood on wood or rock on rock echoes through the woods. Those who hear the sounds usually ignore them and write them off as nothing more than the activity of overzealous woodpeckers. Most never really take note of the knocks at all and consider them just a normal sound sometimes heard in the forests of North America.

Thwok!

Another knocking sound echoes through the forest. This time the sound originates from a different location. Again, if the sound is noticed at all, it would elicit little more than a shrug of the shoulders from most. Campers, hikers, hunters and the like are usually deeply engaged in their activity of choice and never stop to think about what animal of the deep woods would be capable of banging a stick or rock against a tree trunk. If the question ever did cross their minds, they would realize there is only one answer to the question: there are none.

None that have been recognized by science, anyway.


For untold years, people living, working or spending time in the most remote and heavily forested regions of the world have reported hearing strange knocking, banging and clanging emanating from deep woods where it can be safely assumed there are no human beings. If humans can be ruled out, what else could be responsible for these sounds? Hands are required to pick up a stick or rock and bang it against a tree trunk. Not paws, hands, a conclusion most people find quite unnerving.

None other than Theodore Roosevelt himself was unnerved when he experienced the strange knocking phenomenon while paddling and charting the Amazon tributary known only as the River of Doubt in 1913-14. The trip was difficult and miserable. The morale of Roosevelt and his party was deeply affected by the strange noises that seemed to follow them down the river. Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, compared the sounds the former President and his men heard to sounds described by British Naturalist Henry Walter Bates in the mid 1800’s while he was exploring the same region. Bates described many odd jungle sounds but one in particular caught my attention.

Bates wrote, “Sometimes a sound is heard like the clang of an iron bar against a hard, hollow tree, or a piercing cry rends the air: these are not repeated and the succeeding silence tends to heighten the unpleasant impression which they make on the mind.”

While the words above were not Roosevelt’s, they described closely sounds he, and the rest of the men heard many times during the rainy season of 1914. The words used by Bates to describe what he heard sound startlingly like descriptors used by hunters, campers, hikers, and naturalists from all over the globe who have heard knocks, clangs, howls, and screams they cannot attribute to any known animal. Clearly, these sounds have been reported by a very long time. What could they mean?

“Wood knocking” as the phenomenon is often called, is something sasquatch enthusiasts and researchers have been intrigued with for decades. Odd knocks, sometimes accompanied by strange howls, grunts and growls have been reported in association with alleged wood ape activity/sightings many times. Others have reported having had rocks thrown at them, their cabins or tents and seeing vegetation shaken violently soon before or after knocks or clacks are heard. For years, mainstream scientists dismissed these claims as being too fantastic to possibly be true. With each passing year, however, the behaviors reported for so long by alleged wood ape witnesses seem to fall less into the category of the fantastic and more along the lines of accepted and observed great ape behaviors. It has now been established that great apes do drum or beat on trees. If the North American wood ape is an undiscovered species of great ape, as I believe it to be, it would not seem too far-fetched to posit that they, too, would engage in this knocking/drumming behavior.

The first question to ask is why do great apes, any of them, engage in this drumming or knocking behavior? Many interested in such things surmised that these sounds might somehow be associated with food gathering activities. A 2009 article published in the International Journal of Primatology reported on the discovery that chimpanzees living in the jungles of the Republic of Congo actually crafted clubs from branches to pound the nests of bees in order to gain access to the honey found therein. Primatologists have long been aware that chimps love honey and will go to great lengths to get at it. Previous studies have noted how these apes fashion and shape sticks to dip into or pry open nests. However, until now, no one knew just how far chimpanzees would go to gain access to this honey. Dr. Crickette Sanz, of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said, “It seems these chimps in central Africa have developed more sophisticated techniques for getting at the honey than populations in eastern and western Africa – maybe it is some kind of regional feature.” He added, “These nests are tough to get into – they can be at the top of the forest canopy, at the end of a branch – and the chimps will go up there and hang at all sorts of precarious angles to get to the honey, using these clubs in any way that they can to access it.” Video footage, taken over four years of observation by the researchers, shows the chimpanzees pounding these concrete hard nests 1,000 to 1,500 times. Researchers observed some chimps take well over 1,000 swings in the morning, stop and rest several hours, and then return in the afternoon to take another 1,000, or so, swings before finally breaking through and gaining access to the sweet honey. It is possible that at least some of the knocks heard in the forests of North America could be associated with food gathering activities as well. Members of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy have heard not only wood knocking (the sound of wood striking wood) in their main area of study but what is often described as rock clacking as well.


It was long assumed by members that this rock clacking (the sound of two rocks banging together) was simply another method used to accomplish the same goal, whatever that might be, as that of wood knocking. Food gathering as a possible reason for the phenomenon came to the forefront when several “nut cracking stations” were located along a rock strewn creek bed lined by huge hickory and black walnut trees. These stations consisted of brick-sized "hammer" rocks sitting atop larger rocks. The pulverized remains of hickory nuts and their shells were found on the tops of the larger rocks and stuck to the bottoms of the brick-sized rocks. Additionally, the ground around the bottom of the large rocks was found to be littered with what seemed like an abnormally high number of nut shells. Oddly, one station was littered with hickory nut remains despite the fact that there were no hickory trees within several hundred yards, seemingly, indicating that the nuts were transported to that particular spot solely for the purpose of cracking them open. Chimpanzees have been filmed engaging in this very activity.



Food gathering purposes may account for some knocking, drumming or clacking noises heard but this explanation does not seem to fit the bill some of, if not most of, the time when these sounds are heard. Many knocks are solitary in nature. In other words, only one or two loud knocks are heard at a time. Sometimes, these knocks are repeated at intervals ranging from a few minutes to an hour. At other times, a knock is heard and is followed by another knock coming from an entirely different location in short order, seemingly, indicating the presence of multiple individuals. These types of knocks are heard much more often than the repetitive, often rhythmic, banging that might be associated with food gathering activities and lend credence to the opinion held by many that these sounds are a form of communication between members of the species. A recent study of chimpanzees headed up by psychologist Katie Slocombe of the University of York seems to support the idea that drumming and knocking, often in association with pant hoots, is indeed a form of communication.


Slocombe and her colleagues studied a group of 13 male chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. The goal was to find out why some chimps drummed and hooted some of the time and drummed without vocalizing at others. The study also sought to find whether drumming rhythms were individually distinctive. The scientists studied 293 instances of drumming and/or hooting and came to some interesting conclusions.

“The sound they create makes it ideal for long distance communication,” said Dr. Slocombe. “We think drums help coordinate movement and grouping patterns, so advertising to others your location when traveling may entice others to join you, and other chimps may pant hoot and drum back, which may influence where the caller decides to travel to.” Dr. Slocombe summed up the study by stating, “We conclude that drumming patterns may act as individually distinctive long-distance signals that, together with pant hoot vocalizations, function to coordinate the movement and spacing of dispersed individuals within a community.”


If, indeed, an undiscovered great ape lives in the most rugged, remote and inaccessible areas of our continent, the ability to communicate over long distances would be key to survival. Whether the knocks heard in the forests of North America represent the efforts of an individual seeking a mate, food gathering activities, aggressive warnings to interlopers or the leader of a clan keeping track of and directing the movements of family members, can only be speculated upon at this time. Depending on the circumstances, any of these possibilities could be the motivation for a particular knock or series of knocks. I do believe the correlation between the wood knocks of North America and the drumming behavior of the Ugandan chimpanzees described by Dr. Slocombe is obvious.

It is true that, to my knowledge, no one has ever witnessed a wood ape striking a tree with a branch or banging two rocks together. My own experiences, and those of my fellow NAWAC members, have led me to conclude that not only do these animals exist, they engage in the wood knocking/drumming behavior described so often, by so many, across North America and the world. Proof? No, not yet; however, the anecdotal evidence continues to pile up and is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Thwok! Thwok!

The next time you are spending time in the wilderness pay attention to the sounds of the forest. Something might be sending you a message


References:

Millard, Candice. "The Living Jungle." River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. New York: Doubleday, 2005. 156-157. Print.

Morelle, Rebecca. "'Armed' Chimps Go Wild for Honey." BBC News. 18 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. .

Tenofsky, Russell. "Chimpanzees Use Rhythmic Drumming to Communicate." Nonhuman Rights Project. 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. .

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sasquatch Classics: The Noxie Monster

Nowata County, Oklahoma would seem to be a strange place for a furor of almost any kind. It is a sparsely populated place and the good people who make the county their homes are hard working salt of the earth types who do not cotton much to nonsense and, even if they did, there just are not very many of them to get worked up. According to the 2000 U.S. census, only 10,569 souls make their home in Nowata County. That works out to only 19 people per square mile. No, a furor of any kind would seem unlikely here. Yet, a furor is exactly what occurred in this northeast Oklahoma county in late 1975, a time when even fewer people lived in the area, when residents reported several encounters with a large, hair-covered, bad-smelling creature that would soon be dubbed the Noxie Monster by the local media.

At approximately 8:00 p.m. on September 1, 1975, a farmer named Kenneth Tosh heard some odd sounds emanating from an abandoned home adjacent to his property. Tosh and a friend went to investigate what they later described as having been an odd scratching sound. The pair, unable to see well in the waning daylight, claim to have walked up to within 10 feet of a dark brown, hairy creature that stood 7-8 feet tall. The creature fled upon being seen. Tosh, along with many others in the area, claimed to have seen the creature multiple times over the next 60 days or so and even say they shot at it on more than one occasion. Each time, however, the creature, whatever it was, fled at high speed, seemingly, unaffected by the gunfire.


“I was within 10 feet of it before I saw him, “ Tosh was quoted as saying to the Tulsa Tribune at the time, “He growled and ran one way. I screamed and ran the other. I was in (Vietnam) 13 months and I’m more scared here than I was over there.”

The media was whipped into a frenzy by the spate of sightings. The Patterson-Gimlin footage was less than 10 years old and bigfoot was big news. Both newspaper and television reporters descended on the area, trying to get the scoop on Nowata County’s very own monster. For a while, Noxie was the cryptozoological center of the universe. Much to the chagrin of the locals, many papers and television stations treated the story as nothing more than a fluff piece, something to print on the back page or to fill the last 2-3 minutes of a news broadcast. This treatment caused some witnesses to stop talking but, fortunately, enough media treated the story respectfully that the information kept flowing.

Tosh’s story was taken seriously by local law enforcement, at least initially. Nowata County undersheriff Harold Lay told the Tulsa Tribune, “I don’t know what they saw, but they sure saw something.” Lay related several similar accounts from residents in the area that seemed to confirm that something matching the description given by Tosh was, indeed, roaming the county. In fact, between the Nowata County law enforcement officials and bigfoot hunter Hayden Hewes, who had come to the area to investigate upon hearing of Tosh’s sighting, no fewer than 24 people were found claiming to have seen and/or heard the Noxie Monster during September and October of 1975.


While the flap of monster sightings in 1975 was shocking to most, it was not the first time a hair-covered creature of enormous size had been seen in Nowata County. Several sightings of creatures similar in appearance to the description that would be given by Kenneth Tosh years later, were reported by locals in the early 1900’s. The most well known of these encounters occurred in 1915 when a man named Crum King spotted a huge, hairy, man-like creature outside of his property gate upon returning home from a dance. King described the figure as 5-6 feet tall, covered in hair with a chest about 4 feet (whether he meant across or in diameter is unclear). He claimed the creature “stood with its arms stretched out.” King found the posture of the beast less than inviting and fled the scene quickly after spying the figure.

Despite similar historical accounts from Nowata County’s past, and the fact that at least two-dozen residents claimed to have seen the beast, interest in the Noxie Monster waned as the sighting reports dried up. Eventually, those who claimed to have had an encounter with the monster became the subject of ridicule.

Kenneth Tosh was having none of it. “I’m getting mad. Everybody’s laughing at us and thinking I’m crazy because I’ve seen that thing,” he said. “I don’t care what people think. I know I saw something. I’m scared and I’m going to shoot it.”

Despite his best efforts, Kenneth Tosh never bagged the creature. Now, nearly 40 years later, the Noxie Monster is nothing but a distant memory, a story to tell around the fire to the kids so that they do not wander too far from camp or home. Only the oldest residents of Nowata County recall the time in 1975 when they were not allowed to play outside past dusk and always had to stay within the line of sight of one of their parents. A time when their tiny community was the epicenter of all things bigfoot. The monster was all too real then. They are also the only ones left to wonder if the creature will ever appear again. 60 years passed between the sightings of 1915 and the flap of 1975. Maybe it could happen again. Most in and around Noxie scoff at such a notion.

After all, Nowata County is hardly the kind of place where any sort of furor would take place.



Sources:

Arment, Chad. "Oklahoma." The Historical Bigfoot: Early Reports of Wild Men, Hairy Giants, and Wandering Gorillas in North America. Landisville, Pa.: Coachwhip Publications, 2006. Print.

Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. "Phantom Bigfeet and UFOs." Bigfoot Casebook Updated: Sightings and Encounters from 1818 to 2004. Enumclaw, Wash.: Pine Winds, 2006. Print.

Tramel, Jimmie. "Remembering When a Hairy Monster Mesmorized Nowata County." Tulsa World 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. .

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Wisdom of John Dewey

"Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination."

- John Dewey

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Story

I received an email this week in which I was asked, “How did you get interested in all this cryptozoological stuff?” It got me to thinking, always a dangerous thing, and I realized that I have really not discussed that here on the blog. I figure now is as good a time as any to do so.

I split my time growing up between the Piney Woods of what I consider true East Texas and the Golden Triangle areas of Southeast Texas. I clearly remember seeing the Patterson-Gimlin footage in a movie theater in San Augustine as a young boy. This would have been around 1972-73. I was absolutely mesmerized by what I saw on that big screen. I turned to my grandmother, who had brought my brothers and me to the show, and asked, “Maw Maw, is that real?” She simply replied, “Well, that’s what they are saying.” From that point on, the idea of giant hair-covered bipedal apes roaming the woods was never too far from my mind. I read every bigfoot book in the school library and then branched out to books about other ‘monsters’ like the yeti and Nessie. I wore those books out. It was not unusual to see my name three, four, five or more times in a row on the card of the books before any other name appeared. I remember my 3rd grade teacher making me check out books on something different from time to time so I would be “a well rounded young man.”

My formative years really were something of a golden age for the “big three” of cryptozoology. Despite only being able to receive the three major television networks (no Fox, no cable, not even the local PBS affiliate) there was no shortage of monster related programming. There were specials at least twice a year that documented the search for bigfoot, the yeti and Nessie such as ‘The Mysterious Monsters,’ narrated by Peter Graves. Weekly programs like Leonard Nimoy’s ‘In Search of…’ and fictional dramas like ‘Kolchak: The Nightstalker’ only fed the fire of interest I had in the subject. One of the big moments of my childhood came when Colonel Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man himself, battled a sasquatch in primetime. Saturday morning serials also got in on the act. ‘The Secrets of Isis,’ starring Andrea Thomas had an episode called ‘Bigfoot.’ The kings of Saturday mornings in the 1970’s, Sid and Marty Krofft, produced a serial called ‘Bigfoot and Wildboy’ that was shown weekly on ‘The Krofft Super Show’ and later became its own weekly series. Whether it was the more serious documentary type of program or the campy Saturday morning fare made little difference to me. I ate it all up in equal measure.

As I got older, I began to hear more and more of what most would consider campfire stories. I heard tales of the rougarou from an old Cajun man who, along with a bunch of his friends, had coffee every morning at a local drug store. When I was in the fourth grade, my family moved to Silsbee, Texas. Tales of Ol’ Mossyback, the Wildman of the Big Thicket and Village Creek were regularly discussed in a most serious fashion while eating lunch outside under a large pine tree. I could go on but you get the idea.

My interests in the topic never went away but other things, mainly athletics, cars and girls, replaced cryptids atop my priority list. I was a decent basketball player and had the opportunity to play for a small Central Texas university. I still live in the area and this is the region where I first heard the tales of the Converse Werewolf, the Beast of Bear Creek, the Hairy Man of Round Rock and the Wildwoman of the Navidad among others. I found it fascinating that tales of these bipedal creatures were not limited only to East Texas.

Soon I was engulfed by the daily grind and family responsibilities that marriage, kids and a full time job bring. There was little time to pursue my interests in this particular area other than watching a bad cable special from time to time. Then one night I attended a Legacy Outfitters meeting. Legacy Outfitters is a Christian outdoors group made up of hunting, fishing, hiking and camping enthusiasts. Most chapters have a monthly meeting where the members get together, share a meal and hear a speaker who talks on some outdoor related topic. On this night, Daryl Colyer, then a member of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, was the speaker. He told us some amazing stories, showed us a few plaster castings of footprints and even played some pretty impressive audio. He presented the topic in a professional and scientific manner. To say my interest was rekindled would be an understatement.

Following the meeting, a friend and I decided to go out and look around for this creature. We picked our search area by looking at the Texas Counties that had the most sightings. We chose a spot on the Montgomery/Walker County line in the Sam Houston National Forest. We made several trips and then caught lightning in a bottle. I won’t recount the entire story at this time (you can read the official report here) but, to summarize, we saw a very large, upright, hirsute, bipedal creature on a forest service road at approximately 3:15 a.m. in May of 2005. We were in the middle of nowhere and, in our minds anyway, felt the chances of what we saw having been a hoaxer in some sort of ape suit at that time and in that location were extremely low. I felt then, and still feel to this day, that what we encountered that night was the real deal.

The experience, though brief, changed the course of my life. I joined the TBRC soon after (now a member of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy or NAWAC). Daryl Colyer, the man I heard speak at the Legacy Outfitters meeting has become one of my closest friends and someone with whom I have shared many an adventure. I have seen and heard some very interesting things over these last eight or nine years.

About six years ago, I decided to start writing the Texas Cryptid Hunter blog. There was, and still is, so much garbage out on the internet regarding topics of a cryptozoological nature that I felt a voice of reason was badly needed. I do not pretend to be an expert on any of this but do feel I have brought a measured, level-headed and logical point of view to the topics of wood apes, black panthers, chupacabras and such. I wasn’t sure about the name for the blog initially. I couldn’t decide if it was silly or not but, for better or worse, it stuck and here we are today.

Well, that’s the story of how I got into all of this and began writing the blog. It may be more information than you ever wanted to know but that is ok. I decided to make this post not only because I was asked the question, but to show that I was a normal person going about the business of life when I had my encounter. I was an unextraordinary person who had an extraordinary experience. My story really isn’t much different than that of a lot of folks out there. I’ve come to realize that a lot of folks, more than most realize, have some kind of story that relates to my interest in this topic. I’ve heard countless statements like, “Well, I’ve never seen anything but my grandfather once saw…” or “I’ve never seen anything weird but there was this one time while I was hunting when…” Most people don’t talk a lot about such things but the stories are out there.

Mine is just one of them.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sasquatch Classics: The William Roe Encounter

There are several accepted definitions of the word classic. One widely used definition is “something of enduring interest, quality or style.” Another meaning is “something honored as definitive in its field.” Still another definition is “something noteworthy of its kind and worth remembering.” When it comes to encounters with large, hirsute bipedal animals, the sighting of one William Roe certainly fits the bill as a classic. In fact, to many who follow cryptozoological matters closely, Mr. Roe’s sighting might very well be the most important bigfoot sighting of all time.

In October of 1955, William Roe, a highway worker and experienced outdoorsman was spending time near Tete Jaune Cache, British Columbia. Roe was part of a crew working on a road in the area. Roe found himself with a day off and decided to take a hike and scout out a good area for a future hunt. Roe carried his rifle but was not really looking to take a shot that day. He decided to visit a rugged and isolated area on Mica Mountain where there was an old abandoned mine. Roe had taken a grizzly bear in this area the year before. What happened next is best described by William Roe himself.


What follows is a sworn affidavit filed on August 26, 1957 by Mr. Roe regarding his experience. The affidavit was drawn up by the legal department of the City of Edmonton, Alberta, made up of Allen F. MacDonald, B.A., L.L.B., City Solicitor, H. F. Wilson, B.A., Assistant City Solicitor and R. N. Saunders, Claims Agent. The affidavit was in response to a request from John Green who had asked Mr. Roe if he would agree to make an account of his sighting while under oath.

I, W. Roe of the City of Edmonton, in the province of Alberta make oath and say,
(1) That the exhibit A attached to this, my affidavit, is absolutely true and correct in all details.

Sworn before me in the City of Edmonton, Province of Alberta, this 26th day of August, A.D. 1957.

(Signed) William Roe
(Signed) by W.H. Clark
Assistant Claims Agent
Number D.D. 2822

EXHIBIT A.
Ever since I was a small boy back in the forest of Michigan, I have studied the lives and habits of wild animals. Later, when I supported my family in Northern Alberta by hunting and trapping, I spent many hours just observing the wild things. They fascinated me. But the most incredible experience I ever had with a wild creature occurred near a little town called Tete Jaune Cache, British Columbia, about eighty miles west of Jasper, Alberta.

I had been working on the highway near Tete Jaune Cache for about two years. In October, 1955, I decided to climb five miles up Mica Mountain to an old deserted mine, just for something to do. I came in sight of the mine about three o'clock in the afternoon after an easy climb. I had just come out of a patch of low brush into a clearing when I saw what I thought was a grizzly bear, in the bush on the other side. I had shot a grizzly near that spot the year before. This one was only about 75 yards away, but I didn't want to shoot it, for I had no way of getting it out. So I sat down on a small rock and watched, my rifle in my hands.

I could see part of the animal's head and the top of one shoulder. A moment later it raised up and stepped out into the opening. Then I saw it was not a bear.

This, to the best of my recollection, is what the creature looked like and how it acted as it came across the clearing directly toward me. My first impression was of a huge man, about six feet tall, almost three feet wide, and probably weighing somewhere near three hundred pounds. It was covered from head to foot with dark brown silver-tipped hair. But as it came closer I saw by its breasts that it was female.

And yet, its torso was not curved like a female's. Its broad frame was straight from shoulder to hip. Its arms were much thicker than a man's arms, and longer, reaching almost to its knees. Its feet were broader proportionately than a man's, about five inches wide at the front and tapering to much thinner heels. When it walked it placed the heel of its foot down first, and I could see the grey-brown skin or hide on the soles of its feet.

It came to the edge of the bush I was hiding in, within twenty feet of me, and squatted down on its haunches. Reaching out its hands it pulled the branches of bushes toward it and stripped the leaves with its teeth. Its lips curled flexibly around the leaves as it ate. I was close enough to see that its teeth were white and even.

The head was higher at the back than at the front. The nose was broad and flat. The lips and chin protruded farther than its nose. But the hair that covered it, leaving bare only the parts of its face around the mouth, nose and ears, made it resemble an animal as much as a human. None of this hair, even on the back of its head, was longer than an inch, and that on its face was much shorter. Its ears were shaped like a human's ears. But its eyes were small and black like a bear's. And its neck also was unhuman. Thicker and shorter than any man's I had ever seen.

As I watched this creature, I wondered if some movie company was making a film at this place and that what I saw was an actor, made up to look partly human and partly animal. But as I observed it more, I decided it would be impossible to fake such a specimen. Anyway, I learned later there was no such company near that area. Nor, in fact, did anyone live up Mica Mountain, according to the people who lived in Tete Jaune Cache.

Finally the wild thing must have got my scent, for it looked directly at me through an opening in the brush. A look of amazement crossed its face. It looked so comical at the moment I had to grin. Still in a crouched position, it backed up three or four short steps, then straightened up to its full height and started to walk rapidly back the way it had come. For a moment it watched me over its shoulder as it went, not exactly afraid, but as though it wanted no contact with anything strange.


The thought came to me that if I shot it, I would possibly have a specimen of great interest to scientists the world over. I had heard stories of the Sasquatch, the giant hairy Indians that live in the legends of British Columbia Indians, and also many claim, are still in fact alive today. Maybe this was a Sasquatch, I told myself.

I levelled (sic) my rifle. The creature was still walking rapidly away, again turning its head to look in my direction. I lowered the rifle. Although I have called the creature "it", I felt now that it was a human being and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it.

Just as it came to the other patch of brush it threw its head back and made a peculiar noise that seemed to be half laugh and half language, and which I can only describe as a kind of a whinny. Then it walked from the small brush into a stand of lodgepole pine.

I stepped out into the opening and looked across a small ridge just beyond the pine to see if I could see it again. It came out on the ridge a couple of hundred yards away from me, tipped its head back again, and again emitted the only sound I had heard it make, but what this half- laugh, half-language was meant to convey, I do not know. It disappeared then, and I never saw it again.

I wanted to find out if it lived on vegetation entirely or ate meat as well, so I went down and looked for signs. I found it in five different places, and although I examined it thoroughly, could find no hair or shells of bugs or insects. So I believe it was strictly a vegetarian. (TCH note: It was assumed by both John Green and Ivan T. Sanderson that Roe was referring to fecal matter located in the sighting location. In my mind, this is obviously the correct interpretation.)

I found one place where it had slept for a couple of nights under a tree. Now, the nights were cool up the mountain, at this time of year especially, and yet it had not used a fire. I found no sign that it possessed even the simplest of tools. Nor a single companion while in this place.

Whether this was a Sasquatch I do not know. It will always remain a mystery to me, unless another one is found.

I hereby declare the above statement to be in every part true, to the best of my powers of observation and recollection.

Signed William Roe


The sighting of William Roe has, of course, been dissected seven ways to Sunday. Critics most often point to the appearance of the creature’s breasts as reported by Roe and drawn by his daughter at his direction. They point to the fact that no other apes have hair on their breasts. Roe’s description is that the breasts did have hair with the exception of the area immediately surrounding the nipples. It should be pointed out that other primates, including human females, do have hair on their breasts. The hair is typically very thin, downy, short and lighter in color than the hair on the rest of their body but it is there. Some feel that perhaps the hair of the sasquatch remains constant in thickness and color over a higher percentage of its body than does the hair on humans or even other great apes. Why this would be is, of course, subject to speculation. To others, the hair on the breasts is a huge red flag that could indicate a hoax.

The most common criticisms involving the details described by William Roe are actually not criticisms of his sighting at all; rather, they are criticisms leveled directly at Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin and the sasquatch they claim to have captured on film at Bluff Creek in October of 1967. Many who feel that the creature filmed by Patterson that day is nothing more than a man in a suit point to the similarities between Patty, as the Patterson subject came to be known, and the creature described by William Roe. The crowned head, the long arms that nearly reach the knees, the thick torso that does not taper from chest to waist and, yes, the hair covered breasts of the Patterson subject all are reminiscent of the creature described by Roe. Critics feel that it is likely Roger Patterson and any accomplices he might have had modeled their ape suit after the Roe creature. While there is no proof this is what happened (no ape suit has ever been found), it has failed to deter hardcore critics from making this connection.

Of course, there is another possible reason that the Patterson-Gimlin subject and the Roe creature look so similar. Simply, maybe this is what wood apes look like. Entertain the idea for a moment that William Roe, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin encountered female individuals of the same species. Would it not be expected that they would share a great deal of physical characteristics? A female lion looks very much any other female lion. Are there small individual variations? Yes, but each individual lioness is easily identified as just that. Do sow grizzly bears look like other sow grizzly bears? Yes, and they are easily identifiable as such. Female gorillas? Orangutans? Chimpanzees? It is the same no matter the species. Individuals of the same sex and belonging to the same species look very much alike. In my mind, the fact that the subject filmed by Roger Patterson looks so much like the creature described by William Roe could just as easily be turned around and used by supporters as strong evidence that the footage is genuine.


Another aspect of the Roe encounter that fascinates me is the reaction of the creature once it realized it was being watched. Roe stated, “Finally the wild thing must have got my scent, for it looked directly at me through an opening in the brush. A look of amazement crossed its face. It looked so comical at the moment I had to grin. Still in a crouched position, it backed up three or four short steps, then straightened up to its full height and started to walk rapidly back the way it had come. For a moment it watched me over its shoulder as it went, not exactly afraid, but as though it wanted no contact with anything strange.” I have often wondered how the creature interpreted Roe’s grin. Did Roe show his teeth? In the primate world this is often a signal indicating agitation or aggression. Is this why the creature backed cautiously away? Additionally, the way it retreated is of interest to me. After shuffling backwards three or four steps, the creature began to walk, not run, back toward the tree line. The creature even looked back at Roe over its shoulder as it strode away. William Roe described the retreating behavior as “not exactly afraid, but as though it wanted no contact with anything strange.” Sound familiar? Indeed, this statement could have come right out of the mouth of Roger Patterson or Bob Gimlin as it perfectly describes the retreat of their film subject. Critics of the Patterson-Gimlin footage have pointed to the measured and, seemingly, unafraid manner in which Patty walked away as unnatural behavior for a wild animal. To them, this is another red flag. Again, I feel the similarity of the Roe creature’s retreat to that of the Patterson-Gimlin subject could just as easily be used to bolster the claims of the two men that what they filmed that day was genuine.

The physical description given by William Roe of the creature he observed back in 1955 is one that has held up and been repeated time and time again by alleged sasquatch witnesses all over North America. The crowned head, thick non-tapering torso, incredibly broad shoulders, abnormally long arm proportions, wide feet and more continue to be described by witnesses today. Most of these people have never heard of William Roe. These similarities, reported over many decades, would seem to indicate that people are seeing real flesh and blood animals that belong to the same species.

To my knowledge the credibility of William Roe has never really been criticized. I have never read anything that would lead me to believe he might have been some sort of charlatan or hoaxer. Remember, this all took place almost three full years before the term bigfoot was used in a newspaper article describing prints found by Jerry Crew in Northern California and twelve years before the Patterson-Gimlin footage became an international lightning rod. Roe did some interviews regarding his sighting but later took the additional step of having a sworn affidavit drawn up detailing his experience for John Green. He simply did not have to do this. This, in my opinion, is not the sort of action a hoaxer would take.

It is my opinion that William Roe had the remarkable good fortune of observing a wood ape that October day back in 1955. It is also my opinion that people do not continue to tailor their descriptions of these animals today to fit some sort of template created by William Roe years ago; rather, the reason the description of the physical appearance of these animals given by so many matches that given by Roe years ago is simply due to the fact that this is what these animals look like. Obviously, I cannot prove it but I have always felt that the Roe account had the ring of truth to it.

Until discovery day truly arrives, that is about as much as we can hope for.


Sources:

Sanderson, Ivan T. "The Appearance of Bigfeet." Abominable Snowmen Legend Come to Life. New York, New York: Cosimo Publications, 2008 (originally published in 1961). 75-79. Print.

Green, John. "The Centennial Sasquatch Hunt." Sasquatch the Apes Among Us. Blaine, Washington: Hancock House, 2006. 52-57. Print.

Murphy, Christopher L. "The Sasquatch "Classics"" Meet the Sasquatch. Blaine, Washington: Hancock House, 2004. 36. Print.

"classic." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Jan. 2015. .