Bigfoot in Fresno County?

4/25/2008 Fresno, CA

Many won't talk about it for fear of being ridiculed. But others are convinced they are real, and think science is about to prove they really do exist.

Lurking in the forests of the high Sierra are people, like Bill Compton. A cell phone salesman during the week, he spends many weekends in search of the elusive Bigfoot. He says," I truly believe there is a bi-pedal primate roaming the terrain. I've seen too many footprints, seen beasts walk away from me on two legs that look like giant, hairy animals."

Bill and his partners regularly search an area in the Sequoia National Forest in Southeastern Fresno County. Bills tells us," In that area we've had a lot of activity, that's why we constantly go back to it." Local hunters and hikers have reported Bigfoot like sightings, along with what they think are the sounds and smells of the creature on the website of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization. 17 alleged Bigfoot encounters are listed in Fresno County. Web sites like this are full of pictures, videos and supposed eyewitness accounts.

Such stories are no surprise to the Native American tribes living in the Sierra. To them Bigfoot was just like the bear, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes. Ron Goode of the North Fork band of Mono Indians tells us, "We have an understanding that Bigfoot was here, is here. That he once he existed. The Mono's have two names for him. One that was in the mountains, Kooseekoosnow, and then one for the foothills is Kakownow, Kakownah." Goode says he hasn't seen a Bigfoot, but thinks he smelled one. "It had kind of followed me along and really scared the heck out of me because I was running for a little bit and I could smell this thing and it smelled terrible."

Another encounter near North Fork involved not smell, but sound. Susan Larson, an accountant believes she heard a Bigfoot outside her window one night. She says, "The scream was so scary, that you would no way in your right mind go out that door and go looking for it, and it's a shame I didn't have the guts."

Susan says she didn't know she'd heard a Bigfoot, until listening to a recording on a Bigfoot web site. Listening to the sound, "Ooooappp....ooooapp..." She tells us, "That's exactly what I heard."

She later took pictures of footprints she thinks could belong to Bigfoot, or maybe a bear. Casts of footprints, along with pictures, videos and other Bigfoot evidence is on display for all to see at the Bigfoot Discovery Museum near Santa Cruz. Museum owner and curator Michael Rugg says, "We are trying to come up with definitive proof that there are Bigfoot out there."

Rugg has wanted to prove Bigfoot lives ever since he saw one as a kid, while camping with his parents along a creek in Humboldt County. He recalled the incident. "Stepped out on a sandbar and there was a great big hairy man standing there looking at me and I looked at him and he looked down at me." The creature ran off when Rugg's parents called out to him. Rugg says he didn't realize he'd seen a Bigfoot until years later. After retiring as a graphic artist he opened the museum to help further Bigfoot research.

One of the few academically credentialed scientists who will acknowledge the possibility Bigfoot exists is Jeff Meldrum. A biology professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello. His book, "Sasquatch, Legend Meets Science," has been cited in some of the most recent documentaries on Bigfoot. He believes he has almost found a scientific basis for the legendary creature from a site in Ontario, Canada. Meldrum says,"We collected tissue, the remains of blood as well as muscle tissue as well as some hairs." Meldrum explains the creature stepped on a board with screws in it, leaving the flesh behind, giving researchers a sample from which to obtain DNA for testing. He says a preliminary test indicated a feature in a strand of DNA that appeared to put the creature somewhere between a human and chimpanzee.

Meldrum admits much more DNA testing is needed, but, says he thinks there's something out there. He says," Based on all the evidence I have seen it suggests this is an unrecognized species of great ape."

That however, is not a conclusion shared by most of the scientific community. Stephen Lewis is a professor of Earth Sciences at California State University Fresno. A Geologist he teaches a course on popular myths masquerading as science. He puts Bigfoot in the same category as UFO's and Power Crystals. He says, "This whole Bigfoot topic is what can be classified as pseudo science." He adds," There's really no credible evidence that's ever been turned up that a giant six hundred pound hairy, hominid creature, man-like except bigger, inhabits the Pacific Northwest, or Fresno County or anywhere else. There's just no evidence of that."

Many Bigfoot believers say "what more could you need?" They believe the evidence, from Indian legends to eyewitness accounts, along with film and videos is already overwhelming. But even those on Bigfoot's trail, like Bill Compton of Fresno, admit the absolute proof they need may be very hard to come by. He says, "We go to investigate and can't find anything. Very mysterious, it drives us nuts. " But he says, "I truly believe we have them in the Central Valley. Bigfoot's, and it will come out, someday."

The obvious question is, "Why can't anyone seem to find a real Bigfoot, dead or alive?"

The Native Americans believe the creatures live and die hidden underground, in tunnels and caves that run for hundreds of miles through the Sierra, and only come out to feed now and then. Others believe they're just too smart to be discovered. With the sensory skills of wild animals, and near human intelligence, they are presumably, incredibly elusive.

It will take actually finding one to convince skeptics they exist, but as long as there's no way to prove they don't exist, some people will keep looking for and believing in Bigfoot.

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