Monday, October 14, 2013

When Bigfoot 'Arrived' in Utah: 1977

                                The rugged and pristine High Uintas.
                                                    (Photo by Ravell Call.)

By Lynn Arave
WHEN was the first bigfoot sighting in Utah?

The first publicly reported sighting by the media happened on Aug. 22, 1977 in the High Uintas Wilderness area, only a few days after it happened.
(There were a few earlier sightings, but they were reported many years after the fact and did not involve the number of witnesses and detail that this one did.)
Two men from North Ogden City and six teenagers  claimed they saw a “gorilla-like” creature who matched the description of a bigfoot.
Bert Strand, outdoor editor for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, a daily  newspaper, published an account from the group, published  on Aug. 25, 1977.
Jay Barker, a big game hunter and operator of a trout farm in North Ogden, estimated the creature to be 10 feet tall and 
 “covered with  a white mantle of hair over its shoulders and half-way down its huge body.” 
The creature’s lower portion was dark in color and it moved away on its hind legs.
This sighting took place as the group looked down from the top of a ridge in Summit County, located between Cuberant Basin and Pass Lake.

(The elevation in this area is well over 10,000 feet above sea level.)

Being about six miles from their vehicle, the group was deeply in a 

wilderness area, with heavy timber.

All eight members of the party watched in disbelief as the creature 

walked around a small lake, about one-mile below the 11,000-foot 

elevation ridge they stood on.

Barker thought at first it might be an elk. However, after one of the boys knocked some loose rocks that rolled down, the creature turned and looked up at them.

"What are we looking at?” Beeson said in surprise.

Barker admitted the creature was too far away to get a clear look at 
its face, but they watched it walk—on two legs -- about 880 yards, before disappearing in heavy timber.

                                    The High Uintas, with Kings Peak in the background.  
                                                           (Photo by Ravell Call.)

The party was generally “dumbfounded”and “amazed.” The group 

then went down to where the creature had been and found a huge 

“paw-like” prints, fainting imprinted on  the hard ground. They also 
found scruff marks and some nearby ground, trees and rocks and a  partially eaten rabbit carcass completely “skinned as by a human.”

Then two men and six boys decided it unwise to follow the creature 
into heavy brush.

Returning to camp, the group could not sleep and spend the night 

huddled around their campfire at Fish Lake.

The next day, the party hiked out the six miles to Pass Lake, near 

the Mirror Lake paved highway and just north of Mirror Lake itself.

Meanwhile, the Standard-Examiner article also reported that Arlo 

Fawcett of Roy, a sheepherder in the Gold Hill area to the north, 

reported his sheep were uneasy at the time, filled with fear and 

would not stay in a grazing area where they were led, the same area 
where the group had spotted the creature. The sheep raced back to camp, not wanting to remain at the grazing area.

Fawcett said he’d never seen sheep act like this and unlike previous 
summers spent here, he failed to hear any coyotes in the region. (1)

Jerry Dahlberg, s conservation officer for the Utah Division of 

Wildlife Resources, responded to the tale on the creature by stating 

it sounded like a grizzly bear sighting, except for the long distance 

of walking upright.

Some other hikers and fishermen also came forward after hearing 

this sighting and said that two weeks prior they had heard strange 

howls and growling in that same area of Cuberant Basin, unlike 

anything they’d experienced before.

Barker also returned to the same area a week later and reported a 

strange smell there. (2)

This solid sounding tale of Bigfoot attracted the interest of many 

Bigfoot enthusiasts in the United States.

The Davis News Journal reported that for three weeks after the initial sighting in the Uintas, scores of people scoured the area in search of the elusive creature. Weber County sent and official search party to the area, accompanied by officer Dahlberg, but found nothing conclusive.
Despite searching 10 square miles, nothing was found and the group even searched an additional area – the Bear River side of the region.

Dahlberg stated that some of the search area was "so primitive it looked like it had never before been penetrated by man.”
He had also hoped to have found a form of shelter used by the creature, animal carcasses, or torn trees, but nothing like that was discovered. (3)

Two middle-aged couples from Bountiful and Hill Air Force Base also reported seeing not one but three bigfoot-like creatures in the Uintas earlier that summer of 1977.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Melka, and Sgt. and Mrs. Fred Rosenberg spoke to the Davis County Clipper of their  experience on July 10, 1977 in the high Uintas, about one-half mile southwest of Elizabeth Lake, approximately  17 miles northwest of where the Barker group sighting:
"We sat on a ridge looking into a meadow only 300 to 500 yards away when we saw the first creature," said Robert Melka. "A few seconds later a second beast - both much larger than humans - entered the meadow and the two romped back and forth in the clearing for at least ten minutes."

The couples seemed uniform in their descriptions – beasts with hair on all but their hands and feet. They walked upright, but their arms and legs seemed longer than humans have and they were easily eight to 10 feet tall.
Two of the beasts romped and played in a meadow, while the third stood nearby. The two couples believe the creatures could not see their position up on a secluded ridge.
“They did not have pointed snouts as bears do and we had a good, long look at their profiles." Sergeant Rosenberg noted. A wild game hunter for more than a quarter century, "these were nothing like anything I have seen before, in real life or otherwise,” he stressed.

                        The High Uintas are rugged and lofty territory.
                                                         (Photo by Ravell Call.)

The four adults weren't scared, but they were apprehensive as they watched the creatures.
The four adults only came forward with tale after hearing about the sighting by eight people more than a month later. They otherwise did not even tell their children about it.
"We thought a lot about it, but didn't want to talk about it and be humiliated by those who wouldn't believe us," Mr. Melka said.
Their sighting was some 17 miles from any paved road and they had driven a jeep into that remote area.

Sadly, the couples had left any rifles, binoculars or cameras at home.  (4)
Although these two sightings were the first chronicled bigfoot sightings in Utah, they certainly were not the first.
Perhaps the first took placed in the late 19th Century in the Tuschar Mountains, east of Beaver.
There’s a canyon in the western slopes of these 12,000-plus foot high mountains, strangely called “Gorilla Canyon.” Nearby there is a Gorilla Ridge and a Gorilla Creek.
Why the gorilla name? In most local histories, the tale is told of some miners who mistook one of their own unshaven prospectors at dusk momentarily for a gorilla. (5)
That story sounds more than odd, that such a minor incident would produce three permanent place names in the area. Some southern Utah residents don’t buy that explanation and believe that to be the sanitized story in history. They suspect a bigfoot sighting, more than a half-century before that term was even coined, to be a more likely prospect. (6) Gorillas were sometimes credited in 19th Century sasquatch sightings.

 Otherwise, one of the earliest reported Bigfoot in Utah incidents of the 20th Century may been sometime in the early 1970s in Clarkston, Cache County. During a 1981 conversation with a former Miss Utah, then living in Logan, strange tales and eventually bigfoot came up. The young woman said that she grew up in Clarkston, northwest of Logan  in Cache County and that something both strange and terrible stomped through town last one night in the early 1970s. Residents were awakened and frightened by screams.  (7)

(There is a much earlier report of a strange creature appearing during the building of the Manti LDS Temple in the 1880s.)

Another possible bigfoot incident was reported in the 1980s that happened in 1973. Craig R. Johnson of Farr West, Weber County, was elk hunting with friends in the Manti-La Sal Mountains, east of Moab. After returning to camp, they reported something very powerful had lifted the door off a 300-pound horse trailer and tossed it 10 feet away. An imprint in the dust on the door didn’t indicate a bear or a human, but something unknown.

Then in April of 1977, some children in the town of Washington, in 

Utah’s Dixie/St. George area, reported they saw a mammoth 

creature lurking through the town’s streets. Later, strange footprints 

are found in the same area on many different nights. (8)


(1) "8 hikers spot elusive 'Bigfoot' in  High Uintas,"   Ogden 

Standard Examiner, by Bert Strand, Aug. 25, 1977.

(2) "Search party tracks 'Bigfoot,'" Ogden Standard Examiner, by Bert Strand, Sept. 3, 1977.

(3) Bigfoot in Uintas: Nothing Conclusive," Davis News Journal, by Gary Blodgett, Sept. 15, 1977.

(4) "Bigfoot sightings something we've never seen before," Davis County Clipper, by Gary Blodgett, Sept. 2, 1977.

(5) "Utah Place Names," by John W. Van Cott, 1990, University of Utah, pages 158-159.

(6) "What's that? This is the place for Goshen, Failure Canyon and Tickaboo," Deseret News, by Lynn Arave, Jan. 6, 2005.

(7) Personal interviews by Lynn Arave in Cache County, summer of 1981.

(8) "Tracking Bigfoot: Real or not, Creature Haunts us," Deseret News, by Lynn Arave, April 1, 1993.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history, or even Bigfoot, at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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