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Geographical Index > United States > Wisconsin > Article # 312

Media Article # 312


Wednesday, August 07, 2002

NORTHWESTERN WISCONSIN: Search is on for bigfoot

By Kevin Harter
Pioneer Press


Dennis Murphy of Plymouth is a hunter.

Over the years, armed with a camera and a supply of plaster of Paris, Murphy has hit the woods of northwestern Wisconsin in search of a creature so rare that no one has ever bagged one: Bigfoot. Sasquatch. Yeti. Or as the Ojibwe call him, Bug-way'-jinini, the wildman.

Murphy, 54, said he first encountered two aging bigfoots while searching for a fishing spot 30 years ago. He mostly kept the sighting to himself, fearing he would be ridiculed.

He still tracks the elusive creature and believes he captured its image on film during a recent foray into the woods near Danbury. He said he didn't see the creature but found its image when he had his film developed after his return.

Murphy isn't alone in his pursuit of the creature. And he is far from the only person to claim a sighting.

Ten years ago, funded by a $1 million grant from a benefactor who wished to remain anonymous, the Big Foot Research Project was launched, using up-to-date technology, including military search equipment.

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, there are between 2,000 and 6,000 bigfoots living in North America. And while the Pacific Northwest gets a lot of attention, there are many other prime homelands, including the Upper Midwest.

John Bindernagel, a British Columbia-based wildlife biologist, agrees on both counts.

"It's been treated as a joke or a hoax, but increasingly there is serious study," said Bindernagel, who has a Ph.D. in veterinary science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bindernagel, who is writing a book on bigfoot, said sasquatch is most often reduced to native folklore or regional myth, but he believes it exists.

While there have been hoaxes and practical jokers, Bindernagel said there is also credible evidence, including the footprints he has found.

But until more people overcome their fear of ridicule and report what they see, sightings won't be taken seriously.

According to Bindernagel and others, bigfoot tends to live where there is water and wooded high grounds. Based on eyewitness accounts and footprint casts, bigfoot, is, well, big, standing up to 10 feet tall and weighing more than 800 pounds. At times, reports say, the creature can be rather pungent. Put those characteristics together, and it would seem that bigfoot would have a difficult time playing hide from the seekers.

Not so, said Murphy and others. Bigfoot is shy, smart and nocturnal, thus the creature is good at avoiding us.

Murphy did not want to disclose the exact location of his sighting three decades ago, fearing others would come looking. For bait, he said he prefers apples and a few bananas.

"It was unbelievable, an eye-opening experience," he said of that first sighting. "They were old. They were pure white. He was 9 feet tall."

Murphy said he was sane and sober when he saw them and remained so earlier this summer when, with renewed interest, he began searching for bigfoot in the oak and jack pine forests around Danbury.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials remain unconvinced that there is a huge, undiscovered mammal stalking the north woods.

"We've not had anyone, to the best of my recollection, claim to have seen bigfoot," said Jim Bishop, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin DNR's northern region.

There is a large bear population in the area, he said, and bears can weigh in at more than 500 pounds.

"It could be a bear track," Bishop said of footprint evidence collected by bigfoot hunters. "A bear track can look very much like a human footprint."

Murphy, who has a plaster of Paris cast of a 17-inch footprint, said it was not made by a bear. Skeptics, he said, tend to dismiss bigfoot sightings as large bears.

While he didn't see the creature this summer, the footprints and the sounds he heard from the woods reassured him that bigfoot is real.

"I heard him following me. And I heard what sounded like a horse whinnying. I wasn't afraid. This is not a creature to be afraid of," he said. "With all the changes and all the growth, I was very happy to realize they were still out there and not extinct."

Since April, Murphy has ventured out about 20 times in search of bigfoot. He remains confident and optimistic.

"The anticipation is always there," he said. "I think I can find this creature."

REPORTED BIGFOOT SIGHTINGS

Washington state: 253

California: 194

Oregon: 111

Minnesota: 17. The majority of Minnesota's sightings, seven, have taken place in St. Louis County, the state's largest in area.

Wisconsin: 15. No county has more than two sightings. Wisconsin sightings over the years have included that of a Polk County man, who in 1974 claimed to have seen bigfoot piloting a UFO.

Source: The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization

TO LEARN MORE

On the Web: Weird Wisconsin, which includes links to stories on Bigfoot and UFOs, can be found at www.weird-wi.com. The W-Files, which covers similar territory, is at www.w-files.com. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization is at www.bfro.net.

On TV: "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel this winter. The film, which is being produced by Minnesotan Doug Hajicek, includes analysis of possible bigfoot audio evidence by a Texas A&M physics professor and the director of the university's Center for Bioacoustics.

Classic footage: The 1967 16mm film shot by rodeo cowboy Roger Patterson and bigfoot tracker Robert Gimlin near Bluff Creek, Calif., continues to inspire believers. But detractors say the film is nothing more than shaky footage of a man in a monkey suit.


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Kevin Harter can be reached at kharter@pioneerpress.com or (800) 739-3921.


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