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Media Article # 401

Friday, June 25, 2004

Never-say-die devotees of Bigfoot to swap stories

By Allan Turner
The Houston Chronicle

June 25, 2004, 6:57PM

Never-say-die devotees of Bigfoot to swap stories


J.E. "Smokey" Crabtree lives way down in the river bottoms of southwest Arkansas -- a remote land where aquamarine light filters through eerie forests, water moccasins slice S-trails through duckweed-filled swamps and mystery is a living, breathing, tangible thing. It's there that the welder-turned-author first heard the call of the wild.

"It screams out, kind of like elephants," Crabtree said of the giant apelike creature he believes prowls the soggy woods near his Fouke, Ark., home. "It's come to our place several times at night aggravating the animals."

Crabtree, 77, has written three books about the "Bigfoot" creature, one of which became the basis for the 1973 cinematic thriller The Legend of Boggy Creek. Crabtree's often found huge footprints in the mud, he said, and his son once discovered an 8-foot-tall simian tangled in a fence near his home.

On Saturday, Crabtree will detail his decades-long hunt for Bigfoot at the third annual "Southern Crypto Conference" at Conroe's Lone Star Expo Center. Other speakers will include Bob Gimlin, who collaborated in the 1967 filming of an alleged Bigfoot in California, and Houston musician Ken Gerhard, who has searched the Texas-Mexico border for the giant thunderbirds of Native American lore.

"Cryptozoology is the pursuit of mysterious animals that are rumored to be legends or that are known to have existed but might be extinct," said conference organizer Chester Moore, a wildlife writer in Orange. "I'm a journalist, and I approach this from a pure journalistic standpoint. Whether these animals exist or not, there's still a story."

Moore, 30, has tracked Bigfoot in Louisiana and California and has prowled the woods of East Texas and Louisiana in search of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a once-common bird now feared extinct. He is the author of six books, ranging from Flounder Tactics to Boogers, Bears, Birds and Beasts, and his work regularly appears in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine.

While Bigfoot lives in numerous legends, mainstream scientists generally scoff at reported Bigfoot encounters. At least some, though, have called for serious investigations. Jane Goodall, known for her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania, has noted that such encounters have been reported around the world by people with greatly differing backgrounds.

"As far as I'm concerned," she told the Denver Post last year, "the existence of hominids of this sort is a very real probability."

"Mythical or not mythical -- we play the probabilities just like people do with the lotteries," said John Herron, program director for wildlife diversity at the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. "Maybe the chance is one-tenth of 1 percent, but lightning does strike. We have found new species of salamanders and plants."

The so-called "giant squid," a creature large enough to menace boats, long was thought mythical. Now established as fact, it is among marine biology's most intriguing areas of study.

Without evidence that can be subjected to standard scientific peer-review procedures, though, testimonials to Bigfoot's existence can't be regarded as anything but hearsay.

"We have so many animal sightings that clearly are inaccurate," Herron said. "Sightings of Bigfoot? No wonder. We do have black bears. We do have feral hogs. Even police detectives say that eyewitnesses sometimes aren't reliable."

Such reservations do not diminish the zeal of Bigfoot believers, some of whom, Herron said, have petitioned Parks and Wildlife to secure endangered species status for the creature.

"People have been seeing these things for hundreds of years, and they're not all just seeing bears or making up lies," Crabtree countered. "Unfortunately, the sightings typically get tabloid-style coverage: `Bigfoot stole my grandmother!' "

To date, some of the most convincing evidence supporting Bigfoot's existence was a 60-second movie shot 1967 by conference participant Gimlin and the late filmmaker Roger Patterson. The footage depicts the cavorting of a large apelike creature at Bluff Creek, Calif.

Earlier this year, Bob Heironimus, a retired Yakima, Wash., soft-drink bottler, proclaimed the movie a hoax, saying he had donned a gorilla suit for the filming. Gimlin was en route to Texas on Thursday and unavailable for comment.

"He hasn't commented in the past," a woman who identified herself as Gimlin's wife said when the family home was contacted by telephone, "and he's not going to comment now."

Such skirmishes leave Crabtree unfazed. For years, he said, he and his family have heard the mysterious cries they took to be from Bigfoot.

"I've found a lot of tracks that we could study real good," Crabtree said. "They're in the shape of an overgrown chimp, but they're 14 inches long. Whatever it is can take a 57-inch stride."

In the mid-1960s, Crabtree's son, Lynn, purportedly encountered Bigfoot while hunting squirrels on the family farm.

"He was following some horses, kind of wild horses that ran down to the lake," Crabtree said. "The boy thought maybe flies were after them. They were out in the water between some trees. After they settled down, he heard a yelping like a dog hung up in a fence."

Upon investigating, Lynn Crabtree discovered an unlikely creature struggling to free itself from the fence.

"It looked like it was part human and part animal," Crabtree said.

"I figure it's a cross between something, but I have no idea what it is."

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