The creature commonly known as “Bigfoot” received its name from a series of reported large footprints found in the forests of northern California in the 1950s. These footprints were said to be much larger than those of a human and became a topic of interest among locals and researchers.
In August of 1958, a construction worker (tractor operator) named Jerry Crew discovered a set of 16-inch footprints while working on a road near Bluff Creek, California. He made a plaster cast of one of the prints and brought it to the local newspaper office, where it was photographed and published with the headline “Bigfoot Prints Found.” The term “Bigfoot” quickly caught on and has been used ever since to describe the elusive, humanoid creature said to inhabit the forests of North America.
The news media pounced. Writing about the find, columnist Andrew Genzoli at the Humboldt Times introduced the name “Big Foot” in an article titled, “Giant footprints puzzle residents along Trinity River.”
“Maybe we have a relative of the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas”, Genzoli wrote.
The story spread to newspapers all over the country, and the TV show Truth or Consequences offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove the existence of Bigfoot.
The Tampa Times – Tampa, Florida · Monday, October 06, 1958
Reports of ape-like behemoths had circulated for generations. Native American lore included mention of a race of hairy sasquatches, and California settlers whispered about them as far back as the 1880s. But Crew’s footprints turned Bigfoot into a national media sensation, prompting countless campfire debates, and inspiring an army of Bigfoot hunters.
In recent years, the ranks of Bigfoot believers have swollen with the rise of the paranormal television genre and the endorsements of some well-regarded scientists. Among them is Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee researcher. “You’ll be amazed when I tell you, I’m sure that they exist,” she told an interviewer in 2002. “I’ve talked to so many Native Americans who’ve all described the same sound, two who’ve seen them.”
There’s no doubt that Bigfoot lives on in the hearts and minds of people in Willow Creek, the modern ground zero for the legend in Humboldt County. The one-time logging town has embraced the beast as a civic emblem and tourist draw. Local businesses include the Bigfoot Golf Country Club, Bigfoot’s Steakhouse, Bigfoot Motel, and Bigfoot Rafting.
There’s a Bigfoot Avenue and a Bigfoot Scenic Byway. On Labor Day weekend, the town will host the annual Bigfoot Daze celebration. In a bit of wishful fantasy, costumed impersonators of Northern California’s most reclusive celebrity will parade through the downtown for all to see. In the ‘80s, Bigfoot showed his softer side. An example is the 1987 movie Harry and the Hendersons, which portrayed Bigfoot as a friendly, misunderstood creature in need of protection from John Lithgow and his family.
- Truth or Consequences is a long-running American game show that first aired on radio in 1940 before transitioning to television in 1950. The show’s format typically involves contestants answering trivia questions or performing stunts in exchange for prizes, with the consequence of failing to do so being a humorous or embarrassing punishment. The show has been hosted by several notable figures over the years, including Ralph Edwards and Bob Barker, and has inspired similar game shows in other countries. Despite its popularity, the show has also been criticized for its potentially exploitative and humiliating nature. [Back]
- “Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend” by Joshua Blu Buhs
- “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science” by Jeff Meldrum
- “Bigfoot!: The True Story of Apes in America” by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark.
- “When California introduced Bigfoot to the world” (August 7, 2018) https://www.californiasun.co/when-california-introduced-bigfoot-to-the-world/
- “Legend of Bigfoot” (2023) https://mil.wa.gov/the-legend-of-bigfoot
- “Footprint Database” https://cliffbarackman.com/home/projects/footprint-database/
- “How the Bigfoot Legend Began” (2020) https://www.history.com/news/bigfoot-legend-newspaper
- “Truth or Consequences: A Brief History of a Game Show” by Linda Carroll, Today.com
- “Truth or Consequences: 70 Years of Consequences” by Steve Beverly, TVParty.com
- “Truth or Consequences” IMDb page, accessed May 14, 2023.