You know about Bigfoot. He, she, or they, go by a lot of names. In the Himalayas, they are known as Yeti. Some call them Abominable Snowmen. The legends passed down in the Salish Tribe of the Pacific Northwest call them Sasquatch.
Stories about Bigfoot go back at least to 1887 in Idaho. A more recent sighting took place not far from Lewiston. In 1992, several people spotted something near Spalding. Some watched an animal from across the river as it walked through a field. The Nez Perce National Historic Park was nearby. One park employee also saw something big, dark, and shaggy. It walked on two legs. The watchers drove closer to where it had been. One of them spotted it across the field squatting behind a bush. One man had binoculars. He looked and said it was just a man, but he wouldn’t let anyone else look. Others said it was seven feet tall and walked with its arms swinging. They said it couldn’t be a bear because it walked upright for so far. Did they see Bigfoot?
Jeff Meldrum is one Idahoan who thinks Bigfoot might exist. He is a professor at Idaho State University. Dr. Meldrum has been looking for Bigfoot since 1996. He has studied plaster casts of many footprints. It is another cast that makes him wonder. It is a cast of where something sat in the mud. That’s right, he thinks it might be a print of Bigfoot’s butt.
Meldrum sees too much detail in some of the footprints for them to be a hoax. Anybody can carve a big shoe out of wood and walk around. The professor says he’s seen prints like that. But he has also seen prints that only something weighing a thousand pounds could make. Those prints show skin details a lot like fingerprints. The toes spread apart in some tracks and slip in the mud.
In 2006, Meldrum had a Bigfoot convention in Pocatello. The county commissioners signed an official document protecting any Sasquatch and welcoming them to the county. They didn’t say they believed in Bigfoot. They believed in conventions for sure. Big meetings bring in a lot of money. People need to pay for hotel rooms and food. Even with that official welcome, no Bigfoot showed up.
If someone comes up with proof that Bigfoot exists, it might be Idaho’s Jeff Meldrum. He’s a scientist. If he is ever convinced it will be because he has very good evidence.
Bigfoot has more names than he needs. One Idaho monster went without a name for many years. The first sighting of the Payette Lake monster was in the winter of 1920. A logging crew was cutting wood for railroad ties. They spotted a big log floating in the icy water. Then the log began to swivel back and forth like a snake. It created a wake as it sped away.
In 1944 a group of people saw something in Payette Lake that was at least 35 feet long. It had the head of a dinosaur and shell-like skin. That claim got attention all over the country. People began coming to McCall to look for the beast. Time magazine published an article about it, calling the creature Slimy Slim.
Two years later a doctor from Nampa said he saw Slimy Slim. The doctor thought it was about 40 feet long and made waves like a motorboat.
By 1954, many people had seen something in the lake. The local newspaper editor decided to have some fun with the growing legend. He ran a national contest to pick a name for the Payette Lake monster. People came up with Kingfish, Watzit, Fantasy, Alley Oop, Hi-Ho, and even Old Rover. The winner was a woman from Springfield, Virginia who thought the creature should be named Sharlie.
So, now everyone knows what to call whatever it is. They make ice sculptures of Sharlie during the winter carnival in McCall. A local restaurant sells a Sharlie burger. It is almost certainly not made from lake monsters. Meanwhile, people still see unexplained things in the waters of Payette Lake.
We know more about the monster in Bear Lake. The first reports of that one were in a Salt Lake City newspaper in 1868. The paper printed stories from reporters in southeastern Idaho. Joseph C. Rich often wrote from the Idaho side of Bear Lake. Part of Bear Lake is in Idaho and part is in Utah.
Rich told of Indian legends of a snake-like monster that had short, stubby legs. It would sometimes scurry onto shore and snatch away maidens in its terrible jaws.
But it wasn’t just a legend. Rich wrote of people who saw the monster that very year. Just three weeks earlier one saw “two or three feet of some kind of an animal that he had never seen before raised out of the water.” It had ears on the side of its head the size of “a pint cup.”
Then a man and three women saw something very large swimming in the lake faster than a horse could run.
A few days later three men saw a beast they said was 90 feet long. One of them said he had never seen a train go that fast. Then they spotted a second, smaller monster. This one was only 40 feet long.
Rich reported that “the waves that rolled up in front and on each side of them” were three feet high.
Readers wrote to the paper with ideas about the monsters. One thought sea lions got stranded in the lake when an ancient ocean dried up. Others thought fossils held a clue. Maybe the monster was a swimming dinosaur.
Several people said they, too, saw the monster. Many scoffed at the stories. J.C. Rich wrote how sorry he was for unbelievers. “They might come up here someday, and through their unbelief, be thrown off their guard and gobbled up by the Water Devil.”
Rich often wrote tongue-in-cheek. The story about the Bear Lake monster was part of a longer article. It started this way: “It is a mystery to me that all the leading journals of the world have not correspondents in Bear Lake. In fact, I don’t know how the people tolerate their publications without.”
He went on to describe the styles in Paris. Paris, Idaho. Those included “cow sheds and other items.” He also told of invading grasshoppers “well disciplined, armed, and equipped for war.”
The monster sightings went on even after 1888. That was when the reporter finally admitted he made the whole thing up. Why? Just for fun. The fact he owned a resort on Bear Lake may have played a part. The publicity was great! Even today people claim they have seen the “monster.” That would have amused the father of the monster, Joseph C. Rich.
What do these “monsters” have in common? People claim they have seen them. Newspapers report on those claims. People get excited. Someone has some fun with the story. You can never prove there is no monster. It might be just around the bend or in deeper water. What monsters have you heard about?