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Bigfoot Buff Vows to Capture the Credible Likeness of a Being

Associated Press

Even a true believer in Bigfoot concedes that the tabloids sometimes get carried away:

“HUGE BIGFOOT MONSTER TERRORIZES THE ROCKIES! It stunk like a sewer, roared like a lion and clutched the leg of an animal in its hand.”

“ ‘BIGFOOT ATTACKED US!’ Blood-Crazed Creature Savages Camera Crew and Pounds 2-Ton Truck Into Junkyard Scrap.”

Paul Freeman smiles at the mention of such outlandish reports. He collects them and keeps the clippings in a cardboard box. “There are some crazy people out there,” he said. And he himself has been called the craziest of all.

Freeman says he knows otherwise, that he has seen Bigfoot. Four times. He swears that is true, and he is out to persuade a doubting world that perhaps 1,000 of the hairy giants really do roam the dark forests of the Pacific Northwest.

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“I know they are there, and I know what I see,” Freeman said. “Nothing has to be proven to me, but I’d like to prove it to the public so they’ll say Freeman’s not really a kook.”

Old Indian Legend

Bigfoot--or Sasquatch, as the Indians called him--is one of the Northwest’s enduring legends. More than 750 sightings of the beings or their oversized footprints have been reported in the last century, mostly in the evergreen forests that stretch from Northern California to British Columbia.

No Bigfoot has ever been killed or captured. No carcass or bone has ever been found.

There are a few photographs, including one taken in October by Freeman’s son, but they always seem to be out of focus, underexposed or too distant. What looks like Sasquatch could be a misshapen tree stump or someone in a monkey suit.

Skeptics point to hoaxes such as the time a Washington man simulated a whole Bigfoot family by stomping around with three pairs of gigantic feet he had carved of wood.

If you want to believe, however, talk to Paul Freeman.

Drive with him eastward from Walla Walla, where the flatlands of southeastern Washington rise into the Blue Mountains of the Umatilla National Forest. Listen to Freeman’s accounts of safaris into the 177,000-acre wilderness area. Behold a lonely land of wind-bared ridges and dark and thickly wooded canyons.

Watched by the Unseen

This is Bigfoot country, Freeman says. “You can go in there all summer and not see anybody.”

Not that nobody sees you.

Freeman told of spooked horses, of usually docile dogs growling fiercely into the darkness. “Your skin gets kind of crawly and the hair stands up on your neck,” he said. “You know you’re being watched, but you don’t know from where.”

Freeman, 45, does not seem the type to scare easily. He is beefy, bearded and, at 6 foot 4 and 265 pounds, approaches Sasquatch proportions himself. He is a meat-cutter by trade, an outdoorsman and hunter by nature.

He said he, too, was a skeptic--until June 10, 1982. On that day, while on watershed patrol for the U.S. Forest Service, he met up with a shaggy, reddish-brown being who stood nearly 8 feet tall.

“He was 60 yards away,” Freeman recalled. “I watched him walk the length of two football fields. He’d take a few steps, look back at me, and take a few more steps. Then he went up over a hill and disappeared.”

Ridiculed for Report

When word got out, Freeman was an instant celebrity, but the fame was spiked with ridicule. Reporters hounded him. His supervisors doubted him. Anonymous callers told him he was crazy and threatened to take away his three children.

Freeman quit his Forest Service job and moved away. He drifted through several jobs, but a gnawing need for vindication drew him back to Walla Walla in 1984.

He has been on the spoor of Bigfoot ever since. He says he is in the woods three days a week, and he has sunk about $50,000 into his private search, money he earned by driving trucks part time and from selling his meat-cutting business.

What can he show for his effort?

There is a trunk filled with plaster casts of Bigfoot tracks. And there are hair samples that, according to Freeman, experts cannot identify as coming from man or beast.

Near the kitchen door in his rented home hangs a map with lines marking where he and his son Duane, 22, have tracked the Sasquatch. In his freezer is a chunk of suspected Bigfoot feces.

Last Oct. 5, Duane snapped three color photos that he and his father say show a creature they spotted about 35 miles east of Walla Walla. The sharpest image is of a black, ape-like shape in a clearing 150 yards away.

Fuzzy, Distant Photos

Duane said the sighting made a believer of him, but the fuzzy pictures do less for one who wasn’t there. “I was shaking a lot,” he said.

Freeman said that specimen was on the small side: about 7 feet tall, maybe 700 pounds. The biggest ones, he said, stand taller than 8 feet and leave footprints 18 inches long. Uprooted trees attest to their strength, but, unlike the monsters in the tabloid headlines, they are gentle and shy.

These secretive animals stay hidden by sticking to dark canyons and foraging at night. They even alter their footprints to make them resemble bear tracks, Freeman said.

“Sure, they’re that smart,” he said. “If they didn’t have a lot of intelligence, they’d be dead by now.”

They eat mushrooms and skunk cabbage, elk calves and salmon, Freeman said. In winter they may hole up in caves, a way of living he says would explain their reputed stench.

Freeman has the moral support of at least one researcher in the murky world of “cryptozoology,” the study of creatures not proven to exist.

Professor Liked Prints

Grover Krantz, a Washington State University anthropology professor and veteran Sasquatch seeker, has examined some of Freeman’s plaster casts and found the tracks rather convincing, complete as they are with fingerprint-like ridges.

Another Bigfoot researcher, Canadian author Rene Dahinden, has denounced Freeman as a publicity-seeking huckster.

Forest Service officials said they don’t know what to think.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, and I’ve never seen anything that would lead me to believe that Bigfoot exists,” said Wayne Long, a fire management officer who is the Umatilla’s de facto expert on the subject. Then again, he added: “You can go out in the woods all your life and never see a cougar, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”


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