Hundreds Gather In Tyler To Discuss Belief In Bigfoot
By COSHANDRA DILLARD
They came from across the country to share experiences and become informed on the latest scientific clues that may prove that their belief in the so-called Bigfoot is not so implausible. The need to validate the existence of Bigfoot or Sasquatch has been an ongoing effort since the 1950s and it was thriving Saturday in Tyler.
For the first time, the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy's Bigfoot Conference met in Tyler, after outgrowing former venues. An estimated 500 people lingered around D.K. Caldwell Auditorium to hear sociologists, biologists and TBRC organizers speak about scientific research on the infamous hairy creature.
Daryl Colyer, vice chairman of TBRC, said he's turned his childhood interest in Bigfoot into a full-time hobby.
"I've heard a lot of legends and stories from family when I was growing up," he said. "When I got older it was all folklore but I decided to research it for myself before making an opinion about it."
Colyer said his encounter with a Bigfoot-type creature occurred in Liberty County just off the Trinity River. He said while he and his wife were walking a trail at dusk, they spotted a hairy, reddish brown figure with a musky smell crossing the trail.
"I was in shock, in total awe," he said. "From there, legend became a reality. I don't care if people don't believe me. That's what I saw."
An artist’s depiction of a life-size Bigfoot head watches over the lobby Saturday afternoon.
Colyer said while skepticism is OK, people also should keep an open mind.
"It is strange and it is bizarre. It's difficult for most people to believe. But we need to be aware of the facts. It can exist. We know that a gigantopithecus blacki once existed. So it's not that far of a stretch."
Researchers say a gigantopithecus blacki is an extinct genus of ape that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago in China and other parts of Asia.
"It was a species. We assume it's extinct, but this may be what people are seeing," Colyer said. "It's tough for people to wrap their minds around it."FIGHTING STEREOTYPES
Attendees at the conference came from various backgrounds and ages. Baylor University sociologist Carson Mencken told the audience that while the typical casual Bigfoot believer has been someone from a low socioeconomic group, a minority and/or has a nonprofessional vocation, there are plenty of educated professionals who are interested in researching the creature. He said the Bigfoot believer as a backwoods eccentric is a product of media hype.
"The media likes interesting stories. They are more interested in finding strange people with tin foil on their heads. We want to dispel those stereotypes."
He added, "It's not just gullible people that didn't go to school. We have people of all walks of life doing research on Bigfoot."
Lance Hightower, of Tulsa, Okla., is an example of the not-so-typical Bigfoot enthusiast. He attended the conference for the first time with his 11-year-old son, Sterling.
"I fell into a weird category," he said. "I'm a minority, I'm self-employed, a professional and I'm a doctor."
Hightower said he's been drawn to Bigfoot lore since he was a young boy. He said he came to the conference to be among other "like-minded people" who are serious about the subject.
"Since I was (Sterling's) age I've always been fascinated with Bigfoot," he said. "It really wasn't until a brother of mine had an encounter that it began to resurface my interest."
Hightower said his brother and a friend had a close encounter with a large ape-like figure while relaxing at a riverbank. He said the creature chased them as they fled in their truck.
"He waited two years to tell me that story and he's told it to me five or six times since then and the story's never changed," Hightower said.
Hightower said his Christian faith does not keep him from believing Bigfoot exists.
"God made everything. Why can't he still make a creature like this that we've never seen?"
An avid outdoorsman, Hightower said he hopes to one day spot Bigfoot as he continues his own research.A FORMER SKEPTIC
Bob Gimlin, the man who partnered with Roger Patterson to record the first sighting of Bigfoot, was at the conference. He signed autographs and took photos with admirers.
"I came down here because I feel people are interested in coming to these conferences and I want to enlighten thing about my experience," he said.
Patterson recorded the infamous video of a supposed Bigfoot on Oct. 20, 1967. Gimlin said rights were sold to different companies in 1972 and since then, the famous image of an ape-like creature in mid-stride has surfaced around the world. He said he has made no money from it. Gimlin recounted that day at a creek in northern California.
"I was pretty much a skeptic at the time," he said. "We were hoping to see one but didn't think we'd see one. Some people claim it was fake, that it was a man wearing a suit. It's been hashed out for 42 years."
Gimlin said he was frightened by the creature that's estimated to be about 7-4 and weighed between 500 and 800 pounds.
"My heart was jumping up and down inside my body," he said. "When you see something that's nearly 8 feet tall covered with hair and is not supposed to exist, it makes you pretty scared."
He added, "I know it was real. This is America, where you can have whatever thought you want and say what you think."WHAT NEXT?
Coyler said scientists claim there are 10 million species yet to be discovered and 10,000 to 20,000 new species are discovered every year. He said five new primates have been classified in this decade. Bigfoot believers say if science proves the creature exists, it would be time for government-funded research that might lend a clue into the history of human beings.
"That's when the real fun begins," Colyer said. "Maybe anthropology books would have to be rewritten."
Most accounts of a Bigfoot sighting indicate that the creature is not violent and is often frightened by humans. Believers say they do not want to hurt or capture the animal.
"I think you appreciate it. You protect it," Hightower said.
Sean Whitley, of Dallas, produced a documentary called "Southern Fried Bigfoot." It was filmed in parts of East Texas and draws attention to suspected sightings in the South as some believe Bigfoot only appears in the northwest. His film debuted on the Documentary Channel in the spring.
"I keep and open mind. I don't believe or disbelieve," he said. "I leave it up to the audience to make their minds up."
Attendees participated in a survey and submitted results halfway through the conference. One result indicated that 70 percent of those participating thought that Bigfoot's existence would be confirmed within the next 10 years.