Researcher plans high-tech hunt for elusive Bigfoot in Oregon

BAKER CITY, Ore. — There’s a plaster cast of a footprint on the wall of Scott Violette’s basement and it’s the sort of thing that could give a kid nightmares for weeks.

Violette, who lives in Baker City, Oregon, is wearing a camouflage cap emblazoned with the slogan “Squatch Hunter.”

He walks beneath a sign that welcomes visitors to the “Squatchers Lounge.”

Violette slides a volume titled “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science” from a bookshelf crammed with similarly named works and topped by a vintage 1970s metal lunchbox emblazoned with the figure of a hairy bipedal beast.

The theme here is as obvious as an 18-inch-long track stamped in a patch of mud in the deep woods.

Yet Violette, whose T-shirt reads “Sasquatch Research Team,” says the heart of his operation — his “Sasquatch lair,” he puts it with a hearty chuckle — lies elsewhere in his labyrinthine basement.

That nook is where he stores his motion-sensing, sound-recording video cameras.

And his drone.

And the paintball gun he’s modifying so it’ll fire darts designed to extract a scrap of DNA that in theory could convince skeptical scientists — which is almost all of them — that Sasquatch, better known as Bigfoot — is a real creature.

“Just because it hasn’t been seen by the right professor from the U.S. doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” said Violette, 54, who grew up in Summerville, graduated from Imbler High School and moved to Baker City with his wife, Hannah, about four years ago.

“I do believe they exist. I think the proof is right there, but they’re not accepting it.”

Violette’s interest in this most famous of “cryptids” — animals whose existence has not been conclusively proved — dates to age 7 and an afternoon trip to watch a movie at the Elgin Opera House.

But his plans for this summer are more ambitious than any of his previous forays into forests where perhaps Bigfoot walks. Violette hopes to collect some compelling evidence while he hikes through the dense woods of the northern Blue Mountains near Tollgate.

His nearly lifelong fascination with the possibility that an unidentified primate roams the Pacific Northwest prompted Violette to recently start the Blue Mountain Bigfoot Research website and Facebook page.

Violette encourages people to visit the sites to share their Bigfoot sightings, track finds or other potential evidence, offer to accompany him on evidence-gathering trips to the mountains, or just to order a piece of Bigfoot kitsch with which he hopes to bankroll his project.

“This is something that’s been on my mind since we moved back (to Northeastern Oregon),” Violette said. “I’ve always spent a lot of time out in the woods. I decided it’s time to take this seriously.”

Which is not to say that Violette can devote his life to pursuing what mainstream science long ago decided was merely a myth.

He performs as Professor Algernon, a magician in the Steampunk tradition, he works with the Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre in Baker City, and he’s the drama coach at Baker High School.

Besides which he works part time at Cashway Lumber Company in Baker City.

But as his wardrobe choices and his basement decor both announce without a shred of subtlety, Violette’s dedication to the pursuit of Bigfoot is considerable.

“It’s important to me that science eventually accepts this,” he said. “It’s not just a reason to go out into the woods.”

A FILM SPARKS A LIFELONG INTEREST

Violette wanted only to watch a movie at the Elgin Opera House.

But it wasn’t the main feature that captured his attention that day almost half a century ago.

Back in the late 1960s, films were preceded not just by previews of coming attractions but also by short films known as newsreels.

The one on that day in Elgin showed what soon became — and still remains by a wide margin — the most famous and most scrutinized section of film purporting to show a Bigfoot.

This is the Patterson-Gimlin Film — the PGF to Bigfoot enthusiasts.

Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, both from Yakima, Washington, were riding horses on Oct. 20, 1967, along Bluff Creek in Northern California. The pair were intending to film a documentary about Bigfoot — Patterson had already self-published a book on the subject — when they claimed to have come across an individual Bigfoot which Patterson filmed with a rented movie camera.

The film is polarizing — many people, and most scientists, consider it a hoax.

But for the boy from Summerville, that film, which lasts just a minute, sparked the curiosity that continues to intrigue the man today.

The west wall of Violette’s “Squatchers Lounge” holds a photograph taken of perhaps the best-known frame from the Patterson-Gimlin film. The photo is next to that plaster cast, a replica of the one made from a track the creature’s foot supposedly left on a Bluff Creek sandbar that October day.

Many years after his epiphany at the Elgin Opera House, Violette learned that many people claimed to have seen Bigfoot, or found the creature’s tracks, in the Tollgate area.

“That was only 15 miles or so from my house,” he said. “I was really excited. I went up looking for Bigfoot a lot.”

Violette never found his quarry, or even signs of the beast.

But even as he went on to college, earning a degree in theater arts at Eastern Oregon State College in 1984, Violette’s enthusiasm for Bigfoot never waned.

“I did a lot of reading, every book I could find on Bigfoot,” he said. “If I saw it in the store I’d buy it.”

NATIVE AMERICAN STORIES

Violette’s exploration of the mystery diverted onto a new branch in the 1990s when he returned to college, this time to study anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, where he earned his master’s degree in that discipline in 1998.

He focused on Native American culture, a choice inspired in part by his own family. Violette’s grandmother, Donna Higgins, who was born in Halfway and lived for many years in Baker City, was one-half Nez Perce.

Violette, who spent many of his boyhood summers living with his grandmother in Baker City, once asked her about Bigfoot.

“She told me, ‘that’s real,’ ” he said.

Indeed, most Native American tribes’ oral tradition includes a “wild man of the woods” — a commonality that intrigued Violette during his years at Berkeley.

He also learned that tribes considered these wild men to be actual rather than mythical animals, and that descriptions are similar not just among North American tribes but also among residents in other parts of the world.

Violette acknowledges that Bigfoot hoaxes are common, both in sightings and with footprints.

And he concedes that in many cases the eyewitness who claimed to see a Bigfoot almost certainly saw a known animal such as a bear.

But Violette said he can’t so easily dismiss some of the commonalities that distinguish many of what he calls “credible” sightings, such as the size and shape of the purported Bigfoot.

The same is true with footprint casts, some of them made thousands of miles, and decades, apart. Violette said it seems to him implausible that hoaxers would employ the identical fake feet in such widely dispersed places and times.

Among the few accredited scientists who share Violette’s views on Bigfoot is Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Meldrum, who specializes in how primates walk (primates are an order of mammals that includes humans and gorillas), wrote “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” the book Violette plucked from his shelf.

Violette said one of his main inspirations for starting the Blue Mountain Bigfoot Research project was a Bigfoot expedition he participated in with Meldrum in Idaho several years ago.

And Violette said he plans to rely heavily on research that one of Meldrum’s students conducted in the northern Blue Mountains in the 1990s to pinpoint his own search area for this summer and, he hopes, in future years as well.

“I want to pick a site and really hit it hard,” Violette said.

HAS HE EVER SEEN A BIGFOOT?

The answer, Violette said, is “maybe.”

He and his wife were in Yosemite National Park in 2010 when they saw what he describes as a “shadowy figure” walking into a line of trees.

Although Violette said he couldn’t identify the animal, he measured the height of a tree branch that the animal touched, and that suggested the animal was about 8 feet tall.

He also noticed a strong and foul odor at the time he saw the animal — a common aspect of Bigfoot eyewitness stories.

“It was bad,” Violette said of the stench. “Something I’ll never forget.”

Although he’s never seen any animal he couldn’t identify in Northeastern Oregon, Violette said he and his wife came across a line of dozens of tracks in the snow near Old Auburn Road, about 10 miles southwest of Baker City, in January 2014.

They followed the tracks for about a mile, he said. Although the tracks were not clear — the snow had melted and refrozen after they were made — Violette said the tracks bore characteristics in common with other alleged Bigfoot “trackways,” in particular that the tracks were in a straight line rather than offset as with human footprints.

Violette doesn’t claim either experience as anything other than an interesting anecdote that fortified his fascination with the subject.

He understands that proving Bigfoot exists requires, quite literally, flesh and blood. Or at least one or the other.

And Violette is realistic about the odds that confront him or any other lone researcher.

“You have a better chance of winning the lottery.”

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