When things go bump in the night
Photo by ginettigino - stock.adobe.com
When things go bump in the night in the rugged and sparsely settled Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, residents and attendees of the annual Bigfoot Conference at Honobia sit up and take notice. Hairy manlike giants prowling the dark forests may be as curious about conference-goers as the human intruders are about the mysterious “man of the forest.”
The conference, located in Choctaw Electric Cooperative service territory, began in 2005 and has become a major attraction in the Bigfoot phenomenon. More than 5,000 visitors from across the U.S. and some foreign countries attended the Honobia event on October 4-5 to study, discuss, and celebrate the mythical creature. That the conference is held annually in October, says Jolly Winsor, president of the Honobia Bigfoot Organization, has nothing to do with the ghosts and goblins of Halloween.
Something about mankind’s nature responds to the mystery and allure of the unknown. The figure of a “Wildman” appears in virtually every culture from the Himalayas and the Alps to the Rocky Mountains and the Peruvian escarpment. The legend of a North American Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, has been around long before recorded history. TV has aired numerous documentaries, and more than 30 books have been published on the subject. Renowned scientists and primate experts like Dr. Jane Goodall and George Schaller have lent their support to Bigfoot research projects.
“You’ll be amazed when I tell you that I am sure Bigfoot exists,” Goodall declared on NPR’s “Talk of The Nation.”
“Large, unrecognized creatures may still roam remote forests,” Schaller added.
The highest number of Bigfoot sightings, second only to the Pacific Northwest, occur in Oklahoma’s Kiamichi Mountains.
“These woods have been full of stories about Bigfoot, probably as long as people have lived here,” asserted State Game Ranger Mike Virgin.
The two-day Bigfoot Conference held at the Kiamichi Mountain Christian Mission, a school for the training of ministers and missionaries, features a carnival-like atmosphere of music, arts and crafts focused on the Bigfoot myth, games, a 5K run, helicopter rides, nature walks, food, guest speakers, and a Bigfoot storytelling night around a campfire. Visitors are cautioned not to be surprised should Bigfoot wander through the crowds.
Igor Burtsev from the International Center of Hominology in Moscow was one of this year’s featured speakers. He has traipsed the globe investigating Bigfoot in such places as Tajikistan, Murmansk, Novgorod, Azerbaijan. He is author of numerous scholarly books and magazine articles about his research, including the Russian bestseller “America’s Bigfoot: Fact, Not Fiction.”
Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomical sciences at Idaho State University, is a frequent speaker and perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Bigfoot. His laboratory includes over 200 plaster casts of the creature’s footprints, along with hair, feces, and other evidence.21
“I’m not out to proselytize that Bigfoot exists,” he says. “I place legend under scrutiny and my conclusion is, absolutely, Bigfoot exists.”
Josh Williams, a student at the Christian school and a volunteer conference security guard, was a skeptic until recent encounters changed his mind. One evening, just before dark, he heard otherworldly sounds emanating from the forest. Suddenly, a boulder larger than a basketball zapped past his head. A few nights later he spotted several giant silhouettes in the trees, their eyes glowing in the moonlight. He is no longer a skeptic.
Winsor relates how, shortly after a couple and their children moved into this remote valley, thieves began raiding their smokehouse meat freezer, even breaking a heavy log chain to gain access. Hearing strange noises one night, the children scrambled to the window to discover several huge hairy monsters looting the smokehouse again.
Their father shot one of the invaders with a rifle. The wounded raider emitted a bloodcurdling shriek, echoed by other screams in the woods as the gang fled.
Shortly thereafter, the headlamps of a lone truck rounding a bend in the narrow road nearby spotlighted a hairy being the driver described as about 10 feet tall and walking upright like a human. Across its massive shoulders it carried a second creature, presumably the one shot raiding the settlers’ smokehouse. The besieged and terrified family moved out of the mountains shortly thereafter
On storytelling night under the October moon in the flicker of a campfire, witnesses—one after the other—testify to their Bigfoot encounters: eerie sounds; rock throwing (a common occurrence); screams from shadows flitting through the forests; a secret Bigfoot graveyard somewhere in the hills. While Winsor has never experienced an actual encounter, she has found tracks on her farm but has never felt threatened or endangered.
“As long as you don’t bother them,” she maintains,” they won’t bother you.”
She wears a blue t-shirt that perhaps says everything about the conference. It features a hulking Bigfoot with the single conviction: “They’re Out There!”