Monday, November 7, 2011

Georgia History Professor tackles the topic of Bigfoot

Professor Jeffery Wells is a 10th generation Georgian. Having grown up in the state, he is quite familiar with its terrain, geography, and history. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in history from Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. He is currently the social sciences and education department chairman for Georgia Military College’s Atlanta campus. He has published several articles on Georgia history in various magazines and newsletters, as well as penned chapters on the state’s history for Georgia history textbooks.
In his book Bigfoot in Georgia, Jeffery Wells explores the mystery of Bigfoot in the Peach state from the earliest Native American legends of the Creek and Cherokee tribes through the latest Bigfoot hoax. He covers encounters and reports throughout local history, the Elkins Creek cast, and the fascinating people who are searching for the elusive creatures in Georgia.
How did you become interested in the Bigfoot phenomena in Georgia and what led you to write a book on the topic?
Jeffery Wells: As a child, I was always interested in mysteries. I remember watching In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy when I was much younger. In fact, I still have copies of them at home. Occasionally, I will watch them to recapture that spark for mysteries and legends that so inspired my youth. Perhaps it is why I chose to study history academically and teach it at the college level as a profession.  The reason for writing the book was that a student of mine years ago wrote one of his junior research papers on this topic in an academic writing class I taught. At that time, I had no clue that this creature might exist in Georgia.  I told him to go ahead, but that he should not be disappointed if he finds no evidence.  In fact, he found lots of evidence, including some great local sightings in that area.  He told me that I could keep the paper; unfortunately, I have lost it, but it was good and merited an A.  Years later, I discussed this paper with my college students. One challenged me to take the young man’s suggestion seriously. When I began my research, I was astonished at what I found.
Can you tell us about some of the evidence that you feel supports the idea that such a creature exists?
Jeffery Wells: It is very difficult to make a total assertion that Bigfoot exists in Georgia without a shadow of doubt. There is still some reservation in my mind; however, the collection of evidence is absolutely worth pausing over, and I have done that.  First, the Elkins Creek cast is without a doubt the crown jewel in Georgia.  In a broader context, the Patterson-Gimlin footage is certainly very close to a smoking gun.  Specific research done by scholars would include the work of Dr. Jeff Meldrum, and readers will recall that I interviewed him for the book.  Others would be Dr. Grover Krantz.  His theories and many of the prints he collected were very eye-opening.  But furthermore, the many sightings in history when word did not travel as well, and human civilization was not in the third wave (Technological Revolution/Information Age) and people were not able to read what happened across the country or planet as quickly as we are able to do today, are quite valuable.  In other words, it is amazing to read the sighting reports from the 1800s from places far away from each other and see how they are similar, all the while knowing that there was no way they could have been feeding off each other due to the unavailability of mass communication.
In your book, you relate stories and legends from Native Americans that are attributed to Bigfoot. Is it possible that these stories are simply social constructs and myths conjured by those tribes as a form of entertainment or do you feel there is a level of truth behind them and why?
Jeffery Wells: This is a very plausible question.  Of course there is the possibility that these stories are nothing more than yarns spun by our native ancestors to do just that.  While I am no expert on Native American culture, I do know more than the average person about their culture and way of life.  I am currently reading everything I can about those tribes in the Southeast in an attempt to understand them more.  However, one must pause when the legends are read and think about the many references that are made to what we know today may be Bigfoot behavior, i.e. wood-knocking, eating habits…  It is very true that humans in general throughout the ages have stories and legends that are no more than that.  Surely no one thinks that there are small humans in the Catskill Mountains or that a human can sleep unmolested for 20 years as Washington Irving wrote in his legendary tales. So it is true that every culture has its own share of legends and lore. However, it is also true that cultures have tried as hard as they could to explain their world and environment through stories and such when they lacked the scientific foundations to do so. Greek mythology, Native American stories, and African oral epics come to mind. So, it is very possible that these stories are just that in the Native American culture. My hesitation to dismiss them is that there are some amazing similarities to what Bigfoot researchers have now uncovered as possible behavioral patterns of the creature, if indeed that is what is out there.
If Bigfoot does indeed exist, what do you think these creatures are?
Jeffery Wells: I will speculate that they are an evolutionary oddball. What I mean by that is that they are a descendent of Gigantopithecus Blacki that somehow did not die out but made it through the evolutionary melee.  However, it must be noted that I am a Georgia historian and not an anthropologist or biologist. So I defer to men like Jeff Meldrum and the late Grover Krantz or John Bindernagel. I have read their work and find much in it to be noted.
Skeptics often cite such things as the lack of data in the fossil records for Bigfoot, the lack of recovered remains from natural or accidental deaths and the lack of any other verified biological evidence. They commonly assert that there are only footprints (questionable in source and nature) and anecdotal accounts or stories used to support the existence of these creatures. In your opinion, how could a population of these creatures exist and leave such seemingly scant evidence and virtually no environmental impact?
Jeffery Wells: To me this comes down to numbers. From what I understand from the research, and this is hypothesis mind you, there are not a lot of these creatures in any one environment, which may account for the lack of evidence.  There are other things that may be at play here. Perhaps they bury their dead, or destroy the remains. If these creatures are skillful and able to solve problems, then we have to assume that they realize that by leaving things behind they may invite trouble. I think of the sightings where the animals follow hikers or campers only to scare them, not harm them. The intent is to move them along and remove them from their environment.  I also think of the stories where these animals are said to be communicating with each other through wood-knockings and other devices.  I also think of the story where the creature was able to kill a skunk in the pipeline of a large irrigation system only to use the scent to cover his/her young so that it would not be so susceptible to attack by predators since the juvenile of the species would not be as able to defend itself as the adults would be.  These things represent problem solving skills to me. However, I fully understand the scientific community’s need to have a body or live specimen in order to get behind the idea that Bigfoot exists. I believe it is incumbent upon the Bigfoot researchers that are out there and are credible to continue to do what they can to bring in the evidence that will one day solve this mystery.
The Elkins Creek cast is a very well-known piece of purported evidence that Bigfoot does exist in Georgia. Why do you feel this single cast is so revered and what is the story behind its discovery and subsequent designation as “The Crown Jewel of Georgia Sasquatchery”?
Jeffery Wells: I cannot say enough about why this piece of evidence intrigues me.  I am not the only one who respects this piece of evidence.  In fact, and I mention this in the book, while interviewing Dr. Meldrum in January 2008 while writing the book, I asked him about the cast.  Steve Hyde of has already mentioned to me that Meldrum had a great deal of respect for the cast.  So I asked him to clarify his thoughts on the cast.  He commented that it is one of less than a dozen pieces of evidence in North America that he feels have the strongest potential in proving the existence of a great ape in North America. Having said that, it is impossible to ignore this piece of evidence.  The story behind the cast is very interesting, and it is actually my favorite sighting/experience I wrote about.  A condensed version goes something like this:  An older gentleman in Pike County, Georgia lived near Elkins Creek, a small creek that springs from the Flint River.  Apparently, this was home to something that visited his mobile home and barn from time to time stealing dog food and other things.  The visits became more violent as whatever this was killed a few of his pets, threw tires in to trees, and would bang on the side of the mobile home.  At one point, the animal even walked alongside the outer wall of the trailer and assumed a position of either mocking or threatening the elderly man and his wife who were inside listening.  The old man had somewhat of a blunt personality, and as he had made reports to the Pike County Sheriff’s Department before about these events, many did not take him seriously.  James Akin, who was a deputy sheriff at the time, was sent to investigate.  The old man took him down to Elkins Creek where he made plaster casts of one of the prints. It was quite large, and seeing it convinced Akin that this could be the real deal.  His interest in the mystery deepened after that point.  Akin had friends who encouraged him to send the cast to Meldrum and Krantz for investigation.  The rest, as they say, is history.  The cast is so important because of its size and perceived authenticity.  It also showed that the animal making the prints was more than likely older, for the bottom of his foot had very little fat on it. Perhaps it was even starving, which might explain the drastic measures it took to procure food at the home of the older man on Elkins Creek.
During your research for the book, you met with several field researchers and investigators involved in the search for Bigfoot in Georgia. What was your impression of these people and did you observe any common personality traits between them?
Jeffery Wells: For the most part, the researchers I met were very inquisitive, positive people.  In particular, I was quite impressed with Dr. Meldrum, Matt Pruitt, Steve Hyde, Wayne Ford, and the researcher identified as Ranger in the book.  These men were very intelligent, thought critically, and took their subject seriously. I will say, however, that I was more than once privy to the competitive nature of various organizations. Then again, no discipline lacks that. 
What has been the response of your academic peers regarding your interest in Bigfoot and your subsequent book on the topic?
Jeffery Wells: For the most part, the response has been supportive. However, very few of my peers have commented on this work, and I rarely go to them for that commentary. It is not that I do not respect them, for I do. But I would rather have feedback from those who have spent a large part of their lives studying this subject and tracking what they think is the most elusive creature on the planet.
Do you have any future plans to write another book on the topic of Bigfoot?
Jeffery Wells: One can never tell.  That will depend on the demand from the readers. My area of expertise is Georgia history and myth and legend.  I am now working on a joint project with a fellow English professor about another Georgia mystery-this one focuses on a different creature (or what was perceived as one).  We are just now in the research phase, so this work will not be out for another year or so.  However, I could see myself doing a follow-up.  I have long been interested in doing a book on the men and women who search for Bigfoot. Perhaps there is a demand for such a work. I am just proud to be the first author to publish a serious work on the subject of Bigfoot in Georgia.  It is with great pleasure that I did so and continue to engage those who have read my work and want to know more about it.
Visit Professor Wells' blog at  Georgia Mysteries and for more information on the history of Bigfoot sightings in the Peach State, pick up a copy of his fascinating book: Bigfoot in Georgia

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