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

An Interview with Benjamin Radford

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, former editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language magazine Pensar, which was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine Skeptical Briefs newsletter, Discovery News, and He also co-hosts, with Karen Stollznow, Skeptic magazine's audio podcast MonsterTalk, which critically examines the science behind cryptozoological (and legendary) creatures, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and werewolves. [1]He has written six books, and hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, film, and media literacy. In his work with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Radford characterizes himself as one of the world's few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into psychics, ghosts and haunted houses;[2] exorcisms, miracles, Bigfoot, stigmata, lake monsters, UFO sightings, reincarnation, crop circles, and other topics. Radford also writes on many other topics, including world travel, science literacy, jungle hiking, sex offender panics, and popular fallacies. Radford has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Learning Channel, CBC, BBC, and others. He also served as a consultant for the MTV series "The Big Urban Myth Show."
1. Q: What weight, if any, do you place on the historical data about Bigfoot, (like that illustrated in NA culture), and the plethora of continuing eyewitness accounts?

Benjamin Radford : It depends on what you mean by "historical data." There's nothing wrong with looking at Native American / First Nations stories and legends, but these are not eyewitness accounts of encounters with real creatures. Any expert on anthropology and folklore can tell you that. Legends and stories from the Grimm brothers, Aesop, and Greek myths about monsters and magical creatures were written hundreds (and thousands) of years ago, but they are not "historical evidence" for any real-life animals. If anyone is interested, I discuss the weight of historical data in the search for cryptids in my book Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures. Of course much of it is about lake monsters, but it applies to Bigfoot as well. Eyewitness accounts should be investigated and can be valuable if they lead to other evidence (for example if a person sees a Bigfoot somewhere, and goes to where they saw it and finds tracks). But eyewitness reports, by themselves, are simply not good evidence. They are the most common type of evidence, and the weakest because it is well known that sincere eyewitnesses can be very wrong. Loren Coleman admits that at least 90% of eyewitness accounts are wrong (misunderstandings, misidentifications, etc.), and this is a well-established fact supported by decades of psychological studies (I have a degree in psychology). That doesn't mean that it's not possible that some people are really seeing an "unknown creature"just that there is very strong reason to be skeptical.
2. Q: How do you think the Bigfoot phenomenon compares to the chupacabra phenomenon? Do you think they are similar and if not why?

Benjamin Radford : They are very different. We can trace back the chupacabra to 1995, while of course Bigfoot dates back to at least the 1950s, with Jerry Crew and all that. Chupacabra, unlike Bigfoot, is a vampire, and was mostly seen in Spanish-speaking areas and countries. Also, it's pretty clear to me (and people who have read my book Tracking the Chupacabra) that the chupa mystery really is pretty much solved. I don't think we are anywhere near as definitive on the solution to Bigfoot, partly because there's so much material.
3. Q: What do you think is the most challenging evidence for Bigfoot from a skeptical viewpoint? Also, what evidence regularly cited by Bigfoot proponents do you think is the weakest?
Benjamin Radford : The most challenging evidence from a skeptical perspective would probably be DNA analyses, since they are scientific and theoretically definitive. Unfortunately "unknown" or "unidentified" results do not mean "Bigfoot." There are many reasons why a given sample might come back unknown, including that the sample was contaminated or degraded. As for the weakest evidence, I have to go with eyewitness sightings, for reason I mentioned above. There have been thousands and thousands of sightings, and every single one of them has failed to uncover good evidence. Think about that for a second. If you are trying to do something (i.e. identify an animal by describing what you think you saw it do), and you did this for months and years and decades, collecting thousands and thousands of descriptions without ever accomplishing your goal (identifying the animal), you're doing something wrong. Your methods are not working. From an evidence and investigation standpoint, eyewitness testimony has been a complete and undeniable failure. Why keep doing something that has never succeeded?
4. Q: On the Bigfoot Forums, there's been alot of discussion about the Sierra Bigfoot shootings and also the Ketchum DNA study. Have you been following or investigating either of these and if so, can you share your opinion or any findings with us?
Benjamin Radford : To be honest I haven't been following these two very closely... Bigfoot is only one small part of my crypto research (including lake monsters, chupacabra, etc.), which is only one small part of my "unexplained / paranormal" research (which includes everything from ghosts to UFOs to crop circles and miracles), which is only one small part of my workload (magazine editing, writing books, Discovery News columns, etc.). So I can't keep up on the latest developments in all the fields. But from what I've seem of the Sierra shootings and the Ketchum analysis, I think they will be just another set of dead-end embarrassments to Bigfoot research. If Ketchum's analysis is solid, they should be replicated by other labs. Get them out there; there's no reason a Bigfoot buff should have special access. If the science is there, publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal. Otherwise it's just more of the same bullshit we've seen for decades. I've seen dozens of these "promised earthshaking evidence" things come and go: the Gates Yeti track; the Minnesota Iceman hoax; the Skookum elk print cast; the Biscardi / Georigia Bigfoot hoax; the recent Russian Yeti expedition, etc. It gives the whole field a bad name.
5. Q: In 2011 Bigfoot remains a popular topic in North America and yet there is still no conclusive proof in the form of a type specimen. How do you think the subject remains as popular as it does?
Benjamin Radford : Bigfoot has always been popular. I think a lot of it comes from pop culture. Of course something doesn't have to really exist to capture the public's imagination, think "vampires and zombies"so the lack of evidence isn't really a problem for most people. Unless you're trying to solve the mystery, which I am!
6. Q: If Bigfoot was proven to exist tomorrow, what do you think our role as modern humans should be?
Benjamin Radford : If Bigfoot were found tomorrow, it should be treated like any other undiscovered species. It should be protected and studied and hopefully we can find out where in the evolutionary line it fits. I would love for Bigfoot to be proven real, that would be awesome and very exciting from a scientific point of view.
7. Q: Any thoughts or opinions on the Erickson Project?
Benjamin Radford : Yes. I'm always willing to look at new evidence, but real scientific proof of Bigfoot would be reported on CNN and ABC News, not in a movie. As I noted earlier, this is not the first time when someone has claimed hard evidence, and it won't be the last. These folks will be forgotten in ten years or be remembered as either sincere but deluded, or hoaxers.
8. Q: As a Bigfoot researcher, I've spoken with several witnesses. Credibility is always the big issue. Some encounters seem to be questionable or honest misidentifications, and yet there are others that to me, ring true. Have you personally ever spoken with a Bigfoot witness that you felt may be credible?
Benjamin Radford : Sure, I've interviewed many Bigfoot witnesses who seem very sincere and credible. The problem is that sincere and credible people are only human, and they are subject to the same eyewitness problems that everyone is. Anyone can be mistaken, and pilots, policemen, priests, and public officials are no exception. Just because a story "rings true" doesn't mean it reflects reality. It might, or it might not as I noted, eyewitness reports are not worthless, but unless they lead to real evidence, one report is as good as a thousand. And remember that not a single eyewitness report in history has ever provided a single verifiable detail about Bigfoot.
9. Q: In your article "Bigfoot on Ice" you gave several reasons why Bigfoot does not exist. One of the first was "the empty fossil record".
"There's no fossil record of anything fitting the description" of Bigfoot, said Radford. "There's simply nothing there." Many in the Bigfoot community believe these creatures likely to be relatives of Gigantopithecus. Isn't there some fossil evidence from China to support that theory?
Benjamin Radford : Sure, there's fossil records of Gigantopithecus, absolutely. I was referring to Bigfoot, not Gigantopithecus. Gigantopithecus lived about a half million years ago in Asia; Bigfoot (allegedly) lives in modern times in North America; they are completely different. You can speculate all you like that Bigfoot and Gigantopithecus are related, but there's no evidence for it at all, it's just a wild guess.
10. Q: It doesn't take a lot of research to find you've investigated various topics/mysteries from a skeptical point of view. Have you had any in-depth field investigations on the subject of Bigfoot? If so, can you tell us a little about some of those investigations?
Benjamin Radford : Sure... In addition to writing and researching various Bigfoot related topics (Skookum cast, Bigfoot videos, Manitoba Sasquatch hairs and videos, P/G film, etc.), I've done field investigations in Canada (near a town called The Pas in Manitoba); Central America (mostly Belize) in the Maya Mountains jaguar preserve, Honduras, and Nicaragua); in rural western New York state (a sighting and photo taken on a farm owned by Hans Mobius, investigated by Biscardi); in Louisiana (Honey Island Swamp); and elsewhere. Most of these were Bigfoot / wild man reports, and involved doing interviews, visiting sites, etc. I've probably done about a half dozen of those in total over 12 years, though I've spent more time doing field research and investigation on lake monsters (Scotland, USA, Canada) and chupacabra (Puerto Rico, Texas, and Nicaragua).
11.Q: I mentioned before, there's currently alot of excitement in the Bigfoot community about the Melba Ketchum DNA study. (Soon to be released we are told) This study is said to contain DNA sequencing from several different Bigfoot creatures. As a skeptic, if the results are found to be conclusive, will this change your opinion on the existence of Bigfoot/Sasquatch? If not, What evidence would be required for you to do so?
Benjamin Radford : "If the results are found to be conclusive, will this change your opinion on the existence of Bigfoot/Sasquatch?" It depends on what the results say; I don't know what "conclusive" means in this context. Conclusive about what? We have no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it to, so there cannot be a "conclusive match". I have no idea what Ketchum is going to claim about the DNA, but whatever it is, I will not just take her word for it; that's not how science works. The samples should be sent to independent DNA labs who have no vested or monetary interest in a movie, or the creature's existence. I have serious questions about Ketchum's objectivity and bias, and I read on Cryptomundo that questions have been raised about her laboratory (and perhaps results). If whatever Ketchum comes up with is accurate and valid, then she should be happy to have independent labs run the same tests to support her conclusions. The whole veil of secrecy behind this project is both unscientific and laughable. If Ketchum is right, and they can prove Bigfoot exist, then I congratulate her and look forward to seeing the Bigfoot. Otherwise, we'll need a live or dead body.
12. Q: What advice would you give to those skeptics with an interest in Bigfoot?

Benjamin Radford : I would hope that most people are "skeptical"despite how skeptics are often treated (I stopped posting on Cryptomundo because of the ridicule and abuse). My main advice is to give both the skeptics and believers a fair hearing. Don't let other people tell you, "skeptics say..."do your own research, take some time to really read some skeptical literature and arguments. You may not be convinced, but if you don't give each side a fair hearing, then you're just being closed-minded. I read a lot of "believer" books and magazines and articles, while I have found that relatively few "believers" have read skeptical books and magazines and articles, by people like Mike Dennett, Dave Deagling, Matt Crowley, or myself. Some people who haven't read my work assume or think that I say or believe that Bigfoot does not exist. This is completely wrong: I don't know if they exist or not. I'd love to see a Bigfoot, or find final proof that they exist. But I approach the topic with critical thinking and science, and I'm not going to accept a low bar for evidence. Nobody should.
Credit Wikipedia for opening information about Mr Radford. Chris B.