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Footprints in the mud. Tufts of hair on a fence. Ear-piercing screeches in the night. These are only fragments of the stories now coming from the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona.
For years the White Mountain Apache Nation has kept the secret within tribal boundaries. "We're not prone to easily talk to outsiders," said spokeswoman Collette Altaha. "But there have been more sightings than ever before. It cannot be ignored any longer."
It is a creature the world knows as "Bigfoot."
"No one's had a negative encounter with it," said Marjorie Grimes, who lives in Whitewater, the primary town on the reservation. Grimes is one of many who claim to have seen the creature over the last 25 years. Her first sighting was in 1982. Her most recent was in the summer of 2004, driving home from the town of Cibecue. She becomes more animated as the memory comes forth. "It was all black and it was tall! The way it walked; it was taking big strides. I put on the brakes and raced back and looked between the two trees where it was, and it was gone!" Grimes' son Francis has a story. Their neighbor Cecil Hendricks has a story. Even police officers have had strange encounters. Officer Katherine Montoya has seen it twice. On a recent Monday night dozens of people called into the tribe's radio station, KNNB, to talk about what they'd seen. Others came in person.
The Newsroom was there. So was Tom Biscardi and crew from Searching For Bigfoot, Inc. The California-based team has criss-crossed the country pursuing reports of the mythic animal. New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona have been hot-spots this year. Biscardi said the Apache land is an untapped resource for investigators. "There are way too many reports coming out of here, of seeing this creature. My God, people better start listening to, and coming to this thing because it's happening!"
His ultimate goal is to capture a Bigfoot creature, study it for 90 days and return it to the wild. Two nights in a row Biscardi and crew strapped motion-activated cameras with night vision lenses onto trees in the nearby woods. They set up listening devices and made noises which he claims lure the creatures into view.
All their efforts yield only one result. No mystery beast. No mystery screams. Instead there is relief. Collette Altaha said the people on the reservation are beginning to support the decision to go public. "Because of people doubting them before they never came forward. But now with the help of Tom Biscardi and his team they've come out here and our people are beginning to open up."
Indeed the decision to let 3TV report this story was a controversial one. On the radio program, one Apache caller said tribal elders were uncomfortable letting the legend be known. Still, Altaha believes it is the right thing to do. "I've heard stories from a while back about sightings. I'm not easily persuaded but with so many of the people coming forward and telling us their stories, there might be something out there that actually exists." Tribal police lieutenant Ray Burnette puts it in terms of public safety. "A couple of times they've seen this creature looking through the windows. They're scared when they call."
As in all alleged sightings of a bigfoot creature, tangible evidence is scarce. The "Patterson film" from 1967 is the most-often-seen video. It shows a tall hairy figure striding through the woods of the Pacific Northwest. For nearly 40 years this film's authenticity has been debated; it has never been discredited.
In the White Mountains last year, investigators found footprints, several tufts of hair and other material at the scene of a sighting. Tribal police made plaster casts from the prints and sent hair and plant samples to the Department of Public Safety for analysis in its state-of-the-art crime lab. Test results showed the hair was not human, but animal in origin. Further testing to determine what kind of animal was not done.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department does not investigate Bigfoot sightings. Neither does the State Veterinarian's office, a division of the Arizona Department of Health Services. Perhaps the only organizations that take such reports seriously are Bigfoot hunters such as Biscardi or the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.
The field is not well organized and often manned by amateurs with little to no scientific background. Biscardi himself has come under fire in the past for promoting an alleged “find” that later turned out to be a hoax. He is more careful these days, and promises a huge revelation yet to come. It will be something even more fantastic than the hundreds of reports of the Apache Bigfoot.
Back on the reservation, Lieutenant Burnette wants outsiders to realize that the department takes these calls seriously, and so should you. "The calls we're getting from people- they weren't hallucinating, they weren't drunks, they weren't people that we know can make hoax calls. They're from real citizens of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation."