Wrestling with Bigfoot

Bobby Hamilton hunts the hairy beasts that he swears haunted him as a kid

When on a research trip, Hamilton makes sure Bigfoot knows he is there by urinating around the edges of his campground, being sure to pee on trees that will hold the smell. He literally is trying to piss off Bigfoot.

"I'm saying, 'I'm the alpha male here.' "

Almost invariably, it works. The Bigfoot come out of the woods and howl and scream, tear branches from the trees and throw things at the tent, he says.

Hamilton's drawing of the creature he says he saw as a boy
Bobby Hamilton
Hamilton's drawing of the creature he says he saw as a boy
With the help of his children Brandi and Brenden, Hamilton shows off his Bigfoot print casts.
With the help of his children Brandi and Brenden, Hamilton shows off his Bigfoot print casts.

"After a while, I say, 'Enough of this.' I go outside and confront them. I can hear them howling, but they don't show their faces."

Once, when he ran into a Bigfoot just over the Louisiana state line, he said he was terrified as it let out a horrible stench, a smell Hamilton believes to be related to scents frightened gorillas emit as territorial warnings.

"I dropped my video camera, ran to the truck and came back with a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. All the hairs on my body were standing up. I was nauseated for hours afterward. He definitely was trying to send me a message."

Interest in Bigfoot is increasing with the rise of the Internet, says Hamilton, who e-mails believers as far away as Australia, where the Bigfoot are known as Yowies. After experiencing frustration with some other Internet Bigfoot groups, he bought a book and taught himself HTML. He started his own site, the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization, in 1998. He posts sightings, hosts forums and leads camping trips into Bigfoot country. Members boast that they're willing to take polygraph tests regarding their sightings.

Despite their insistence that Bigfoot exists, there may be another explanation for some of the howling heard by them -- it could be coming from skeptical locals.

Jesse Wolf, chief deputy of the Tyler County Sheriff's Department in Woodville, was asked about the authenticity of the claims made by Hamilton and his followers.

"The only Bigfoot around here is the one you're talking to," he said. Wolf, a former football pro for the Miami Dolphins, stands six foot eight and wears a size 17 shoe.

"I was born in 1952, and that's about the time when he come around. If people have seen big footprints in their yard, it was probably me. The only difference is, Bigfoot ain't wearing Nikes."

Bigfoot hunters have had to face even more ridicule than usual since the December 2002 death of logger and Bigfoot hoaxer Ray Wallace in Seattle.

When Wallace died, his sons revealed he had been playing pranks about Bigfoot since 1958, making tracks with giant carved feet, filming himself in a gorilla suit and cutting a record of Bigfoot sounds. He even offered to sell a Bigfoot to Texas millionaire Tom Slick and had to back out when Slick made a serious offer.

The announcement that Bigfoot was dead led to anger and disbelief among many who had grown up watching movies like The Legend of Boggy Creek. Los Angeles songwriter Danny Freyer, who has never had a Bigfoot encounter, responded in a bluesy swamp-rock song called Bigfoot Blues, that begins like this: "Well I still believe in Bigfoot / Don't care what they say / Still believe in apple pie, and the good ol' USA / Now they claim it was a hoax by a wise old fool / That those 16-inch footprints were carved with an iron tool / But we all saw the movie of a Bigfoot mama struttin' / Walking past the camera just like Dolly Parton / Well if it was a hoax then I want back my $5 / I swear at night in the woods I've heard them Bigfoot holler."

Freyer said it would be sad if Bigfoot were nothing more than a hoax.

"It is one of our American myths. I don't want to see it die out."

Hamilton's faith was unshaken by the disclosures about Wallace.

"I know it wasn't Ray Wallace hoaxing around our homestead back in 1969," Hamilton says. "If some guy shows up prancing around in a gorilla suit in these parts, he's going to have a hole put through him sooner rather than later."

Hamilton believes the scientists will step in after men like him have taken the risks.

"Some guy in a white lab coat isn't going to be the one to find Bigfoot," he says. "It's going to be guys like me, that know the woods. I'm going to be the one to prove it. I have to touch one. I have to run my hands through its fur and touch its leathery face."

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