My old pal and fellow eagle researcher, Frank Isaacs, recently sent me a Bigfoot news release that reminded me of that fabled beast of mountains and forest, and an experience worth sharing.
Back in the '60s my young family and I often were a presence in the life and home of Chief Lelooska, a man of Cherokee descent renowned for his deep knowledge and promotion of Native culture. At least three Friday nights in a month I'd take a bunch of K-8 kids and a few parents in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry bus, named the Space Cruiser, to the Laeooska longhouse in Aerial, Wash., where we'd witness and enjoy Lelooska's stories about the Northwest people's traditions. To say Chief Lelooska was good at it would be a gross understatement!
Chief Lelooska was good at everything he put his hands, mind and voice to. I can recall one especially exciting night in the longhouse, as the shaman started the fire ring by shaking his rattle at it, and Lelooska's hulking little brother, Smitty, carried out his frightening grizzly bear dance around the fire ring. Lelooska himself stood by the magnificent head board he carved, beating on his ceremonial drum, which he also created, preparing to tell the story of the "Frog Woman."
It's one of the more frightening traditional stories of the Nuxalk, or Bella Coola people. When he was finished, all the frogs in the pond below the longhouse suddenly began to shout, their croaking deafening. Usually Chief Lelooska said goodnight to all his guests and bade them return, but not that night! He bolted from the longhouse and was gone!
I got all the kids and parents into the Space Cruiser and trotted over to the house, where Lelooska's mother Mary met me at the door. "Where's Lelooska?" I asked her. She said, "I think he's in the closet in the back of the house; as he went by me he shouted, "I made a mistake with the frog woman story! The frogs are all mad at me! Listen to them!"
"Yep, they're making quite a ruckus,'" I said, asking, "May I go talk to him?"
"Someone should," she said, placing her hands over her ears.
I found Lelooska in the closet and spoke to him."Go away!!" he shouted, "I made a mistake and the frogs are all mad at me!"
I thought about that for a moment and then said, "Chief, I think you're not interpreting this correctly. I don't think the frogs are mad at you; they're thanking you."
It's a good thing I wasn't standing near the closet door, for it suddenly banged open and every ounce of that magnificent 400-pound man strutted forth from the closet, shouting, "Mother! Do you hear the frogs? They're thanking me!"
One Thanksgiving my family and I were having a great visit involving delicious elk and wonderful Indian games with Lelooska and his family, we got into a discussion about the "Big Men of the Mountains," as he called the creature(s) we call "Bigfoot."
I kinda scoffed at the idea and Don (Lelooska's real name was Don Smith) went to the front door of his home, yanked it open, turned toward Mt. St. Helens and shouted—as only Chief Lelooska could shout—"Oh, Big Men of the mountains, please don't listen to this foolish boy, I believe in you! I know you're there! Please don't come down and pull my house posts over again!"
Then he came back into the kitchen, slid up close to me and said, "You watch birds, don't you?" I affirmed that I did, and then he added, "and you've heard them singing at night, haven't you?" I assured him I had, and then gripping my arm, he whispered, "Those are not birds... those are the Big People of the Mountains...that's the way they communicate," and he left the table.
About that time my brand new son, Dean, got to fussing, so I put him into one of those new fancy backpacks for little ones, and headed up through the clear cut on the other side of the road from the longhouse and Don's home.
Dean was asleep by the time I got about a quarter-mile up the hill, so I sat down on one of the stumps to enjoy the quiet view of Cougar Reservoir. Then, right behind me I heard (what I thought was) a couple of chirping juncos complaining about my waking them up.
The hair on the back of my head stood straight out and a very uncomfortable feeling came over me, and without hesitation I got off the stump and headed down through the clear cut for the house—at a faster pace than I would have normally.
As I came flying though the front door, Don was standing there watching me as I closed it, and as I turned around, he got a silly little grin on his face and whispered, "You heard them didn't you?" and strutted off.
So, do I believe in Bigfoot, or as my dear old pal, Chief Lelooska knew them, The Big Men of the Mountains. Well...maybe.