Bigfoot is Alive and Well in Wisconsin

By Tobias Wayland

The woods of Wisconsin are a wondrous place, full of magic and beauty; but like all natural things, there is always an element of danger. Black bears, wolves, and cougars roam the forests, of course, but perhaps they are not the only creatures of which mankind must be wary. Reported sightings of a large, bipedal, hairy ape-man wandering the landscape of the dairy state are far more common than you might think. It appears as though Bigfoot is alive and well in Wisconsin.

Marinette County borders Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and according to The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), there are sightings of a mysterious man-like creature dating back to the seventies. Much more recently, however, is this sighting reported by a retired police officer in April of 2013:

 I was leaving my cabin heading back from the Pembine area to Green Bay as I rounded a corner and headed south on county road OO. I saw a figure cross the road. It walked slowly from East to West as though not in any hurry. I viewed it from the area just above the elbow up. It had a pointed head, very broad shoulders, and large biceps. I could see the arms swing as it walked just as a human would do. Its color was brown... a mix of dark and light brown with the sun shining off it. It was not black. I sped up to get a good look at it and it was gone. I stopped where I saw it cross and looked to the east. The area was open with scrub brush and its color would have blended in perfect with the surrounding area. It was early spring and there were no leaves on the tree. I could only see to the hills and it would have to have gone 100 to 150 yards down then up to not be seen. I have seen deer, bear, wolves etc in the area and none walk upright.

This sighting took place in full daylight at 10:30am, and was reported by a sober, trained observer. This wasn’t something half-glimpsed through thick foliage at twilight. So, regardless of the fact that the former officer got a good look at it, and it appeared to be bipedal with distinct primate characteristics, had this creature been a bear, then the witness should have been able to continue observing it as he approached. It’s not like a bear to hide.

And yet, black bears are the number one explanation given by skeptics for mystery hominid sightings. I’m not denying that there is a profundity of black bears in the region, because certainly there are; and I also believe that black bears very well could be and probably are responsible for some of the more ambiguous reports that have surfaced. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, black bears have experienced a resurgence in the state over the last thirty years, and their population is not only thriving, but has expanded to include more of the state than at any time in recent history. But a black bear isn’t what that retired police officer saw. Black bears stand up only to observe their surroundings; it gives them a good line of sight over brush, and allows them to better sniff the air. They don’t travel that way, and if one were trying to avoid a human, it definitely wouldn’t try to do so on its hind legs. It has also been observed that the geographical distribution of black bears closely resembles that of Bigfoot sightings, but we must remember that correlation does not equal causation. I think it makes sense that creatures that share an environment would be similarly distributed.

Of course there can be no discussion of Bigfoot without referencing the creature’s famous tracks, so often left in the wake of a sighting. In Wisconsin it is most common for these tracks to be found in the snow, which as local residents know, lasts well into springtime in the northern part of the state. In February of 2009 a witness reported a sighting of a jet black bipedal creature crossing the road in southeast Wisconsin. The witness returned to the area two days later, and took pictures of some very strange tracks in the snow. There appears to be a clear trail left by something with large feet, and a stride much longer than a human. However, upon closer inspection, the culprit is much more likely to be quite a bit smaller and more adorable than our friend the Sasquatch. The impressions left in the snow are lacking the distinctive traits one would expect of a primate footprint; there is no evidence of any ridge or individual toes, nor is the gait staggered. This appears to be the work of a small, quadrupedal animal capable of replicating the stride of a much larger biped. A much more likely explanation for these tracks is a common rabbit. Jackrabbits are known for bounding through the snow, can make leaps of up to ten feet, and are the likeliest culprit in this instance. In deep snow, the rabbit would likely leave quite a depression, and sunlight tends to melt the edges of tracks in snow, making them less distinct. So, the natural body shape of a jackrabbit, combined with these other factors, could replicate the general shape of a large primate footprint fairly easily.

Now, I don’t doubt that the witness in question saw something that winter’s day in 2009, but we must always be wary of confirming our own bias. I think that if I saw Bigfoot crossing a road and heading off into the countryside, and returned to the site in a few days to find tracks I couldn’t explain, then I might attribute them to the elusive beast myself. It has been said that if you’re looking for a particular explanation then you will often find it, and nowhere is that more true than in our search for answers in any paranormal field. So often we are left with hybrid tales comprised as much of personal narrative as observable fact, and separating the wheat from the chaff is a laborious process. But finding a mundane explanation for part of a mystery doesn’t solve the whole of it, and we may never know the truth behind this particular witness’s experience.

Unfortunately, the only other instance of physical evidence—outside of easily explainable snow tracks—that I was able to find is a 1997 news report from outside of Rice Lake that details the experience of Brad Mortenson of the U.S. Expedition and Exploration Society. According to the report, “[Mortenson] describes the tracks as about 16 to 17 1/2 inches long and 8 inches wide at the widest. Asked about the shape, he said: `’It looks like a big foot. It's very distinct.’ One print showed five toes, he said, and the impressions indicated a creature with a stride of about 4 1/2 feet, typical for the Bigfoot.” I was disappointed to discover, however, that no photographs of the footprints seem to exist, and thus I am once again left to wonder at the veracity of such a claim. There is also no mention of whether or not the footprints were said to be found in mud or snow, although they were found in November, and Rice Lake is seventy miles northeast of St Paul, so snow in the area is a distinct possibility. And if they were found in snow, then I can safely assume that they are likely to be of the same dubious quality of our previous example. We are once again left only with just enough evidence to make the mystery interesting, but come no closer to solving it.

But that is the frustration brought by this phenomenon. Tales of eerie screams and knocks in the woods, footprints found but not recorded, and creatures sighted quickly by the side of the road or just outside the light of a campfire abound in Wisconsin, but prove nothing—regardless of how compelling the story. We are left with a supposedly physical being that apparently evaporates into the ether, having completed its task of frightening unwary travelers and nature enthusiasts. It seems to me that these beings must be remarkably intelligent, possessed of supernatural abilities, or both.

Luckily for us, this mystery isn’t going anywhere, and the anecdotal evidence, at least, keeps piling up. Bayfield, Iowa, Marinette, Polk, Price, and Vilas counties all have multiple sightings from within the last few years, and those are just what is being reported. Frankly, there are only a handful of counties that don't have at least one sighting within the last few decades. Wisconsin is a state renowned for its expansive natural and protected forests, and there’s no telling what could be found in their mysterious depths. So the next time you’re out camping, hiking, or fishing in one of our pristine parks, or simply driving on a lonely backroad, well outside the limits of civilization, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what you might find.