Steven, what first got your interest in Bigfoot?
I was interested in Bigfoot when I first heard of it, at the age of nine or ten, when my family went to a triple-feature of monster movies at the drive-in. I saw what I think was the Patterson-DeAtley documentary of Bigfoot and the PGF. I recall Bigfoot on a very large screen, walking across the view from our car, larger than life of course, and very life-like. That image enchanted me, and I never really stopped imagining what those primeval forests might be like, where such mysterious creatures could live, as I was growing up and over the decades since. Of course, as you know, I eventually found myself living in the area where that film was shot, and where a lot of the strange origins and history of “Bigfoot” can be found.Tell us about how you settled in Willow Creek and created Bigfoot Books? Also tell us about some of the famous faces you have seen over the years.
I came to Humboldt County for graduate school (Literature and English), essentially following the redwoods up the coast. I started at an elementary school in Santa Barbara where a small plantation of redwoods grew down by the creek in back, and then ended up in Santa Cruz for college. Humboldt seemed a good next step, as I was drawn more to forests and mountains than big cities. I lived in Berkeley for a while, but decided against that. After I finished my degrees in the late 90s, I let my mind wander a bit, and one day I found myself considering a copy of Rene Dahinden’s book at one of the used book shops where I worked. All of those old enchantments and memories of reading the whole rack of Bigfoot books in the public library in the early to mid seventies came flooding back.
I was living at the time up in the mountains above Blue Lake, a ways inland from the coast, on 350 acres of redwood forest surrounded by countless more acres of logging company land. Living in such woods, one naturally starts to feel that the woods are watching, and are full of life. We had all sorts of animals around us up there. The fascination grew as I moved to Willow Creek, not to “find Bigfoot” there, but because it was sunny, a nice small town, and the houses were affordable. We had a baby on the way, so it seemed a good move. Of course, it wasn’t long before I began to realize how full of “Bigfoot” the town was, especially with the classic Jim McClarin Bigfoot sculpture from 1967 that I recalled from all the old books sitting right there on the corner in the middle of town. I was surprised to find that locals still reported Bigfoot sightings, and that many of the old-timers from the late fifties heyday were still alive and living in town.
I sold used and rare books online from our home there for a number of years, but rapidly filled up that house with far too many books. With a toddler crawling and then running around the place, something had to change. Seven-foot stacks of boxes and books wouldn’t do. So, it was decided (mainly by my ex) that the books should find another home. Opening a public shop seemed a good idea, not so much for the money it would make, but as an office for the online business, and as a public lure for the Bigfoot topic. I was curious what I might find, especially after the 2003 International Bigfoot Symposium was held right here in our town. By then I was fairly well persuadeded that Bigfoot might actually be real. In 2005 I opened the shop, and found myself eventually filling the role once handled by old-timer Al Hodgson--that of the one sitting in one of the few go-to places around the “Bigfoot Mecca,” where one could actually talk about Bigfoot. There was the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum over in downtown, but they weren’t really personally immersed in the topic. By 2005 I certainly was, and I began to realize there was a whole community of people worldwide who looked for this creature, or who were just enthusiasts for the culture of it. Since then, I’ve seen a huge variety of people from the Bigfooting world here, just about everyone, it seems. I’ve never really had to go out and “find” Bigfoot (though I have gone out looking, of course). It just came to me through the front door of my shop. Before I knew it, the thing was taking up most of my work day, especially after I started going public, writing and publishing on the topic, in 2007.
Can you tell us what a customer will find when they first walk into your bookstore?
Well, I have some 16 years of accumulation of oddball Bigfoot stuff, all over the walls and here and there. I don’t really collect it like a museum, though, I sell it, so, the best things are eventually sold. Bobo (James Fay, from the “Finding Bigfoot” show) buys a good deal of the rare stuff I get. In fact, he gets a bit offended if I don’t offer things to him first. He’s easily my best customer in here, challenged only by a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He says he puts what he buys in his safe and locks it up, expecting a huge return on his investment after Bigfoot is proven to be real. I know the truth, though, which is that Bobo gives most of it away.
What people will see here, however, isn’t really some kind of a Bigfoot shop. I have a whole building full of books in ALL topics, seven rooms of general interest and only three or four shelves of books on Sasquatch-Bigfoot-Yeti. I laugh at those online troll-fools who try to suggest I am exploiting Bigfoot for profit. Having to talk about Bigfoot every day, sometimes for hours, actually costs me money. Going on trips to Bluff Creek costs me money, and days from work. The sales of books or whatever related to Bigfoot make a pale effort to make up for that lost work time, and in the good parts of the year maybe will pay for the rent and beer. A three-hour conversation about the Patterson-Gimlin film with a customer who buys one $20 book is not profit. I might make $8 on that book. See how that works out?
What people will here see are massive piles of books everywhere, shelves overflowing with them, rooms full of them in a building that looks like a house, perhaps around 60,000 of them, including Romance, Horror, History, Science, Poetry, Literature, Philosophy, or whatever else. Still, the Bigfooters and Bigfoot fans keep coming. I can’t really explain it, but I think it is mainly to talk with me, not to buy a book. That’s OK. It’s usually fun.What do you call yourself? A researcher? A skeptic? An arm chair warrior? A champion of the woo?
In regard to Bigfoot, I’m just someone who is curious. It started out here as an aspect of local history, of my community, where I found it was a big part of its conscious history, layered on top of the background in Native culture, frontier mining, logging, fishing (and of late, pot growing). Bigfoot began to intrigue me as a cultural element, one in which I also had a background as a child of the Seventies, a fan of “In Search Of…”, and just about anything strange and unusual.
When I lived in Mount Shasta City I studied the odd culture UFOs and the strange legends of Lemurians and a subterranean race of Ascended Masters. But see, I’ve been a skeptical, critical thinker since I renounced “Woo” in the late 1980s. I study these things as interesting sociological and psychological issues. I used to be a big “believer” in these things, growing up as a Christian and a sort of natural mystic, but ran into a big wall of disillusionment with all of it eventually. So, in a way, I was debunking parts of myself, of my own belief habits, these tendencies to accept the unproven that lurk in our culture. I began to demand solid evidence for things believed and found it was enjoyable and liberating to debunk myths and urban legends. One HAS to do this if one has ever been in any kind of cultic belief, as I was, in the 80s, when I studied Theosophy and the Occult.
I’d argue that ALL of us are raised in this manner of thinking, of just accepting things on faith, or because we want an escape from prosaic reality and the physical facts of decay and death. We want transcendence, and will believe what makes us feel better about existence, or what offers a seeming liberation from facts. I chose to confront these tendencies, and to forge ahead as a curious skeptic. It’s not the easiest path to take in life, but if I believe in anything it is truth and radical honesty. I’m not going to accept any myths as mere comfort in life. I’m going to try to discover the raw reality of things, even if that means a universe of cold space, and incomprehensibly distant but wondrous stars and galaxies. In this pursuit, I would say that the best assurance of knowledge becoming equivalent to reality is the use of logic, science, and critical thinking, applied to just about everything. Obviously, you can’t apply these to *everything* in life, but they are the best guides.
With the culture of Bigfooting, after a decade and a half of involvement with the often loony culture of it, I’ve chosen to draw a very firm line. I simply will not accept ANY of this Woo-woo stuff, unless it can substantiate itself as real. I also won’t accept just any old supposed piece of “flesh-and-blood” physical evidence or a mere story, just because it is part of the “accepted” canon of Bigfoot history. Much of the stuff claimed as supporting Bigfoot’s existence just doesn’t hold water, certainly not to a real scientific or even an historical standard. Much of it is the product of hoaxing, of fantasy, and often just plain delusion. Much of what happened in Bluff Creek was essentially a joke played by locals on outsiders. This is an obvious fact if you live here and investigate it honestly, despite the protestations of the “true believers.” The wheat must be sorted from the chaff, if one values the truth. So, I’m largely a cultural critic, a student of the history of the field, but also a practitioner of outdoors exploration and observation.
Yes, we studied the Patterson-Gimlin film and Bluff Creek history seriously for some three years before we were able to confirm the rediscovered film site itself, and I feel confident that we (Bluff Creek Project) have largely sorted fact from fiction in many related areas of this history. One thing we haven’t been able to do, though, is figure with any finality if that film subject is actually a real creature. The film remains anomalous, just ambiguous enough for it to rest in between fact and fiction, with its veracity or the possibility it was a hoax really an unsettled question. In the course of all of that time in Bluff Creek since 2007, actually out on the site and in the area around it, camping and hiking and driving, we did manage to do a lot of what so many in Bigfooting culture like to call “Field Research.” We are not professional scientists, or surveyors, but we have applied the principles of logic and science to everything we’ve done. We decided to set up Bluff Creek Project going forward as a wildlife survey using trail cameras strategically implemented in some of the most historical and biologically rich zones of the Bluff Creek basin. This is an ongoing study, which has produced great results in many areas, but has yet to find a single piece of convincing Bigfoot evidence. Our standards for what is “convincing,” though, are very high. Plus, we are honest about it. We won’t just claim any blurry brown thing in a photo is a Bigfoot. The null hypothesis seems to be the right conclusion at this point, that Bigfoot just isn’t there; but we will continue to look, hoping to get to the bottom of this thing somehow or other.
Could it be that Bigfoot just isn’t real? I have already acknowledged this as a distinct possibility, in fact a probability. I’d rather it were otherwise, but the case for Bigfoot just isn’t looking strong to me these days. Bigfoot seems to be a modern urban legend, based upon old mythologies, a living legend, so to speak, in the minds of people. Perhaps it's not, but that seems rather unlikely given the decades of fruitless searching, and all the truly bad evidence so far acquired. So, the question may in fact be one about the nature of belief, epistemology, rather than existence, or ontology. If Bigfoot does not exist, why do people believe things? Why is there a whole large subculture concerned with holding this belief and reinforcing it against skepticism and scrutiny? How can people think they’ve seen these creatures if they are not even real? How does this case relate to the other cases of belief among humans? Hence, the issue becomes sociological, and psychological, rather than zoological or anthropological. I find the conundrum fascinating. I will listen to all the stories people tell, and consider the meaning of their narratives along with the motives for such. If it proves true that there is a creature at the bottom of all of this, so much the better. I certainly don’t rule it out, and the claims of witnesses are the most interesting thing about it. Unfortunately, given the failures over the years of hundreds involved in actively trying to prove this thing real, I simply have to doubt it.
You met Dr. Matthew Johnson, a clinical psychologist from Washington and Oregon who is polar opposite of everything you stand for. It is obvious he is now taking shape as a cult leader. He wants followers, people to believe his word and not question his authority, etc. His wild claims that Bigfoot can heal you and speak to you through mindspeak (telepathy), can transform into Orbs (flying balls of energy), travel through interdimensional portals, says Bigfoot has him teach their Bigfoot young, claims they can cloak (turn invisible), are shaping him to be the new Erik Beckjord. What are your thoughts on this delusional man? Is he a liar? A hoaxer? A con artist? Or an attention whore?
Ha ha! Well, All of the above, eh? You kind of said it all already. I don’t really want to speak poorly of the man, really, but his claims are another thing. One can hardly address the claims without addressing the man, unfortunately, as they so obviously come *from* the man, and not from objective reality. Some of it is simple misinterpretation, with an overactive imagination obviously run rampant. He makes very obvious barred owl calls into “900 pound owls,” meaning, he thinks they are Sasquatch imitating owls. He records them for hours on end, and I will tell you right now, those are just owls. He also records himself mumbling and farting in his sleep, and then claims it is Bigfoot watching over him in the night as he sleeps out on his cot. Once, one of his “Bigfoot” even said “Fuck” in the middle of the night. Come on now, seriously? Many of the tracks he’s cast or identified, and many of his photos of “Bigfoot” are clearly just his own tracks and the snags and tree trunks of that area. We in fact identified many of these he’d claimed were Bigfoot when we went up there to “SOHA” to investigate. We found there innumerable Matthew Johnson tracks in the snow, but not a single one that could be said to be from a Bigfoot; and this is after he’d just been there the day before, and claimed “activity” all around camp all the several days he’d stayed there.
What we saw there was not a magical wonderland with a family or clan of Bigfoot living there, a mystical portal to another dimension, or anything like that at all, including anything like viable habitat up there on that ridge. It is an old logging road, and he camped right in the middle of the old road when he was going up there. The trail through the slightly older and fire-damaged woods past his camp was just the overgrown logging road, right along the BLM property borderline marked with tree sign tags. All around there were various stages of clearcuts of the woods, and down below where the creek flowed there was a row of houses. Nearby, on Google Earth, several marijuana grows and other buildings could be seen. This place was literally surrounded by people and what I’d consider “tree farm” forest, though it was a hilltop up in the woods. The ridgeline itself was perhaps a good way to travel for animals like bears and deer, but not a place really to stay. We found virtually no food sources up there (one small, sparse berry plant), and only a seeping mud puddle for water. This mud puddle, in fact, was the “Portal,” or so it seemed. The road in to the place came through a tunnel of young trees growing up over it, and could easily have created the illusion of a “portal” going through it if there were the right light and mist in the air. There seemed to us to be reasonable explanations for everything claimed, most of it coming from Johnson’s heightened imagination and expectancy, and the sense of anticipation of a foregone thing that he foisted upon everyone he took up there. It clearly was sheer confirmation bias, and maybe even some hoaxing. I would say that Adam Davies and John Carlson just got really spooked by Johnson’s “campfire tales,” as it were, and became absorbed into the very same waking dream that Johnson was living in. We would have done a more formal, extended “peer review” up there, but we began to get death and violence threats from Johnson’s followers, so it really didn’t seem worth it, especially when he picked up camp and ran away to a new location.
And, yeah, he still lives in that dream, over at his new “SOIA” location… only things have gotten much, much worse in the Woo-woo area. He promises a “Big Revelation” at his conference next year, but I’d bet it’s nothing we haven’t already seen from Kewaunee Lapseritis, you know, something about higher dimensions of reality, Bigfoot being on a higher vibration level, with alien or spiritual entities, and likely some UFOs thrown in for good flavor. I have to say, this is a farce, but even more farcical is the way he ran away from his old SOHA once we discovered it (using his own Google Earth image and other photos he posted, by the way, not due to some “Judas” as he claims). Now he denies the importance of collecting any evidence at all. He says, in such an easy way out, that it is now about “interaction,” and not to prove anything or to habituate any being. It’s all about “teachings” and “healings” now, with claims of magical superpowers. This is the usual deus ex machina, or metaphysical escape hatch, that has been used by charlatans since the beginning of all human superstitions. If you don’t have a real explanation for something and can’t prove it is real, just say it came from an even greater mystery, one that recedes into the mists only you can see. And yeah, then, convince your followers of such things, and feed on their adulation and donations. I do think he has become some sort of a cult leader in this way, as many follow him in his methods and thinking. It’s spreading like a virus, now representing the clear majority in the Bigfooting community, now burgeoning with newbies drawn in by less-than-scientific TV shows.
Meeting him, one gets the impression of sincerity; but one also feels pressured and manipulated. He has that air of the true believer, or rather, the fanatic. It seems like he really believes what he’s telling you, and he’ll even get teary eyed in emotion about it. Some call him a hoaxer and a liar, but I still am largely of the opinion that he really believes these things, and of that in which he doesn’t quite believe he manages to convince himself. The desire to confirm belief biases all interpretation, and can even lead to a partially-conscious manipulation of the evidence or stories. It’s truly bizarre, but even that wife of his seems to believe that there are Sasquatch thought-form orbs flying around in their bedroom in the Washington suburbs. He believes in religious things, supernatural things, already, so I suppose it isn’t that strange for him to just continue to believe *more* of these things beyond God and Jesus, Cain walking the Earth, prehistoric Giants, or whatever. Just add a little Bigfoot to your picture, stir in some pseudoscience Deepak Chopra “quantum” physics, and voila, it’s a magical realm of fantasy that becomes true the more he believes and practices it.Be sure to come back next Monday as we continue our 3-part interview with this controversial Bigfooter as we ask him about his TV appearances, his Facebook group, The Coalition for Critical thinking in Bigfoot Research... social media and Bigfoot, the origination of the Woo, and more.
Here is the thing: many suggest that he is a psychologist, and he knows how to control and manipulate people. I would say, sure, he is talented in that area, but he has first convinced and manipulated himself. It is the nature of the true believer to try to bend reality to their wishes, rather than to recognize reality as it is based upon objective evidence. I don’t know if this is due to his claimed PTSD from his “encounter” with Bigfoot while shitting in the woods by Oregon Caves some 16 years ago, or if it is from his more recent (publicly admitted) traumatic brain injury, but he seems to have a desperate need for Bigfoot to be real. And it’s not just an ordinary Bigfoot, but one that ascends into the heavens and spiritual dimensions, one that ultimately meets with his “God.” He wants an explanation for everything, and he’s convinced he’s on the right path. He’s the model of the con-man fool, the charlatan who convinces others of his own delusion. I’m not sure if he consciously lies or hoaxes, but “for the Cause,” I don’t think he’d even recognize the difference. So deeply has he blurred the lines between reality and fantasy, I don’t think he even knows there IS a difference. Reality is what he wants it to be; a fine thing if one is in the safety of an institution, in a monastic order, or if one is writing a Science-Fiction novel, but not a good way to be in the objective world associating with other human beings. Part of the social contract is that we share a communicable, confirmable reality, based on verifiable facts. Jon-Erik Beckjord at least had his feet on the ground. I don’t know about this Johnson and where he’s taking this, but it sure looks like he’s waiting for the next comet, to me.
Be sure to check out Coalition for Critical Thinking in Bigfoot Reasearch and Steven Streufert's personal blog, Bigfoot Books.
You can click here to read part 2 and part 3.