Imagine this scenario: You’ve just finished an invigorating hike through the pines of the Conecuh National Forest, and you’ve pitched camp alongside a glistening pond. After a tasty campfire meal, you tuck into your sleeping bag to rest up for the next day’s adventures. But, in the middle of the night, you hear an odd, bellowing grunt and rustle through the leaves. What could have made that sound—a coyote, or perhaps a wild boar? There’s something deeply unsettling about the noise, though—and, even more so, what kind of creature it came from. If you ask a local, they may tell you that you heard a Bigfoot.
It’s no secret that over the years, there have been thousands of strange sightings of a large, hairy creature many refer to as Bigfoot or Sasquatch. These reports come from all over the country, especially in the Pacific Northwest—but even in heavily populated states like New Jersey. However, it’s far lesser known that many sightings have been reported right here in Alabama: According to the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization, based in Evergreen, there have been sightings in 41 of Alabama’s 67 counties. In January 2017, GCBRO investigators and the hosts of the Destination America television series "Killing Bigfoot" visited the state to investigate the reports. Whether you believe or not is, of course, up to you—but either way, the mysterious legend certainly can ratchet up the excitement on an ordinary hike and heighten the thrills and chills of campfire stories.
The First Reports
Reports of Bigfoot sightings in Alabama have been coming in since the 1800s. One of the earliest articles on an encounter was discovered not long ago by Brewton attorney Chuck Johns. One of several newspaper accounts that date back to 1870 describes a strange creature being seen in an "impenetrable jungle swamp" near Brewton. The report says that the creature was captured and was a “pitiable and grotesque human image” that couldn’t talk. Many believed it wasn’t a man but possibly a Bigfoot.
More than 140 years later, eyewitness accounts of the alleged creature are still coming in. In one recent alleged sighting in Conecuh County near the Conecuh National Forest, a truck driver reported a 6-to-7-foot black, hairy "man-like" creature crossing the road in front of him, leaving large footprints behind as it entered the woods. In Andalusia near the same forest, a woman was closing her barn doors one evening when she looked up and saw a creature covered in orange-tinted hair weighing about 450 pounds staring at her before it bounded into the woods.
According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, there have been 98 reports filed in Alabama since the organization began keeping track in 1995. Only 78 miles south of the state capital in the town of Evergreen, there have been so many recent sightings that in February 2017 Mayor Pro Tem Luther Upton helped declare the town the Bigfoot Capital of Alabama.
Vince Lauria, an investigator with the Southwest Alabama Bigfoot Hunters, says the reports describe a similar creature.
"[The creature is] 6 to 8 feet tall with long hair—not fur—sometimes with a human looking face other times like an ape," he says. “[The hair is] reddish in color, although some are black. They have a sagittal crest (pointy head), broad shoulders, large muscles and are fast moving sometimes; other times, they seem unconcerned and just plod off into the brush.”
Lauria went on to say that the sightings appear to have another thing in common: They generally occur near large bodies of water such as rivers, large creeks, and swamps.
Investigating the Investigators
There are many reasons why and how people become investigators looking for evidence that Bigfoot exists. In the case of Lee Peacock, a reporter for The Evergreen Courant, it just sort of happened.
"I first became involved in the search for Bigfoot through my job as a reporter at the newspaper," Peacock said. “Out of the blue, we started getting reports from readers about possible sightings and it snowballed from there. I never really appreciated how interested people are in Bigfoot, but apparently, it’s a subject a lot of people like to read about.”
Investigators say interviewing witnesses is a balancing act, during which they try to uncover all possible information while making the witness feel comfortable without being judged.
"Friendliness is important and there is a need to avoid leading questions," Lauria said. “If a witness is willing, it is often a dam being broken and they tell everything.”
Peacock agreed: "I’ve found that individuals who truly believe they have seen a Bigfoot will talk about it openly, especially if you treat them with respect and decency."
As for the best evidence they’ve seen, each investigator has their own favorite story. For Peacock and Donald McDonald, an investigator with the GCBRO, it was investigating some unusual claw marks investigated in Pine Orchard, near Evergreen, in January 2017.
"I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the woods, hunting, hiking, etc., and I have never seen anything like those claw marks," he said. “I don’t know if they were made by a Bigfoot, but I would not have wanted to run into whatever made those marks face to face in the woods. Whatever made those marks was large, tall, and strong. I looked at them closely and feel they were genuine, not faked so far as I could tell.”
In an interview with AL.Com, McDonald said the claw marks were definitely not made by a bear.
"Some of the claw marks start at about 8 feet off the ground and go to almost 12 feet," he noted. “Yes, there are bears in the area but a bear, if it would have made those marks, there would have been bear claw marks on the sides of the tree where it climbed it. There were none.”
For Lauria, it was his discovery of hair samples near the Conecuh National Forest.
"[A few years ago] I was instrumental in recovering reddish hair in Conecuh County," he says. “Dr. Melba Ketchum [founder of veterinary laboratory DNA Diagnostics] sequenced the DNA and the results show a human/unknown ape hybrid, an unknown primate.”
Where to From Here?
Whether or not you believe in the existence of Bigfoot, dozens of people across Alabama do. They have personal experiences that have put fear in them and they are willing to openly report that experience no matter what the consequences, even ridicule. There have been so many reports that investigators like Lauria and McDonald and organizations like SABH and the GCBRO are compelled to continue their search for evidence to try to discover what’s out there.
"I encourage people to keep an open mind about Bigfoot," Peacock said. “I have never seen one, but I do know good, trustworthy people swear they have. Who’s to say that they haven’t?”
Whatever the case, the next time you’re out hiking, camping, or exploring the woods of Alabama, you might want to keep your eyes and ears open. What you see or hear could very well be the stuff of legends.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.