This is an occasional series about Bigfoot/Sasquatch activity in the Rim Country.
A while ago someone posed a question about why there aren’t any Sasquatch stories from any of the early Rim Country pioneer families. The short answer is… there are. There are not as many as we might think there would be, but there are a few.
Even long before we came along, the Native American tribes all had legends of “the hairy man,” who lived deep in the forests and came out only at night. These beliefs and legends persist to this day among tribal traditionalists. I had the distinct honor and privilege last year of spending some time with some of these folks, who trusted me enough to be completely open in telling me about their Sasquatch-related knowledge and what they believe… stuff that has been handed down over many generations. It was an experience that I will always remember.
One of the earliest stories I have found from the first Rim Country pioneers was a daytime encounter by David Gowan, who is credited with the “discovery” of the Tonto Natural Bridge. Gowan spent his later years living in a remote cabin on a mining claim along upper Deer Creek, in the Mazatzal Mountains west of the present Deer Creek Village community. He actually died up there in 1925, and is buried next to the Deer Creek hiking trail, a few miles up from the trailhead. As the story goes, Gowan was walking the trail down off the mountain, leading a string of pack burros with ore from his mine, when he came upon two very large “mountain apes” blocking the trail. Gowan and the creatures stood facing each other for awhile, and when they appeared unwilling to move Gowan simply led his burros off-trail, making a wide circle around the creatures, and continued on his way. Later, after Gowan died, people using his old cabin reported being screamed at and having the cabin pelted with rocks during the night, which is common Sasquatch territorial behavior. Apparently a family group had settled in the area, and didn’t appreciate the human visitors. Gowan’s old cabin burned in the Willow Fire in 2004, and subsequent flash floods have virtually destroyed the once-idyllic site, leaving only a small part of the stone foundation still visible.
You noticed that in the story above I used the term mountain apes. That’s what they were called in early Arizona. The name Sasquatch was coined by a schoolteacher in British Columbia in 1927, and the now-famous Bigfoot name was made up by a newspaper reporter in northern California in 1958. So they were mountain apes… that was until the famous incident in 1944 or 1945 that introduced the Mogollon Monster name.
The best account that I have found of the Mogollon Monster incident was written by the late author Don Davis, who was actually one of the Boy Scouts who was there and witnessed it all. In a very short synopsis of the incident… a group of Scouts was camping along Tonto Creek, probably in the present-day Bear Flat area, when they were terrorized during the night by a large, foul-smelling, hair-covered creature. The creature stood on two legs, walked like a person, and ransacked their food supply, eating all of their food, including even the pancake flour. None of the Scouts or their adult leaders were harmed, although they were all badly frightened by the encounter. The local folks around here had never heard of the term Sasquatch, and the name Bigfoot hadn’t been invented yet, so they called the creature the Mogollon Monster.
Knowing what we know now about Sasquatch behavior, we theorize that this could have simply been a territorial display, or it may have been an old outcast individual who was living as a solitary wanderer and was having difficulty finding enough food to eat. Hungry and desperate, it came into the camp and stole the humans’ food. Either way, it is very fortunate that none of the Scouts or their leaders were killed or injured.
While looking to collect stories from the early days of Rim Country, I asked local author and historian Jinx Pyle if he knew of any mountain ape stories that I would be interested in. Although I expected him to not take the question seriously, and maybe even laugh at me, he actually gave me a very straight answer. (Thanks, Jinx, I appreciated that.) He told me that he had actually been asked that question before, and he really had never heard of any stories like that from the early days. I asked him if he thought that maybe the early pioneer folks, if they did have an encounter, would have simply not talked about it, afraid that other people would ridicule them or accuse them of making the story up. He told me that the pioneer mind-set was not that way, and if one of them would have run across such an animal, they would have “shot it, skinned it, nailed the hide to the side of the barn, and told everyone they knew.” That makes sense to me, and the Sasquatches probably figured that out too… and stayed well away from the rifle-toting humans. That probably accounts, at least in part, for the lack of encounter stories from that time period. Even today, Sasquatches stay well away from humans with big guns, which is why we so seldom hear of encounters involving hunters.
If you would like more information on David Gowan, Google “David Gowan Tonto Natural Bridge,” where you will find an excellent June 10, 2008 article from the Payson Roundup, written by Stan Brown.
If you would like to read the late Don Davis’ complete story of the Mogollon Monster incident, Google “Mogollon Monster Don Davis.” You can find it there.