It seems that all across America, there are areas that have tales of what might be called “Bigfoot stories.” Virtually all of them tell of a super-sized giant resembling a human being. The detailed descriptions vary as to size and shape, but there are some things in common. Generally it is told that the footprints are in the 18-20 inch range. Also, the gigantic body is usually covered in black or brown hair. This hair is usually said to be muddy or matted and in most cases, there is a long, overwhelming eye-burning scent that lingers long after the beast has passed. Some say they have encountered the scent without encountering the sight and have fled.
Most of these bigfoot reports come from the Pacific Northwest, but there are other scattered stories coming from other parts of the nation. In Virginia, I am aware of reports that include Culpepper, Dinwiddie, Orange, Highland, Amherst, Bath, Prince William, Giles and Wythe counties. In the area of Tennessee near Bristol, there are claims made of such in Johnson, Greene, Hancock and Hawkins counties.
Some people dismiss these stories as figments of imagination. Some classify them with ghosts. But as with the case of ghosts, there are many whose testimonies are hard to dismiss. The investigations go on and are sometimes headed by reputable and respectable college professors or other such gentlemen. I am neither defensive nor offensive, but as usual I keep an open mind. I could not call myself “educatable” unless I did so.
Purportedly, an event of this nature occurred in Washington County, Va. I had not been long in Bristol before I heard tales concerning this creature. Some old-timers called the creature a “monster man” but to stay with the usual trend, we’ll call him a “bigfoot.” There is one major difference with this creature. He was about the standard size, 7-9 feet tall, had big footprints of 20 inches or more and had that distinctive odor. Instead of being black or brown, this bigfoot was said to have been either light gray or white. That was the reason some people called him a ghost.
Most informants, and there were many, agreed that he suddenly appeared soon after the close of the Civil War (1868-1869). The area where he was most often seen was near a knob said to have been near the Old Jonesboro Road not far from Abingdon. Several years ago, a man brought me a picture of this mountain where this monster appeared. That man died before I could have him point out to me specifically to where in that picture he was referring. That remains a mystery to me to this day. Perhaps some of the readers seeing the picture included in this article can be of help.
It seems that the reign of terror began when residents began to find partially eaten livestock on their farms. Goats seem to have been a favorite prey. Then after these incidents, sightings began to occur. A man plowing his field at the base of the aforementioned mountain saw one of his goats fleeing as if running for his life. Indeed he was. A second look revealed that a human like creature with arms almost as long as his body was reaching for the frightened goat. Once caught, the goat was tucked under his arm and carried off into the woods at the edge of the field.
Then there is a tale of an old lady who lived alone at the foot of this mountain. One of my informants called her Aunt Mollie. One night there was a disturbance in her chicken house. She grabbed a light and a rifle and headed to it. Instead of the expected coon or snake, she was confronted by a large monster emerging from the door carrying several chickens. She just fainted away and fell onto the path leading from her door to the chicken coop. When she came to, the monster was gone. That next day, she packed up and moved to the home of a son.
One moonlit night, a couple was moving along in a single horse-drawn buggy. The horse became startled and the couple was frightened to see the form of the big white monster in the bushes beside the road. It attacked the horse. The couple jumped from the buggy and fled back down the road. The husband gathered up well-armed neighbors and went back to the site. The dead horse lay near the overturned buggy. A great deal of the flesh of its neck had been eaten by the monster. Much more of the horse had been torn into shreds. Big tracks of the monster were found in a cornfield nearby. Many of the stalks had been stripped of the ears of corn and there was evidence the corn had been eaten shucks and all. A little later, a farmer viewed the monster stripping fruit from his trees.
What really brought things to a fevered pitch was when a young man, returning from the War in very poor health, died after lingering on for several years. He was buried, at his own request, at the top of the mountain where he had often hunted. This was the same mountain considered to be the territory of the bigfoot. A day or two after the burial, his father took tools to erect a fence around his son’s grave. He found that the body of his son had been dug up and most of the flesh had been stripped to the bones. Several well-armed men gathered and combed the mountain for days. They could never find the monster. Some thought he lived in a cave that may have had a hidden entrance.
The late Martha Jane Hart told me her grandfather, Jacob S. Carmack, was one of the men that went to hunt for the bigfoot.
Not long after this a violent storm went through the area falling great trees. After that storm, the bigfoot was never seen again. Several years after that, hunters found a huge human like skeleton pinned under a chestnut tree that had been felled by that storm. Perhaps nature had done what man could not do.
If this area has ever had another bigfoot, I have heard nothing of it.
Bud Phillips is a local historian and author. He can be reached at (276) 466-6435. For more about Bristol’s history, visit www.bristolhistoricalassociation.com.