Many call it a hoax. Others say they aren’t sure if it’s real. Some claim to have seen it with their own eyes. According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, there have been 147 reports of Bigfoot sightings in the State of Missouri alone.
Cody, a student at Missouri State University who didn’t want us to broadcast his last name, is one person who claims to have had an encounter with Bigfoot. On a late May night in 2012, Cody was with three friends who went to a game access area close to Smithville Lake in Clay County, Missouri. Late at night, with the windows in their Jeep cracked, Cody and his friends began to feel uneasy, as everything around them became silent.
“I’ve seen bears, I’ve seen mountain lion, I’ve seen bobcat," Cody said. "Even in the dead of night, checking game cameras in southern Arkansas, and hearing a panther scream, I’ve never heard anything that quiet in my entire life.”
As Cody and his friends were getting ready to leave, they spotted something in the distance that still haunts them to this day.
“About 20 yards off the front of the Jeep, there’s something in the tall grass looking at us," Cody said. "This grass is about three or four feet high and it’s like it’s a big thing with eyes like tail lights just looking at us.”
In a panic, the driver drove through a small cable fence, pulling the cables ties out. Cody said they almost hit the creature.
“The thing then stood up, and it was at least two feet taller than the jeep that we were sitting in.," Cody said. "I got within about 15, 20 feet of it.”
Cody says he got a better look at the creature from that distance.
“It’s just like what people say," Cody said. "It looks like a person, but not like a person. Kind of like a monkey, but not like a monkey, or ape, rather. And then we just drove out of there.”
While many may be skeptical about stories like this one, there are people like Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization Investigator Carter Buschardt who dedicate significant time to interviewing witnesses and documenting their reports.
Buschardt is one of a few hundred investigators on www.bfro.net. He’s been interested in cryptozoology since childhood—that’s the study of mysterious animals whose existence is disputed, like the Loch Ness Monster.
Now, in his sixties, he’s based in Liberty, Missouri and has studied Bigfoot sightings for the past several years. Buschardt has consulted on Animal Planet’s series, “Finding Bigfoot,” and has led over a hundred private nighttime expeditions.
Throughout his tenure documenting Bigfoot sightings, Buschardt has come across many people who claim to have encountered such a creature. He says he’s spoken to people who aren’t being truthful—but also to people he believes are genuine.
“When you’re talking to somebody, you can tell over the phone, there’s no visual, that they are moved, and possibly changed by what they saw," Buschardt said. "And the detail they go into will match what other people have said. They don’t know them, aren’t related to them. Quite possibly never even read their reports. So the odds of them making it up are not all that great.”
Buschardt says that the stigma around Bigfoot sightings has changed in the past 10 years or so, and that a true sighting is something that you can’t take away from a witness.
While there is a lot of speculation as to what Bigfoot really is, Buschardt says that there is a popular theory that is supported by DNA.
“The biggest theory right now going is that they’re Gigantopithecus that came over on the land bridge between Russia and Alaska at some point in time," Buschardt said. "Nobody can confirm it. Nobody really knows what to say. But there are enough DNA and hair samples that are unknown hominid that can be pigeonholed into one thing or the other that tells us it’s somewhere in that hominid tree going back 50,000 to 100,000 years, maybe even further.”
Of course, the scientific community wants to see conclusive proof of a specific animal—something many feel they haven’t seen yet.
Despite that, Bigfoot has stamped itself as one of the most famous cryptids in American history. The earliest recorded sighting reportedly dates back to Leif Erikson in the year 986. According to Rick Emmer in his book Bigfoot: Fact or Fiction, Leif Erikson and the Vikings who set foot on North American soil described seeing a creature that was “horribly ugly, hairy, swarthy and with big black eyes.” They called the creature “Skellring.”