The Hairy Truth

You thought Bigfoot sightings went out with Pop Rocks and moon boots. Try telling that to Mike Quast, who is convinced the creatures are alive and well and living in Minnesota.

Mike Quast passes a slender hand over a map of Minnesota hung on his wall, his fingers brushing across a red pin just outside of Rochester, a white pin near Windom, and a green pin on Highway 52 very close to the Iowa border. Each of the pushpins marks a spot where someone has reported seeing Bigfoot, finding a footprint, or hearing unidentifiable sounds in the woods.

The northern half of the state is a virtual forest of multicolored dots. A thick swath stretches northeast from the White Earth Indian Reservation, through the Chippewa National Forest, up to Pine Island State Forest, a largely unpopulated bog in Koochiching County near the Canadian border.

The pins are further apart in the Superior National Forest to the east. After more than a decade of cataloging people's claims of Bigfoot encounters, Quast is convinced that there are fewer sightings here because there are fewer people tromping through those woods. "It may sound like a broad statement, but if the Sasquatch does not exist in the Superior National Forest, then it does not exist at all," Quast wrote in his most recent work on the topic, The Sasquatch in Minnesota(revised edition).

The map hangs on the wall of a small office just off Quast's living room. Inside is a library of Bigfoot lore. Shelves sag with more than 50 different volumes, many of them self-published like Quast's: Bigfoot in Ohio; Bigfoot on the East Coast; The Sasquatch in Alberta. A "Big Foot Country" magnet hangs on the shelf. Copies of newspaper articles--"Clearwater County man says tracks made by Bigfoot"--and photos cover the walls. Two Bigfoot footprint throw pillows, one light brown, the other a bluish-gray, rest on his couch.

At 32, Quast seems like one of those quiet, smart, slightly eccentric kids who never said much in high school. He lives on a tidy residential street in a two-story brick apartment building in Moorhead, more than 230 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. He pulls his long brown hair back into a ponytail, and wears a goatee and round glasses.

Quast's own work is represented on the shelves, but he concedes his is not a big name in the world of Bigfoot research. "I'm pretty well known as just a supporting player, I think," he allows. "I've never been really famous or anything." So far, he's sold around 50 copies of his last book; when an order comes in, he goes down to the local Kinko's and runs off a new copy. For years he published a monthly newsletter, The Sasquatch Report, with a circulation of roughly 50 at its peak, but he got burned out on that and quit. He passed the operation off to a friend, but the newsletter ceased publication in 1996.

Today Quast's work is hampered by his lack of a car and a working computer; he pays the bills by cleaning offices and isn't able to get out into the field much. But he has ideas for more books--and more ways to advance his thesis that Bigfoot can be found in Minnesota, not just the Pacific Northwest, as many followers of the hairy hulk believe.

Quast says that the bulk of the pins in his map represent incidents or sightings that he believes to be credible. But he logs the probable hoaxes anyhow. In fact, a close look at the map reveals a green pin smack dab in the middle of the Twin Cities metro area. Quast doesn't believe there was any such sighting. "There was a story in a book here, like an urban legend-type thing about a creature that was found digging through garbage bins and was supposedly captured and kept at a lab somewhere," he says dismissively. "It didn't happen. But I just marked it to establish that it was told."

To make the best case for Bigfoot, Quast figures, you need to establish yourself as someone who doesn't just believe any wild story.

 

Claims of hairy, manlike creatures wandering the woods date back hundreds of years, but the moniker Bigfoot was coined in 1958 when a northern California road crew gave the nickname to an unknown night visitor to its work site. The notion of Bigfoot didn't become part of the popular lexicon, though, until October 1967, when a Bigfoot-seeker named Roger Patterson filmed a hulking, dusky ape-man striding away from a shaking, handheld 16mm Kodak camera in northern California.

A month later Mike Quast was born in northwestern Minnesota. As he grew up, a debate over the authenticity of the Patterson footage raged, and Bigfoot seeped into the public's consciousness. The Legend of Boggy Creek and other movies introduced Bigfoot to millions of people. Leonard Nimoy's In Search Of... and other documentaries made the name a household word with adults; Sid and Marty Kroftt's Bigfoot and Wild Boy held kids in thrall on Saturday mornings. Bigfoot even battled the Six Million Dollar Man. Not surprisingly, reported sightings were widespread, and they came from all over the country, no longer only the Pacific Northwest.

As a child, Quast was well aware of the Bigfoot controversy. He lived on a dairy farm about ten miles north of Detroit Lakes, near the North Dakota border. He'd even seen a couple of books on the subject in the school library. Then in 1976 Quast had his own Bigfoot sighting. "I can remember talking about it in school," he recalls. "I don't think a whole lot of people believed it." The disbelief only served to deepen Quast's commitment to prove that Bigfoot was real.

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