Few moments in life have such a dramatic impact on a person’s life that it classifies as an ‘epiphany’, a moment where one’s concept of reality itself is utterly and permanently altered. Such a moment happened to me one sunny day in early spring of 1993. April 3rd was a day which is, and will always be, seared in my mind as if it were yesterday. Even after more than 18 years, the specifics of that event should illustrate the impact it had on my life.
It should be noted that, with regard to even the possibility of these creatures existing, I was beyond skeptical. Simply put, I had relegated these beasts to the realm of Native American legend or merely a classic campfire tale to frighten young, gullible children. I rarely watched sci-fi programs and never had read a single book on the subject. Ironically, as fate would have it, I would later become the topic of many such programs and books. I digress.
As a sergeant in Charlie Company (1249th Combat Engineers), it was business as usual as we headed up into the dense temperate rain forest of the Coast Range in Northwestern Oregon. The mission of Combat Engineering can be boiled down to two words: ‘mobility’ & ‘counter-mobility’. In other words, ensure our troops overcome any obstacles (man made or natural) and deny the enemy passage (or route them to where we want them) by placing obstacles in their path. On that particular day, our mission was to conduct training on private timberland near Saddle Mountain; just east of the coastal resort town of Seaside. We would be executing demolitions (explosives) operations at three rock quarries. Each site had a unique battle scenario to accomplish.
At the first site, we practiced ‘cutting charges’. This is where we would use plastic explosives (composition four or C4) to shear steel I-beams like a hot knife through butter in an effort to simulate dropping a bridge. Simultaneously, we also cut a five foot diameter Douglas Fir tree in half by wrapping a belt of C4 around it. Both charges were a resounding success! One sheared steel I-beam looking like an exploded cartoon cigar and a whole lot-o-bark dust.
The second site held a ‘complex obstacle’ consisting of a field of surface-laid anti-tank mines followed by a triple-strand concertina wire fence. We were to clear a vehicle lane through both. In addition, we were tasked to construct a field-expedient ‘claymore’ anti-personnel mine out of a #10 coffee can with improvised shrapnel. After securing the area and checking for subterranean mines, we strung a ‘ring-main’ (a circuit of detonation or DET cord) through the mine field. DET cord looks similar to fuse cord with the exception that it contains a tremendously explosive compound (PETN or Pentrite) which burns at a consistent rate of 8,000 meters per second. It is said that if you could string a line of DET cord from LA to New York, it would take approximately 14 minutes to get to the other end! It is essentially used to synchronize several explosive devices to detonate virtually simultaneously. You definitely do NOT want to confuse DET cord with fuse cord! In any event, my squad set about placing C4 charges next to each of the anti-tank mines and tying them into the ring-main while another squad began fashioning a field-expedient (read: homemade) version of a ‘Bangalore Torpedo’ to breach the razor-wire obstacle. Normally a Bangalore Torpedo is essentially a 3″ plastic pipe filed with C4. Sections of this pipe are generally fitted together to form a pipe long enough to breach the entire obstacle. In this case we had to sandwich C4 between sections of U-channel fence pickets then wrap them together with duct tape (same effect). The homemade ‘Bangalore’ was then tied into the ring-main. Lastly we constructed our field-expedient claymore mine by poking a hole in the bottom of a #10 can and inserted a blasting cap. Next we lined the bottom of the can with about 2.5lbs of C4 then covered it with three layers of cardboard for wadding. Finally, we loaded the can with rocks, bolts, nuts and anything else that would ruin the ‘enemy’s’ day. The can was then buried into a hillside (pointed towards the enemy) and angled about 12 degrees off the ground then it too was tied into the ring-main.
While I had not yet seen these creatures, there was a brief incident which, in retrospect, made me think they may have seen us. While I was directing my squad to emplace their charges next to the anti-tank mines, there was a rather loud, crescendoing ‘WHOOOOP!’ that emanated from the west end of the mine field. At that moment, I was bent over placing my own charge. Upon hearing this somewhat shrill noise, I immediately stood up and sought out the perpetrator as we were under orders to practice noise discipline during the exercise (in case the ‘enemy’ were nearby). As I glanced around the mine field, I was surprised to find all of my men still busily preparing their changes and not, as I suspected, goofing off. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to work. In hindsight, it seemed to me that the WHOOOOP sound had came from farther back in the tree line. But that made no sense as everyone was present and accounted for.
Once all of the charges were set and the area was cleared, I yelled “FIRE IN THE HOLE!,” then pulled the dual-primed M-60 fuse igniters. The fuses hissed and began snaking their way towards their primary charge while we mounted up and began to convoy down to the safety staging area to await the ‘report’ of the explosion a short eight minutes away.
At that moment, we developed radio problems. The field commander could not reach the base commander back at Camp Rilea. I was tasked to take my HMMVE (’Humvee’) up to the top of a nearby hill, where we had a ‘two-niner-two’ radio relay station set up, to see what the problem was. Upon arrival, they had already repaired the relay, so I decided to watch the impending explosion from that vantage point. Even from two miles away, the sight of 200lbs of C4 detonating is an awesome sight. The huge flash was followed by an even bigger black cloud which began to build into a mushroom cloud. Simultaneously you could see the trees in the immediate vicinity shudder in succession as a shock wave rolled across the forest below in a perfect concentrical ring. Finally, about a two seconds later, we heard the BOOM! Another resounding success.
The third and last training area was situated in yet another gravel quarry on a hillside that overlooked the second blast site. Here our mission was to emplace a ‘cratering charge’. As the name implies, this type of operation involves the making of a rather large hole. Generally this is done to sever a road thus denying the enemy use thereof. To the uninitiated, an explosion is an explosion. To those of us who deal in the science of explosives, there are very distinct differences based upon the target, its composition, type of explosive (dynamite, C3, C4, ammonium nitrate, PETN, TNT, RDX, etc.), amount of explosive, its placement, shape of the charge, tamping, etc. Whereas C4 produces a super-hot/fast explosion, ammonium nitrate (essentially refined chicken or pig manure) soaked in diesel fuel for several hours, results in a ’slow’ concussive blast. Properly placed and tamped, it will effortlessly relocate a generous section of real estate. It should be noted that, absent a standard issue shaped charge, we had the ‘heavy junk’ (read: heavy equipment) section pre-dig a starter hole with a backhoe. After emplacing several bags of diesel-soaked ammonium nitrate into the aforementioned hole, we (read: privates) filled it in and tap danced on it to tamp (pack) the charge. Once again, the area was cleared, and I initiated the dual-primed M-60 fuse igniters. I took my place in the waiting convoy and, per S.O.P., we began the descent down to the safety staging area.
Being a squad leader, I had the privilege of having my own Hummer, complete with a driver and an A (alternate) driver. Ours was the second vehicle of a five-vehicle convoy (2 Humvees up front, 2 covered troop carriers called ‘deuce and a halfs’ and the Commander’s Humvee in the rear). I took up a position behind the driver’s seat and, as we were descending the narrow winding road down towards the staging area, I had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. As an avid hunter, it is just second nature to me to spot for wildlife. As it was a rare sunny day in April, I had my window unzipped for a better view. Rounding a corner, I had a good view of the rock quarry where we had done our second blast at less than an hour earlier. Standing right out in the open, in the middle of the gravel pit, were three, jet-black, bipedal creatures. They stood inline (shoulder to shoulder) staring directly at our convoy as it descended the hillside across from them. Between us was a ravine populated with eight to twelve year-old Douglas Fir and hemlock ‘reprod’. At a distance of several hundred meters, I could not make out facial features or gender, but there was no doubt what I was looking at were not humans. Had these creatures been standing in front of a backdrop of trees, I most likely would not have seen them at all. But in this case, there stood three dark black figures contrasted against a light grey cliff of basalt on a bright sunny day.
In the middle stood, what I assumed to be, the alpha male of the group; as it towered a full head above the two creatures that flanked it. I would estimate it to have stood approximately nine feet high, with the flanking creatures approaching seven feet in height. Their silhouette was unique in that their heads sat directly on their shoulders with no visible neck. They all displayed broad, square shoulders and barreled chests which tapered down to a svelte waistline, unlike the creature seen in the Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967 (for the record, I am of the impression that the PG creature was either pregnant or had recently been so; accounting for her girth). The arms of these beings hung well past their knees. In the case of the two flanking creatures, they were exhibiting a swaying motion (rocking side-to-side) as the larger creature stood as still as a statue. Bare in mind that, all the while I was staring at the creatures, we were bounding down a dirt road with the occasional hedge of blackberry and Scotch bloom obscuring my view. That being said, I had approximately 25 seconds of viewing time.
At this point most people ask me, “Didn’t anybody else see them?” “Why didn’t you say something to your driver(s)? or “Why didn’t stop your vehicle?
The answer is that…
- I assumed I alone had seen them;
- I was still in shock and disbelief;
- my jeep didn’t have a radio to call for a stop
- and even if it did, we had a rather large BOMB ticking off behind us!
Once the vehicle rounded a sharp corner, I knew I had seen the last of them. I fell back into my seat with a mixture of shock for what I had witnessed and an odd sense of depression. It’s a hard to explain what goes through ones mind in such a moment. Fate had somehow came together to create a once-in-a-lifetime moment that was now lost as suddenly as it had found.
My head began to swim with questions.
“Oh my God! They DO exist! And not just a solitary beast, but a group of them!
How could they exist and not be ‘discovered’?"
Having extensively hunting this area, how could they exist and I not have seen them, or signs of them, before?
"Some hunter I was!"
"What do I do now?”
I felt the sudden urge to tell someone,but who? I had seen something scientifically, if not historically, important and SOMEONE should be notified! There must be an authority that NEEDS this information!
I began to make a mental checklist.
The US Fish & Wildlife? No.
The Forest Service? No.
The zoo? No.
The police? HELL NO!
Then WHO?!?! And better yet, who would believe me anyway?
In the final analysis, I reluctantly decided (like most people do) to keep my mouth shut. Here I was a family man, a vice-president of a shipping company, and a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army National Guard. I had worked long and hard for my reputation. And yet, with one simple sentence, “I saw Bigfoot!”, I could throw it all away. Nope. If I knew what was good for me, I could never tell a soul.
Thus is the "Curse of the Bigfoot" - living with the burden of the truth. A truth so absolutely incredible that merely suggesting that you ‘might’ have seen something that ‘may’ have been a Bigfoot will cause people to question your very sanity and even destroy your reputation. Great! I have jokingly suggested that I should start a Bigfoot Support Group for those afflicted with ‘the curse’. One thing I can say, from years of interviewing other eyewitnesses, that there is something therapeutic in sharing such mutual experiences.
Arriving at the staging area, I immediately jogged back up the road in a futile effort to get one more look at these amazing creatures. Unfortunately there was a knoll which blocked my view of the gravel pit. Again an odd sense of depression swept over me. I felt a genuine sense of loss that was difficult to explain.
My activity hadn’t gone unnoticed. Suddenly I heard footsteps heading my way. Then a voice yelled out, “Hey Neiss!” I turned and saw SGT Jeff Martin heading my direction. As he approached me, he looked over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. Satisfied that we were alone, he said something that I will never forget. He took a long drag off of his cigarette, exhaled, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “I don’t suppose you saw what I saw back at the second blast site?” It was more of a statement than a question. I could tell from the look in his eyes that he knew something. I felt overwhelmed at the possibility but decided to err on the side of caution. I replied, “I don’t know Jeff, what did YOU see?” Once again he looked left then right to make certain of our privacy and then stated rather matter-of-factly, “I saw three, huge, hair-covered, for lack of a better word ‘BIGFEET’.
Trying to contain my excitement I hissed, “Yesssss! I saw them too!”
I was overwhelmed with sense of utter relief! I wasn’t alone!! It wasn’t that I needed validation of what I had seen. Corroboration could not have altered the truth, but it sure felt good. It felt somehow liberating. At that we began to compare notes.
Fate was busy that day. What were the odds? The odds that I ever would have seen them in the first place? The odds that someone else did (independently) as well? The odds that they would have even imagined that I had shared their experience and even in so considering would have had the courage to ask me? I can only guess that observing me looking in the direction of the quarry and straining to get a glimpse of ’something’ was enough to pique his curiosity. Thank God! And finally, what were the odds that we were the only two witnesses? As I would come to later learn, we weren’t!
That evening, we had an ‘open post’ so I decided to stay the night at the home of my friend (and Platoon Sergeant) Don Braden and his wife Lena. After debating whether to tell them my story, I reluctantly opened up (few beers didn’t hurt either). Being my first ‘Bigfoot confession’, I found out the hard way that even your best friends can be hard to convert. After some initial ridicule, I had to settle for a bit of patronizing sympathy. This wasn’t to be my last bout with ridicule.
Fate wasn’t quite done yet. At the next Guard drill, Lena Braden and the other wives and girlfriends of soldiers were conducting a bake sale in the foyer of the armory at Camp Rilea as was their custom. I, on the other hand, was split-training in Portland some 100 miles east. Lena was in the middle of sharing my ‘Bigfoot confession’ with the other ladies when two soldiers entered the building. As they passed the bake sale table, they happened to overhear Lena describing my encounter, then froze in their tracks. They turned to her and asked her to repeat the story then both confessed to having seen the creatures as well!
A lot has transpired since that fateful day. It has been my personal mission to provide irrefutable evidence of these amazing creatures existence in an effort to gain their recognition and, if need be, play a role in their protection. I have spent countless days and nights conducting field research (including six major expeditions) throughout the Pacific Northwest, California and one foray into the Mazetzal Wilderness of Arizona. My quest has given me the privilege to meet and/or work with some of the top researchers in the field: Peter Byrne, the late Rene Dahinden, John Green, the late Professor Grover Krantz (a.k.a. ‘The Four Horseman’), Bob Gimlin, Loren Coleman, Don Keating, the late Richard Greenwell, Larry Lund, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Cliff Crook, Chris Murphy, Dan Perez, Joe Beelart, Ray Crowe, Dr. Wolf Henner Farenbach, Rick Noll, Thom Powell, Cliff Olson and the late Fred Bradshaw to name just a few. I thank them all for their generous insight, advice and companionship. For nearly 20 years, I have had the honor of appearing on more than 19 television programs, several radio talk shows, and given speeches at numerous conferences, symposiums and universities. Bigfooting will always be a part of my life and I look forward to many more adventures in the future.