California’s Bigfoot Cave
Written By: Chris Maier
Deep within the Tule River Indian Reservation, in central California, lies an outcropping of large boulders that form a small, protected cave. This cave is the location of some unique and wonderful pictographic rock art created by the local Yokuts tribe.
Unlike petroglyphs that are etched or chiseled into rock, pictographs are painted on using a variety of colors. Depending on the material used for painting, the type of rocks and the surrounding conditions, pictographs, can last thousands of years.
As I pulled up to the site and parked the car, Eric and I were immediately struck by the beauty of our surroundings. The boulders that form the site loomed up ahead as big as houses, while just down the slope, the Tule River peacefully flowed by. It was an idyllic setting. With a cool breeze rustling the leaves around us, we walked towards the site.
Following the trail around the boulders, we found the painted images. Despite some obvious wear and destruction by vandals, the site is in remarkably good condition. The artwork fills the walls and ceiling with vivid reds, whites, blacks and yellows.
Our eyes were immediately drawn to the most impressive and imposing pictograph in the cave. This was the image that had brought us to the site. Unfortunately, the pictograph had obviously suffered substantial wear, especially around the head area.
Below are several images of this impressive, life-sized pictograph. The first photo is the cave wall without any enhancements. The second image overlays a colored tracing of the main pictograph. The last image is the colored tracing over a grey background for clarity. These tracings follow the lines that are sometimes barely visible in the original photograph. I also referenced older photos of this pictograph to help fill in the gaps where the existing image has eroded or been vandalized. For instance, the “V” shaped Freddy Krueger style claws on the left hand are a recent addition and not part of the original design.
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The pictograph shows a tall, thick-bodied creature with wide, powerful arms and short legs. The creature appears to have four fingers on each hand and four toes on each foot. There is no visible neck. Rather, the head and eyes are recessed down into the main body. The only visible facial features are round eyes, with large dark streaks running down from them. This pictograph is very large. For a sense of scale, my friend Eric posed in front of the image. Eric stands about six feet tall and because the pictograph starts about one foot above ground level, both Eric and the pictograph are about the same size.
While this was certainly the most impressive pictograph at the site, the same creature is depicted in a number of other locations in the cave. Below are three representations of apparently the same creature. The first two are located on the cave’s ceiling and the last one is found on one of the walls. These pictographs are much smaller than the main image, each measuring about a foot and a half in length.
Along the same wall as the first, most impressive pictograph, but to the left of it, are painted two more representations of the creature. Because of their close proximity to one and other and the size difference between them, I could not help but think of them as a mother and child. Below are three images of these pictographs. The first is an unaltered view of the cave wall. In the second photo the child has been enhanced and in the third photo the mother is enhanced.
The mother is drawn in essentially the same style as the pictographs of the creature depicted on the roof. The main difference being, that in this version, the creature has five fingers instead of four.
The child is a bit more interesting. The child is depicted as having a slimmer body with very thin fingers and toes. Like its mother, the child has five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. The child is the only other depiction of the creature to feature eyes, but in this case they are small and beady. The most striking feature of the child is the hair that surrounds its head, but also dips down between the creature’s eyes, suggesting a nose.
Intuitively, I feel that this is a depiction of a juvenile version of the same creature we’ve seen so far. However, I’m not sure what to make of the hair on its head. Perhaps it is not hair, but rather a hat or a helmet? Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it, but I cannot help but feel that the “hair” on this smaller creature is somehow important.
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After the original Bigfoot image, the next most striking pictograph can be found on the ceiling above. At first glance, it appears to be some sort of lizard with a large disc attached to its head. The image is beautifully rendered in a variety of colors. It features a long thin body with jointed arms and legs. It appears to have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. A short, stubby tail is visible. There are no discernable facial features, so the head is somewhat of a mystery, but it does seem to have an unusual shape. A red beak or nose extends towards the large, circular disc in front of it.
Aside from my original inclination that this is a depiction of a lizard, I’m not sure exactly what type of creature this pictograph represents. Furthermore, I have no explanation or theory for the disc extending from the creature’s head. However, In A Guide to Rock Art Sites of Southern California and Southern Nevada, the author, David S. Whitley, identifies the animal as soksouh or a “’dangerous’ supernatural spirit.” In early reports on the site, the pictograph was identified as “coyote eating the sun,” but Whitley discounts this identification.
As we took one last walk through the cave, two other pictographs in particular caught my eye. The first is this humanlike figure that looks remarkably like a depiction of the devil. Painted in red, with two large horns extending from its head, the resemblance is unmistakable. Aside from its large, six fingered hands, this creature seems to have a much more “human” form than the Bigfoot like creatures we’ve seen so far. For instance, this “devil” has arms and legs of a more appropriate size and shape. It also features a clearly discernable neck and head, albeit with two perplexing horns.
While researching this report, I came across other depictions of this same creature. In The Art of the Shaman by David S. Whitley, a photograph is published of a pictographic site at Rocky Hill just north of the Tule River Indian Reservation in which two “devils” can be seen. One of the creatures, like the pictograph above, clearly has at least six fingers and toes and has unmistakable curved horns. I had planned to visit Rocky Hill on our trip, but unfortunately we did not have exact directions to the site and after an hour of searching the area, we were unable to find the pictographs Whitley describes.
The last image that caught my eye was this set of two men with greatly elongated necks. Certainly these are not realistic depictions of individuals who once existed, but rather I believe they are symbolic. Whitley attributes their long necks or elongated heads as “depicting one of the bodily hallucinations common to shamans in the trance state.”
So are the six pictographs painted within this cave really depictions of Bigfoot? This was obviously a very sacred spot to the Yokuts people who created this beautiful artwork. Of all the images in the cave, this creature is the most often depicted and it is rendered with remarkable consistency. There are other images on the cave walls of clearly fanciful creatures, but there are also straightforward depictions of readily identifiable animals such as a frog, a centipede and a beaver.
Whitley discounts the theory that this creature represents Bigfoot. Rather, he maintains that the pictograph is consistent with regional imagery of a grizzly bear. Specifically, he points out that “this large figure is portrayed with the characteristic facial exudations of the grizzly, resulting in references to grizzlies as ‘old pitch on the face,’ and was believed to connect the grizzly with the shaman who sometimes bled from the nose or mouth during his trances.” 1
Support for the idea that the pictographs at this site do represent Bigfoot comes from a Forest Archeologist for the US Forest Service named Kathy Moskowitz. Last year in Willow Creek, California, Moskowitz gave a talk on the Tule River pictograph site and the traditions that the local Yokuts tribe have of a creature fitting the description of Bigfoot that they call "Mayak datat" or “Hairy Man.” I was able to get in contact with Kathy Moskowitz and she generously forwarded me a copy of her paper.
Moskowitz was raised close to the Reservation and grew up with many of its members. While working on a project for the US Forest Service, she got to know many of the Yokuts tribal elders. The elders explained to her that the images at Tule River are not representations of a grizzly, but rather of the “Mayak datat” or “Hairy Man.”
This identification is supported by the first outsider to write about the site, Garrik Mallery. In 1889, when writing about the site, he stated that the locals identified the large pictograph as representing “Hairy Man.” 2 In 1929, Julian H. Steward noted that a tribal elder also identified this image as “Hairy Man.” 3 In a difficult to find book entitled, Bigfoot and Other Stories, Elizabeth Bayless Johnstone notes that the Yokuts describe “Hairy Man” as “a creature that was like a great big giant with long, shaggy hair.” 4 Moskowitz believes that the evidence that “Hairy Man” and Bigfoot are the same creature is very strong.
In her paper, Moskowitz shares several traditional Yokuts stories that refer to “Hairy Man.” In one entitled “How People Were Made,” “Hairy Man” is described as crying because humans are afraid of him and run away. This story, says Moskowitz, explains the dark streaks found under the eyes of the largest pictograph at Tule River. Ironically, it was these same streaks that Whitley cited as evidence for the creature being a grizzly.
According to Robert Leiterman of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, the last publicized encounter with a Bigfoot on the Reservation occurred back in 1979, but many Yokuts claim to have seen the creature much more recently. However, according to Leiterman, these encounters are considered spiritual and are not publicized to the outside world. 5
In the end, we may never know for sure what is depicted at this pictograph site. Even the date of the site is in substantial dispute. Whitley claims that the pictographs were painted as recently as between 100 and 150 years ago by a “known historical shaman.” 1 However, Moskowitz cites the research of William C Clewlow and Frank F. Latta when she assigns a probable date of creation to the site of 500 to 1000 years ago. 6,7
I took one last look at the startling images that surrounded me beneath the large boulders in the cool mountain air. I believe that the multiple depictions of the creature represented in the cave probably are the image of a real creature that the Yokuts tribe actually encountered. However, whether that creature was a frightening grizzly bear or an elusive Bigfoot, we may never know.
Share your thoughts on what these pictographs might represent at the UnexplainedEarth Forums!
A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada
David S. Whitley
The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California
David S. Whitley
1) Whitley, David S. A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1996).
2) Mallery, Garrik. "Picture-writing of the American Indians," 10th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for the Years 1888-1889 (1889):1-882.
3) Steward, Julian H. "Petroglyphs of California and Adjoining States," University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 2 (1929):47-238.
4) Johnstone, Elizabeth Bayles. Bigfoot and Other Stories (Tulare Board of Education, 1975).
5) Leiterman, Robert. http://www.bfro.net/leiterman/Bigfoot-rock.htm
6) Clewlow, C. William. "Prehistoric Rock Art," Handbook of North American Indians 8 (1978):619-625.
7) Latta, Frank F. Handbook of Yokuts Indians (Kern County Museum, 1949).
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Posted by: Lisa Marie Storm
Contributing Editor for Paranormalnews.com