CALLISBURG — There probably aren’t any of the hominid creatures known as Bigfoot in Cooke County, cryptozoologist Jerry Hestand said, but that doesn’t stop him from interviewing local people who believe they’ve seen the reclusive animals.
Earlier this month, Hestand met a group of paranormal witnesses at Callisburg’s Parkhill Park near the site of the 1893 bridge.
The Bigfoot researcher picked a good spot to share scary stories.
Before workers moved the bridge in 2004 to land donated for the park, the old truss bridge played a part in local folklore.
Many of those who visited the bridge were teenagers who drove to the spot at night to scare their dates and test their mettle. It’s difficult to find a Callisburg native who doesn’t have an 1893 bridge story.
In addition to discussions with area residents, Hestand talked about his own research work.
He said he developed an interest in cryptozoology after studying and evaluating the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. The grainy film shows an apelike creature walking upright in a wooded area. Some researchers consider the short motion picture the best evidence of Bigfoot.
Accounts of apelike creatures have been around for centuries but Bigfoot research came into its own following the release of the 1973 horror film “The Boggy Creek Monster.” The movie centers around encounters with Bigfoot in Fouke, Ark.
Hestand said he doesn’t believe ghosts and other paranormal phenomena are real. Bigfoot, he said, could possibly exist.
“Bigfoot is the only thing that has any tangible evidence,” he said, “things like hair and foot prints.”
When he got his first computer in 2001, Hestand used the machine to research Bigfoot and found the Texas Bigfoot Conservancy in Dallas.
Hestand was hooked.
“I just wanted to see one,” he said.
A friend from East Texas promised to give him the chance.
“We finally found a spot in (southeastern) Oklahoma in the Ouachita Mountains where these animals live, we think,” Hestand said.
Researchers at the camp sight have encountered Bigfoot and the animals aren’t exactly glad to see humans in midst, he said.
The creatures throw rocks. They “tree knock.” They hit cabin walls late at night, rousing researchers from their uneasy dreams.
Hestand said California Bigfoot researcher Kathy Strain — who has identified Bigfoot in American Indian petroglyphs — saw two hominids outside a cabin in Oklahoma. One was a hulking full-sized adult; the other, likely a juvenile.
Hestand set up his tent near Kathy Strain’s tent site.
“I was with a research group spending a week in an area where apes had been seen the week before,” he said. “I had my tent set up in the sighting area and heard a large animal moving down the steep mountainside around 2 a.m. It walked down a path behind a tree line by my tent and I saw a dark shadow approximately seven feet tall pass my tent.
“The animal stopped and walked back in the direction it came from,” he continued. “As its steps ceased, two loud wood knocks came from two different directions — the top of the mountain and the nearby creek.
Hestand said when the animal returned he noticed a pungent odor.
“It walked down the opposite side of the clearing I was camping at behind the opposite tree line,” he said. “It squatted down and began to growl. I was waiting for it to clear the tree line so I could fire my 12 gauge.”
The creature stood up and returned to the end of the tree line before turning around and walking back to the same location. The creature continued growling, he said. “At this time, I turned on the light on the barrel of my gun and the individual departed.”
“The next night my friend Mark Porter and I returned to the same location,” he said. “I was asleep and was awoken when Mark told me that he was being pelted with rocks after he heard a large animal return from the same area of the steep mountain. The creature left and did not return to our area that night.”
Hestand said it would be impossible for a human to descend the steep, treacherous mountain at night.
“It is difficult at best to climb during the day,” he said, adding the area is fairly desolate.
“We were in an area of wilderness far away from homes or roads,” he said. “The camp takes over an hour to drive 10 miles into on a small trail that has damaged researchers vehicles in the past. This area has been a region with many sightings over several years and continues to be the focus of the NA-WAC.”
Hestand said he knows some of the major players in the reality television world including the stars of the Animal Planet series Finding Bigfoot — Matt Moneymaker, Cliff Barackman, James “Bobo” Fay and Ranae Holland.
The show begins with a town hall meeting where residents gather to tell their Bigfoot stories, hoping to convince the Finding Bigfoot team to check out the places they suggest.
“Dozens and dozens of people show up to testify at these meetings,” Hestand said.
The show also features investigative segments filmed with a night vision camera.
The investigators may look and sound scared — who can forget the silly sound bite, “I think there’s a squatch in these woods...”? — but Hestand said the night vision scenes are little more than television drama.
“These people are really researchers,” he said. “They are for real. But what I want readers to know is that the investigations are for entertainment. They’re just television.”
In addition to cryptozoology, Hestand is a conservation advocate who hopes to preserve wildlife areas and protect natural resources. As he sees it, finding Bigfoot might do more than satisfy human curiosity.
“If we could prove this animal is real and put it on an endangered species list, all other animals in that area would have their habitat saved,” he said.