Archived Outdoors

The Bigfoot crew

The team of Bigfoot researchers who came to Cherokee last week to investigate reports of a mysterious creature encounter run the gamut from long-time believers, recent converts and even Bigfoot agnostics.

How each got roped in to the team and what keeps them motivated in the search varies from pure intrigue, a quest for adventure and a desire to see Bigfoot’s existence vindicated.

Tim McMillen, 50

McMillen, a believer in Bigfoot his entire life, sees his role in the Bigfoot expedition as a mission to save the species.

“My quest is to get protection for the animal through the federal government by petitioning for its protection as a species,” McMillen said. “That’s my hope, that we can lobby for its protection as a hominoid. Obviously we are encroaching on his living spaces more and more.”

McMillen said he wants to convince America that Bigfoot is not a “harmful menace.” McMillen said people want to kill what they don’t understand, so he wants to help people understand it.

On a lighter note, McMillen said the Bigfoot expeditions are a great adventure — traveling the country, meeting locals and visiting places he wouldn’t go otherwise.

“You only live once,” McMillen said. “I figured I’d rather write my name in history by doing this. That’s what drives humanity, quests like this. People wanting answers to their questions.”

Lee Hickman, 38

Hickman, a logger, hunter and trapper on the Oregon-California border, is the Bigfoot teams’ official tracker and guide.

“If something is a fraud, I’m going to be the one that knows it,” Hickman said.

Hickman is the team’s first line of defense against a hoax, such as fake tracks.

“I’m here to show Tom (Biscardi) if it’s wishy-washy, if someone has laid out tracks,” Hickman said. “Tom doesn’t want to get fooled like that.”

Hickman’s grandfather, Ivan Marx, is a famous tracker and trapper out West. His grandfather worked with Tom Biscardi for years up until his death and shared some of Biscardi’s Bigfoot sightings.

Hickman has found Bigfoot tracks in the mountains around his home. One morning, he tracked footprints though the snow for half a mile, capturing some well preserved footprints in the underlying mud that are now part of the team’s traveling exhibit of footprint casts.

Despite finding the prints, Hickman said he won’t believe in Bigfoot until he sees him. As a tracker, Hickman knows a track is surefire evidence that a creature barring that paw has passed through. Hickman compared the signature of tracks to a human fingerprint. So if seeing a bear track is as good as seeing a bear itself, why doesn’t that hold true for Bigfoot?

“Yeah, but I’ve seen bear,” Hickman said.

“Mountain” Pat Heaton, 49

Heaton, who lives on a ranch in a remote area of northern California, came outside one morning about a year ago to find his goat was missing. The chain that kept it tethered in its pen had been snapped.

An expert tracker and trapper, Heaton grabbed his gun and began scouting for signs of what stole his goat.

Heaton tracked chain scuff marks up a hillside until he came upon all that was left of his goat: a neatly stacked pile of goat fur, a couple of bones and the chain. He began walking in a spiral around the kill — known in tracking lingo as laying out a perimeter — looking for signs of where the creature went next. That’s when Heaton found a gigantic footprint and detected a wet-dog smell.

“I came back and told my wife ‘There’s something up there and I don’t know what it is but you got to come check out this footprint,’” Heaton recounted. “There’s something going on out there.”

Wanting to share their find with a Bigfoot expert, Heaton’s wife used the Internet to find Tom Biscardi, a leader in the field. Biscardi soon showed up at their ranch to investigate, and Heaton shortly joined Biscardi’s organization, Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. Hoping to tap into Heaton’s tracking skills, Biscardi invited Heaton to come on a cross-country trip investigating encounters back East.

Heaton agreed. He saw Biscardi — a man with five Bigfoot sightings under his belt — as his best hope of seeing the creature himself.

“That’s why I’m driven. That’s why I’m here right now,” Heaton said. “I figured there was a better chance me hooking up with him to find out what’s going on than not. His ambition and eagerness intrigued me so I decided to tag along and see what happens.”

“Java” Bob Smallsback, 56

The owner of a small coffee shop and café in a remote town in Northern California, Smallsback gave Bigfoot little thought until a year ago.

Smallsback’s hometown is prime Bigfoot territory with so many reported sightings that a highway through the region has been officially named the Great American Bigfoot Highway. Smallsback, president of the local chamber of commerce, was involved in a brainstorming effort to generate tourism when they lit on the idea of playing up the Bigfoot myth associated with the community.

They called numerous Bigfoot experts to come investigate the area. Tom Biscardi, the head of Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. is the only one who agreed to come. Smallsback went on an expedition with Biscardi into the hills around town. It proved fruitful with the discovery of a footprint, opening Smallsback’s eyes to the elusive world of Bigfoot.

A Bigfoot convert, Smallback joined Biscardi’s organization and took on the role as a liaison for inquiries.

“I started getting calls from people all over the country,” Smallsback said. Smallsback was amazed that so many people in different places had stories and descriptions that match.

“There is enough physical evidence out there to warrant a thorough investigation,” Smallback said.

When Biscardi asked Smallsback to come along on a cross-country expedition to investigate potential Bigfoot encounters back East, he shut down his coffee shop and agreed to tag along. Footprint finding aside, Smallsback said he has to see the creature before he’s willing to relinquish the last ounce of doubt still lurking in the back of his mind.

“I have to see it, touch it, smell it. I’m that kind of person. I got to know,” said Smallsback.

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