ON THE COVER: Player to watch - Breylin SmithREAD ONLINE
Bigfoot sightings still going strong: Arkansas prime locationPublished January 12, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
Robert Swain, a Vilonia Church of Christ minister, is a member of the Alliance of Independent Bigfoot Researchers and the founder of the Arkansas Primates Evidence Society. He believes the creature known as Bigfoot is an animal, not a missing link or a primitive man.
A Bigfoot field researcher since 2007, J. Robert Swain of Vilonia hasn’t seen a Sasquatch; however, he has heard whoops, gibberish and tree knocks that he associates with the creatures, and he believes in their existence.
“I haven’t heard one scream, either, but I would like to,” he said.
Among his evidence are castings of footprints, handprints and knuckles he believes to be from the creatures; and photographs of broken and positioned limbs and tree-limb-type structures, as well as stacked stones. He believes that at least one of the tree structures he photographed while researching in Saline County may have served as a shelter to a female Sasquatch while she was giving birth. He also has audio recordings, which, he said, aren’t recognizable as the sounds of any other animals.
Swain, who is a Church of Christ minister, said he knows some people may “roll their eyes” when they hear him talk about his hobby, but he really thinks it is “pretty arrogant to think we know everything and that all in life is wrapped up neatly in a little box.”
Thousands of people have reported Sasquatch sightings, he said, and he doesn’t believe all of those people are lying.
“If only one report of a sighting is real, then Bigfoot is real,” he said. “I don’t think there is a worldwide conspiracy to fool people. I also don’t believe the creature is the missing link or a primitive man. I think it is a flesh-and-blood animal, and God made it. There is fossil evidence of a giant ape from Asia, and that’s what I believe it is.”
Swain is a member of the Alliance of Independent Bigfoot Researchers and the founder of the Arkansas Primates Evidence Society. He has “squatched” in several states, including Arkansas, California, Washington, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee. He speaks at conferences across the United States and presents a database listing 300 to 350 reports of Sasquatch sightings in Arkansas, as well as maps marking many locations of possible sightings.
He also shows his castings and tells of his adventures, including the one when he believes he came close to meeting a Sasquatch face to face. Something left a huge handprint on his car during a camping trip, and using digital recorders, he captured a sound possibly made by a Sasquatch.
During his PowerPoint presentation, he references the first newspaper account of a Sasquatch sighting in Arkansas in the 1850s. Swain believes that for every report of a sighting, there are probably nine that have not been reported — most because people who made the sightings fear not being believed.
“If that is the case, there have been 3,000 or more in central Arkansas,” he said.
Faulkner, Pulaski, Saline and Perry counties are prevalent locations for sightings, as is the area around Fouke down in Miller County, and the Boston Mountain area in northern part of the state, Swain said. He also talked briefly about the reports of sightings from around the world. During the Vietnam War, Swain said, many soldiers reported encounters with large strange creatures in the jungles of Laos. Also, Native Americans talked about such sightings, he said.
“Every major tribe in the U.S. has stories about Sasquatch,” he said.
There were more than 400 reported Bigfoot sightings in the U.S. in 2013, Swain said.
The creatures, he said, are primarily nocturnal and are rarely seen because they do not want to be seen. They are always in “hunt mode.” They eat meat, as well as other items. Sightings are more prevalent at certain times of the year, especially in October and November, Swain said. He speculates that this could be because people are out in the woods more during those months, and the leaves are falling off trees, making sightings more likely. A heavily documented location for sightings, he said, is in the Little Rock area.
Swain doesn’t claim to be an expert on the subject. In fact, he said, anyone who claims to be is lying.
“Everything is guesswork and speculation,” he said. “There are no experts.”
Swain was a teenager when he went on his first Sasquatch hunt, and he was by himself. He was inspired by The Legend of Boggy Creek, a 1972 documentary about “the Fouke Monster,” a Bigfoot-type creature that had been seen in and around Fouke since the 1950s. The film includes interviews with local residents who claim to have encountered the creature.
“I was on spring break, and I decided to do my own research,” Swain said. “I just about scared myself to death. I was by myself at Mercer Bayou at Fouke. I heard a lot of noises, and every little noise, I thought something was coming after me. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
After that, Swain didn’t go on any other Bigfoot searches for a while, but he continued to read articles and books, and watch documentaries on the subject.
“I was an armchair sasquatcher,” he said.
In 2004, he and his son Jamie, who was 6 at the time, went on a spring-break camping trip to the White River Wildlife area below Helena. They were the only ones camping there, Swain said. It was about 3 a.m., and he was awakened by the noise of rocks being clicked together. The noise continued for at least 30 minutes. Swain said he became “re-energized” and once again began “squatching.”
Shortly after the camping trip, Swain also began drawing Laughsquatch cartoons for his son. As news of Swain’s drawings spread, he was invited to speak and present them at Bigfoot conferences and seminars around the U.S. That also led to him making presentations at schools and other events, and allowed him to make many friends who are “well-known in the squatching field.”
A piece of advice he offers to those thinking of taking up the hobby is to find a research location close to their place of residence, preferably within an hour’s drive. Researchers may come up dry many times before actually managing to document any evidence.
Swain anticipates that his next trip will be to the Texarkana area, where he has been asked to come and investigate reports about strange whistles that have been heard on some land belonging to one of the residents.
Swain will also serve as coordinator of the first Bigfoot Bootcamp in Arkansas, set for May 2 and 3 in Vilonia, which he describes as family friendly with two events. The first will be a Friday-night campout in the “scary woods” of Vilonia with Bigfoot researchers sharing their techniques. Attendees will sit around a campfire on Friday night, Swain said, and hear stories about Bigfoot encounters in Arkansas.
Participants will also have an opportunity to take part in a hands-on obstacle course through the woods to learn how to search for tree structures, footprints, and hair and scat samples. They will learn to make photos, audio recordings and plaster casts, as well as receive instruction about the proper way to use call-blast equipment and perform tree knocks to attract a Sasquatch.
The second event will be the Arkansas Bigfoot Conference on May 3 in Vilonia, with the location to be announced at a later date. Four Bigfoot groups will be represented at the conference. All four groups are active in Arkansas as well as in other states, Swain said.
Speakers for the conference will include Michael Mayes of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy; D.W. Lee and Big Jim Whitehead of the Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center; and Swain, who is involved with the Alliance of Independent Bigfoot Researchers and the Arkansas Primate Evidence Society.
For more information, contact Swain at email@example.com. The deadline to register for the Bigfoot Bootcamp is April 15. Proceeds from the event will go to the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia.