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Media Article # 324
Article submitted by Richard Hucklebridge,
Article prepared and posted by Richard Hucklebridge

Sunday, September 29, 2002

On the trail of Bigfoot

By Beret Rankin
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Vance Orchard has been following reports of evidence and sightings of Bigfoot in the Blue Mountains around Walla Walla since 1966. That’s when, as a reporter for the Union-Bulletin, he wrote about a man who said he saw large human-like tracks while riding a motorcycle along Mill Creak Road. “It’s been very interesting to read about and hear about it,” Orchard said of his experiences with the Bigfoot phenomenon. “I haven’t seen one myself, but I’ve seen all kinds of evidence to indicate that something’s out there.” He recently published his second book on the subject, “The Walla Walla Bigfoot,” nine years after releasing this first compilation, “Bigfoot of the Blues.”

Orchard said he decided to write the first book after local U.S. Forest Service employee Paul Freeman reported running into an eight-foot Bigfoot while on patrol in the Mill Creek watershed. Freeman took a lot of criticism for reporting his experience, eventually losing his job and moving his family out of the area. “I guess I’d say I was in Paul Freeman’s corner to some extent,” Orchard said. “I thought I’d like to present the facts I had, even if they were anecdotal. It hadn’t been done before.” The books contain many of the columns Orchard has written on area Bigfoot sightings and evidence in the Union-Bulletin and for the Waitsburg Times. His second book strives to update the experiences of local outdoorsmen and women, as will as chronicle some scientific viewpoints on the subject. “Science has ignored it or done little with it,” Orchard said. “Right here in the Blue Mountains is one of the best, if not the best place, to research (Bigfoot).” And Orchard certainly isn’t alone in his local patronage of the Bigfoot enthusiasts used to meet every Wednesday morning at the Blue Mountain Mall food court to discuss their experiences and developments.

These meetings were often a Sumerlin family reunion of sorts. Wes Sumerlin spent most of his life in the Blue Mountains, trapping, tracking and recreating with family. He had many stories of personal Bigfoot encounters and compiled a well-worn photo album of tracks and hair gathered in his quest of Bigfoot. Members of his family and others who had experiences attributed to Bigfoot around the area congregated to share their thoughts. The Sumerlin patriarch died in 1999, and the weekly meetings slowed. At a recent gathering Wes’s widow Natalie (aka Pee-Wee), his daughter Carol Smith and grandson Jonathan Sumerlin met with Orchard, former Dayton game warden Bill Laughery, Brian Smith, the Walla Walla representative of the North American Ape Project and Sheryl Jenkins, an equestrian with a cabin on Stewart Ridge overlooking the Mill Creek watershed. The group looked over plaster casts and photos as they recalled their initial Bigfoot encounters.

Even growing up with Wes Sumerlin’s stories didn’t make immediate Bigfoot believers out of some of his family members. Jonathan Sumerlin was a teenager in the early 1990s when on a family outing at Timothy Meadows (a couple miles northeast of Jubilee Lake), his grandfather turned up a 71/2-foot grassy area that appeared to be a bedding spot, as well as large tracks right around where group members had been. “That was my first experience, and that’s where I became an absolute believer!” Sumerlin said. “I thought it was a campfire story grandpa told until then.”

“You always had five to ten percent doubt, even as dad’s daughter! The first time you see one it’s a shock,” Carol Smith said of her encounter with a Bigfoot a couple years ago. “I now maintain that Bigfoot is alive and well!”

Brian Smith was new to the area when he says he saw Bigfoot crossing the road while in the Blue Mountains. Now, Smith is spearheading an effort to capture proof of Bigfoot on film with motion-detecting cameras and other technology. Cheryl Smith reports she’s spotted Bigfoot while riding horses around her cabin on Stewart Ridge three times, and feels it takes experience to spot them. “We figure they were there before us, and if you really don’t know it’s there, I really believe you can walk right by one unless they move,” she said. “Spotting them takes time. You need to know how they move.”

Laughery. Now of West Richland, spent years in the Blue Mountains in his position as a game warden, and was not a Bigfoot believer until he, Freeman and Wes Sumerlin say they ran into three of them on Biscuit Ridge south of Dixie. He since had several other sightings and Laughery still takes excursions into the Blues to show where reported sightings have taken place. He said signs that a Bigfoot is in the area is that there are no wildlife sounds, and there is a pungent odor. “They’re extremely hard to see,” Laughery said on a recent return trip to the area where the trio had its experience. “One jumped fifteen feet in front of Wes,” he said. “And got within 200 feet of me Then that thing somehow disappeared.” Laughery recalls seeing Bigfoot in a clearing in the bottom of Dry Creek Canyon as well as spotting tracks that he followed for miles in the fields around Mill Creek. And there’s something he feels strongly about following his encounters. “They’re thinking animals,” he said. “I think one was trying to communicate with me.”

Orchard, who has written about a dozen other books on his various experiences around the Walla Walla Valley, said he plans to continue following the Bigfoot phenomenon. He says questions of why more people don’t see Bigfoot is easily explained. “I don’t know how many other people see them and don’t want to report it,” Orchard said. He says polls taken 20 years ago indicated 10 to 15 percent of people believed in Bigfoot. Now, that estimate is up to 40 percent. And, Orchard says, most people don’t spend as much time in the Blue Mountains as some of those who report seeing Bigfoot. “If you go fishing a lot you’re going to catch more fish than if you go once a year,” Orchard said.

Bibliographical Information:

Local man has spent 36 years tracking the elusive creature.

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