Jackson County, OR
No mythical beast has captured the American imagination like Bigfoot. In the 1960s, legends dating back to the mythology and oral traditions of Native people mixed with science (or perhaps pseudoscience) and changed American lore forever. When the iconic Patterson-Gimlin film recorded shaky footage of an ape-like animal walking through the forest, it kicked off a national obsession to find proof of its its existence. For one group, trying to glimpse a Bigfoot in the wild wasn’t enough. They planned instead to capture one of the creatures.
The border between California and Oregon is known for dense old-growth forest and remote, rugged mountains. Hike into the backcountry of the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest and you might not see another person for days. It’s the perfect place for a Sasquatch sighting.
In 1969, that’s what happened.
Perry Lovell was a miner living on the Applegate River in Southern Oregon. While he worked his mines in the nearby mountains, he became convinced that there were large creatures roaming the forests at night near his house. On several occasions he saw something moving just beyond the trees, and heard noises he couldn’t explain. One morning Lovell awoke to find footprints in his garden. He described them as 18 inches long, human-like, with a stride he estimated at around six feet.
Lovell’s claim was met with skepticism, until he met with a group in Eugene, Oregon known as the The North American Wildlife Research Team (NAWRT). Despite their official sounding name, the NAWRT was a citizen volunteer group composed mostly of Bigfoot believers. The organization had one goal, to find credible proof that Bigfoot existed. The stories Lovell told convinced them to build a trap near the river they hoped would finally provide the evidence they were looking for.
The trap was a ten foot by ten foot wooden structure. A special use permit from the Forest Service was required before construction could begin. Telephone poles framed the corners, and the walls were made from thick planks of wood. At the front a large steel door was suspended above the entrance, ready to spring shut if anything should enter the trap. Members of the NAWRT baited the trap with rabbit, goat and other carcasses they hoped would lure a Bigfoot inside. When the trap was sprung an alarm would sound at a nearby watchman’s cabin. A volunteer from the NAWRT maintained a constant vigil at the cabin. Their plan was for the watchman to tranquilize, photograph and tag the Sasquatch, which would then be released back into the wild.
The NAWRT maintained the trap for six years. According to legend, it caught two bears, a hippie, and “one pissed-off hunter”.
Today the Applegate River is less remote than it used to be. A dam project was completed in 1980 that brought paved roads and new opportunities for recreation. The Bigfoot trap was abandoned and nearly forgotten. In 2005, volunteers working alongside the Forest Service made repairs to restore the structure. They replaced damaged and rotted wood, and welded the steel door open for safety. It’s an easy hike for visitors from the nearby Collings Mountain trailhead.
Though the trap isn’t going to catch a Bigfoot any time soon, it’s possible visitors who spend enough time in the Pacific Northwest might still catch a glimpse of one on their own.