Peter Byrne writes “According to the Indians, there was once a large number of Bigfoot living on Vancouver Island, a large island, 12,408 square miles in area, off the west coast of British Columbia. The Indians knew about them, feared them, and respected them, but granted that they were harmless. One of the Indians of the Nootka Tribe, who lived at Nootka in 1928, claims to have been carried off by them and held captive for some time.
The story, told to me by Father Anthony Terhaar of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, is a curious one. Father Anthony, a much-loved missionary priest who traveled the west coast of Vancouver Island for many years, was living at Nootka at the time of the story and he knew Muchalat Harry very well. Muchalat Harry was a trapper and something of a rarity among his fellow tribesmen. He was, according to Father Anthony, a tough, fearless man, of excellent physique.
In the course of his trapping; he was wont to spend long weeks in the forest alone, something that the average Indian did not do in those days, The Indians of the coast were apparently a rather timid people and they seemed to regard the deep forest as the home and territory of the Bigfoot. When they went into the deep inland forest for any reason, they never went alone. Muchalat Harry was different from other Indians. He went in the forest alone and feared nothing.
Late one autumn Muchalat Harry set off for the woods, with his traps and camping gear. His plan was to set out a trap line and stay in the woods for several months. He headed for his favorite hunting area, the Conuma River, at the head of Tlupana Inlet. From Nootka he paddled his own canoe to the mouth of the Conuma. There he cached the canoe and headed upstream on foot. Approximately twelve miles upstream he made his base camp and, after building himself a lean-to, started to put out his trap line.
One night, while wrapped in his blankets and clad only in his underwear, he was suddenly picked up by a huge male Bigfoot and carried off into the hills. He was not carried very far, probably a distance of about two or three miles, at the most. When daylight came he was able to see that he was in a sort of camp, under a high rock shelf and surrounded by some twenty Bigfoot They were of all sexes and sizes. For some time, they stood around him and stared at him. The males to the front of the curious group females behind them and young ones to the rear. Muchalat Harry was frightened at first and his fear grew to terror when he noticed, he said, the large number of bones lying around the campsite. When he saw these he was convinced that the Bigfeet were going to eat him.
The Bigfeet did not harm him in any way. Occasionally one came forward and touched him, as if feeling him, and when they discovered that his “skin” was loose — it was in fact his woolen underwear — several came forward and pulled at it gently.
While they looked at him and examined him, Muchalat Harry sat with his back to the rock wall and did not move. He was cold and hungry, but his thoughts were only on escape. Some time in the late afternoon, curiosity on the part of the Bigfeet seemed to slacken and with most of the Bigfeet out of camp, probably food-gathering he thought, there came the opportunity that he needed. He leapt to his feet and ran for his life, never looking back. He ran downhill, toward where he guessed the river to be and sure enough, he soon came to his campsite. In what must have been blind panic he bypassed his camp and ran for twelve miles to where his canoe was cached at the mouth of the Conuma.
Father Anthony describes the story of Muchalat Harry’s arrival at Nootka as follows. It was probably three in the morning. He and his brother Benedictines were asleep and the village was quiet. Suddenly there was a series of wild cries from the waters of the inlet. Lights were lit and he and others hurried down to the water’s edge. There, near-frozen and exhausted in his canoe, lay Muchalat Harry. He was barefoot and clad only in his wet and torn underwear and he had paddled his canoe through the winter night 45 miles from the mouth of the Conuma River.
Father Anthony and his companions carried the almost lifeless form up from the water’s edge. It took three weeks to nurse Muchalat Harry back to sanity and good health. Father Anthony, who took him into his own care, did the nursing and he told me [Peter Byrne] that during the course of these three weeks, Muchalat Harry’s hair turned to pure white.
The story of the kidnapping came out slowly. At first Muchalat Harry would talk to no one. Then he told Father Anthony what had happened and, later, others. When he was fully recovered to health he was asked when he planned to go back to collect his belongings, the camp equipment, his pots and pans, his trap line and above all, his rifle, at the lean-to on the Conuma. In 1928 a trap line and all of its pieces must have been worth a great deal to an island Indian. A rifle alone would be regarded as a highly prized possession. But Muchalat Harry never went back to the Conuma. Not only did he never return there; according to Father Anthony, he never left the settlement at Nootka, never went in the woods again for the rest of his life. He preferred to lose all of his valuables and probably hard-won possessions rather than risk another encounter with the Bigfeet.
Late in 1972 I had occasion to visit Vancouver Island. I was on a routine investigating trip and when I found myself at Nainimo, not too far by road from the west coast and the scene of Muchalat Harry’s adventure, I drove there. I stopped in Gold River and obtained from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police some maps and instructions on how to get to the Conuma River area. Nowadays there is a logging road that runs all the way down to the mouth of the river, and one Sunday morning, with the logging trucks out of the way, I drove there and made camp on the Conuma. I spent several days there, walking the riverbed and exploring. I tried to make a rough determination of where Muchalat Harry might have had his lean-to and I found a place that offered a good campsite, twelve miles from the mouth of the river on the edge of a series of high bluffs. The salmon were running in the Conuma while I was there and all night long I could hear them splashing up the shallow waters of the river. In the morning black bear worked the river, getting the salmon that had come ashore in the night or had become tangled in the limbs of fallen trees that lay in the river. I counted six bears in several days.
The country was generally wild and deserted and the actual mouth of the Conuma, where it flowed into the salt waters of the inlet, was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Some of the forest close to the river had been logged off, but the logging work had moved on west and while I was there it was quiet.
The days began with morning mists on the river and then warmed to the clear crispness of perfect autumn weather. Evenings were cool and damp and nights bright with starlight that provided almost enough light to read. I found no sign of Bigfoot on the Conuma, nor any sign of Muchalat Harry’s trap line or lean-to. I hardly expected to find anything of the latter, after forty-odd years. But even though Muchalat Harry was long gone, the river and the forest remained unchanged, The splashing salmon, the cold, clear water of the Conuma, the moss-covered banks, the shallow pools in the forest that the Conuma drained, that were the breeding places of the salmon, the river birds, the plodding bears, the deep silent waters of the inlet, all were as they must have been forty years before, when Muchalat Harry cached his canoe and made his camp there.”