I will be releasing Sundays show tonight. I have two guests lined up for the member show and I am working on a third guest. I want to announce the live show in Dallas. The member show will be on Sunday.
A listener writes “I was a Deputy Sheriff in a rural county. Things were pretty quiet as cows outnumbered the people who lived there 5 to 1.
In the late fall we had out of town hunters and campers, so we did get busy with bad checks, a few deer camp party’s that got out of hand, a DUI or two, and of course the occasional lost person to keep us active. By early December the main job was checking empty cabins for break-ins and seeing to it old folks had enough wood put up.
But while autumn was still in the air there was one other big problem we faced. Wildfires.
Whether it was an untended campfire or careless cigarette didn’t much matter. Wildfires could raze hundreds of acres in just days with any kind of wind to move it. It was fueled by the falling leaves, dried grass, and rotting timbers. I’ve seen bad ones burn homes and even kill people. We took fire seriously there in the fall.
It was one such year that I was helping with fire watch duties by picking up and dropping off forest rangers and park personnel to where they could walk to their fire watch towers. An around the clock fire watch was established one windy and unseasonably warm week, as the entire region was considered high risk for fires. The Rangers were “hot-swapping” watch duty on a local fire tower, working 12 hours on and 12 hours off. My self-appointed job was to pick them up at the station and drive up through the big pines to a trailhead at the end of a little gravel and dirt logging road. We were a half dozen miles off pavement and at some of the highest elevations in the state.
I got to know a Ranger named Dobbs (not his real name) who was a Mason like me and also was a prolific fisherman like me, so we struck up a friendship. He wore a big 44 Magnum “for wild hogs and such” on his hip, and amongst his “fire watch kit” he had assembled into a backpack were good binos, observation logs, a helmet and goggles, survival knife, and a sturdy walking stick.
After I dropped him off, he said, it was a half-hour walk up the trail to the fire tower. At 40 feet tall, the tower was Spartan; having only a Coleman lantern, a tall stool/chair, and a metal framed single bunk. Someone had finally left a propane camp stove and coffee pot, so part of Dobb’s fire watch kit were some canned food and coffee.
“Can’t live without coffee,” he’d say. Which meant I liked him more.
There had been several small reported fires, so I had plenty of opportunities to pick him up on the schedule, both before and after his watch. Coming down he was eager to get home and get a real meal and some quick sleep before his shift started up again. To save him time, as I was on duty anyway, I arranged to pick him up at his house instead of him having to drive in to the Ranger Station first. The other Deputy I worked with agreed to help out as well so Dobbs was covered even on my day off.
Going up we chatted about fishing or hunting, or what was going on at the lodge. He was an easy to talk to fellow and always seemed interested in what I had to say. Just a good old guy. After the watch was called off we agreed to get together, introduce the wives, and maybe grab our shotguns and dogs to scare up some birds or go fishing. I told him about my Dad’s cabin (now that Uncle Bill had passed.)
This arrangement settled into a routine over a week or so. I could tell the 12 on and 12 off was getting to him as later in the week he seemed a little less chatty and started to always look tired. One day I was to drop off his replacement, I don’t recall this guy’s name, and pick Dobbs up at the trail head as he came off shift at 6PM. That night he was late.
I idled my Chevy patrol car at the trailhead and watched for Dobbs in the disappearing light. It was getting dark earlier then. I knew he wasn’t lost, surely a guy as smart as Dobbs had left the tower while still light. The replacement Ranger had popped out of the car as soon as I had arrived (5:30-ish) to start up the trail, meeting Dobbs half way. So I figured there must be some kind of goings on that Dobbs wanted to back brief him, and was thus running a little late. He was always hungry coming off shift so tonight I had the wife fix him a roast beef sandwich and a thermos of coffee. They sat in the seat beside me as the sun went down.
In another hour they were cold. I shifted in my seat and used my cruiser’s spot light to illuminate up the trail. Did he have a flashlight in his fire watch kit? I couldn’t remember. Be easy to get turned around in the dark woods if you didn’t have a light. I was sure he had a compass, but even a Ranger could get lost. I started to worry about my new friend. I let out a long blast on my car horn to let him know where I was. I turned on my overhead blue and red lights. Maybe that would help him find me.
Nothing. It was getting cool faster now. Probably 40 degrees and dropping as it was fully dark out. Dobbs was over an hour late.
I decided to get out and walk up the trail a bit myself. I radioed in I was checking on him and locked the car (from who?) but left it running with the overhead lights on and the spotlight aimed up the trail. I carried my big 4 cell Kel-light and the thermos, then at the last second, I’m not sure why, I grabbed my Winchester 44 Magnum lever gun.
In that instant for some reason and like never before since the incident in the river, that day with ‘scare the bear’ came to mind. Maybe it was the same intense feeling of trouble I had and that I was walking through dark woods that brought it all vividly back. This time however I was armed and older.
I had never been up this trail before, I’d only seen it from my cruiser, but it was plain enough from the heavy recent foot traffic. I started up the trail which, once out of sight of my car, took a sharp turn uphill. Soon, and just a minute or so of walking on this steep trail, I was out of sight of the cruiser and in the dark, deep woods. While I could still see the flashing cruiser lights reflecting in the tree tops, I could easily see how you could easily get turned around out here.
I quickly gained a new respect for my buddy, Dobbs. I was breathing hard and my calves began to complain about the sharp up angle hiking! Just a few minutes in I had to grab tree limbs to pull myself along as the trail went lazily back and forth, but always steeply upwards. The rifle helped as I used its buttstock like a walking stick and more than once I dropped the thermos. Sweat ran little trails down my back. I considered myself an outdoorsman but this was tough going and I was mostly unprepared. In 10 minutes I was wore out and I could no longer see even the lights from my car.
Through my climb I could hear my own panting and the snapping of limbs as I moved through them. I was glad I’d given up smoking a couple of years ago. The trail was still pretty easy to follow with my light, but that made me try to remember when I’d put in new batteries. If it went out, I’d be stuck and have to feel my way back. I got a little angry at myself for being so out of it and un-ready. Was this any different than if I had to suddenly look for a lost child, or chase a suspect? I started making a mental list of what I needed to start my own “Deputy Watch Kit” as I hiked up the trail, so if something similar ever happened again, I’d just grab my kit bag. Number one on the list was extra flashlight batteries.
Considering my situation and the progress I’d made, I knew I’d better see the lights on the tower soon or stop and turn back. I was 20 minutes up the trail and probably about where the two Rangers should meet. The thought occurred to me that if I twisted a knee in the dark getting back would be troublesome.
It was then that I began to smell the smoke. Now I knew there was trouble, and maybe why I hadn’t seen Dobbs. I didn’t see the telltale orange to red glow in the sky that would signal a large forest fire, but the scent of burning wood, stronger than a campfire, was drifting down from above.
As I rested a second I leaned against a tree and opened the thermos I’d brought for Dobbs. It was quiet, even for this time of year. Usually you’d hear something. The quiet wasn’t natural. It was as if the entire forest was holding its breath. Once I noticed the silence, it became creepy. I strained to hear anything.
And of all things, I had the uneasy sense I was being watched. I’d felt it before in the river and a few times since. Years of hunting and tramping through the outdoors taught me what felt right and what was out of place. It was just a feeling you had, and hard to explain. But right then, for maybe the first time in my life, I had the uncomfortable feeling it was me. I was the thing out of place here and something was watching me.
The unfamiliar woods at night could get to you. I shook my head at my own foolishness and had another swig of Dobbs’ coffee. As I capped the thermos back I noticed the burning smoke smell was heavier so I moved upwards along the trail as fast as I could.
As I walked the smell got worse. I was debating running back downhill to my car and calling in the fire, but surely the Rangers were on it. Was I being foolish to think only of my friend? I kept thinking that maybe Dobbs and whoever else was around might need help.
It was then I saw something reflecting the light on the ground in front of me. I stooped and picked it up. It was a Forest Ranger hat. There was a small metal pin on the front that had caught my eye.
Now I was scared for him. “Dobbs!” I yelled. “Dobbs!”
My voice echoed through the woods. I scanned the area with my light but didn’t see anything else. Keep steady, I thought to myself. He could have just dropped it. Or maybe the other Ranger, what’s-his-name. They were likely at the tower together. Or maybe scouting the fire they had spotted.
“Dobbs!” I screamed this time. The sky now was now a little illuminated by the tell-tale orange glow of fire. “Dobbs, can you hear me?”
Then I heard a man’s voice say, “Shut up!”
His sudden voice surprised the tar out of me. If hadn’t been so exhausted I’d have jumped up a tree right then and there.
“Where are you?” he was close but I couldn’t see him.
“Shhh! Keep quiet! It’ll hear us!” he said to me.
I located where the voice was coming from, about 10 feet away and a little behind me, then swung the light at him. I saw Dobbs under a thick patch of cedars up against a big rock, huddled on the ground.
“Turn the light off and get over here,” he whispered.
I was moving to where he was and clicked off my flashlight when it occurred to me what he’d said. ‘It’ would hear us.
He had his big revolver in his hand so I raised my carbine and crouched beside him. That’s when I saw ‘it.’
We were right at the bottom edge of a roughly oval clearing, sloping steeply uphill toward more deep woods. The fire light from above and to our right was brighter, so I figured the fire must be just over the ridge, maybe a quarter mile ahead.
At the far edge of the woods, maybe 30 yards away I saw a tall (can’t guess but easily over 6 to 7 feet tall) outline of an upright figure backlit by the glow from the fire. As if it knew where we were it was turned slightly towards us.
I could not make out facial features but I could see it had large eyes that were reflecting the dim light. If I had thought of it I would have made a mental note of how tall it was in relation to the nearest tree, but all I was thinking was that this time, this was no bear.
It crouched down and looked at the ground nearest it and I did notice it arms were thick but also long, as in almost knee length. It seemed to smell the ground then look directly at where we were. Given the growing orange glow behind it, I’d guess we could be seen.
Dobbs pointed his 44 in its direction and all I could think was “scare the bear’ so I quickly slapped his hand down. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe we both should have shot it but we didn’t.
I don’t know about other people who’ve seen these things but shooting it wasn’t in my mind. I couldn’t take my eyes off it as it crouched there seemingly looking us over for a bit. Maybe 2 minutes at the longest, then stood went back into the woods. As it moved we could hear it through the brush. It was circling the clearing.
“Are you okay?” I asked Dobbs. But before he could answer we heard a loud “Huff!” like a giant exhale from the far right side of the clearing. I tensed and waited for the “Hey” but it didn’t come.
We got up and went up the hill but circled the clearing in the other direction. Dobbs explained his other Ranger had gone to scout the fire and had already radioed it in. He’d never seen this thing.
Apparently on his way up Dobbs said he had smelled the distant fire too and seen several other types of wildlife running downhill near him, getting out of dodge so to speak.
That’s when, still in a little daylight he’d seen the creature. At first walking down and crossing the trail ahead of Dobbs. Once it saw him, it charged at him yelling and raising its arms. Dobbs had run a little off the trail from it, dropping his bag with the fire watch kit and his hat, all while going for his gun. But it never got closer than 15 yards to him. It charged just so far, then turned and strode off, but it grabbed his fire watch bag and flung it away high over its head.
Dobbs described it as seven feet tall plus and covered in black fur. It grunted and yelled at him, but Dobbs had seen bears try to pull the same bluff.
“One thing’s for sure,” he said, “It weren’t no damn bear.”
As far as fires go this one was not bad. It was under control by dark the next day. The day after a cold front brought in rains and all the watches were cancelled. We of course later recovered his hat but never found his bag.
It was too dark and we weren’t looking for tracks that night. The rain and firefighting likely erased them anyway. The fire occupied our attention as more Rangers and firefighters came up the trail. I was neither so I waved at Dobbs who was busy and walked back down. When I finally got back to my car it was almost out of gas. I got the lights off and down the mountain to the Ranger station where I borrowed five gallons from them just before running out. I didn’t say anything about Sasquatch and I didn’t see Dobbs again for several days. He hadn’t reported it either. We briefly talked over a cup of coffee one night about what we’d seen, that we were both convinced as to what it was, and that to not humiliate ourselves – absent a burnt body – we’d never report anything.
We became friends but not as close as we’d planned back during the fire watch rides. A year or so later he was transferred and I only found out when someone told me. I tried to look him or his family up all these years later on social media. He looks old like me and has a big family and apparently has had a great and log life in Minnesota. I didn’t bother to message him. I’m still here.
What was it? It’s easy to say Bigfoot or Sasquatch, but that doesn’t make sense. We’d have shot Bigfoots or trapped Sasquatches if these are just animals. It’s definitely more animalthan human, but as I’ve thought about it, I think a little differently.
What if it isn’t more human than animal, or more animal than human? What if it’s what the old Indians used to say, a spirit or shapeshifter? What if some spirits become physical for reasons we don’t know? What if it’s just people? What I now think is both these events are somehow linked. The creature was territorial but not overly aggressive. The first event we were fishing and maybe it was too until it saw us. The second event I think, like all the other animals, the fire pushed it towards us. Maybe it equated us (people) with the fire.
I am glad nobody, Uncle Bill or Dobbs, shot it. I think it might be a sin to shoot it.”