It all started with a bunch of footprints at a construction site. Or at least the modern-day fascination with “Bigfoot” did. Stories of hairy giants in the woods and wandering “wild men” had been a part of American lore for nearly two centuries by the time the nickname “Bigfoot” was coined in the late 1950s. But it was then, with the advent of television and the modern media, that chasing down giants in the woods became a national craze.
It was the spring of 1957 and a road construction project was underway near Bluff Creek in northern California. The project was run by a contractor named Ray Wallace and his brother, Wilbur. They hired thirty men that summer to work on the project and by late in the season, Wilbur Wallace reported that something had been throwing around some metal oil drums at the work site. When winter arrived that year, cold weather brought the work to a halt, even though only ten miles of road had been completed.
In early spring 1958, some odd tracks were discovered near the Mad River close to Korbel, California. Some of the locals believed they were bear tracks. As it happened, this was close to another work site that was managed by the Wallace brothers.
Later on that spring, work started up again on the road near Bluff Creek. A number of new men were hired, including Jerry Crew, who drove more than two hours each weekend so he could be home with his family. Ten more miles of road were constructed, angling up across the face of a nearby mountain. On August 3, 1958, Wilbur Wallace stated that something threw a seven-hundred-pound spare tire to the bottom of a deep gully near the work site. This incident was reported later in the month, after the discovery of the footprints.
On August 27, Jerry Crew arrived for work early in the morning and found giant, manlike footprints pressed into the dirt all around his bulldozer. He was at first upset by the discovery, thinking that someone was playing a practical joke on him, but then he decided to report what he found to Wilbur Wallace. At this point, the footprints had not been made public. That occurred on September 21, when Mrs. Jess Bemis, the wife of one of the Bluff Creek work crew, wrote a letter to Andrew Genzoli, the editor of a local newspaper. Genzoli published her husband’s “Big Foot” story and caught the attention of others in the area. One of these was Betty Allen, a newspaper reporter who suggested in a late September column that plaster casts should be made of the footprints. She had already talked to local Native Americans and interviewed residents about hairy giants in the area. She convinced Genzoli to run other stories and letters about Bigfoot. This would be the beginning of a story that would capture the imagination of America.
On October 1 and 2, Jerry Crew discovered more tracks, very similar to the first ones. In response to the new discovery, two workers quit and Wilbur Wallace allegedly introduced his brother Ray to the situation for the first time, bringing him out to show him the tracks. On the day after the last tracks were found, Jerry Crew made plaster casts of the footprints, with help from his friend Bob Titmus and reporter Betty Allen. He was irritated that people were making fun of him and wanted to offer the casts as evidence that he wasn’t making the whole thing up. On October 5, Andrew Genzoli published his now-famous story about “Bigfoot.” It was picked up worldwide by the wire services, and soon the term was being used in general conversation.