FRUITLAND, N.M. – Strange happenings are being reported on the Navajo Reservation in northern New Mexico:
Reports of large, dark intruders on private property. Livestock turned up missing, or worse, in pieces. Gardens have been raided, produce and fruits found partially consumed in unusual ways. Unidentifiable, inhuman footprints have been left in the sand.
Then the reported sightings – more and more with each year.
But what is it? Some residents think they know.
The Navajo even have names for it: woolí, tsõ or yeí tsõ. In the Himalayas, it’s called yeti.
In the U.S., most people simply know it as bigfoot.
About 300 people gathered Saturday and Sunday at the Walter Collins Center near Fruitland, N.M., for the inaugural Northern New Mexico Bigfoot and Paranormal Conference. Speakers came from as far away as Georgia and Missouri to shed light on the subject.
The event was held to help educate people and provide tips on what to do in case anyone should encounter the highly elusive, legendary animal, organizer Brenda Harris said in a Sunday interview.
A resident of the reservation, Harris had so many personal experiences with the creature, she teamed with other locals to investigate incidents in the area, and try to find evidence. They call themselves the Shadow Seekers.
“That’s why I am here. I don’t want to hear about anybody getting hurt,” Harris said.
Harris said that popular television shows such as Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” are set up trying to prove that the creatures exist. Convinced they do, she is far more concerned with people’s safety.
She presented chilling stories of her family’s encounters with an animal she described as huge with broad shoulders, covered in thick hair.
She said the Shadow Seekers try to patrol areas where sightings are most common.
While many people associate sasquatch with the dense forest of the Pacific Northwest or the Deep South, Harris said the San Juan River basin that cuts through the high desert is also a corridor of activity.
Harris encourages locals to set up lights around their homes. She also told conference-goers to watch their animals.
“If your horses start snorting, there’s something out there that shouldn’t be,” Harris said.
Harris said the authorities are not interested in the number of reports coming in. According to her, they chalk them up to black bears or wild dogs.
Deb Yazzie also lives in the Fruitland area. She has been tallying reports of howls, sightings, footprints or property damage around the reservation, and has pinpointed 73 locations since 2008.
Speaker R. Scott Nelson knows language. A two-time graduate of the of the U.S. Navy Cryptologic Voice Transcription School (Russian and Spanish), he was a linguist for the Navy during the Cold War. He’s an expert in deceptive voice recovery.
“Back in those days, the Soviets tried everything in voice deception, especially in the Navy, where communication was so important between ships,” he said.
He said in his 30 years experience, he often spent 12 hours a day in headphones, speeding up and slowing down recordings of transmissions.
Now, he’s interested in alleged recordings of bigfoot. According to Nelson, sasquatch have their own language.
Nelson said he acquired tapes from Californians’ sasquatch encounters in 1972 and 1974, known as the Morehead-Berry tapes, and has spent months interpreting them.
He said he recognizes evidence of emotion, negation, persuasion and intimidation when played at half their speed.
“These vocalizations exhibit characteristics that are conventional, automatized and creative,” Nelson said, “all properties of human language.”
He believes the animal may be a correlate branch of modern humans, and, despite the high, dry desert climate, the creatures could thrive in the Southwest.
Perhaps the most disturbing encounter Harris shared was her first, when she and her brother heard noises outside their home in Fruitland. Something began scratching the door, jiggling the knob. She believes it came up from the river.
“As soon as I undid the deadlock, it stopped and I swung the door open and all I could see was this big black figure,” she said. “It’s something that you just have to experience.”