Hundreds of people filled a haunted saloon to overflowing Thursday night to listen to a parade of Rim Country residents describe close encounters of the Bigfoot kind as the TV cameras rolled.
Nineteen people recounted sightings of the Mogollon Monster, including one not far from The Home Depot in Payson.
The Animal Planet show “Finding Bigfoot” organized the “town hall” in the historic Oxbow Saloon to record firsthand accounts of sightings of the 6- to 8-foot-tall, shaggy, upright-walking creature.
Show host Matt Moneymaker said the event drew one of the biggest crowds and the most sightings in the show’s history. The show’s producers didn’t know when the Payson episode might run. The show features field expeditions to places with reported sightings — and re-enactments of reported encounters.
The cameras rolled for two hours as the people who claimed actual sightings told their tales. Another 20 people raised their hands at the outset when asked whether they’d heard the cry of the Mogollon Monster. An additional 30 people raised their hands when asked if someone they knew personally had described a sighting.
The genial hosts talked each witness through their sighting, keeping the show moving and the mood light. The show hosts included Moneymaker, biologist Ranae Holland and “Bobo” James Faye.
Tyler Peters led off with the sighing of a gigantic creature in the forest near Oxbow Estates, where he and his friend were setting off firecrackers. They heard screams off in the woods and set out to investigate early in February when they spotted a tall, black figure he estimated at 7 to 8 feet tall about 100 yards from the nearest house.
“I thought it was a Bigfoot right away,” said Peters.
Kevin Brownwell said he saw the creature 25 years ago while hunting elk near Pine. He spotted the creature following him at a distance of about 200 yards.
“I would have paid more attention, but I was freaking out at the time. I’ve hunted bear and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Then nine months ago he went back roading up Four Peaks in the snow. He was actually looking for his cell phone, which he lost when he’d gotten stuck.
He told friends about the tracks.
“Everyone was saying, ‘maybe Bigfoot will call you on your phone.’”
So he took the doubters back up the mountain and photographed the tracks in the snow. He said he wears a size 12 boot, but these tracks where nearly 12 inches longer and four inches wider than his own.
Mickey Decker said he spotted a huge creature near his house in Christopher Creek in June of 2000. He said the motion sensor light of his neighbor often came on when deer, elk and other creatures moved past the house. He liked to sneak up on animals that had activated the light to enjoy the wildlife. One night he crept up the slope behind his house when that light went on, only to confront a “giant man, very hairy,” at a distance of about 50 feet.
Startled, the creature roared. “It was a scream, a growl, a howl. I turned and ran as fast as I could.”
William Newell and his 6-year-old son Remington, who live in Tonto Basin, got the biggest applause of the night — thanks to Remington’s commentary perched safely in his father’s arms.
Newell said he had crossed Apache Lake on a hunting trip and followed three coatimundi up a hill with his son tagging along behind, when he spotted a frightening figure on a ridgeline 250 yards away.
“This thing started screaming and shaking this mesquite tree. It definitely wasn’t a bear. Then it just walked off,” said Newell.
Chirping up from his daddy’s arms, Remington explained. “It was this big thing. It looked like a Bigfoot. That’s why I ran back to the boat so I could get back to my truck.”
The crowed laughed and clapped.
So Remington cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated the howl of the Mogollon Monster.
John Hughes, a Lower Round Valley teenager, said he had his encounter playing basketball at night under the lights in his back yard. The ball rolled down the driveway and when he went to retrieve it, he found himself staring into yellow eyes set in the wrinkled face of a cinnamon-brown creature that towered over his 6-foot fence.
“I ran back to the house as fast as I could,” said Hughes.
“Have you seen anything since that night?” asked Holland.
“No. We moved,” said Hughes, getting another big laugh from the audience.
Todd Gilchrist, Shawn Makil and Kristine Kitchens showed up with the enormous plaster cast of a footprint they found on the road to Young, after they rounded a corner on the dirt road in the darkness and saw a towering figure standing some 20 feet off the road, illuminated by the headlights.
“I was scared to death,” said Kitchens. “This thing was humongous. I never, ever, never thought I would see such a thing.”
Steve Vallie said he had two sightings staying at a campsite near Knoll Lake where several friends had also reported encounters. He went equipped with a night vision scope and “sound traps” to record calls of the creature.
In one case, he glimpsed the creature running between a gap in the trees near the campsite.
In the second case, he and his nephew used “tree knocks” and calls to try to find one of the creatures. At one point, they got an answering whoop. They shifted through the forest trying to get a glimpse of the creature, which trailed them back to camp.
“We started hearing this very, very light footprint — like a ninja,” said Vallie.
They finally turned in time to see the creature step behind a tree, leaving only its hand visible. They stood and stared at that hand through their night vision scope for about three minutes, before the creature slipped away. Vallie said the spot on the trunk where the creature rested its hand was 69 inches above the ground.
David Bingle of Pinetop, a linguist and former Naval Intelligence officer, said he was driving at about 45 miles an hour along Highway 260 and mile marker 301 when he saw something running at terrific speed alongside the road. The creature then went down on all fours as though it were bending to pick up something as he flashed past in the car.
He had a second encounter in May of last year when he heard a scream in the forest. “I heard something that sounded like it had (linguistic) structure,” said Bingle. “Then it stopped.”
But the sighting that came closest to home came from Benny Rodriguez and Josh Higgens, who said they live near Home Depot.
“We started climbing this hill and started hearing kind of heavy breathing and grunting sounds,” said Rodriguez.
They then spotted a creature standing 8 to 9 feet tall, with black hair and black eyes in a gray, wrinkled face. “It was doing something with the tree,” said Rodriguez. “It kind of freaked us out. It started really coming closer, so we went faster the other way.
“Do you have anything to add?” Moneymaker asked Higgens.
“He pretty much covered it.”
“It was definitely Bigfoot,” said Rodriquez.
“A bigfoot,” corrected Moneymaker.
The one skeptical note of the evening was sounded by Margarette Young, an East Verde Estates writer of children’s books, who opened with “I am a fairy.”
She said “I live by a river. Sometimes I walk in the moonlight. I’ve seen fairies and magic fireflies. I believe I’ve seen what you’re all talking about. You’ll never find it. You’ll never see a video. You’ll never collect hair. You’re all describing a hobgoblin. I believe it’s a spirit.”
“But we do have a video,” said Bobo patiently.
“But it’s a hobgoblin,” said Young.
“Then we have a video of a hobgoblin,” quipped Bobo.
And a good time had by all.