Pendleton: January 20, 2013 — Nobody ventures into this soggy wetland on the edge of Mission on the Umatilla Indian Reservation after dark when the shrieks begin. Resident Sylvia Minthorn once thought about plunging in to find the source of the cries. I used to play back there when I was a kid, she says. “But then I thought, “What if I do find something? Then what am I going to do?
Baby foxes or Bigfoot?
The eerie late-night serenades began in November 2012 and emanate from a brushy swamp on the Umatilla Indian Reservation east of Pendleton, Umatilla County, Oregon. The cries range from high-pitched screams to basso profundo roars.
“It’s causing an uproar around here,” said Sylvia Minthorn, who lives in a tribal housing unit near the swamp, where she used to play as a child. She’s seen grown men’s hair stand on end when the shrieks commence. Colleen Chance, a tribal housing authority employee, keeps a recording of the howls on her iPhone. “It’s kind of spooky,” she said. “Some say it’s foxes, some say it’s a female coyote and some say it’s Sasquatch. I don’t know what it is.”
So far no one’s pinpointed the source of the noise on this rugged 178,000-acre reservation that extends into northeastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains and is home to about 1,500 people. The swamp in question borders the old reservation community of Mission, in a canyon north of the Wildhorse Resort and Casino.
Phone calls about the wails started coming in last month to the housing authority, and the office has had a half dozen so far. More could come in because the cries are continuing from time to time.
Some tenants of the reservation’s 190 rentals and 32 homes admitted being afraid and one man reported that his dogs were too terrified to go outside, said Josh Franken, the housing authority’s interim director.
“This guy was rather scared himself,” Franken said. A rumour quickly spread that the cries were made by “a young Bigfoot that had got separated from the rest of his clan,” he said.
It’s difficult to shrug off the accounts, said Marcus Luke, a housing authority home ownership counsellor. Many on the reservation “are woodsy-type folks,” familiar with animals and not prone to taking fright at nighttime commotion, he said.
Some members of the Confederated Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse tribes believe the noises come from a Bigfoot, the mythical manlike creature said to roam Pacific Northwest forests.
Bigfoot is part of the tribal culture, tradition and spiritual beliefs, said Luke, a follower of the Washat, or Seven Drums religion, and a longhouse drummer and singer.
“We have stories about it,” he said.
Sheeler, wildlife program manager for the tribes, said several animals in this corner of Oregon are known for making strange noises, including cougars. “When they are breeding, it is absolutely hair-raising,” he said.
“And the first time a person hears a fox calling in the night, kind of echoing around the canyons, it raises the hair on the back of your neck,” Sheeler said. “That wetland is a perfect place to have an echoing call sound eerie.”
But many who’ve heard the racket dismiss such notions. “Foxes do sound creepy,” said Sylvia Minthorn. “But it’s not the same sound, not even close.”
Her mother, Denise Minthorn, believes more than one creature is out there in the darkness. She’s heard shrieks from two directions at once, as if two were communicating.
“It was no noise I’ve ever heard before,” she said. “It was like bar-room brawls and laughter.”
Armand Minthorn, Sylvia Minthorn’s uncle and a tribal spiritual leader, said he may have stumbled onto evidence of Bigfoot’s presence while hunting in the Blue Mountains many years ago.
“Right in the middle of the road was this great big footprint,” perhaps 16 or 18 inches long and manlike, he said. The enormous stride carried it across the road, leaving one footprint in the middle, he said.
Nevertheless, he said, the current shrieks could be anything.
“We probably will never know what made those sounds,” he said.
To Bigfoot hunters, the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington around the Umatilla Indian Reservation have been a hot spot since a Walla Walla cyclist named Pete Luther found 19-inch-long bare footprints in 1966 along Tiger Canyon Road, east of Walla Walla on the Oregon-Washington border and just north of the reservation.