While hiking along the snowy banks of the Clackamas River late one January afternoon in 1969, Millie Kiggins of Estacada, her husband and their friend Art Schneider found something that would thrust the Kigginses and the quiet wilderness surrounding Estacada into an international spotlight.
“We went to look at a Forest Service cabin up above Squaw Lake on the way to Cold Springs about 20 miles from Estacada,” Kiggins said. “They were going to sell them, and we wanted to look at them. We started out late, and we were in about three feet of snow. There was a gate, and we couldn’t get through. So we started to walk, and it looked like somebody had already gotten through, because there were tracks in the snow.”
They noticed the large size of the tracks and their depth. “They were 18 inches deep”, she said. “Whatever had made them was heavy, because ours were a couple inches deep. It had to have been walking on two feet…and its stride was 67 inches.”
The path of the tracks was in an unusually straight line, too straight to be man-made footprints, she said. The hikers followed the imprints for about a quarter mile before they realized it was getting late and decided to turn back. Before leaving, Kiggins documented their discovery with a photograph and contacted the U.S. Forest Service.
“They said it was a snowshoe rabbit. I have no idea what it was, but if it was a rabbit, it would have to be a big one to make prints that big. I told him if it was a snowshoe rabbit they had better look out, because it’s big enough to eat them,” she said.
Back at home on their farm on the outskirts of Estacada, the Kigginses began to experience a series of Bigfoot-like phenomena.
“He was around here for a year,” she said. “We found footprints all over the farm. Once, they led to a five-foot fence and continued on the other side uninterrupted as if he stepped right over it.
“Sometimes we would smell him. Smelled like a bad nursing home. We heard loud screams and grunts all at once lasting 10 or 15 seconds. It could be heard miles away. The hair on the back of your neck would stand up. It spooked the cattle.”
Kiggins sent a copy of her picture to Bigfoot hunter John Greene who later visited her with Roger Patterson, famous for the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film footage from 1967. KATU interviewed her, and she was included in a British television documentary. Her photograph was published in a book written by a wildlife biologist and in a fifth-grade textbook.
During the early 1970s, Estacada became a hotspot for Bigfoot enthusiasts. Scientists, hunters, trappers and the media came from throughout the country and across the sea in the hope of gathering evidence of the existence of an elusive, shadowy creature that walks the forest on two legs.
Many of the Bigfoot hunters also came looking for Kiggins. Eventually, the Estacada Police Department, back when Estacada had one, helped put a stop to it. “We had all sorts of crackpots up here,” she said, “and I guess I’m one of them, because I saw the tracks, but I can’t help that.”
For anonymous firsthand accounts of Bigfoot phenomena, enthusiasts can now peruse the databases of websites, such as oregonbigfoot.com and bigfootencounters.com that collectively contain approximately 40 reports for the Estacada area alone between 1912 and 2006
A U.S. Forest Service employee, who does not wish to be identified, said she has never taken a single Bigfoot report in the 12 years she has worked at the desk of the Clackamas River Ranger District office in Estacada,.
“We don’t have a book or a piece of paper that states sightings at all,” she said. She refused comment further for fear she would “get in trouble again.”
There is at least one highly photographed, easily accessible Bigfoot in Estacada — a menacing replica created by a chainsaw artist. It guards the entrance to Mike’s Second Hand Store and holds a sign warning potential shoplifters they will be eaten.
“I’ve heard second or third-hand stories,” storeowner Mike Doolittle said. “I would think that if there was a Bigfoot, I would’ve heard about it on the six o’clock news. I know Santa Claus is real, because I’ve seen him. I’ve never seen a Bigfoot.”
Kiggins has never seen Bigfoot either, and she is careful to emphasize that she is not exactly sure what created the strange tracks, the spooky sounds or the awful smell.
Although nearly 40 years have passed since she photographed the tracks in the snow, she still gets correspondence from Bigfoot enthusiasts. “I recently got a letter from a guy in England who wants to know about it,” she laughed. “I don’t know if I’m going to write back. It might be just another crackpot.” Vanessa Van Voorhis, www.estacadanews.com