IT WASN’T AS IF DARYL COLYER’S encounter with Bigfoot in May 2004 was a chance meeting. The gym-fit 44-year-old banker from Lorena had actively gone looking for the creature one Saturday evening along the banks of the Trinity River, where he’d heard that a seven-foot-tall apelike being had been seen wandering a few months before. He’d even talked his beautiful brunette wife, Dalinda, into going with him, and the two had set out together toward a stretch of the river sixty miles northeast of Houston. But he still wasn’t prepared for what he saw that day.
For Daryl, who until this past August volunteered regularly as an investigator for an international cybergroup known as the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization ( BFRO), the expedition was nothing out of the ordinary. As one of the few Texas members of the group, he’d gone on many of these searches in the previous year, following up on reported Bigfoot sightings in the Texas-Oklahoma area. He enjoyed it; he’d been fascinated with the idea of Bigfoot for as long as he could remember. As a boy in Atlanta, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, he’d heard stories about the thing his father called the Burton Bottom Creek Monster. He had listened to tales of an animal that shadowed locals in the woods, one that screamed like a woman and made the hair on your arm straighten like toothpicks. And although he’d left the state in 1985 to become an intelligence analyst for the Air Force, these memories had never strayed far from his mind. When he returned to Texas, in 1990, his interest was rekindled, and a few years later, he sat down and Googled “Bigfoot.” “I wanted to solve a mystery for myself,” he explains. “I wasn’t going to be an armchair skeptic.”
But since joining the BFRO, in mid-2003, Daryl hadn’t seen Bigfoot himself. He had spent many hours poring over Bigfoot stories, though; he didn’t want to be caught unprepared. So when he and Dalinda spotted a trail by the riverside that matched the description from one of the BFRO’s sighting reports, he felt his usual tinge of excitement. He pulled over. The sun was setting along the tree-lined path, which ran parallel to the river about fifty yards below. He hurried down it while Dalinda tagged along some thirty yards behind, her high heels no match for the mud. The path gradually curved to the left, and Daryl disappeared. Dalinda bent over, focusing on something that had slithered across her foot.
And suddenly, there it was, on the trail: A reddish-brown, hairy thing, about five and a half feet tall. Daryl froze as he watched it hop across the path once, then twice, before disappearing into the woods. He stared into the trees.
“Did you see that?” he hollered.
Dalinda looked up from her feet. “See what?”
THESE DAYS, THANKS TO THE INTERNET, Daryl Colyer hasn’t had any trouble finding others who’ve met Bigfoot. Craig Woolheater, for example. The 45-year-old office manager from Dallas came across a seven-foot-tall gray-haired creature on the side of the road in Louisiana when he was driving home from a trip in 1994. The vision so inspired him that in 1999 he founded the Texas Bigfoot Research Center ( TBRC), a volunteer-run, self-funded organization dedicated to finding the Lone Star State’s Sasquatch. This closer-to-home version of the BFRO soon caught Colyer’s attention, and after taking on a field expedition for Woolheater in January 2004, he decided he’d work for the TBRC in addition to his regular Bigfoot-hunting gig. A brotherhood was formed, and the two men talk on the phone almost daily, discussing new scientific findings and the anecdotes posted on the group’s Web site, texasbigfoot.com.
Their work is far from boring. Due in part to the TBRC’s efforts, interest in Bigfoot has taken hold in the state, particularly in East Texas, which has the dense woods and plentiful waterways said to be the habitat of choice for this mysterious species. According to Woolheater, there have been about 150 credible sightings each year since he started fielding reports in 2000; investigators believe that there are in fact many Bigfoots populating the area. Nearly every day the center’s thirtysome members communicate via e-mail or phone on some Bigfoot-related subject (what was that strange sound heard recently in the Piney Woods? A whoop? Or more of a chatter? How tall was the creature in that last sighting? What color hair? Any good new devices to use in the woods?). And every fall, Woolheater spearheads a pivotal event for Sasquatch fans everywhere: the TBRC’s Bigfoot conference, held in the East Texas town of Jefferson.
The convention, now in its fifth year, has grown steadily since its September 2001 inception. That year 150 visitors descended on the town (a good thing, since Woolheater, then a recently unemployed software developer, had sunk $2,000 of his own cash into the project); by 2004 attendance was up to 334. At this year’s conference, which will take place October 14—16 in the commons area of Jefferson High School, Colyer and Woolheater expect to see 400 people. The list of guest speakers they’ve drawn up includes Chris Murphy, the author of Meet the Sasquatch; Jeffrey Meldrum, the author of From Biped to Strider: The Emergence of Modern Human Walking, Running, and Resource Transport; and Loren Coleman, the author of both Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America and The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. Speakers’ titles range from associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University to president of the Masonic Stamp Club of New York. Colyer himself will be teaching a seminar called “Sasquatch 101: A Primer for the Uninitiated.” A Bigfoot Bayou Boogie concert, complete with a performance by an enthusiast who also happens to be an Elvis impersonator, will round out the events.
For Jefferson, the convention is a huge boon, a way to fill up its hotels