Viewpoint of the Hairy Man Pictographs
Figure 1. Location
of the Painted
Rock Archaeological Site
Figure 2. Overview of Painted Rock.
Painted Rock is located on the Tule River Indian Reservation,
above Porterville, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of central California (Figure
site, also known as CA-TUL-19, is a rockshelter associated with a Native American
Yokuts village. The site, located immediately adjacent to the Tule River,
includes bedrock mortars, pitted boulders, midden and pictographs. The
pictographs are located within the rockshelter, and are painted on the ceiling
and walls of the shelter (Figure 2). The pictographs include paintings
of a male, female, and child Bigfoot (known as the family), coyote, beaver,
bear, frog, caterpillar, centipede, humans, eagle, condor, lizard and various
lines, circles, and other geometric designs (Figure 3). The paintings
are in red, black, white, and yellow.
This rock art site is unique; not only because it contains a Bigfoot pictograph,
but also because of the traditional Native American stories that accompany
it. There are no other known creation stories involving a Bigfoot-like
creature in California. As far as can be determined, there are no Bigfoot
creation stories anywhere else in the west. There is also no evidence
of any other Bigfoot pictographs. Most states, including California,
keep a database of all recorded sites located on federal, state, county, city,
or private land. Based on that information, there is no other known Bigfoot
pictographs or petroglyphs anywhere in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada,
This paper will describe the rock art, the known history of the site, the
traditional Yokuts Hairy Man stories, and the association of the rock art with
other Penutian language groups.
The most dominant pictograph at Painted Rock is that
of the Hairy Man, also known as Mayak datat (mi!yak datr!atr!) or sunsunut (shoonshoonootr!)
(Figure 4). Hairy Man measures 2.6 meters high by 1.9 meters wide,
and is red, black, and white. The picture represents an 8.5-foot
high, two-legged creature, with its arms spread out to six feet wide. It
has what appears to be long hair and large haunting eyes (Figure 5). The
Yokuts identify the lines coming from the eyes as tears (because Hairy Man
is sad according to their creation story). The pictograph is in very
poor condition due to weathering and vandalism. A Hairy Man petroglyph
is present at the site as well. Petroglyphs are very rare in the Sierras.
Figure 3. Family
pictograph panel at Painted Rock. From left to right is the “baby” Hairy
Man, “mother” Hairy Man, and “father” Hairy Man.
Probably the most unusual feature of this site is the presence of an entire
Bigfoot family. Besides the male Hairy Man, there are also a female
and child "bigfoot." The mother is 1.8 meters high by 1.2
meters wide, and is solely red (Figure 6). The painting represents a
6-foot high, two-legged creature with her arms open (Figure 7). She has
five fingers and little other detail. Immediately adjacent to her, and
directly under her right hand, is her child. The child measures 1.2 meters
high by 1 meter wide and is also solely red (Figure 8). The painting
represents a 4-foot high, two-legged creature with small arms and five fingers.
The figure has an unusually rounded head, suggestive of a sagittal crest (Figure
Clewlow (1978) estimated that the paintings were made around A.D. 500, but
could be as old as A.D. 1 or as young as AD. 1200 (2000 to 700 years old).
Latta (1949) noted that year-round occupied villages were placed at important
places, either where paintings were or at some place where Indian ceremonies
were performed. Archaeologically, the village at Painted Rock was occupied
in the late prehistoric, around 500 years ago. Since it is believed that the
paintings were present prior to the village, the paintings are likely 500-1000
Ethnographic History of Painted Rock
The Yokuts Tribe occupied the San Joaquin
Valley and foothills of California (Figure 10). The band of the Yokuts
that lived at Painted Rock were called the O-ching'-i-ta, meaning
the "People of Painted Rock". A
village at Painted Rock was called Uchiyingetau, which means "markings." Painted
Rock itself was called Hocheu (Powers 1877).
|Figure 4. Hairy Man pictograph.
|Figure 5. Line drawing of the Hairy Man pictograph.
The Tule River Indian Reservation was established in 1873 on 54,116 acres. The
reservation lands are heavily timbered and include several Giant Sequoia Groves. The
reservation is surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest system lands. It
is rare for an Indian tribe to own a site they believe they were created at,
and records seem to imply that the location of the reservation was chosen to
incorporate Painted Rock for that reason.
Painted Rock is first described by Mallery in 1889. Mallery (1889) stated
that the paintings were "famous and well-known in the area." He
described the paintings as created by being pecked, painted, and then pecked
again to ensure a "long lasting effect." Mallery also described
the Coyote Eating the Moon, and a large bear-like creature covering one wall. He
stated that the locals called the creature, "Hairy Man." Steward
noted the paintings in 1929, and stated that a Tribal elder, living at the
location in 1900, had identified the large painting as the "Hairy Man."
|Figure 6. The "mother" Hairy
|Figure 7. Line drawing of the "mother" Hairy
Latta (1949) detailed the site by stating: "The Indians readily
recognize the characters which represent animals, but they offer no other explanation
for the geometrical designs and line drawings than to give the Indian name
for circle, triangle, square or other common figures. They do identify
drawings of. . . a few mythological characters" such as Hairy Man and
the Coyote Eating the Moon.
No explanation of what the Yokuts or researchers thought "Hairy Man" was
is provided in these early references. Everyone seemed to understand
that "Hairy Man" meant just that, "Hairy Man." This
is in direct contrast with the Coyote Eating the Moon. A great deal of
effort by researchers was spent on trying to identify the reason Coyote was
Eating the Moon, and what humans did to deserve such a fate. Latta (1936)
stated that he thought Hairy Man was maybe related to the "Giant of Ah-wah-Nee" stories,
but that idea was not accepted.
|Figure 8. The "baby" Hairy
|Figure 97. Line drawing of the "baby" Hairy
Finally, in 1973, Hairy Man was associated with the "white" term
of "Big Foot" and since then, it has been accepted that Hairy
Man and Bigfoot are and have always been the same creature. Johnstone
(1975) noted that Hairy Man had always been described by the Yokuts as "a
creature that was like a great big giant with long, shaggy hair" and
since Bigfoot also meets that description, the two are the same.
Gayton (1976:89) was one of the main ethnographers of the
studied their traditional stories and came to the following conclusion:
The prehuman era was that of a world created and occupied by birds and animals
of superanimal and superhuman powers. To Eagle, with his bird and animal
assistants and companions, was attributed the building of the world, the institution
of certain cultural, social, and physical features of man and his way of life. This
prehistoric period, described in a fairly full but not elaborately detailed
stock of stories, came to an end with the creation of mankind by Eagle and
the subsequent transformation of these bird-and-animal people into their present
known forms. All this happened beyond the memory of man, but the past
continued into the present in the immediate ubiquity of the animals themselves. Beliefs
about them were being constantly reinforced by daily happenings in the
Simplified, this means that when the Yokuts observed animal behavior in the
wild, they incorporated those observations into their traditional stories. The
more they observed, the most elaborate the stories and details. Following
are several examples of traditional stories, collected by the author unless
otherwise noted, and the observed animal behavior represented in the story.
How People Were Made
All the birds and animals
of the mountains went to Hocheu to make People. Eagle,
chief of all the animals, asked each animal how they wanted People to be. Each
animal took a turn and said what they had to say.
Fish said, "People
should know how to swim, like me, so let them be able to hold their breath
and swim very deep."
Hummingbird said, "People should be fast,
like me, so let them have good feet and endurance."
Eagle said, "People
should be wise, wiser than me, so People will help animals and take care
of the Earth."
Turtle said, "People should be able to protect
themselves, like me, so lets give them courage and strength."
Lizard said, "People
should have fingers, like me, so that People can make baskets, bows and arrows."
Owl said, "People
should be good hunters, like me, so give them knowledge and cunning."
Condor said, "People
should be different from us, so give them hair, not feathers or fur to keep
Then Coyote said, "People should be just like
me, because I am smart and tricky, so have them walk on all fours."
Hairy Man, who had not said anything yet, shook his
head and said, "No,
People should walk on two legs, like me."
All the other animals agreed with Hairy Man, and Coyote
became very angry. He
challenged Hairy Man to a race, and they agreed who ever won could decide how
People should walk.
They gathered at the waterfall, below Hocheu, to begin
the race. Coyote
started and took a shortcut. Hairy Man was wiser than Coyote and knew
that Coyote would cheat to win and People would have to walk on all fours,
so Hairy Man stayed behind and helped Eagle, Condor, and the others to make
People. They went back to the rock and drew People, on two legs, on the
ground. The animals breathed on them, and People came out of the ground. Hairy
Man was very pleased and went to People, but when they saw Hairy Man, they
were scared and ran away. That made Hairy Man sad. When Coyote
came back and saw what they had done, he was very angry and drew himself on
the rock eating the moon (he is called Su! Su! Na). All the other animals
drew their pictures on the rock as well, so People would remember them. Hairy
Man was sad because People were afraid of him, so he drew himself sad. That
is why Hairy Man's picture is crying to this day. That is how people
Hairy Man is described in this story as human-like; he walked on two legs
and gave that gift to humans. Hairy Man was also smart enough to
trick the cunning coyote in order to get his own way.
Humans, however, quickly populated the earth and occupied the same spaces
the animals once did. Here is a story that documents those events:
When People Took Over
People spread out all over the mountains, taking all
the land and eating all the food. Animals didn't have anyplace to go. Eagle, chief
of all the animals, told the animals that they could not remain in their traditional
places, because people had taken them. He asked them where they wished
to go. Eagle said, "What are you going to become? What will you be? I
myself am going to fly high up in the air and live on squirrels and sometimes
on deer." Hairy Man said, "I will go live among the big trees
(Giant Sequoias) and hunt only at night when people are asleep." Dog
said, "I will stay with people and be their friend, I will follow them,
and perhaps I will get something to eat in that way." Buzzard said, "When
something dies I will smell it. I will go there and eat it." Crow said, "When
I see something lying dead, I will pick out its eyes." Coyote said, "I
will go about killing grasshoppers. That is how I will live." Hummingbird
said, "I will go to the flowers and get my food from them." Condor
said, "I will not stay here. I will go far off into the mountains. Perhaps
I will find something to eat there." Woodpecker said, "I
will get acorns and make holes in the trees [to store them in]." Bluejay
said, "I am going to make trees grow over the hills. I will work." Rat
said, "I will go where there are old trees and make my house in them." Mouse
said, "I will run here, there, and everywhere. I shall have holes, and
perhaps I can live in that way." Trout said, "I will live in the
water and perhaps I can find something to eat there." That was
the time when animals stopped being like us and scattered.
This story clearly illustrates that Bigfoot was thought to be nocturnal and
mainly stayed in Giant Sequoia groves or forests. His intent was not
to come into contact with humans and would only go outside when they were asleep.
Since Gayton (1976) already stated that Yokuts stories about animals involved
real observed behaviors, and all the behaviors attributed to the other animals
in this story are consistent with what we know about those animals, it is logical
to assume that Yokuts directly observed Bigfoot behavior and incorporated that
behavior into this story.
Hairy Man also appears to have some known behaviors that resulted in Yokuts
women changing how they preformed work. Here is one story:
In the old days, women learned never to leave
their acorn meal unattended. They would spend all day pounding on the big rocks
near the river, making the acorn meal, and then take it down to the river to
leech it. They would then leave it in the sun to dry, but they would come back
and it would be gone. They would find big footprints in the sand where they
left the meal and they would know that Hairy Man took it. He likes Indian food
and knows to wait until the acorn is leeched of its bitterness before taking
it. We always wondered if he liked the sound of women pounding acorn and knew
when to come and get food.
||Figure 10. Map of the ethnographic
territory of the Yokuts Tribe in California (click for larger view).
||Figure 11. Map of tribal linguistic
groups in California.
The importance of a Bigfoot being attracted to the sound of acorn pounding
should not be missed here. Again, this is likely an observed Bigfoot
behavior incorporated into a traditional story. It may also help explain
some behavior attributed to Bigfoot now, such as wood pounding as it may be
an attempt by a Bigfoot to emulate a sound heard so often in prehistoric times. It
is also worth note that an indirect observation was that the Bigfoot was smart
enough to know that pounding meant food, and to wait until the food was ready
to eat before stealing it.
Hairy Man appears to have a spiritual or religious aspect as well. Kroeber
(1925) noted that animals could be totems to various Yokuts bands. Hairy
Man, however, was never a totem, because by this time, he was viewed as a monster. According
to tribal elders, doctors or shamans with supernatural powers, called Tip'-ne,
could own Hairy Man, and use him as a bringer of dreams. A Hairy Man
Shaman would create an amulet of his power animal and swallow it to keep in
his body. Hairy Man Shamans are extremely rare and very unusual in Yokuts
culture. There is only one brief story that elders had of this type of
Shaman and it involved Hairy Man coming to a house, throwing off his hair,
becoming a man, and offering a healing power to the Shaman. Hairy Man
insisted that the power he gave the Shaman could only be used to cure and not
This is a very sensitive issue, and further details about what kind of powers
the Shaman would receive from Hairy Man could not be obtained from tribal elders. It
is very likely that since this type of doctor is very rare, no one knows what
powers are associated with a Hairy Man Shaman.
It is not likely that a Yokuts directly observed a Bigfoot giving a Shaman
magical power. To really understand what behaviors were indeed observed,
we would have to know more about what powers were conveyed to the Shaman. Typically,
Medicine Men possess great strength or endurance and that is likely observed
Bigfoot behavior incorporated into this story.
Lastly, Hairy Man has an "evil" aspect to him. Latta (1949)
was told that the life-sized character at Painted Rock was a bad spirit. It
is unclear, however, if the informant meant Hairy Man or Coyote Eating the
Moon. While doing research with Tribal elders many years ago, I was often
told that while on the reservation, I should never go outside if I heard whistling. When
asked why, I was told that Hairy Man used whistling to lure Indians out into
the night for various bad reasons. The details on what Hairy Man
would do to someone going outside is unknown. Here is a story detailing
Hairy Man's "bad" side. This story is taken from Johnstone
Bigfoot, The Hairy Man
Big Foot was a creature that was
like a great big giant with long, shaggy hair. His long shaggy hair made him
look like a big animal. He was good in a way, because he ate the animals that
might harm people. He kept the Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolf, and other
larger animals away. During hot summer nights all the animals would come out
together down from the hills to drink out of the Tule River. Big Foot liked
to catch animals down by the river. He would eat them up bones and all.
pleasant and cool down by the river on hot summer nights. That is when grown
ups liked to take a swim. Even though people feared that Big Foot, the hairy
man, might come to the river, people still liked to take a swim at night.
always warned their children, "Don't
go near the river at night. You may run into Big Foot."
Now Big Foot usually eats animals, but parents said, "If he can't
find any animals and he is very hungry, he will eat you. Big Foot, the
hairy man, doesn't leave a speck or trace. He eats you up bones
and all. We won't know where you have gone or what has happened
Some people say Big Foot, the hairy man, still roams around the
hills near Tule River. He comes along the trail at night and scares a lot of
people. When you hear him you know it is something very big because he makes
a big sound, not a little sound.
Children are cautioned not to make fun of his
picture on the painted rock or play around that place because he would
hear you and come after you.
Parents warned their children, "You are going to meet him on the road
if you stay out too late at night." The children have learned always
to come home early.
The observed behavior here is that Bigfoot was nocturnal, ate animals, and
is something to be feared. It isn't likely that any humans were
observed being eaten, but there was a fear that this could happen. The
tale is the most common Hairy Man story still told on the reservation.
The Penutian Language Stock
The Yokuts are part of the Penutian Language Stock.
The Penutian Language Stock is widespread in the west, including California,
Oregon, Washington, and Canada. California tribes include the: Costanoan, Konkow,
Maidu, Miwok, Nisenan, Nomlaki, Patwin, Utian, and Wintu (Figure 11). Those
outside California include the: Alsea, Chinook, Coos, Gitxsan, Kalapuya,
Karkin, Klamath-Modoc, Molale, Nez Perce, Nisga'a, Siuslaw, Takelma, Tenino,
Tsimshian, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Wasco-Wishram, and Yakima.
All of these groups have Bigfoot or Bigfoot-like stories. These include,
but are not limited to:
- a cannibalistic monster
- a giant
- a giant
- Ah-wah-Nee – a
- Yayali – a
- Che-ha-lum'che – a
Here are a few stories to compare with the Yokuts versions. Yavali is
a horrible, smelly, hair-covered giant associated with the Miwok tribe of Central
California. The Miwok tribe is very closely related to the Yokuts, both
in culture and location. Most of the stories involving Yayali are very
long and detailed, but one brief story (Merriam 1910) is as follows:
Yayali, The Giant
are you, grandchild? Where are you, grandchild? Where are you? Where are you?
Yes. Yes. I am lost. Where are you? This way. Where are you, grandchild? Someone
comes. Look out. Get ready. Prepare yourself, for Yayali comes."
The people broke cones from the tops of the pine trees
and bundled these together. As Yayali started to climb the declivity where
the people had taken refuge, they set fire to the bundles of pine cones and
threw them into Yayali's burden basket. They threw the burning cones into
the basket. Yayali became so hot that he tumbled. "Which way shall I fall?" he
asked. They told him to fall to the north. [The Giant met his death near
Columbia, Tuolumne County. The informant has seen white rocks near Columbia,
reputed to be the bleached bones of the Giant.]
This story is more sinister than the Yokuts Hairy Man ones. However,
like nearly all the stories within the Penutian language stock, it is about
a very large creature that eats animals or if necessary, people; and is obviously
something to be feared. The Miwok story is most similar to the Hairy
Man stories by associating a physical place with where a Yayali or Bigfoot
The Ste-ye-hah' is a dangerous creature that lives in the Cascade Mountains.
It is nocturnal and whistles to lure people away from their path. As
noted before, the Yokuts also believe that Hairy Man is nocturnal and will
whistle to lead Indians into his grip. Here is a story that closely resembles
the story of the Yayali (see the BFRO
It is the delight of the Ste-ye-hah' to carry away
captive children who may become lost or separated from their people. Many
snows ago two little ones, a brother and a sister, were missing from a hunter-village
in the mountains. The parents and friends instituted a wide search and found
their trail. Small footprints showed between the imprints of adult tracks,...
Long afterwards, perhaps twenty snows, the parents of the lost children were
camped in the mountains gathering huckleberries. One night while sitting
in their lodge, a stick was thrust through a small crevice in the wall. The
old man immediately called out, "You need not come around here bothering
me, Ste-ye-hah'! I know you! You took my two children."
The Yokuts, Miwok and Cascade stories are separated by hundreds of miles,
yet are very similar. Since most, if not all, Penutian stories are extremely
similar, with slight differences based on regional details and the passing
of time, there must be a common source within the language itself. It
could be suggested that at some time in the past when the language stock was
still mostly confined to a single area, which researchers such as Dixon and
Kroeber (1919) believe was around 6000 years ago, that a creature with the
described behaviors was observed and noted in a source or "root" story. Over
time, the groups in the language stock moved to different areas, took the root
story with them and added to it as they observed more of the creature. The
Yokuts stories may be more elaborate due to the presence of the Hairy Man pictograph,
which is a constant reminder of the original story.
To summarize, the following are important points presented in this
Man helped create man and has various other associated stories;
belief is exemplified by the creation of a pictograph representing Hairy
Man, which closely resembles descriptions of Bigfoot (8.5 feet tall; long
shaggy hair; sagittal crest; walks on two feet; and large, powerful, human-like
Hairy Man pictograph was noted and called "Hairy Man" by non-Indians
in 1889. It is well documented that the painting has been referred to
as Hairy Man since 1889 and continuously to modern times;
behavior is represented in traditional Yokuts stories, including nocturnal
hunting, association with Forest environments, wood knocking, whistling,
and being an omnivore (animals and plants); and
is in both Yokuts culture and the Penutian language stock, suggesting a
very old source story.
The presence of a Bigfoot pictograph and numerous stories in the Yokuts culture
is not only unique, but also significant to North American Great Ape research. By
analyzing traditional Native knowledge and stories of Bigfoot, it helps establish
that this creature was not created by "white culture", but instead
is a long-time occupant in these people's lives. Stories and paintings
of how the creature looked and behaved are only present in these Native cultures
because of direct observation of a flesh and blood creature.
this article on the Bigfoot Forums >
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This article was originally published on the Bigfoot Information
Project website (www.bigfootproject.org) on August 13, 2004.
It has not been revised.