As within any long-standing organization or subculture, a plethora of specific folklore exists within Mormonism. But because of Mormonism’s exact and important origins in time and place, some of its folkloric tales seem to be overpacked little gems fabulously bursting with psychic illumination for the larger culture. A Bigfoot encounter in 1938 by a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve, David W. Patten is such a story, and may hold a key to an ancient pancultural mystery.
In the early 1820’s, a teenage Joseph Smith experienced the “First Vision” in the sacred grove in Palmyra, New York, and the egg that would be Mormonism was fertilized. On a macrocosmic American scale, there was great division regarding religion, and much of the strife centered right in this same area in New York State. A couple decades later, this same region would become an epicenter for other antebellum socio-cultural upheavals and Great Beginnings, such as the women’s right movement, and abolition.
The path and migration of Mormonism perfectly mirrors the larger ensuing mass American exodus. Moroni’s presentation of the gold plates mirrors the gold rush, and the Mormon pioneering efforts to the promised land of the great West are akin to The Louis and Clark expedition and Westward expansion. The persecution and martyrdom by one’s own countrymen that Mormons faced had its similarities within similar dynamics as seen in the Civil War and the Indian battles.
In this assertion that Mormonism is a perfect cultural hologram, it stands to reason that specific events and issues within may hold poignant information and reflections for and about the larger culture. In 1938 Tennessee, high ranking church leader David W. Patten has a rather outrageous encounter with a creature; below is Elder Patten’s well-documented experience, as originally recalled and narrated by Abraham O. Smoot:
“As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me…. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight…”
The account was originally published in a biography, titled The Life of David W. Patten by L.A. Wilson, then more famously recounted in Spencer W. Kimball’s hardcore The Miracle of Foriveness. It was apparently Patten’s understanding (it is unclear whether the creature was forthcoming with the identification information, or if it Patten’s conjecture) that the creature was a descendant of the biblically cursed and marked Cain.
The scene as described has many features in common with Bigfoot encounters. The physical description is unmistakable. There is a lot of speculation too, that Bigfoot may posess magical or paranormal qualities. Although many scientists, researchers, and cryptozoologists shudder at this notion, it is impossible to discount the many such features of witness accounts. Bigfoot experiences have been reported in conjunction with UFO and alien sightings, vortexes and portals, telepathy, and other paranormal phenomena. Bigfoot has also been reported to appear and disappear, much as described as in Patten’s report. So, with an idea that Bigfoot may posesses such qualities, he can be then be seen as a being of the otherworld-the world of myth, legend, archetypes, the unconscious.
There is a bigfoot that hails from the same place as faeries and angels. I in no way mean to imply these beings are not ‘real.’ The overwhelming similar accounts throughout history of human interaction with these supernatural beings is evidence there is some level of tangible reality at work. For a brilliant, in-depth discussion about this, see Patrick Harpur’s book Daimonic Reality.
What makes Patten’s account so important, is that it may well be the only account of Bigfoot speaking like a man. And what of his message? Extracting all biblical-oriented assumptions and conclusions from the narrative, there is an idea that the very purpose of his very existence is tied to the vexing of humankind. He stated that he ‘has no home’ and ‘cannot die’ could be taken to mean many things, but may imply he exists in some sort of flux or limbo state. If Bigfoot is an archetype or collective unconscious projection-some type of thoughtform, then it makes sense.
But what about his role as a destroyer of man? Does this fit into the Bigfoot mythology and general common narrative? Bigfoot is not usually known to be an evil, malicious, violent or harmful creature, although quite imposing and powerful. There is no general consensus that he is a soul destroyer of man. But on a more introspective and symbolic level, he shares ‘trickster’ and other qualities with other man-beasts such as greenman, the werewolf, and even alien-human hybrids. Bigfoot is a reflection of our ever-evolving Self–the great and fearsome Other that turns out, upon consideration, to be a reflective image. The confrontation of great transformation can indeed be vexing.
Specifically, Bigfoot may be the expression and embodiment of our animal and uncivilized origins, and a reminder of our ‘true nature.’ It is appropriate that this ‘talking Bigfoot’ encounter take place in the mid-nineteenth century. Darwin’s Origins of the Species would be published a little less than two decades later, and the full-swing status of Westward expansion and Industrial Revolution of the time would forever change our lifestyles, and idea of what it means to be civilized/uncivilized.
So, as Mormons would take part in the general Westward movement, and be so actively engaged in this idea of stepping into a new and unknown world, Bigfoot emerges in the confines of a small, but important new religion as a witness of the natural and evolving Self to David W. Patten. The account is not earth shattering, but it all seems to fit together and make sense within a large context of mythology and meaning. It’s a tiny footnote within cryptozoological literature, and an obscure yet intriguing reference within the catacombs of Mormon lore.