Review: “Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot”

David Norman Lewis’ Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot (Microcosm Publishing; 2021) is a small book in all ways but one. At 5-by-7-inches, it’s practically pocket-sized, and at just 126 heavily-spaced pages, it’s a quick read that can easily be accomplished in a single sitting. It’s subject matter, however, is big. Lewis tackles not only Bigfoot, but why it is that so many people seem so obsessed with the cryptid, and the fact that throughout human history there has always been a cultural tradition of big hairy wild men helping, hurting or at just living beside us.

Indeed, Lewis writes early in his introductory chapter that “Why the idea of an undiscovered species of ape living in the Northwest wilderness is appealing to so many people is a bigger mystery than whether or not the creature exists.” It’s that mystery he focuses on more so than relitigating arguments about the creatures’ existence as a real flesh-and-blood species of aniimal.

In eight fleet chapters—the ninth is a “Bigfoot Hiking Guide” suggesting a quartet of West Coast routes that will be accessible to Lewis’ Pacific Northwest target audience—the writer covers some well-trod ground, but he doesn’t dwell too long on the specifics of various cases or areas of argumentation. Rather, he seems most interested in the ideas that Bigfoot suggests, and what thinking about, and looking for, Bigfoot reveals about humanity in general…but  particularly modern humanity. And, particular among that group, white Baby Boomers, the audience that Bigfoot seems to appeal to the most (“Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, an American lepidopterist who attended a similar Bigfoot convention, famously noted about the attendees ‘these guys don’t want to find Bigfoot—they want to be Bigfoot,” Lewis writes). 

His conclusions tend to be pretty interesting, making this a book a rather compelling entry into a crowded genre.

Lewis covers, at least in passing, the 1924 Ape Canyon incident, Albert Ostman’s abduction story, the careers of Rene Dahinden and Grover Krantz, the case of “Cripple Foot” and the Patterson-Gimlin film controversy, but in all cases he does so in such a way that the stories won’t feel tedious or repetitive, no matter how many other books you’ve read that have covered the same subjects.

Lewis also discusses the story of John Tornow, who escaped an Oregon insane asylum and hiked back to the Olympic Peninsula, where he took the woods and became semi-feral, murdering anyone who came into the woods to try and drag him out…eventually becoming something of a folk hero, or at least folk character, despite all the murders. It’s a story that will have particular resonance for readers in Portland-based publisher Microcosm’s region of the country, an audience Lewis’ book seems to keep focus on, although it’s worth noting the proceedings should prove of interest to anyone interested in Bigfoot, whatever part of the country—heck, whatever country—they live in.

He also tells the story of several real apes that definitely lived in the area, Bobo and Kiki, gorillas at the Seattle zoo, and he addresses at some length  the pre-Bigfoot concept of the “Wild Man” in America among white folks (that is, the idea that a man could become bestial by renouncing society and living in the woods like an animal), the cultural traditions of wild man as symbolic  helpmate and adversary in European as well as in Native American traditions (and the ancient Middle East, if you want to count the discussion of Gilgamesh) and 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thinking on the “noble savage.”

The conclusions he comes to are not entirely unique.

The interest in Bigfoot is, essentially, an interest in nature and, more specifically, a need or desire to reconnect to nature, or the idea of nature, even if a bridge in the form of a mythic animal-human hybrid must be invented to get there. Even the way people regard these “wild men” shift over the years, as Lewis points out the 19th century wild men weren’t regarded by white people in America as a separate species, but simply one of their own that had gone wild, and could be tamed and returned to civilization. Not so after the frontier had been closed and conquered, and nature essentially tamed. Then wild men seemed to become a definitive “other”, one that people, as the late Krantz articulates in Lewis’ chapter on him, seemed to  have strong opinions over the existence of or non-existence of, despite knowing very little about the subject. 

Bigfoot gradually began to represent an idealized, unconquerable, forever wild version of nature, one that stubbornly—thankfully—continues to exist, no matter how out of whack the ratio civilization and the wild grew over the course of the 19th and 20th century and into the 21st century. 

Personally, I don’t know if we’ll ever actually find Bigfoot, or any sort of North American ape, alive or extinct, but I remain fascinated by the search, and by stories of that search, like that told in Lewis’ engaging and insightful little volume.  


I was a little surprised to find that Lewis singles out Dr. Robert Michal Pyle’s 1997 Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing The Dark Divide for derision, calling it “unreadably flowery” and saying that “Most of his book on Bigfoot is just him jerking off about the beauty of trees.”

I was surprised because it seems an uncharacteristically harsh assessment from Lewis, whose argumentation throughout the rest of the short book is pretty even-tempered, and it is the only instance where he really goes out of his way to take something down (although I suppose he gets close in his discussion of Fred Beck’s I Fought The Apemen of Mount St. Helens). 

And I was surprised because I liked Pyle’s book. In fact, if you were to ask me to suggest three Bigfoot books off the top of my head, chances are that would be one of them (The others? John Zada’s 2020 In the Valleys of the Nobel Beyond: In Search of The Sasquatch and Joshua Blu Buhs’ 2009 Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. Or maybe Loren Coleman’s 2003 Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Although I might also recommend Coleman and Patrick Huyghe’s 2006 The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates or T.S. Mart and Mel Cabre’s 2020 The Legend of Bigfoot: Leaving His Mark on the World, depending on who’s asking for the recommendation and what their level of interest is).

Granted, it’s been a good ten years since I read Pyle’s book. Maybe I would like it less if I re-read it today, especially with Lewis’ criticism fresh in my mind…?


The other moment in Lewis’ book that surprised me was his introduction’s passage about Bigfoot movies, which he makes in relation to Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, “America’s largest surviving video rental store” which also happens to have a Bigfoot section.

Lewis writes that “just by looking at the covers it is clear that somebody will find Bigfoot before anybody makes a watchable movie about them.”

Now, I’ve seen a lot of Bigfoot movies, and yes, a lot of them have been pretty terrible, a few of them almost unwatchably so, although I persevered through until the credits of even the worst of them (of which I think may be 1983’s Night of The Demon). But while maybe there’s no masterpiece of filmmaking that includes Bigfoot in its plot, there are some damn well-made films. The two that leap most immediately to mind are 2006’s Abominable (which Lewis mentions in a different context later in the book), a sort of Rear Window remake mixed into a Bigfoot horror film, and 2013’s Willow Creek, a rare post-Blair Witch found footage film that I found devastatingly effective.

I’d be happy to hear any suggestions of great, or even just pretty damn good, Bigfoot movies, though. 

As to why Bigfoot movies in general are no good, Lewis has an interesting theory:

Bigfoot is hard to dramatize because he doesn’t do anything. Aliens abduct farmers, vampires suck blood, the chupacabra sucks goat blood, the Mongolian Death Worm electrocutes people, but all Bigfoot does is exist, and existing is all he has to do for people to devote their lives to looking for him.

Well, he might not even need to actually exist, of course, for people to be fascinated with him. 

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