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A bigfoot of a different kind

The Reporter's Notebook


Last updated 4/17/2019 at 10:05am

This is a tale about Idaho’s famous “Bigfoot,” who was responsible for a number of stagecoach and wagon train robberies and killings.

He roamed the desolate hills of Owyhee County and met his demise there.

The name “Bigfoot” came from Shoshoni words “Namp,” meaning foot, and “puh,” meaning big.

He was not the Sasquatch-type of Bigfoot, but an actual desperado who came out of Idaho folklore. His foot measured 17.5 inches long, so he’d received his name honestly.

He was born into the Cherokee nation and was named Starr Wilkerson, son of a white man and a Cherokee woman. It is said that his father went to the gallows as a result of his criminal conduct.

I researched Bigfoot for a story I was doing many years ago for the Salt Lake Tribune’s magazine section.

Bigfoot joined a wagon train headed west back in 1856, and while en route took a liking to a Miss Smith, who was traveling west with a group from New York.

That was the beginning of his troubles. A man, Bob Hart, who also took a shine to the Smith girl, stepped between the two.

At an arranged meeting between the two men, Bigfoot lunged at Hart and got a slug in return. Still, Bigfoot, being strong, grabbed Hart around the neck and threw him into the Snake River.

Bigfoot soon left the wagon train and took up with a lawless French trapper named Joe Lewis.

The two teamed up with a number of other renegades and invaded the wagon train, reportedly killing a number, including Jessie Smith, who had rejected Bigfoot’s pleas to wed.

We pick up with Bigfoot again in Idaho, where he is ravaging those in the area between Boise and Silver City.

Bigfoot’s end comes in 1868, near Reynold’s Creek Canyon.

Here, while lying in wait for a stagecoach, Bigfoot was confronted by William T. Anderson, who was camped nearby with a team of horses.

Anderson watched as the stagecoach driver “laid the silk” to the horses to escape Bigfoot.

The action spoofed Anderson’s horses, and when he went to retrieve them, he ran into Bigfoot.

Bigfoot crawled toward Anderson, and Anderson called out, “Get up from there, Bigfoot, you old feather headed, leather bellied coward. This is one time you won’t even get a woman’s scalp. Come down here and take mine.”

Upon hearing this, reported Anderson, Bigfoot sprang up to challenge him. That’s when another outlaw, John Wheeler, who was close by, opened up on Bigfoot.

When it was all said and done, Bigfoot had 12 bullets in him. He cried out that Wheeler had killed him, and he asked that they bury him there in “his country,” according to reports.

Many of the incidents that occurred in the area were blamed on Bigfoot, but clearly it would have been impossible for him to have been responsible for all of them.


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