Written By: Ken Hulsey / Terri Pressley
‘Huge, scary, aggressive, fast, and threatening’. These terms are used to describe several Bigfoot-like creatures said to inhabit the desert regions of southern California. These mysterious giant apes go by many different names, The Borrego Sandman, The Speedway Monster, Zoobies, Devils, and the Yucca Man.
It may come to the surprise of those who follow stories about Bigfoot and other mysterious creatures that the first report of these creatures by European settlers did not come from the East Coast, Midwest, or even the Pacific Northwest. It actually came from southern California. In 1769, Spanish priests founded the first mission in San Diego. Local Gabrieleno Indians told the padres about "harry devils" that lived nearby. In fact according to written accounts, the Indians lived in fear of these large, foul-smelling, "wild-men" and refused to anywhere near their reported home called "towis puki" (camp of the devil) on the southern bank of the Santa Ana River. The area of "Deadmans Hole" near Holcomb Village, just west of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was a water stop on the old Stagecoach lines during the mid to late 1800s, and is the reported site of several alleged murders blamed on Bigfoot. In 1876, one the passengers who ventured out of the safety of the coach while it's horses stopped to take a drink reported seeing a large, naked, hairy "thing" watching him from behind some scruff. After that, several people met their demise at the site, either strangled or beaten to death by an unknown person or thing. They blamed the monster of course, regardless of the fact if it actually killed them or not.
In April of 1876, the San Diego Union reported an encounter with a "missing link" near Warner's Ranch, also west of Anza-Borrego, by a young man named Turner Helm. According to Helm, the creature had dark fur like a bear and a face like an American or Spaniard.
In March 1888, two local hunters, Charles Cox and Edward Dean, set out to hunt down the monster and finally put an end to the murders. According to the San Diego Daily Transcript the pair found, and killed, what they were looking for. A creature described as a gorilla with the face of an Indian and fangs like a bear. The creatures’ body was to be transported to San Diego where it was to be on public display but mysteriously disappeared before arrival.
Undoubtedly, it was the discovery of gold deposits that first lured the white man to this desolate area and it is from one of these fortune hunters that the first report of Bigfoot or the Borrego Sandman as it has been called in these parts, originated. Reportedly in 1939 a prospector, who when interviewed in the 1970s wished to remain anonymous, was attacked by a large group of ‘upright-walking-apes’ as he camped near the Borrego Sink. The frightened man described the creatures as very large, covered in white fur, with glowing red eyes. The only thing said to have saved the man was the fact that the monsters were afraid of his campfire.
Another report of giant footprints from that same general area came from a man named Victor Stoyanow in 1964. His story, re-told in a famous article in SAGA magazine entitled, ‘America's Terrifying Woodland Monster-men’ in 1969. The piece also featured the story of Harold Lancaster, a miner who encountered the Sandman in 1968. Here is an excerpt:
“Gold prospectors and treasure hunters frequently seek their lost bonanzas in isolated areas. Since 1964, treasure hunters in the Borrego Valley desert in California have whispered about "the Abominable Sandmen of Borrego." The arid area is near the Mexican border, it is virtually uninhabited. There are many fissures, caves, and crevasses in the Superstition Mountain region and prospectors say the Cocopah Indians have told of a subterranean labyrinth under the mountain, Maj. Victor Stoyanow was seeking an access into the Superstition Hills in January 1964, when he noticed large, humanoid tracks in the sand dunes. "The prints ran in pairs, generally parallel and averaged about 14 inches in length, and nine wide at the instep," Major Stoyanow declared. He returned to the desert on several other occasions, made plaster casts of the prints, and snapped photographs. “Curious as I am, I hope that the person who discovers what kind of beast it is doesn't happen to be me." Major Stoyanow said after his thorough investigation into the tracks.
The San Diego Union ran an unverifiable article some years ago of a "sandman" that was shot by hunter Frank Cox at Deadman's Hole, near Warner, California in San Diego County. The beast, described as a cross between ‘a man and a bear’. The head was rather small, with protruding teeth and powerful jaws. The muscular creature had feet that measured 24 inches in length and the body weight estimated to be 400 pounds. Harold Lancaster, treasure hunter, was prospecting in the Borrego Sink, east of the settlement of Borrego Springs, California in July 1968, when he saw a ‘sandman.’ "I was camped up on a mesa one morning when I saw a man walking in the desert," he reported. "The figure came closer and I thought it was another prospector. Then, I picked up my binoculars and saw the strangest sight in my life. It was a real giant ape-man," Lancaster said. "I had heard about the screaming giant ape-man up in Tuolumne County that frightened people for a couple of years. Another person and I even went up there to look for the thing. I decided it was a hoax and never expected to actually see one.” As the "sandman" drew closer, Lancaster became worried. "That thing was big. I was no match for it," he reported. "I had a .22 pistol on my hip but it would have been like shooting at a gorilla with a pea shooter. I was afraid the beast might get too close. So, I fired a couple of rounds into the air. The sandman jumped a good three feet off the ground when the sounds of the shots reached him. He turned his head, looked toward me, and then took off running in the other direction! “Why didn't Lancaster shoot the alleged sandman? “ I was afraid," he admitted. "They should be protected. They are a form of a human, a primitive species. It would be murder to kill one. They should be studied."
In the late 1960s, reports of Bigfoot sightings in the desert towns of Lancaster and Palmdale reached a feverish pace that lasted well into the 1970s and then tapered off. Though these areas border on the Mojave Desert, they also border on the Angeles National forest, it does not seem too unlikely that the creature could have been lured out of the wilderness and into the desert.
More bizarre are the stories of frequent intrusions by creatures that match the description of Bigfoot that have surfaced from nearby Edwards Air Force Base an area further inland and much further from the forested areas near Los Angeles. As the story goes, Base Security has possession of several surveillance video tapes that plainly show extremely large, up right apes trespassing in the facilities numerous underground tunnels. How, or where, the Bigfoot break into, or gain access to these tunnels has never been revealed, obviously for security reasons, but reportedly these incidents happen rather often, and are a nuisance.
In 1964, a father and son found themselves being pelted with rocks by a “shaggy" creature while hiking near Escondido. Later that same summer, a juvenile Sandman was implicated in the death of three cows on the MGM Ranch near Jamul, west of Anza-Borrego. This time the creature left behind plenty of large human-like tracks in the soft dirt.
The city of Fontana has had a long and glorious history associated with auto racing. As most of you probably know, the city is the present home of the Auto club Speedway, which holds a yearly major NASCAR race along with other racing events of different types. What many of you might not know is back in the 1950s there was a drag strip in the area that was considered one of the best in the country. ‘The Mickey Thompson's Fontana International Dragway’ lasted for almost two decades before a series of fatal accidents forced it to close in 1972. The area is now a housing tract known as the Village of Heritage and lies about a mile east of Etiwanda Blvd on the north side of Foothill Blvd. These race events took place for two decades and attracted legions of die-hard race fans; they also attracted a very curious monster. The height of these sightings took place in the early 1960s when race patrons would regularly spot a giant, harry, Bigfoot-like creature crossing a field adjacent to the track in full view of the grandstands. Bigfoot had been seen so regularly that it earned the name "Speedway Monster.” Though witnessed by hundreds of people, no one ever worked up the courage to investigate it. It is hard to speculate why a creature known for being reclusive and shy of humans would trek so close to a racetrack filled with people and to mention the load noise produced by the cars. One can only assume that it was curious about what all the fuss was about or more likely that the creature was making plans on rummaging through the tracks trashcans for leftover burgers and hot dogs after everyone cleared out.
In July of 1965, the monster attacked a young boy as he walked home. According to the account, the creature surprised the lad by jumping out from behind some bushes. As he tried to escape from the monster, his clothes were torn to shreds. The child managed to get loose and run away; the monster reportedly did not give chase.
On August 27 of the same year, a young woman named Jerri Mendenhall was attacked while in her parked car on a residential street in Fontana by a mud-covered monster that smelled "like a dead animal.” The creature reportedly grabbed her through the open drivers-side window. Frightened, the young woman put the car in gear and stepped on the gas to escape leaving the monster in the dust. Though the speedway closed its doors in the early 70s, reports of the "Speedway Monster" continued in the city of Fontana and the nearby San Bernardino Mountains continued.
In 1975 a group of Boy Scouts were woken up by a Bigfoot rummaging through their campsite near Barton Flats, likewise in 1976 a young man came face-to-face with the creature outside his cabin near Big Bear.
The area of Lytle Creek, in Cajon Pass, near Fontana has been a 'hot-spot' for Bigfoot sightings for decades.
In 1985 a set of large, human-like, tracks were found in the mountains near Anza. A local hiker reported the story to the BFRO. "I have hunted that area and hiked around there over the years. Many times, I have been out there and knew or had some feeling of another presence. I don't mean like small animals or anything of that sort; just some unexplained feeling that someone or something has been watching me or following me."
In 1991 Fontana resident John Davis reported that a harry creature on two legs raided his chicken pen.
The most interesting, post Fontana Speedway, story came in 1992 when several motorists on Foothill Blvd spotted a family of Bigfoot walking along the railroad tracks the crossed over the busy street. The location was reportedly close to the local Ace Hardware store.
Oh and here is a little history. Back in the 1800s an area between what is now the towns LaVerne and Pomona, near Fontana, was known to local Indians as "Toybipet" ("devil woman who was there) the reported hunting ground of a female Bigfoot. The first sightings of the Yucca Man began in the early 1970s as more and more people began to populate the remote desert regions east of Los Angeles. As families migrated out of the congested city to the cheaper outlying areas in the desert stories of a large harry monster began to circulate amongst the relocated suburbanites. At first, no one really paid much attention to these reported encounters that many believed were just the product of bored imaginations. All of that, however, was about to change.
On a cold February night in 1971, a lone guard manned a post outside an armory on the outskirts of the Marine Base near Twenty-Nine Palms. Without warning, the otherwise unearthly quiet was suddenly shattered when a large mass appeared out of the dark desert landscape. The guard raised his riffle and commanded the being to "halt.” Much to the young man’s surprise, the large figure did not stop but instead charged right at him at an inhuman rate. As the figure grew closer, the Marine realized what was approaching, rapidly, was not a man at all, but a huge, upright running, hair-covered creature. Paralyzed by shock, the young guard stood his ground, too frightened to move the mysterious creature threw the young man to the ground rendering him unconscious. When the guard’s relief arrived several hours later, they found him almost incoherent with his riffle nearly bent in two. After the incident both the CIA and FBI were contacted to conduct an investigation. Much to their surprise, the locals were more than eager to tell their stories about giant man-beasts in the area. In fact, the very same night as the attack on the guard, two creatures had been seen roaming through a neighborhood, relatively close to the base. When a local couple looked out of their front window to see what was upsetting their dog, they saw the two Yucca Men crossing the front lawn. Then some time later, the same creatures were seen near a horse corral some distance away The investigation also revealed that several employees at the Joshua Tree National Monument had seen Bigfoot-like creatures on numerous occasions.
Eight years later, in May of 1979, a young couple were leaving their condominium complex in Desert Hot Springs, north of Palm Springs, when a large hairy creature emerged from behind a yucca in front of their car. According to the driver the animal, which had "a chest the size of a refrigerator and arms that hung down below its knees,” was so large that he could only see it from the mid-section down. The beast that reportedly was covered in long tan colored hair disappeared quickly back into the night leaving no footprint evidence.
Again, in 1979, a 12-foot-tall Bigfoot made a visit to Hemet California some distance to the south of Palm Springs twice in a period of a week. This time, however, the creature left 17 tracks in the mud along a rural road during its initial visit. The tracks measured 18 inches in length, and spaced 6 feet apart. Noted Bigfoot researchers Douglas Trapp and Danny Perez both conducted an investigation of this sighting, even going as far as to perform a "stakeout" of the location where the tracks were found. Alas, the monster did not return.
In 1988 a couple of service men from Twenty-Nine Palms were returning home from a day of fun in the sun at Big Bear Lake at about 9:00 p.m. when they encountered a creature that the locals call the "Cement Monster", due to the fact that it is said to live near an old cement factory in Lucerne Valley. As the two men approached the old factory, a large upright running creature moved across the road in front of their car. As was the case 9 years earlier in Desert Hot Springs the animal in question was so large that the men could only see its lower half. The two men looked at each other in disbelief for a moment before one of them exclaimed, "What the Hell was that?" The other replied, "That was the Cement Monster, after him!" The driver hit the brakes while the other reached for a gun that was in the glove box. The two adrenaline filed men searched up and down the road and around the cement factory, but never found any sign of the creature. The pair concluded that they had seen some form of prehistoric man and returned to their journey home.
Like many legends, scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot. Widely considered merely a combination of folklore, misidentification, and hoax rather than an actual living animal. This based on the lack of scientific physical evidence as well as the sheer number of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population. Even so a few scientists, such as Jane Goodall and Jeffery Meldrum, have expressed interest and some measure of belief in the creature. And yet, there are several scientific organizations devoted to the scientific investigation of Bigfoot. What is the conclusion? Just ask anyone who has had an encounter and then make up your own mind.