WATERVILLE, Maine — In the same month the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York in 1886, a handful of newspapers in New England published stories about a deadly encounter in the Maine woods involving what today likely would be termed “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch.”
The story of the 10-foot-tall “wild man” with 7-foot-long arms and hair growing all over his face and body was reported in broadsheets of the time after first gracing the pages of the Waterville Sentinel, a weekly paper that no longer exists. The Waterville Morning Sentinel was established 18 years later in 1904.
Tales of these seldom-seen, mysterious apelike beasts are found in Maine folklore, according to experts, but they are more prevalent in California, Washington and Oregon tales. Online searches yield hundreds of similar stories from around the globe.
The Maine story starts in early October 1886 when “an affrighted Frenchman from over the line” arrived in the Elm City to weave a frightening tale of woe, according to an excerpt from the Sentinel published in at least two other papers of the era, the Wilton Record and The Industrial Journal of Bangor.
“The Frenchman’s story, which is implicitly believed, is that three men were camping out in the woods about a hundred miles north of Moosehead Lake,” the 127-year-old newspaper articles state. “Two of the campers were away from the camp for a week and came back to find the dead body of their companion.”
The unnamed storyteller, possibly a Canadian, “had his fellows in town all by the ears” with the story about the giant wild man he encountered in the dense woods above Moosehead, according to the papers.
When he and the other camper discovered their friend was dead, they searched out others to form a posse to find his killer.
“They went for help and reinforced by a dozen others searched the woods for the unknown murderer,” the stories read. “It proved to be a terrible wild man, ten feet tall, with arms seven feet in length, covered with long, brown hair. The party fired several shots at him and finally succeeded in reaching a fatal spot, laying the monster low.”
Newspapers of this era used few images, and none of the articles had accompanying sketches of the “wild man.”
The Sentinel story was picked up by the Wilton Record and ran in the Franklin County town’s newspaper on Oct. 6, 1886, under “Items of Interest.” Two days later, the same article appeared in The Industrial Journal, a weekly newspaper based in Bangor, that was “devoted to the manufacturing, commercial, agricultural, railway & Steamship, hotel & summer resort and fish and game interest of the northeast.”