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Jacko: A Modern Fable

by Loren Coleman*

The story of Jacko is a piece of Sasquatch-capture folklore that refuses to die, despite a superb investigative article published in 1975, co-authored by John Green and Sabina W. Sanderson.

The history and investigation of the historical Jacko only began in earnest within the last few decades, not the 1880s, of course. A news reporter named Brian McKelvie, during the 1950s, became interested in the then-current stories of the Sasquatch, being carried by his local British Columbian papers. McKelvie searched for older reports. What he found was the Daily British Colonist, 4 July 1884, article about Jacko. The account detailed the sighting of a smallish hairy creature ("something of the gorilla type") supposedly seen and captured near Yale, BC, on 30 June 1884, and housed in a local jail. (1)

McKelvie shared the Jacko account with John Green and Rene Dahinden. MeKelvie told them this was the only record of the event due to a fire that had destroyed other area newspapers of the time.

John Green, in 1958, found and interviewed a man (August Castle) who remembered the Jacko talk of the time, but he said his parents did not take him to the jail to see the beast. Other senior citizens remembered the talk of the creature, but no one could produce any truly good evidence for or eyewitness accounts (other than the British Colonist story) of Jacko.

The story's first modern appearance in a hardbound book propelled the Jacko incident into the modern literature, and as they say, history. The book, of course, was Ivan T. Sanderson's 1961 Abominable Snowman: Legend Come to Life. Other authors, including John Green, Rene Dahinden/Don Hunter, Grover Krantz, and John Napier, would follow, as would years of rehashers and men's magazine writers. The story was repeated again and again.

Nevertheless, John Green was still digging into the journalistic evidence for the story. He had discovered that, yes, while the newspapers from the time do not exist in the BC Archives (as McKelvie had found out to his dismay), there are microfilms of BC newspapers from the 1880s at the University of British Columbia. Green then found two important articles that threw light on the whole affair.

The New Westminister, BC, Mainland Guardian of 9 July 1884, mentioned the story and noted: "The 'What Is It' is the subject of conversation in town. How the story originated, and by whom, is hard for one to conjecture. Absurdity is written on the face of it. The fact of the matter is, that no such animal was caught, and how the Colonist was duped in such a manner, and by such a story, is strange."

On 11 July 1884, the British Columbian carried the news that some 200 people had gone to the jail to view Jacko. But the "only wild man visible" was a man, who was humorously called the "governor of the goal [jail], who completely exhausted his patience" fielding the repeated inquiries from the crowd about the nonexistent creature.

As Green has pointed out, the Colonist never disputed its critics. Green (with Sanderson's widow) wrote of the Jacko story as a piece of historical journalistic fiction in the article, "Alas, Poor Jacko," Pursuit 8, 1 (January 1975), pages 18-19.

Despite John Green feeling "it doesn't look good for Jacko," people have uncritically reported the Jacko story, with elder citizens' remembrances of the media attention to it, as if that is evidence for the reality of Jacko, for years.

Unfortunately, a whole new generation of hominologists, Sasquatch searchers, and Bigfoot researchers are growing up thinking that the Jacko story is an ironclad cornerstone of the field, a foundation piece of history proving that Sasquatch are real. Jacko may have more to do with local rumors brought to the level of a news story that has evolved into a modern fable. Is it a fable of caution, really, not of reality?

(1) In North America, at the end of the 19th century, the use of "gorilla" in article references (as I detailed in a Fortean Times column in 1997), is directly related to the media attention about gorillas whipped up by Du Chaillu's sensationalistic travels in Africa and his book that came out in 1861. Vernon Reynolds (The Apes, 1967. p. 137) writes: "After (Du Chaillu's) trip, which lasted from 1856 to 1859, Du Chaillu returned to the United States, where he received widespread acclaim." In 1863, another famous gorilla/travel book was published, written by American explorer Winwood Reade, after he spent five months in gorilla country. Nineteenth century articles about "strange creatures" - whether real or imagined - often thus labeled them as "gorillas."

* Loren Coleman is the co-author of The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide and Cryptozoology A to Z. Visit his website: The Cryptozoologist.