- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

VILONIA, Ark. (AP) - There are a few things J. Robert Swain hopes he remembers when he spots Bigfoot.

Stay calm. Breathe. And above all else, take a photograph, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1JElH0O ) reported.

“I would like to think I would have it together enough to raise my camera and take a picture,” Swain said. “But I’d probably be slack-jawed and just let it walk away before I realized I had a camera. For me, just knowing that it’s real would be enough. To prove it to myself; not to make a million dollars, although that would be nice. I just want to know.”

On April 25, Swain found himself not face to face with the large, apelike creature but surrounded instead by about 125 other Bigfoot enthusiasts at the first Arkansas Bigfoot Conference, organized by Swain and held at the Vilonia Municipal Complex.

The beast of honor never showed, but traces of it were everywhere at the conference, from the monster-sized banner depicting Bigfoot out front to merchandise inside, such as hats with “Gone Squatchin’” emblazoned across them and street signs proclaiming “Fouke Monster Freeway.”

Along one wall of the city courtroom, molds of what were said to be Bigfoot’s footprints — some well-defined and others less so — were spread out on tables. Elsewhere in the room, cardboard panels and posters were positioned, each containing educational tidbits on the creature.

According to one of the posters, an Arkansas sightings map, Miller County — the purported hangout of the Bigfoot-like creature known as the Fouke Monster — is home to the most reports of Bigfoot spottings in Arkansas, with 11. Benton County follows with 10. Saline and Union counties are tied for third with nine apiece.

Conference attendees walked around the room, inspecting the footprint moldings, viewing the panels and listening intently as experts such as Big Jim Whitehead held court, talking of DNA lines and hominids and the sounds Bigfoot reportedly makes in the wild.

Whitehead, with the Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center, an international organization devoted to Bigfoot research based in Stilwell, Oklahoma, was one of several speakers enlisted for the conference by Swain.

For Whitehead, proving the Bigfoot deniers wrong is a matter of when, not if. The beast is lurking, he says — too much evidence points in that direction.

“It’s going to be a case of when because, like I said, personally I’ve seen these things,” he said. “I know they are out there. But the evidence is a lot more solid than people think. When you put all the pieces together, it’s a lot harder to dismiss.”

Swain, founder of the Arkansas Primate Evidence Society, agrees. While the 1972 horror movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek, about the Fouke Monster, introduced him to Bigfoot, the 51-year-old has been doing Bigfoot field research only since 2007.

In eight years, though, he’s seen enough to think Bigfoot — also known in Ark

ansas as the Cash Swamp Wild Boy, the Swamp Stalker and Womble — is out there. Swain has heard sounds neither he nor anyone else can identify. He’s seen footprints. Bigfoot is real, he says. Or something like it is.

“I’ve seen enough evidence that I know something is out there,” he said. “I’d really like to know that it’s there. Some researchers say it’s not a situation where you believe because belief takes faith. Go to the evidence.”

Beyond the Bigfoot exhibits and merchandise, the all-day conference also included several discussions led by Bigfoot authorities.

During a discussion titled “Bigfoot and the Military,” D.W. Lee, also with the Mid-America Bigfoot Research Center, talked of reported Bigfoot sightings by military personnel at installations from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Lee, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1983 to 1987, was stationed in the heart of Bigfoot country during his service, spending a few months at Fort Lewis in Washington, he said.

“It was kind of an unwritten rule that you knew they were out there when you went on maneuvers,” he said. “But the military wasn’t really going to say, ‘Yeah, they’re out there.’”

Conference attendee Terry Greene of Maumelle wasn’t exactly sold on Bigfoot’s existence. He paid his $10 admission, with proceeds benefiting the just reopened Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, mostly for a little Saturday entertainment.

“I’m just curious,” he said. “I’ve hunted all my life. I’ve hunted over 60 years, and I know there are bears in the area, but I’ve never seen a bear, either. If there is such a thing (as Bigfoot), I don’t think it would be a creature. It would have to be too smart to stay hid that long to be an animal. It would have to be some type of humanoid. With so many people out looking for it, if it was an animal, you could find it.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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