Dimensions of Faith:A Mormon Studies reader is a collection of essays on varying topics in Mormon studies. I previously discussed Wilford Woodruff’s vision of the Founding Fathers. One of the most entertaining essays was titled “A Mormon Bigfoot” by Matthew Bowman. In the essay, Bowman discusses how Cain seems to have morphed into Bigfoot.
In 1835 David Patten was called to be one of the original 12 apostles. Patten was known as “Captain FearNot”. Just 3 years after being called to be an apostle, he was killed in the Battle of Crooked River in Missouri while trying to recover some Mormons captured by a Missouri mob.
A biography of Patten written in 1900 referenced a letter written between two apostles: Abraham Smoot and Joseph F. Smith (future president of the church). Smith had heard that Patten claimed to have met Cain, and apparently Smith had written to Smoot asking about this experience. As the letter states, David Patten was on his way to Smoot’s house. Smoot relates that Patten said,
[I] met with a very remarkable personage who had represented himself as being Cain who had murdered his brother, Abel … I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me … for about two miles. His head was even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark … he [said] that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth … He said that he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death … but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men … I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence and he immediately departed out of my sight. [Cited in Lycurgus A. Wilson, The Life of David Patten, the First Apostolic Martyr (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900) 45-47. Smoot’s 1893 letter was to future Church President Joseph F. Smith.]
Could Cain really be alive after a few thousand years? Apparently, the apostles believed the tale. Smith brought the tale to the apostles, and Elder Abraham Cannon wrote that “he had always entertained the idea that Cain was dead.” Eliza R. Snow wrote a poem discussing the incident in 1884.
As seen by David Patten, he was dark
When pointing at his face of glossy jet
Cain said, “You see the curse is on me yet.”
The first of murderers, now he fills his post
And reigns as king o’er all the murd’rous host.
Bowman’s essay documents several tales where Cain appeared to anonymous apostles, bishops, missionaries, and stake presidents who were seeking to destroy the church of God. President Spencer W. Kimball discussed Patten’s account in Miracle of Forgiveness. Following the 1978 revelation, Bowman states that there have been changes in this legend. From page 123 of the book,
There is evidence that since the 1978 revocation of its ban on black priesthood holders, there have been social and cultural transitions in the Church that may be the very reason the monstrous image of Cain has been transformed to something else. No longer an arche-typical racial slur, Bigfoot is more of a curiosity of nature that lacks the weight of nineteenth-century Mormon demonology. Though the stories seldom do little to rehabilitate Cain’s image in that he is still hostile, the emphasis of the legend has shifted. The older stories, from Patten’s own experience through the third quarter of the twentieth century….Now Cain rarely speaks. Now his specific mission to destroy the church has dissolved into the general hostility that one would expect from a wild animal.
In 1980, Bigfoot made some appearances in Utah, documented in the Ogden Standard-Examiner. From page 125,
On Sunday afternoon, February 3, 1980, a South Weber high school student named Pauline Markham glanced out of her kitchen window and saw what she described as “a big, black creature” climbing down a mountain ridge a half-mile away. Markham, a Mormon, reported that she simply put her drinking glass down and “went to church”. Early the next morning, her cousin, Ronald Smith, saw a “big dark figure” in his field. He fled into the house, leaving an agitated horse in the pasure. The next morning, odd tracks in the show had been trampled by hoof prints. The story was pursued by an Ogden Standard-Examiner reporter, Jay Barker, who claimed he had also personally encountered Bigfoot three years earlier. At this point in 1980, none of the witnesses–Markham, who is clearly identified as a practicing Mormon, or Barker, who has devoted a great deal of investigation to the events–seem to have associated Bigfoot with Cain.
Another man, Sterling Gardner, compared what he believed to gbe the stench of Bigfoot that agitated his dogs to that of a skunk. However, ten years after the fact, local historian Lee D. Bell noted that South Weber citizens had begun associating these local sightings of Bigfoot with Cain. Twenty-three years later, the Deseret News pinpointed this event as the genesis of the Bigfoot/Cain idea.”
Bowman goes on to discusses other Boy Scout stories, seminary teacher stories, and even the Three Nephite legends as popular urban myths. What do you make of these stories of Cain becoming Bigfoot?