Cryptid History: Ape Canyon
In July of 1924, five Washington prospectors on Mount St. Helens told local newspapers about a terrible encounter they had with ‘mountain devils.’ This story spread quickly by the media and became an overnight sensation with readers nationwide. The encounter would also go on to become one of the most famous cryptozoological tales regarding a Bigfoot attack.
This encounter is known as the Ape Canyon Encounter.
Fred Beck, Marion Smith, Roy Smith (Marion’s son), Gabe Lafever, and John Peterson were prospecting for gold in the Mt. St. Helens area of Southwestern Washington. The five men built a cabin below a small mountain by the name of Pumy Butte and mined their gold claim named the Vander White Mine. It was in this location (prior to the attack), that the men would hear thumping noises (almost like the sound that is made when a large man thumps his chest with his closed fist) in the dark as well as multiple locations of loud whistling, almost as if the two whistles were a form of communication between two unseen and unknown entities. These noises took place like clockwork every night for an entire week. It was also during this time that the men reported finding large, 14 inch human looking footprints, sunk 4 inches deep into the earth scattered around the campsite area within the trails, canyons, and springs.
These nightly disturbances began to unnerve the men and they began taking their rifles with them whenever they would leave the cabin. During the morning on one of the daily water runs, Fred Beck and Marion Smith gathered up their rifles and headed down to the spring close by the cabin. They two men believe that it was on this particular trip that they would see for the first time what was making the noises in the night. When they approached the spring, Marion suddenly yelled out and raised his rifle towards the other side of the spring. Fred quickly turned and looked and laid eyes on a possibly 7ft tall, hairy ape looking creature with blackish brown hair, standing on the other side next to a pine tree. The creature, after realizing it was spotted, quickly stepped behind the large tree. When it leaned back out from behind the tree to view the two men, Marion fired off three shots at the creature. The shots hit the tree and caused tree bark to explode off but the creature did not appear to be hit. The creature quickly retreated into the woods and reappeared almost two hundred yards down the little canyon that ran along the spring. When the men sighted the creature again, Fred took aim and fired off three shots in its direction, but missed. The creature again retreated into the woods but was not see again.
As the sun began to go down, the two men hurried back to the cabin to tell the other three men what they had witnessed. All the miners agreed that the best plan of action would be to vacate the cabin in the morning and get out of the canyon. After the decision was made, the men settled down for their last night and tried to get some sleep. But it would be short lived due to what was coming their way.
Sometime around midnight, the five men were awakened by a large thud against the side of the cabin wall. The outside wall was hit so hard that some of the chinking (the material between logs to stick them together and to fill gaps in a cabin) had been knocked loose and had fallen on Marion. The men jumped to their feet and grabbed their rifles and listened to what sounded like a large group of feet stomping and trampling around outside the cabin. The men peered through the space between the logs where the chinking fell out and saw three large hairy creatures grouped together in the darkness.
The creatures began to pick up and throw rocks at the cabin as well as pound on the doors and walls with their fists in an attempt to gain entry inside. The five men inside the cabin began lining up their rifles between holes in the cabin but refrained from shooting the creatures unless the violence escalated. Eventually one of the apes made their way on top of the roof and began to jump and bang on the above structure to smash it in. This lead Fred and Marion to fire their rifles towards the roof. The erupting gunfire caused the creature to jump down from the roof and redirect its fury again on the outside wall.
While Fred and Marion were keeping the creature off the roof, the other three men (Roy, Gabe, and John) had to brace the door. One of the creatures outside began ramming the door with its body weight in an attempt to knock it down. The men began to reinforce the door with wood boards taken from one of the bunk beds inside the cabin. This combination of boards and the weight of the three men pressing against the door was enough to keep the angry creature from getting inside. But the assault continued and the three creatures kept smashing the cabin with their fists as well as throwing rocks at the walls, door, and onto the roof. At one point, one of the creatures managed to squeeze its arm through a gap caused by knocked out chinking and was able to grab an axe that was leaned against the wall. Fred was able to lunge forward and grab the axe while still in the creatures hand and prevent it from swinging wildly and from getting it back outside. Marion took a shot at the creatures arm which caused it to let go of the axe and pull its arm back outside.
The attacked lasted for 5 hours until daybreak came. The approaching dawn caused the creatures to slowly begin to end the attack and retreat back into the surrounding canyon woods. As things grew quiet and the assault seemed to be over, the men removed the bracing on the door and stepped outside with rifles in hand. While the men were cautiously leaving he cabin, Fred spotted one of the creatures almost 80 yards away standing near the edge of the canyon. Fred Beck took aim and fired three shots towards the creature and actually hit it with one of them. The shot caused the creature to stumble back and fall into the 400ft deep gorge below.
The men quickly left the area and headed towards Spirt Lake where Marion reported the events of the night to a ranger inside the station. The men returned home to Kelso, Washington where their story slowly leaked out to the press. From there it spread like wildfire and people from all over descended upon the newly named Ape Canyon to hunt the ‘great hairy apes.’
Sadly, on May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and killed 57 people. Along with the deaths, the resulting ash cloud, mudslides, and partial collapse of the mountains flank caused the complete destruction of all cabins and structures within the area. The actual site of the Ape Canyon attack as well as the cabin and all remaining evidence were buried.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google