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Mayak datat:
An Archaeological Viewpoint of the Hairy Man Pictographs

Kathy Moskowitz

Editor's Note: This article is based on Kathy Moskowitz' presentation at the International Bigfoot Symposium, September 12-14, 2003, in Willow Creek, California. A DVD collection of the Symposium is available for purchase.

Figure 1. Location of the Painted Rock Archaeological Site
William Roe Sasquatch
Figure 2. Overview of Painted Rock.

Painted Rock is located on the Tule River Indian Reservation, above Porterville, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of central California (Figure 1). This site, also known as CA-TUL-19, is a rockshelter associated with a Native American Yokuts village. The site, located immediately adjacent to the Tule River, includes bedrock mortars, pitted boulders, midden and pictographs. The pictographs are located within the rockshelter, and are painted on the ceiling and walls of the shelter (Figure 2). The pictographs include paintings of a male, female, and child Bigfoot (known as the family), coyote, beaver, bear, frog, caterpillar, centipede, humans, eagle, condor, lizard and various lines, circles, and other geometric designs (Figure 3). The paintings are in red, black, white, and yellow.

This rock art site is unique; not only because it contains a Bigfoot pictograph, but also because of the traditional Native American stories that accompany it. There are no other known creation stories involving a Bigfoot-like creature in California. As far as can be determined, there are no Bigfoot creation stories anywhere else in the west. There is also no evidence of any other Bigfoot pictographs. Most states, including California, keep a database of all recorded sites located on federal, state, county, city, or private land. Based on that information, there is no other known Bigfoot pictographs or petroglyphs anywhere in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, or Idaho.

This paper will describe the rock art, the known history of the site, the traditional Yokuts Hairy Man stories, and the association of the rock art with other Penutian language groups.

Pictograph Description
The most dominant pictograph at Painted Rock is that of the Hairy Man, also known as Mayak datat (mi!yak datr!atr!) or sunsunut (shoonshoonootr!) (Figure 4).  Hairy Man measures 2.6 meters high by 1.9 meters wide, and is red, black, and white. The picture represents an 8.5-foot high, two-legged creature, with its arms spread out to six feet wide. It has what appears to be long hair and large haunting eyes (Figure 5). The Yokuts identify the lines coming from the eyes as tears (because Hairy Man is sad according to their creation story). The pictograph is in very poor condition due to weathering and vandalism. A Hairy Man petroglyph is present at the site as well. Petroglyphs are very rare in the Sierras.

Figure 3. Family pictograph panel at Painted Rock. From left to right is the “baby” Hairy Man, “mother” Hairy Man, and “father” Hairy Man.

Probably the most unusual feature of this site is the presence of an entire Bigfoot family.  Besides the male Hairy Man, there are also a female and child "bigfoot." The mother is 1.8 meters high by 1.2 meters wide, and is solely red (Figure 6). The painting represents a 6-foot high, two-legged creature with her arms open (Figure 7). She has five fingers and little other detail.  Immediately adjacent to her, and directly under her right hand, is her child. The child measures 1.2 meters high by 1 meter wide and is also solely red (Figure 8). The painting represents a 4-foot high, two-legged creature with small arms and five fingers. The figure has an unusually rounded head, suggestive of a sagittal crest (Figure 9).

Clewlow (1978) estimated that the paintings were made around A.D. 500, but could be as old as A.D. 1 or as young as AD. 1200 (2000 to 700 years old). Latta (1949) noted that year-round occupied villages were placed at important places, either where paintings were or at some place where Indian ceremonies were performed. Archaeologically, the village at Painted Rock was occupied in the late prehistoric, around 500 years ago. Since it is believed that the paintings were present prior to the village, the paintings are likely 500-1000 years old.

Ethnographic History of Painted Rock
The Yokuts Tribe occupied the San Joaquin Valley and foothills of California (Figure 10). The band of the Yokuts that lived at Painted Rock were called the O-ching'-i-ta, meaning the "People of Painted Rock". A village at Painted Rock was called Uchiyingetau, which means "markings." Painted Rock itself was called Hocheu (Powers 1877).

Figure 4. Hairy Man pictograph.
Figure 5. Line drawing of the Hairy Man pictograph.

The Tule River Indian Reservation was established in 1873 on 54,116 acres. The reservation lands are heavily timbered and include several Giant Sequoia Groves. The reservation is surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest system lands. It is rare for an Indian tribe to own a site they believe they were created at, and records seem to imply that the location of the reservation was chosen to incorporate Painted Rock for that reason.

Painted Rock is first described by Mallery in 1889. Mallery (1889) stated that the paintings were "famous and well-known in the area." He described the paintings as created by being pecked, painted, and then pecked again to ensure a "long lasting effect." Mallery also described the Coyote Eating the Moon, and a large bear-like creature covering one wall. He stated that the locals called the creature, "Hairy Man." Steward noted the paintings in 1929, and stated that a Tribal elder, living at the location in 1900, had identified the large painting as the "Hairy Man."

Figure 6. The "mother" Hairy Man pictograph.
Figure 7. Line drawing of the "mother" Hairy Man pictograph.

Latta (1949) detailed the site by stating: "The Indians readily recognize the characters which represent animals, but they offer no other explanation for the geometrical designs and line drawings than to give the Indian name for circle, triangle, square or other common figures. They do identify drawings of. . . a few mythological characters" such as Hairy Man and the Coyote Eating the Moon.

No explanation of what the Yokuts or researchers thought "Hairy Man" was is provided in these early references. Everyone seemed to understand that "Hairy Man" meant just that, "Hairy Man." This is in direct contrast with the Coyote Eating the Moon. A great deal of effort by researchers was spent on trying to identify the reason Coyote was Eating the Moon, and what humans did to deserve such a fate. Latta (1936) stated that he thought Hairy Man was maybe related to the "Giant of Ah-wah-Nee" stories, but that idea was not accepted.

Figure 8. The "baby" Hairy Man pictograph.
Figure 97. Line drawing of the "baby" Hairy Man pictograph.

Finally, in 1973, Hairy Man was associated with the "white" term of "Big Foot" and since then, it has been accepted that Hairy Man and Bigfoot are and have always been the same creature. Johnstone (1975) noted that Hairy Man had always been described by the Yokuts as "a creature that was like a great big giant with long, shaggy hair" and since Bigfoot also meets that description, the two are the same.

Traditional Stories
Gayton (1976:89) was one of the main ethnographers of the Yokuts. She studied their traditional stories and came to the following conclusion:

The prehuman era was that of a world created and occupied by birds and animals of superanimal and superhuman powers. To Eagle, with his bird and animal assistants and companions, was attributed the building of the world, the institution of certain cultural, social, and physical features of man and his way of life. This prehistoric period, described in a fairly full but not elaborately detailed stock of stories, came to an end with the creation of mankind by Eagle and the subsequent transformation of these bird-and-animal people into their present known forms. All this happened beyond the memory of man, but the past continued into the present in the immediate ubiquity of the animals themselves. Beliefs about them were being constantly reinforced by daily happenings in the circumjacent wilds.

Simplified, this means that when the Yokuts observed animal behavior in the wild, they incorporated those observations into their traditional stories. The more they observed, the most elaborate the stories and details.  Following are several examples of traditional stories, collected by the author unless otherwise noted, and the observed animal behavior represented in the story.

How People Were Made
All the birds and animals of the mountains went to Hocheu to make People. Eagle, chief of all the animals, asked each animal how they wanted People to be. Each animal took a turn and said what they had to say. 

Fish said, "People should know how to swim, like me, so let them be able to hold their breath and swim very deep."

Hummingbird said, "People should be fast, like me, so let them have good feet and endurance."

Eagle said, "People should be wise, wiser than me, so People will help animals and take care of the Earth."

Turtle said, "People should be able to protect themselves, like me, so lets give them courage and strength."

Lizard said, "People should have fingers, like me, so that People can make baskets, bows and arrows."

Owl said, "People should be good hunters, like me, so give them knowledge and cunning."

Condor said, "People should be different from us, so give them hair, not feathers or fur to keep warm."

Then Coyote said, "People should be just like me, because I am smart and tricky, so have them walk on all fours."

Hairy Man, who had not said anything yet, shook his head and said, "No, People should walk on two legs, like me."

All the other animals agreed with Hairy Man, and Coyote became very angry. He challenged Hairy Man to a race, and they agreed who ever won could decide how People should walk.

They gathered at the waterfall, below Hocheu, to begin the race. Coyote started and took a shortcut. Hairy Man was wiser than Coyote and knew that Coyote would cheat to win and People would have to walk on all fours, so Hairy Man stayed behind and helped Eagle, Condor, and the others to make People. They went back to the rock and drew People, on two legs, on the ground. The animals breathed on them, and People came out of the ground. Hairy Man was very pleased and went to People, but when they saw Hairy Man, they were scared and ran away. That made Hairy Man sad. When Coyote came back and saw what they had done, he was very angry and drew himself on the rock eating the moon (he is called Su! Su! Na). All the other animals drew their pictures on the rock as well, so People would remember them. Hairy Man was sad because People were afraid of him, so he drew himself sad. That is why Hairy Man's picture is crying to this day. That is how people were made.

Hairy Man is described in this story as human-like; he walked on two legs and gave that gift to humans. Hairy Man was also smart enough to trick the cunning coyote in order to get his own way.

Humans, however, quickly populated the earth and occupied the same spaces the animals once did. Here is a story that documents those events:

When People Took Over
People spread out all over the mountains, taking all the land and eating all the food. Animals didn't have anyplace to go. Eagle, chief of all the animals, told the animals that they could not remain in their traditional places, because people had taken them. He asked them where they wished to go. Eagle said, "What are you going to become? What will you be? I myself am going to fly high up in the air and live on squirrels and sometimes on deer." Hairy Man said, "I will go live among the big trees (Giant Sequoias) and hunt only at night when people are asleep." Dog said, "I will stay with people and be their friend, I will follow them, and perhaps I will get something to eat in that way." Buzzard said, "When something dies I will smell it. I will go there and eat it." Crow said, "When I see something lying dead, I will pick out its eyes." Coyote said, "I will go about killing grasshoppers. That is how I will live." Hummingbird said, "I will go to the flowers and get my food from them." Condor said, "I will not stay here. I will go far off into the mountains. Perhaps I will find something to eat there." Woodpecker said, "I will get acorns and make holes in the trees [to store them in]." Bluejay said, "I am going to make trees grow over the hills. I will work." Rat said, "I will go where there are old trees and make my house in them." Mouse said, "I will run here, there, and everywhere. I shall have holes, and perhaps I can live in that way." Trout said, "I will live in the water and perhaps I can find something to eat there." That was the time when animals stopped being like us and scattered.

This story clearly illustrates that Bigfoot was thought to be nocturnal and mainly stayed in Giant Sequoia groves or forests. His intent was not to come into contact with humans and would only go outside when they were asleep. Since Gayton (1976) already stated that Yokuts stories about animals involved real observed behaviors, and all the behaviors attributed to the other animals in this story are consistent with what we know about those animals, it is logical to assume that Yokuts directly observed Bigfoot behavior and incorporated that behavior into this story.

Hairy Man also appears to have some known behaviors that resulted in Yokuts women changing how they preformed work. Here is one story:

Food Stealing
In the old days, women learned never to leave their acorn meal unattended. They would spend all day pounding on the big rocks near the river, making the acorn meal, and then take it down to the river to leech it. They would then leave it in the sun to dry, but they would come back and it would be gone. They would find big footprints in the sand where they left the meal and they would know that Hairy Man took it. He likes Indian food and knows to wait until the acorn is leeched of its bitterness before taking it. We always wondered if he liked the sound of women pounding acorn and knew when to come and get food.

Figure 10. Map of the ethnographic territory of the Yokuts Tribe in California (click for larger view).
  Figure 11. Map of tribal linguistic groups in California.

The importance of a Bigfoot being attracted to the sound of acorn pounding should not be missed here. Again, this is likely an observed Bigfoot behavior incorporated into a traditional story. It may also help explain some behavior attributed to Bigfoot now, such as wood pounding as it may be an attempt by a Bigfoot to emulate a sound heard so often in prehistoric times. It is also worth note that an indirect observation was that the Bigfoot was smart enough to know that pounding meant food, and to wait until the food was ready to eat before stealing it.

Hairy Man appears to have a spiritual or religious aspect as well. Kroeber (1925) noted that animals could be totems to various Yokuts bands. Hairy Man, however, was never a totem, because by this time, he was viewed as a monster. According to tribal elders, doctors or shamans with supernatural powers, called Tip'-ne, could own Hairy Man, and use him as a bringer of dreams. A Hairy Man Shaman would create an amulet of his power animal and swallow it to keep in his body. Hairy Man Shamans are extremely rare and very unusual in Yokuts culture. There is only one brief story that elders had of this type of Shaman and it involved Hairy Man coming to a house, throwing off his hair, becoming a man, and offering a healing power to the Shaman. Hairy Man insisted that the power he gave the Shaman could only be used to cure and not to kill.

This is a very sensitive issue, and further details about what kind of powers the Shaman would receive from Hairy Man could not be obtained from tribal elders. It is very likely that since this type of doctor is very rare, no one knows what powers are associated with a Hairy Man Shaman.

It is not likely that a Yokuts directly observed a Bigfoot giving a Shaman magical power. To really understand what behaviors were indeed observed, we would have to know more about what powers were conveyed to the Shaman. Typically, Medicine Men possess great strength or endurance and that is likely observed Bigfoot behavior incorporated into this story.

Lastly, Hairy Man has an "evil" aspect to him. Latta (1949) was told that the life-sized character at Painted Rock was a bad spirit. It is unclear, however, if the informant meant Hairy Man or Coyote Eating the Moon. While doing research with Tribal elders many years ago, I was often told that while on the reservation, I should never go outside if I heard whistling. When asked why, I was told that Hairy Man used whistling to lure Indians out into the night for various bad reasons.  The details on what Hairy Man would do to someone going outside is unknown. Here is a story detailing Hairy Man's "bad" side. This story is taken from Johnstone (1975).

Bigfoot, The Hairy Man
Big Foot was a creature that was like a great big giant with long, shaggy hair. His long shaggy hair made him look like a big animal. He was good in a way, because he ate the animals that might harm people. He kept the Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolf, and other larger animals away. During hot summer nights all the animals would come out together down from the hills to drink out of the Tule River. Big Foot liked to catch animals down by the river. He would eat them up bones and all.

It was pleasant and cool down by the river on hot summer nights. That is when grown ups liked to take a swim. Even though people feared that Big Foot, the hairy man, might come to the river, people still liked to take a swim at night.

Parents always warned their children, "Don't go near the river at night. You may run into Big Foot."

Now Big Foot usually eats animals, but parents said, "If he can't find any animals and he is very hungry, he will eat you. Big Foot, the hairy man, doesn't leave a speck or trace. He eats you up bones and all. We won't know where you have gone or what has happened to you."

Some people say Big Foot, the hairy man, still roams around the hills near Tule River. He comes along the trail at night and scares a lot of people. When you hear him you know it is something very big because he makes a big sound, not a little sound.

Children are cautioned not to make fun of his picture on the painted rock or play around that place because he would hear you and come after you.

Parents warned their children, "You are going to meet him on the road if you stay out too late at night." The children have learned always to come home early.

The observed behavior here is that Bigfoot was nocturnal, ate animals, and is something to be feared. It isn't likely that any humans were observed being eaten, but there was a fear that this could happen. The tale is the most common Hairy Man story still told on the reservation.

The Penutian Language Stock
The Yokuts are part of the Penutian Language Stock. The Penutian Language Stock is widespread in the west, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada. California tribes include the: Costanoan, Konkow, Maidu, Miwok, Nisenan, Nomlaki, Patwin, Utian, and Wintu (Figure 11). Those outside California include the: Alsea, Chinook, Coos, Gitxsan, Kalapuya, Karkin, Klamath-Modoc, Molale, Nez Perce, Nisga'a, Siuslaw, Takelma, Tenino, Tsimshian, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Wasco-Wishram, and Yakima.

All of these groups have Bigfoot or Bigfoot-like stories. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Windigo - a cannibalistic monster
  • Wappeckquemow - a giant
  • Wainus - a giant
  • Ah-wah-Nee – a giant
  • Yayali – a hairy giant
  • Che-ha-lum'che – a hairy giant

Here are a few stories to compare with the Yokuts versions. Yavali is a horrible, smelly, hair-covered giant associated with the Miwok tribe of Central California. The Miwok tribe is very closely related to the Yokuts, both in culture and location. Most of the stories involving Yayali are very long and detailed, but one brief story (Merriam 1910) is as follows:

Yayali, The Giant
"Where are you, grandchild? Where are you, grandchild? Where are you? Where are you? Yes. Yes. I am lost. Where are you? This way. Where are you, grandchild? Someone comes. Look out. Get ready. Prepare yourself, for Yayali comes."

The people broke cones from the tops of the pine trees and bundled these together. As Yayali started to climb the declivity where the people had taken refuge, they set fire to the bundles of pine cones and threw them into Yayali's burden basket. They threw the burning cones into the basket. Yayali became so hot that he tumbled. "Which way shall I fall?" he asked. They told him to fall to the north. [The Giant met his death near Columbia, Tuolumne County. The informant has seen white rocks near Columbia, reputed to be the bleached bones of the Giant.]

This story is more sinister than the Yokuts Hairy Man ones. However, like nearly all the stories within the Penutian language stock, it is about a very large creature that eats animals or if necessary, people; and is obviously something to be feared. The Miwok story is most similar to the Hairy Man stories by associating a physical place with where a Yayali or Bigfoot died.

The Ste-ye-hah' is a dangerous creature that lives in the Cascade Mountains. It is nocturnal and whistles to lure people away from their path. As noted before, the Yokuts also believe that Hairy Man is nocturnal and will whistle to lead Indians into his grip. Here is a story that closely resembles the story of the Yayali (see the BFRO website for more information).

The Ste-ye-hah'
It is the delight of the Ste-ye-hah' to carry away captive children who may become lost or separated from their people. Many snows ago two little ones, a brother and a sister, were missing from a hunter-village in the mountains. The parents and friends instituted a wide search and found their trail. Small footprints showed between the imprints of adult tracks,... Long afterwards, perhaps twenty snows, the parents of the lost children were camped in the mountains gathering huckleberries. One night while sitting in their lodge, a stick was thrust through a small crevice in the wall. The old man immediately called out, "You need not come around here bothering me, Ste-ye-hah'! I know you! You took my two children."

The Yokuts, Miwok and Cascade stories are separated by hundreds of miles, yet are very similar. Since most, if not all, Penutian stories are extremely similar, with slight differences based on regional details and the passing of time, there must be a common source within the language itself.  It could be suggested that at some time in the past when the language stock was still mostly confined to a single area, which researchers such as Dixon and Kroeber (1919) believe was around 6000 years ago, that a creature with the described behaviors was observed and noted in a source or "root" story. Over time, the groups in the language stock moved to different areas, took the root story with them and added to it as they observed more of the creature. The Yokuts stories may be more elaborate due to the presence of the Hairy Man pictograph, which is a constant reminder of the original story.

To summarize, the following are important points presented in this article:

  • Hairy Man helped create man and has various other associated stories;
  • This belief is exemplified by the creation of a pictograph representing Hairy Man, which closely resembles descriptions of Bigfoot (8.5 feet tall; long shaggy hair; sagittal crest; walks on two feet; and large, powerful, human-like body type);
  • The Hairy Man pictograph was noted and called "Hairy Man" by non-Indians in 1889. It is well documented that the painting has been referred to as Hairy Man since 1889 and continuously to modern times;
  • Bigfoot behavior is represented in traditional Yokuts stories, including nocturnal hunting, association with Forest environments, wood knocking, whistling, and being an omnivore (animals and plants); and
  • Bigfoot is in both Yokuts culture and the Penutian language stock, suggesting a very old source story.

The presence of a Bigfoot pictograph and numerous stories in the Yokuts culture is not only unique, but also significant to North American Great Ape research. By analyzing traditional Native knowledge and stories of Bigfoot, it helps establish that this creature was not created by "white culture", but instead is a long-time occupant in these people's lives. Stories and paintings of how the creature looked and behaved are only present in these Native cultures because of direct observation of a flesh and blood creature.

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Clewlow, C. William, Prehistoric Rock Art. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 8, California, Robert Heizer, ed., pp. 619-625. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Dixon, Roland B., and Alfred L. Kroeber, Linguistic Families of California. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 16(3):47-118. Berkeley.

Gayton, Anna H., Culture-Environment Integration: External References in Yokuts Life. In: Native Californians: A Theoretical Retrospective, L.J. Bean and T.C. Blackburn, ed., pp. 79-98. Ramona: Ballena Press.

Johnstone, Elizabeth Bayless, Bigfoot and Other Stories. Tulare: Tulare Board of Education.

Kroeber, Alfred L., Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 78. Washington.

Latta, Frank F.

  • California Indian Folklore, as Told to F.F. Latta by Wah-nom-kot, Wah-hum-chah, Lee-mee (and others). Shafter: Shafter Press.
  • Handbook of Yokuts Indians. Bakersfield: Kern County Museum.

Mallery, Garrick, Picture-writing of the American Indians. Pp. 1-882 in 10th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for the Years 1888-1889. Washington.

Merriam, C. Hart, Dawn of the World: Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan Indians of California. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark.

Powers, Stephen, Tribes of California. Contributions to North American Ethnology 3. Washington: U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region.

Steward, Julian H., Petroglyphs of California and Adjoining States. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 24(2):47-238. Berkeley

Revision History
This article was originally published on the Bigfoot Information Project website ( on August 13, 2004. It has not been revised.

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