As a youngster in small-town Kentucky, Larry “Beans” Baxter was fascinated by monsters. Among the Crestwood House monster series about Frankenstein, Godzilla, King Kong, Dracula and others that Baxter found at his local library was an illustration that especially stood out. It was of Patty, the central figure in the Patterson-Gimlin film shot in Northern California in 1967. The short motion picture skyrocketed the possibility of Bigfoot’s existence to discussions on television talk shows, stories on multiple publications, and a film seen by 50 million viewers.
The possibility of the existence of Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, took root in young Baxter.
“That book opened up a new world to me, a world that made the possibility of monsters real. Maybe, somewhere out there, there was a Bigfoot,” Baxter writes in “Abandoned, the History and Horror of Port Chatham, Alaska.”
After coming to the Kenai Peninsula in 2009 to work with the Homer Police Department — Baxter retired from HPD in January 2021 — he began hearing stories about sightings in the Skilak Lake area.
“I was out there one day hiking around and found what looked like a footprint and that spurred me to keep looking the area,” Baxter said in an interview. “That’s where I was when I heard that wild thumping. It’s a pretty common story people tell, they can’t see anything, but they hear it.”
Among researchers, tree knocking is a behavior associated with the presence of Bigfoot and assumed to be a form of communication. Baxter wasn’t quick to make that connection, however. Could it have been a moose? A bear? A large bird? Based on what he knew about Alaska’s backcountry sounds, he eventually was forced to eliminate all possible explanations except one: Sasquatch.
In “Abandoned,” Baxter turns his attention to another Alaska location from which sightings of this elusive creature have been reported over the years, Port Chatham.
Named after the HMS Chatham, one of British explorer George Vancouver’s ships, Port Chatham offers a sheltered bay, thick forests and fish. A cannery was built in the early 1900s. A chromite mine also was in operation for a time, until the prices of chrome dropped and the mine was no longer needed. By 1950, the once bustling area, complete with school, pool hall, store and post office, was abandoned. The cause of that abandonment, some say, was the Nantiinaq, who Baxter says is translated from the language of indigenous people in the area to mean “half man, half beast” or “giant hairy thing.”
“People don’t talk about it a lot,” said Baxter. “I don’t know if it’s fear of ridicule or that they won’t be believed, but it’s a lot more common than you’d think. There’s a lot of things that go on around here that people don’t talk about.”
That is changing, however. Enter “Port Graham” into your search engine and you’ll find stories of mysterious deaths, disappearances, unexplained noises and at least one sighting. There are videos on Amazon Prime and YouTube. There are expeditions into the area, including more than one that Baxter has participated in as a consultant and which he details in his book.
On one such expedition by Extreme Expeditions Northwest in 2018, and the subject of the documentary “In Search of Port Chatham Hairy Man,” thermal cameras operated by Baxter and another individual in the group capture and record a two-legged figure with a large head and no neck, the clear image beyond anything Baxter could deny.
“I don’t know what that was, but it was pretty amazing,” said Baxter, adding that he “tries not to let my imagination run wild with me. I eliminate all rationalizations before I think something is probably a Bigfoot.”
He confessed that he sometimes considers his search “silly, but every time I get fed up with it, there’s something, some little carrot that keeps me going, that keeps dragging me back.”
In addition to the Kenai Peninsula, Baxter also has been on expeditions in Washington state.
“I thought Port Chatham was cool, but that area was crazy,” he said of camping in Stevens County. He’ll return to Washington in June to continue searching and will speak at Washington’s Metaline Falls Bigfoot Festival. Baxter will be a special guest at the Boreal Bigfoot Expo in Fairbanks in September, and in November he plans to attend Cryptid Con in Lexington, Kentucky.
For all the time spent searching the outdoors for Bigfoot, Baxter said the best scenario would a face-to-face encounter. Until then, he welcomes others’ sharing their experiences.
“If anybody has any sightings they’d like me to know about, especially stories about Port Chatham or the Kenai Peninsula, I’d love to hear them,” Baxter said.
And if he never sees Bigfoot?
“I’ll have a good time camping,” he said.
“Abandoned, the History and Horror of Port Chatham, Alaska” is available at Homer Bookstore, in Soldotna at River City Books and Inkwells, from Amazon, and on Baxter’s website, www.alasquatchpodcast.com.