Ithamar Sprague, a 19th Century Mormon Bigfoot Hoaxer —
I've previously noted a connection between Mormon folklore and Bigfoot — namely that some Mormons believe Bigfoot to be the Biblical figure Cain
, condemned to walk the earth forever (and apparently grown big and hairy).
But I recently came across another Mormon/Bigfoot connection. Back around 1870, there was a Mormon settler named Ithamar Sprague who lived in the town of Washington, Utah. He terrified his fellow town's folk by creating giant wooden feet, three-feet long, that he used to place monster footprints all over town during the night. Rumors began to spread about a terrifying creature loose in the region. A posse was organized to hunt the beast down, but Sprague confessed before the situation got completely out-of-hand.
So Sprague anticipated Jerry Crew
(the guy whose 1958 prank led to the popularization of the name 'Bigfoot') by almost 90 years.
The legend of Sprague and his "big shoes" has been kept alive over the years by Mormon storytellers. The most complete examination of the legend can be found in Andrew Karl Larson's essay, "Ithamar Sprague and His Big Shoes," in Lore of Faith and Folly
(edited by Thomas Cheney).
You can also find Sprague's prank summarized on the Utah State History blog
[Sprague] built a pair of huge "clodhoppers" and one night he put them on and left gigantic human footprints on the dusty village streets.
News of the mysterious prints spread quickly through town. Some residents laughed and dismissed them as the work of a prankster. Others believed a huge creature was actually stalking the village.
Sprague left tracks again on following nights. More and more townsfolk became convinced that a mysterious, ferocious being had begun to plague the town. Local Paiutes only added to the unrest when they told stories of a legendary giant who had once prowled that region, killing and plundering the countryside.
Sprague laughingly continued his prank. Residents began blaming mishaps on the mysterious beast: the hens were too frightened to lay, the milk soured too soon, and one lady had a miscarriage due to her fright. Search parties tried to capture the monster, but the tracks always either disappeared abruptly or led to rocks where they were no longer traceable.
One night, Ithamar snuck out of a dance, put on his huge shoes, stalked through the village, then returned to the dance. At intermission, Ithamar and friends went outside for a drink, and Ithamar spotted the fresh tracks.
A crowd gathered. People grabbed their weapons and set out to capture the giant--which they were sure was close by. But again the shoe prints disappeared in some rocks.
Several versions of how the town learned of Sprague's hoax evolved over the years. According to one version, the town met together and discussed deserting the village or sending a messenger to Brigham Young to ask for advice.
During the meeting a girl whom Sprague had been courting noticed his smug attitude and told him to confess. He asked her what she would do if he did admit to being the prankster. She replied that she would finally consent to marrying him. According to this story, Sprague excitedly jumped to his feet and confessed, and the couple got married shortly thereafter.
In another version, Sprague and another man were going to cut wood in the mountains. But the man’s wife refused to let him go, fearing the giant. In order not to have to cut the wood alone, Sprague confessed his prank.
However the truth came out, the townsfolk told the story so often that Ithamar Sprague became something of a legend—and the area’s most beloved prankster.