Of Cain and Bigfoot


“She was sitting there and she noticed this person or this thing–whatever it was–coming at her. It was heading at her at this rapid pace and it looked like it was coming at her…. It loooked hairy and kind of tall, you know big in stature, and so she was really sacred. She was there all by herself…. The thing coming after her was Cain” (K. Anderson).

At first, you would expect with the description given that “the thing coming after her” would be Bigfoot–a pop-culture icon of cyptology in the United States. In the Mormon tradition, however, the Biblical figure of Cain has become the hairy ape-man known by many as Sasquatch. How, why and when this folklore crossover occurred is an interesting subject to view, and my intent in this post is to present both sides of the story separately and then look at how the blurring between them occurred in the 1980s.


In 2012, Animal Planet’s show “Finding Bigfoot” came to Logan, Utah (where I live) to investigate a reported sighting of the elusive Sasquatch. They were drawn to the area by a YouTube video of a shadowy figure walking across the back of a bonfire while some young people have fun on a camping trip in Cache Valley. The fact that Animal Planet was coming hit the news and sparked discussion among those of us that live in the area. One day as I was with my family in the Ogden, Utah area, we were talking about it and my sister turned to me and teased that Bigfoot had left Cache Valley (somewhat of an ongoing family joke, since my feet are rather large).

In looking at the records in their folklore archive, however, Utah State University found around 50 recorded sightings of the creature in the area over the years. Repeated reports of seeing large, hairy animals somewhere between an ape and man over a large area have caused many to believe that there might be something to these creatures. Others, however, think that hard evidence is lacking and that it’s merely a mix of folklore, misidentification, and hoax. In looking at some still shots from the video that drew Animal Planet to northern Utah, USU students said that it “could just be anyone in the woods, though,” “looks like all the other ones I’ve seen,” and “I didn’t see anything.” One local, however, summarized his or her opinion on the subject: “I haven’t seen convincing, hard evidence that Bigfoot exists, but I haven’t seen convincing, hard evidence that Bigfoot doesn’t exist” (M. Anderson).

Because of its elusive nature, Bigfoot is classed as a cryptid—a word derived from the Greek kryptos, meaning “hidden”. Cryptids are creatures whose are believed by many to exist but have not been proven, such as Chupacabra, the Loch Ness Monster, and Krakens. The Bigfoot legends are related to a variety of giant man-like creatures from all across the world such as the giants and Wild Men of the Woods in European folklore, the Yeti in the Himalayas, the Daeva of Iran, the Hibagon of Japan, the Almas of Mongolia, the Yowie of Australia, and a variety of Native American legends. When it comes to the final group of that list, legends exist all across North America with tribes referring to creatures such as Ts’emekwes (Lummi—Washington state), Skoocooms (Chinook—Mt. St. Helens area, meaning “Evil God of the Woods”), Yi’dyi’tay or Xi’Igo (Nahalem/Tillamook—Oregon State. “Wild Man” or “Wild Woman”), Bukwas (Kwakwaka’wakw—British Columbia. “Boss of the Woods”), Kecleh-Kudleh (Cherokee—Southeastern U.S. “Hairly Savage”), Atahsaia (Zuni—Southwestern U.S. “The Cannibal Demon”), Ge no sqwa (Iroquois/Seneca—New York area. “Stone Giant”), and so on (Mizokami). A Western Canadian named J. W. Burns collected and published local legends of the sort during the 1920’s and coined the term Sasquatch for the creature these legends seemed to describe (derived from the Halkomelem sásq’ets).

The European populations in the United States have also had various legends over the years of Bigfoot-like creatures. Daniel Boon reported shooting and killing “a ten-foot, hairy giant he called a Yahoo.” Tales in Kentucky tell of a similar creature they called a Yeahoh. In looking at the names given here, it is interesting to note the connection that Australian Aborigines of Botany Bay area (near Sydney) have an evil spirit that eats humans they call “Yahoo”, “Yowie,” “Devil-Devil”, or “Bugaboo” (in Tasmania). The wide-spread area of similar names may be derived from the Yahoos of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (Tabler), however other names and legends exist in the US. In the Midwest, legends of the Kenmore Grassman sprung up in Ohio in the late 1800’s and the Momo (“Missouri Monster”) and Fouke Monster of Arkansas made a showing in the South during the 1970’s. Likewise, the Skunk Ape—a hairy ape-man with a pungent odour—has made appearances in Florida for hundreds of years.

One of two photos of the alleged Myaka Skunk ape taken in Sarasosa county, Florida, 2000.

A rather interesting story exists about the Skunk Ape (which BBC dubbed “the abominable swampman”) during the early days of the United States:

A famous example of this reportedly occurred in the fall of 1822. One cold night, two hunters were awoken by a fierce roar near their camp and fled leaving all of their belongings behind. They made it back to their village and told their friends of their experience. The villagers formed a posse to hunt down the creature. They searched the woods for several days armed with rifles, pistols, swords, and knifes. After a week of searching, they reportedly found huge footprints in the mud close to where the hunters had their experience. Encouraged by this new find, they made camp and planned to continue searching the next morning. Later that night however, the creature attacked the camp. The creature was reportedly hit repeatedly but still continued to attack. The posse fought back but the creature killed several of the men before they finally managed to kill it. The survivors examined the creature, which they claimed had jet black hair, was 12–13 feet tall and weighed over 1200 lbs. Fearing that the sounds of the battle would attract other creatures, the survivors fled back to the village without bothering to take any evidence of the creature (“Skunk Ape”).

It’s quite possible that it’s just a tale passed on to this day, but interesting nonetheless.

Perhaps the most famous hominid (human-like) cryptid is the Yeti or Abominable Snowman—a creature that supposedly roams the hostile Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet. A subject of local mythology and folklore, this Wild Man of the Snows was introduced to western cultures in the 19th Century and grew in popularity as more people climbed Mt. Everest and visited the area. This creature has found itself at home in our pop culture and imagination, making appearances in Disneyland’s Matterhorn ride (where the Abominable Snowman has been nicknamed Harold), as Bumbles in Rudolf, the wompas in Star Wars, and an even making an appearance in Pixar’s Monsters Inc.

Yeti-like creatures in movies: Bumbles in Rudolf, the wompa in Star Wars V, and Monsters Inc.

Most of these creatures of legend have characteristics in common—large, hairy ape-like creatures. Usually they’re described as having dark red or brown hair and have a memorable stench. They live in environments where they are capable of hiding from humans (such as the shifting snows of the Himalayan Mountains, the Seminole swamplands of Florida, or the dense woodlands of the Pacific Northwest) and have eluded yielding hard evidence to scientists. From looking at the meanings of some names given to them—the Abominable Snowman, Cannibal Demon, Evil God of the Woods, Devil-Devil, and so forth—we can see that the older stories are often more supernatural and diabolical. Nowadays, they seem more shy—offering intimidating movements, but rarely attacking or carrying of children as their favourite treat as in days past. Whether they really exist or not is up for debate—and that is what makes them truly interesting to discuss.

When it comes to Bigfoot, the story goes that large footprints were found in Del Norte County, California in 1958 by a bulldozer operator named Gerald Crew. Faced with disbelief, Crew brought his friend Bob Titmus in to cast the prints in plaster and the story was published in the Humbolt Times. In the article, Andrew Genzoli shortened the local name for the “Big Foot” track maker to “Bigfoot.” Soon, the story went international as the Associated Press picked up the story. Although the family of another local man named Ray Wallace later confessed that the footprints had been fabricated as a hoax, the name and idea caught on. Searches were made, sightings were and are related nationwide, and a video (also later revealed as a hoax) was even made (“Bigfoot”).

Distributions of reported Bigfoot sightings in the US. Note that almost a third are in the Pacific Northwest.

Distributions of reported Bigfoot sightings in the US. Note that almost a third are in the Pacific Northwest.

Bigfoot has made several appearances here in Utah. For example, one woman related that:

I was driving home going up Ogden Canyon really late at night, around 2am in the morning. This was in about March or April of 1999.
It was raining very hard and was hard to see the road. I was not driving very fast. When about 30 yards before the Perry’s camp bridge I saw this huge guy walking toward me I’m the middle of the road. So I was driving up and ‘he’ or ‘it’ was walking down the canyon.
My first thought was, “Why would a guy be wearing a fur coat in the middle of a rainstorm?” I actually had to swerve to miss hitting it. It didn’t move out of the way. As I passed by this thing I realized it wasn’t a man in a coat as it was way too big and bulky to be a man. I know it was not a man or a moose or anything like that. I know exactly what it was (Slade, Carver, Gina).

While an incident like this may have been someone dressed up in special suit, like the late Randy Lee Tenley’s failed attempt at creating Bigfoot sightings in Montana (Levs), there are other incidents that Utah residents have reported.

One man related that when he was ten years old with his family on a camping trip near Logan, he and his sister went exploring:

My sister and I walked the one or two hundred yards to the quarry. As we walked, we listened to the birds in the trees and talked and played games. When we arrived at the edge of the quarry, things began to change.
The first thing we noticed was how absolutely dead quiet it had become. The birds were no longer singing and nothing was moving. As we walked out of the edge of the tree line to the edge of the quarry, there was a small embankment of gravel, dirt, and small rocks leading up to a flat open area of knee-high grass and dirt. The sloping embankment was approximately 15 feet high.
My sister and I approached the embankment to climb up. We both immediately noticed that there were two fresh relatively evenly-spaced marks in the gravel and dirt diagonally up the embankment, which would make the impressions roughly 5 feet apart. We walked the last few steps to the embankment and began trudging up the embankment. We were curious about what could have made the marks. We assumed it was some sort of animal, but didn’t know exactly what.
When we got up to the first mark, it was immediately clear to us that that mark was an enormous footprint and that the footprint was pointing uphill. That seemed very strange because it would have to have been someone very huge to make such big prints and take such large strides.
Our curiosity led us to climb the remainder of the way to the top of the embankment. Our curiosity ended immediately upon reaching the top. Three things struck me instantly. One thing was a very strong, sour smell. Another thing was that there was a very large patch of grass and weeds that had been smashed down to look very much like a bed or nest. The final thing that struck me was a feeling of “wrongness.” I don’t know of any other way to describe the feeling other than it just felt ‘wrong’ and like I had to get out of there.
My sister was also visibly frightened. Although I did not see anything, my sister said that she saw something brown run into the trees across the clearing (She later described it as a very large chestnut brown thing running on two legs). I had heard of bigfoot before that, but did not think about bigfoot at that time until my sister said that she saw something run into the trees. That is when I began to think of bigfoot.
I shouted “run,” and we ran down the embankment and back to my father and brother as fast as possible (Slade, “Providence Canyon”).

Statue of bigfoot. Scientists think that they’re a combination of folklore, misidentification, and hoax, but those who see them believe they’re real.

The Ogden area seems to have had several Bigfoot sightings during February of 1980. On Sunday afternoon, February 3, a South Weber, Utah, a high school student named Pauline Markham glanced out of her kitchen window and saw what she identified as “a big, black creature” climbing down a mountain ridge a half-mile away. Markham, a Mormon, reported that she simply put her glass down and “went to church.” Early the next morning, her cousin, Ronald Smith, who was with his horse in a field, saw a “big dark figure.” According to a local newspaper:

About 12:20 a.m. Feb. 4, Ronald Smith was arriving home from work. He got out of his truck and walked back to his pasture on South Weber Road and “heard something out in the field.” What he heard and later saw, he now believes is Bigfoot. “I was going back to feed the horse and he wouldn’t come to the fence. I started out there to feed him and I heard, crunch, crunch, it was something walking on two legs through the snow. Since only the horse is out there, I thought it might have been some kids getting into something,” Smith said. “I looked out there, it was moonlit, and I saw this dark figure walking across the pasture. I thought it was a high school kid trying to get away before I saw him. I didn’t think of how big it was.” Smith continued,”‘I saw it walk into some trees. The horse wasn’t scared, but it was acting a little funny and looking over that way. Then I heard the screams. They were unlike anything I’ve ever heard. They sounded like a cougar, but only with a lot of volume. They were just different. I got out of there and into the house,” Smith said.
“My wife was telling me to get a gun or a camera, but it only lasted seconds. It screamed four times when I was outside and three more times after I got inside. I told my wife, ‘I think it’s Bigfoot out there’ and I was sort of kidding, but those screams were unbelievable.” Smith said if the beast hadn’t screamed, he would have passed off the figure in the moonlight as a “kid in the pasture.”
Smith went into the field the next day to look for tracks and said he found marks about six feet apart that looked like it was something with toes, but that the horse had trampled the tracks throughout the night. He also said he thought his horse was “acting funny” for several days and he feels that could have been an indication that the Bigfoot was aroung [sic] for some time (Harrington).

Smith was unwilling to speak about his Bigfoot experience later on, but the story took place during the time an interesting fusion of Bigfoot lore with the Mormon stories of Cain.

The Canonical Cain of Mormonism

“As Adam represented the Lord on earth, so Cain acted for and on behalf of Lucifer. Indeed, this first murderer of all murderers is himself Perdition”
~Bruce R. Mc.Conkie

Who was this Cain, and what was his role in Mormon folklore? To understand him, let’s look more towards what the LDS Church views as doctrine and then look at the stories and lore that have evolved around him.

The bulk of the info we have on Cain comes from the early chapters of Genesis in the Bible, augmented in the Joseph Smith Translation (which is in in the LDS cannon of scripture as the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price). Cain was a son of Adam and Eve (not the first, as we learn in Moses 5:2-3, 16, but the first of note in the scriptures). He was a “tiller of the ground” who “loved Satan more than God” (Moses 5:17-18). The first major story we have is of giving offerings to the Lord: “Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord” (vv. 18-19). His offering of “the fruit of the ground” was not accepted while brother, Abel’s offering of sheep was. Why? According to Joseph Smith it was,

Because he could not do it in faith, he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. It must be shedding the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man; for this was the plan of redemption; and without the shedding of blood was no remission; and as the sacrifice was instituted for a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared; to offer a sacrifice contrary to that, no faith could be exercised because redemption was not purchased in that way, nor the power of the atonement instituted after that order; consequently Cain could have no faith; and whatsoever is not of faith, is sin (J. Smith 58).

We learn that when his offering was rejected, “Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” The Lord observed this and asked Cain: “Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him” (vv. 22-23). The Lord let him know that repentance and a change of heart were still available to him, but that the choice was his. If he did not change, he would be subject to Satan for now and then eventually rule over him (for beings with bodies are more powerful than those without); “For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his life; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world. And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which he had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent” (vv. 24-25). He did not repent, but instead: “Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord. And Adam and his wife mourned before the Lord, because of Cain and his brethren” (vv. 26-27).

From then on, Cain continued his descent to darkness. He married a niece who also loved Satan more to God. Then, he introduced secret combinations to the children of Adam when “Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands” (v. 29). This terrifying agreement was entered into by Cain, introducing abominations to mankind with Cain becoming the father of Satan’s lies on earth. “And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness” (v. 30).

“And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness”

As agreed, he slew Abel his brother, thinking to gain his flocks, and gloried in doing so. Then, the Lord said unto Cain: “Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?

“And the Lord said : What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground. And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

“And Cain said unto the Lord: Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks. And I was wroth also; for his offering thou didst accept and not mine; my punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that he that findeth me will slay me, because of mine iniquities, for these things are not hid from the Lord.

“And I the Lord said unto him: Whosoever slayeth thee, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And I the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

“And Cain was shut out from the presence of the Lord, and with his wife and many of his brethren dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (vv. 34-41, emphasis added). He then had children and passes out of the story, more or less, leaving a legacy of bloodletting and secret combinations that his children followed.

In assessing the story of Cain, this figure has become the archetype of sinners and the sons of Perdition in the Mormon mind–second only to Satan himself in wickedness. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,

Cain had the great honor of being Adam’s son, and he, too, was privileged with the same blessings as his father. What a mighty man he could have been! How his name might have stood out with excellent luster as that of one of the valiant sons of God! How he might have been honored to the latest generation! But he would have none of it!

Cain’s great sin was not committed in ignorance. We have every reason to believe that he had the privilege of standing in the presence of messengers from heaven. In fact the scriptures infer that he was blessed by communication with the Father and was instructed by messengers from his presence. No doubt he held the Priesthood; otherwise his sin could not make of him Perdition. He sinned against the light. And this he did, so we are told, because he loved Satan more than he loved God (“Pearl of Great Price Student Manual” 18).

Bruce R. McConkie gave further insight into the Mormon view of Cain by stating:

Two persons, Cain and Satan, have received the awesome name-title Perdition. The name signifies that they have no hope whatever of any degree of salvation, that they have wholly given themselves up to iniquity, and that any feeling of righteousness whatever has been destroyed in their breasts…. Both came out in open rebellion against God having a perfect knowledge that their course was contrary to all righteousness” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 566).

He even went on to say that Cain was designated as Perdition in the premortal existence (the time before life when we lived with God and many important assignments were made to prophets, etc.) and “will rule over Satan himself when the devil and his angels are cast out everlastingly” (“New Witness” 658). Although the premortal designation is questionable–Joseph Fielding Smith stated that “No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. every person has free agency. Cain was promised by the Lord  that if he would do well, he would be accepted (“Doctrines of Salvation” 1:61)–this title of Perdition implies that Cain became not only the archetype but also a father–along with Satan–to the most wicked ways of all men–those who absolutely will not accept redemption through Christ–the Sons of Perdition. “Both Satan and Cain are called Perdition, which means ruin or destruction. Their followers–those who sin against truth and knowledge by denying or defying the Son after walking in his light–are called sons of perdition” (Millet, et al, emphasis added, 88).

The Cain of Mormon Folklore

Venturing forward into the realm of folklore, there are those who have taken the statements that he was cursed to be a “fugitive and a vagabond in the earth” to mean that he was cursed to be stuck, wandering the earth forever. This idea is an old one in the world of folklore connected to several other similar tales: For mariners, one can look at the Flying Dutchman—tales of a ship and crew cursed for blasphemy that wanders the oceans (particularly Cape Hope), unable to eat, sleep, or die and appears as a portent of stormy weather. For Christians, we have the Wandering Jew—a story of a man who mocked Christ as He was carrying the cross to Calvary. Christ looked at him after he told Him to move on and said, “I will go, but thou shall tarry until I return,” and since that day the man has been a wanderer in the earth, unable to die, unable to rest. This story has also merged with tales of Ahasuerus the Antichrist—a leader of the Powers of Darkness who had been present at the Crucifixion and who would strive with Christ when he returned a second time (see Beck 391-393).

Various wanderers of lore: Cain, the Flying Dutchman, and the Wandering Jew

The idea that Cain was among these wanderers was expressed in the medieval ages, with some sightings reported from time to time (“Cain and Abel”). One legend even speaks of him ending up on the moon, settling with a bundle of twigs (thereby explaining the shadows on the moon’s face). This idea was referenced in Dante’s Inferno (canto 20, line 126 and 127) when he wrote:

For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine

On either hemisphere, touching the wave

Beneath the towers of Seville. Yesternight

The moon was round.

Also in Paradiso, canto 2, line 51:

But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots

Upon this body, which below on earth

Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?

While these legends have largely died out, variants still lives on in Mormon culture, often with striking similarities to stories of the Wandering Jew with his curse that he was “never to die but would wander till the day Jesus returned, only resting long enough to eat his meals” (Unterman, 204). For example, one story related that a Mr. Olson talked with an extremely dirty man on a horse who eventually “told Mr. Olson that he was Cain and that he was cursed to roam the earth until the end and never rest”  (Christensen). Another tale related the experience of a member of the early Church who saw “a small naked man running to the side of the carriage” that he was riding in. “The brother asked the naked man if he wanted a ride, but the man replied that he didn’t. When pressed for a reason, the naked man said that his name was Cain, and that God had condemned him to wander the earth; hence, he couldn’t ride in a carriage” (Jones).

At times, the tales of this curse worse than death take on a darker tone, such as one that spoke of a man that “had a dark, tormented-looking face” meeting a rider and telling him that “he was Cain and was destined to roam the earth. He asked for relief and the rider refused him. Cain then disappeared but kept reappearing and making the same request” (Alexa). What was this relief he sought? Another story perhaps gives an explanation by telling about a “colored guy” that stopped a wagon and tried to irritate the driver into running him over, even telling the man that, “I want you to kill me.” When asked why, “He said that he was, in fact, Cain and that he was promised by the Lord that he would be forced to wander the land and no one would ever be able to take his life; and so he was still wandering. And he wanted the guy to kill him because he wanted to die, but he couldn’t” (Bird). One strain of this folklore claims “that Cain is a black man who wanders the earth begging people to kill him and take his curse upon themselves” (Cannon 314).

Many Mormons have heard of the idea that Cain still wanders the earth from friends, seminary teachers (religious instructors for high-school-aged teens), family, etc. Some have offered various explanations as to how he’d still be around. One missionary “suggested that this is another example of Satan copying the ways of God. His logic was that God preserved the lives of John the Baptist and the Three Nephites to work as agents for Him until the end of time — Satan did the same thing with Cain (thus, the ability to live through the flood).” (Cited by Destiny. See also 3 Nephi 28 and D&C 7). Another story I’ve heard from a couple of people (one of whom claimed to of heard it from a seminary teacher) is that there is a Jewish legend of a giant who would walk or swim alongside Noah’s ark during the flood during the day and sleep on the roof during the night. They offered the explanation that the giant may have been Cain and that is how he survived the flood. Why Noah would allow an enemy of all that is good in the world to camp out for the night on his roof is beyond me, but it is an interesting explanation.

The most famous and central encounter with Cain in Mormon folklore is the letter from Abraham O. Smoot recollecting an account by David Patton of meeting “a very remarkable person who had represented himself as being Cain.” This was placed in Lycurgus A. Wilson’s book, Life of Daivd W. Patton with a section was reprinted in Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness—a classic in Mormon circles. The full letter, as printed in Wilson’s book goes as follows:

Dear Brother: In relation to the subject of the visit of Cain to Brother David W. Patten in the State of Tennessee, about which you wrote to me, I will say that according to the best of my recollection it was in the month of September, 1835.

It was in the evening, just twilight, when Brother Patten rode up to my father’s house, alighted from his mule and came into the house. The family immediately observed that his countenance was quite changed. My mother having first noticed his changed appearance said: “Brother Patten, are you sick?” He replied that he was not, but had just met with a very remarkable personage who had represented himself as being Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. He went on to tell the circumstances as near as I can recall in the following language:

“As I was riding along the road on my mule 1 suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. He walked along beside me for about two miles. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle.

He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, 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. When he left me I found myself near your house.”

There was much conversation about the circumstances between Brother Patten and my family which I don’t recall, but the above is in substance his statement to us at the time. The date is, to the best of my recollection, and I think it is correct, but it may possible have been in the spring of l836, but I feel quite positive that the former date is right.

Hoping the above all be satisfactory to you and answers your purpose, I am with the kindest regards, as ever,

Your friend and Brother,

A. O. Smoot (47-48).

While this account has become the primary source for members to be introduced to the idea of Cain still roaming the earth, it seems that the story was known and believed before the book was written in 1901. In fact, the letter of Abraham O. Smoot was initially written in response to an inquiry by President Joseph F. Smith (then a member of the First Presidency). When President Smith read it to the Quorum of the Twelve, apostle Abraham H. Cannon commented that he had “always entertained the idea that Cain was dead” but now changed his views (“Diary Excerpts of Abraham H. Cannon”). Another leading figure in the Church during the 19th century—Eliza R. Snow—wrote a poem by 1884 (before A. O. Smoot even wrote his letter) which contained a stanza that memorialized the story (E.R.S. Smith 475):

We read that Abel, Adam’s son, was slain

By his aspiring, jealous brouther, Cain;

And Cain was cursed; and yet he wears his “mark”

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.

                This poem was read to a group of Church leaders at her brother’s birthday celebration nearly fifty years after the event had initially occurred. The fact that she made casual reference to it implies that it was known and accepted by those present. Also, the fact that President Smith asked Brother Smoot about the incident implies that he had already heard about it (perhaps from the reading of the poem).

Though the Patton account is the most famous, there are other accounts and stories of visits from Cain. One exists of E. Wesley Smith—a son of Joseph F. Smith and president of the Hawaii mission in 1921 when Laie temple was dedicated—reported that the night before the dedication of the temple he had an interesting visitor:

A man came through the door. He was tall enough to have to stoop to enter. His eyes were very protruding and rather wild looking, his fingernails were thick and long. He presented a rather unkempt appearance and wore no clothing at all. . . . There suddenly appeared in [Smith’s] right hand a light which had the size and appearance of a dagger. . . . A voice said ‘This is your priesthood.’ He commanded the person in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to depart. . . . Immediately when the light appeared the person stopped and on being commanded to leave, he backed out the door (“Experiences with Cain”).

This account has also been attributed an experience of William M. Waddoups–the first temple president in Hawaii–with a few slight variations, such as a realization “through the spirit… that this huge figure was Cain.” His granddaughter, however, “denies validity in the story” (Baird), and evidence does suggest that if it did occur, it happened to Smith. Apparently, Wesley contacted his brother, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith (then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve), who identified the visitor as “Cain… whose curse is to roam the earth seeking whom he may destroy.” He went on to describe Cain as a representative of “the spirit of the adversary” of which there was “always unusual evidence… for a period just prior to the dedication of every temple” (“Experiences with Cain”).

One of the interesting things about folklore is that it reflects the inner beliefs of a people and serves to reinforce and bolster those beliefs further. In these earlier accounts of Cain we find the idea that there is a very active and vibrant struggle between good and evil with evil fighting against good wherever it rears is beautiful head. In the story above, Elder Smith states that Cain stands in “as a representative of the spirit of the adversary” immediately before a temple dedication–an event which Mormons believe “lessons the power of Satan on the earth and increases the power of God and Godliness” (Olsen 34).  The goodness of temples is often underscored by opposition arising against them in Mormon belief. Brigham Young even used this motif in motivating the Saints to build temples: “Some say, ‘I do not like to do it [work on the temple], for we never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.’ I want to hear them ring again” (Young 300).

Stories such as these emphasized the point Joseph Smith was making when he said: “When I do the best I can—when I am accomplishing the greatest good, then the most evils and wicked surmisings are got up against me…. If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him” (“Teachings of Presidents”, 372). The Saints felt that when they were doing the work of God they would face opposition from the devil as a result.

‘The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes’

In earlier eras of the Church, the struggle with the supernatural was a bit livelier than we might believe nowadays, even to the point of physical (not just spiritual) danger. Joseph Smith spoke of struggling against Satan when he first sought the Lord in prayer and that during the struggle he “was ready to sink into despair and abandon [himself] to destruction-not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being” (JS-H 1:16). Heber C. Kimball related that the night before the first baptisms took placed in Great Britain, he was knocked senseless to the floor by an invisible power and that when he regained his consciousness, he saw “evil spirits who foamed and gnashed their teeth” at them (Whitney 130–31). In another account, he related that: “They came when I was laying hands upon brother Russell, the wicked spirits got him to the door of the room, I did not see them till after that took place, and soon afterwards I lay prostrate upon the floor….

“…The spirits of the wicked, who have died for thousands of years past, are at war with the Saints of God upon the earth…. The next morning I was so weak that I could scarcely stand, so great was the effect that those spirits had upon me” (JD 3:229).

When he asked Joseph Smith about the incident later, the Prophet told him “what contests he had had with the devil; he told me that he had contests with the devil, face to face. He also told me how he was handled and afflicted by the devil, and said, he had known circumstances where Elder Rigdon was pulled out of bed three times in one night” (JD 3:229-230). Joseph Smith added further: “When I heard of it [Kimball’s incident], it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you.’

“. . . ‘The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes’” (Whitney 130–31). As an added touch to his talk, Elder Kimball said: “After all this some persons will say to me, that there are no evil spirits. I tell you they are thicker than the ‘Mormons’ are in this country” (JD 3:230).

While the powers of darkness were more tangibly active in the Mormon world back then, the powers of light were more vibrant too. After relating his experience with demons, Elder Kimball said: “If evil spirits could come to me, cannot ministering spirits and angels also come from God? Of course they can, and there are thousands of them, and I wish you to understand this, and that they can rush as an army going to battle…. The Lord has said that there are more for us than there can be against us” (JD 3:229-230). Angels, heavenly manifestations, speaking in tongues (such as the Adamic language), etc. were much more visible and frequently spoken of in their time.

Beyond the presence of divine aid from angelic beings, Mormons believe that the priesthood–authority and power normally given to every worthy male member that is old enough–has the ability to control and rebuke demons. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It would seem also, that wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed or controlled, and know their future destiny… and, it is very evident that they possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control, as we have before adverted to, in the case of the sons of Sceva” (J. Smith, “Teachings of the Prophet,” 208).

What role does Cain play in this struggle between light and darkness? One account summarized Mormon belief on the subject by stating that “Cain is the embodiment of evil, second only to Satan himself in Mormon Doctrine, and the prospect of becoming subject to him is frightening” (K. Anderson). Elder Bruce R. McConkie also wrote that: “As Adam represented the Lord on earth, so Cain acted for and on behalf of Lucifer” (“New Witness” 658). In a sense, he was an anti-prophet: instead of representing God on earth, he represented Satan as his agent. In the vein of belief that he has lived to this day, he has carried on this role and has made other appearances in the battle between good and evil. In one 1984 account,

In the 1920’s an Apostle was in Mexico checking upon the mission there. While traveling through the desert his car broke down, and to get where he wanted to go he had to walk through the desert. While walking he spoted [sic] a very large man about 7 ft. tall and very dark and harry [sic] coming towards him on a donkey. This man came up to the Apostle. The Apostle asked him who he was? This man said that he was Caine [sic], and [asked] if he remembered what the Lord did to him. He cast me out to be a Vagabon [sic]. After saying this to the Apostle, Cain [tried] to over power him. At this time the Apostle cast him out with the authority of the Priesthood (Sampson).

Another story, collected in 1961, described

A devout young man who had just recently been called to the office of Bishop. One evening while this man was working late into the night he began to feel as if something was wrong or going to happen. As he sat there, the door of his office opened and a monstrous tall dark figure covered with black hair walked in toward the young man. . . . This figure had the appearance of what one would think Cain to have had. . . . The Bishop had the feeling that its intent was to destroy him and in an attempt to save himself, he called out, “By the authority of the priesthood and the power of God I command you to leave!” Upon the pronouncement of these words the figure disappeared, as rapidly and as mysteriously as it had appeared (Randall).

As religious historian Matthew Bowman reported in his groundbreaking study of Mormon folklore about Cain,

Both stories have very similar motifs: A dedicated servant of the Lord is pursuing his Church calling when Cain interrupts him and seeks to destroy him. And as one might expect, mission officials and missionaries seem to be the most frequent target for Cain; aside from more prominent mission workers like our unnamed apostle, E. Wesley Smith, and David Patten himself, ordinary and often unnamed missionaries have been plagued by Cain as well….

The ease with which E. Wesley Smith, the bishop, and the apostle dispatched Cain is a common nineteenth-century theme in stories of spiritual warfare; in these tales, God’s power in the form of the Church leader is pitted directly against Satan’s in the form of Cain, and God triumphs. Similarly, Cain presented little resistance to David Patten. When that apostle commanded him ‘in the name of Jesus Christ and by the virtue of the Holy priesthood’ to leave, Cain ‘immediately departed out of my sight.’ Both the apostle and bishop also banished Cain by invoking their priesthood authority. In these stories, Cain has an important function in Mormon culture. He is represented as a player on the distinctly Mormon battleground of Joseph Smith’s restoration and is understood through the sacred history that Mormonism wrote for itself” (Bowman 69-70).

Thus, we see Cain acting as a physical manifestation of Satan in much of the Mormon folklore on the subject, intent on evil and the destruction of the work of the Lord on the earth. Stories like these reinforce the idea that Satan will oppose the work of God, but that the Lord is still more powerful and will prevail if we trust in Him and His priesthood. As one blog post about Cain said, “One message of the story is that evil is big and scary, but ultimately controllable” (cited in Destiny).

The Mark and the Curse of Cain

Cain flying before Jehovah’s Curse

The scriptural account in Genesis notes that the Lord told Cain, “thou [art] cursed from the earth…. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Genesis 4:11, 15). The substance of this curse and mark has been a subject of debate for years, with different traditions settling on different answers. In the Jewish tradition, “He was cursed by God to wander the face of the earth, finding no rest, but he carried God’s mark on him so that no one would kill him, and grew horns to scare off any animals that might attack him” (Unterman 43-44). In the Mormon tradition, however, the issue became thornier because of its implications–the mark was black skin, and the curse–in addition to wandering the face of the earth–was denying the priesthood from both Cain and his descendants.

While some aspects of Cain and his descendants in Mormon folklore are benign or even comical, such as the statement one Utahn made that, “People with excessive body hair are descendants of Cain” (Cannon, et al 50), the more notable ones had to do with race and racism. For many years people of African descent were not allowed to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. It is unclear when this began—whether during Joseph Smith’s time or that of Brigham Young’s leadership—but it ended during the year 1978 under Spence W. Kimball with the Official Declaration Number 2. In response to statements from a BYU professor that reflected the older feelings of Church members on blacks and the priesthood, the First Presidency recently stated:

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.  It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church” (“Church Statement”).

In anther official statement, the Church stated:

The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine” (“Race and the Church”).

Many of these non-doctrinal explanations had to do with Cain being the progenitor of a cursed race. As previously mentioned, the classic idea that Mormons subscribed to is that the mark set upon Cain was blackness of skin, much as the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 5:21). Just as that mark of skin color was passed on to Laman and Lemuel’s descendants, the mark was carried on to Cain’s descendants, preserved through Ham, the son of Noah (who married a descendant of Cain) and passed on to those of African descent. A small section of the book of Abraham reads: “[the] king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land…. And thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land” (Abraham 1:21-24). Associated with the curse was an inability to hold the priesthood:

Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generation, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the days of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of the Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham (Abraham 1:26-27).

It’s unclear when this concept first became attached to black Africans and Cain—many of the records of early sermons are somewhat incomplete. The first recorded reference was by Elder Parley P. Pratt in 1847. In speaking of a half-African American convert that had recently been excommunicated, the apostle stated that he “was a black man with the blood of Ham in him which lineage was cursed as regards the priesthood” (“General Minutes”). Nowadays, the ideas of the mark and the curse have been pointed out as being separate, as stated in a Church-published student manual:

It must be noted that the mark that was set upon Cain was not the same thing as the curse that he received. The mark was to distinguish him as the one who had been cursed by the Lord. It was placed upon Cain so that no one finding him would kill him…. It should be noted that the curse was based on individual disobedience and that by obedience to God the curse was removed, although the mark may not have been removed immediately (“The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual” 18).

While this distinction helps to remove the stigma of the curse affecting all descendants of Cain for us today, historically there have been remarks and ideas put forth by members and leaders of the Church that were racist.

One example comes from Brigham Young:

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race − that they should be the ‘servant of servants;’ and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof (JD 7:291).

In this idea, the inability to hold the priesthood was intertwined what was the standard notions of blacks being divinely decreed as slaves and have certain natural disadvantages were attributed to their connection with Cain.

Not all Church leaders felt that way. President David O. McKay concluded in 1954 that “there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy” but noted that “church membership was not prepared for its reversal” (Prince and Wright 80). On another time he stated:

There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it” (cited in Prince and Wright 79-80).

Eventually it was changed, as we have mentioned. After it was, the attitudes of Church members changed and some Church leaders admitted they had been wrong in what they had previously expressed. When asked about the subject in an interview, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:

It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reason to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. The lesson I’ve drawn from that [is that] I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it (Oaks 21).

Even more recently, the Church released an official statement that noted that, “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions” and firmly stated that, “None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church…. Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life” (“Race and the Priesthood”).

Prior to the change in policy, however, the Church came under intense scrutiny and attack for their position against blacks holding the priesthood. Public criticism came from both inside and outside of the Church, protests were staged at general conferences and BYU games, sometimes even bomb threats were given. During this time, stories of Cain seemed to have become more common in the Mormon community. It has been suggested that this resurrection of the Cain myths  was a reflection of Church member’s struggle with the Civil Rights Movement—depicting Cain as more demonic than man, twisted beyond redemption, making those they supposed were his descendants somehow evil by connection. This in turned justified the course of action that the Church was still pursuing at the time of denying them the priesthood.

As Matthew Bowman wrote,

A case in point is the following tale, retold by folklorists William Wilson and Richard Poulson: “Missionaries tracting . . . a white section of a town in Georgia were surprised when a huge black Negro came to the door and hurled obscenities at them. His mein [sic] was hideous, and the missionaries left, much frightened. Their mission president later told them that the man had been Cain, that the town was very wicked, and that they should no longer labor there.”

This story presents a number of variants from the pattern. First, the protagonists uncharacteristically back down when confronted by “Cain.” Even the authority figure of the mission president seems to retreat. In [a] story of the two Bear Lake missionaries on horseback, the stake president identified the dangerous figure for them; but that earlier story ended at that point, leaving the impression that in naming Cain, the stake president has seized control of the situation. The implication is that the two missionaries fulfilled their missions despite Cain’s efforts.

In the Georgia tale, however, naming Cain almost seems a surrender to him. Perhaps it was meant to, given the strong racial overtones in this story. The specifics of “Negro” and “Georgia” imply race more strongly than any other tale examined for this study. Perhaps the surrender to Cain reflected the Church’s struggle during the civil rights movement when the story was collected—a period of awkward transition when the Church was confronting its own racial assumptions (Bowman 71-72).

When the priesthood was offered to all, “without regard to race or color” (Official Declaration Number 2), it struck down the basis behind this reason for talking about the Cain folklore. Further, by that time much of the supernatural struggle idea had become more tame (though it is still around to some extent–especially when speaking of full-time missionaries)—the gift of tongues was focused on useful languages in missionary efforts, reports of angelic visits had become less commonly-spoken-of in the Church, and demonic attacks were not discussed with the same frequency they were in the 1800s. The Cain stories also serve as an example of this transition, since many members today do not believe Cain is a supernatural ally of Satan that still wanders the world, wishing for death but unable to die. Whereas it once was perfectly acceptable and normal to believe in such things, it’s become less acceptable in the modern-day world. For example, one college student I talked to about the subject shook her head and said, “People come up with some pretty weird things.” Granted, many of the stories in the USU archives include statements that the teller or the recorder believed the story to be true, which shows that it is still believable, but the thing about folklore is that if it’s not relevant today, it’s forgotten and dies. Often, however, the important legends have a way of adapting to the situation. As for Cain, he evolved to meet the needs of the time.

The Bigfoot/Cain Idea

A frame from the Patterson film

In 1967, the Patterson film was released, showing the world thirty seconds of a large, heavy, hair-covered creature loping away from the camera, with a brief glance back before vanishing in the woods. After this event Bigfoot garnered more attention and more interest from the community at large than before. At the same time, views about the creature were becoming somewhat more scientific and less supernatural–typified by the emphasis on the more formal-sounding Sasquatch. On the Mormon side of things, The Miracle of Forgiveness was published in 1969, which made the Patten sightings of Cain famous again, since it was referenced as an example of the sad plight of murderers. Then in February 1980 (two years after the priesthood declaration) the South Weber sightings of Bigfoot occurred. During the initial events, no association of the subject with Cain arose. By 1990, though, local historian Lee D. Bell noted in that South Weber citizens had begun associating “their” Bigfoot with Cain not long after the sighting occurred (see Bell 513–20). In 2003, the Deseret News went so far as to say that the South Weber sightings were the genesis of the “the Bigfoot/Cain idea” (Arave). Whether they were or not, it was around that time that the crossover occurred. The Cain legend cycle had begun to be redefined to fit the new worldview of the Saints, and in the process it merged with a mainstream strain of folklore.

In a sense, it’s understandable—Cain was described as tall, hairy, naked, dark, and wild-looking. Bigfoot is generally described as tall, hairy, naked, man-like, but wild and ranging from reddish brown to black. Many legends have their Bigfoot-like creature as supernatural, evil and demonic. Cain is an agent of the devil in Mormon folklore. Legends of Bigfoot crop up all over the world. Cain was cursed to wander all over the earth. Granted, I haven’t heard of many tales describing Cain as smelling horrible, but then again, I haven’t heard any of Bigfoot introducing himself as an enemy of all righteousness either. Whether the idea is true or not is another subject entirely, but after a certain point, the Cain stories began to emphasize the more Bigfoot-like features. A few examples:

A group of Boy Scouts was on a camping trip when they heard strange noises. It was Cain, who chased them through the woods and into a cabin. They locked the door, but Cain tried to climb through the chimney. . . . The boys prayed, then got the idea to light a fire in the fireplace. The boy who lit the fire saw a big hairy man’s face in the fireplace right before it went up in flames. Later they saw Cain running across the field yelping in pain (“Supernatural Religious Legends”).

In this tale, Cain never speaks—in fact, he reacts more like an animal than a human throughout. The scouts do pray, but they don’t use the priesthood to banish the enemy. Instead, they get a prompting to do something you would do for any beast climbing down a chimney to get you (just ask the Three Little Pigs).

As for more examples:

A 1998 tale tells of a giant ‘Cain-beast,’ a phrase that emphasizes the brutish nature of this legend’s Cain, who, with no attempt at communication, simply ‘chased two elders to their car.’ Another collected in the same year tells of Cain stalking an old man’s farmhouse late at night. It emphasizes Cain’s monstrousness, since ‘two horses . . . died in the night from heart attacks because they were so afraid.’ For his part, Cain reacts like any other predator, fleeing when the panicked animals awaken the farmer. In another story, the teller’s grandfather looked out his window late at night and ‘saw a big huge hairy man looking in at him.’ The grandfather immediately closed the blinds. Reopening them a few moments later, he ‘saw a huge hairy beast running across his fields. He believed this man to be Bigfoot.’ Interestingly, the teller introduced the story as his ‘grandfather’s experience with Bigfoot/Cain,’ but the text itself does not…. One 1998 story rejects the traditional curse entirely, instead explaining that Bigfoot was an ‘Indian spirit that turns into a hairy Cain-like creature.’…

A 1997 story provides us with a fascinating retelling of David Patten’s encounter with Cain that demonstrates what the Cain cycle has turned into. The teller announces that he read this story in Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness but goes on to tell a very different account: “During the early days of the Church in New York state, a brother was riding his horse through a thicket of wood when he came across an extremely tall, frighteningly hairy creature roaming through the trees. This monster-like form stopped the man and told him that he was Cain. . . . Because of this spotting, many members of the Church believe that Cain is Bigfoot.”

While this story and Patten’s affirm several similar details about Cain (height and hairiness), the modern version replaces Patten’s description of dark skin with ‘frighteningly’ and ‘monster-like.’ In addition, this story omits Cain’s description of his diabolic mission and Patten’s exorcism. In short, racial and religious issues at stake disappear. The tale has become a horror story whose point is identifying Cain with the modern monster Bigfoot (Bowman 78-80).

As Matthew Bowman points out, Cain adapted to be Bigfoot in these stories. Perhaps this was–in part–a way to distance the Cain cycles from connections to those of African descent, and, in part, to match the less supernatural worldview of the time.

Other adaptations to the stories took place as well. In some stories, Cain is brought on by the wickedness of the youth or people in the story instead of their righteousness. For example, in one tale, teenager boys take some dates to play with an Ouija board in a graveyard. When one boy asked, “Can we see Cane?” the board answered yes, and they saw a “huge black man standing on the hill.” The teenagers ran for their cars and drove away, but several of the people were visited by the black man in their bedrooms later on (Chatlin). In the story that was quoted at the very beginning of this post, the lady had gone through the temple intending to never wear her garments again, and it was only after she said a prayer wherein she promised she would would wear her garments that the “thing coming after her” disappeared. Even more significantly in the latter case, the tale was told “in a very quiet tone as if [the teller] was imparting something sacred or religious… to reinforce… the importance of wearing the temple garment” (K. Anderson). The former tale was told by a seminary teacher “to scare us [on Halloween] and to teach us not to play Ouiga [sic] boards.” In these cases, instead of affirming the truth of the work and the power of the priesthood, Cain was a tool to teach the effects of sin—another adaptation to the needs for folklore of the time and setting.

The great thing about folklore is that it adapts to the needs of the time

The great thing about folklore is that it adapts to the needs of the time

Is Cain Alive?

Whether Cain is truly alive and about is a subject of interest and a crucial issue to the Bigfoot-Cain idea. I’ve already discussed some ideas of how or why he could be alive. There are also those within the Church who are devoted to killing the myth and proving that Cain is long been dead and gone. I myself feel much the same as I do about Bigfoot—I don’t know that he would be alive, but I can’t say for certain that he is dead either (I guess you could say I’m a Cain-Bigfoot agnostic). To be fair, I’ll give an overview of a few things that have been pointed out by those on the other side of the debate.

One apologist who wrote an article on FAIR went as far as to say that “whatever the case, Cain is definitely dead.” The author turned to the following from the apocryphal Book of Jasher:

And Lamech was old and advanced in years, and his eyes were dim that he could not see, and Tubal Cain, his son, was leading him and it was one day that Lamech went into the field and Tubal Cain his son was with him, and whilst they were walking in the field, Cain the son of Adam advanced towards them; for Lamech was very old and could not see much, and Tubal Cain his son was very young. And Tubal Cain told his father to draw his bow, and with the arrows he smote Cain, who was yet far off, and he slew him, for he appeared to them to be an animal. And the arrows entered Cain’s body although he was distant from them, and he fell to the ground and died. And the Lord requited Cain’s evil according to his wickedness, which he had done to his brother Abel, according to the word of the Lord which he had spoken. And it came to pass when Cain had died, that Lamech and Tubal went to see the animal which they had slain, and they saw, and behold Cain their grandfather was fallen dead upon the earth (Jasher 2:26-30).

Though the account described Cain as being remarkably animal-like (remember the horn he developed in Jewish folklore), it was quoted to give credit to the idea he is also dead. The author also quoted from the Book of Moses, pointing out that “we do read of Lamech, Cain’s great-great-great-grandson, who made the same covenant with Satan that Cain did. This covenant is described as being had ‘from [or since] the days of Cain,’ which seems to indicate that Cain was dead by this time.”

Concerning the Wesley Smith story, he wrote: “Even if we give Wesley Smith the benefit of the doubt, and grant that some evil spirit made an appearance, using critical thinking we can surmise that there is no justification for even making that identification of Cain. Any evil spirit theoretically could appear as a hideous being. Other folklorish stories are similar in their details.”

Our FAIR writer also pointed out that the account of David Patten was a “late, third-hand account—the sort of thing most historians would dismiss. This kind of testimony is simply unreliable, tainted by the passage of time and the fog of memory.” Even if it was true, “wasn’t Cain a son of perdition, a liar from the beginning? Would someone believe claims from Mark Hoffman? Then why should they believe possible words from the mouth of Cain? As far as can be discerned from the folklore account, Elder Patten did not test Cain by shaking his hand to see if he was truly corporeal. What justification would there be to believe the words of a son of perdition?” Finally, the author asked, “Why is it that some LDS people give these stories doctrinal credence? Does that not manifest a measure of gullibility? Is it only because President Kimball quoted it?…  It doesn’t make sense that any good-thinking person would give those claims credence” (“Cain as Bigfoot”).

It should be obvious that the author has his bent on the subject—to point out why Mormons should stop believing Bigfoot is Cain, thereby making them seem less gullible. He does, however, make some very good points in quoting Jewish tradition, calling the David Patten account into question (though he does avoid the issue that the Eliza R. Snow poem existed before then and not all Cain accounts are about David Patten), etc. In addition to the sources our anonymous author included, we can find other traditions where Cain died. In the psedepigraphal Book of Jubilees (an ancient Jewish text), we read

At the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year [930 A.M.] thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth. … At the close of this jubilee Cain was killed after him in the same year; for his house fell upon him and he died in the midst of his house, and he was killed by its stones; for with a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone was he killed in righteous judgment. For this reason it was ordained on the heavenly tablets: With the instrument with which a man kills his neighbour with the same shall he be killed; after the manner that he wounded him, in like manner shall they deal with him (Jubilees chapter 4).

Whether or not he’s still around, the subject is an interesting one to study. It is an important piece of folklore to Mormon culture, and one that is not likely to die anytime soon. It is not, however, something that ought to be taught seriously in seminary or Sunday School, since we’re taught that, “When we come to points of doctrine that we do not know, even if we have good reason to believe them, [even] if our philosophy teaches us they are true, pass them by and teach only to the people that which we do know” (Young 257).

So, to summarize—legends of elusive, large, hairy human-like creatures have cropped up all around the earth—locally, the stories of Sasquatch and Bigfoot carry the day. In Mormon cultures, the Biblical figure of Cain is believed to be wandering the earth as an agent of Satan until Christ comes again. When changes in Mormon culture took place in the late 1900’s the Cain myths began to merge with the American stories of Bigfoot, leading to a Mormon folk belief that Bigfoot is Cain, wandering the earth as a brutish beast. Whether Cain is dead or alive isn’t really stated as Church doctrine and stories and evidence could point both ways. In the end, however, the idea seems to be deeply rooted and around to stay within the culture of the Mormons.

Last update completed: 26 April 2013.

Author’s note: This post is deeply indebted to Matthew Bowman’s work. Two versions of his article exist: the version cited below (complete with a link to the periodical it’s in) and in the recent publication Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore, ed. by W. Paul Reeve and Michael Scott Van Wagenen, Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2011.  I’d recomend reading the article to anyone interested in the subject.

Works Cited

Alexa, Hope Ann. “Story: Cain.” Winter 1977. TS. Special Collections and Archives of Merrill-Cazier Library, Utah State University, Logan, UT.

Anderson, Keri. “The Return of Cain.” 12 November 1997. TS. Special Collections and Archives of Merrill-Cazier Library, Utah State University, Logan, UT.

Anderson, Mike. “Is Bigfoot in Cache County?” KSL.com, 14 March 2012. Web. 27 May 2012.

Arave, Lynn. “Living in Utah.” Deseret News, July 24, 2003. Print.

Baird, John. “Folk Legend: Cain Story.” Fall, 1973. TS. Special Collections and Archives of Merrill-Cazier Library, Utah State University, Logan, UT.

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Bowman, Matthew. “A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten’s Cain and the Conception of Evil in LDS Folklore.” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 33, No. 3, 2007. Print.

“Cain and Abel.” Wikipedia. Web. 7 June 2012.

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  1. Hey Chad, I saw commentary on the Herald Journal this morning which reminded me about your write-up. I’m going to comment with a link to your blog post. Here’s the Herald Journal page: http://news.hjnews.com/opinion/article_29461fe8-4000-11e2-8931-0019bb2963f4.html

  2. […] Of Cain and Bigfoot […]

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