Alright, guys, here’s the deal: There is a legend among Latter-day Saints — a tall tale — which suggests that the folkloric creature Bigfoot is actually an immortalized, cursed Cain (as in the Cain who killed his brother, Abel, in the Bible). Is this legend true? Is Cain Bigfoot? The answer is no. [*gets up, walks away* Taylor: “No, wait—you have to tell them why.” *exasperated groan, sits back down.*]
OK, so here’s the deal. In the Book of Genesis, Cain is cursed for killing his brother, Abel. At no point is he cursed with immortality. We’re told that a mark is placed upon him to keep other people from killing him, but that’s very different from a promise of living forever. There’s really no reason why anyone should expect Cain to still be alive, wandering the woods today. The main source for the confusion among Latter-day Saints traces back to an early member of the Church named David W. Patten.
In 1835, David Patten was an apostle serving a mission in Tennessee. While on his mission, he stayed for a time with the family of Abraham Smoot. In 1838, David participated in the battle of Crooked River in Missouri and was unfortunately killed. Decades later, in 1893, a then-elderly Abraham Smoot sent a certain letter to Joseph F. Smith. I don’t think the original letter still exists—I haven’t been able to find it—but a copy of the letter was published in David Patten’s biography in 1900. In this letter, Abraham tells Joseph F. Smith about an experience that David Patten had had back in Tennessee during the time he was staying with the Smoot family. Abraham wrote, recalling David’s language to the best of his ability,
“As I was riding along the road on my mule, I 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 Patten arrived back at the Smoot home, he told the family that he “had just met with a very remarkable personage who had represented himself as being Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel.”
Another brief reference to Patten’s experience shows up in a poem by Eliza R. Snow in 1884 which you can pause and read. This is the earliest reference to this experience that I’ve been able to find — but it still dates to almost 50 years after it happened. That said, these references do indicate that this story was out there, and some members and leaders do seem to have believed it.
But what really solidified this story’s place in the Latter-day Saint psyche was when the letter published in Patten’s biography was republished in 1969 in a very popular book by then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball called The Miracle of Forgiveness. That book gave this tale a lot of exposure.
But interestingly, you might notice that in the Patten account, Bigfoot isn’t even mentioned. A couple of sources suggest that Cain wasn’t really associated with Bigfoot until the 1980s. I think the assumption was simply that Bigfoot was a big hairy dude, and the Patten account describes Cain as a big hairy dude, so they must have been the very same big hairy dude… right?
In any case, it is clear that over time the nature of the beast has shifted. As Matthew Bowman put it, over time, “…Cain himself becomes less a supernatural fiend and more the stock monster of any number of campfire tales—in short, less a cursed soul and more Bigfoot.” He became less of a sad creature you can walk and talk with and became more of the ferocious yet shy beast we characterize as Bigfoot today.
Anyway, over the decades, several other obscure and somewhat dubious accounts have surfaced about meeting some sketchy character represented as Cain, but if you want to read more about those, check out Bowman’s article, which I’ll link in the YouTube description, along with some other resources. I don’t want to spend any more time or energy talking about this than it’s worth. Cain is not Bigfoot. Bigfoot is not Cain. I’m probably preaching to the choir on this—I’m confident that most Latter-day Saints already understand that this is just a folk tale, but now you know where this story comes from. It’s an idea based on a decades-late second-hand account that was popularized after being briefly mentioned in a church leader’s book.
It’s miles away from being doctrinal. It’s just some interesting Latter-day Saint folklore that will probably be represented as fact at some point on the History Channel after midnight. But the truth is that Cain is very likely just dead, and Bigfoot very likely just… doesn’t exist(?).
— “A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten’s Cain and the Conception of Evil in LDS Folklore,” by Matthew Bowmen (Journal of Mormon History): https://bit.ly/3OfP6G5
— “Cain and Bigfoot” sources via Mormonr: https://bit.ly/435AzBb
— Patten story as published in “The Miracle of Forgiveness”: https://bit.ly/3OdJSuq
— Patten’s 1900 biography: https://bit.ly/3MyDFbw
— “Question: Does Cain still roam the earth, and does this account for stories about ‘Bigfoot’?” via FAIR: https://bit.ly/4589hM4