Writings of British officials residing in the Himalayan region of the Indian subcontinent during the nineteenth century contain sporadic references to sightings and footprints of wildmen called Yeti.
The Yeti were first mentioned by B. H. Hodgson, who from 1820 to 1843 served as British resident at the Nepalese court. Hodgson reported that in the course of a journey through northern Nepal his bearers were frightened by the sight of a hairy, tailless, humanlike creature.
Many will suggest, on hearing a report like this (and hundreds have been recorded since Hodgson’s time), that the Nepalese mistook an ordinary animal for a Yeti. The usual candidates for mistaken identity are bears and the langur monkey. But it is hard to imagine that lifelong residents of the Himalayas, intimately familiar with the wildlife, would have made such mistakes.
Myra Shackley observed that Yeti are found in Nepalese and Tibetan religious paintings depicting hierarchies of living beings.
“Here,” said Shackley, “bears, apes, and langurs are depicted separate from the wildman, suggesting there is no confusion (at least in the minds of the artists) between these forms.”
During the nineteenth century, at least one European reported personally seeing a captured animal that resembled a Yeti.
A South African man told anthropologist Myra Shackley:
“Many years ago in India, my late wife’s mother told me how her mother had actually seen what might have been one of these creatures at Mussorie, in the Himalayan foothills. This semi-human was walking upright, but was obviously more animal than human with hair covering its whole body. It was reportedly caught up in the snows… his captors had it in chains.”
During the twentieth century, sightings by Europeans of wildmen and their footprints continued, increasing during the Himalayan mountain-climbing expeditions.
In November of 1951, Eric Shipton, while reconnoitering the approaches to Mt. Everest, found footprints on the Menlung glacier, near the border between Tibet and Nepal, at an elevation of 18,000 feet. Shipton followed the trail for a mile. A close-up photograph of one of the prints has proved convincing to many. The footprints were quite large. John R. Napier considered and rejected the possibility that the particular size and shape of the best Shipton footprint could have been caused by melting of the snow.
In the end, Napier suggested that the Shipton footprint was the result of superimposed human feet, one shod and the other unshod. In general, Napier, who was fully convinced of the existence of the North American Sasquatch, was highly skeptical of the evidence for the Yeti. But, as we shall see later in this section, new evidence would cause Napier to become more inclined to accept the Himalayan wildmen.
In the course of his expeditions to the Himalaya Mountains in the 1950s and 1960s, Sir Edmund Hillary gave attention to evidence for the Yeti, including footprints in snow. He concluded that in every case the large footprints attributed to the Yeti had been produced by the merging of smaller tracks of known animals.