By KIM SKORNOGOSKI
Tribune Staff Writer
There was a mystery afoot — err ...a Bigfoot — and if anyone was going to solve it, it would be Ruben Horseman.
The volunteer fire chief and self-described snoop, Horseman's phone regularly rings when his Hays neighbors are trying to sort out a story.
"There was a lot of little rumors at first," he said. "That's why I figured we'd go out there and walk it and see what we come up with."
Several people had spotted strange, very large prints in the snow and dirt — some marred with blood and hair — around the powwow grounds where Fort Belknap tribal members hold dances every summer. Armed with only a camera, Horseman and two friends last month bravely headed into Mission Canyon, a mile south of Hays.
What they found surprised even the grizzled investigator. On the south end of the canyon park, some 25 prints were spotted in a 75-yard stretch. The prints looked like giant handprints, with fingers a good 4 inches longer than Horseman's.
Along the canyon wall, a few other handprints were scattered. One print was surrounded by a clump of hair and blood.
Then Horseman and his sluethy crew found the most significant evidence of all — a half-eaten coyote.
"It looked like the creature grabbed it by the front and back legs and bit it in the middle," Horseman said.
It wasn't long before the area was abuzz with the possibility of Sasquatch in their midst.
Speculated to be taller than 7 feet, the alleged ape-like creature is thought to inhabit remote forests in the Pacific Northwest, with early sightings among Native Americans living in the Spokane area dating back to the 1940s.
As Horseman continued to explore the area, it wasn't long before people began to gather. Throughout the day, he estimates a hundred people drove in to check out the Sasquatch scene.
Tribal medicine men even came out to give plate offerings to the creature.
"Young and old came out," he said. "Some people believed, some people didn't believe in this kind of thing."
Horseman said because the weather had warmed and cooled, he could tell the iced print had been made at least a day earlier.
The next batch of rumors was that National Geographic was sending out a team to document the scene and search for Bigfoot. Horseman soon after received a call at home, when a low voice confessed the scene was a hoax.
Pressured by the Tribune's staff of investigative reporters, Anthony Shambo spilled that the trickster was his brother, Reno Shambo, who intended to simply pull a prank on his young son.
"He brought it up to me two weeks before it happened," Shambo said Wednesday. "I kind of laughed at him and said nobody's going to believe that."
Reno Shambo, a coyote hunter, had cut the large prints out of 2-by-4s and strapped them to his feet.
"We laughed so hard about it, but then it got out of proportion," Anthony Shambo said. His brother, who couldn't be reached Wednesday, eventually had to go before the Fort Belknap tribal council, displaying his Bigfoot prints to prove it was just a clever sham.
"I think they did an excellent job," Horseman said. "They really put some time into it."
"It definitely livened the place up for a while," Anthony Shambo said.
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Kim Skornogoski at 791-6574, 800-438-6600 or email@example.com.
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