All October, in the lead-up to Halloween, I will be presenting a ‘Creepy History’ series, featuring extracts from old books that have been largely forgotten. Today I am looking at Abominable Snowmen, a subject that is surprisingly rare in non-fiction (although certainly quite common in fiction, including two magnificent Patrick Troughton Doctor Who stories). The first quote, which is the earliest I can find, is from the 1832 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which included an article written by Brian Houghton Hodgson.
My shooters were once alarmed in the Kachar by the apparition of a “wild man,” possibly an ourang, but I doubt their accuracy. They mistook the creature for a cacodemon or rakshas, and fled from it instead of shooting it. It moved, they said, erectly: was covered with long dark hair, and had no tail.
Fast-forwarding to the end of the 19th Century, the next quote is from Laurence Austine Waddell, who wrote Among the Himalayas in 1899:
Some large footprints in the snow led across our track, and away up to the higher peaks. These were alleged to be the trail of the hairy wild men who are believed to live amongst the eternal snows, along with the mythical white lions, whose roar is reputed to be heard during storms. The belief in these creatures is universal among Tibetans. None, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation it always resolved itself into something that somebody heard tell of. These so-called hairy wild men are evidently the great yellow snow-bear (Ursus isabellinns), which is highly carnivorous, and often kills yaks. Yet, although most of the Tibetans know this bear sufficiently to give it a wide berth, they live in such an atmosphere of superstition that they are always ready to find extraordinary and supernatural explanations of uncommon events.
To find a book devoted to the Yeti, rather than just the occasional passing mention, we need to look to the 20th Century. Ivan Terence Sanderson wrote Abominable Snowmen, Legend Come to Life, published in 1961.
It appears that in 1902 British Indian officialdom was concerned with the stringing of the first telegraph line from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Kalimpong, Darjeeling in Bengal Province of India just south of the Sikkim border. The job entailed, first, going into Tibet and then stringing the cable out. When the crew reached a pass named Chumbithang near a place called Jelep-La on the Tibet-Sikkim border, an incident occurred that prompted an official report. A dozen workers failed to return to camp one evening and a military posse was sent next day to search for them at the scene of their operations. No trace of the missing men was found, but the soldiers during their wide search for them found a remarkable creature asleep under a rock ledge—or so the report goes. The soldiers were Indians, not Ghurkhas or mountain folk, and this is of significance because had they been they would doubtless have acted differently. The Indians had no qualms about shooting this creature to death immediately. It proved to be human rather than animal in form, though covered with thick hairy fur. Up to this point the report is official. Then it becomes unofficial but for one minor aside to the effect that a full report, together with the beast, was shipped to the senior British political officer then resident in Sikkim, who is correctly named as one Sir Charles Bell.
The unofficial sequence I take from an extraordinary book only recently published by a Mr. John Keel entitled Jadoo. This is the more startling in that it even mentions an incident apparently lost and certainly forgotten over half a century before, yet states that the information therein given was obtained firsthand. The author states that he met in 1957 in Darjeeling a retired Indian soldier named Bombahadur Chetri, who claimed that he was among the party that killed this creature, and that he personally examined it. He is also alleged to have said that it was about 10 feet tall, covered with hair but for a naked face, and that it had “long yellow fangs.” Further, Mr. Keel says that Bombahadur Chetri told him that the carcass had been packed in ice and shipped to this same Sir Charles Bell, but that he did not hear anything further of it.