Cain and Bigfoot

1893 Salt Lake Temple dedication photograph with Bigfoot photoshopped into the crowd.
Master Mahan is often present at Temple dedications to cause trouble for the sons and daughters of Ephraim.

Why do some people say that Cain is Bigfoot?

Mostly because of a passage in Spencer W. Kimball's[BIO] book Miracle of Forgiveness. The passage records an account claiming Apostle David W. Patten[BIO] met a very large, hairy man who identified himself as Cain[BIO] during a mule ride.[1] Although Kimball doesn't identify Cain as "Bigfoot,"[BIO] this idea has become part of Mormon folklore.[2]

Why did Spencer W. Kimball put that story in Miracle of Forgiveness?

It's unclear why Kimball included the story. It comes at the end of an account about Cain when he is talking about the consequences of sin and how people can sin against the light they have been given.[3] It seems like the David W. Patten account is just included because it is an interesting story about Cain, and Cain was referenced in the preceding part of the book.

Is this account reliable?

Not really. Kimball reprints a secondhand account written 65 years after the event supposedly happened.[4] The earliest retelling of the Patten account is from an undated handwritten record from Horace Rawson.[BIO][5]

Isn’t this story super weird?


Are there other accounts of Cain-Bigfoot sightings in Church history?

Yes, there are two other documented cases of Church members encountering a "Cain-like" figure. One is an account of E. Wesley Smith[BIO] who purportedly encountered someone who may have been Cain.[6] The other is from Horace Rawson,[BIO] an early church member. He claimed to have met a "very strange" man in Nauvoo in 1847 that he could not identify but said he fit the description of Cain.[7]

How did the Mormon idea of Cain get associated with the existing myth of Bigfoot?

This is unclear. Some secondary sources suggest that some connected the two in the latter half of the twentieth century in the Mormon corridor region when members of the Church tied Bigfoot sightings to the David W. Patten account.[8]

Is Cain really wandering around the earth?

Probably not. Different traditions have him dying in various contexts.[9]

Has the Church ever made an official statement about Bigfoot or cryptozoology?

The Church has no official statement on Bigfoot. Several Church leaders were reportedly open to the possibility of the Bear Lake Monster.[BIO][10] However, modern Church leaders have never discussed the subject.

The Facts

  • In his popular book The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball included a story about apostle David W. Patten seeing a large hairy man who identified himself as Cain.

  • The original source for the Patten story is from a reprint of a secondhand account recalled many years after the event.

  • Some Latter-day Saints have interpreted this to mean that Cain is the creature known as "Bigfoot".

Our Take

Is the David W. Patten story strange? Yes. Does anyone in the Church take this seriously? Not really.

Some may reasonably believe that a prophet including an unreliable secondhand account about a large hairy man saying he was Cain is an example of poor judgment—that it gives credence to rumors or folklore.

We don't know if the Patten story is actually based on truth. The historical record is not very reliable here. We don't know what President Kimball's reasons were for retelling the story. He could have taken it very seriously or he could have thought it was just a peculiar anecdote worth sharing.

Whether you choose to laugh it off, or are disturbed by it, the story is part of our cultural heritage.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Lucinda
    I really think the church should take this more seriously and do some real investigations and genetic studies to get to the bottom of this question.
  • Bill L.
    The story is intriguing. Cain was cursed and many would consider it a curse to live a mortal life of thousands of years experiencing many tragedies. Perhaps a living Cain can attest to many lost truths about forgiveness and repentance.
  • Ron L
    My FIL heard Wesley Smith relate the his experience with Cain in a Sunday School class in the late 1960's. At the time Bro. Smith was the Mission President in Hawaii and it happened the night before the dedication (by Heber J. Grant) of the Hawaiian Temple in 1919.
  • Terry
    I've heard a lot of stories like this one. Like the one about lift shafts in the Salt Lake Temple, which some people I know believe. Testimony notwithstanding, skepticism is healthy.
  • Bradey S.
    This is so goofy, I love it. I wonder what Cain did during the Great Flood of Noah.
  • BIOSpencer W. Kimball

    Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the twelfth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reared in Thatcher, Arizona, Kimball founded and ran a securities business as a young man and became involved in several Thatcher-area community organizations. He became an apostle in 1943, where he became a leading advocate for ministry to and work with indigenous Americans. As Church president, he became an advocate for the global expansion of the Church. In 1978, President Kimball received the revelation to lift the priesthood/temple restriction on peoples with African ancestry.

  • BIODavid W. Patten

    David W. Patten (1799–1838) was born in Vermont. He was baptized into the Church in 1832. He served as a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1835 until his death during a skirmish at Crooked River, Missouri, in October 1838.

  • BIOCain

    According to the Bible and the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, Cain was a son of Adam and Eve who became notorious as the "first murderer" (Genesis 4:1–18; Moses 5). In both the biblical and Pearl of Great Price accounts, Cain murders his brother Abel and is "cursed" by God with a "mark" and to be a vagabond and fugitive in the earth (Genesis 4:9–15; Moses 5:34–41). The Pearl of Great Price account expands the Genesis account to include details such as Cain entering a covenant with Satan, making him the prototypical Son of Perdition and father of evil secret combinations (Moses 5:22–31).

  • BIOBigfoot

    Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is a bipedal ape-like creature in American folklore. Though many claim to have evidence of Bigfoot's existence, the creature is mostly an object of interest to folklorists and cryptozoologists. Similar hairy creatures are found in mythologies across the world, like the Yeti, Yeren, Almas, and Yowie.

  • BIOHorace S. Rawson

    Horace S. Rawson (1799-1882) was an early Church member who was born in Oneida County, New York. In 1847, he reported once seeing a "strange" tall man in Nauvoo that reminded him of David Patten's account of Cain. He traveled to Utah in Wilford Woodruff's company in 1850 and died in Ogden.

  • BIOE. Wesley Smith

    E. Wesley Smith (1886-1970) was born in Hawaii. He was the son of Joseph F. Smith and served as President of the Hawaii Mission from 1919-1923. He died in Salt Lake City.

  • BIOBear Lake Monster

    Bear Lake Monster is a serpent-like monster that Joseph C. Rich reported seeing in the nineteenth century. While he later recanted his accounts of the monster, there have been other alleged sightings of the monster. They describe the monster as being 30 feet long with cream-colored skin.

  • The passage from Miracle of Forgiveness reads:

    As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. . . . 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. . . .
  • In 2007, the Journal of Mormon History published an overview of Mormon/Bigfoot mythology from Matthew Bowman. Bowman wrote that the Bigfoot connection has been used by seminary teachers, BYU op-eds, the Deseret News, and others.

    Bowman also noted that while the folklore has Mormon content, it has maintained its "American structure"—which is a common trait of Mormon folklore.

  • Spencer W Kimball put this section in a broader discussion of murder:

    The instance of the first murder is instructive. Though thoroughly taught the gospel by his parents, Cain "loved Satan more than God." He became rebellious, "carnal, sensual, and devilish." Cain was to become the father of Satan’s lies and to be called perdition. His culminating sin was the murder of his brother Abel, which he did by secret covenant with Satan and to gain Abel’s possessions. As a punishment the Lord consigned the wicked Cain to be a fugitive and a vagabond and placed a mark upon him which would reveal his identity.
    On the sad character Cain, and interesting story comes to us from Lycurgus A. Wilson’s book on the life of David W. Patten. From the book I quote an extract from a letter by Abraham O. Smoot giving his recollection of David Patten’s account of meeting "a very remarkable person who had represented himself as being Cain."
  • Kimball references the story from Lycurgus A. Wilson’s book entitled Life of DAVID W. PATTEN: First Apostolic Martyr which was published in 1900.

    Wilson's source is a reprinted letter from Abraham O. Smoot to President Joseph F. Smith relating the story that Smoot heard Patten tell in 1835 or 1836.

    The event supposedly took place in or around 1835.

  • Horace Rawson died in 1882, and so this undated note was written sometime before then:

    I recolect once hearing David Patton tell as he was traveling in Tennesee a man overtook him the man was on foot and David was on horseback and seemed about as high as he was He gave an apperence that attracted David attention, he ask his name, the man answered and said, "you have read off Cain that killed his brother Abel have you not," Yes, David replied, Well I am he, Where are you going? he answered as the scriptures says, Two and Trou, up and down, in the earth seeking who I may devour. This discription David gave of Cain answered very well for the man I saw as I have stated and I have never heard of any one ever seeing him but my self. What I have said here is true.
  • This account was recorded in 1948 by an unknown author:

    He was sitting in their living-room reading, when he heard the front door bang open and looked up to see an unusually tall man come through the door, he was tall enough that he had to stoop to enter,. His eyes were very protuberant and rather wild-looking, his finger-nails were thick and long, he presented a rather unkempt appearance, and wore no clothing at all. He said not a word, but advanced toward Pres. Smith with his hands out-stretched as though to clutch at him. . . . On relating this experience to his brother, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, a member of the Council of the Twelve, Elder Smith suggested to his brother, E. Wesley Smith, that it could have been Cain, Master Mahan, Father of all Sons of Predition, whose curse it is to roam the earth seeking whom he may destroy.
  • Horace Rawson wrote:

    About the year 1847 in the month of February, I was traveling from the east part of the of Nauvoo. About about mid-afternoon, I met two very strange personages. One from the description was a Mr Carry the Negro Prophet, as he was called. The other was the tallest man I ever saw. Boath had very nice blue Blankets on. I met them in a space between houses walking very naturally long. When I met them they boath bowed very respectfully to me. I looked with all the eyes that I had especially about about the tall man. But could not determan who he was. I recolect once hearing David Patton tell as he was traveling in Tennesee a man overtook him the man was on foot and David was on horseback and seemed about as high as he was He gave an apperence that attracted David attention, he ask his name, the man answered and said, "you have read off Cain that killed his brother Abel have you not," Yes, David replied, Well I am he, Where are you going? he answered as the scriptures says, Two and Trou, up and down, in the earth seeking who I may devour. This discription David gave of Cain answered very well for the man I saw as I have stated and I have never heard of any one ever seeing him but my self. What I have said here is true.
  • A few secondary sources discuss the connection between Cain and Bigfoot, but some sources start the connection in 1980—not 1969 when Kimball published his book. Some of these sources also make this connection with David W. Patten's account, but not all.

  • The traditional assumption is that Cain died in the flood, but the apocryphal book of Jasher says that Cain was mistaken for an animal and killed with an arrow. The Testament of Benjamin says that he was killed by Lamech.

  • Historian Alan Morrell writes:

    In the summer of 1869, the New York Times reported an interview with Brigham Young Jr. in which he stated that his father was going to investigate the claims to determine whether the story was "an honest tale of a serpent, or only a fish story."

    According to the Deseret Evening News, John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Franklin D. Richards, John H. Smith, and Joseph F. Smith went to see the Bear Lake monster. Several apparently saw what they thought was the monster.