TULSA, Okla. — Vacation season is underway, and a section of the Sooner state is seeing a significant increase in visitors. While some head to Southeastern Oklahoma to enjoy living off the grid, others head there searching for a legend. The area is Bigfoot's so-called stomping grounds. Just ask Charles Benton.
"He's there. I saw him," says Charles.
Charles is a Hochatown native and a local legend himself. The story of his brush with Sasquatch has been featured on national TV shows like Finding Bigfoot and The Real Housewives of Dallas.
"I always thought it was a bear or something, but I know it is real because I know what I saw," he says.
Charles says his encounter happened around ten years ago.
"Turkey hunting. The sun had already set, but it was still light outside; I was getting ready to pack it up," says Charles.
That's when he says he heard Bigfoot's growl. "It was so loud I could feel the vibration off my chest," he says.
Charles says he looked around and then, "I saw it in the creek bottom. It was bent over, looking away from me, and it raised up and just turned its torso like that. I mean, I had eye contact."
What he saw looking back scared him. He says, "It was dark, reddish-brown with a big forehead. I mean, just big, tall. As soon as I confirmed what I was seeing, I was gone and didn't come back."
It's tales like that that have tourists talking.
"Something like that could easily live here," says Jimmy Love, visiting from Dallas. Still, he's not so sure it's Bigfoot. "I'm one of those people I have to see for myself. I'm sure they are seeing something," he says.
Tourism officials confirm there are more unofficial Bigfoot sightings in McCurtain County than anywhere else in the state. Whether you believe it or not, one thing is for sure; Bigfoot is big business here.
"Everyone comes in and asks about Bigfoot. The number one question they ask is, Is Bigfoot real? And the answer is yes!" says storeowner Janet Cress.
Janet has run Janet's Treasure Chest in Broken Bow for over 20 years.
"It's constant growth. We don't have an off-season. It's always busy," says Janet.
A super-sized Sasquatch statue sits outside Janet's store. Inside there are six rooms stocked with souvenirs, including over 1500 Bigfoot items.
"We have big foot hair. We have bigfoot salt and pepper shakers, Bigfoot shot glasses, all kinds of souvenirs for Bigfoot," says Janet.
She's not the only one leaning into the legend. You can take a spin at Bigfoot Speedway, grab some garb at Bigfoot T-shirts, and at Mountain Fork Brewery, you can even order something called a Squatch burger.
Tourism officials say the number of visitors has doubled in this part of the state over the last few years. Janet says it's no wonder, "We are home to Beaver's Bend State Park, Broken Bow; we have rivers, streams, and the beautiful Ouachita National Forest."
And while many come here to escape the big city, the mystery in these mountains adds a fun twist.
"By the time they go home, some of them even come back in and say, we saw Bigfoot last night," says Janet.
Whether you buy in or not, one thing is clear. The legend's economic footprint is hard to miss.
Something Charles hopes is all he sees from here on out. " I really have no desire to see him again," says Charles.
To learn more about tourism in this part of the state, click here.