Many of you will be familiar with the name Marian T. Place. Place authored 47 books for children, earned numerous awards, and supplied a faithful reading public with thoughtful, well-written books on a huge variety of subjects — from Native Americans to the gold rush to UFOs and of course, bigfoot.
Place was a tireless researcher and a confident, fluff-free writer. She was also a strong, opinionated woman in a time and place when those things may not have been viewed exactly favorably — even taking a male pen name, “Dale White,” for several of her books.
Born in Indiana in 1910, Place moved to Montana in the 1930s, where she worked as a librarian, freelance writer, and reporter. Dismayed at the lack of children’s and young adult books on the history of the western United States, she decided to write her own. She went on to win four Western Writers of America “Golden Spur” awards for her nonfiction books for young readers.
Place’s books for kids have been credited with influencing a generation of bigfoot researchers. Her first foray into cryptozoology, On the Track of Bigfoot, was published in 1974. A 1979 profile piece in the Arizona Republic newspaper states Place got into bigfoot writing for fairly ordinary reasons: she was living in Portland, Oregon (sasquatch ground zero) at the time; worked in a library; and children frequently asked her for books about the hairy hominids. Unable to find suitable books and not one to shy away from a challenge, Place began writing her own.
Nobody Meets Bigfoot, published in 1976, was the first Place book I came across. In the fictional story, a boy who fancies himself a “nobody” goes on a bigfoot expedition to Bluff Creek, California, with his free-spirited grandmother. Some authors might be tempted to poke fun at the subject, but not Place. Her writing style is lively yet serious, and she introduces some heavy concepts (including the kill vs. no-kill debate) to her young readers. It is obvious Place did her research both in the geography of the area and on bigfoot history — and given that she was in her mid-60s when the book was written, I can’t help but wonder if a bit of the eccentric-grandma character was autobiographical.
Another Place book I’ve read is Bigfoot All Over the Country, published in 1978. Place chooses to open this book with a proven hoax, then goes on to summarize creature sightings from all over the country. It is a book not just about monster stories, as Place states in her introduction, but also about “the problems we must face if the stories are true.” Place treats her young audience as intelligent information consumers, actively encouraging them to exercise critical thinking skills. She even throws down the gauntlet to the scientific community:
Now that you have read this much about Bigfoot all over the country, do you believe all these stories? Of course not. Some appear to be true. Some are “iffy,” maybe true, maybe not. Some are out-and-out hoaxes.
All were reported as facts, but most read as if they are fiction. Who was right, the teller of the story, or the reader? How can anyone claim, “I saw a Bigfoot,” and not have to present proof that this really happened. On the other hand, if the reader or listener feels the story is not true, must not he or she have to prove the story is a lie?
Suppose we apply the same challenge to the scientists who deny Bigfoot could be real. Most spend their time in classrooms, offices, and libraries. Yet they do not hesitate to state flatly, “Bigfoot is a fake. If the creature existed, it would have been discovered long ago.” Don’t these experts have an obligation to explain clearly, and in detail, why they know there is no such creature? Shouldn’t some at least make an effort to leave their desks, hike through Bigfoot country, and on hands and knees study one of the genuine, mysterious, exasperating footprints?
Place did not seek publicity, and information about her is elusive. Fortunately, I was able to find a few articles she wrote in the archives of Montana: The Magazine of Western History, published by the Montana Historical Society. These pieces show some insight into Place’s personality and her approach to writing.
She first appears in print in the magazine in a 1955 letter to the editor, written on the art of history writing. “I go to great lengths in checking facts,” she writes. “Before writing a particular book I read and gather far more material than I can ever use because I, personally, have an insatiable hunger for facts.” She goes on to express the hope “that the general reading public is slowly but surely being weaned away from distortion and sentimentalism and sensationalism, and finding that history can be more absorbing than fiction or feature articles.”
Place went on to be listed as an editorial assistant for the magazine, and briefly wrote a column on children’s literature called “Kids’ Corral.” She was not shy in expressing her opinions on the state of modern publishing.
“Publishers’ lists still contain too many ‘formula’ books,” she writes. She characterizes books about Western U.S. history as “literary phenobarbital” and castigates the history publishing industry as experiencing “rigor mortis.” Her brief book reviews are peppered with words such as “hackneyed” and “stilted.” And as for literature aimed at young women: “Unfortunately, books written for girls are more pap than protein.” However, Place recognizes that there are factual, entertaining books on the market, if one takes the time to find them: “There’s little excuse,” she writes, “for boys and girls to grow up wholly ignorant of the magnificent heritage, past and present, as revealed in countless quality books dealing with Western people, places and history.”
Marian Place passed away in 2006 at the age of 95, leaving a legacy of engaging, entertaining, and well-researched books, well worth seeking out for readers of all ages. Many can be found used online or at your local library. For more about this author, check out Episode 101 of the SasWhat podcast.