Now I am not a folklorist nor am I knowledgeable about old European myths. I honestly only feel comfortable speaking about something I have personal experience with. However, having had a very brief sighting of an “upright hairy biped” myself near Seneca, Illinois in 2005, I do know that “hairy wildmen” do in fact exist in North America. It is my belief that the “hairy wildman” myths of Europe are based on the real flesh & blood animal commonly known in the North America as bigfoot / sasquatch. As such I think the wildman fits the description of ogres and trolls.
Illustration by Gystave Doré (1832-1882), the French artist and engraver.
But what about “The Big Bad Wolf”? In medieval times Europe did have wolves and big problems at times with rabid wolves. The recently released movie Red Riding Hood (2011) proclaims that it is “Set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf”. There are similarities in the dialog of Red Riding Hood to old Norse myths which describe the animal as a giant, not a wolf.
It is my conclusion that it has always been difficult for witnesses to come to grips with what type of animal the “hairy man” is. Being confronted with an 8 foot hairy creature standing behind a tree many have included it must be a wolf standing on it’s hind legs. And if it is a wolf, which doesn’t stand on hind legs, then it must be an upright walking wolf, the werewolf.
Note – for an excellent resource to the origins of the myth of the “hairy man” in Europe read the in-depth book entitled ‘Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years’.