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CURRENTS » FEATURE
Peter Bigfoot's beautiful self-reliance school faces a
far from secure
by Sam Stoker
Bella Donna had been at the Reevis Mountain School for a few days, but it wasn't until
Peter "Bigfoot" Busnack sitting on a stump, petting and singing to one of his chickens early
one morning, that she really felt she was developing a spiritual connection with him.
"I remember thinking, 'Is this guy always this happy?'" Donna said. "Come to find out, he rea
Bigfoot is not singing aloud every waking moment, but he certainly seems to carry a song
around in his heart, she said--and why not? Bigfoot is a man who not only promotes the ide
to "live what you love," but has been doing that very thing all his 65 years on Earth
26 creating his own heaven on Earth deep in the Superstition Mountains, most recently with
Donna, now his partner.
And what is that heaven, some 140 miles by road north of Tucson? An organic farm, spiritu
survival school set in a fertile tree-covered canyon in the midst of one of Arizona's
there are two natural springs; Campaign Creek, the only year-round flowing creek in the
though the property.
The school sits in a truly magical area--3,000 feet above the desert floor, with much of the
while the sweet smells of drying herbs, home-cooked organic meals and a fruit orch
to Bigfoot's prodigious presence, unique classes in herbal medicine, wilderness survival and
hard to understand why so many people claim the school has affected them so deeply.
In the 1970s, Bigfoot was a hermit, living in a van north of Phoenix, with little more than a f
long-time herbalist, spiritualist and survivalist, Bigfoot founded the Reevis Mountain School
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after stumbling upon the old homestead while on a hike. Though it sat in a state of disrepa
connection to the place and thought it was the perfect place for his school.
Problem was, when Bigfoot found the owner, Jim Tidwell, he learned Tidwell wasn't intereste
homestead had been in Tidwell's wife's family for generations, and though they weren't doin
weren't interested in letting it go. Undeterred, Bigfoot called up an old friend, Phoen
if he could help out. Goodson had been in a college fraternity with Tidwell, and Goo
After all, he owed Bigfoot, big time. Goodson met Bigfoot in the early '70s in Phoen
his time camping in the desert and living out of his van.
"He was real wild then," Goodson said. "He'd come into town and wrestle at Phoenix College
second in the country in wrestling."
Goodson--who calls Bigfoot the strongest man he's ever seen--said that in his prime, Bigfo
Peak in 15 minutes. He also recalled Bigfoot's usual greeting: Bigfoot would pick Goodson u
head while saying, "Goodson, so good to see you. So good to see you."
Yes, Bigfoot was a madman, an off-the-grid giant with a head of long, untamed hair. But he
gentle man. Introduced to herbs by his mother, Bigfoot--who grew up in New Jersey
arriving in Phoenix wandering North America and South America, studying herbs and teachi
off the land.
In fact, it was Bigfoot's survival savvy that brought him and Goodson together. Goodson, no
trained specialist responsible for teaching soldiers how to survive and escape war prisons.
"I was on a desert hike with him when we ran out of food, and so I said, 'Well, Pete, what are
watched him bust open some termite mounds and dig up some earthworms and do
to do to survive prison camps," Goodson said.
After that, Goodson invited Bigfoot to work with him for Challenge Club, an outdoor school
they became quite good friends. Goodson would lead the pack on outdoor adventur
slack, healing the kids' bites and bruises with natural remedies.
"He was really good with herbs, really good," Goodson said.
But it wasn't until Goodson contracted a near-lethal case of hepatitis that he truly re
The doctors, Goodson said, had given up on him--he had essentially been sent home to
Goodson said, Bigfoot was able to cure his hepatitis using "just the right amount of horehou
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Thus, when Bigfoot called asking for help, Goodson was enthusiastic--not only because he
man a favor, but also because he was eager to see what Bigfoot's dream could reap
a lot to teach.
Just months before, Bigfoot had asked Goodson to drop him off in the middle of the desert.
"Check me," Bigfoot said. "Verify that I have nothing more than my knife." Bigfoot then set o
across the Sonoran Desert in mid-July, gathering all his food and water from the land. Retur
had become somewhat of a local legend, and he, too, started thinking that he had somethin
Goodson managed to convince Tidwell and his family to sell the property, and even went a s
Bigfoot was broke, Goodson contacted Lindsey Rawlings, an ex-millionaire he had read abo
supposedly given away his money and dedicated his life to finding truth. Goodson thought
Rawlings spoke in Phoenix to a crowd of 150 people about "How to Bring People Together in
attracting support for Bigfoot's school. At the end of the speech, Goodson had found the fir
With a down payment secured, Bigfoot and friends started the Reevis Mountain School and
adventure that has been trucking for 27 years now. And in those 27 years, a lot of changes
On one hand, Christine Beckwith, who lived at Reevis during the late 1980s, said: "From the
have come and gone, to the continuous flow of students attending Bigfoot's classes, everyo
school has left changed."
On the other, Campaign Creek is apparently starting to run dry for the first time in Bigfoot's
laws are also changing--both threats to what is an established, but fragile school.
But some things have stayed the same; Bigfoot's merry presence still overwhelms the Super
so strongly that Donna, who is not singing to chickens yet, now calls it home.
While more docile these days, it is rumored Bigfoot successfully battled a mountain
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