"I'm goin' to make a million bucks!" —Roger Patterson, October 22, 1967
The following excerpt is from the book, "The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story" by Greg Long. You can purchase it here.
Roger Patterson was a little man, but he had a big idea. He sat on his little horse on this bright, autumn day as he mulled over his big idea. Alongside him, on a much bigger horse, rode Bob Gimlin, his part-Apache friend. Bob Gimlin was bigger, but the little man was in charge. He always called the shots.
It was early afternoon, October 20, 1967, and the two men were riding up a dirt and gravel logging road. A small pack horse, a rope from its halter tied around Patterson's pommel, sauntered behind the two men's horses. As his small, white horse swayed beneath him, the big idea filled Patterson's mind. It spread its tendrils through him, flowed, whispering into the dark pools of the cancer seeping silently into his bloodstream. Patterson had beaten back the cancer for three years, but today it seemed to be catching up to him. Time was running out. The big idea would have to be born soon.
Patterson's horse snorted, breaking the calm of the warm air. Patterson looked nervously to his right into the woods along the road. To his left, on his muscular gray horse, Gimlin rode. Patterson, a look of desperate fear in his eyes, faced Gimlin. Gimlin saw the tightly drawn, thin lips and the all-too-familiar flicker in Patterson's shadowy eyes. It was the expression that always made Gimlin apprehensive and vigilant. It was the look that worried him, that caused him to question the journey he had come on with this little man.
Patterson looked back into the woods. He thought he could see it there, even among the bright red, gold, and yellow leaves of the alders and willows, deep among the bewildering mass of shedding trees, far back among the entangled branches, the big idea waiting in the darkness and the dark-blue places between the tree trunks. It was the idea that he had dreamed of for years, that he had fleshed out in the early hours of dawn when he woke up in his bed at home. It was the idea that consumed him and ate the precious remnants of his life.
Gimlin knew that Patterson was now submerged in thought, almost in a trance. He reached over and tilted down Patterson's hat to blot out the sun that was turning hot on the little man's face. Then he adjusted his own. Gimlin knew it was from these trance-like states that Patterson's most creative thoughts emerged. Gimlin remembered the many times that Patterson would blink awake from deep daydreams to explain how he would catch one of the creatures. And now, most amazingly, they were actually searching for one that had recently left fresh tracks. Patterson was convinced the creature was here, somewhere not too far off the logging road. But this trip with Patterson into these woods, Gimlin knew, was different. He could see a wilder expression in Patterson's face.
Cold dread draped over Gimlin. Why had he agreed to come here with the little man? Why was he risking his livelihood and his reputation in this pursuit? Clearly, Patterson was a man obsessed. He could see that more clearly now. And he was being pulled into Patterson's obsession, willingly. Gimlin's horse was falling behind Patterson's, and so he flicked his tongue against the back of his teeth, gently clucking at the horse to spur him on to rejoin the little man.
Patterson stared into the forest as the two men's horses ambled up the gravel road. Patterson could sense the big idea in the shadows. It was invisible, but it was huge. If he could see it out there in the woods, it would take up every cell of his brain. It was monstrous, the thing he wanted to see. And it was hairy. Its enormity was fashioned of great muscles sheathed with thick hide and covered with patches of hair, like a moth-eaten for coat. Its head was massive, shaped like a helmet. Its shoulders were wide, like a football player's. And he knew that it could hide, its prodigious form melting into the ground, completely motionless, covered under piles of brown, dead leaves.
As the men's horses continued up the road with their riders and supplies, Patterson withdrew into his mind. He focused on the images he had artfully fashioned from his own imagination and the words people had told him when they described the creature. He forced the idea to stir to life, like the cancer that had awakened within him after years of remission and false hope. He imagined the idea on all fours. Its thighs were tightening. It was preparing to stand erect, like the terror that comes in the night. The fear crawling up the nape of the neck. The softly breathing thing in the dark, open closet. Like the bogeyman, ever approaching.
The ears of Patterson's horse suddenly twitched, and shaking its head, the horse came to a sudden halt. "Whoa!" Gimlin said, pulling up on the reins of his own horse. The two men sat next to each other, motionless astride their horses in the middle of the road.
Then Patterson sat up in his saddle and tilted his head. "Do you hear that, Bob?" he whispered hoarsely. Gimlin felt slightly sick. He knew there was nothing there, but he pretended to listen nonetheless. Patterson gazed into the woods, imagining it rising up now, slowly, as if from a long, eternal sleep, pushing up on its gnarled knuckles. It had been waiting for him, its black, round,
cold eyes open and staring as if through the eye-holes of a mask. The eyes did not blink against the dry skin of the leaves concealing its face. Gimlin could see sweat drops beading Patterson's forehead, and the little man's eyes began rapidly flitting as he keenly scanned the woods. Patterson was searching for the signs in the vine maple, for the telltale broken tree branches, for the bruised disturbance that marked the thing's passage. Behind him, the pack horse complained. Patterson blinked awake and turned his face to Gimlin. "Let's go," he said.
For the past six days, the two men had been searching, either on horseback or in Gimlin's Chevrolet truck. They had driven the truck to a spot near Bluff Creek in the wild Six Rivers National Forest in the far reaches of Northern California where they had off-loaded their horses and set up camp. Every day they looked for tracks near the creek bed or next to the logging roads after the bulldozers were silent and the workers had gone home. Here they were now, riding north on the east side of Bluff Creek. Patterson wanted desperately to see one. He ached to hear the creature make its presence known by ripping the autumn silence with a defiant, piercing scream.
He handed his sixteen-millimeter camera to Gimlin. "Here," he ordered, "take some film of me." Gimlin shot a short sequence of Patterson as he rode his little horse into the stony bed of the creek, the pack horse in tow. The water in the creek was low. Two years earlier, floods had washed out the creek. Signs of the flood's violence were scattered across the expanses of sandy soil-dead tree trunks, broken branches, dislodged boulders. Patterson and Gimlin had been here at this spot two days before, their horses' hoof marks still visible in the sand bars. Patterson rode back up the embankment, and Gimlin handed the camera back.
As the two men proceeded, Patterson's face fell back into its abstract stare. He was imagining the creature walking now with long, purposeful steps. In his mind, it was silently moving through the trees alongside the road just ahead, moving fleetingly from tree trunk to tree trunk, hiding behind them, then running to the next tree when Patterson looked away. It was a padding colossus barely disturbing the branches. It was a nature spirit that was one with the trees. Up ahead, Gimlin saw a huge jumble of fallen trees stripped of their leaves. One hundred feet in length, the logjam, almost in the center of the stream bed, marked the tom of the bend in the creek, and the snarled, black roots of an immense, rotting trunk snaked forth in a clutching grasp. Gimlin could see *sweat blotting the back of Patterson's red and white checkered shirt. He felt the sun on his own back as well. "Come on, boy," he cajoled his horse, which was slowing for some reason as the two men neared the logjam.
As the men reached the logjam, a fetid odor suddenly filled the air. Patterson snapped out of his daydream as the odor reached his nostrils. The sickly smell was everywhere, like a thick, oppressive blanket. Patterson owned farm animals, and this stench reminded him of cow manure, but more-cow manure and a wet dog, that was it, like a wet dog rolling in cow"manure. Puzzled, the men looked at each other. They spurred their reluctant horses around the bend in the creek and passed the logjam. Suddenly afraid, the horses balked and stopped, and the two men gasped to see, rising up on the other side of the creek, near the water's edge, a stupendous figure, dark and ominous. The overbearing figure stood fully erect and stared hard at the puny little man on his little white horse ninety feet away. Patterson's horse whinnied and reared. He pulled on the reins to control it, but the horse was falling, and the two of them went down together. Patterson felt a sharp pang in his right foot as the horse fell on his stirrup. He freed himself, and the horse scrambled up. He stood up shakily and grabbed the reins. He held the skittish animal as he fumbled open the flap of his saddlebags. He yanked out the camera, shouting, "Cover me!" When he let loose of the reins, the horse bolted away.
All the while, Gimlin, suddenly alert, was watching helplessly from his horse. Now, fully erect and facing the men, the creature looked to be huge, an oversized man, but dark, very dark. When Patterson had shouted, "Cover me!" Gimlin's horse reared, and impulsively Gimlin had reached down and grasped the butt of his 30.06 Remington rifle resting in its scabbard. Meanwhile, Patterson was half-running, half-limping, the camera held up to his eye. He sloshed through the shallow water, half-stumbled onto a sandbar, holding the camera in front of his right eye in a desperate attempt to keep the retreating creature in his sights. At the sandbar, he slipped and fell. Behind him, Gimlin was losing control of his own horse, and he quickly dismounted to pull tighter on the reins. The horse was quick, though; it bolted, running around the logjam, and vanished. Gimlin turned toward the creek, resigned to what Patterson, now advancing again, might instruct him to do. His rifle in one hand, he began walking through the water, eyeing the massive, two-legged creature all the while. When he reached the sand bar, he stood and watched the imposing, hairy form walking away, to the north. The creature looked powerful, so powerful it was unbelievable.
Patterson was now running, while trying to hold the creature in the viewfinder. Even as he ran, his heart pounding, he forced himself to look for any features that he could fasten on and absorb. The creature appeared to be human, but it was oversized, at least six foot six inches tall and broadly built. The dark, bipedal form was ambling at a brisk gait, but not running.
Patterson kept moving forward, struggling to keep the camera steady. The long arms of the creature seemed to hang to its knees, and it had an odd, loose-kneed walk. It was moving quickly, but calmly, with an air of confidence and focused determination. As the feet of the creature lifted behind it, Patterson glimpsed the flash of pinkish soles. Then, in what he sensed was his best position, he stopped and concentrated on steadying the camera and panning to the right to follow the creature's movement. At this moment, the creature-as if aware of the photographer, or perhaps hearing the sound of the camera-turned and shot a glance at him. At that moment, Patterson detected something roundish and heavy swaying on the creature's chest. Breasts, the thing had breasts! He caught a glimpse of the creature's face; it was dark and glowering, and Patterson saw under the thick, right brow of the face a beady, dark-brown eye. Then, the head swiveled back, and the creature walked on.
All the while, Gimlin stood frozen, paralyzed with fear, and awestruck, the strange, oppressive odor hanging over him. With the rifle at his side, he had watched Patterson pursue the creature. They had talked many times about what they should do, as a team, if they finally discovered one of them. They would not shoot, that they had agreed on. They had earned a quiet respect for the creature despite the fact that they had never seen it. The many stories that they had heard and the tracks that Patterson had found over the years had convinced them that-despite the immense size of the creature, its often threatening behavior, its strength, its awe-inspiring cry, and its fearsome tread-it was at heart a shy and lonesome being. It was a natural offspring of the woods; a dark wayfarer that traveled and roamed in consonance with an unknown rhythm of nature; a nomadic wanderer in search of a home it had lost or could never permanently build; a creature ripped from the source of its creation and longing to reunite with it; a living, breathing apelike man or manlike ape that often stumbled without purpose or cause onto civilization, and when coming in contact with humans, either on lonely roads, on far-flung farm lands, or by accident, face-to-face with hunters or hikers, retreated just as stealthily back into the immense safety of the forests. It was an innocent that did not deserve to die, for if it had a soul, it was pure and undeserving of murder at the hands of men. And so Gimlin had stood and watched, his rifle held loosely in his right hand. Now he noticed the head of the creature; it was peaked with a steep, slanting forehead, and the head sat nearly on the shoulders, for now he could clearly see that the creature had no visible neck. The bulky head turned, glanced at the little man, and then the creature strode on in a fluid motion, its long arms swinging at its sides.
The creature was moving steadily away, Patterson could see, so he kept filming, tracking its retreat. As it began to vanish behind trees, its back to the camera, he dashed after it, jumping over logs and skirting brush. The creature was momentarily blocked by a thicket, and then it emerged, its back still to the camera, leisurely walking. The creature turned right as it crossed over the low creek, and headed across the old logging road that ran along the stream bed. It grew smaller as it moved further away, and then click-click-click-click! The camera ran out of film. Patterson dropped the camera from his eye and blinked. He had got it on film!
Far behind him, Gimlin turned slowly and looked for his horse. When he finally found it on the other side of the logjam, he seized its reins, mounted, and rode hard along the creek bed. He could now see that the creature was quite some distance down the logging road. It was vanishing around a bend. He glimpsed it one final time, and then it was gone! Meanwhile, Patterson was shouting for his partner to return: "Get on back here!" Gimlin drew his horse up short. He would obey the little man, but he was also afraid. What if the creature was part of a family or a tribe, and it was returning to warn them? He wheeled his horse around and galloped back.
Meanwhile, Patterson was prancing and waving the camera above his head. "We finally got one of 'em!" he whooped as his partner rode up. "Hot dawg!" Gimlin looked warily back toward where the creature had gone. "Incredible," he said softly. "That was the most incredible thing I ever seen."
The little man laughed and danced and laughed again. "We got one of those goddamn sons-a-bitches!" And then: "Shit, I'm out of film! We got to get shots of the tracks. Shit, where's the horses?"
The two men searched the area on foot. They found the little horse and the pack horse to the south. While they gathered them up, they talked rapidly about what they must now do. When they returned with the animals to the site of the filming, Patterson took down a piece of heavy canvas that was rolled up behind the saddle of his horse and threw it over a bush to form a canopy. Inside, in the dark, he changed the roll of film.
With a fresh roll in the camera, Patterson filmed the creature's tracks on the sand bar. Gimlin walked alongside the tracks as Patterson filmed his progress. The men noted that neither of their boot prints sank to the depth of the tracks. Then, Gimlin slowly walked his horse next to the tracks. He turned to Patterson and said, "With the saddle and tack, the horse must weigh fourteen hundred pounds." Yet, the men could see that the horse's prints were barely half the depth of the creature's tracks. Patterson then directed Gimlin to climb onto a tree stump that was near the creature's tracks and to jump down on one heel. Kneeling, the two men saw that the heel print from his cowboy boot was not quite as deep as the creature's footprint. So, they concluded, it took a great deal of weight to create the strange tracks they were seeing.
When they measured them, Patterson whistled. "Fourteen and a half inches long!" The men then stretched out the tape to measure the distance between the strides. They were stunned: the distance from the back of the heel of the left foot to the back of the heel of the right foot was forty-two inches. Patterson cursed, "Shit, we should have brung the plaster!" Determined to get all the evidence they could, the two men rode back to the truck at their base camp and retrieved the plaster of Paris and utensils.
Back at the site, the men mixed the plaster with water and poured two casts, one of the right foot of the creature, the other of the left. After the plaster dried, the men carefully packed the casts, then mounted up and rode up the creek bed. The tracks on the sand bar had turned to scuff marks at the roadside. They dis-mounted and measured the distance between several of the marks. This time the stride was between fifty-six and sixty-one inches. "She musts started runnin' here," Patterson concluded.
They could follow the marks only about one hundred fifty feet, and it was a mile later that Gimlin found a partial heel mark along the creek. He crossed Bluff Creek and found a wet track on a rock on the other side. Encouraged, he left Patterson behind and began riding over terrain that grew uneven, then grew steep, and then was transformed into a looming mountainside covered with confused brush, heavy timber, carpets of fern, and boulders. After about two hundred feet of hiking the mountainside on foot, he turned back and rejoined his partner.
Still excited, the two men hurried back to the film site and drank in the amazing detail of the creature's tracks one more time. Finally, they unhitched their pack horse and started back to their base camp. They secured their horses before driving the twenty-five miles south to the little town of Willow Creek. Arriving a little after 6:00 P.M., the little man used a pay booth to telephone Al Hodgson, the local Bigfoot hunter. Patterson knew that Hodgson would want to be the first to hear the news. Hodgson owned the hardware store in Willow Creek, and he had just locked up and gone home to have dinner with his wife. When he heard the news from Patterson, he pushed his uneaten plate of food away from him and rushed to the store. When he pulled up in front, Patterson ran up to his car and blurted excitedly, "Al, I took a picture of one of those sons-a bitches!"
"No!" Hodgson said, flabbergasted. Hodgson got out of his car and during the next half hour, while the three men stood on the sidewalk in front of the store, Patterson recounted what had happened. He showed the store owner the stirrup, bent by his horse when it fell. All the while, Gimlin stayed in the background and remained very quiet. "Well, Al, we're goin' to get somethin' to eat," said Patterson.
After eating, the two men then drove forty-one miles west to Arcata on the coast, where Patterson telephoned his brother-in-law, Al DeAtley, in Yakima, Washington. He told DeAtley the whole story, too, and then took the precious film, which he prayed to God had successfully recorded images of the strange creature, to the local airport and put it on a plane bound for Yakima. Then the two men drove nine miles south to the offices of the Humboldt County Times Standard in Eureka. A reporter was still working late. Breathlessly, the little man told the story yet again.
Afterward, Patterson and Gimlin drove the hundred miles back to their base camp. It was well after midnight, but Patterson was still high from the day's incredible events, and he kept his partner up for hours talking on and on. They got only a few hours sleep. Then it started raining. Gimlin woke up Patterson, who was sleeping inside a pup tent. Dazed, Patterson crawled out. It was pouring now. "We'd better get the tracks covered!" Patterson cried out hoarsely. Gimlin picked up some cardboard boxes that had carried supplies, but they were already soggy. He saddled up and rode by himself as quickly as he could in the half-light back to the site where he tore bark off trees to cover up the tracks as best he could.
When Gimlin returned to the base camp, Bluff Creek was raging. The two men had unwisely parked the truck on the east side of the creek; the depth of the water had only been half a foot, but now the creek had widened from six feet to twelve feet, and the rushing water was four feet deep. "We got to get out of here, now!" Patterson yelled, blinking back the water pouring off his head. He had torn down the camp in Girnlin's absence, and after the two men loaded Gimlin's horse in the truck along with the rest of the gear, they leaped into the cab, their clothes soaked. The truck barely made it through the raging flood. It lurched up the road and stalled, bogged down in mud. Shouting at each other over the storm, the men slogged up the muddy incline and found a bulldozer with keys in its ignition. They strapped on a logging cable and hook, attached it to their vehicle, and pulled the truck to safety.
As the gray light of morning flooded the sky, revealing the dark underbelly of the rain clouds, the wet, shivering men started north, toward Yakima, and home.
That evening—October 21, 1967—readers throughout Humboldt County and into southern Oregon opened their Saturday edition of the Times Standard and read the headline: "Mrs. Bigfoot Is Filmed!"
"A Yakima, Wash., man and his Indian tracking aide came out of the wilds of northern Humboldt county yesterday to breathlessly report that they had seen and taken motion pictures of 'a giant humanoid creature.' In colloquial words—they have seen `Bigfoot!'"
The Yakima man had been looking for Bigfoot for eight years, wrote the reporter, his Indian partner for only a year.
Patterson and Gimlin drove as fast as they could to Yakima. When they reached home, Bob Gimlin was exhausted—and feeling uneasy. He was grim-faced and tortured with regret when he said goodbye to Patterson, who was babbling nonstop like a madman. Gimlin drove his truck home and collapsed into a restless sleep.
The next day, Sunday, October 22, 1967, only forty-eight hours after he had shot the film, Patterson stood in front of a movie screen in the home of Al DeAtley, his brother-in-law. They spoke to each other in hushed tones. Then they asked three Bigfoot hunters, waiting in the next room, to join them. The hunters had traveled all the way to Yakima from Canada and California. DeAtley started the film, and as the colored images leaped onto the screen, the little man started talking a mile a minute, his arms and hands waving, telling the group in vivid detail everything he had seen and smelled and felt and remembered.
Late that evening, alone, at his home on the South Fork of the Ahtanum Road in Tampico, Washington, west of Yakima, Patterson stood in front of a mirror and picked up his black cowboy hat. He wore a clean, black shirt and fresh, black jeans and a bright, silver belt buckle. He was ready to go out on the town. At the tavern maybe he'd sing; he knew he would talk. He tapped the hat onto his head and set it neatly in place and ran his bony fingers along the rim. He adjusted the string tie at his neck, and a huge grin swept across his gaunt face reflected in the mirror. Deathly black shadows ringed his sunken eyes, alive now with licking flames. "I'm goin' to make a million bucks!"
And that's the way the story stood since October 20, 1967—that is, until now.
The following excerpt is from the book, "The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story" by Greg Long. You can purchase it here.